Five years ago Leyton Orient were a penalty shootout away from the Championship.
Three seasons later, they were a “dead club walking” as they dropped out of the English Football League after 112 years, relegated from League Two.
Now, after suffering two relegations and going through 12 managers during their nosedive, the east London side are back after wrapping up the National League title courtesy of a draw at home to Braintree on Saturday.
But just how have they turned things around?
A change in ownership
Orient’s descent was swift. After pushing Wolves and Brentford all the way in the automatic promotion race from League One in 2014, they ended up falling at the final hurdle, losing the play-off final to Rotherham on penalties.
A takeover that summer by Francesco Becchetti promised much, yet his investment quickly turned sour – with one player describing the Italian businessman’s reign as “real dark days”.
Aside from distracting off-field incidents which ranged from broadcasting a reality TV series about the O’s and Becchetti receiving a six-match stadium ban for misconduct, most destructive of all was the turnover in the dugout.
“It was horrible, really,” said Dave Victor, BBC Radio London’s Leyton Orient reporter. “They didn’t care for the club or the personnel.
“They also demonstrated that football isn’t only about money – it is about spirit, dedication and teamwork.”
With Becchetti’s interest waning as Orient slipped towards relegation from League Two, the club faced winding-up petitions and had debts of more than £5.5m.
Supporters protested on the pitch during the final home fixture of the 2016-17 campaign, with the match having to be concluded behind closed doors.
“It wasn’t just a relegation campaign but a fight for the club’s existence,” said Tom Davies of the Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust (LOFT).
“There was a determination to fight for the club which came shining through, and that galvanised people and in some ways laid the foundations for what has happened since.”
Soon after relegation to the National League came a fresh start, as a consortium headed by fan Nigel Travis, and had American Kent Teague as its principle investor, took over the club.
They appointed former manager Martin Ling as director of football and brought Matt Porter, chief executive under previous owner Barry Hearn, back on to the board of directors.
“There is no doubt the turnaround is down to the wisdom of the owners,” added Victor. “They were aware of the problems.”
Finding the right manager
Travis and Teague’s choice as manager was the former Crewe boss Steve Davis, but his appointment did not pan out as intended.
He was sacked after just four months in charge, with the O’s three points above the relegation zone after their opening 19 National League games of the 2017-18 season.
Orient then turned to Justin Edinburgh, who had extensive experience in non-league with Fisher Athletic, Grays Athletic, Rushden & Diamonds and Newport County – as well as stints with EFL clubs Gillingham and Northampton.
The 49-year-old, who had guided Newport to promotion from the National League via the play-offs in 2013, helped Orient to a 13th-placed finished last season before masterminding a successful promotion challenge.
Orient lost just once in the first half of the league campaign, and eventually secured top spot after suffering one defeat in their final 13 games.
“The last thing the new owners wanted to do was to sack a manager, especially after the number the previous regime had got through,” said Victor.
“Justin was undoubtedly the right appointment – someone that understands this level. What he has really achieved is changing the culture of the club.”
Veteran captain Jobi McAnuff says former Tottenham defender Edinburgh installed a winning mentality that had been missing.
“When he came in, we weren’t in a great position,” the 37-year-old midfielder told BBC Radio London.
“He has really instilled a desire to be the best you can be every day, and not to accept making mistakes or a lack of effort.”
‘The sky is the limit’
A return to stability has proved crucial for Orient, who were owned by Hearn for almost 20 years before Becchetti’s tumultuous spell in charge.
Attendances have been high since the Italian’s exit, with more than 4,000 season-ticket holders helping the O’s record the highest home attendance in the division this season.
A crowd of 8,241 saw the goalless draw with Braintree, with many invading the pitch at the final whistle to join in the post-match celebrations which marked promotion.
“There is a lesson, in terms of two years ago, that football clubs in their darkest hours are worth fighting for,” added LOFT’s Davis.
“Things can change for the better, which gives hope to all fans of struggling clubs.”
McAnuff, who spent two years playing under Becchetti and then returned following his departure, says the club now have potential to rise higher and return to League One.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the owners, who have given the club that platform and stability, and the fans for their patience,” said the Jamaica international.
“With what we have got upstairs, with their desire and ambition, the sky is the limit. We are not going up just to make the numbers up next year.
“You only have to look at Luton and Lincoln. We want to use what we have got here, which is a fantastic club and a fanbase, to crack on.”
Edinburgh, too, hopes that promotion back to the EFL will start “something special” at the Breyer Group Stadium.
“We have got to try to progress and move forward,” he added.
“There is a lot of planning to be done, but there is incredible foundation put in place by some very important people.”
The O’s will seal the double if they beat AFC Fylde in the FA Trophy at Wembley in under three weeks’ time – having already sold more than 20,000 tickets – but the hard work in returning to the EFL has already been accomplished.