Here he looks back on that wonderful season of 2005/06...
“Every season you start off thinking this is going to be your year. But Orient fans think that the team will chuck it away at the end, that we’ll do something wrong. Even in that last game of 2005/06 at Oxford I bet all the fans were expecting us to go and lose! You just get used to slipping up at the last hurdle.
But from the players’ point of view we were really confident that year. I don’t think the league was the best that season - there weren’t that many decent teams in it.
The FA Cup run [Orient got to the fourth round before narrowly losing to Charlton] was a massive help. It gave us the confidence. When we were drawn against Fulham in the third round we thought it was brilliant that we’d got a Premier League club away, but you worry you could get tonked.
But when we got to Craven Cottage the team sheet came through and we looked at it and thought, hang on, they’ve got quite a few out, we’ve got a chance here. We had the same team we’d been playing all year.
Before the game started, in the warm up, I asked a mate in the crowd if he’d put a bet on. He said yes, so I said ‘I’d go and double it if I were you.’ I really fancied us. I don’t know why. And we started off doing really well and I honestly think we deserved that win. We were the better team. That was just fantastic. It was such a shock for the footballing world.
After the game my phone didn’t stop. People couldn’t believe it. There was a sense of pride - we were a League Two team and we’d gone to a Premier League club and beaten them. Then we got rewarded with another Premier League club away in the next round, Charlton.
I thought we played really well that day. We had loads of chances. When we went 1-0 down I thought, ‘Oh, we can get spanked’, but then we came back with Steelo’s goal. And just as I was thinking we could hang on for a draw they go and get a spawny, deflected goal in the last minute.
But the FA Cup run definitely helped us. It made us think that if we could beat these teams, and take Charlton to 90 minutes, then we can go and beat anyone.
I think if you’re winning games then winning becomes a habit and we were definitely in a winning habit that year. Even when we weren’t playing that well we were grinding out results. Like Mansfield away, that was a big one. That’s not the easiest place to go. We won 1-0 with a penalty. We learnt how to do that.
Peterborough at home [The penultimate game of the season] was a tough one. It’s never easy. When Paul Connor got sent off I thought to myself, oh no, that’s our chance gone. But then Wayne Corden scored a goal to put us 2-0 up. It seemed like every time Grimsby slipped up we were there with the result we needed to get into the final promotion spot.
We were on a run where we’d kept seven clean sheets in a row at home, and we were more gutted that we let that slip in letting in a goal. [Peterborough scored a late goal; Orient won the game 2-1] The back four we had was solid every week. We got used to playing together. We were proud of that record.
Going into the Oxford game we knew what we had to do. The atmosphere there was amazing. The number of Orient fans that turned up was fantastic. It wasn’t an enjoyable game, though, because of the pressure on it. Because there was so much at stake. It was a case of, yes we want to go and win it, but you don’t want to make a mistake, you don’t want to be the one that loses the game.
When we went 2-1 up I thought Oxford have got to go now, they’ve got to give up. But they didn’t, they scored again. And at 2-2 I was thinking, ‘Oh no.’ We knew Grimsby were 1-0 up. Martin shouted out to us: ‘Grimsby are winning, we’ve got to go and score.’ So I went out to the lads and said, ‘We’ve got to get one.’
I was just running around in a daze thinking I just want to score, let’s just win. You’re this close. Five minutes away from promotion and you can celebrate or you’re five minutes away from having three weeks of pressure in the play-offs.
Oxford had a man sent off for tangling with John Mackie off the ball. Mackie was good like that. He’d stamp on someone’s foot, they’d retaliate then he’d dive on the floor holding his face. He’d laugh about it afterwards.
But I thought it had slipped away. I was gutted. I was thinking, ‘Not the play offs again.’ Having had the heartache of the play-offs before I didn’t want to go through that again. We definitely wouldn’t have gone up if we’d had to go through the play-offs. I don’t think we would have been able to lift ourselves again for those three games. So you have to keep believing, you don’t want to give up.
Then we heard the fans all cheer so straight away we knew that Northampton must have equalised. And then Steelo broke and scored the winner – there were about five of us in the box waiting to score because we were so desperate to make sure we went through. But it was fitting that Steelo was the one who scored the goal. The fans loved him.
Once Steelo scored the relief was unbelievable. We all just piled on each other. We ran over in front of the fans and all the subs just sprinted across the pitch to celebrate. I got caught under the pile and I couldn’t breathe, I thought I was going to die! I literally had to push everyone off. There’s a picture of me crawling out on my hands and knees.
When the final whistle went, that was my best moment at Orient. Eight years prior to that I came to the club because I thought that I we were going to get promotion. So it took long enough to get it but I got it in the end. That’s what I wanted and it was definitely worth the wait.
After the game we went back to the Marriot Hotel just off the M25 at Waltham Abbey where we always dropped our cars off. Loads of fans were knocking about all congratulating us. We ended up going to Faces nightclub in Gants Hill – Eddie Hearn took us out.
But I only stayed out for a little bit. After all the euphoria of it all I was knackered. I’d had such a good day. It must have only been about midnight – and I don’t drink. I just said that’s me done. Go home, enjoy it. I put Sky Sports News on to see all the celebrations.
I felt proud that day. You go and beat Fulham and it’s a one off. But you get promoted, it’s 46 games, a whole season of doing well. That was a really good feeling. Everyone involved with the club can look back on that day and say it was an amazing season and it couldn’t have finished on a better day. It was definitely my favourite moment in my Orient career.”
Read more about Matt's time at Orient in my book Leyton Orient Greats.