It’s 3am and I’m lying on a hospital bed in The Mater Hospital in Dublin.
This wasn’t how the stag do was supposed to go.
“Mr Butler, I’m afraid you’ve got a hernia.”
Ah. Now this really wasn’t how the stag do was supposed to go. When 27-year-old blokes go on a stag do to Dublin and end up in A&E it’s supposed to be drinking related broken bones and bloodied heads, not hernias.
After two hours of waiting in considerable discomfort, I was discharged and told to go for surgery in London as soon as I got back the following day.
Being diagnosed with a hernia that requires almost immediate surgery when you’re on a lads™ stag do would ordinarily be the main thing on your mind – but life’s cruel fist of fate had already decided this was no ordinary weekend.
This was also the weekend that my beloved football club, Leyton Orient, were due to be relegated from the football league for the first time in 112 years.
The hernia x relegation double. The bet no-one would request odds for, no matter how big a disembodied Ray Winstone head would insist you ‘ad a bang on.
My weekend soon crumbled, feeling not just like I’d been kicked in the balls physically but metaphorically as well.
Orient lost 3-0 away at Crewe, the club’s relegation confirmed.
Conference football. I know it’s called the National League, but for children of the 90s, it’s the Conference.
I’m already one of those fans who will continue to refer to it as the Conference, like the older generation who still call the Premier League the Premiership, the Championship Division One, and think the ‘ten German bombers’ song just a bit of harmless banter.
I wouldn’t recommend getting a hernia as a distraction method from your football club’s woes, but it certainly helped as I lay on a bed two days later, now in the Royal London Hospital, well into my 25th hour of nil by mouth to prepare me for surgery.
And it’s for that reason it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that I’ve been able to process the fact that my club won’t be in the Football League next season.
Relegation to the Conference feels like a game of Football Manager that has gone badly awry, only to realise you’ve forgotten to save the game and your last reboot would take you back two years – the kicker being that this is actually real life.
It’s realising that if you thought it’s be a struggle to get your mates to come to a game on a Saturday afternoon was hard before, it’s now about to get nigh on impossible.
It’s having to Google where the hell Guiseley, Fylde and Barrow are.
It’s scrolling and tapping through your phone’s football app to try and discover where the National League results page might be lurking, and realising it’s sitting between the Egyptian Premier League and Equatorial Guinea’s Primera Division tabs.
It’s being unable to stop your brain screaming ‘VANARAMA, VANARAMA, VANARAMA THEY’RE THE ONES YOU NEED TO CALL’ whenever you see the ‘Vanarama National League’ written down.
It’s knowing good people, friends, are going to lose their jobs for reasons way beyond their control.
It’s buying the next edition of FIFA knowing that your club aren’t even going to be on there. It was bad to enough to discover the worst player on FIFA 17 was your goalkeeper, but now they just aren’t even going to be on the game full stop.
It’s your West Ham supporting friends having the last laugh at your expense, sneering down from their taxpayer-funded ivory tower.
It’s knowing you can’t do anything about it, no matter how many times you told yourself that you could probably do a better job than some of the totally incompetent managers your club has employed in the past three years. I stand by the claim I could tactically out-think Fabio Liverani and Alberto Cavasin.
But it’s also knowing someone could have actually done something about it. The EFL and the FA have sat back and watched as the second oldest club in London crumbled to dust, run into the ground by Francesco Becchetti, a man who, in some sort of record, hasn’t been mentioned yet in this piece – simply because the Italian has absolutely no place in football.
Finally, it’s knowing that once the period of depression and acceptance is over, you’ll be back there next season in the stands. Of course you will. Leyton Orient are in the gutter right now, but some of us at least are looking up.
Two months is a long time in football, and the O’s now face an off-pitch battle to save the club from the evil clutches of Signor Becchetti. Talks of a takeover might be underway, they may not, but what’s for certain is this – the quicker you can accept your club has been relegated from the Football League, the sooner you can start to do the one thing you should never do as a football fan – dream again.