Here is a bit more information for you.
I had written and co-authored a few books about Brentford FC – predominantly season reviews and histories, which were well received but frankly of minority interest beyond Bees supporters. If you are going to spend up to a year researching and writing a book then you might as well do something with potentially broader appeal that hopefully people will want to read.
I therefore looked for a footballer ideally with Brentford roots but who had also extended his career elsewhere, and Bob Booker was an obvious candidate.
His playing career lasted from the late 70s until 1993 and he then worked as a youth coach and assistant manager between 1994 until late 2009 so there were over thirty years’ worth of activity at three clubs to cover.
His background was also highly unusual. He had never won representative honours as a youngster and was more of an athlete than a footballer, finishing second in the 800 metres to Steve Ovett in the AAA Championships. He had no ambitions to become a footballer and was playing for Bedmond a local team, for whom he paid to play, when his manager, a landscape gardener bent the ear of one of his clients, Willis Hall, a Brentford director and talked him into giving Bob a trial.
The rest is history. Bob impressed as a tall and determined centre forward, trained for two days a week unpaid for several months while he finished his apprenticeship as an upholsterer and was then given a one-year contract by Bees manager Bill Dodgin.
Bob went from earning up to £200 per week on piecework – twice the national average wage – with a lifetime’s guaranteed employment to an uncertain salary of £60 per week at Brentford. It took him eight years as a first team regular before he caught up to where he was before in financial terms before he became a professional footballer.
Incredibly, Bob came from nowhere to make his debut away at Watford – where he lived – in front of his bemused friends a mere couple of days after he turned professional and scored an incedible hat trick against Hull City on his full home debut the following season.
Through a combination of talent, hard work, determination and dedication he made himself into a professional footballer despite starting years behind his teammates and never serving an apprenticeship. He became a valued and versatile jack-of-all-trades who wore every shirt for Brentford apart from the goalkeeper’s.
The hat trick brought about unwanted and unreasonable expectations and Bob was booed unmercifully for several years but he fought back and eventually earned the grudging support and appreciation of Brentford fans.
He overcame a serious ACL injury and a year out to force his way back into the reckoning but he was lacking in fitness and confidence and contemplating retirement when, despite his dodgy knee, Dave Bassett signed him out of the blue to bolster Sheffield United’s promotion challenge in 1988 and replace another injured player in Simon Webster.
Bob went from a smallish, homely club in Brentford where mid table mediocrity was the norm to the relentless pressure of playing for a big name club in Sheffield United.
It took time to settle down and again, Bob was the victim of vituperative abuse when his early performances clearly demonstrated his lack of fitness and sharpness – but he fought back, worked hard, engaged with the supporters and community and became a massive local hero as he played a major role in Sheffield United’s rise from Division Three to the First Division in successive seasons and Bob captained them to promotion.
The fairytale continued with Bob playing a prominent role in the top division, where he made his debut aged 32, and he scored the winning goal at QPR that ensured the Blades’s survival. I was with Bob in Sheffield last weekend and the welcome he received over 25 years on warmed the heart.
Bob saw out his career at Brentford where he had left in 1988 as one of their lowest paid players and returned, three years later as one of their top earners.
He was crippled by injury but played his part in helping the Bees win promotion in his first season back.
Once his knee finally gave up on him Bob suffered the depression and trauma of how to cope without football before the chance came for him to enter the second phase of his career as a youth coach at Brentford before he was taken to Brighton by Micky Adams and, highly unusually, worked as the assistant to six different managers including Adams, Peter Taylor, Steve Coppell, Mark McGhee and Russell Slade, becoming a well loved and highly respected member of the coaching staff who managed to adapt to the varying needs of each manager.
I hope readers find Bob’s amazing story as fascinating, original and unlikely as I did.
It deals with both the triumphs and tribulations of being a footballer. The euphoria of winning promotion and making a First Division debut against Champions Liverpool at the age of 32 – and there is an iconic image on the front cover of an unbelieving Bob smiling at his dad in the crowd that proud day. Booker had to cope with loneliness and depression as he faced career-threatening injury, struggling to make ends meet on a miniscule salary, desperately striving to earn a new contract and being cruelly disposed of by David Webb.
It could never happen today. He would probably have been scouted at the age of eight and joined an academy. If so he would have run the risk of losing the boundless enthusiasm that was such a crucial part of his makeup. Working in a factory – again something that is almost unknown for a footballer today, gave him the discipline and hunger that he needed to help him succeed as a footballer.
Bob is unique and a one-off who is still revered at the three clubs he served and his career deserves recognition and celebration. I just hope that I have done him justice.
“OOH-AAH – THE BOB BOOKER STORY” IS AVAILABE IN THE BRENTFORD AND SHEFFIELD UNITED STADIUM STORES, CITY BOOKS IN HOVE AND ON AMAZON AT http://tinyurl.com/y8ea8ovx
BOB WILL ALSO BE SIGNING BOOKS IN THE BRENTFORD STADIUM STORE BEFORE THE WOLVES GAME ON 26TH AUGUST AT 2PM AND IS ALSO APPEARING WITH MARK MCGHEE AT THE KOMEDIA THEATRE IN BRIGHTON ON 6TH SEPTEMBER. TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE FROM THE BOX OFFICE ON 01273 647100 OR AT http://www.komedia.com/brighton
Now available on Amazon Kindle
Paperback available shortly.
CHAPTER 29: Micky Adams (Part One)
Managers tend to surround themselves with coaches that they know they can trust and rely on, but given his previous experiences, Brighton’s Micky Adams was understandably more determined than most to hire someone who could watch his back. Mohamed Al-Fayed had peremptorily dismissed him at Fulham just four months into a new five-year contract in favour of the higher profile Kevin Keegan, shortly after Adams had won both promotion and the Third Division manager of the season award. He then lasted less than a fortnight at Swansea City and explained what had happened to the Daily Telegraph: “I had 13 days there which was pretty controversial at the time. I got promised ‘x’ amount of pounds for the squad but the money never materialised and I told them they could look for another manager. I walked out on principle.”
In 1959 Ian Fleming wrote in Goldfinger, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” and Adams must have nodded his head in appreciation at the astuteness of this aphorism when his next managerial job at Brentford also ended quickly and badly. He inherited a squad that had been denuded of its best players and largely comprised low quality, cut-price nonentities. Assisted by his former Southampton teammate and Rod Stewart lookalike, Glenn Cockerill, who at 38 was comfortably the best player in the team, he brought in a series of experienced campaigners, but for all his energy and enthusiasm the Bees were relegated on the final day of the season.
Adams felt that he had done a good job in difficult circumstances: “I signed loyal players who I knew and trusted and I took them around with me. We did not lose too many games but we could not score and it was the draws that killed us.” David Webb then sold the club to Ron Noades who immediately sacked Adams and appointed himself manager. Thus ended a turbulent year in which he had lost three jobs. No wonder he had trust issues and valued loyalty above all other virtues.
Adams then took a temporary backseat and became assistant manager at Nottingham Forest and he was at a loose end after the dismissal of Dave Bassett in January 1999. Micky had impressed Dick Knight with his knowledge and passion for the game when they met at a reserve game and he was Knight’s only candidate to replace the sacked Jeff Wood.
Adams brought his friend Alan Cork with him as his assistant and together they built a tough, gritty and experienced squad in the image of their manager, which was perfectly equipped to compete and win the physical battles experienced in the Third Division, but also contained some creative players. Most importantly, most of them were known quantities as Paul Watson, Charlie Oatway, Danny Cullip, Darren Freeman, Warren Aspinall and Paul Brooker had played for Adams at either Fulham or Brentford and three of them had played for both clubs. Adams had built up an extensive knowledge of players and recruited other strong characters in Richard Carpenter, Paul Rogers, Michel Kuipers, Nathan Jones and Andy Crosby who were all to play a significant role over the coming seasons.
It is all very well sharing goals throughout the team but any successful side needs a regular goal scorer. Steele was a poacher with little physical presence but Bobby Zamora was the real deal; skilful, quick, elegant and deadly. Adams recalls how he arrived at the club: “We were going through an indifferent spell and struggling for a big centre forward. David Cameron wasn’t up to it and we had been outbid by Brentford for Lorenzo Pinamonte, so I called Ian Holloway at Bristol Rovers who told me: ‘I have got a young lad who’s been on loan at Bath City. He’s only 19 and as raw as anything but he has scored a few goals for them.’ I was not totally convinced but we were desperate and the clincher was when Ian told me he was only earning £140 per week, so I said ‘send him down,’ and the rest is history!”
By the time of Cork’s departure in September 2000 it was clear that Brighton were mounting a serious promotion challenge and it was crucial that momentum was maintained. Cork felt that the opportunity to manage Cardiff City was too good to pass up and having been Micky’s assistant at three clubs it was time for him to become a manager in his own right.
Micky Adams had inherited Bob Booker as his youth team manager when he had taken over at Brentford in 1997. Bob was quick to remind him of the two goals he had scored for Sheffield United against Adams’s Southampton back in 1991, but his new boss purported to have no memory of that feat. Adams recalls that first conversation: “I looked him straight in the eye and told him that I didn’t know him but I would give him a chance and see if he was hard working and loyal, and if so we would be fine. He pointed out the camp bed in the corner of the dressing room and told me he was so committed that he would be sleeping there that night. I burst out laughing and we soon became great friends and I knew that we would work well together.”
Micky Adams had promised to keep his eye on Bob Booker when he left Brentford and Micky knew exactly who he wanted as Cork’s replacement at Brighton: “Corky’s departure surprised me as he had always seemed happy as a number two. I was disappointed but Bob Booker was my immediate choice to replace him. We had stayed in touch and I knew he was unhappy at Brentford. He jumped at the opportunity to join me at Brighton and it was the best decision that I ever made.”
Dick Knight interviewed Bob on Monday 2nd October and he accepted the job before he had seen either Withdean Stadium or the training ground at the University of Sussex. Bob smiled at the memory and recalls that he was always instructed to take potential new signings for a cup of tea at the Grand Hotel where they could see Brighton at its best, and under no circumstances was he to show them the stadium before their signature was safely on the contract.
Dick Knight had vaguely heard of Bob from his time at Sheffield United: “Alan Cork was a good coach and would be hard to replace and when Micky made it clear that he wanted to hire Bob I backed his judgement. He made an excellent impression on me when we met at Topolino’s. Bob was very intelligent and had a lovely sense of humour and it was clear that he and Micky were on the same wavelength.”
Bob hit the ground running as he visited the training ground after lunch, which he greeted with a rueful smile: “Dick Knight loved the sound of his own voice but he was a fantastic chairman who knew his stuff. He made it clear to me that the club was being run on a shoestring and initially I was horrified when I saw the training ground. The facilities were awful, the players were spread over a number of small dressing rooms, the pitches were bumpy and we could only train whenever the University allowed us. Sometimes we had to train on rugby pitches, which made shooting practice interesting, or we would use the AstroTurf pitch, which took its toll on players’ knees. At least they had to clean their own kit and boots so that would not be my responsibility, as it had been at Brentford. Micky did his best to create an ‘us against the world’ atmosphere and made sure that the players made the best of things. I had seen far worse so I just got on with things.”
“Next we were off to Withdean Stadium, which was a total shambles. It was a small, decrepit athletics stadium with a football pitch surrounded by a running track. There were two uncovered stands, one holding 1,800 fans and the South Stand, which contained 4,500 temporary seats installed on a grass bank. It held less than 7,000 fans and there was no real atmosphere there, but we turned it into a fortress. The dressing room was a portakabin with a crooked floor and a leaking roof. There was a tiny office in the home dressing room, separated from the players, where Micky and I would go at halftime if the players were arguing with each other and we would let them sort things out for themselves.”
“Steve Winterburn, the groundsman, worked on his own with only a lawnmower, tractor, fork and a rake. No wonder the pitch was awful. There were no sprinklers or sheets to protect the pitch, which was either flooded or too dry. If a match was in in doubt there would be a general SOS and everyone would turn up with mops and try to get the pitch into playable condition.”
This was turning into a long first day and it ended with Bob getting his first sight of some of the players in a reserve game at Worthing against Oxford United.
Bob got home very late that night, exhausted but exhilarated at the challenge he faced. Initially he commuted every day from Watford and he would leave at about 5.30am and arrive at Micky Adams’s rented house in Burgess Hill before 7 o’clock and bring his new boss a cup of tea and the newspapers. Bob would get to the training ground at about 9 o’clock, an hour before the players.
The physio, Malcolm Stuart, introduced himself to Bob by covering his telephone with cling film on his first full day and when he finally managed to remove it he received a mysterious call purporting to come from the Samaritans stating: “You’re going to need us in this job.”
“Long serving kit man Jock Riddell had just left and was soon replaced by John Keeley who acted as kit man/goalkeeping coach – it was just like being back at Brentford! Dear old Jock used to sell antique furniture at car boot sales and the first time I went into the kit room at the training ground the playing strip was buried under a pile of his unsold stock. He died in 2002 and we all went to his funeral at the Downs Crematorium and just as we carried the coffin inside, a seagull landed on the roof and we all burst into tears.”
Bob shared an office at the training ground with Micky Adams and Malcolm Hinshelwood, Dean Wilkins and Vic Bragg from the youth section crowded in next door. Dean White also arrived at the same time as Bob as reserve team coach/chief scout.
Bob fretted all the way to Brighton on Tuesday 3rd October as despite all the frenzied activity of the previous day neither Dick Knight nor Micky Adams had outlined his responsibilities, but he had no time to think as he was thrown in at the deep end on his first day with the players. Micky Adams told him to run the session, starting with a warm-up, followed by some ball work and passing drills and he said he would come out and join him afterwards. Bob knew that he was being tested and wondered if Adams knew that this was the first time he had ever taken a session for professionals rather than YTS kids?
“I was worried about how the players would take to me and whether they would make my life difficult? I already knew some of them from their time at Brentford and had played with Darren Carr at Sheffield United but I wasn’t particularly close to any of them.”
Bob had particular concerns about one player: “I had clashed with Warren Aspinall several times in his Wigan days and he had developed a reputation for being difficult and upsetting people. How would a wily old pro like him react to me telling him what to do? I was his assistant manager now and I needed to earn his respect. Micky introduced me to the players and I could see Warren looking at me with an enigmatic grin on his face and I had no idea what he was thinking. I tried to put him out of my mind and I got them into a circle and said: ‘Right lads, I’m Bob Booker and I’m taking over from Alan Cork’ and went straight into the session, which was quite nerve racking as I was winging it. The players tested me straight away and tried to wind me up with comments like: ‘That’s not how Corky did it’ but I gave it right back to them: ‘He’s gone, I’m here now and I am not Corky! I’m doing it my way!’ Thankfully the players responded and seemed to enjoy the session. That was a crucial milestone for me as if things had gone differently I could have lost control of the squad and been finished before I had even started, and I learned that it isn’t necessary for every player to like you as long as they respect you.”
Former teammate Darren Carr that week told Andy Naylor in The Argus just what Bob Booker would bring to the Albion: “He was well liked (at Sheffield United) and I cannot see any reason why he won’t fit in with the lads. He is very bubbly and has a good sense of humour, so he will take over from Corky in that respect.”
Bob was a quick learner and realized that he was fortunate enough to be working with an experienced and committed group of players who largely policed themselves.
“There were several leaders. Danny Cullip, Charlie Oatway and Richard Carpenter were the loudest and ensured that nobody coasted. If Bobby Zamora was not producing then Cullip would have him up against the dressing room wall and tell him to ‘start running around as you’re costing me my bonus.’ The players would point fingers and sort things out, which is exactly what you wanted. Everyone was encouraged to speak up and it was a very vocal dressing room, but there were no cliques, no bullying, nobody went too far and everyone accepted criticism. They strongly reminded me of the Sheffield United squad which was also a strong group in the way they looked out for each other.”
Micky Adams understood how difficult it was for Bob at first as: “He knew nothing about the club and had to prove himself with a strong group of fiercely competitive and opinionated players as well as take over from an established number two in Corky. I kept my distance from the players and Bob became the link between them and myself, and he ensured that they knew what I wanted. If I was not happy with them then training would mainly consist of running and sometimes the players would take their frustration and high spirits out on Bob and he would be ragged and stripped naked. He always took it well and maybe he enjoyed being manhandled by Charlie Oatway?”
Bob soon worked out what was required: “I decided to create my own job description and get involved in everything. It was up to me to take the weight off Micky, provide my opinions and make myself indispensable. I understood that trust was paramount as Micky only tolerated people that he could rely on. He had no time for yes-men and wanted someone with opinions about players, tactics and substitutions who could help him make good decisions under pressure.”
“I became the link between Micky and the players. I had to build up their trust and deal with all their problems, ideally on my own but also knowing when I had to involve the manager. Apart from Danny Cullip who would always go straight to Micky, they would come to me with their problems and complaints. Maybe they were a bit wary of what Micky would tell them and preferred to hear it from me? Gary Hart was always the first to ask me why he had been dropped and I would try and tell him Micky’s reasons. Micky kept his distance and largely ruled by fear. He knew how to press their buttons, and he told them exactly how it was. The players responded and never crossed him and instead they would take it out on me and call him ‘Mein Führer’ and ‘Little Legs,’ which was fine, as I knew that it was only frustration and high spirits and I made sure that things never went too far.”
“I remember a spineless performance at Scunthorpe in the FA Cup in December 2000. The defeat was partially my fault as when Micky finished his team talk I sent them out onto the pitch to a resounding cry of ‘unleash hell,’ as I had just seen Gladiator! That worked well! Micky was seething all the way home and when we arrived in the early hours of the morning I had to tell the players to be at the training ground at 8am and he ran them around the nearby pond for 45 minutes shouting: “You didn’t run around yesterday for the supporters so you can make up for it now.”
“My job was to pick them up after he had criticized them. Micky would keep his distance so I could go in and calm everybody down. I kept it light and enjoyed joking with them
and as assistant manager I had to be one of them but also ensure that they did not see me as a spy. They knew what would and would not get back to the manager, such as when someone refused to pay a fine, and sometimes they would use me as a conduit to Micky, particularly when they wanted permission for a team night out.”
“I was a voice for Micky to get into the players and also a vehicle for the players to communicate with the manager.
Sometimes I had to assert myself, challenge them and make it clear who was in charge or the inmates would be running the asylum. I knew that Micky Adams would always back me up but I could tell that the players trusted and respected me. That was the key.”
“We tried to mix things up and sometimes as we were walking off the pitch at halftime Micky would say: ‘You can be bad cop today’ and I would go in and hammer them, which took them by surprise as that was normally Micky’s role. He would then interrupt me and say: “I think you’re being a bit harsh, Bob’ and pick them up. Reverse psychology that always seemed to work.”
“I helped Micky with the coaching and some days I would take all the training and on others we shared it. Micky was an excellent coach and I learned how he ran his sessions and I used many of them for the rest of my career. He was always very structured and organized and the players enjoyed them as he varied things and they were never left standing around. His team was extremely fit and there lots of timed pitch runs.”
Bob loved coaching: “Particularly when something you worked on in the week came off in a match. We spent hours practicing near post flick-ons by Cullip for Zamora to score, as well as a well-rehearsed free kick when Zamora would jog towards Paul Watson and they would pretend to have a chat before Bobby sprinted off just as Paul bent the ball in and he would invariably be unmarked and have a strike at goal.”
“I kept an eye on the young players coming through and I scouted players and future opposition either alone or with Micky. I also liaised with the secretary, Derek Allan, regarding accommodation, pick-up points and training arrangements for away games.
“It was almost like being married to another man – after all I already made Micky a cup of tea and brought him his newspapers most mornings! I was at his beck and call but I seemed to know instinctively what he wanted, learned quickly and I made it up as we went along. We were already friends from our time together at Brentford but I could not take anything for granted and it was clear that you had to be on your toes with him and if you made a mistake he would come down hard on you. I caused chaos on the way to a northern away game when I completely messed up all the pick-up arrangements and he went ballistic with me and I never repeated my error. I totally respected and learned so much from him”
Dick Knight was rarely at the training ground but he soon learned that Bob had settled in well. “There was a discernible gap between Micky Adams and the players. He did not want to get close to them and Bob was the perfect bridge and ensured that the lines of communication were maintained. He was very easygoing and the players responded to him but Bob made it clear that they could not take any liberties.”
Micky Adams was also delighted with his new assistant: “Bob has an infectious nature and gets on with everyone, which is a rare skill. Sometimes when you go into a club you wonder about peoples’ ulterior motives, but Bob was so loyal and he also made me laugh, and I like people who do that. But there was far more to him as he was a deep thinker who really knew the game, he was not afraid to voice his opinions firmly both to the players and me and he was a good coach.”
“Most importantly, he built a rapport with the players who liked and respected him, which was crucial, particularly as nowadays you have to be more of a baby sitter and if you don’t keep players happy you are finished. I knew that I could drip-feed things into them through Bob and that he would pass on my instructions and keep the dressing room happy and in check.”
Bob was relieved that his arrival did not see an end to the team’s success and they continued on their winning ways before clinching promotion after a 2-0 victory at Plymouth on 14th April 2001. A narrow win over promotion rivals, Chesterfield, who had been fined £20,000 and deducted nine points after a series of financial shenanigans, ensured that the championship was won. Albion eventually finished 10 points ahead of Cardiff City; Micky Adams was voted manager of the year and Albion only lost seven times after Bob’s appointment in October.
Bob did not enjoy the initial celebration as: “I went to Micky’s house for a drink after the Chesterfield match and he put on all his favourite Billy Joel albums, which he knew I detested. He sat back in his chair, glass in hand and with a contented look on his face, told me: ‘That’s it, the job’s done and I am going to leave things up to you now, Bob,’ and I made the majority of the decisions for the final couple of matches.”
Dick Knight took the players to The Westin La Quinta in Marbella to celebrate and he noticed with surprise an initial absentee: “Micky Adams only came for part of the trip as he did not want to socialize with the players. Bob and Paul Rogers were in charge and we left Marbella reasonably intact.” Bob laughed and stated that the chairman had given an extremely sanitized version, or perhaps he was not fully aware of what had gone on?
“Warren Aspinall came in late on the first night, cut his hand when he knocked over an expensive vase in the lobby and there was a telltale trail of blood leading to his door. Despite the evidence he was adamant it was nothing to do with him and he asked for a DNA test. Eventually we clubbed together and paid for the damage. Another afternoon a group of players wearing pillowcases with eye slits came in and trashed my room. I knew who the culprits were as they were stupid enough to stand outside my door afterwards and laugh about what they had done, but I took it in good spirits and Messrs Mayo, Cullip, Oatway, Rogers and Carpenter escaped without punishment. I came out to the swimming pool one afternoon wearing a white bathrobe and a Michael Jackson mask, peeled off my robe and dived into the swimming pool, swam a length and walked off. The players all seemed to enjoy my impersonations and I felt accepted and part of the group.”
Bob spent as much time as he could exploring Brighton and soon fell in love with the city. Initially he commuted from Watford but the driving soon began to take its toll on him, particularly when he and Micky had been out scouting the night before, and increasingly often he would sofa surf with Micky, Malcolm Stuart and his wife, Lorraine in Mile Oak, or Matt Hicks, the Football Liaison Manager, who became a particular friend.
“I became a bit of a nomad and by the end of the season I was generally only going back to Watford every Sunday and I knew that I would have to make arrangements to move down permanently which would put further strain on my relationship with Christine.”
“I was doing well financially and I received a £10,000 promotion bonus, which I used to pay for an extension on the house in Watford.”
Bob had enjoyed an exceptional first season at the club culminating in his first promotion as a staff member. He had felt under pressure given the success of the previous partnership between Adams and Cork but he had been his own man and put his own stamp on the job. The friendship he shared with Micky Adams had grown deeper and they also developed an exceptional working relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
Bob recalls one incident that brought them even closer together: “We were sitting in his conservatory late one night and wanted a drink. Micky thought there was a keg of beer in the utility room, so we started drinking it but it was a bit warm so he told me to get some ice out of the freezer. I put the ice into the glasses and it started frothing up as we drank the beer. It tasted a bit odd but we finished it and went to bed. We were sharing a bed so Claire, who had just given birth to their son, Mitchel, could get some uninterrupted sleep – it’s a manager/assistant manager thing! In the morning we both felt awful and Claire burst into the room and asked: ‘Where is all the ice?’ ‘We used it in the beer,’ replied Micky. ‘That was my frozen breast milk.’ We looked at each other and he said ‘that’s the closest you will ever get to her breasts,’ and we laughed our heads off. Claire eventually saw the funny side.”
“We were confident about our prospects in Division Two, particularly as Micky signed a new contract and also brought in another of his old boys in Simon Morgan from Fulham. His knees were worse than mine, and he barely trained, but he was another leader who read the game brilliantly.”
“Micky took us to Ballygar, a village in County Galway for a preseason tour. He loved going there although there was only one sloping training pitch at the back of a pub. The trip was great for team bonding and some of our party stole a life-sized horse which was kept outside the pub, and tried unsuccessfully to bring it upstairs to Micky’s bedroom before leaving it in the training field.”
After losing to Sligo, Albion took part in the “Battle of Longford.” It all started badly when Longford Town scored an early goal which never crossed the line and there followed a number of unsavoury incidents including an elbow on Crosby, a falling-out between Wicks and Carpenter, a red card for Oatway and a brawl, which followed an appalling tackle by Steve Melton. Not surprisingly the game was abandoned at halftime and Bob did not help calm the situation when he popped his head round Longford’s dressing room door and said: “Thanks a lot for the game lads,” before beating a hasty retreat! Micky Adams apparently gathered his team together once they had made their escape, with bottles and cans pinging against the side of their coach, and instead of giving them a bollocking, as they expected, he simply said: “You’ll do for me lads.”
Micky and Bob’s partnership continued to flourish as Albion set the early pace in the Second Division with Adams winning the September manager of the month award following a run of four wins and two draws.
There was an early setback in October with an unexpected home defeat by Brentford and the following day Bob received another shock when Micky told him that he was leaving as he had the chance to join Leicester City as assistant manager to Dave Bassett, with the expectation of taking over as manager at the end of the season.
“I knew that Micky was very ambitious and wanted to manage in the Premier League. He felt frustrated at the lack of progress regarding a new stadium for the club and knew that the further we took Brighton, the harder it would be to sustain success, given the constraints of Withdean and the limited budget available. But I did not have a clue that he was about to leave.”
“I was devastated and whilst I totally understood his reasons, I felt that I had been left in the lurch. We had struck up a great relationship which was ending prematurely and I felt that we had unfinished business. I knew that there was nothing for me at Leicester as Micky was going there initially as assistant manager but just as when he left Brentford, he said that he would try and take me with him as soon as the opportunity arose, and, as you will hear, he kept his word at the end of the season. I knew I had done a good job but I was unsure of what would happen to me now as I had only been at the club for a year and I felt very vulnerable as most managers would want to bring their own staff with them.”
I spoke to Micky Adams recently and he explained his decision: “I was very ambitious and given the problems we faced I just could not see Brighton progressing at the pace I wanted. The higher we progressed the more difficult it would be to maintain our success. Dick Knight was always telling me how close we were to getting permission for a new stadium in the city but Bob and I would have a drink every Friday after training and our toast was always ‘Falmer, My Arse’ as we knew just how far away it was despite Dick’s words.”
“Like most chairmen, Dick Knight was strong-willed and opinionated, but he also talked a lot of sense. He never went behind my back and would speak plainly whenever something was on his mind. I was happy to listen to him although the lunches at Topolino’s were hard work as I used to come out stinking of tobacco, but we had good chats and I am extremely grateful to him for his support.”
“I was sorry to leave Bob behind as we got on so well both socially and professionally and it is not every manager who is willing to share his wife’s breast milk with his assistant!”
“In retrospect, I was a little bit eager and hurried in my decision to leave. I wanted to progress as quickly as possible but maybe I should have stayed another year and seen out the next title win – two in a row would have been incredible for me, but that’s life.”
There is so much written about football nowadays and Amazon now stocks over 20,000 books on the subject, but I would be totally amazed if more than 1% of them are more than dross and have much literary merit or originality.
Amongst the ghost written pap there are a frustratingly small number of authors who stand out from the sea of mediocrity and one of them is Michael Calvin. I make no apology for writing about him yet again but with the forthcoming release of “No Hunger In Paradise” he has now written four exceptional football books each providing a detailed and informed study of a different aspect of the sport.
He has previously spent a season as a fly on the wall in promotion winning Millwall’s dressing room, given a voice to scouts – one of football’s most ignored groups, and demonstrated just how stressful and perilous is the role of a football manager.
Now he has surpassed himself with a forensic, lacerating and yet sympathetic study of what it takes to become a professional footballer. He has followed the journey followed by so many desperate and naive youngsters and examines the reasons why well over 99% fall off the parapet and disappear into obscurity or even worse, and only a handful make it into the big time.
Talent is of course a necessary prerequisite but it is by no means the be all and end all. The difference between success and failure can be minuscule. So often it is a case of having a good game at the right time and catching the eye of the right person. Injuries can strike just when contracts are being decided and woe betide any youngster who is perceived to be a problem, or who falls out with his manager or coach.
Calvin journeys far and wide and tells the salutary tales of kids from who are chased by clubs when they are barely more than babes in arms and how they can fall into the clutches of rapacious agents who often seem to act as a law unto themselves and are merely seeking riches without much thought for their clients’ wellbeing.
What can make all the difference is the presence of a levelheaded set of parents who want nothing more than to act in the best interests of their son, instill in them a set of values and protect them as much as possible from those who see them as no more than commodities or as a meal ticket. My heart went out to young Zak Brunt, who has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles at home and abroad and a father who initially found his situation hard to deal with, and is now at Derby County. Zak’s rollercoaster ride is heartrending and has been beautifully and lyrically summed up by Calvin: “Go well, young man. You have earned the right to dream. Stay safe out there, for there are still many swirling rivers to cross.” Not all parents are perfect and we hear of those who are more concerned with making a quick buck rather than looking at doing what is best for their son.
What Calvin describes is a veritable snake pit where corruption is rife and the innocent fall foul of adults who should know far better and are motivated by greed and the allure of finding the next big name.
Calvin exposes the ego driven coaches, such as the goalkeeping coach who insists on lining up the defensive wall for his 13 year old charge, who forget that it is all about the kids and not them, and the bullying mindset that frighteningly has still not been fully eradicated from the game. It really is all very shocking to read.
Fortunately there are some exceptions with heroes such as Steadman Scott with the supportive work he conducts at the wonderful Afewee Training Centre where talented kids from backgrounds well beyond deprived are given the help they need. So far more than 40 boys have benefited from their holistic approach and are now in the academy system, all hoping to follow in the footsteps of their most famous alumni, Nathaniel Clyne.
It is humbling to contemplate the obstacles that some of these kids have to overcome: broken homes, social deprivation, lack of role models and positive parental influence, poor schooling and the ravages of the gang culture. It was truly heartbreaking to read of the academy players whose form dropped off owing to the unimaginable effects of seeing good friends become the victims of street murder.
Everything is slanted in favour of the big clubs who can plunder the best talent from below with impunity owing to the dictates of EPPP, a self-drafted and self-serving manifesto for youth development written by the top six clubs which was ridden roughshod through the protests of their weaker brethren by the threats of withholding the much needed solidarity payments from the Premier League.
Calvin provides a snapshot of the fallout caused by Brentford’s decision to close their Category Two academy in May. He rightly lambasts the club for parading the Under Eights on the pitch before a full house crowd at the Fulham local derby less than a fortnight before the decision was made public, an action that Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles regrets but was forced into owing to HR protocols related to staff redundancies, and as a parent himself, he fully understands how the parents must have felt. Giles is taken to task for this PR own goal but makes a persuasive case for why Brentford decided to stop investing around one and a half million pounds each year in an academy that whilst it was turning out fine young men in abundance, it had yet to produce any first team material and the two most outstanding prospects in Ian Carlo Poveda and Josh Bohui had been picked off by Manchester City and United respectively for relative peanuts. The club, innovative as ever, has now launched a B team Development Squad operating outside the system and its success is being closely monitored by many other clubs who similarly feel that it has hardly worthwhile investing time and money on prospects who either fail to make the grade, or conversely, even worse, prove to be far too talented to hang onto and are snapped up for fees that bear no resemblance to their likely future value.
One small quibble, as is the case with everything written by this author, facts are scrupulously checked, however I would query his assertion that fullback, Rico Henry, singled out as one of the most promising youngsters in the game had found it hard to establish himself at Brentford, given that he was seriously injured at the time of his signing for his new club and was not fit to play until well into the new year, since when he has played almost every game and impressed everyone with the quality of his performances and the heights that he might reach one day.
This is an important book which is often uncomfortable to read and one that raises many important and difficult questions. We owe a massive duty of care to our children and it is apparent that football and its acolytes are falling far short of their responsibilities and Calvin deserves credit for shining a light on and exposing many of the game’s shortcomings.
No Hunger In Paradise by Michael Calvin is published by Century at £16.99.
Here is a chapter from my forthcoming Bob Booker biography which deals with his first few frenetic days after he signed for Sheffield United. I hope you like it and I would welcome your comments.
It had been over two years since Bob Booker had last played regular first team football for Brentford and he had been involved in only 25 games in the intervening period. He had started 7 times and lasted the full 90 minutes on only one occasion, at Bristol Rovers, an occurrence that had left him gasping for breath by the final whistle.
There were obvious and serious question marks about his fitness when he joined Sheffield United. Would his ailing left knee stand up to the physical pressures and demands of first team football? Would he be able to twist and turn and demonstrate the mobility, flexibility and stamina required to play regularly in the Third Division, particularly for a team like Sheffield United which prided itself on a punishing and demanding high energy, high tempo style that required its players to maintain exceptional fitness levels?
Could he cope with the mental pressure of a promotion push, something that he had never really experienced at Brentford who had only briefly threatened to challenge for honours in the 1981/82 and 1982/83 seasons before such hopes proved to be a mere chimera?
Could he rise to the challenge and responsibility of becoming a potential first choice again after such a long period marooned on the periphery of the action?
Would he be able to prove himself to a new set of fans, most of whom had barely heard of him and would his new teammates accept and welcome him?
How would he deal with the prospect of nearly 20,000 supporters baying their disapproval at him should his performances fall short of their expectations?
How would he feel when he read Tony Pritchett’s articles and match reports criticizing him in the pages of The Sheffield Star or heard supporters venting their fury about him on the notorious “Praise or Grumble” post-match show on BBC Radio Sheffield?
These were all issues that deeply concerned Bob as soon as he put pen to paper for the club, however his feet barely touched the ground as he was thrust straight into the promotion maelstrom and such negative thoughts and fears were quickly dismissed and dashed from his mind.
I spoke to Derek French, Dave Bassett’s ebullient physio who played such a valuable role behind the scenes in keeping the squad fit and in good cheer. He had much to say about Bob’s state of health at the time that he joined the club.
“Bob lived near me in Watford and as we knew each other well I had seen him privately a few times for rehabilitation sessions when he was recovering from his injury, so I knew how serious it had been and quite understandably he was very concerned about whether he would be able to play again as ACL repair work in those days was nowhere near as advanced as it is today.”
“Before we signed him Dave Bassett had asked me about his fitness and whether I thought we would get anything out of him given that he had hardly played any football for such a long period of time. I told him it would be a bit of a gamble but knowing Bob as I did I thought that coming up to Sheffield and having a change of scenery would give him a massive boost, but that I honestly couldn’t guarantee anything. That being said he was going to be coming on a free transfer so it was really a low risk gamble that wouldn’t cost us anything if it did not work out.”
“If his knee had been totally knackered we would not have been able to sign him but Harry was only hoping to get a year or so or, at best, a couple of seasons out of him so we didn’t bother with a huge medical examination for him, we just made sure that he kept himself in decent shape.”
“After he signed we worked really hard with him and every day after training he would come to the gym and do lots of extra work to strengthen and rehab his knee. He showed a lot of dedication and determination, as he fully understood that he had been given a totally unexpected last chance to extend his career and to be part of a team that was going to win things. A change is as good as a rest and the transfer gave Bob a totally new lease of life as well as a huge mental lift. I think that in his excitement about the situation he found himself in he simply forgot about his knee and ignored the pain and he just got on with things!”
“He kept himself very fit over the 3 years he was with us. We knew that his knee was always going to deteriorate over time and given that he started playing every game for us after such a long break from regular action and was put straight into the firing line he initially suffered from a few niggles and hamstring problems, but nothing that was unexpected or out of the ordinary. After a few months he got himself really fit mainly thanks to his own hard work and he was really flying. He looked after himself very well off the pitch and was never really a drinker. He was determined to enjoy the time he had in Sheffield and threw himself into the local community and he was a total credit to both the club and himself.”
Dave Bassett confirmed in his autobiography that he had been aware of Bob’s career and capabilities for many years but he initially saw him merely “as a short-term solution” but quickly admitted his error and wryly amended his opinion to: “Did I say short-term?”
John Garrett admits to having vaguely heard of Booker, and in that I am sure that he was in the absolute minority amongst United fans, despite Bob having scored at Bramall Lane for the Bees back in 1982, whilst Derek Dooley had absolutely no idea who he was when Bassett informed him that he wanted to sign Bob and was simply grateful that he would not cost anything.
Bob received a new lease of life in Sheffield and the fact that he played so regularly for Sheffield United for 3 years, missing only 5 matches in the 1988/89 season after making his debut in late November, as well as playing 52 and 33 times respectively over the next 2 seasons, clearly demonstrates the power of mind over matter and his utter determination to maximise the opportunity he had unexpectedly been given.
The first that Sheffield United supporters heard about the move and Bob’s arrival was on Wednesday 23rd November when the banner headline “BOOKER PRIZE FOR BASSETT” appeared in the Sheffield Star and Tony Pritchett announced that “Bob Booker, Brentford’s experienced midfield player, is to move into Bramall Lane tomorrow to reinforce Sheffield United’s promotion challenge after the loss of Simon Webster with a broken leg.”
Dave Bassett was quoted as saying “I have known Bob a long time, he comes from the same town as Vinnie Jones but there the similarity ends. I wanted to take him at Wimbledon a few years ago but I couldn’t do the deal.”
“I had my eye on him again this season but until the accident to Webster it wasn’t so urgent. I didn’t want to sign him just to play in the reserves but now we need an extra man. It is a matter of grabbing when you can.”
“He can play midfield or up front and I have brought him to go into midfield for us.”
Booker expressed his surprise and joy at this unexpected move: “It is unbelievable coming here at this stage of my career. After 10 years plus at Brentford, to finish my career here is tremendous. I have been blown off my feet today; it is a dream. I am really excited about it.”
Bob was thrown straight in and played for the first half of a drawn reserve game at Huddersfield on the Thursday night in order to blow out the cobwebs after all his recent travelling up and down the motorway and ideally prove that he was fit enough to make his debut against Bristol City at Bramall Lane on the Saturday afternoon. His experience allowed him to husband his energy and get him through the 45 minutes relatively unscathed but he could already see the difficulties that lay ahead.
“The Huddersfield game was a real eye opener for me. Harry had the reserves playing in exactly the same way as the first team, which was fast moving and high energy football. I had experienced their system at Griffin Park earlier in the season when I was playing against them, which I found quite hard enough. Now I needed to adapt very quickly or else I could see problems ahead and I would not last long at the club. In a nutshell I was nowhere near fit enough to keep up with the pace of the football the Blades were playing.”
Bob had barely played for over two years and he was concerned that he would now be unable to cope with his new anticipated workload given that matches were coming thick and fast as United were still involved in the FA Cup and the Sherpa Van Trophy with the Saturday games generally punctuated by a midweek match too. He quickly realized that he had to look hard at himself, his fitness levels, training regime and the way that he prepared for matches and tailor and adapt things according to what was going to be required of him.
“I needed to train hard, but also train smart as to play Harry’s game you simply had to run and run for 90 minutes – there was no escape and no hiding place. I was so relieved that I had only played 45 minutes at Huddersfield after the week that I’d had – that was more than enough and all I wanted to do was to crawl off the pitch, get back to the hotel where I was staying and catch up with some much-needed sleep.”
“There was no respite for me as Frenchy wanted me in early on the Friday to give me a massage and start me off on my new training regime. I owe him so much for the way he managed my knee from day one, I couldn’t have survived at the club for very long without him. On our way back to the hotel he gave me the run down on what I was in for on the following day which would be a typical Friday morning’s training session and would consist of a warm up and ball work with Geoff Taylor before Harry would turn up at some stage and take the rest of the session.”
“I wasn’t sure what they had in store for me and was pleasantly surprised when Derek said ‘don’t be surprised if Harry throws you straight in on Saturday, and there’s a real opportunity for you here if you’re up to the challenge and are able to take it.’”
“I was as nervous as a kitten before my first training session on the Friday and felt exactly like I had so many years beforehand when Pat Kruse gave me a lift to the Brentford training ground for the first time. ‘Come on Bob’ I said to myself as I prepared to enter the dressing room, ‘you’re a seasoned pro with over 300 games under your belt, you can do this,’ but I still felt like a little boy on his first day at school.”
“Thankfully I needn’t have worried as there was a strong Southern contingent in the squad as Harry had already brought in a number of his former Crazy Gang members from Wimbledon in Simon Tracey, Francis Joseph, who, of course, I also knew from my Brentford days and Wally Downes with John Gannon soon to follow. As soon as Frenchy introduced me I heard a voice with a strong Northern accent shout out: ‘Not another Southern softie’ – that was my welcome to the Northern bunch, in this case Sheffield born Dane Whitehouse! This totally broke the ice and for the next ten minutes it was like World War 3 with good natured abuse flying everywhere between the Northerners and Southerners!”
Being as this was 1988 and not today when the practice is far more in vogue, there was no rite of passage or initiation ceremony for the newcomer and Bob was not required to stand on a stool or similar and sing a song as the price of his admission into the group and his new teammates were thankfully spared his ghastly tone-deaf rendition of a favourite by The Who, Def Leppard or even, heaven forbid, Alice Cooper!
“I could tell straight away that this was a happy and united
dressing room filled with so many strong and memorable characters who were all pulling together and supporting one another in a way that I had never experienced before in my career. Dave Bassett, Geoff Taylor and Derek French ran a close-knit and happy ship where everyone worked and played hard and laughter was never far away. You can never win anything if your dressing room is divided or split into cliques with lots of whispering in dark corners but here everyone mixed and gelled together.”
Bob was immediately made to feel a part of the group and welcomed by the likes of Chris Wilder, who is now managing the Blades, and fellow midfielder Mark Todd. Bob clearly remembers his first sight of his new skipper Paul Stancliffe who as a Rotherham defender had marked him out of the game in his second match for Brentford way back in October 1978. “He walked into the dressing room and spotted me, did a double take and shouted out ‘what on earth are you doing here – you’re even older than me!’ He was right too as I was born 4 months before him. Well, that was music to the ears of the Northern contingent who laughed their collective heads off. Whilst I was still trying and failing to come up with a witty riposte the ex-Wimbledon crew came to my rescue: ‘He might be older than you, Stan, but he’s played more games already than you’ll every play and he can score goals too.’”
No pressure then and little did they realise that Stancliffe was to go on and play 674 times in a 20-year Football League career nearly double the number that Bob managed!
Bob felt a bit more relaxed and at home after this lively introduction but he knew that whilst it was all very well holding his own in the dressing room it was what he did on the pitch that counted the most.
“Geoff Taylor popped his head around the door to tell us it was time to leave for the training ground. I wondered why he kept his distance and didn’t come in but my unspoken question was answered when his words were met by an immediate fusillade of laundry baskets, kit and football boots. There was no hiding place in this dressing room, you either joined in or fell by the wayside.”
“Chrissy Wilder and Mark Todd offered me a lift and from that moment on Chris and I became great friends. He was a lot younger than me but we soon discovered that we had much in common. We both came from close-knit families and we were both local boys done good. Born in Stocksbridge, he had been an apprentice at Southampton but he finally signed for his beloved local club and was so proud to be a Blade. His mates sat right behind the dug out at Bramall Lane and the main characters of that group were two lads called Witt and Dallas who also became great friends of mine.”
“Chris was the manager of their Sunday morning football team and he often invited me to go along to watch the lads in action. This was a bit weird as on a Saturday they were all at our game singing Sheffield United songs and eventually even my name, but the next morning I was just one of the lads watching them play. We would end up at the local pub after the game having a few John Smith’s together. This might not have been an ideal preparation for training the next day but it helped me settle down and became part of the local community and Chris was to play a massive part in my life in Sheffield.”
“On the drive to the training ground Chris and Toddy
started teasing me about the match at Griffin Park, ‘wasn’t that the game you played terribly in and got taken off?’ The banter was as cutting as anything I remembered at Brentford – that’s footballers for you, but it also had a serious side as I soon recognized just how important Simon Webster had been to the team and how popular he was and I realised that I had a large pair of boots to fill.”
Bob knew that the other players would be watching and judging him on the training ground, just as he had done to every newcomer he had encountered at Brentford. He had become part of the furniture and a respected senior player at Griffin Park but now the roles were reversed, all bets were off and it was up to him to prove that he deserved to be there and could add something to a team that had already demonstrated that it would be challenging for honours that season. If he didn’t he knew that his stay would be short and that retirement would be beckoning again.
“After the warm up the footballs came out and every dodgy touch was greeted with cries of ‘how many games has he played’ and all kinds of stick was being thrown my way but I was loving it and I did OK. By now, Harry had arrived and made his way over. In his strong Cockney accent he said ‘OK Geoff, that’s enough of that rubbish!’ Even the manager was throwing banter around and the players were loving it.”
“We all caught our breath for a while whilst Harry and Geoff had a discussion. I looked behind me and Carl Bradshaw and Simon Tracey were wrestling with each other on the floor, which was apparently a fairly common occurrence and nobody took any notice of them!”
“As soon as Harry began to speak the atmosphere changed and the players all gave him their full attention and you could tell that he commanded their total respect. Even now nearly 30 years on I can clearly remember what he said: ‘Right lads, listen up, these players come with me, the rest of you stand on the side, watch and listen and keep stretching.’ Harry then started calling out the team for tomorrow’s match and my name was included. I did a double take, was I really in the starting eleven, could I have misheard him? My stomach lurched and I didn’t know whether to feel terrified or exhilarated. After the week I’d had, I really wasn’t expecting that despite the hint that Frenchie had given me. The team lined up in a 4-4-2 formation and I took my position up in midfield, next to my new little Irish mate Toddy who was a great technical player, and way out of my league in terms of his skill on the ball.”
“Now came the hard work as I was given a crash course into exactly what was required to play centre midfield in this Sheffield United team and I knew that I had to prove a quick study. Harry stood over some footballs just outside our penalty area, in front of our back four. He served them in turn to the centre halves and then the fullbacks. Each time he shouted out ‘two touches, hit the corners.’ As the ball went forward we all squeezed up the pitch like soldiers in formation filling in areas where the ball might go. At the top end of the pitch Deane and Agana knew exactly where and when to run. If they ended up receiving the ball outside the box they gave it straight to one of the wingers and then sprinted into the penalty area where they knew the ball would go.”
“I was used to picking the ball up from one of the Brentford defenders, turning and then looking either to make another short pass to a midfielder and keep possession, or to hit the ball long towards one of the wingers or central strikers. I would then follow my pass as quickly as I could and attempt to join in with the next phase of play. Harry then fired in a set of detailed instructions to me and made it clear that I would have to reprogramme myself as everything was done differently at this club in terms of the style and pattern of play and the midfielders were the workhorses of the team.”
“He told me that I should never come short for the ball from the defenders as they would be aiming what he called a ‘Reacher Ball’ to either Deane and Agana or towards the touchline ideally level with the opposing penalty area and we were always looking to turn the opposition defence by getting the ball in behind them.”
“As soon as the ball was launched forward by a defender or Benno in goal my first task was to keep up with the play and then get goal side of my opposing midfielder and look either to get a knockdown from our strikers or wingers or pick up the second ball as it was half cleared. When I got the ball I was instructed not to do any Cruyff Turns or anything fancy on the ball but to play a simple forward pass ideally to one of the wingers. Once that mission was accomplished I was not allowed to rest on my laurels but told to get into the penalty area as quickly as possible in order to support the strikers and get a strike in on goal – not much to ask for as I quickly learned the hard way that every game would consist of a series of lung bursting 70 yard runs up and down the pitch.”
“That was only half the task as when the opposition were in possession I had to squeeze up on them, try to compress the pitch and ideally stop them playing and win the ball back and start the entire process yet again. Set pieces were crucial to our success and given my height and strength in the air I was told to make late runs from beyond the far post and ideally meet Brian Deane’s near post flick-ons. I was also allocated a strong header of the ball from the opposition and told to mark him at their set pieces – not too much to ask for from an old crock with a dodgy knee!”
Stunned and left almost speechless at the extent of his workload and what was going to be expected of him, Bob cast a furtive glance at his midfield partner, the tiny Mark Todd and wondered if he had been a 6-footer before he joined the club and had gradually been worn down by the demands of his duties?
“After about 15 minutes of pattern of play work Harry brought in some of the other squad members who set up as he expected Saturday’s opponents Bristol City to do. Every possible detail was covered. Finally we practiced a series of attacking and defensive set plays. By now my head was reeling with information overload and the need to keep concentrating on what I had seen and heard – and this was supposed to be a quick and easy training session!”
“What Harry said was just as important as what he did and at the end of the session he spoke simply and passionately
about the importance of getting back on track as we had lost 2 of our last 3 league games as well as the need for all of us to remain switched on at set plays and every time the ball was out of play.”
“At the end of the session he finally introduced me to the squad and said to the lads, ‘I’m sure you’ll make him welcome even if he is a Southern softie!’ He then turned to Geoff Taylor and asked if he wanted to take the lads for a 10-minute game of North v South. This was greeted by cheers from everyone and the next few minutes were total carnage as the tackles flew in with barely a thought about there being a game tomorrow. The final whistle blew and luckily everyone was still in one piece!”
“We then headed back to stadium for a hot bath and the banter was relentless. An unwary apprentice was seized by Wally Downes and Simon Tracey and thrown into the kit skip where he was forced to remain for about 5 minutes, which must have seemed interminable for the poor lad. Thank goodness I had never been an apprentice and I can’t imagine anything like that being allowed to happen today!”
“After our hot soak, Chrissy Wilder informed me that we were all going down to the social club to have lunch together. Now I began to understand why this team was so successful as all the players bonded together to form a tightknit unit which was physically and mentally strong and full of winners with everyone supporting each other.”
“Paul Stancliffe then itemized all the club fines. These included being late, wearing dirty boots or the wrong kit, not wearing flip-flops in the dressing room and borrowing someone else’s shampoo. The list seemed endless and went on and on and I knew I had to be focused and on the ball at all times or my improved wages weren’t going to last too long.”
“After lunch Chrissy Wilder invited me back to his house which he shared with Tony Agana. However, I was mentally and physically exhausted and decided to go back to the hotel to rest and start preparing myself for one of the biggest games of my career. I was at a new club with new players, a new manager unlike anyone I had ever previously worked for, with new fans and new expectations. I’d only been there for a couple of days but I already felt like a Sheffield United player and now I had to go out and perform like one.”
What a frustrating afternoon at Elland Road yesterday with Brentford being denied a well-earned point right at the death.
Fine margins yet again as a tight offside decision goes against us, just as the Hogan pushing decision also went against us last week. Dean Smith was convinced that both Vibe who made an excellent run from a cleverly taken free kick and Hogan who turned in his cross were both onside. Television evidence is less clear but it was a close run thing and given that Hogan was also cruelly denied a goal last Saturday when Mousinho went down as if there was a sniper in New Road then it is clear that we are not getting the rub of the green at present. Hogan might also have been awarded a penalty too just after the break when he ran into the area and was clumsily challenged by a defender. I do have to wonder whether the referee might have been more convinced if the incident had occurred at the other end? it is now around thirty games since Brentford were awarded a penalty too and looking at some of the soft awards that other clubs seem to be benefitting from – are you watching Sheffield Wednesday who received an early Christmas present yesterday against poor doomed and benighted Rotherham – then it makes you think that we are really unfortunate at present.
Hopefully the luck will change as we are very close to being a more than decent Championship outfit given a little bit of strengthening in the forthcoming Transfer Window.
Elland Road seems a bit flat yesterday and lacked its normal air of menacing triumphalism. There were also only the hardcore of Bees fans in attendance given the proximity to Christmas and the ludicrously high cost of match tickets.
Brentford performed excellently before the interval and totally silenced the crowd and made a good Leeds team look distinctly average. Bentley was totally redundant and had only one cross to punch away. Brentford dominated the midfield with Woods and Yennaris busy and Sawyers and Vibe finding space between the lines. The final pass just was not quite there and for all their possession and a concerted spell of pressure near to half time there were not enough chances created and Green was relatively untested and when we did get it right Hogan’s effort was controversially disallowed. We should have been ahead and a goal before halftime would have inspired us and deflated them.
The second half was a different matter and after a bright start the Bees were pushed back and began to turn the ball over carelessly at time and were caught on the break twice but thankfully Leeds missed presentable chances. As the game progressed the performance and energy levels clearly declined and the crowed began to scent blood. The goal came late on after we defended poorly out on the left and conceded a soft corner. We lost our defensive shape, did not cover the short corner and Egan was brushed off by the massive Bartley who beat Bentley to Dallas’s well flighted near post cross to score easily. That was that despite Egan almost making up for his error with a last gasp hooked volley narrowly over the bar.
What a frustrating and annoying journey it was back to the station as we contemplated the point that had got away.
We lost quite simply because we do not currently have sufficient fit players of the required standard. Tom Field played well and showed strength in the tackle and good positional sense but after the tough week he had had he ran out of puff and was substituted late on by Barbet – and that move cost us dear. He was exhausted and needs nursing, was on his last legs and that’s what I think Sawyers was telling the bench when he ran over to them just before he was subbed off.
Barbet is no full back, nor does he pretend to be and does not have the pace needed. He therefore stands off the winger and gives him more room. The corner from which they scored was down to his poor defending and slipping over at the crucial moment. There is no blame attached to him as he is simply doing the best he can in an unfamiliar position.
Nico Yennaris also disappeared from the action as the game progressed. He just does not seem to be fully fit and looks as if he is playing injured. He is one of our fittest players but now cannot seem to last 90 minutes so a lingering injury might well be the explanation. We missed his energy as McEachran never got into the game as we were pushed further back towards our own goal.
Vibe too is playing out of position just behind Hogan and missed one presentable early chance and should have had an assist. Kaikai did worry them a bit when he replaced the flagging Vibe but we do not have a number 10 capable of hurting teams at championship level and Macleod is sorely missed.
Leeds strengthened and we weakened as we were forced to make substitutions and a key difference was the quality of the two benches. Narrow margins yet again!
I am trying to be objective by saying that there is very little difference between ourselves and the major rump of this league.
We lack numbers, key players seem to be playing hurt and we all know where our weaknesses lie and I am quite sure that our DOFs are also well aware and that some of them might well be addressed in the transfer window.
To suggest that Dean Smith set us up to play for a draw as some have done is in my opinion total nonsense.
We simply did not have the puff or fresh legs needed to maintain our first half massive superiority.
We will be fine and will finish where we deserve, which is between 8-12th place.
By the way. Had we drawn at Bristol and Leeds rather than winning and then losing totally undeservedly there would probably have been less complaints even if we would have one point less and this is the first time that Leeds gave managed to beat us since we were promoted!!