So We Lost…. It Was Only A Friendly! – 30/7/14

osasuna-2_9494_2Sometimes you learn more from a defeat than a victory and last night was certainly a case in point as Brentford went down by four goals to nil to Osasuna at Griffin Park.

Make no mistake about it, Osasuna were no mugs and despite their relegation from La Liga at the end of last season they looked a highly impressive team – particularly that is in the second half when they made eleven substitutions and brought on pretty much their entire first team.

Skilful on the ball with slick passing and impressive running off the ball, the visitors took total control after the break, cut Brentford apart on countless occasions and ran in four goals in a victory that looked by no means certain at the halftime interval.

I would be surprised if we meet many teams better than them next season.

So why am I sanguine about things even after so heavy a defeat?

Simply because preseason is when you learn about your squad.

Who is good enough, who isn’t and who, in time, might be.

Btu11LgCMAIyKxn.jpg-largeCertainly Brentford would have come away with a closer scoreline had they fielded a line-up similar to the one they put out on Saturday against Nice.

But what would that have proved and what would Mark Warburton have learned had that been the case?

Absolutely nothing in my opinion.

As it was he made sure that most of the squad now have ninety minutes of match action under their belt and most importantly, talisman and inspiration, Adam Forshaw made his first appearance of the preseason and played all of the second half.

He was tentative and showed little, but in the great scheme of things last night is simply a pathway leading towards the big kick off on August 9th and Mark Warburton’s objective is to have a full squad, fit, ready, eager and fully prepared in time to face Charlton Athletic.

There were many positives last night.

Alan McCormack returned from injury and was his normal robust and competitive self and came closest of any Bee to scoring when his overlapping run ended with a cross-shot just wide of the far post when the game was still goalless.

Harlee Dean too played the full ninety minutes and was probably our best player.

He looks to have slimmed down and was everywhere in defence as well as making some storming runs upfield.

He knows he faces a stern fight for a first team place and looks like he is well up for the challenge.

Richard Lee too was calmness and competence personified and we have two excellent goalkeepers to choose from.

Mark Warburton was delighted with our first half display when we matched our illustrious visitors, mainly, in my view, thanks to Marcos Tebar who pulled all the strings in midfield.

Always looking for the ball, always available, always using the ball accurately and with imagination and also, very gratifyingly, being prepared to press and challenge and win the ball back.

On the evidence of the last two games we have a massively impressive asset there and his partnership with Jonathan Douglas augurs well for the long season ahead.

We rested ten of the eleven starters from Saturday with Andre Gray the only exception, and his presence was only due to the ankle injury suffered by Scott Hogan against Nice.

Again, good management, as Hogan could have been strapped up and sent out to play, but what would have been the point?

Andre hustled and bustled, had a good shot which hit the keeper and, as always, looked dangerous, but he lacked support and given Scott’s likely absence for a fortnight, we need more help and an extra body up front and I am certain that there will be moves in that direction within the next few days.

Tommy Smith is also on the injured list but will hopefully play some part on Saturday against Crystal Palace and his experience would be really useful at the moment.

The match also demonstrated to the younger and more inexperienced players exactly how high is the standard that is required of them if they are to make their way at this level of the game and Raphael Calvet, Josh Clarke, Jake Reeves, Montell Moore, Charlie Adams and trialist Daniel O’Shaughnessy will have learned much from last night’s experience.

What also pleased me was how forceful Mark Warburton was in his post-match interview when quizzed about the Adam Forshaw situation.

His eyes glinted and he made it clear that our prize asset is going nowhere.

He endorsed what I said in my blog yesterday about how nonsensical it would be to sell the Division One Player of the Year to a Championship rival.

There is a lot that remained unspoken, and I am sure he would like to have said more about the manner in which Wigan have conducted their business in public but his tone and body language made it clear how angry and disappointed he is.

We are a strong and solid unit and will not allow ourselves to be destabilised by outsiders.

Last night was a learning curve and taught us far more about the entire squad than would a run out against a local Non League team.

I am sure that on Saturday we will see all of the players who were rested last night.os22

It is all about being ready and prepared first for Crystal Palace and then for Saturday week against Charlton Athletic, and I have no doubt that we will be.

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Going Nowhere? – 29/7/14

ForshawAs you can probably tell from the tone of most of my recent blogs, there is a feeling of quiet confidence and optimism around Griffin Park at the moment.

And after all why shouldn’t there be?

Brentford have spent well in excess of two million pounds on bringing in six high quality new recruits.

The one million pound barrier was finally broken with the signing of Moses Odubadjo.

fansWhilst the results are not the prime consideration, we have won our first three Preseason matches and played some beautiful football of a style and calibre that long standing supporters can only have dreamed about a few short years ago.

We have sold over 5,200 season tickets – a totally unprecedented number – and the feeling of confidence and growing levels of support were highlighted by the hordes of supporters, young and old who flocked to the Open Day on Sunday.

Lionel Road is no longer a chimera, but is firmly on the horizon.

There is a feeling that under the leadership of Matthew Benham, Cliff Crown, Mark Devlin, Mark Warburton, David Weir and Frank McParland we are in safe, rational, experienced and competent hands who have ambitious plans for the club that will actually be realised.

That is why when some news broke last night that would in previous times have brought on either an attack of vapours, or more likely a reconciled shrug of the shoulders, I was pretty unconcerned.

I am of course referring to the reported bid by Wigan for our midfield inspiration Adam Forshaw.

I can well understand why Wigan would covet the player.

After all whilst being nowhere near full fitness Adam was last season voted the League One Player of the Year  by opposition managers as well as being named in the League One Team of the Year and, for good measure, he also won Shoot Magazine’s League One Player of the Year Award.

A player of great talent, energy and vision, he glides through matches with the ball seemingly glued to his feet.

He plays with his head up and is always looking for the killer pass.

More than that he appears to be a serious young man, with his head firmly screwed on, totally committed to becoming the best he can be and modest, measured and sensible to a fault.

No wonder therefore that he is coveted by Wigan, and I am sure many other clubs, perhaps of a higher calibre too.

On first examination a move to Wigan might tick some of the boxes as it was Uwe Rosler who first brought Adam to Brentford and it would also be a return to his native North West.

But is Wigan the right move for him and is now the best time for him to leave Brentford?

In my opinion the answer to both those questions is a resounding “no.”

There might well come a time when Adam decides he needs to better himself but given the way he is developing I think that he will eventually join a Premiership team – he really is that good.

He also probably realises that he needs to play a season or two in the Championship and where better to put himself in the shop window than Brentford, where he is the fulcrum of the team and where Mark Warburton has instilled a style of football that totally suits his game and allows him to shine?

At Wigan he would become just another faceless cog in a larger and far more experienced squad, be subject to the whim of Uwe Rosler’s rotation policy and would doubtless play far less than he will at Griffin Park.

From Brentford’s perspective the welcome news late last night that the bid, thought to be in the region of one and a half million pounds, was rejected also represents a watershed.

It highlights the fact that we are no longer automatically a selling club.

Of course, as that hoary old chestnut goes, “every player has his price” and should we get offered our valuation for any player then we would have to think carefully.

This is certainly not the case here with Adam Forshaw, as the reported one and a half million pound figure would, in my not totally unbiased opinion, be enough only to buy his right leg and certainly not the rest of him!

The situation is also complicated by the likelihood of there being a hefty sell-on clause with his former club, Everton, given that Adam arrived at Brentford on a free transfer.

If that is in fact the case then any fee would need to be bumped up to a considerably higher level than the derisory figure quoted last night.

Also given Matthew Benham’s financial support, we now only sell a player when we want to, when it makes best sense for all parties and on our terms, Simon Moore being a prime example.

He was given the opportunity to join a Premier League team, we were offered top dollar and we were able to replace him exceptionally well within twenty four hours with David Button who cost – if not buttons- a mere fraction of the fee received from Cardiff City.

I have also up to now not mentioned the Uwe Rosler factor.

There certainly has been the feeling that Wigan and Brentford have been prospecting in the same area for players, with Conor McAleny being a prime example.

Wigan also hired the highly rated Chris Haslam from Brentford as Head of Performance plus there was the Rob Kiernan saga last season which seemed to drag on interminably with the young Wigan defender always seemingly on the verge of returning to Griffin Park but the move never actually materialised.

Uwe has a job to do, and that is to act in the best interests of Wigan Athletic, and whilst that is totally understood, and also more than fair – why should we do anything to help him, and selling our best player to him at a woefully low price would certainly come into that category as well as send out entirely the wrong message?

That is why I slept well last night as I am certain that this situation is a storm in a tea cup and will soon die down.

Brentford have previous in this area and the examples are endless.

John O’Mara, Roger Cross, Andy McCulloch, Nicky Forster and DJ Campbell are all prime examples of players – all strikers – that were sold at far below their market value at crucial times in the season to predators who came knocking and in most cases made derisory offers that were eagerly accepted, if not having their hand bitten off.

The other day I was reading an article in a 1980s programme by then Bees manager Frank McLintock where it appeared that he was openly touting our star midfielder Terry Hurlock for sale by stating that any six figure offer would have to be seriously considered.

That was the way that things were and probably had to be at that time, and of course the club did not have the financial backing and stability that it does now, but it still seemed in many of these cases that we were doing our best to self-sabotage and cut our own throats by allowing our prime assets to be stolen away at a mere fraction of their value and indeed, actively encouraging outside interest in them.

BFC Chairman Letter re Cross 1971I have reproduced a fascinating letter from the Brentford Chairman back in 1971 after the sale of Roger Cross to Fulham, which aptly sums up the way of the world back in those days.

He emphasised that Cross was promised that if a reasonable offer came in for him from a higher placed club then Brentford would sell him. On that basis Roger joined the club from West Ham.

Now the boot is on the other foot. I believe that we are now holding all the aces.

Adam Forshaw is a Brentford player, is in contract, and is reportedly happy to be where he is.

And Brentford is a really good place to be.

The time will surely come when he does leave us, but that time is definitely not now and that club is certainly not Wigan Athletic.

I look forward to seeing him play tonight for Brentford at Griffin Park!

Friends And Families – 28/7/14

70sbuktakid443What can be better or more fun than meeting your mates at a football match?

I described Saturday’s match and the start of a new season as a “resumption of a rite of passage” and one of the best things about the day was catching up with so many people at the ground who I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the curtain went down on last season after the Stevenage game.

I fully realise that at my age memory loss is beginning to kick in but it is remarkable how many people I saw yesterday and exchanged greetings and snippets of news with, without actually knowing their name, or they mine.

You know who I am talking about – the bloke from the Press Room (not you Dave!) and the guy in the Programme Shop to highlight just two of many.

We all have that one thing in common – an absolute and unshakeable love for Brentford FC and an insatiable interest in everything that surrounds it.

I am sure that everyone reading this would have a similar tale to tell too.

Would it therefore be a revolutionary idea if I suggested that instead of just saying “hello” in future when we see characters such as the ones that I have mentioned, that we actually take the time to find out who we are talking to as well as a bit more about them?

I remember having a season ticket back in the late 1970s and despite exchanging pleasantries at every match with the guy sitting next to me I never took the trouble to discover who he was, and this is something that I have always regretted.

hamiltonIt is the British reserve that is ingrained into us from childhood and it is time that we did something about it!

It was also heart warming and quite moving to see so many families at the match, sometimes encompassing three generations of supporters.

That wonderful writer Duncan Hamilton wrote so memorably and movingly about his relationship with his father in The Footballer Who Could Fly.

His Dad, a former miner, and a man of his times, found it impossible to express or show his feelings and emotions and it was only through their shared passion for Newcastle United that the two of them were ever able to communicate.

“Without football we were strangers under a shared roof. Without football we’d have had nothing to say to each other. The game alone pushed us into one another’s orbit.”

My Dad started taking me to Brentford when I was ten but he soon cried off given his work and golfing commitments at the weekend and from then on I was pretty much on my own.

Sad, but that is just the way it was.

I well remember as a twelve year old, fighting my way through what seemed an impassable snowdrift and somehow making it through the blizzard to Kew Bridge where, frozen and with teeth chattering, I finally got onto a number 27 bus after the Guildford FA Cup tie was abandoned.

lpoolNeither of my kids have ever shown much interest in football although they will come with me from time to time when they are around and they think that I need humouring.

My wife was far too discriminating to come regularly and was turned off by some of the poor football on display on the rare occasions that I could inveigle her to accompany me.

Having given up on trying to change her mind during many years of non-achievement at Griffin Park, things changed a couple of years ago.

I had been burbling on to her for months about the revolution taking place at Brentford under Matthew Benham and Uwe Rosler, however my words had fallen on deaf and sceptical ears.

I went down on bended knee to beg her to come to the Chelsea FA Cup tie and the scales finally fell away from her eyes.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that she was hooked, but she enjoyed the theatre of the occasion and was very pleasantly surprised by the calibre of our football.

I have just taken the bull by the horns and bought her a season ticket and hopefully she will come to a few games with me over the coming months.

It has been a long and hard road but hopefully now I can come to the games with my family, something that has long been an unfulfilled wish of mine.

So look out for me in Block B304 in the Braemar Road stand, and if I am on my own, you will know that I have become Billy No Mates again!

Formidable! – 27/7/14

nice 3It really doesn’t seem so long since we were cheering ourselves hoarse after celebrating promotion and here we were back at Griffin Park less than three months later for the first home friendly match of the new Championship season.

The message seemed to have got out about the new ticketing system and several friends reported no more than a few minutes’ wait before they were able to purchase a ticket at the Sales Booth.

You can install all the technology and new fangled systems that you like, but they are only as good as the human beings that operate them and my turnstile operator was banana fingered and totally flummoxed and needed five tortuous goes before my ticket was duly swiped and entrance allowed.

I hurried inside impatiently but I needn’t have worried.

Griffin Park was resplendent, glistening and glinting in the baking July sunshine and you could see that massive and painstaking efforts had been made on a makeover to upgrade the facilities for the larger crowds ahead.

The Matchbook logo now adorned the New Road roof, the TV Gantry also boasted a “Welcome to Griffin Park” sign and there was spanking new directional signage everywhere.

Griffin Park really looked at its best and the pitch, freshly tended and reseeded, was a sea of verdant green.

What about the football you might well ask?

Well that was pretty good too and the Bees saw off their toughest challenge yet by defeating OGC Nice of Ligue 1 in France by three goals to two.

The new boys all impressed.

Marcos Tebar dovetailed perfectly with Jonathan Douglas with one sitting and the other marauding forward and he was strong and relentless in his tackling and pressing as well as confident on the ball with an excellent range of passing.

He looks like he could be the fulcrum for the entire team and he really excited me.

Moses Odubajo was a ball of fire and human dynamo on the right, terrifying his wingback with his sheer pace and persistence.

He made clever runs, darting inside and out and he got behind the defence several times and his final delivery was quick and incisive.

No “parting like the Red Sea” jokes here but he will shine in the Championship and mesmerise defenders. I would also put him down for ten goals too.

I never really thought I would ever see the day when my Brentford, once the pauper of London football, surviving on begging bowls and handouts, were going to be in the position to spend one million pounds on a player but Moses is the real deal and deserves all the accolades he will receive.

We played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Judge and Pritchard rotating in the middle and down the left like effervescent balls of fire.nice2

Pritchard is a game changer with the ability to open up a defence at will and he scored with a perfect Saundersesque 25 yard free kick dinked over the wall as well as a close range finish when the Nice defence, not for the first time, evaporated and self destructed.

Andre Gray looked like a welterweight, all honed muscle allied to real pace and ability on the ball.

He sprinted into the gap between two immobile central defenders to score coolly and immaculately in the first minute and he looked a real prospect, revelling in his lone striker role.

Scott Hogan also showed that he was no slouch before limping off after a worrying blow to his ankle.

It has to be said that at times Nice defended naively and their gross overplaying at the back cost them the crucial third goal but coming forward they attacked with vim and gusto and provided our defence with a gruelling challenge which they met with flying colours.

So overall a good day all round with optimism unbounded.

The Bees won, played well and with a confident swagger with nary a long ball in sight.

They certainly lack height in key areas and it remains to be seen whether the intricate ball skills of Judge and Pritchard prove effective against some of the Neanderthals we will come up against over the coming nine months.

In Odebajo and Gray we certainly possess two match winners and it looks like we have bought wisely and well.

Yet today was about far more than the actual football.

It was the renewal of a right of passage.

Football is back at Griffin Park and everything is right with the world.

What Price Loyalty? – 26/7/14

bees 72I just had to include this wonderful photograph of the Brentford team that won promotion from the Fourth Division in 1972.

Why?

Because it gives me goosebumps and makes me feel nostalgic for a lost age.

Oh, and just look at those haircuts and sideburns too!

It was also the first time since I started supporting them six years earlier that a Brentford team actually won anything.

Under the managership of the wily Frank Blunstone, Brentford became a team to reckon with.

Hard, tough and mean at the back. Nonstop running and harrying in midfield and real quality and vision up front plus the aerial threat and battering ram that was John O’Mara.

What a team, and but for the club’s decisions to cash in on Roger Cross and a year later, John O’Mara, who knows how high we could have climbed rather than crashing and burning and returning immediately to the bottom division.

Amazingly given today’s move towards squad rotation Brentford only used eighteen players throughout the entire season of whom four made a mere twenty-four appearances between them.

In fact eleven of the squad played over thirty times so there was a consistency of selection and a determination to grit your teeth and play though injuries.

Brentford supporters of a certain age will relish recalling the names of those who played in that momentous season

70s launchPeter Gelson

Alan Nelmes

Gordon Phillips

John O’Mara

Alan Hawley

John Docherty

Bobby Ross

Jackie Graham

Paul Bence

Stewart Houston

Roger Cross

Mike Allen

All names to conjure with, and OK, I will admit it, they are still heroes to me.

No wonder that team was successful given the grit, character, determination and of course, skill that it possessed.

But they also possessed another quality, something intangible, something that no amount of money could buy – loyalty allied with their love of the club

Between them the twelve players mentioned above played a total of 3,338 games for the club and stayed at Griffin Park for 94 years.

These are truly staggering figures and by way of comparison only eight current Bees players have played over one hundred times for the club and the entire squad has played no more than 1,750 times for Brentford.

Remember too that that figure is boosted by Kevin O’Connor’s incredible five hundred game record and there now being three substitutes allowed per game, whereas only one was permitted back in 1972.

Another surprising statistic is that no current Brentford player with the exception of Kevin O’Connor – who truly deserves to be ranked amongst some of the greats mentioned earlier, and Toumani Diagouraga has been with the club for more than five years.

Of course the game has changed beyond recognition from what it was forty years ago, and in many cases for the better.

The modern day player is far more likely to move on quickly given freedom of contract and the desire to better himself both professionally and financially, whereas in those days there was generally no financial incentive to do so.

Brentford v Yeovil TownWhen I helped compile The Big Brentford Book Of The Seventies three years ago, Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I invited some of our heroes to a launch event at the club.

Knowing how awkward and difficult some present day players are reputed to be, we were all very concerned about whether anybody would show up.

We really shouldn’t have worried as the bush telegraph started working and it proved remarkably easy to get Alan Hawley, Jackie Graham. Peter Gelson, Paul Bence, Terry Scales, Pat Kruse, Andy McCulloch and Paul Bence to attend.

Even the reclusive John O’Mara, who generally keeps himself to himself was there and had a great time. In fact we had players asking us if they could come!

What struck me was how grounded, modest and pleasant all of them were – and how much Brentford meant to them.

They were, without exception, totally delighted to be remembered and were happy to talk with supporters and remember past times.

Alan Hawley even came up at the end of the evening and thanked us for inviting him. He really didn’t realise that the honour was all ours and that we were privileged to be in the same room with him.

What a gentleman!

It was a night that made me proud to be a Brentford supporter and reminded me, yet again, of what a great club we have.

Togetherness off the pitch and a strong team spirit generally translate to success on it and they’re both traits that we have in abundance today.

Kevin O’Connor is as much a hero to me now as were some of those immortal names from the past and given that he has much in common with and shares the same values as icons such as Peter Gelson and Alan Hawley, transmits them to his team mates and is a living embodiment of what Brentford represents, I feel as confident about the future of this club as I am proud of its past.

Welcome Home – Not – 24/7/14

m25Well that was a fantastic break!

Nine days of sunshine, good food and wine in Tenerife.

Unfortunately coming home from Gatwick is proving to be a nightmare and being stuck on the car park that is the M25 on what is becoming an interminable journey home is quickly wiping that relaxed smile off my face.

Never mind – there is so much to look forward to over the coming weeks.

Since I’ve been away the Bees have signed two players and loaned one out, taken another big name on trial, had a game moved for live television coverage, won two preseason friendlies, scored eight goals, scored one penalty out of two (no change there then) and replaced one high profile foreign opponent with another.

Not much has happened then!

I’ve done my best to cover some of these events from afar much to the bemusement of my wife who wondered what the ceaseless tapping on my iPhone was all about.

But I’m delighted to be on my way home and hopefully closer to the centre of the action.

The biggest disappointment for me was missing the two games played within five miles of my home, at Boreham Wood and Barnet respectively.

Never mind, I’m already counting off the hours and days until our three home friendly matches against Nice, Osasuna and Crystal Palace. They will all provide a different type of challenge as the clock ticks down towards the big kick off.

A big step up indeed from the last time we were promoted to the Championship when we prepared against the might of Merthyr Tydfil – oh and Queens Park Rangers too!

The traffic is inching forward at snail’s pace and all I want to do is get home and see if my season ticket has arrived as well as my precious tickets for the Dagenham, AFC Bournemouth and Blackpool away games.

All will hopefully be revealed at some point in the next couple of hours or so!

Shame we aren’t playing against Crawley on Saturday as I reckon I will still be pretty near their ground the way the traffic isn’t moving tonight!

A Sense Of Duty – 23/7/14

higgyI wasn’t sure what to write about yesterday.

Maybe something about the development and make-up of the squad?

Perhaps an examination of how Mark Warburton and his regime has freed and empowered the players to go out and play with discipline, certainly, but with no fear?

Then I saw something on the official club website that made my mind up once and for all.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the death of a true legend of the club.

Tommy Higginson was not a name that reverberated on the back pages of the tabloid or style press, but every Bees fan of a certain age knows exactly who he was and what he represented.

Loyalty, grit, determination and a total commitment to doing your job without complaint and to the best of your ability.

Sometimes it’s hard to write this blog and I end up staring at an empty page which stares balefully back at me as if to reproach me for kidding myself that I can write.

Yesterday was different and the words came very easily and it was hard to stop the flow.

Why was this do you think?

I’m really not totally sure but I think it was simply that Higgy represented something that has pretty much disappeared from today’s world of instant fame and the self aggrandisement of social media.

In other words, values, self-effacement, a sense of duty and putting the interests of others before your own.

Judging from the positive feedback that I’ve received over the past twenty four hours including a touching note from Higgy’s son, some of you seem to have agreed with me.

The point that I’m trying so clumsily to make is that Brentford is a special club and however far we progress on our current magic carpet ride we supporters are pretty grounded and will never forget or lose track of where we have come from because, who knows, we might well end up back there someday given just how cyclical is success.

We are fortunate in having a club owned and run by thoroughly decent people with a sense of values and a deep understanding and respect of the club’s roots.

The current set of players also seem a pleasant lot too, disciplined, ambitious, thoroughly professional but still more than happy to engage with the fans.

Where else would you have found the owner, Chairman, club captain and half the squad chatting, laughing, drinking and celebrating with the supporters after promotion was clinched last season?

I can’t imagine any other club in the country where these scenes would have been allowed to take place.

Long may this attitude prevail, and I am sure that it will.gelson

I was brought up at the altar of long serving one club men such as Peter Gelson, Alan Hawley and Gordon Phillips who had a real love for the club and what it represents for its local community and it is wonderfully gratifying that these values remain firmly in place today despite our rise in stature.