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.

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