Yes We Belong! – 31/8/14

Before the season began I really thought that given the strength of our squad and the calibre of all our new signings, that we would do just fine in the Championship.

But, do you know something, despite my outward confidence I still had a few nagging doubts.

After all this was a new standard of football for a predominantly young and inexperienced team and we were venturing into the unknown, given how few of our players had actually played at that level before.

Now would seem a perfect time, as we come into the International break, to analyse exactly how well we have done after the first five Championship matches have been completed.

By the way, I still can’t write the words “International break” without smiling, as they seem so incongruous when used in conjunction with Brentford FC!

That though does lead into a serious point, which is about us realising and fully accepting that we do fully belong in this higher sphere of football, and are not impostors.

Mark Warburton has used the expression about us “playing the shirt” and not the reputation or tradition of our opponents and he is totally correct in his assertion.

We fully deserved our promotion and have totally earned the right to test ourselves in the Championship and we need to take confidence from that and express ourselves in every match.

I believe that for the most part we have, in fact, done exactly that.

We have started the majority of matches on the front foot and taken the game to the opposition.

The only time we have failed to so was in the Birmingham game where we seemed strangely overawed even when we had our full complement of players, and gave the early initiative to our visitors.

The two week gap before our next fixture allows us to take stock and also acknowledge our achievements to date.

To be eighth in the table with eight points from five games is as much, or, if truth be told, far more than most of us would have expected.

As has been stated elsewhere, we find ourselves in our highest league position since 1952, and long may that continue to be the case.

In truth, with the exception of perhaps AFC Bournemouth and maybe even Charlton we have probably yet to play any of the top teams likely to challenge for honours.

But, in reality, nobody really knows at this early point of the season where anybody is going to finish.

Teams are still bedding in new players, managers and systems and the table hasn’t settled down yet.

I was impressed with Charlton’s solidity as I thought they might have been a soft touch, but the two tag team wrestlers in the centre of their defence kept us largely at bay and after they withstood our early onslaught we did well to recover and take a point.

AFC Bournemouth was perhaps our most important challenge to date, as we proved that we could compete on a level playing field with one of the best footballing teams in the division.

We lost narrowly, but deserved far better.

Blackpool proved that we could dominate and win a match in the Championship and the confidence flooded through our veins – players and supporters alike.

Again, this was a bit of a wake up call as, for all the home team’s failings and inadequacies, it was a tight match which we did our best to throw away with some profligate over passing in dangerous areas in the last few minutes.

But we won, and were finally off the mark.

Birmingham City was a curate’s egg of a performance.

We started slowly and got even worse after Tony Craig’s slovenly defending left us both a goal down and a man short.

But for David Button’s brilliance and Birmingham’s profligacy in front of goal, we would and should have been three down at the interval with the match well and truly over and done with.

Instead, Birmingham let us off the hook, gave us the initiative, and we grew into the game and started playing our game.

We ran rings around a limited team after the break and fully deserved a share of the points given to us by a beautifully taken late equaliser by Moses Odubajo.

Rotherham on Saturday was a total tactical triumph, where we drew the sting out of a direct but limited home team who seem to have regressed from the pugnacious but clever side who powered their way to promotion.

We had too much pace and ability for them to live with and picked them off on the break.

It was also illuminating to compare how the two promoted teams have prepared for the challenge of the Championship.

Rotherham have undertaken a trolley dash, bringing in a mixed bag of experienced journeymen professionals and have gone totally long ball in their approach.

Brentford have, if anything, gone even more purist and are trying to play out from the back and have placed their faith predominantly in emerging young talent.

I am not going to consider either of the Capital One Cup ties, as the Dagenham game was a freak occurrence and we played several of our unused squad players against Fulham.

So what have we learned in the first five games?

Firstly, that we can definitely compete at this level.

Every game has been tight, closely fought, and could have gone either way.

Nobody has hammered us, or even dominated us for long spells, neither, conversely, have we blown anybody away.

Mistakes are punished ruthlessly, as as been demonstrated in most matches, and you have to score when you are on top, as chances are at a premium.

Ball possession is paramount and you give it away cheaply at your peril, as you run the risk of not seeing it again for quite a while.

We have played a 4-1-4-1 formation with Douglas protecting the back four, and all the midfielders tasked with breaking forward to support the lone striker.

Away from home it has worked a treat as we are blessed with pace in abundance, although I was somewhat surprised to hear Alan McCormack state in a recent interview that he felt we had more pace last season.

Of course we no longer have Clayton Donaldson’s lung bursting runs, but Gray, Dallas, Pritchard, Judge and Odubajo are all fully capable of turning defence into attack in an instance and of getting into the box.

At home, where opposing teams sit deeper and invite us onto them, it is a different matter.

We are better and more dangerous on the counter attack and I believe that we might need to change the system at home and sacrifice a midfielder and play a second supporting striker.

Otherwise goals might well be hard to come by at Griffin Park.

What is not in any doubt is our team spirit, commitment and refusal to give in.

We believe in the style of football that has been drilled into us, because it works, and have resisted any temptation to go long and pump balls up to a targetman – not that we often play with one.

The players have also stepped up to the mark and proven that they are up to the challenge.

Saturday’s first clean sheet was long overdue and will have filled the defence with confidence.

David Button has certainly come of age in goal.

His distribution is crucial to our game but, more than that, he finally looks as if he is beginning to grasp just how talented he is and how he has the perfect build to dominate in aerial challenges.

Alan McCormack and Jake Bidwell are both reliable and consistent and have settled down quickly.

McCormack has proved his detractors wrong and is just as solid as ever.

Nico Yennaris will have to be patient and bide his time for his opportunity.

More intriguing is the battle for the central defensive positions, where, as I stated in a earlier blog, three into two doesn’t go.

Harlee Dean is a new man, fully fit at last, and having been restored to the team, it remains to be seen if he can hold off the stern challenge of the newly deposed Tony Craig, who has also been a model of consistency.

James Tarkowski is a strong defender and his composure and accurate passing are also key to our ball retention and commitment to playing the ball out from the back.

However, he does switch off and lose concentration once every game, and this will prove costly unless he can learn to eradicate these errors.

The Adam Forshaw situation remarkably remains ongoing at the time of writing, but I’m sure that Wigan will finally get the transfer over the line.

The saga can’t have helped us and I’m sure we didn’t bank on losing him quite this soon, but the Brentford juggernaut marches on unscathed, and Adam was seemlessly replaced by Jota and Toral before he had even left the building.

Midfield is where we are at our strongest.

A truly remarkable turn around given our traditional shortcomings in this area.

Douglas just gets better and his contribution is priceless.

Judge and Pritchard are tricky and incisive and whilst Jota and Toral are still easing their way in, their ability is obvious.

Tebar and a revitalised Diagouraga remain as cover and our strength in depth meant that the promising Jake Reeves was released to allow him to develop and play at Swindon Town – some small recompense for our having taken the cream of their crop in Douglas, McCormack and Pritchard!

Moses Odubajo, our first, but not last million pound signing, is class personified and has also demonstrated his versatility by playing well at fullback as well as on the wing.

He will be frightening when fully fit.

A word of praise too for Stuart Dallas who has fought for his place and improves with every game and is a real goal threat.

Tommy Smith is good to have around the squad too, as he knows the Championship from top to bottom and serves as a teacher, mentor and overall good example.

As we head towards the Transfer Deadline at the end of the month, I am sure Mark Warburton and his brains trust of David Weir, Matthew Benham and Frank McParland are deep in conversation about whether to stick or twist.

We are already trying to assimilate eleven new signings into the club and our way of doing things, but the horrific sounding injury to Scott Hogan means that another striker might be needed.

Andre Gray received the fillip of scoring his first Championship, or indeed, Football League, goal at Rotherham and he is visibly gaining in confidence.

Nick Proschwitz too will benefit from opening his account and he offers us something totally different with his strength and ability to hold the ball up.

Young Montell Moore made an astonishing debut at Dagenham with a goal and a couple of assists, but he is one for the future.

As for poor Scott Hogan, we will just have to wait and see.

I was particularly excited when we signed him as I was well aware of his ability, and I am sure he will prove to be a massive asset once we get him fit and back on the pitch.

It is also possible that we might be looking for some extra defensive cover before the window slams shut.

A left sided centre half who can also cover at left back might prove to be a worthwhile asset.

As you can tell from what I have written, I feel that we have settled down exceptionally well in the Championship and shown that we can cope with the new challenge, and, indeed, so far, we have taken it in our stride

But I am not in the slightest bit complacent.

There will be some tough challenges ahead and I am quite sure that we might well be on the wrong end of some hidings.

Most importantly, we have adapted our style of football and have remained totally positive in our approach.

As long as we continue in this vein and concentrate on playing our style of football, we will be just fine.

Perhaps we need some more firepower and certainly, some additional bodies up front, but the auspices for the rest of the season are excellent.

We are not in the slightest bit out of place and we fully belong in the Championship.

And one final point.

We have accomplished all of this without the services of long term injury victim and talisman, Sam Saunders!

Get fit and well soon, Sam, we really miss you!

It’s Academic Mr Reeves – 30/8/14

So it’s farewell to Jake Reeves who has just had his contract terminated by mutual consent after making forty-seven appearances for the club.

Personally I think that this is the correct decision as at twenty one years of age Jake needs to play every week in order to continue his development and prove himself as a football league calibre player.

Unfortunately our progress has left him behind and he was highly unlikely to be anything other than an emergency replacement given our strength in midfield.

Taking into account the still awaited departure of Adam Forshaw, Jake was probably our eighth choice central midfielder behind Douglas, Tebar, Toral, Jota, Judge, Pritchard and Diagouraga.

The competition for places is fearsome and he has lost out in the battle.

But that is not to say that he has been a failure.

Perish the thought!

For any youngster to come through the Academy system, sign a professional contract and actually get to play in the Football League is a massive achievement and not one to be denigrated.

No more than ten percent of all youngsters who join Academies get to the point where they are offered professional terms, and of those lucky ones, only a tiny fraction ever make it to the First Team.

Jake arrived at Brentford at the age of sixteen from the Tottenham system and found a great supporter in Uwe Rosler.

He played well against Stoke City in a preseason friendly back in 2011 and was in the First Team squad for three years.

The weight of expectation was on him and he often delivered.

Supporters did not take into account his tender years and lack of experience and perhaps expected too much of him too soon. 

He needed to get into the rhythm of first team football but was rarely given the opportunity of a run in the team when he might have gained in confidence and been able to fully express himself and demonstrate his burgeoning talent. 

He sometimes looked like he was trying too hard and forcing things in an attempt to influence the game and make an immediate impression when he came on as a substitute.

Jonathan Douglas too, a formidable performer, occupied his preferred spot in front of the back four, and was not to be moved or swept aside.

Jake, though, more than held his own when given the opportunity.

I well remember his wonderful performance at Sheffield United in that crazy match at the end of the 2012/13 season where he dominated proceedings and pinged any number of defence splitting passes.

He was a true quarterback that evening and he looked like an experienced and battle hardened veteran rather than the inexperienced tyro he really was.

He made a memorable cameo appearance as a substitute against MK Dons in 2012 and played one of the passes of the season – a perfect slide rule effort that put Harry Forrester directly in on goal.

Sometimes, though, he looked like a little boy lost.

Rosler hung him out to dry by playing him against Stevenage in the land of the giants one miserable Tuesday night and he disappeared without trace as the ball was bashed without purpose from one end of the field to the other.

Last season he managed a well taken, crisply finished goal against Staines, impressed as a late substitute on many occasions and ended his Brentford career perfectly when his incisive, perfectly disguised pass inside the defender, laid on Alan Judge’s goal against Stevenage in the last minute of Jake’s last game.

The iconic image of Jonathan Douglas placing a protective arm tenderly around Jake after David Luiz’s cowardly assault is one that is also etched indelibly in my memory and demonstrates how highly Jake was regarded by his team mates.

Jake goes to Swindon with the good wishes of all Brentford supporters ringing in his ears.

He was one of ours and almost made it with us, but our progress was too much for him to keep up with and the time had come for us to part.

Our standards have risen exponentially over the past three years and only the cream of the crop will now have the ability to make it at Griffin Park.

Given the boost of regular first team football, Jake could still develop further but Swindon’s style and approach will suit him and he could well become more than a First Division player.

As we cancelled his contract, it is unlikely that we have negotiated a sell on clause to reward us for the part we played in his growth and development as a player but even so he represents another real success for the Brentford Academy system.

Ideally we will develop players who become regulars for our own team and Montell Moore, Josh Clarke and Alfie Mawson show every sign of doing so in the years to come.

There are also some wonderful prospects coming through at some of the younger age groups and I anticipate a conveyor belt of talent emerging over the next few years. 

But we should also take pride in the likes of Luke Norris and Aaron Pierre who are now trying to make their way elsewhere having received an excellent grounding at Brentford.

The other week, Michael Onuvwigun, a tall, leggy, young midfielder emerged as a substitute for the Chesterfield First Team, and I well suspect that this was a source of great delight to his former coaches at Brentford.

As I outlined earlier, the road to success in football is a long and tortuous one, and for a young prospect to rise to the level of the Football League at any club, even if not at Brentford, is a worthy achievement and one not be be sneezed at.

Jake Reeves has already proved to be a success and there is far more to come from him, and from others like him too.

There is now an established development pathway for young players at Brentford, and having had the pleasure of watching some of the talented youngsters in both the Under 18 and Under 16 teams play last Saturday, I am confident that there are many players already within the system who will have a successful career within the game, ideally at Brentford.

Still A Bee! – Part Three – 29/8/14

curranSome of you seemed to really enjoy and identify with the two columns I wrote recently about former Bees striker Richard Poole.

They seemed to touch a cord as he exemplifies everything that most Bees fans hold dear.

A local boy made good who succeeded in actually getting to play for the team he had supported from childhood, and who also retains to this day his affection for Brentford and fond memories of his spell at the club.

It doesn’t really get any better than that does it?

And, in truth, isn’t it exactly what we all hoped and dreamed would happen to us?

Some of us continue to have the same pipe dream to this day, even if youth, a flat stomach and what modicum of football ability we once possessed are all long gone.

For my part, my hopes of football fame and fortune turned to dust and received a firm reality check one unforgettable Autumn’s day way back in 1972.

I was a decent young goalkeeper who had played at a reasonable and respectable level for Corinthian Casuals and had trials for the Great Britain Maccabi Games team, but I was small and a bit frail and, if truth be told, a bit too keen on self-preservation, and was totally unprepared and unable to cope with the physicality of the massive Scotland International striker Hugh Curran who turned my trial at Oxford United into a personal nightmare.

He bashed me around unceremoniously throughout the entire morning and then thumped some twenty yard howitzers that I barely saw, grateful indeed that I hadn’t got a touch to them as they whistled past me.

In truth, he did me a favour as he totally disabused me of any misconception that I could compete at this level.

It really was a totally different game to the one I was used to!

I learned the hard way about the gaping chasm in ability, speed of thought and fitness between a talented amateur and a seasoned professional and I now totally understand why it is that so few of the multitude of faceless trialists who seek their fame and fortune every preseason actually have their dreams realised and fulfilled.

team-picture-1974-751As for Richard Poole, it was very sad to discover from him that his early promise and enthusiasm were largely unfulfilled as injury cost him the career that he deserved and at one time promised to have.

Fate had dealt him some heavy blows as it seemed so likely that he would become a star, but it just wasn’t meant to be and fate took a hand.

Rather than being bitter and twisted as would have been totally understandable, Richard came over as a positive, modest and well rounded man who had made a new life for himself abroad and had just got on with things and ignored everything that life had thrown at him in terms of injury and illness.

He also appreciated the two columns I wrote about him and sent me a few additional memories of his life and times at Brentford:

I remember like it was only yesterday.

Brentford had just gone up to the third division and they had this Open Day in July at Feltham Arena.

I had my fifteenth birthday and the Friday was my last day at school.

The Summer holidays were here and I said good bye to my school friends (and my girlfriend too) and the following day I was a proud fifteen year old apprentice at my Brentford, and all my school boy dreams of playing and scoring for Brentford were coming true.

pooleHow little did I know that a mere six years later my dreams would be in tatters.

I well remember the photo you used where Jesse Willard and Mike Everitt were consoling me after I was injured on my debut by Ian Branfoot.

I remember he clobbered me from behind and it really hurt me.

Mr Blunstone used to tell me that when I was clattered I should just get up and smile, and most of the time I did.

I think Mr Branfoot remembered my first tackle in my debut game where he ended up in the stand.

Andy Woon came on after I was hurt and I think Mr Branfoot will remember the game well as my team mates paid him back, but the only important thing to me was that my Brentford won the game by two goals to one.

I loved the comment from another fan who has kept a programme from my debut which is signed by the young man himself – well this young man is now fifty-seven years old, but it does still go to my heart that real fans still remember me.

As I said, I could go on and on.

In my few years with the club I had great times as well as some that were not so good.

At the time money was not as important and even now I am sure there are youngsters out there who want nothing more than to play for their local team.

team-picture-1973-741I hope their dreams come true.

Mine did for a while and that can never be taken from me.

To me it was just like being Roy of the Rovers but it was Richard Poole playing for Brentford – yes a Fourth Division team – but my team.

I would like to thank through this great blog Mr Brown and Mr Tyler, two neighbours who took me to Brentford games when I was a young boy, as well as to say sorry to my young brother who, when he was very young, had to come to all those away games when Brentford Reserves played at places like Southend, Peterborough and Cambridge city on cold and wet Wednesday nights because my mother and father followed me everywhere, may they rest in peace, and thank you Mr Waterman for helping me relive these memories, even the hard ones.

So to all true Brentford fans – come on the Bees!

Richard, we will never tire of hearing from you and we look forward to more of your memories whenever you would like to share them with us.

 

The Nineties Revisited – Part One – 28/8/14

holdsworthThe Nineties – what a wonderful rollercoaster decade jam-packed with incident and activity and an intoxicating mixture of ups and downs.

No I am not talking about events at Griffin Park, but for those few who are interested, I am referring to my own life, as it was a decade that saw the birth of my two wonderful children, the launch of my own business as I had finally realised – long after everybody else, that I was totally unemployable, and to my total amazement seeing the company take off and thrive and allow me the opportunity to deal predominantly with a variety of football, cricket and rugby clubs as well as a number of major blue-chip brands – total joy rather than hard work!

Enough of the self-indulgence and back on track – the Nineties saw a similar level of excitement for Brentford, as the club seemingly either climbed a ladder or slithered down a snake pretty much every season throughout the decade.

The Nineties saw two promotions, three unsuccessful Playoff campaigns and two gut-wrenching relegations, as well as the sporadic highs and lows of the Webb and Noades eras.

As fans we were taken to the heights and then dropped down to the depths, and by the end of this momentous decade we ended up pretty much where we had started, back in the third tier of the Football League, but what a journey we had undertaken, one that we both relished and endured throughout this bitter sweet decade.

Phil Holder took over the managerial reins after the surprise resignation of Steve Perryman and his legacy should never be diminished or forgotten, as he was the only Brentford manager since Harry Curtis to lead the team to promotion to the second tier of English football – a feat now matched, of course, by Mark Warburton.

He changed the image of the club and its playing style and no longer were we a soft touch particularly away from home.

He inherited a wonderful platform from his former Spurs colleague but he moulded the team into one that was the antithesis of the diminutive manager, a ball playing midfielder during his own career at Spurs and Crystal Palace.

We were big and tough and very hard to beat and in Dean Holdsworth, Gary Blissett, Marcus Gayle and the immortal Neil Smillie we had a front four to fear.

Perhaps the Asaba, Forster, Taylor, Bent axis in those heady early days of the 1996-97 season comes close but for me Holder’s Heroes were the best front four we have had in my time supporting the club.

evansYes, we relied extensively on set pieces and long balls with the midfield often ignored, but we could also play, particularly in the opponents’ final third and 1991-92 was a season of total pride, joy and excitement as we timed our late run perfectly, came up on the rails, and took the title on that unforgettable final day of the season at Peterborough.

I can still taste the horrendously expensive bottle of Perrier-Jouet champagne that I contentedly glugged down to celebrate this massive achievement.

I might not have bothered had I known then what was to happen the following season!

We threw away our hard earned higher status after a catastrophic season of cock-ups on the pitch, in the dugout and in the boardroom which culminated in the final day capitulation at Bristol City which saw a relegation that never should have happened.

Everybody was to blame!

The memories are still painful as I believe that we had the ammunition but not the vision or foresight to remain and then consolidate in that division.

This was a massive opportunity thrown away and I will just touch on the following and allow others to fill in the details:

  • Murray Jones
  • Bigger
  • Buying Joe Allon rather than Stan Collymore
  • The opening day injury to colossus Terry Evans, and wasn’t it great to see him back on the Griffin Park pitch on Tuesday when he became a worthy member of the Brentford Hall of Fame
  • Missing key penalty kicks – now where have I read that one before?
  • Marcus Gayle’s season defining late open goal misses against Newcastle and Sunderland
  • Making late, irrelevant panic buys perhaps better suited to Masters Football

I could go on, but I will digress:

90sI heard a story that apparently came from a Charlton Athletic player who performed at Birmingham City on the final day of that calamitous season.

Birmingham needed to win to escape the drop and Charlton had nothing to play for.

We had long since raised the white flag at Ashton Gate and were relying upon our fellow Londoners to do us a massive favour and save us from relegation.

No such luck, as allegedly the Charlton team who had dominated a scoreless first half at St Andrew’s were warned by a senior policeman, who came uninvited into their dressing room at the interval, that their safety could not be guaranteed if they won.

That was the end of the visitors’ threat and a late horrendously offside goal from Paul Moulden allowed by officials perhaps intimidated by the vociferous crowd sent us down.

A farcical end to a farcical season and one that we took years to recover from.

Nearly twenty years on I have just about come through the trauma of Brentford missing out on promotion in 1994-95.

The one season that only one team received automatic promotion owing to League re-organisation – and guess who finished second?

It’s Brentford innit!

Yet we had only ourselves to blame, The FT Index rained goals at Griffin Park but a late season hiccup at home where we allowed relegation haunted Chester and Bournemouth to snatch vital points and a capitulation at St Andrew’s – yes Birmingham again – allowed our arch rivals to snatch the title, much as we had three years earlier.

Frankly we choked and have nobody else to blame except ourselves.

I shall draw a veil over Bob Taylor’s miss at Huddersfield and the penalties at Griffin Park, as my psyche cannot take it even so long after the event.

Shortly I will take a deep breath and continue my review of this tumultuous decade.

Now pass me the tranquillisers please!

A Hard Lesson Learned – 27/8/14

Fulham 1It is never a nice feeling when you lose a game, and a defeat to your local rivals is particularly galling.

Brentford huffed and puffed but were unable to make their first half dominance count, and gradually ran out of steam and ideas before subsiding to a narrow one nil Capital One Cup defeat to Fulham.

I am sure that most fans will be feeling a sense of frustration and disappointment today but it is also important, once emotions cool down, to look at things with more perspective and see the wider picture.

Fulham came into the match reeling from their four consecutive Championship defeats, but in reality their team was sharp and incisive on the night, played some lovely patient football and created a plethora of chances.

Away from the pressures of the league, they played with the shackles off and looked exactly what they are – a team packed with high quality, expensive and experienced footballers, some of whom with extensive Premier League and International experience.

Brentford will have learned much from last night, in particular the overriding need to protect and keep the ball better and to be far more incisive and clinical with their chances.

For all Brentford’s possession and dominance, particularly in the first half when Fulham’s narrow diamond formation allowed them much space to attack down the flanks, they created very little in terms of chances and actual shots on goal and after the break, when Fulham opened up more and gained in confidence, the Bees never tested their keeper at all.

The final pass has to improve, and the players need to try something more expansive in the final third of the pitch rather than just take the safe option.

Defences are better and more sophisticated at this level and more guile is needed to break them down, as Brentford are beginning to learn.

In truth, whilst understanding how important this game was to the supporters in terms of local pride, Mark Warburton also needed to rest some tired and aching limbs and give much needed minutes of action and match practice to some of his squad players who were chafing at the bit.

It was tough to reconcile both requirements and, indeed, something had to give.

Brentford missed “big” players like Alan McCormack and in particular, Jonathan Douglas who would have provided a much neeeded protective barrier in front of the back four, which came under a lot of pressure.

We were also denied the midfield prompting, direct running, liveliness on the ball and pure inventiveness of Alan Judge and Alex Pritchard that would surely have opened up the visitor’s defence and created chances for Nick Proschwitz, who replaced Andre Gray up front.

The Spanish trio of Tabar, Jota and debutant Toral played together for the first time in midfield and at times they shone and combined well.

Toral grew into the game and his hard running and delicate ball skills look to be an enticing proposition as he gains in experience and confidence.

Jota too is a real talent and had our two best efforts on goal last night.

We repeated the AFC Bournemouth three card trick from a free kick on the edge of the box, with this time Tabar pushing the ball wide to Toral who placed an instant pass into the path of the third man runner Jota who forced a wonderful save from the keeper.

The Ole’s rang around the stadium.

It was a move touched with genius that deserved a goal.

Inspiration matched with perspiration, and testimony indeed to hours well spent on the training ground.

A clever short corner routine also opened up the Fulham rearguard on the stroke of halftime but Jota’s hard low shot came back off the near post.

Fulham 2Toral headed over too but that was really it in terms of clear chances created in the first half despite the hard running of Dallas and Odubajo’s energetic overlapping from his new right wing back position.

Fulham took over after the break.

Button was alert in goal and Dean and Tarkowski dealt manfully with everything that was thrown at them.

New skipper Bidwell now had his hands full but still managed to break out menacingly down our left flank.

The tide was turning though, and after McCormack had a goal disallowed for offside the breakthrough finally arrived following the best move of the game.

A fast exchange of low passes culminated in McCormack’s one-two with David and a delicate side-footed finish past the stretching goalkeeper Button.

In truth it really didn’t come as a surprise and was well deserved.

It was a move of high quality and the speed and timing of McCormack’s run highlighted why he had cost so much money and it left Tarkowski chasing shadows.

The Bees huffed and puffed but constantly gave the ball away in their final third and dillied and dallied on the ball without getting the ball into the box.

Two late chances for substitute Scott Hogan, finally making his long-awaited debut after injury, and Tommy Smith were sent narrowly over the bar from the edge of the area and that was that.

The game ended with Fulham cutting us open on the break and fully deserving their win.

Had we scored early on when we were on top and Fulham were tentative and still settling into the game, then who knows, maybe we would have taken control and the Fulham heads might have gone down.

As it is the hard facts are that we still await a home win, have yet to keep a clean sheet and have gone behind in every game so far this season.

As I said, a tough learning curve.

We could have made it easier for ourselves by fielding a stronger team last night, but it is a marathon and not a sprint and something had to give in terms of using the entire squad.

We might be licking our wounds today but in the long run, easing the likes of Jota and Toral into the team is no bad thing.

We were beaten, and it hurts to have lost the local bragging rights, but we move on and frankly the Rotherham match, on Saturday, is far more important to our season – and we will still have two more opportunities to gain some element of revenge!

No Longer A Soft Touch! – 26/8/14

Adam-ForshawSo Adam Forshaw is about to leave us, which means that we can finally put all this distraction behind us and move onto other matters.

Wherever you stand on this issue what cannot be denied is that the Forshaw saga has dragged on interminably for the best part of a month and has undoubtedly proved to be a distraction to everybody and, despite the club’s best efforts, may well even have had a detrimental effect on our preparation and unity.

The fee will doubtless be “undisclosed” at the request of one or both of the clubs concerned.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes before the actual figure leaks out and I can only assume that we have smashed our previous transfer record when we received two and a half million pounds from Wimbledon for Hermann Hreidarsson in October 1999.

Wigan fans on social media are already suggesting that we have received an initial fee of three million pounds with another million pounds contingent on performance, plus a large sell on percentage.

Inside knowledge or guesswork?

Mark Warburton stated yesterday that Wigan had finally met our valuation of the player and if these figures are anywhere near correct then I believe that we have received a realistic figure for someone who was a class above his peers and was deservedly voted Player of the Year in Division One last season.

We also handled a difficult situation perfectly in my opinion and proved that we are no longer going to be a pushover and simply lie down when so called “bigger” teams come calling coveting our stars.

Warburton treated Forshaw sympathetically and with respect but basically set a boundary by putting him on gardening leave and also making it clear that he was going nowhere unless our terms were met and that only players who were fully committed to the club would be selected in the First Team.

In the past our straightened financial circumstances, combined with our naivety in negotiating, allied to an apparently obscene eagerness to sell our players at the earliest opportunity, frequently resulted in our being short changed and receiving very little or well under market value for our prize assets.

Our attitude towards player sales in the 1970s can best be summarised by these telling if resigned comments from former Brentford manager, Frank Blunstone.

Brentford would sell anyone.

Ken Furphy was manager at Blackburn  Rovers at the time and straight after we’d beaten them four nil at Griffin Park he came up to me and asked if I’d sell them John O’Mara.

I laughed and said knowing the Chairman, I expect so.

He rang back on the Monday morning and offered £30,000 for John and off he went.

One day Bill Dodgin rang me up and asked if I’d sell Roger Cross, so I had to say those words again, “I expect so, Brentford will sell anybody!”

There is also the apocryphal story that Sheffield Wednesday manager, Jack Charlton, who coveted our star striker Andy McCulloch, made an initial bid of £60,000 for him, purely as an opening gambit, fully expecting that it would be laughed off but he was amazed when it was accepted with alacrity by the bumbling Brentford board of directors.

The list of players sold at apparent knock down fees is endless with Paul Smith and DJ Campbell being just two of the more recent examples.

forshaw2Times have changed, we are no longer a soft touch and we are now fortunate to have the financial clout not to be in a position to have to sell anyone.

We will not allow ourselves to be pushed around, and if and when we sell anyone it will be on our terms and our terms only.

Adam Forshaw is simply a case in point.

We spotted him in Everton Reserves and took a chance on him when nobody else was prepared to do so.

Through the quality of our coaching and training regime and the faith we have placed in him we have helped develop him into the jewel that he has undoubtedly become.

Adam will be a star and a likely Premier League starter and the only pity is that he was not prepared to stay another year with us in order to develop his game further.

On the face of it his joining Wigan appears to make sense.

Wigan is a club who were recently in the Premier League and are based near to his family and friends in the North West.

They can afford to pay him an eye watering salary, bolstered as they are by their Premier League Parachute Payments.

He will also be reunited with Uwe Rosler who was his first manager at Brentford.

In my view, however, he is taking a risk on the Rosler regime bearing fruit and restoring Wigan to the promised land of the Premier League.

Given their resources his gamble should pay off, but there is the nagging doubt that it could all go pear-shaped and Wigan might not prove to be the stepping stone that he undoubtedly wants it to be.

He will also be subject to Uwe’s strict rotation policy and for a player who wants and expects to play every week, he might find this frustrating.

Maybe if he had been prepared to give us another year he might well have progressed sufficiently to join a Premier League club directly without the need to take this interim step.

I am disappointed about his leaving and at the decision that he has made but you can’t take away the fact that Brentford have played a key role in his development and I will watch his career with pride.

In financial terms we have done really well out of Adam Forshaw.

He came on a free transfer and whatever the percentage of the fee Everton ultimately receive, and in similar situations it is commonplace for the potential selling club to attempt to renegotiate the previously agreed sell on percentage in order to help grease the wheels for a deal to be completed, we will have made a handsome profit on him.

What is more we have done what all sensible and forward thinking clubs do in similar situations and replaced him before we actually sold him.

My guess is that Jon Toral will be the eventual Forshaw replacement and we will probably start to see him being eased into the team in the very near future.

We also have the enticing prospect of Jota who has already impressed in his two short cameo appearances.

Forshaw is undoubtedly a massive loss to us but we have obviously planned for his departure and have not been left exposed and scrambling around for a replacement, more evidence of how far we have progressed in as a club.

We remain formidably strong in the midfield department and still have both the numbers and quality to cope with Adam’s imminent departure.

So, farewell Adam and we hope that you retain as many pleasant and positive memories of Brentford as we will of you.

Oh, and there is just the small matter of a Capital One Cup match tonight against the old enemy in Fulham to whet our appetite, and help us move on and put a line under the Forshaw situation.

Life goes on – and how!

Bob Spicer – RIP – 25/08/14

fans1I was still a bit fed up yesterday morning and kept replaying some of Saturday’s key incidents in my mind whilst chuntering on about Robert Madley’s refereeing horror show to anyone who would listen to me – in truth, not too many people!

So after lunch I thought it might distract me if I had a quick look through Saturday’s Matchday Programme, or “Bees Review”, as it is so catchily titled now.

I had stuffed it into my pocket before the kickoff and given all the distractions I had never quite got round to looking at it.

When I got to page forty-seven I saw something that shocked and really upset me and rapidly forced me to forget all about Saturday’s events and put such minor pinpricks firmly into perspective.

There was a picture commemorating the passing of someone who I remembered extremely well and with great fondness, a man whom I had known for the greater part of my time supporting Brentford FC.

Bob Spicer had been a dedicated Brentford fan for well over fifty years and in his time supporting the club he estimated that he had seen over three thousand games involving the Bees.

A truly wonderful and remarkable record.

Indeed he used to demonstrate his passion for Brentford by wearing a club badge on the lapel of his jacket.

fans2I only wish that I could tell you all some interesting and pithy anecdotes about Bob and his life but I just didn’t have that sort of relationship with him, and I only wish now that I had done.

I first met him many years ago when we sat near each other in Braemar Road and we would also bump into each other regularly in Stripes, both of us desperately trying to keep warm before a match.

He was a charming, intelligent, quiet, softly spoken and thoroughly decent man, a real gentleman, in every meaning of the word.

He would always ask me how I was doing and took a real interest in my family and my career, even remembering my wife and children.

He was inquisitive and interested without prying and would always appear to take great delight in what I had been up to.

In particular we used to talk about New York where I had lived and worked for a few years in the 1980s.

It was far harder to get Bob to open up about himself given his natural reticence and modesty but from time to time he would tell me some wonderful stories about some of the heroes and legends he had watched over his many years supporting the club.

fans3I wrote a month or so ago, (http://tinyurl.com/kmpun7b), about how we sit or stand next to the same people year after year at football matches, yet we rarely if ever take the time or trouble to introduce ourselves or even get to know anything about each other beyond our shared passion for the same football club.

My relationship with Bob perfectly demonstrates this inertia or indeed, typical British reserve, and I now sorely regret that I never made the effort to get to know him better.

At eighty-five he would have been a massive repository of memories about the club and so many of its great exploits and indeed, disasters, of the past.

Bob and others of his vintage are literally a dying breed and I wonder if the club or perhaps even Dave Lane and Mark Croxford, my fellow authors of The Big Brentford Book Series, could make a concerted effort to record some of their wonderful oral memories whilst the opportunity still exists?

So Bob, I wish we had become real friends, but it was an honour and a privilege to get to know you, albeit so slightly over the years.

Rest In Peace.

Mad Madley! – 24/8/14

madleySometimes it is better to wait a little while before putting your thoughts down on paper.

Time can indeed provide some perspective and also have a calming influence, so I have therefore waited the requisite cooling off period before providing my more measured thoughts on yesterday’s strange happenings at Griffin Park, and you know what – I am even angrier now than I was at the time.

We first came across Robert Madley in the crucial promotion clash at Leyton Orient late last season when his eccentric and one-eyed refereeing display bemused and angered every Brentford fan, rabid and fair minded alike.

It was generally accepted that he only got one thing right that day, the decision to send off James Tarkowski for two silly and obvious yellow card offences.

Leyton Orient were allowed to steal yards with impunity at every throw and seemed to have been granted immunity from being penalised for any offence committed that day, however cynical or serious, whilst Mr Madley stamped down ruthlessly on any Brentford infraction.

Well the one thing you can say about Mr Madley is that he is totally consistent given yesterday’s mirror image and reprise of the Leyton Orient horror show.

This time it was Birmingham City who were the grateful recipients of his largesse.

Another Bees player saw red early on yesterday and you have to say that the referee got it right.

claytonAgain though, in the eyes of the Brentford fans it was pretty much his only correct decision as we will discuss later on in this report.

Tony Craig committed hari-kari with the perfect Triple Salchow combination of appalling defending – let the ball bounce, head it weakly back towards your own goal, and then compound your felony by putting your hands all over the striker streaking in to take advantage of the gift.

In this case Clayton Donaldson, returning to his old stamping ground, went down like the proverbial sack of spuds and Craig and Brentford suffered the ultimate penalty.

Jonathan Douglas had enveloped Clayton in a playful bear hug during the pre-match ceremonial handshakes and it appeared that Tony Craig was merely following his example, but unfortunately fifteen minutes too late.

Brentford were down to ten men and once Caddis put away the spot kick, they were trailing a tough, large, unsophisticated and direct Birmingham team by a goal and facing an uphill task to get anything out of the match.

Even before the goal the referee ignored a strong penalty appeal when Gray was manhandled off the ball as a cross came into the area – “see no evil, hear no evil” appeared to be Mr Madley’s mantra – at least as far as Brentford were concerned.

Brentford were poor in the latter stages of the first half, overhitting passes, going too long and generally feeling sorry for themselves.

Smith was clipped in the area but retained his balance when he could have given Mr Madley another decision to make – on second thoughts, he probably knew what the outcome would have been, so he didn’t bother to fall over!

Birmingham took control and pinged a series of dangerous crosses into the box.

Harlee Dean seized his opportunity (as indeed he had at Orient when he replaced another Brentford red card victim) and he and Tarkowski defended heroically aided as they were by Birmingham’s relentless long ball barrage .

The game should have been over by the interval but Thomas headed a gift chance over the bar and Button saved well from Cotterill’s curler and incredibly from a point blank header from Novak – a save that defied gravity and belief.

Birmingham started the second half in the same vein but after their early efforts came to nothing, they retreated into their shell and attempted to hold onto what they had.

Manager Lee Clark also went totally Rosler-esque with his tactics, withdrawing both of his central strikers and therefore handing the initiative on a plate to Brentford.

The Bees took total control for the last twenty minutes and began to threaten the Birmingham goal.

Pritchard and Judge interchanged with balletic grace, half time substitute Dallas threatened with his pace and power and Douglas marauded forward like a man inspired.

Gray was tireless with his clever running and forced an excellent smothering save from Randolph.

The referee then returned to the spotlight when Bidwell turned in the box and his progress was halted by an outrageous chest high tackle from Spector.

Mr Madley pointed dramatically – for a goal kick.

mosesThen came another turning point and a managerial masterstroke by Mark Warburton, who, unsurprisingly given the referee’s performance, had been unusually animated on the bench, regularly getting into the ear of the Fourth Official.

Alan McCormack had been his normal combative self, but he was replaced by Moses Odubajo who immediately stormed forward to heap more pressure on the suddenly stretched Birmingham defence which began to creak ominously.

The pressure eventually told when Grounds miscontrolled badly on the halfway line and Odubajo streaked away and couldn’t be caught.

Time seemed to stand still as he bore down on the Birmingham goal but he had the composure to dink the ball over the keeper, and the ground erupted.

Birmingham heads went down, their manager paced impotently on the touchline, aware that his own tactical shortcomings had hamstrung his team’s chances of success.

There was now going to be only one winner and the Bees went close when Dallas unleashed a swerving long range effort that almost deceived Randolph.

You could say that Brentford had got out of jail but Birmingham had missed their chances and let the Bees off the hook – and how well they took their opportunity.

It was impossible at times to tell who had the extra man as Brentford’s beautiful short passing game came into its element in the second half and enabled them to keep possession, cut through the impotent Birmingham defence and turn the game on its head.

This was a topsy-turvy game but the point gained was a golden one and will boost confidence to even higher levels.

The past seven days have provided a tough learning curve but Brentford have come through with flying colours and fans, management and players now know that they truly belong in the Championship.

Now Fulham await, and what an enticing prospect that is!

As for Mr Madley, he has justifiably joined the pantheon of iconic horrors and pantomime villains like Norman Burtenshaw, Kevin Lynch, Keith Stroud, Andy D’Urso, Stuart Attwell and Ray Bigger in Brentford’s refereeing Hall of Shame.

Surely we can’t have him inflicted upon us again – once a season is more than enough!

Still A Bee! – Part Two – 23/8/14

??????????????In today’s blog I am continuing with my chat with former Brentford centre forward Richard Poole who has lots more to say about his time at Griffin Park and how he is doing now.

I have been in France for the past thirty-seven years and had two hip and knee replacements before I was fifty and quite a few health problems too.

I do remember my league debut at home to Lincoln City in February 1974 and I still treasure the telegram I received from Alan Hawley that day, such a great man on and off the field.

And yes, I scored against Bradford City in the last home game of that season with the other goal being scored by Dave Simmons.

He was such a great help to me and I was so sad to learn of his death in 2007.

The only thing I do regret was in my third year at Brentford when I refused Frank Blunstone’s offer to join Manchester United’s youth team.

Richard then went on to talk about his managers and team mates as well as some of the characters behind the scenes at Griffin Park.

There is so much to say about Mike Everitt and Mr Blunstone.

Well Mr Blunstone was a great manager for the years before I signed as an apprentice as well as the season when we went down to the Fourth Division.

The problem from my view was Mr Piggott, not to slay him, but as apprentices, Kevin Harding and I had to take the first team training kit every Friday to the local laundromat in Brentford High Street and you can just imagine how we felt when we had to walk there!

When we were in the Third Division we were given a leather bag marked with “Brentford FC” on it to put our playing kit in.

Well when I was released four or five years later he asked for it back!

Anyway Mr Blunstone used to give Kevin and I extra training sessions in the afternoon with a football, which at that time was unusual.

I was so sad when he had his car accident as he used to give the apprentices a lift to the training sessions held away from Griffin Park.

Mike Everitt gave me my first team chance and it was not as easy as you might remember.

I got injured on my debut and came back on Easter Friday away to Colchester who were then top of the league.

I was twelfth man but at the meal before the match Roger Cross – well how can I say!

So I played all the game and the following day we played away to Chester and I played all the second half and the following Tuesday we played Colchester at home, which I think was my best game, and it finished 0-0.

I could go on, but now looking back, there were some differences of opinion between some senior players I think and Mr Everitt.

I prefer not to say who, but I think every Brentford fan could see, in particular, a certain one who became a manager afterwards.

Mr Everitt had to fight the Gods in the Boardroom, for they awarded me appearance money when I played in the first team as well as a bonus like all the rest of the first team players.

When I signed professional terms with Brentford I was earning, I think, £20 a week or a bit less, and a year after, when I was at Watford I was on £60 a week.

Yes of course I would have played for nothing for Brentford.

When I made my debut that season Mr Everitt brought some experienced players in like Jimmy Gabriel – well what more can a young sixteen year old at the time ask for?

As for Stan Webb, I do think you were hard on him.

He was a gentleman, always willing to help us youngsters and he always tried his best in a struggling team getting on in years and I never heard an angry word from him, and us apprentices heard a lot in our time!

When I was in my first year in France Mr Everitt phoned me as at that time in 1977/78, Southampton wanted to sign me, but Toulon would not let me go and six months later I had my career finished by my cruciate ligament injury.

In all my time at Brentford though, I am not sure there was another person who helped me more than the groundsman, John Stepney, who was very important to Brentford behind the scenes.

??????????????He was always giving us advice – mostly “get off the pitch!” when we were training in the afternoons.

He was a really great man.

Well that’s enough for now.

I could go on and on though, and thinking back, there was one person who I looked up to who left me feeling disappointed to this day and I think finished me at Brentford and certainly turned a small section of the crowd against me.

I remember coming back the year after I left for Watford and getting stick from the crowd of about ten people who were watching a reserve match.

Anyway that apart, I think you can see my love of Brentford both at the time and to this day.

You can quote me, no problem there, and I’ve still got lots to tell about my beloved Brentford
.

I am still living in the Southern French Alps, but always look out for Brentford’s result first and I am sorry about my English but after thirty-seven years abroad I muddle things up!

Keep up with the good work on Brentford FC

Thanks once more.

Mr R J Poole.

Still a BEE!

I hope Richard’s account has left you feeling as emotional and moved as I am.

Still A Bee! – Part One – 22/8/14

??????????????One of the most rewarding things about writing my blog is reading the replies and feedback that I have been receiving over the past couple of months from fellow Brentford fans.

Some, thankfully, have enjoyed what I have been writing and even offered their own reminiscences of events long gone, others have been less forgiving and have taken me to task for some of my more off the wall comments and viewpoints.

All is fair in love and war, and I am just happy and tickled pink that there really are some people out there who are actually reading and taking notice of the unfettered stream of consciousness spewing forth every day or so from my warped mind and memories.

Out of the blue, a few days ago, I started receiving correspondence from Richard Poole, who, for those of you of a more recent vintage, was a Brentford player back in the early 1970s.

Richard was a local youngster, who in 1972 was one of the first batch of apprentice professionals taken on by the club.

A tall and strong centre forward, he rose through the youth system like a blazing meteorite and made his Football League debut in February 1974 in a 2-1 victory against Lincoln City when at the tender age of sixteen years and five months, he became the second youngest player in the club’s history after Alan Hawley.

He had a decent run in the side and was full of energy and youthful enthusiasm.

The highlight of his time at Griffin Park was scoring a beautifully taken goal against Bradford City from the edge of the penalty area, a goal which extinguished any lingering fears of re-election.

Richard signed professional terms with the club and made twenty-one appearances in all but was surprisingly released in 1976 and moved to Watford where he played a handful of times before drifting out of the game.

I asked him to put some flesh on the bones about his spell at the club and why his career seemed to fizzle out so quickly after such a wonderful start, and he has been very open and forthcoming and was keen to share his memories and experiences with fellow Bees fans.

What great memories I have of Brentford, like the day when I joined the club and was right next to stars like John O’Mara, also when I made my first team debut when I was only a sixteen year old apprentice.

As Brentford was my boyhood club you can imagine my excitement when I joined them, as well as my disappointment when John Docherty let me go, as I made my first team debut with him and I think one of the reasons I was released, well, that’s another subject!

How did Richard come to join Brentford?

I lived in Heston at 80 Northfields Road and went to Berkeley School then to Spring Grove Central.

At twelve years of age I signed schoolboy forms for Brentford and played in the FA Youth Cup First Round for Southall Under 18s when i was only fourteen.

I got a rollicking for that from Mr Blunstone but things really started happening for me when I played for Hounslow Schools Under 15s with some great friends like Kevin Harding and Neil Oliver.

We all signed as apprentice professionals at the same time and Kevin and I then played for Hounslow Schools Under 18 team which got through to a cup final against Hillingdon at Brentford’s ground.

So, warming up before the game Kevin and I were told that we could not play as we were too young, even though we had played in all of the qualifying games.

Hillingdon had complained so we were very disappointed .

We learned why after the game as a certain Under 15 player of theirs could not play as he was injured, so this was their retribution.

??????????????The Hillingdon player was Butch (Crab) Wilkins, yes the future Chelsea and England player.

That stuck in our throat for a long time.

This was the age of David Bowie and Nazareth etc but as budding apprentices well, we had a choice to make!

There are so many things I could tell you.

My grandfather played for Sheffield United and my father played cricket for England Youth before he decided to enlist in the Royal Belgian navy in World War 2 as he was too young and had been rejected by the British navy.

I think I could do a book just about being a fifteen year old apprentice.

In 1972/73 with Brentford in the Third Division, I do remember the home friendly when Mr. Blunstone put all the squad on the team sheet for the friendly with Portsmouth, who had in their ranks one of my heroes, Ron Davies, but please do not tell him my real hero was Big John O’Mara!

I will always remember him when he came back to play in Alan Hawley’s Testimonial.

I played the ball to him for a shot at goal and afterwards he said “Richard, next time shoot yourself, always try to score” but sadly I always made more for others than myself.

I then asked Richard about what had happened to him after he left the club:

I did smile a lot at your comments regarding Paul Priddy’s penalty saves at Watford .

Did you know I played in that game for Watford and one of those penalties was awarded for a foul on me by Paul Bence and those saves finished Watford’s promotion dreams.

But I must say that though I was released by them that year, what a great youngster they had in our reserve team in Luther Blissett who was a great pal.

I also have fond memories of Keith Mercer and lots of others and I do remember just before a Fourth Division game up North our President Elton John came out in “Rolling Stone” magazine, and I always wonder why he was banned from our dressing room!

Well after leaving Watford at the end of the season I signed for the Sporting Club of Toulon in the French Second Division in 1977/78 where I played with Jean Tigana but in April 1978 I suffered a bad knee ligament injury which finished my career when I was still only twenty years of age.

There will be lots more memories from Richard tomorrow when he gives his opinion about his team mates, managers and other personalities behind the scenes at Griffin Park.

I hope you are enjoying his recollections as much as I did!