Nothing Changes – 31/10/14

towersI really love reading through old Brentford programmes from years gone by.

I can wallow in nostalgia and read about the exploits of the heroes of the past.

But you never really know what hidden gems you are going to find.

However one fact can be taken as read:

Nothing really changes.

Time after time you read the same Pravda-like excuses, rewriting of history, and half-truths from the programme editor and team management alike.

“The ball never ran for us.”

“The referee gave us nothing.”

“We are riddled with injuries.”

“Our luck is certain to change.”

“We have hit the post five times this month.”

“Now we can concentrate on the League.”

I mentioned last week the grudging, feudal and half-baked send-off given to the “Terrible Twins” George Francis and Jim Towers, when they were peremptorily sold off to Queens Park Rangers.

Almost three hundred goals and years of devoted service between them merited no more than a terse single line of farewell in the next home programme.

Then I saw something really interesting in a Brentford versus Southampton programme from November 1956:

Mr Brentford, Ken Coote, had dramatically missed a potential match winning penalty with five minutes to go in a local derby with Crystal Palace which eventually ended all square.

Nothing changes there then, but the next paragraph really made me sit up and take notice:

Some spectators (after the kick had failed, of course) declared that the penalty should have been entrusted to Bragg or Towers, conveniently forgetting that neither of those players converted his last penalty kick for the League side.

It was Brentford’s third penalty miss of the season, but this was the first one to make any difference to the result.

Sounds familiar?

trott1Now where have you seen or heard that before?

Remember the mini-fracas and pow-wow that took place before Marcello Trotta finally took that fateful season-defining spot kick against Doncaster, with Clayton Donaldson and Bradley Wright-Phillips both interfering and hindering Kevin O’Connor in his efforts to do what had previously been agreed, and take the penalty kick?

Who knows what would have happened had fate and his team mates not intervened.

I am quite certain, however, that Kevin would have slotted the ball away calmly and accurately low to the keeper’s right as Neil Sullivan dived the wrong way and given the season a fairy tale ending.

I have it on extremely good authority that in the week leading up to the Doncaster game, Kevin had studied footage of every recent penalty kick faced by Sullivan and discovered that he invariably flopped to his left.

kocHe therefore spent hours practising taking spot kicks against Richard Lee, always placing the ball to the keeper’s right hand side in preparation, should the need arise on the big day.

We all know what happened next, although thankfully promotion was merely delayed for one more year, and I think most fans would agree that we are better equipped for the demands of the Championship now, than if we had been promoted, as we surely should have been, under Uwe Rosler in 2013.

Ironic that it was finally another penalty kick, taken by Alan Judge, that cemented promotion the following season.

Fortunate indeed that he actually managed to score the one that really mattered, rather than following the example of the other three he took last season, which were all frittered away.

I wrote recently (http://tinyurl.com/ojje7fo) about Brentford’s totally appalling, unacceptable and catastrophic record with penalty kicks in recent decades, and it is illuminating to note that by the end of October 1956 we had already missed three penalty kicks that season, all taken by different players.

Evidently we were just as poor at taking penalties back in those days as we are now.

tarAs they say, nothing changes!

That leads me back nicely to the present day and the question as to who will actually take Brentford’s next penalty kick?

We are currently finding goals pretty hard to come by and can hardly afford to be as profligate as we were when James Tarkowski put our last spot kick into orbit against Leeds United.

Mark Warburton quite predictably, and correctly, fully backed his young defender afterwards, and stated that despite his miss, he retained full confidence in James’s prowess from the spot.

I’m glad he did, because I can assure our normally astute and perspicacious team manager that his confidence is shared by precisely none of our supporters who, as one, gasped in astonishment when the gawky defender strode up to the spot, and unfortunately all of their worst fears were realised.

Tarky is currently on the bench after his suspension, and, assuming he is not on the pitch when we are next awarded a penalty, and given the idiosyncrasies of most of the referees that have been inflicted upon us to date this season, that could be quite some considerable time, who will be entrusted with the kick?

Alan Judge did score in the penalty shootout earlier this season at Dagenham and maybe the job will revert to him, although I would prefer Jota, Alex Pritchard or Andre Gray to be entrusted with the responsibility.

All of them are confident on the ball and have the ability and temperament to choose a corner, not change their mind, and find it with aplomb.

Alan McCormack, when fit, could also be an outside bet given his successful penalty in the FA Cup last season against Staines.

Not the best of penalties, it must be said, but it went in.

Interestingly enough, Nick Proschwitz has a powerful and accurate shot, which he regularly demonstrates in the prematch shooting practice and perhaps his time will also come.

Given the two powerful and accurate spot kicks that he smacked home in shootouts against Swindon and Dagenham, Captain Fantastic, Tony Craig, also has his supporters and maybe we could do worse than give him a shot at the job that nobody really seems to want.

I have now got to the stage that whenever Brentford are awarded a penalty kick I automatically assume the worst and, like Jonathan Douglas, hardly even bother to watch any more, and wait for the cheers or groans from the crowd.

Apparently back in the 50s regular penalty kick taker, Jim Towers, used to hit his spot kicks so ferociously that they would either result in the keeper flinching as the ball seared past him into the net, grateful that he hadn’t got his body in the way of it, or every so often the supporters behind the goal were placed in clear and present danger of decapitation.

As they say, nothing much changes!

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Jeepers Keepers – Part One – 30/10/14

bees4I was reading through some old Brentford programmes from the 60s the other day and saw a note congratulating Gordon Phillips on making his debut for the club in an FA Cup match against Margate.

Nothing really out of the ordinary, apart from the fact that the article revealed that after the arrival of Joe Crozier in 1937 Brentford only played nine different goalkeepers between then and the mid 60s.

A quite remarkable record when you consider how regularly teams change players, as well as how often goalkeepers get hurt.

For the record, throughout that thirty year period the Bees fielded Joe Crozier, Ted Gaskell, Reg Newton, Sonny Feehan, Alf Jefferies, Gerry Cakebread, Fred Ryecraft, Chic Brodie and Gordon Phillips.

What is even stranger is that the last four named played in successive games in 1963.

How often can a club have had different goalkeepers in four consecutive matches?

I certainly cannot think of any other examples and wonder if anybody else can?

Joe Crozier was unobtrusive and a model of consistency and was a key part of the Brentford team that took the First Division by storm in the late thirties.

What a bargain he was as he was signed for only one thousand pounds.

He played three wartime International matches for Scotland, conceding eight goals against England on his debut, and yet he kept his place for the next game.

cakeShades of Frank Haffey  at Wembley in 1961 perhaps?

After his retirement from football Crozier became managing director of Cory Lighterage and a Freeman of the City of London.

I have previously written about Gerry Cakebread and how he combined a career with the Admiralty with his football commitments.

He was the undisputed first choice for nearly a decade, and played one hundred and eighty-seven games in a row between 1958 and 1963.

In 1955 Gerry was named as reserve goalkeeper in the England Under 23 squad to Coventry City’s Reg Matthews.

Two players from the Third Division were recognised as the most promising young goalkeepers in the country.

It could never happen today.

Reg went on to win full International caps, but hindered perhaps by his part time status, Gerry didn’t, but many supporters think that he was the finest goalkeeper they have seen play for the club.

Remarkably, in his last season at Griffin Park, with his career winding down, Gerry was allowed to take a leave of absence of nearly a month to visit Russia for an extended business trip.

Can you see any manager granting a player similar permission today?

ryeHe also had a long and successful career after football and was awarded an OBE in 1995 for his work on Hydrographics at the Ministry of Defence.

Fred Ryecraft was his patient understudy from 1959-1964 and from the look of him he would appear to have spent much of his spare time eating and training in the local Wimpy Bar rather than in the gym, as he was a portly figure to say the very least, and was known to eagerly accept, if not solicit, sweets proffered by young supporters standing behind his goal.

He is the nearest that Brentford have ever come to Fatty Foulke, and quite how he ever managed to get his massive frame off the ground hardly bears thinking about.

He certainly filled the goal but, in truth, loyal deputy that he was, he wasn’t really up to the standard required and drifted off to Gravesend where he was also known to play at centre forward.

He wasn’t alone in that feat as Luton goalkeeper Tony Read was converted into a striker during the 1965/66 season and scored an impressive twelve goals in only twenty games, including a match-winning hat-trick against Notts County, before he ran out of goals and was moved back to his original position.

Vice-Wimpy-Streatham-exteriorTalk about lack of gratitude!

Chic Brodie was a wonderful servant to the club and was calm and composed in everything he did on the pitch.

He was an old style goalkeeper, nothing ruffled him, and he was consistent and totally lacking in flamboyance.

He was also one of the last goalkeepers I can remember who rarely, if ever, seemed to wear gloves.

Those were the days when keepers simply spat on the palm of their hands and hoped that the ball would stick.

Misfortune seemed to follow Chic around throughout his career.

He is best remembered for conceding nine goals to a rampant Ted MacDougall when playing for Margate, and, of course, for the notorious incident when a stray dog ran full tilt into his knee at Colchester practically ending his professional career.

Ted MacDougall has a clear recollection of poor Chic Brodie:

chic2The keeper always said he thought he was the unluckiest goalkeeper in football.

He said one day he went to put his flat cap on for a game because it was sunny and he found a hand grenade in it.

Then when he was playing for Brentford a Jack Russell ran on the pitch and smacked him on the leg and nearly broke it.

Then, during another game, the crossbar broke and fell on his head.

And then to top it off, I scored nine goals against him.

Chic suffered his final tragedy when he died far too young, but he was a skilled craftsman and, ever vigilant, he will always live long in my memory.

pkGordon Phillips was a local prospect who was initially behind Brodie in the pecking order given his age and lack of experience, but he made the goalkeeping position his own in 1966 for a couple of years, and he and Chic vied for the first team spot in the late 60s with first one coming out on top, and then, the other, and it was not until Chic’s retirement that Gordon became the undisputed first choice.

Given our customary lack of resources, Gordon was also named as an outfield substitute at Crewe in September 1970, but his services were not called upon on the night.

Gordon was an ever present in the 1971/72 promotion team and enjoyed a wonderful season, but things soon turned sour with Brentford suffering the ignominy of relegation at the end of the following season and Gordon’s time at the club was over.

Where Chic was solid and consistent, Gordon was smaller, slighter and more dynamic in his approach.

Soccer - League Division One - Watford v LiverpoolGiven his lack of height, he struggled with crosses, but he compensated with his speed of thought and reaction, acrobatic shot stopping and his ability to snuff out danger by diving fearlessly at opponents’ feet.

Another local boy, Paul Priddy, still an amateur, succeeded Gordon, but after an up and down couple of years he was replaced by Steve Sherwood who achieved the rare feat for a loanee of being ever present in the 1974/75 season and also being voted Player of the Year.

We apparently made a pretty feeble effort to sign him on a permanent basis, but Watford outbid us by shelling out a mere five thousand pounds.

Instead of buying a promising young keeper who would end up playing in the Football League until he was forty, we ended up taking a four thousand pound gamble that unfortunately did not pay off and totally backfired.

That was Brentford to a T!

Bill Glazier had a long and distinguished career at the top level, playing over four hundred and fifty games for Crystal Palace and Coventry City and three times for the England Under 23 team.

glazHe was only thirty-two when he was persuaded to put off his retirement and sign for Brentford, but he seemed to be far more interested in running his hotel in Brighton than in keeping the ball out of the Brentford net.

He was distracted, commuted from the South Coast, and seemed to lack commitment.

His performances were poor, culminating in an appalling and costly fumble that led to Brentford conceding a soft equaliser at Old Trafford just when it appeared that the Bees might be on the verge of pulling off a massive League Cup giant killing.

He soon shuffled off into retirement and Paul Priddy seized his opportunity and played for a couple of seasons without ever totally convincing either his manager or the supporters that he was the long term answer to our goalkeeping problem.

He had one unforgettable afternoon at Vicarage Road when he was unbeatable and touched by genius, saving two penalties and single-handedly earning Brentford a rare victory at Watford.

prOn other days he was less authoritative and consistent and Bill Dodgin, perhaps harshly, released him in 1977.

Another local boy who so nearly made it, but not quite.

Paul wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and even managed to sneak back for a third spell at the club as reserve goalkeeper in 1981, playing one farewell match against Chester, when he signed off with a clean sheet, before having a long and successful career as a well-respected goalkeeping coach.

The cheque book then came out and Dodgin paid Bristol City eight thousand pounds for Len Bond, and he repaid us with three good years of consistent and brave goalkeeping, before falling out with Fred Callaghan and leaving the club.

boWe made a profit on him, but his leaving was a real shame as he was still in his prime, and he subsequently had a long spell at Exeter, but he was stretchered off on a return visit to Griffin Park before being the largely blameless recipient of Brentford’s seven goal salvo at Exeter in 1983.

Brentford’s last goalkeeper of the 70s was Trevor Porter, a last minute emergency replacement when Bond was injured in a car crash, just before the start of the 1978/79 season.

Porter was an old friend of Paul Shrubb, and had also played under Bill Dodgin at Fulham, and we rescued him from oblivion at Slough Town for a fee of seven hundred and fifty pounds.

He lasted for a couple of seasons and did a steady, unobtrusive job when called upon, and, when he wasn’t, he kept up his previous career as a window cleaner.

So, Brentford fielded a variety of goalkeepers in the 60s and 70s, some good, some indifferent, but the only real shocker I can remember was Garry Towse, a talented all-round sportsman in his own right, but an average goalkeeper at best, who signed for the club from Crystal Palace and was in goal on that sad October afternoon in 1973 when Brentford conceded four goals in the opening seventeen minutes at Scunthorpe, and sank to the bottom of the Football League for the first time in their history.

The only way from there was up and I will reminisce about Brentford’s goalkeepers from the 80s and 90s in the near future.

Ooh Betty! – Part Two – 29/10/14

Well Betinho did play a full ninety minutes in the Development Squad last night, partnering Nick Proschwitz in a rare two man attack as Brentford employed a diamond formation.

samUnfortunately they subsided to a three-one defeat to an impressive Crystal Palace team and early reports would suggest that neither Brentford striker made much of a case to press for a starting position in Saturday’s crunch match against Derby County.

From what I have gleaned from spectators at the game, they appeared listless and presented little goal threat.

The good news from last night was that Sam Saunders played for the entire first half and apparently came through his first match for nine months with flying colours.

His effervescense and joie de vivre have been sorely missed, along, of course, with his peerless ability at set pieces and it would provide a wonderful fillip to the entire squad if he were to work his way back into contention for the first team before Christmas.

The news also broke yesterday that the proposed Danny Graham loan move had broken down for unspecified reasons, which potentially leaves Frank McParland and Mark Warburton scrabbling around if they are to be successful in bringing in a new loan striker in time for Saturday.

niI really don’t envy them their task in what is a total seller’s market.

As for Betinho, I gave chapter and verse yesterday on why I felt he had not been a success to date.

I was therefore fascinated and delighted to receive the following comments from former Brentford striker, Richard Poole, a regular and most welcome contributor to this blog.

His words provide much food for thought as he went through the exact same situation as Betinho nearly forty years ago, and experienced similar problems to our Portugese loanee.

Let Richard explain in his own words:

I can look back from my own personal experience from when I moved from Watford to SC Toulon in the French Second Division when I was only twenty years of age.

I firstly had to adapt to the incredible heat as it was twenty-five degrees by the early morning.

The language barrier was tough and I also had to adapt to a totally alien style of football.

Remember, I came from Brentford and Watford who had their own particular way of playing, and now I had to get used to a team which never hit a long ball but instead relied on a quick passing game.

It took me well over six months to adapt, with a lot of problems on the way.

It helped that my wife was French and came from not far away from Toulon, but it really wasn’t easy for me.

I moved in July and it was March before things were starting to come together for me.

Then I had my injury which finished my career, and it was all over.

So let’s hope that Betinho comes through this difficult settling in period and hopefully he will receive all the support he needs from us fans, right up to the Boardroom.

Though in today’s world, patience is in short supply and time is rarely given.

Wise and salutary words indeed, and he has provided some insights that we should all think very carefully about before we rush to criticise a young player who currently appears to be far out of his comfort zone, and struggling to adapt to an environment totally different to anything he has previously experienced.

Ooh Betty! – 28/10/14

Has anybody here seen Betinho?

220px-Betinho_(cropped)The young Portugese striker, whose arrival on transfer deadline day caused such a stir, seems to have dropped off the radar and disappeared entirely from sight.

The Brentford brains trust needed to take speedy action as soon as Scott Hogan suffered his horrific season-ending injury at Rotherham.

Given that there were only a couple of days remaining before the end of the transfer window, there was really no time to waste, and they are to be applauded for getting a transfer over the line so speedily.

Goals win matches, so inevitably good strikers are notoriously difficult and expensive to capture, particularly for a club like Brentford who have languished for years in the nether regions of the game, and are only now building a justified reputation as a progressive, ambitious club, and one becoming a far more attractive proposition to potential signings.

Over the years we have generally had to settle for strikers who were a little shop soiled, who had a few extra miles on the clock, who were perhaps in their golden years, or trying to make their way back from injury, as well as some real gambles from the lower reaches of the game.

Ian Benjamin, Steve Kabba, Carl Cort or Matthew Metcalf anyone?

In the interests of fairness I will also put forward the names of Clayton Donaldson and DJ Campbell.

Purely on the law of averages we had to get it right occasionally!

Not since Nicky Forster arrived in 1994 had we managed to bring in a real prospect who was also coveted by many other clubs far higher up the food chain.

Scott Hogan and Andre Gray had both broken the mould as they were promising and much sought after youngsters who had shown immense promise at a lower level and were keen to take the chance we offered them to prove that they could thrive in the Championship.

As for our other new striker, Nick Proschwitz, he was a different kettle of fish, as his career had stalled at Hull City and he was simply looking for an opportunity to re-establish himself and demonstrate that he had what it takes.

The loan signing of Betinho came totally out of the blue and not been anticipated by anybody.

Like his fellow countryman and former Brentford loanee, Joao Teixeira, he had come to Mark Warburton’s attention during the Next Gen series where he had apparently scored for fun.

At twenty-one he had a highly impressive goal scoring record for both his club, Sporting Lisbon, at youth and B Level, as well as for the Portugese international teams at all age levels, up to and including the Under 21 team.

And not just any old goals, a trawl of YouTube revealed eye catching strikes of all shapes and sizes.

You name it, he could do it – volleys, overhead kicks and diving headers alike.

From the sparse evidence gathered, Betinho appeared to be a classic goal poacher, someone who came alive in the penalty area.

After the recent arrival of Jota, signing another foreign player known only by a nickname seemed to be yet more evidence that Brentford were joining the big time!

Like every other Bees fan I was salivating at the prospect of watching Betinho play, and felt that he would more than likely provide the goals that we needed to help cement our position in the Championship.

The scene was set for him to take us all by storm, and after the inevitable delay required for his international clearance to come through, we eagerly waited for him to make an immediate impact.

And that really and frustratingly is where the story currently remains.

bet3Betinho made his debut as a late substitute in a losing cause against Norwich City, played for the final thirteen minutes, created an opportunity that was blazed over the bar by his fellow substitute Nick Proschwitz and has never been seen again.

Those few sparse minutes represent the sum total to date of his appearances for the club at first team level.

He has sat on the bench ever since, like a wallflower awaiting an invitation to dance, until last Saturday at Bolton, when he wasn’t even named in the eighteen man squad.

What is more galling and mysterious is that our goals have largely dried up and no forward has scored for us since Betinho became eligible to play.

Since his arrival our entire ration of goals have been provided either by our midfielders or full back Alan McCormack.

Andre Gray has been worked to the bone and ploughed a lone furrow up front without scoring since the Brighton match early in September, and he has invariably been replaced late in every game by Nick Proschwitz who has also not troubled the scorers, and in all honesty, rarely looked like doing so.

There have been several times recently, like in the away game at Watford, when we desperately needed a goal, the game had become open and totally end to end and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Betinho to get his opportunity.

He has never received the call and when youngster Montell Moore was also named as a substitute last week we all wondered if he might get on before our foreign import.

In the end neither was required.

So the burning question remains unanswered – why has he not been given any further opportunities to play?

I have given the matter a lot of thought and I now firmly believe that we supporters should recognise and acknowledge that our initial expectations were both ridiculous and totally unfair on a young boy leaving his country for the first time to play in a totally strange, unknown and alien environment.

When examining his playing record in more detail, it also becomes evident that he had barely played a first team game at the top level in Portugal and, for all his promise and potential, was totally inexperienced.

How could he be expected to come into such a competitive and tough environment as the Championship and contribute from day one?

How hard must it be for somebody of his age to move away from home and have to deal with the problems of climate, diet, language, homesickness and loneliness as well as having to adapt to a totally different style of play.

bettHowever much the club, Player Liaison Officer, Peter Gilham, and indeed his new Iberian colleagues such as Jota, Jon Toral and Marcos Tebar have tried to help him settle down, it must be a daunting and indeed difficult prospect for him to become acclimatised, without even taking into account the additional problems of fitting in with his new team mates on the field too.

And that is where I suspect the explanation to this enigma lies.

Brentford have adopted a new 4-1-4-1 playing system this season which relies upon fast midfield runners to get forward in support of a lone striker who is supposed to work tirelessly both in and out of the penalty area, to show and make space for himself, run the channels, hold the ball up until his colleagues arrive, win the ball in the air whenever keeper, David Button, is forced to kick the ball long, press the opposition when they are in possession and, of course, finish clinically whenever a chance does come along.

I am exhausted simply typing that out and can only imagine how tough an ask and how demanding this role must be for any player, let alone such a young and inexperienced one who has probably never been asked to perform in a similar manner before.

Andre Gray has taken up the mantle willingly and without complaint, and he has shown enormous levels of energy, skill and commitment, but he is now looking drained and badly in need of a break.

I suspect that Betinho is used to a totally different style of play back home, one that is far slower and less frenetic, where his team dominates possession and he plays off another striker who does a lot of the donkey work for him.

He is probably used to playing off the shoulder of the last defender and concentrating his energy simply on taking his chances as they are presented to him.

With Brentford he will probably be shattered from all the required hard work and running before he even gets a sniff at goal.

He has therefore had a lot to cope with and in retrospct we should have looked at the small print before we all got so excited at his arrival.

Betinho did play in a Development Squad match last month and scored a typically well taken goal against Sheffield Wednesday, and he is also expected to play tonight at Crystal Palace.

graHopefully he will be given the time to develop over the coming months and perhaps he will be able to contribute as the season progresses.

Ideally Betinho will speak well of the treatment and help he has received since his arrival, and how the Brentford coaches and support team have improved his game, and his will be merely the first in a series of future loan deals between Brentford and Sporting Lisbon.

That is all very well but our goalscoring problem and lack of available bodies up front still remains, and there has been much talk and speculation of a far more experienced striker, Sunderland’s Danny Graham, arriving imminently on a loan deal.

Hopefully that is a story that has legs and, if so, I will be able to comment upon it later on this week.

As for Betinho, for all his promise it would appear that he is perhaps a player for tomorrow rather than today.

The season is still young and I hope that his time will come at Griffin Park, but the need still remains for immediate help up front, assistance that I believe will have to come from elsewhere.

Not The Best Day! – 26/10/14

Sometimes you just get the feeling that absolutely nothing is going to turn out right.

Yesterday was a perfect example.

Yet it had all started so well.

There were five of us sharing a lift to the match at Bolton and we were enjoying each other’s company and making excellent time until we hit the car park that was the M6.

Then things began to go downhill and never really recovered.

Our estimated arrival time of just before one o’clock soon went by the board and as one traffic jam morphed into another, our spirits fell and the chances of our arriving before the kick off began to fade.

The anticipated three and a half hour journey took well over five hours but our driver, Gary, desperately urged on by all of us, made a final herculean effort and got us to the stadium just as the teams emerged from the dressing rooms, and we managed to watch the entire match.

Given what was to follow, perhaps that was no blessing as Brentford gave an insipid, careless and fairly lifeless performance in subsiding to a three – one defeat to a home team that had been struggling for points, but was boosted by playing its first home match under the leadership of new manager, Neil Lennon.

As this was the third game that Brentford had played in a week, accompanied by two long trips to the North West of England, it seemed surprising that Mark Warburton kept an unchanged team from Tuesday, although Tommy Smith returned from his hamstring injury and replaced the invisible man, Betinho, on the bench.

Harlee Dean was rewarded for his fine performance against Sheffield Wednesday by keeping the eligible again James Tarkowski out of the starting lineup.

Good man management in my opinion, as if you get hold of a shirt you should keep it for as long as your performances merit it.

The first half ended goalless, but the nagging thought remained that we had let a golden opportunity slip through our fingers.

The home team was nervous, laden with expectation and totally lacking in self-belief, and if the Bees had put their foot down on the gas a bit more and exerted some real concerted pressure and scored a goal they would probably have folded.

As it was, after almost falling behind within the first thirty seconds, Brentford created some decent half chances which were missed by Jota, Pritchard, Judge and Bidwell but they played far too much on the back foot and never took the game by the scruff of the neck and seized control.

Given the home team’s diamond formation which matched us up, there was plenty of space on the flanks which we never took advantage of.

The home team huffed and puffed, pressed us high up the pitch and had four monsters at the back who dealt fairly easily with the pretty non-existent threat provided by the isolated Andre Gray.

We were reasonably satisfied at the break but felt that perhaps we had let Bolton off the hook, and so it proved.

As it was, Brentford did show more ambition and determination at the start of the second half but apart from a mishit cross by the excellent Harlee Dean that forced a stretching save from Lonergan, no real chances were created.

dannsBrentford then self-destructed in a terrible quarter-hour spell that saw them repeatedly turn the ball over to Bolton, who took full advantage with two totally avoidable goals.

The home crowd, which had been growing quieter by the minute, were revived by Brentford’s careless attitude and lack of ball retention and finally came alive.

Bolton were allowed to advance unchallenged down their left and the ball was played inside to Neil Danns, thirty yards out.

Pritchard made a half hearted effort to close him down and none of his colleagues helped him out and Danns hit a powerful shot inside Button’s far post before the keeper was able to react.

Could he have done better?

Probably, as he looked a little bit slow to react.

Was he helped out by his defence?

Not in the slightest.

As if that was not bad enough, Alan McCormack who had been a subdued and peripheral figure finally made a typical surge down the middle of the field and was sandwiched by two Bolton players.

He remained ominously still on the ground and was stretchered off.

His injury looked serious and before the Bees could settle they went two goals behind.

daviRecently arrived substitute Mark Davies made an instant impact, picked the ball upon the left before Odubajo, who had moved to full back, could react, slalomed into the penalty area, went past a feeble challenge by an off-balance Tony Craig who seemed terrified of bringing him down and slotted the ball beyond Button.

An excellent goal to savour if you were a home fan, but a terrible one to concede.

Game over?

Well it would have been had it not been for the almost singlehanded efforts of substitute Jon Toral who replaced the anonymous Alex Pritchard.

After Douglas had forced Lonergan into his only strenuous save of the entire afternoon with a well placed header, the Bees stirred themselves with a rousing but belated recovery, and Tommy Smith’s excellent cross went over the head of a straining defender and was instantly controlled by Toral who scored emphatically from close range.

Game on at last, and for the final ten minutes Brentford took control and should have equalised when Odubajo, who seemed to provide far more of an attacking threat when coming forward from right back than when he had played further forward, found space and put a perfect low cross into the six yard box for Gray, but he criminally delayed his shot and, he who hesitates is lost, and Brentford’s final chance had come and gone.

To add insult to injury, Bolton, who were clinging onto the ropes and praying for the final whistle throughout the seven minutes of injury time caused by the lengthy treatment received by McCormack, had the cheek to score a comic cuts and misleading third goal when they broke away unchallenged from a late Brentford corner and, with Button stranded upfield, Craig Davies found an empty net and became the third substitute to score a goal.

The journey home from yet another soulless out of town stadium was easier, shorter, fairly introspective and pretty uneventful apart from an encounter with a very friendly and well-spoken Oldham Athletic player at Stafford Services.

He expressed amazement that his former colleague Tarky had been left out of our team and was keen to discuss the differences between Division One and The Championship, all the while scoffing down his Burger King Whopper.

Whilst commenting that his body was his temple, I neglected to mention the importance of diet to a budding young athlete who aspires to reach the top of his profession!

A long, exhausting and frustrating day finally came to an end, one that was enlivened only by some good companionship.

The long journey did, however, allow sufficient time for some analysis and introspection on the match and how we performed.

I am well aware that if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, and we are doing exceptionally well so far and have probably far exceeded most expectations.

But you have to keep examining yourself and continually look for ways to improve lest you either stand still or go backwards.

The unpalatable truth of the matter is that we have lost three of our last four away games and drawn two of the three seemingly winnable matches that we have played over the last hectic week.

Certainly the margins have been extremely narrow and we were a linesman’s flag and a goal line clearance away from beating Sheffield Wednesday and should have beaten Uwe Rosler’s Wigan too.

The goalkeeper and back four are absolutely fine.

I fully expect Tarkowski to earn his place back shortly but I am happy for either him or Harlee to partner Craig.

I do expect the central defensive positions to come under review in January as a bit more pace and composure would not go amiss.

Jake Bidwell just does his job every week without much comment or recognition.

He is a consistent seven out of ten and nobody has given him the run around so far this season.

His attacking forays are well timed and menacing and he has adapted brilliantly to the higher level.

First reports suggest that Alan McCormack has twisted an ankle, but if he is out for a spell, then I would hope that Moses Odubajo is moved back to take his place.

He defends well, can head a ball, and of course, as he showed yesterday, he can get forward quickly to support the attack.

He has been a pretty peripheral figure wide on the right lately and might find it easier to face the play rather than be looking to be fed possession.

I am very concerned about our five man midfield, not that I expect Mark Warburton to change it as he commented that we need to execute Plan A better rather than switch to a Plan B.

The problem is, in my opinion that we have been spluttering recently and not firing on all cylinders.

I exempt Jonathan Douglas from any such criticism as I doubt if he has ever played better at any point throughout his long career.

He is everywhere, at one moment shielding the back four, the next, leading the forward press.

He is also making a habit of slipping late and unnoticed into the opposition penalty area and presents a real goal threat, particularly with his head.

He can do no more than he is already doing and is an inspiration to his team mates.

Alan Judge is, I feel, trying to do too much and taking on too much responsibility and, as a consequence, not achieving as much as he can.

He tracks back, he runs at defenders, plays incisive passes and is a threat from long range with his powerful shooting.

It just has not come off for him as much as he and we would like over the past week and hopefully a week’s rest will bring him back to his best.

Jota and Alex Pritchard are both luxury players and can only merit their place if they get on the ball and make things happen.

I am going to be controversial here and say that away from home we cannot afford both of them, as on the evidence of the past few games their contributions going forward have been spasmodic and erratic, and for all their efforts, defending, covering, pressing and tacking are alien to the pair of them.

Jota did his best but conceded a free kick in a dangerous position and Pritchard drifted in and out of the game and was an uninvolved bystander when Danns took possession before scoring the crucial opening goal.

This is not to denigrate them as they are both potential match winners but can we afford both of them together particularly away from home?

Toral has been champing at the bit and now fully deserves a start which will surely come next week.

He is tall, strong, puts his foot in and has a wonderful touch on the ball.

I believe we have a potential gem there and that he will establish himself in the team.

Given that we are at home next Saturday I would play Douglas behind a middle four of Judge, Toral, Jota and Pritchard and hope that Toral’s presence will enable Jota and Pritchard to spend more time and space on the ball to open up the Derby defence.

Dallas too is well on the way back to fitness and will challenge for a place soon, and we certainly improved when Tommy Smith came on yesterday as he has great vision and experience and does the simple thing extremely well.

Toumani Diagouraga, for all his assets, should not be the first substitute employed as has been the case recently, as he is a neutral influence at best and should ideally be employed to help run the clock down when we are winning.

The real problem is up front where for all his pace and tireless, unselfish running, Gray is becoming more and more isolated and is getting bullied and swamped by four defenders.

The ball does not stick and we are denied the chance to give our defence a rest as it seems to come back at us far too quickly.

Given that Button has been forced to kick far more regularly too, we need somebody that might win the odd high ball and retain possession.

Perhaps once or twice a match Gray manages to time his run perfectly and gets behind the defence but there is rarely enough support for him to take advantage of the situation he has created.

it is easy enough to pinpoint the problem, but far harder to solve it.

I believe in the five man midfield for the time being, but there might well come a time when Gray will be given some support up front.

This would however put more pressure on the midfield and defence who would be diminished in numbers, so for every positive there is an accompanying negative too.

I think it is time for Gray to be given a rest, mainly for his own good.

He has more than surpassed expectations but he is beginning to snatch at his chances, a sure sign of diminishing confidence, and he needs to be taken out of the firing line for a brief spell.

Given the enigma that is Betinho who seems totally out of the reckoning either for the time being or permanently, that means that there are three options, two serious and one that should not be followed.

Montell Moore is one for the future, but the future is not now and he should be left for the time being to develop his formidable talent outside the first team arena.

Tommy Smith played alone up front for much of the second half at Blackpool but that was on an emergency basis, which leaves Nick Proschwitz.

I honestly do not know what to make of him as he has hardly had sufficient game time for us to come to a considered opinion.

He has scored a goal from an easy chance at Rotherham and missed two decent late opportunities to become an instant hero by winning the Sheffield Wednesday match.

He is awkward and ungainly, but given his track record and the money expended on him, he must have something about him.

The only way to find out is to give him some proper game time and I would suggest that he is given a start next Saturday to see what he can do within the current system that we employ.

I still think that we are doing better than expected, but it would be ridiculous to ignore and not to address the weaknesses that have become self-evident in recent matches.

Mark Warburton is a wily bird and, whilst his hands are tied by the makeup of the squad he currently possesses, I am sure that is well aware of what needs to be done and that some changes are imminent.

Silence Is Goalden – 23/10/14

bees3Brentford supporters of all ages will be greatly saddened by the announcement yesterday of the death of George Francis.

Francis was a Brentford legend who, with his lifelong friend Jim Towers, formed one of the truly great Brentford goalscoring partnerships and one that is never likely to be matched.

George scored one hundred and thirty-six goals for the club, second only to Jim Towers who ended up with one hundred and sixty-three.

Amazingly, neither player cost Brentford a penny to sign as they were both local boys, Jim from Shepherds Bush and George from Acton, and “The Terrible Twins” terrorised Third Division defences throughout the nineteen fifties and early sixties.

George started as he was to continue, scoring a late equaliser on his debut at Walsall in February 1955, when only twenty-one years of age.

The partnership with Jim Towers was launched the following season and the pair of them dominated the Brentford goalscoring charts year after year throughout a decade when the Bees were the “nearly men” coming so close on a couple of occasions to recovering their Second Division status.

fr2George seemed at times to play second fiddle to Towers, who possessed a cannonball shot, but he was a star in his own right, chasing lost causes and never allowing defences to settle.

Perhaps his proudest moment came in October 1959 when he put local rivals Queens Park Rangers to the sword with a match winning hat trick at Loftus Road.

He couldn’t stop scoring that season and, ever present, he notched up an incredible thirty-one goals in forty-eight matches.

In today’s world of prematch meals and early team get togethers it is hard to picture the more relaxed and less organised and scientific regime of the 1950’s when players were simply expected to report for home matches an hour or so before the kick off and conducted their prematch warm-up sitting on the toilet smoking a Woodbine.

George, in fact, missed the home match against Brighton in 1956 after not waking up from his late afternoon nap in time to get to Griffin Park before the kick off, a state of affairs that would be quite impossible to contemplate nowadays but, at the time, was simply shrugged off after his sheepish apology!

As George himself explained:

I like a nap before the game and left instructions to be woken up.

But my mother-in-law woke me at the time I should have been at the ground.

I couldn’t get a taxi and and was caught in the crowd, so that when I arrived the lads were going out onto the field.

No alarm clocks or mobile phones in those days then!

After the removal of the maximum wage in 1961 the Brentford board and management surprised nobody by deciding to pull in their horns and cut costs to the bone.

A disastrous decision, which saw both Francis and Towers sold together, amazingly, to Queens Park Rangers, of all people, for a meagre eight thousand pounds in total, a giveaway fee for a pair of proven and established goalscorers, not far past their prime and both still only in their late twenties.

Such a boggling decision was rewarded, quite inevitably, with relegation at the end of the season, as a toothless team denuded of its only goal threat subsided without much fight into the bottom division.

Interestingly enough Brentford manager Malcolm MacDonald claimed at the time that Francis and Towers had in fact insisted on the move and that he would never have been responsible for transferring them both.

So confusion reigns over the cause of the transfers, but what is not in any doubt is the grudging tribute to the pair of them who were airbrushed out of existence and received a peremptory single line in the club programme, merely thanking them for their past services.

How’s that for gratitude after almost three hundred goals between the pair of them?

Shoddy work indeed by the club, which smacks of the feudal attitude that existed in those days between the masters, who owned and ran the clubs, and the players, their serfs.

francis1George made a brief return to Griffin Park, but the magic was gone and he finished his Football League career, alongside Jim Towers yet again, at Gillingham where he went out in a blaze of glory, leading the Gills to promotion in 1964, before ending up at the customary elephants’ graveyard for Brentford players, Hillingdon Borough.

So what sort of player was George Francis?

The best and most qualified person to answer that key question is surely his long-term partner Jim Towers:

George was very quick around the box, he chased the ball down and forced defenders to make mistakes, and because of that he scored a lot more goals than me inside the area.

He was a real nuisance too and made a lot of goals for himself, whereas I would wait for the right pass or cross and I scored with a lot of shots from outside the box too.

George was a very modest man though. He would describe himself as a bit of a poacher and say things like “I just used to hang around the goalkeeper and wait for them to drop the ball so I could tap it in”.

But he was a far better player than he would let you believe.

George Francis was, not before time, inducted into the Brentford FC Hall of Fame in March this year and died at the age of eighty from bowel cancer.

When conducting our research recently for a potential Big Brentford Book of the 60s, Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I discovered to our concern and disappointment just how few Brentford players from the late 50s and early 60s remain with us, and George’s passing has seen that number decrease yet again.

I am sure that the club will mark his passing with suitable ceremony and I would make the fervent and heartfelt request that they announce a minute’s silence to take place before the next home game against Derby County.

Silence, if properly observed, seems such a more fitting and appropriate tribute than applause, and the supporters at the recent match against Reading, with an immaculately observed silent and moving tribute to murdered local schoolgirl Alice Gross, proved that they can be trusted to behave properly.

Let’s hope that this gesture is repeated a week on Saturday to mark the passing of a true Brentford great and local legend.

Rest in Peace, George Francis and I hope that your partnership with Jim Towers is renewed in Heaven.

Another Tough Test – 21/10/14

allenSheffield Wednesday come to Griffin Park tonight and, like everyone else so far this season, are sure to present Brentford with a stiff test.

They have only lost once away from home so far, against Cardiff City, and have an effective blend of brawn, pace, height and no little footballing ability too.

What’s more they will be smarting after having their backsides tanned by Watford who won convincingly at Hillsborough on Saturday.

As for the Bees, they will make at last one enforced change with Harlee Dean replacing the suspended James Tarkowski.

I have just read an interview with Harlee where he bemoans his fate and feels scapegoated at being the only player dropped after the Middlesbrough defeat.

It is obviously highly frustrating for him to find himself as third choice centre half, and his passion shines through, but whilst I hate bland, anodyne player interviews as much as every supporter I somehow feel that there is a time and a place for dirty washing to be aired, and that isn’t always in public.

Harlee sometimes appears to engage his mouth before his brain and I am becoming concerned that the squad harmony and togetherness and maybe even his future at the club might be jeopardised by such statements.

Time will tell as he is a valuable asset and it only takes one injury for him to become a first choice again.

Matches between the Bees and the Owls are invariably exciting and end to end, and ever since the reign of Martin Allen there has been a friendly and enduring relationship between the two sets of supporters.

This all began one cold Saturday December afternoon in 2004 when Allen took his team to Hillsborough, where nearly twenty-two thousand spectators were fortunate enough to witness an amazing game of football.

Martin Allen is one of football’s great motivators and his management that season was almost exemplary as he moulded a team of journeymen, has beens and promising youngsters into a cohesive unit that fought and battled their way through the back door into the Playoffs.

There was experience in abundance with Stewart Talbot and Chris Hargreaves competing for everything in midfield.

John Salako defied the years with some dazzling displays on the left wing, and some less glorious ones at left back, and Isiah Rankin and Deon Burton were skilful and clever, if none too potent or energetic up front.

Jay Tabb provided the class in midfield and there was an mean defence with Andy Frampton and Kevin O’Connor solid at full back and Michael Turner and Sam Sodje forming a raw but talented central defensive partnership.

Behind them Stuart Nelson was still establishing himself in goal and delighting and frustrating supporters in equal measures with some up and down displays.

The potential jewel in the crown was young Alex Rhodes.

He started his career with Eastern Counties League side Newmarket Town, where he scored twenty goals in the early part of the 2003/04 season.

That earned him a move to Brentford and he became an instant fan favourite when he scored a wonderfully taken goal on the final day of the season which ensured that “The Great Escape” was successfully concluded and that the Bees would avoid a relegation that at one time appeared to be inevitable.

By the time of the Sheffield Wednesday match, Rhodes was still trying to establish himself in the team as a left winger or central striker and he was to have a massive impact upon the outcome of the game.

The Bees were under the cosh from the start and were soon caught square and the onrushing Steve MacLean was caught from behind by the trailing Michael Turner.

Penalty, red card, goal, a la Tony Craig against Birmingham was the immediate result and the Bees went behind when MacLean converted the spot kick with ease.

Frampton moved into the middle, and the over matched Andy Myers struggled to cope with the marauding Jon-Paul McGovern on the Wednesday right flank.

rhodesAlex Rhodes also came on for Ben May and Brentford’s sole threat was Deon Burton who seemed to be competing against Wednesday’s clutch of immense defenders on his own.

He was afforded absolutely no protection by the referee, Mark Cowburn, who penalised him with monotonous regularity and eventually seemed to take a little bit too much pleasure in booking the Brentford striker.

Rhodes did ghost in from the left to smash a volley onto the underside of the home crossbar but that was the only time the Bees threatened in a totally one sided first half.

Nelson was a hero, plunging in amongst the bodies to save time after time and then doing his best to spoil things by gifting possession back to the home team with a series of appallingly sliced and shanked clearance kicks.

Martin Allen was everywhere, directing and encouraging his team, changing their shape and exhorting them to greater efforts, until his frustration at the referee boiled over and he seemed to make a gesture at the official which resulted in him being sent off from the technical area.

A decision greeted with wild applause by the home fans who could tell how much influence he was having in keeping our heads afloat and yet appreciated his antics.

Martin decamped in high dudgeon to the Directors’ Box, and given that there did not seem to be any mobile phone coverage, tried to shout his instructions down to his assistant, Adrian Whitbread standing alone on the bench far below.

This didn’t seem to be working so Martin’s teenage son, George, was repeatedly despatched by his father down the Boardroom stairs to the touchline with a series of scribbled instructions for the bench.

Eventually the opposition cottoned on and an aged jobs-worth attempted to stop young Master Allen from making any additional forays – a state of affairs that was not well received by his father.

The home crowd by now didn’t know what to watch, the action on the pitch, where Nelson was playing Wednesday on his own, or the other struggle playing out in the Directors’ Box.

Somehow, as if by osmosis, Allen’s instructions began to slip through the net and Brentford continued to change formation like an infantry battalion on the parade ground.

Nothing seemed to work until finally, with ten minutes left to play, Allen played his final card and Alex Rhodes was moved up top to play alongside the ever willing but totally exhausted Deon Burton.

Fate finally decided to smile down on Brentford, as a rare corner was forced which led to an almighty goalmouth scramble and Rhodes hammered home a totally unexpected and unmerited equaliser.

A precious point, rather than the expected thrashing, now looked an outside possibility.

Affronted by the indignity they had suffered, Wednesday poured forward, left gaps behind them and were immediately caught with a sucker punch.

Rhodes picked up the ball well within his own half,  put on the afterburners and scythed through the ungainly home defence.

A clever sideways pass saw Burton left clean through.

He mis-controlled, and time appeared to stand still but he recovered to chip the ball over the helpless David Lucas.

The last eight minutes, plus as much injury time as the referee dared to add on, seemed to last an eternity but Brentford somehow held out for the bravest and most unexpected victory I have ever witnessed and one received rapturously by the Bees supporters lucky enough to have witnessed this comeback.

wedThis was a win earned by guts, tenacity, sheer bloody mindedness and, of course, brilliant management.

A fact sportingly recognised by the home fans who shook off their disappointment and incredulity at the larceny they had witnessed by applauding the entire Brentford team off the pitch, with a special ovation reserved for Martin Allen, who milked the moment, and fully deserved to do so.

Deon Burton had made an indelible impression on Sheffield Wednesday, aided of course by his blistering volleyed goal in the return match at Griffin Park, and eventually joined the Owls and enjoyed a successful stay there.

Alas, the future for Alex Rhodes wasn’t as glittering, as his horrendous collision with Paul McShane of Walsall, a mere few weeks later, brought about the serious knee injury that had a terminal effect on his career, as he lost his acceleration and was never the same player again.

A terrible waste of an exceptional talent.

As for the supporters, a bond between the Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday fans was created that unforgettable December afternoon which has lasted to the present day, and a warm and competitive, but friendly atmosphere is expected at Griffin Park tonight.