More Stats! – 30/12/14

goalI burned the midnight oil the other night turning over in my mind the reasons for our defeat at Wolves and outlining the lessons, good and bad, that we need to learn from the opening half of the season, and what we need to do in order to maintain our progress and impetus..

My comments seem to have touched a chord amongst some of my readers as I received quite a few comments yesterday from fans giving their view too.

Mike was one of many shared my concerns about our central defenders:

I have always wondered why Kenny Jackett allowed Tony Craig to leave Millwall, especially after having read Michael Calvin’s “Family” on your recommendation.

I always assumed it was because he could not hack it in the Championship.

With our excellent start to the season – post the Brum howler – I was beginning to think Jackett may have got it wrong, or Craig had grabbed his second chance with both hands and learned from the first time.

Now I’m not so sure.

My view is that only Tarkowski has the class and power to play at the top end of the Championship consistently, but he still has much to learn.

He needs to play alongside somebody of Craig’s experience, but that person must have more height and pace.

I cannot imagine though where we find, or how we afford, a player like that.

I can, Mike, and I suspect that there are moves currently afoot to fill that gap.

Paul also felt that we needed to upgrade our defensive personnel:

Tony Craig has a tendency to be indecisive and lets the ball bounce when he should clear it.  

He is a tad slow and is not strong enough against the bigger forwards.

Dean makes one or two silly errors per game and also lacks pace.

Paul also isn’t a great fan of Jake Bidwell:

I will be contrary here as he seems to be loved on the Griffin Park Grapevine, and I know that you rate him.

He is a great guy, committed and learning, but he is too slow (hence his tendency to tug opponent’s shirts), and we definitely need cover in his position.

I can’t say I agree with him as I firmly believe that Jake is one of the best players in our squad and has adapted seamlessly to the higher division.

Paul then raised an interesting question that had me scurrying to view those damned Bees Player highlights yet again:

I wonder how many headed goals we have scored this season? Andre has had a few chances but it probably is only Douglas who has done so. We need an aerial option in midfield.

I spent an interesting and illuminating half an hour watching all of our forty goals once again, and most entertaining viewing it was too.

Can anybody answer that question posed by Paul?

In case you can’t, the answer is a bit shocking.

We have scored the grand total of two headed goals all season, both by Jonathan Douglas, against Brighton and Reading respectively.

Oh, I almost forgot, Harlee Dean also scored with a late header against Dagenham, but that came in a cup match.

Given his height and build, Andre Gray is by no means an aerial threat and he has managed to hit the post twice with close range headers, against Derby County, and frustratingly, in the dying seconds against Wolves.

I then went on to break down our goals even further.

It won’t surprise many of our supporters to learn that we have scored from only two set pieces, a corner against Reading and a Pritchard penalty at Nottingham Forest, plus that Dean header from a Bidwell free kick at Dagenham.

That is a quite frighteningly poor record given how crucial set piece goals are to a team’s armoury, and it is an area that we need to improve over the remainder of the season.

Our delivery is often not the best, particularly in the absence of Sam Saunders, and none of our players seem to attack the ball in the manner, say of the two Ipswich centre halves, Berra and evSmith who this season have scored eight goals between them.

I fondly remember the days of Terry Evans, thundering in like a colossus at the back post, who presented an enormous threat to our opponents with his aerial presence and feel that we are certainly missing a trick.

Over the past few months I have often remarked flippantly that given our speed on the break, we are far more dangerous from opposition corners than our own, and the more I think about it, the more certain I am that that statement is entirely correct.

We have also scored only three goals from outside the penalty area, Alex Pritchard’s at Cardiff and the two wonderful Jota specials against Fulham and Cardiff, and maybe we could improve that record too given Alan Judge’s prowess from long distance.

Brentford have become justifiably renowned for the quality of their football, and we have been treated to some really special goals this season which totally encompass our pass and move philosophy, with Jonathan Douglas’s strike at Watford, Jota’s awesome goal against Leeds and Andre Gray’s first strike at Millwall being my personal favourites. pep

The Wolves performance on Sunday, however, did flag up some concerns as despite our massive sixty-four percent possession we only managed a mere five shots on target, an extremely poor return.

Perhaps we should listen to the guru, Pep Guardiola who doesn’t want to be associated with tiki-taka any more and commented in a recent book about him:

I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka.

It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose.

You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal.

It’s not about passing for the sake of it. tiki

Don’t believe what people say.

Barça didn’t do tiki-taka! It’s completely made up! Don’t believe a word of it!

In all team sports, the secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope.

You overload on one side and draw them in so that they leave the other side weak.

And when we’ve done all that, we attack and score from the other side.

That’s why you have to pass the ball, but only if you’re doing it with a clear intention.

It’s only to overload the opponent, to draw them in and then to hit them with the sucker punch.

That’s what our game needs to be. Nothing to do with tiki-taka.

Wise words indeed and ones perhaps that we should take heed of as we pass the ball relentlessly backwards and from side to side.

Yes, we certainly need to probe for weaknesses but there does come a time when we need to take the bull by the horns and play an incisive ball into the penalty area or try a shot.

Patience is certainly a virtue but sometimes action speaks louder than words!

Paul Ridley has a similar point of view:

I completely agree with that, Greville.

I loved John Terry’s comment after Chelsea beat Barcelona

Interviewer “Barcelona had seventy eight per cent possession tonight”

John Terry “Yeah but we had a hundred per cent of the goals.”

Sometimes tippy tappy for the sake of it is pointless.

It has put us in trouble a few times this season with the passing across the back, Norwich and Fulham spring to mind immediately.

Have you noticed, we often play all this passing only to eventually pass back to Button who then whacks it upfield aimlessly? 

We are still a work in progress and our progress to date has been little short of astonishing, with the promise of far more to come.

Sleepless Night – 29/12/14

It is long past my bedtime but sleep won’t come.

It was a tiring journey to Wolverhampton and back but I was in congenial company, the motorways were mainly free of traffic and everything about the day went smoothly and like clockwork with the exception of what took place between three and four fifty-five pm when Brentford somehow left Molineux pointless after losing by the odd goal in three.

I have been sitting here for a while reflecting about our defeat and have concluded that it really came about due to three key moments in the game where the luck went totally against the Bees on every occasion.

  • Jota’s early shot which was pushed onto the post by Ikeme and bounced clear.
  • Dicko’s opening goal for Wolves which put us firmly on the back foot and was unquestionably offside by at least a couple of yards.
  • Andre Gray’s header deep into injury time from an inviting curling cross from Sam Saunders which clanged against the post and again, infuriatingly bounced the wrong way for the Bees.

On such narrow margins are the results of games decided.

If any one of those three incidents had gone the way of Brentford then we would have certainly returned with something for our troubles.

As it was, despite a decent performance in which we bossed proceedings, and had a remarkable sixty-four percent of the possession, we allowed the match to drift away from us and our efforts went unrewarded.

Certainly for all our possession we didn’t test Ikeme enough and so many of our moves fizzled out in the final third but, as always, we were easy on the eye and played some lovely football which did not bring about its deserved reward.

Rather than simply provide a match report I would rather focus upon some of the key issues that have emerged from the first half of what has been a quite remarkable season and all of which were highlighted in Sunday’s match.

Brentford have taken the Championship by storm, massively exceeded expectations from outside the club, and have fully earned their forty points from the first twenty-four games.

In fact without exhibiting any bias and being completely objective, that points figure could well have been increased by at least another ten if things had gone slightly differently.

Our football has generally been quite slick and beautiful with the five midfielders interchanging at will, with all of them showing skill and vision on the ball, the ability to spot and make a pass, allied to movement off the ball and an eagerness to get into the penalty area and shoot at will.

Sometimes, though, we over-eleborate and pass for the sake of passing and seem to share Arsenal’s proclivity for attempting to walk the ball into the net, or score the perfect goal.

Every goal does count the same – you do not earn style points, and we do need to become more clinical and direct at times.

It is not surprising that twenty-six of our forty league goals to date have been scored by our central and wide midfielders, an amazing figure, and over a goal per game.

Alan Judge’s goalscoring ability has temporarily left him but he has more than made up for that by becoming the fulcrum for much of what we create and has provided a remarkable eight assists.

Jota, Alex Pritchard and Jonathan Douglas have more than taken up the mantle with fifteen goals between them, including five from Douglas who makes late runs and ghosts into goalscoring positions.

Jota, for his part, is simply a marvellously gifted footballer who can do more with one foot than most players can with two. He appears calm and nerveless in front of goal and looks set to reach double figures.

As for last season’s midfield inspiration, Adam Forshaw, we managed a difficult situation perfectly and extracted a more than decent fee for him from Wigan, once he had made it clear that he wanted to leave.

He has also not been missed which is perhaps the best compliment I can pay to our current coterie of midfielders.

Andre Gray has had to plough a lone furrow up front and when the midfielders fail to support him and get bodies into the box, he has sometimes appeared isolated, but he has learned extremely quickly how to play this demanding and exacting role, and with nine goals has far exceeded expectations given his lack of previous Football League experience.

He has learned how to use his upper body strength and put defenders under pressure whereas earlier in the season he would often be bullied and easily knocked off the ball.

We attack relentlessly and never settle for anything less than a win, as is evidenced by a league low of only four drawn matches.

There is little wrong with our attacking prowess apart from the lack of cover or realistic alternatives for Gray.

Scott Hogan’s season ending injury has hit us hard given that Nick Proschwitz has so far brought little to the table and much heralded Portugese loanee, Betinho, has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth and contributed a big fat zero to the team.

Forty goals is an excellent tally and totally endorses Mark Warburton’s hell for leather approach, but it comes with a real downside.

We are often too gung-ho and left open and exposed at the back when moves break down and have conceded a whopping thirty-five goals.

Our defensive personnel have remained largely unchanged from last season and as a unit we have found it harder to adapt to the higher level and the better strikers we have faced.

David Button has proved to be an excellent goalkeeper and his quick and accurate distribution has been crucial to changing defence into attack.

His shot stopping ability is beyond question but he often struggles on crosses, despite his size, and normally elects to punch, only sometimes effectively.

Before his long-term injury Alan McCormack had rampaged through matches in his inimitable fashion and whilst often being targeted as a potential weak link by opponents, he had more than held his own.

Moses Odubajo has proved to be a revelation as an attacking fullback but his sorties upfield have often left us short of cover when the opposition counterattacks, forcing a centre half to move out of the middle to cover for his absence.

Jake Bidwell has also settled in well, is a tenacious marker and tackler, and finally scored his first league goal against Wolves. I know his cross was deflected by a defender, but try and take it off him at your peril!

The problem has been in central defence where we are not up to the mark.

Tony Craig, James Tarkowski and Harlee Dean have all had spells in and out of the team and none of them has totally convinced or impressed.

All of them have different attributes but we have struggled to find an effective partnership. They have had to adapt to the necessity to play out from the back which has sometime put them under more pressure and led to mistakes.

Teams are also trying to bully us more and we have not stood up to the battle well and our defence has creaked alarmingly, none more so than against Ipswich when we totally contributed to our own downfall, allowing four soft goals.

We threaten to score in every game, but we also look likely to concede and have only managed to keep five clean sheets.

Frankly we need to improve in this area when the January transfer window opens later in the week and import some extra height, pace and strength, none of which will come cheap or be easily found.

As far as most football managers and coaches are concerned, the opposition never scores a good goal and the fault for every goal conceded can always be laid at the feet of a specific individual.

I have spent the last couple of hours revisiting the tapes of all our matches so far this season – no wonder my head is aching, and my eyes closing.

Of the thirty-five goals we have let in I could only find six where we made flagrant errors that led directly to the goals being conceded.

Button flapped on the opening day of the season against Charlton and allowed himself to be beaten to the punch from a simple near post corner.

Craig got on the wrong side of his former team mate, Birmingham’s Clayton Donaldson and clumsily brought him down for a penalty kick and red card.

Tarkowski and Dean overplayed in dangerous positions against Norwich and Fulham respectively with disastrous consequences.

Button took his eye off Shittu’s simple looping header and allowed himself to be distracted by Gregory at Millwall and finally, Craig was outmuscled by Ipswich’s Daryl Murphy for the second goal on Boxing Day at Griffin Park.

In addition we have conceded six goals from outside the penalty area, against Brighton, Norwich, Middlesbrough, Watford, Bolton and Nottingham Forest.

Whilst Button might have done better with Neil Danns’s effort at Bolton and perhaps we could have closed a couple of the players down quicker, most were simply unstoppable.

Referees have also cost us dear with Robert Madley’s series of appalling decisions in the Birmingham match, the non-penalty against Norwich, the non-penalty against Watford that was given against us and finally the Wolves offside goal on Sunday.

Hopefully we will benefit similarly in the second half of the season.

I am being deliberately critical as I am simply trying to highlight where and how we can improve and I an certainly not trying to minimise our fantastic achievements to date.

With a little bit of minor tinkering with personnel and tactics ( I know we don’t have or really need a Plan B!) I see absolutely no reason why we cannot maintain our impetus and challenge for a Playoff position.

Later in the week I will consider where we might be looking to strengthen in January and the possible changes in the makeup of the squad.

And now as the clock reaches four am, it is time for bed, to dream of victories and new signings.

Stuffed! – 27/12/14

I promise that the title to this article will be the only seasonal Christmas reference that I make, but I am afraid that it sums up what happened to us at Griffin Park yesterday.

We were taught a massive lesson by an excellent, robust and organised Ipswich Town side that came to Griffin Park with a game plan and did a real job on us.

Expectations were certainly at fever pitch before the game as Brentford fans in a sold out Griffin Park settled down for the match fuelled with the knowledge that a victory would enable us to sit proudly at the top of the league – at least until the results came through from the later kickoffs.

But it wasn’t to be as the day turned into a damp squib.

Ipswich had done their homework and they pressed us high up the pitch and hassled us relentlessly.

We weren’t given the opportunity to play through the press and develop attacks from the back, as is the norm for us.

With the short throw to a defender generally cut off by the ever willing Murphy, Bishop and McGoldrick, David Button was forced to go to his Plan B, the measured kick to Bidwell on the left touchline near the halfway line.

Mick McCarthy recognised this threat and stationed the giant Luke Chambers, normally a centre back, in that position and he won every aerial challenge.

We were choked and stifled, found it hard to get out of our own half and, for all our possession, we rarely got into dangerous positions and were second best for most of the match.

It is all very well having a plan and whilst they often work well on paper and on the training ground, McCarthy must have been surprised that his paid such dividends within a mere nineteen seconds of the start.

We played the ball around the defence straight from the opening whistle but were forced back and instead of playing the ball to the waiting Craig, Button kicked the ball down the middle where it was easily picked off well inside our half.

Two incisive passes later, with Craig still out of position, the predatory Daryl Murphy was left with a clear sight of goal and his instant finish flew past the helpless keeper.

Our heads went down after conceding the fastest goal of the Championship season to date and Ipswich were buoyed by their early and unexpected success.

The first half saw a continuing pattern.

Lots of possession for the Bees, but little incisiveness and few chances created as we struggled to recover from the early hammer blow.

Jota had a quick poke at goal which was fumbled by the nervy Bialkowski, who also knew little about an Andre Gray header that hit him, and the striker’s instant control and clever layoff almost allowed the rampaging Jonathan Douglas a clear sight of goal before he was crowded out.

Ipswich, for their part, were happy to soak up what little pressure there was, Berra and Smith won everything in the air and snuffed out what any danger we posed.

Given our terrible start, we were nervy and hesitant at the back and Ipswich threatened carnage every time they came forward.

We were cut open twice more soon after the goal.

Jay Tabb should have marked his return to Griffin Park with a goal but shot wastefully over with the goal gaping and Murphy turned Craig far too easily before the prehensile Button shot out a long arm and saved the day.

The second goal wasn’t too long in coming when a hoof forward saw the Bees caught upfield and Murphy left one-on-one with Craig.

No contest, and the striker shook Craig off far too easily and strode on to round Button and score easily for his sixteenth goal of a wonderful season.

It looked as if the defender had had his heels clipped as he lost his balance but the referee gave nothing, apart from the goal.

Worse was to come as Dean headed the ball wastefully straight to Tabb when he should have played it into touch and his low centre saw two Ipswich players eagerly competing for the right to score, and it was Anderson who put the game far beyond Brentford’s reach.

Three defensive errors had resulted in three goals, as we had been out-thought, also to a large degree, outfought, and we certainly contributed to our own downfall with so many unforced and costly errors.

At the interval a few optimists recalled that incredible recovery from a three goal deficit against MK Dons but Ipswich were a far tougher proposition and did not exhibit any signs of weakness or a soft underbelly.

They simply sat back, compact and smug, soaked up what we could throw at them and tried to pick us off on the break.

Judge, Pritchard and Jota were tireless in their efforts to get us back into the game but most of our shots were from distance, and for all our pressure and clever approach play we never really hurt Ipswich who looked as if they were going to see the game through in comfort and unscathed.

As normal, Mark Warburton’s substitutions made a real difference.

Judge, Gray and Douglas were all taken off, probably with Sunday’s match in mind, and Toral, Saunders and Proschwitz gave Brentford a fresh impetus.

Toral showed real strength and skill, he is so composed and is almost impossible to knock off the ball. What a prospect he is  and he will have so much to contribute in the second half of the season.

Jota weaved his magic, mesmerising defenders as he came inside from the left, and it was his slick pass to Toral that saw the ball laid off to Sam Sauncers whose deflected shot put us back into the match.

Game on with ten minutes to go?

Maybe, but we self-destructed and demonstrated our soft centre yet again within two minutes when we failed to clear a corner properly.

Odubajo and Proschwitz were both guilty of half-hearted and tentative tackles and former Brentford loanee, Tommy Smith was unforgivably allowed the time and space in a packed penalty area to turn inside and curl a delicate and impudent finish into the top corner and finally end the match as a contest.

That was the killer blow and the one that annoyed me the most as it denied us the chance, slim though it was, of piling pressure on our visitors for the last few minutes.

As it was, we scored a second and totally irrelevant goal just on the whistle when Jota made the space for Bidwell to cross low for Proschwitz to comically mishit a close range effort which was poked in by the effervescent Sam Saunders.

Ipswich returned to East Anglia with three thoroughly deserved points and the Bees were left with much to ponder over.

We need to keep things into context as we are remain on an incredible run of seven wins in nine games, but there are still key lessons to be learned from yesterday’s defeat.

We will and must not change our style but the key to continued success as opponents become more aware of our threat, is to be more careful with the ball in our own half of the field and minimise the costly mistakes when possession is handed to our opponents in dangerous positions.

Our central defence has been creaking lately and both Dean and Craig have been guilty of unforced errors and of being knocked off the ball too easily.

Clubs now realise that we can be bullied and Daryl Murphy yesterday joined the ever-growing list of strikers such as Kenwyne Jones, Grant Holt, Rudy Gestede and Cameron Jerome who have been far too strong and powerful for our defence to handle.

There is no shame attached to this as we are talking about experienced, and in many cases, international class players who have far more top level experience than our two defenders, who were both playing in the third tier last season.

Maybe we will see a couple of changes in personnel tomorrow at Wolves with Tarkowski returning to the fold and perhaps Toral starting again.

We certainly do not need major surgery, but will simply continue the process of natural evolution as we slowly but surely strengthen the squad in all areas.

That is perhaps for January and I will return to this subject in a couple of days when I review the first half of what has been a momentous and wonderful season.

Let’s just try and keep things in context.

There is no need to panic.

Yesterday we had a bad day at the office at a time when we could least afford it, and were taught a harsh lesson by an experienced and well-drilled team who were fully prepared for what we had to throw at them and took full advantage of our shortcomings.

We simply need to learn from our mistakes, try not to repeat them and move onwards and upwards.

Griffin Park – A Part Of My Life – 24/12/14

gpNews broke yesterday that an agreement has finally been signed with developers Willmott Dixon to deliver the new Lionel Road stadium and its associated facilities, as well as to convert Griffin Park into a residential development once the new stadium is completed.

The clock is now ticking as we prepare for the eventual move from Griffin Park, our spiritual home since 1904, and the scene of so many milestones, triumphs and disasters in the club’s long and chequered history.

This is wonderful news that is also tinged with sadness.

We all know that progress is inevitable and that we have outgrown Griffin Park and its dilapidated facilities.

We need the room to accommodate the new wave of supporters that cannot fit into Griffin Park, and we have been hamstrung by the lack of corporate facilities which has resulted in our commercial revenue being seriously restricted.

lr1Lionel Road, once completed, will ideally be the answer to all our hopes and dreams and, most crucially, we are rapidly developing a team whose marvellous, incisive football is so successful, attractive and easy on the eye that it could well enable us to fill it to its twenty thousand capacity.

That is for the future and, for the time being, Griffin Park remains the present.

I have been going there for far more years than I really care to remember – in fact next March it will be fifty years since my Dad took me there for the first time to see us thrash Queens Park Rangers by five goals to two.

Given that I have been watching Brentford regularly since 1966, save for three years spent in New York, when even then I managed a couple of visits per season, I would estimate that I have been to well over one thousand matches at Griffin Park, and the ground has played an integral and important part in my life.

Even the journey has become part of the ritual.

Should I chance taking the North Circular to Hangar Lane and risk getting snarled up in traffic chaos around Brent Cross or Park Royal?

Would it be better to take the back doubles through Willesden and Acton?

Much less direct but generally free from congestion until the inevitable and dreaded log-jam in Tubbs Road near Willesden Junction.

Swings and roundabouts, as on a good day I can get to the ground in twenty-five minutes, but on a bad one, the journey can seem interminable.

Even coming home can be fraught with peril particularly when Transport for London arbitrarily decides to close the Brent Cross flyover without the courtesy of providing any advance notice to us unsuspecting drivers.

There is nothing worse or more annoying and frustrating than getting caught in an unexpected traffic jam at ten o’clock at night, particularly after a home defeat.

Even when I get there I still have to decide where to park.

There was a time when I could roll up with impunity at a quarter to three and find a space without any trouble within sight of the turnstiles.

Now, with five figure sold out crowds the rule rather than the exception, you need to arrive a good hour and a half before kickoff if you expect to park in the same postcode as the ground.

And no, I am not going to let slip where I still generally manage to find a convenient parking spot before most matches.

Do your own research!

I never fail to get an anticipatory feeling of excitement whenever I turn the corner into Braemar Road.

Going to Griffin Park is just like being back at home.

I feel safe and happy there and it has become a major part of the fabric of my life.

I have laughed and cried there, smiled and frowned, cheered and jeered, made long-lasting friendships, vowed never to return and yet found myself steering a path back there a fortnight later.

Griffin Park is seared into my soul, as are the memories, sweet and sour, of matches long since passed, of players good, bad, indifferent, and now, maybe even great!

I have calculated that over the course of the past forty-nine years I have spent over one hundred days of my life in and around the stadium, firstly anticipating the match about to begin, then moaning, groaning, criticising, encouraging, celebrating and commiserating during the course of every match and finally rejoicing or mourning on the walk back to the car, a mere skip and a jump away when celebrating victory, an interminable trudge following a defeat.

This article is about the stadium itself rather than simply supporting the club, and yet the two are inextricably intertwined.

For a few unfortunate years a decade or so ago, I was inveigled into buying two season tickets for Arsenal as a means of entertaining some clients and contacts of mine.

God forbid that I tried to entice them into attending a match at Griffin Park, the Bees were then in the nether regions of the Third Division and it was a hard, if not impossible task to sweet talk business contacts into watching them.

To be candid, I also wanted my company to be seen as a Premier League outfit rather than as a third rater.

Given the vagaries of the Premier League fixture list there were surprisingly few fixture clashes between the two clubs, as they existed in totally different stratospheres, and I was rarely faced with the difficult decision about whether to watch Arsenal or Brentford.

I enjoyed visiting both Highbury and The Emirates Stadium as there was always a sense of occasion, and the lush, padded leather seats at Highbury found great favour with my son, but the atmosphere at both grounds was always sterile and could not compare in any shape or form with the febrile excitement of a packed Griffin Park.

Whilst I wanted Arsenal to win, in truth I didn’t really care about the result, matches never stirred my emotion as they did and still do at Griffin Park, and I certainly never lost any sleep or gave a second thought should they lose, something that has happened on many occasions after a Brentford catastrophe.

Over the years I have changed my allegiance from D Block in Braemar Road, to the Paddock, to Ealing Road, then to New Road and finally back to Braemar Road.

Each area has its own individual characteristic and identity however I made my decision to return to where I started given it provides the best and most complete overall view of the pitch, has the Programme Shop close to hand and enables me to kibitz and gossip with all and sundry.

There is and will be far more to say about Griffin Park over the coming months and even years as the clock runs down, and in the meantime I shall relish what time we have left at this iconic edifice as when Griffin Park dies, so will die a small part of me, as I am sure it will for most of you too.

I would just like to wish Brentford fans and their families a very happy, healthy and successful festive season and New Year and thanks again to all of you for reading my blog.

I have been bowled over by the numbers of you who have taken the time and trouble to do so as well as by the generosity of your comments.

PS Just to reassure everybody, since publishing this article I have received the following tweet from Brentford Chairman Cliff Crown which will help put every supporters’ minds at rest and allay their fears:

Cliff Crown ‪@CliffCrown‬

‪@grevwaterman Great article full of warmth and good feelings – we will do everything we can to make Lionel Road as rewarding an experience

Who Are Yer? – 22/12/14

arsI went to a family party last night still on a high following Brentford’s wonderful win at Cardiff, but I was soon brought crashing down to earth.

There were several guests there who purported to be serious football fans, so naturally I gravitated towards them to exchange gossip and perhaps even bask in the glow of our recent achievements.

Surely they would be up to date about our progress and be full of admiration and praise?

To my surprise and disappointment any mention of Brentford – or Brentwood as some clown insisted on calling us – produced shrugs of dismissal and total ignorance and disinterest.

The nation, or certainly this small cross-section of it, has not taken much or, indeed, any note of our progress to date, and to those few who had heard of us at all we were plainly still “Little Old Brentford”.

Nobody I spoke to had any idea which league we were playing in let alone how we were taking the football world by storm.

When I started to put them straight I saw their eyes glaze over and smug little patronising smiles appear on their faces.

They had little or no interest in discussing or even finding out about anyone or anything that existed outside the cloistered and hallowed halls of the Premier League.

Football at a lower level did not register with them and in their eyes did not even count, or exist.

Whilst the overwhelming majority of the people I approached scuttled away from me as fast as their legs could carry them, relieved at their close call, a few stopped to listen after I succeeded in cornering them and cutting off their escape route.

livI fully realise that I shouldn’t have expected anything different, but their comments were totally demoralising and merely highlighted their indifference to our mere existence:

Aren’t you the club with a pub on all four corners of the ground?

Now what league do you play in?

Brentford Nylons isn’t it?

Doesn’t that German bloke manage you?

Has Trotta taken any more penalties for you?

And best of all:

How’s Ron Noades doing these days?

Nobody I spoke to had any conception of the club we were developing into or our massive growth and progress over the past couple of years.

Initially I was innately depressed by what I had heard, but on further thought I think it was all to the good.

We are like a stealth bomber, flying deadly but undetected, well under the radar, or the outsider making a late run to come home on the rails.

Nobody knows, or even cares who we are or where we are going, and they are totally unprepared for what we Brentford fans know will happen over the coming years – or maybe even months!

Our momentum appears to be unstoppable – and so few people outside our rapidly growing fan base have any idea what is actually happening under their very nose!

That being said, seeing is believing.

I have done my best to show my missionary zeal by trying to convert a few of the sceptical, ignorant and uninitiated to the true faith.

This season I took a Liverpool supporter to the Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday matches, an Arsenal fanatic to the Derby County game, a Queens Park Rangers supporter to the Fulham local derby (I smuggled her into the ground under a vow of silence) and finally, a West Ham season ticket holder to witness the thrashing of Wolves.

None of them had ever visited Griffin Park beforehand and I had not given any of them a big build up about the team, its style of play, and what to expect.

I could see their bemused and irritated expressions when they had to fight their way through the packed crowds in the Braemar Road forecourt to get hold of a tepid cup of stewed tea and I had to apologise repeatedly for the long, snaking queue for the toilets which resulted in some desperate leg crossing on the part of some of my guests.

They were all used to the semi-comfort of The Emirates Stadium and Anfield and were taken aback by the grassroots reality of the matchday experience Brentford-style.

The Griffin though did merit universal approval as they appreciated the chance to enjoy a pre-match drink and mix safely with supporters from both teams, something that is unheard of nowadays in the anodyne, segregated sterility of the Premier League.

What all my guests also shared in common was a sense of utter disbelief, amazement and appreciation at the quality of the fare that they were privileged to watch.

Brentford’s positive approach, total attacking policy and the sheer quality on display came as a real surprise to all of them.

None of them believed that football of this quality was on offer outside the Premier League – or indeed, too often within it!

Alex Pritchard recently commented that we played in the same manner and nearly as well as Spurs and you could almost see some of my guests nodding their heads in agreement.

Andre Gray, Alex Pritchard and Jota in particular were all picked out as potential Premier League stars, not that you need to be a super-scout to predict their likely futures.

They were nonplussed when I remarked we had many more of that ilk currently bubbling under and coming nicely to the boil in our burgeoning Academy.

The West Ham fan said that he had seen more efforts on goal in one match than in the entire season to date at Upton Park.

Surprisingly, what they all commented upon was our policy of leaving a minimum of two players in attack when we were defending a corner, something that none of them had ever seen before and they admired our chutzpah, without really appreciating that we are, in fact, more dangerous from opposition corners than our own.

bees fansThe atmosphere generated by ten thousand roaring Bees fans was also commented on by my guests who acknowledged how intimidating a packed Griffin Park was to the opposition.

They all left the ground wreathed in smiles and excited at the level of pure entertainment they had been fortunate enough to witness.

What’s more they have all expressed an interest in coming again before the end of the season, so real progress is being made.

We are pathfinders and proselytisers and each of us has the responsibility of educating our friends about just how good we are.

Not that many of them are ready, or have the interest or imagination, to really care.

What A Game To Miss! – 21/12/14

jots goalWell at first I was going to Cardiff and then I wasn’t.

I have a few football friends, travelling companions and fellow Brentford fanatics who I generally accompany to away matches, but one by one they cried off during the week.

Some didn’t want to spend the money in the week before Christmas and wanted to keep their cash for minor necessities and trivialities such as food and heating.

One was shopping, another decided to spend the weekend with his wife, and man flu claimed a couple of others.

It looked like I was on my own, not a state of affairs that has stopped me in the past, but somehow this time I just didn’t fancy a long solitary drive there and back in a day, and on Friday I made my mind up to give this one a miss.

What a mistake, as I missed yet another Bees triumph and a first half performance of pure class with the invention, pace and movement that you have come to expect from a Brentford team rewarded with three cracking goals.

Whilst those far more committed than I dined out on the sumptuous feast laid on for them at the Cardiff Stadium, I was left to make do with the bread and water diet of a cold blustery afternoon spent shivering on an exposed touchline watching my local Ryman League team Wingate & Finchley.

It wasn’t a bad match, I have to say, as they edged to a narrow one-nil win over a tough Grays team, and there was plenty of skill and effort on show from both sides, but that was little or no consolation as the text, Twitter and Griffin Park Grapevine updates I received throughout the afternoon made it perfectly clear to me that I was in the wrong place and had made a terrible decision.

There was some very minor solace as I was back at home well in time to watch the final of Strictly Come Dancing with my wife, but as I tried to concentrate on the dancers pirouetting and preening through their choreographed routines, my mind kept wandering and, instead of admiring their pyrotechnics, I found myself instead picturing the twinkle-toed Jota and Alex Pritchard performing a perfect pas de deux as they danced in unison and glided through the Cardiff defence with the ball tied to their bootlaces, and I knew exactly where I should have been on Saturday afternoon.

burridgeFrom what I have seen on the scandalously brief highlights on the Football League Show I would have been far more like Len, Bruno and Darcey and less like Craig and given them both straight Ten’s for their routines which touched the heights of perfection.

I spoke briefly to Mark Burridge and Mick Cabble too, who kindly filled me in on our display and the pure theatre of the entire afternoon’s proceedings, as in front of a crowd of nearly twenty-two thousand, the biggest of the season so far, Brentford didn’t freeze on the big day but simply rose to the occasion and put a massive team to the sword that this time last year was competing in the Premier League.

Yesterday was probably the zenith of a half-season already littered with massive achievements, with the promise of many more to come.

Mark and Mick are both sound, experienced and keen observers of all things Brentford and do not easily get carried away, but they were both drooling at the utter brilliance of the first half display and the sheer resilience, guts and organisation displayed after the break, when quite naturally, the home team, their pride dented and their ears burning from a halftime rollicking, finally abandoned their suicidal four-four-two formation and matched us up in midfield, went for our throats and with the encouragement of an early second half goal, put us under the cosh and made us defend for our lives to hold onto a fully merited victory.

Good to see that we managed to withstand the onslaught without the second half presence of colossus and inspiration Jonathan Douglas and hopefully his exit at the break was purely precautionary rather than a serious problem as we will need him in the packed holiday programme.

Harlee Dean went down as if poleaxed in the first few minutes of the game, and for quite a while it seemed as if his afternoon would be over almost before it had begun, however the sight of James Tarkowski eagerly stripping off his tracksuit top, ready to sprint onto the pitch was apparently more than enough to revive him, and Harlee went on to have an impressive match at the heart of our defence!

From what I have seen and heard, Alex Pritchard was the star of the show.

His early finish for our first goal was predatory and eye-catching in its simplicity and perfection as the ball was threaded through the eye of the needle straight into the bottom corner of the net well out of the reach of the diving David Marshall..

The ball was hit with pace, accuracy and power and with his wrong foot too.

Praise too to Jota who put in a determined challenge in the opposition penalty area to help ensure that the ball fell perfectly at the feet of his colleague just waiting to strike.

Pritchard is so quick to see and select the best option and his instant, incisive and perfectly weighted pass put Andre Gray through on goal, just as he did at Millwall, and unlike at Wigan when his finish plopped frustratingly onto the roof of the goal, this time the lob was judged to perfection and the ball dropped unerringly into the roof of the net for his tenth goal of a massively productive season.

Pritchard also had a foot in the third goal when he ran unchallenged from his own penalty area, threaded a short pass to Jota and waited in vain for a return as the elegant Spaniard bewitched a horde of helpless and bovine defenders and sent them all the wrong way with swivel of his hips before he delicately placed an unstoppable curling left-footed shot into the far top corner of the net from the corner of the penalty area.

Len and his fellow judges would surely have approved!

The Ole’s resonated around the stadium and from what I have been told, the Brentford supporters were not the only ones that wondered at and applauded Jota’s trickery, mastery of the ball, precision, and perfect technique.

That being said, the denizens of the Cardiff message boards vented their incoherent and semi-literate spleen at the perceived shortcomings of their own team and manager after the match, which were, in truth, many and varied, without bothering to praise us for our performance or give any thought as to how and why we had defeated their team.

Typical of the comments were this pre-match boast:

Today will go down in history as the day we beat a team by ten clear goals.

Followed by an in-depth analysis soon after the final whistle:

And none of their players are good enough to play for us as they were League One players about six months ago.

As Cardiff fans we aren’t going to accept signings that poor.

God, please give me strength at such hubris, ignorance and arrogance.

Although having given it some further thought, the more we are ignored, underestimated and belittled the more I like it and the better it is for our prospects.

Leroy Rosenior, however gets what we are trying to do and is a big fan.

His comments on last night’s Football League Show were as succinct as ever, but he got straight to the nub of the issue:

Brentford have a small squad but great spirit and I am not sure if there are clubs around with as much quality.

So apologies to those who were perhaps expecting a full and detailed match report, but I wasn’t there, so I can only give you my second hand impressions of a wonderful day for the club which provided further evidence, if more was indeed required, that our promotion challenge is for real.

Anyway, this is not a mistake I intend to repeat and my tickets to Wolves and Brighton have already been booked and are safely stashed away in my desk drawer.

Now if I can just find somebody to go with – any volunteers?

Jeepers Keepers – Part Two – 19/12/14

mckellarI meandered down memory lane a little while ago revisiting some of the Brentford goalkeepers from the 60s and 70s (

Players like Chic Brodie, Gordon Phillips, Steve Sherwood and Len Bond were all technically gifted goalkeepers who served us extremely well and were firm crowd favourites.

The 80s was a different kettle of fish as nobody made the position his own for very long and a bewildering number of players, fifteen in all, wore the green jersey.

With Len Bond falling out of favour after failing to agree a new contract, and Trevor Porter released, Fred Callaghan was looking for a replacement keeper for the 1980/81 season.

He managed to bring in a callow youngster in twenty-year old Paul McCullough who arrived from Reading on a free transfer. Paul had no league experience and was totally untested and he was intended to act as cover, but fate dictated otherwise.

Callaghan was unsuccessful in signing a more experienced goalkeeper and failed in bids for the likes of Terry Gennoe at Southampton and Glen Johnson at Aldershot. Either would have been welcomed.

Gennoe it was who played so well against us for Blackburn in all three memorable cup matches in 1988/89 whilst the balding Johnson whose rotund Dearden-esque figure did not prevent him from keeping us at bay whenever we came up against him.

So McCullough it was who started the season in goal and it soon became apparent that he was not up to the job.

His bravery was unquestioned and his tendency to hurl himself at the feet of onrushing forwards soon led to him earning the unflattering nickname of The Kamikaze Kid”.

He lasted for nine long games which saw him concede seventeen goals, and he made costly errors against Charlton, Reading and Fulham as well as being lobbed by his own defender, Mark Hill, at Walsall for a memorable own goal which must have caused great hilarity amongst the television viewers later that night.

This state of affairs couldn’t go on any longer, he needed to be taken out of the firing line, and eventually Callaghan got his man.

As for the unfortunate McCullough, who can hardly be blamed for being thrown into the lions’ den, he disappeared without trace at the end of the season after conceding thirty-two goals in eighteen reserve games and never played senior football again.

His replacement was the real deal and well worth waiting for, and is generally regarded as being one of Brentford’s best goalkeepers of recent times.

Dave McKellar had a twenty year long professional career beginning at Ipswich and ending with a year at Glasgow Rangers. In between he played for Derby County, where he had extensive First Division experience, Carlisle, Hartlepool, Hibernian, Newcastle, Hamilton, Dunfermline and Kilmarnock, as well, of course as the Bees.

Fred Callaghan plucked Dave from Derby reserves for what turned out to be a bargain fee of £25,000 and he soon established himself as an automatic first choice.

He was calm, unruffled, totally unflamboyant, utterly reliable and, unlike his predecessor, he filled his defenders with confidence.

You never really noticed him but he never let you down and you knew it would take a special effort to beat him. His record confirmed this as he kept thirty-one clean sheets in his ninety-two games for the club and conceded just over a goal per game.

One minor quibble, if I have to be picky, is that he never managed to save a penalty kick in nine attempts!

He was the best goalkeeper I had ever seen play for the Bees and I am not sure if we have had anyone better since.

Fred Callaghan was not the easiest man in the world to deal with – he was not one to turn the other cheek, and he managed to fall out with McKellar, just as he had with Len Bond, and this argument cost us an exceptional player who could well have played for us throughout the remainder of the decade.

Total madness, in my opinion.

Let Dave McKellar take up the story:

Petar Borota was given a free by Chelsea and came to Brentford.

He had no intention of signing as he subsequently played in Portugal, but Fred played him in the preseason friendlies.

It didn’t make sense as it prevented me getting match fit.

We had words and I left.

It was sad as I loved it at Brentford. My family was settled and I was looking forward to a long stay

Oh, in passing I almost forgot to mention that Paul Priddy sneaked back for yet another spell at Brentford as cover for McKellar and made a farewell appearance in November 1981, against Chester, his first game for over five years and deservedly bowed out with a clean sheet.

As mentioned, Petar Borota played in the preseason League Trophy competition in August 1982 before leaving us high and dry on the eve of the first league match.

rocheCallaghan was left desperately scrambling around trying to find a new goalkeeper and his scouring of the free transfer list was rewarded when he signed the experienced Eire International Paddy Roche from Manchester United a mere two days before the season began.

Lots of time for him to develop a relationship with his new back four then!

Roche had spent nine seasons at Old Trafford without managing to displace Alex Stepney and the jury was out on him given his propensity to drop clangers.

He settled down quickly, played in every game and was part of a dodgy defence that did its best to undermine the efforts of a wonderful midfield and potent strike force by conceding seventy-seven goals.

In truth, he did far better than we supporters expected, and was probably a better goalkeeper at thirty-one than he had been at any previous time in his up and down career.

He was still prone to costly errors and after making an elastic penalty save against Portsmouth, an effort which earned him a fusillade of golf balls from the frustrated Pompey fans congregated behind his goal, he then frustratingly fumbled an innocuous shot to gift the visitors a late equaliser.

Fred Callaghan decided to bring in some competition for Roche and after failing to capture Iain Hesford from Blackpool, Martin Thomas from Bristol Rovers and the wonderfully named Perry Digweed from Brighton, it was fourth time lucky when he signed the experienced Trevor Swinburne from Carlisle, with McKellar going the other way as part of the deal. swinburne

As has been so often the case, Brentford got the thin end of the wedge as McKellar inevitably went on to prosper and Swinburne, so often impressive in the past for Carlisle at Griffin Park, played more like a player rapidly coming to the end of the road and merely hung on for a couple of seasons, initially sharing the jersey with Roche, before fading out of contention the following season.

He played one unforgettable match when he somehow regained all his powers and inspired the Bees to a one-all draw at Bristol City but at other times he appeared to be no more than a mere shadow of his former self and he was replaced in December 1984 by Gary Phillips.

Phillips had impressed at Barnet and had helped the non-leaguers hold Brighton to a goalless FA Cup draw. This attracted Frank McLintock’s attention and he was signed for a bargain £4,000 fee, initially remaining as a part timer combining football with landscape gardening.

He made his debut in a spineless three-nil home defeat to Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day 1984 but soon established himself before crowning his debut season with a losing appearance at Wembley in the Freight Rover Trophy Final. phillips

Phillips soon became a crowd favourite and and missed just a handful of games over the next three and a half seasons. When he did, Richard Key, Tony Oliver and the mysterious John Power who materialised for two matches from Kingstonian at the back end of the 1986/87 season and then just as quickly disappeared, filled in for him adequately.

Gary was a spectacular shot stopper and saved four out of thirty-one penalties faced in his one hundred and seventy-one matches.

Let’s just look at that figure again for a moment – Brentford managed to concede thirty one penalty kicks in less than four years, which means we gave away around eight penalty kicks per season – an enormous number.

He wasn’t the most dominating or consistent of goalkeepers but he was more than good enough to hold a job in what frankly was no more than a mid-table third division team.

I am not sure that Steve Perryman was ever totally convinced by him and after a contractual dispute he was sold to Reading before eventually returning to Barnet and helped them win promotion to the Football League.

Perryman was looking to build a promotion challenging team and wanted to upgrade the goalkeeping position. Not unnaturally he looked to sign a player whom he knew well from their time together at Spurs and Tony Parks arrived in return for a frankly staggering £60,000 fee as Chairman Martin Lange unlocked his wallet in a preseason spending spell that also saw Richard Cadette and Neil Smillie join the club. parks

Parks had been the penalty saving hero in the 1984 UEFA Cup Final but had never managed to establish himself in the Spurs goal.

Small in stature, he struggled with crosses but read the game well and performed consistently for two years and he made some crucial saves in the 1988/89 FA Cup campaign against both Manchester City and Blackburn.

He was injury prone and that gave brief opportunities to a variety of deputies and loanees.

I have already written about John Smeulders, a loan signing from Bournemouth who made a match-winning penalty save in the last minute against Blackburn Rovers in the Littlewoods Cup.

England youth internatonal Jeremy Roberts was signed from Darlington as reserve goalkeeper and kept an impressive six clean sheets in his nine games before surprisingly being released and disappearing seemingly off the face of the earth – shades of Paul McCullough!

Keith Branagan and young Colin Scott also filled for a few games in 1989/90 and then, on the twentieth of March 1990, seventeen year old Ashley Bayes made his debut against Preston North End. ashley

All was going swimmingly, with the Bees coasting to a seemingly impregnable two goal lead, until poor benighted Ashley made a catastrophic unforced error just before halftime, completely missing his kick as he rushed out of his goal.

The game was drawn and this was merely the first in a catalogue of costly errors by a young keeper who was thrown into league football far too early.

There will be far more on Ashley and those who followed him in the next instalment on Brentford goalkeepers which will cover the 90s.