I meandered down memory lane a little while ago revisiting some of the Brentford goalkeepers from the 60s and 70s (http://tinyurl.com/qcah48p).
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.
Callaghan 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.
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 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 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!
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.