Every football club has its fair share of characters and personalities associated with it, and Brentford is no different in this respect, and one of the most popular is Billy Reeves, who is well on the way to becoming a legend in his own lifetime!
Billy is a born performer and made his name initially in 1996 as the founder and leading light of Britpop group, Theaudience. Fronted by the inimitable Sophie Ellis-Bextor, their one self-titled album reached number twenty-two in the UK charts, with two of four singles released also reaching the Top 40.
His musical career was cut short by a near-fatal car crash in 2001 and after recovering from his injuries he has reinvented himself as a talented and well-respected producer and broadcaster on BBC London 94.9 where his unique, quirky and engaging style of broadcasting and witty repartee has won him a host of listeners and admirers.
He is the voice of Brentford FC on local radio and is also a long-term fan of the club.
I caught up with Billy the other day and he expressed some perceptive, heartfelt and trenchant views on the club and his profession in general – so please sit back and prepare to be stimulated and entertained:
1. Music v Travel v Sports Reporting – discuss
In the UK we are somewhat uncomfortable with the ‘portfolio’ career; but I am jack of all trades, master of none, which I is why I do it. Traffic reporting is about empathy. I used to be a lorry driver and I have a degree in Broadcast Journalism – combine the two and I can make agenda-decisions (what to say) and understand why I’m saying it. If you’re stuck on the M25, we feel for you at BBC London 94.9, we’re there for you! I’m not a sports reporter as such; I’ve tried but the only sport I know anything about is football.
It’s been very interesting following one club; I have learned much about the football industry. Playing music (as I did in my teens and then again in my early thirties) is much more about showing off. There are similarities between the music business and the football business; both take a risk on talent. I’ve got to know a lot of DIY musicians of late and it seems that you can make a living outside the traditions of venture-capitalist record companies, I wonder if this can be done in the football industry..?!
We’re left to our own devices at BBC London which is nice; if there’s a ‘house style’ it’s one of slight irreverence. My biggest influence is Mark Burridge, no-one’s commentated on more Bees games than he.
3. Sophie Ellis-Bextor or Jota – beauty personified?
Sophie is a friend, but Jota I admire from afar. No other manager would’ve signed him, he’s slight, never really made it in Spain, his English is minimal, and he’d never tracked-back in his life. (Sophie’s never tracked back either, mind you.) The Brentford Beatles – Matt, Mark, David & Frank – are geniuses for getting him to come to London and turning him into one of the most useful players at this level. I like his new haircut.
4. Living for today, the only policy? – intimations of mortality
I assume this is a reference to my near-death experience? Bizarrely it was fascinating. Watching NHS professionals dealing with horrendous working conditions has made me a rabid supporter of their rights. I became a brave soldier, planning the ten things I’d do once I got out of hospital. Coming to Griffin Park for the first time after the crash, barely being able to walk was the point where I knew I’d be OK. (6th April 2002. Bees 3 Huddersfield 0 – three up at half time).
5. What is so special about Brentford as a club?
The fact that we’re not special. There’s no overriding sense of a golden era that hangs over us as a reminder of better times. There’s no trouble. There’s a sense of community where the club’s been in financial peril. There are no posh seats in the stadium. We have the West London moral high ground, surrounded as we are by the gruesome threesome.
6. How far can we go?
As far as our imagination. It’ll be how we deal with any decline is what will make us or break us over the next ten years. Once we get to the Prem, we must check our privilege and not do what Charlton or Fulham did.
7. Tiki-taka – do we take it too far?
No. We’re working to a budget. We develop ball-players at the expense of muscle and brutality. Football clubs need to understand branding. FC St. Pauli has it. I want us to be known as the ball-playing, attack at all-times, develop young talent, nice, friendly, modern football club. I’d much rather we play this way. It’s brilliant.
8. Mark Warburton and empowerment and positive reinforcement – is it the best policy?
Warbs/Weir is still in the experimental stage. The Brentford Beatles are intelligent individuals backed up by a big-for-this-level analysis department. So far, so good. Too early to say.
9. Working with players and management
Everybody has to be nice to me; I’m wearing a BBC pass. Footballers and backroom staff know how to behave. There’s a sense of propriety. I’m grateful that at the all-new modern Brentford that I’m made welcome at the training ground, the inner sanctum. But I’m acutely aware that I must keep a ‘journalistic distance’. I represent the fans. Uwe and Scotty understood that perfectly, I was their conduit to the supporters when they had the hump. Whether you support the club you’re reporting on or not, there’s a licence at a local level to want the team on your own patch to win. It makes gathering audio afterwards easier. I am not the pet of the club, however – my duty is to the listener and the supporter, I get to ask questions on their behalf.
10. Interviewing players and managers – do’s and don’ts
As mentioned, reporters must never think they have a relationship with the manager. The representatives of the club understand they’re using exposure in the media as PR to promote the club. Reporters therefore should understand this and give them a hard time, ask the difficult questions. It’s the managers that understand that batting back awkward questions, asked immediately after games, is what makes them look good, or bad. Managers are now bigger stars than ever, watch the TV coverage – they get plenty of screentime (to help us understand what just happened on the pitch, as we couldn’t work it out for ourselves) – last term it was drinking from water bottles (Arsene being, seemily, the thirstiest). This season it’s all about note-taking…
Anyway… Players are much more intelligent than people give them credit for. They are on their guard, so are careful about what they say, so this is why they often slip into the comfort of the football lexicon. It’s up to the interviewer to steer them away from cliché. Tommy Smith, Alan Judge and Sam Saunders are all excellent. Richard Lee will make a good reporter, he understands what’s required and, as he has said, punditry needs a goalie.
11. Your overall views on the season to date, things we need to learn and how you expect us to do in the New Year.
I expect signings. We’re not going to get forty points in the second half of the season, but the atmosphere at Griffin Park must not quieten. The players love playing at GP in front of a packed house and the results in 2014 suggest there’s some empirical evidence that it helps. And we’re all about stats & maths at Brentford these days…