Back In The Game! – 25/2/15

A week is a long time in football and things have moved on dramatically from the turmoil of the previous couple of weeks. The past seven days have seen Mark Warburton’s future clarified, if not to everyone’s satisfaction, and clear notice given regarding Matthew Benham’s intended strategy and future direction for the club. Tempers and emotions have finally cooled as all parties have remained firmly on message and emphasised their determination to work together for the remainder of this tumultuous season and, not before time, the attention has returned at last to matters on the pitch rather than in the boardroom.

The response of the manager and players has been utterly beyond reproach and they have responded to the end of the uncertainty with two decisive home wins that have fully restored confidence and optimism. Two games that could not have been more different as we overcame differing challenges from both ends of the spectrum. Bournemouth were defeated through a combination of grit, determination and organisation, allied, of course, to some pulsating and scintillating football – it wouldn’t be Brentford otherwise, would it?

Last night was an entirely different kettle of fish as a performance of total dominance culminated in a comfortable four-nil win over a demoralised, hapless and toothless shambles of a Blackpool side that barely went through the motions and went down almost without a fight, and, frankly, totally let down their long-suffering supporters who displayed far more effort and commitment than their team and demonstrated a black humour and resignation to their fate that was entirely to their credit.

Never having witnessed the annual stroll in the park when a Brentford team used to run rings around a pick-up squad of supporters, this was by some distance the most one-sided game that I can recall. It is no exaggeration to state that with a little more steadiness in front of goal, an understandable failure to retain focus and keep their foot on the peddle for the entire ninety-four minutes, and less concentration on walking the ball into the net, Brentford could easily have eclipsed their record nine-nil victory against Wrexham.

The statistics bear this out as Brentford managed an incredible 74% possession and 87% pass accuracy rate and an outrageous 42 attempts on goal, almost one every two minutes. This is easily a record for the Championship this season and, but for some profligate finishing and the sheer pride, ability and bloody mindedness of the overworked Joe Lewis, who was determined to stave off total embarrassment for his beleaguered team mates, we would have needed an abacus rather than scoreboard to keep count.

Despite the six points gained and seven goals scored over the last two matches, the only disappointment is that Brentford still find themselves just outside the playoff zone, but they are now firmly ensconced in a thirteen match promotion dogfight with eight teams seemingly competing for the prize, and he who is bravest, best prepared, organised and the most positive will ultimately prevail, especially if favoured with a little bit of good luck. Why shouldn’t it be us given the turnaround and change of fortune and the fact that we have players returning from injury who can provide fresh impetus and legs at a time when minds and bodies are becoming jaded?

Compared to where we were as we emerged shell shocked from The Valley a mere ten days ago, this is progress indeed, and who knows what the next ten weeks or so will bring, but what is certain is that we are back in the game and have a fighting chance of playing with the big boys next season. Something that looked highly unlikely a mere fortnight ago.

What transpires in the close season is for the future and everyone needs to put that prospect totally out of their mind for the time being as it is now imperative that total focus and concentration is maintained as well as a continuation of the renewed bond and unity within the camp, without allowing any distractions to further sabotage our efforts.

I often bemoaned the fact that even in last season’s promotion triumph there were really no easy games and we supporters could never afford to relax as the outcome was generally in doubt until near the end when our stamina and skill would invariably take over and allow us to triumph in what had generally up to that point been even and closely contested matches. Even our best win by five clear goals over Crewe was no stroll in the park as we didn’t break the deadlock until a minute before the break. Last night was a rare example of a match being over almost as soon as it had started owing to the immense gulf and chasm between the two teams. It was lovely to watch a game where it was clear that we were going to come out on top but, strangely, I have to confess that I missed the cut and thrust of a tightly contested game, as I am sure the remaining fixtures will be.

The outcome was never in any doubt last night once the marvellous Jon Toral, a total unsung hero, struck twice in a two minute spell on the quarter hour to alleviate any nerves and tension in the stands if not on the pitch, and it was then simply a matter of how many more we were going to score. Blackpool could barely get out of their half and David Button was totally untested and surely deserved a game off after his heroics on Saturday. That being said, given the levels of concentration maintained by all goalkeepers, I am sure that he was mentally exhausted at the end of the game last night despite his almost total lack of involvement in the proceedings.

Tarkowski and the recalled Dean snuffed out what little threat Blackpool offered and Odebajo and the immaculate Stuart Dallas were able to rampage up their respective wings and play as auxiliary wingers. Alan Judge had frustratingly picked up a knock on his return against Bournemouth and wasn’t risked last night, but he was hardly missed as Toral, Pritchard and Jota weaved intricate patterns and cut vast swathes in the visitors’ defence.

Diagouraga and the buccaneering Douglas ensured that possession was regained on the few occasions that Blackpool managed more than one consecutive pass and it was the skipper, slipped in by Jota who set up Toral for the opener with the ball swept through the keeper’s legs as he advanced in vain. Toral it was again with a rare far post headed goal when picked out by Gray’s immaculate cross.

Blackpool visibly subsided like a pricked balloon and concentrated on damage limitation. They didn’t even try to press or knock us out of our stride but appeared resigned to the inevitable. Gray hit the keeper when put clean through and Pritchard found increasingly ingenious methods not to score when given clear sights of goal. Blackpool’s cause was further diminished when Dunne’s crude challenge on Jota was immediately punished by a red card flourished seemingly in sadness by a thankfully subdued Andy D’Urso who did not otherwise influence the proceedings.

The second half was a procession and there were loud cheers when Blackpool finally got the ball into the Brentford penalty area late on in the game, but otherwise it resembled nothing more than a game of three-and-in with the visitors funnelling back to the edge of their area and forming a human barrier aimed at keeping the score down.

There was a relentless barrage of shots which rained in on their goal from all angles and distances. Some threatened the crowd massed behind the goal, others were blocked or forced excellent saves from Lewis. Gray beat him with a deflected effort from the rebound after the keeper made a wonderful parrying save from a fierce volley and, after spurning a number of opportunities, Toral bobbled in a last minute fourth to notch the first Bees hat trick since Gary Alexander in 2012. Saunders, Long and Smith were given run outs to rest Douglas, Gray and Jota for the crucial visit to Birmingham on Saturday and simply emphasised the strength and quality of the Brentford squad.

This has been a wonderful, restorative and recuperative few days for the Bees and we go into the final run in revitalised, confident and in great heart and with as much chance of success as all of the so-called bigger names that are also jockeying with us to reach the promised land.


Voices Of Experience – 24/2/15

I have just received articles from two Brentford supporters who both have many years on the clock. Larry Signy and Bernard Jackson have been following Brentford FC for more years that I suspect the pair of them care to remember and they have trenchant and heartfelt views about the current situation which they can put into context given the multitude of ups and downs they have both witnessed during their decades of loyal support. Here is what Larry has to say:

I have deliberately refrained from writing this until a whole week after the official announcement about the future of Brentford was released by the club. It has given me time to read all the many varying, conflicting, often wildly biased views – and to try and reflect my own opinion. And I have to say that I’m just as confused as ever I was when the whole sorry story first leaked out. The only clear thing is that Mark Warburton will leave at the end of the season – and we knew that already.

Please don’t think I am taking sides in anything I now write – or that I denigrate anything that anyone has done to get The Bees where they are today. I am just baffled, and in trying to de-baffle myself am simply trying to put things the way they seem to me. We are told that club owner Matthew Benham wants a new-style ‘revolutionary’ way of running the club – but so far, to my mind we have been given no proof of that. Changes – yes. A new title for the man running the first team (rather than a Manager he’s to be a Head Coach); a new Sporting Director whose job will be to find and sign new talent replacing a Director Of Football, whose job has been, ahem, to find and sign new talent; and a panel of experts to help find those new players replacing an existing panel of experts trying to find and replace new talents. That panel, we are told, will use statistics to find the best players for our club – as we have been doing since Matthew took control.

But even statisticians will tell you, statistics can be made to prove anything. For instance – does two and two equal four……or twenty two? It’s a system that may well work in a number of fields where there are definites (banking, insurance etc) – but we are talking football here……..a little matter of twenty-two human beings (and a referee) knocking the hell out of the statistics and what should happen. As I said somewhere else, does that mean if Joe Bloggs of Little Puddefoot FC keeps ten clean sheets in a row is he is a better ‘keeper than England’s Joe Hart who has only managed nine?

Oh yes, the new Head Coach will not have the power to veto players he doesn’t want in his squad – and if he’s presented with some players like that by the ‘new’ selection panel he will possibly have to build his team with some players he doesn’t fancy. To my mind, that’s like asking Leonardo da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa using only blue and red paint or telling Michelangelo he must carve the Pieta and David statues using house brick rather than marble.

So far, things have gone well, very well, with the old system over a couple of seasons – with Matthew and Mark Warburton as a very good partnership. So I have to wonder why there needs to be change. No-one has yet explained that. Nor has anyone told us why Mark can’t buy into the new idea (least of all the very diplomatic man himself). The various statements have apparently tried to clarify things – but as far as I can see, there is nothing revolutionary in any of it. To my simple mind, we have been fed a lot of words about looking to the future, the way things are going etc, etc, etc. Except – to my ill-informed and possibly ignorant-of-the-facts mind there is one big change. And that is what the announced changes might mean to the future of the club. 

We have been told that there is a five-year plan to develop the club (abee has written about this recently and knows more about it than me) and were given to understand that Matthew Benham wanted (and I’ve put it in quotes although he may not have used these actual words) “a sustainable club in a new stadium at Lionel Road…..established in The Championship”. To attain that sustainability he wanted to develop the youth system so the club could find young kids, bring them through the various youth levels to the development squad, and then into the first team where they would eventually be sold at a profit to allow the next batch to come through. That was the successful old Crewe Alexandra way – and, I believe, the way Barcelona go about things.

Now, apparently, we are looking at paying (big?) money to bring in new first team players – probably from overseas, and either senior ready-to-use names or youngsters who can be trained up in the Brentford style – so we can become a top Premiership club. We don’t exactly know that’s the way we’ll be going because we just haven’t been told. We are, we are told, going for a more Continental style of running things – but it’s interesting to note that Barca, again, has a manager rather than a Head Coach – like Real Madrid, and the English Euro League giants Manchester City, Chelsea. Alex Ferguson didn’t do too badly in sole control either.

But now? Well, will the existing youth set-up change under the new regime (what statistics do you use for a six-year-old who loves playing football?)? Will the existing medical team stay etc.etc? How will BFC be set up in the future? I don’t know, and my reaction to it all? Well…….?????

I am not taking sides between new way and the old way – I can’t, because to my mind I still don’t know – and I still wonder just where is this big revolution? Perhaps somebody will eventually tell me – and other fans. What is planned for the future? Will it all work? Only time will tell, and I can only sincerely hope that the Championship table statistics at the end of this season prove successful.

Factually I believe that Luis Enrique is actually titled Head Coach rather than Manager at Barcelona but Larry makes his points clearly and cogently. Bernard Jackson also has his doubts in his mournfully titled “Bees Lament:”

Having seen the Bees lose five or six times in a Wembley/Cardiff  cup final I have decided not to attend if they should reach a Championship playoff this year. What a really tough decision for a supporter to make and strange for someone supporting since 1947! My grandchildrens’ schoolmates are “supporters” of Premier League teams whom few of the youngsters have ever seen live. Having a grandad with allegiance to the Bees is strange but also interesting and unusual. 

So here is a granddad in his eighties and doubtless a member of a small group still alive, who saw Bill Gorman, Joe Crozier and Dai Hopkins playing at GP . What can I make of current events ? Sadness, pride and expectation. Sadness that arguably the best manager we’ve ever had, has decided to leave at the end of the season. Pride that the team has achieved its present position and reputation and expectation that things ain’t gonna be the same as they were!

Matthew Benham’s involvement and money has brought the club to where it is today. The reputed investment of £90 million earns the incontestable right to make the decisions which he considers best for Brentford Football Club. Whether he is correct in those decisions remains to be seen but I foresee changes at the club I’ve supported for the last 67 years.  

The clapped-out old stadium will go along with the memories of clapped out old teams and results which caused many miserable Saturday nights for me (and my family!). There will be a recruitment strategy relying on mathematical modeling which may bring an unexpected manager and players to the club.  The new manager, new players and new stadium are signs that there is a future model for Brentford Football Club which old blokes like me will just have to get used to. I suppose I’ll still apply for a season ticket in the new place and hope for regular success……but it ain’t gonna be the same. That’s progress I suppose.

I appreciate and well understand that our supporters have reasonable doubts about the way forward and the current uncertainty. Indeed I share some of these concerns and look forward to more clarity about what is proposed. I worry about the immediate future but remain highly optimistic about our medium to long term prospects.

I spoke to an experienced, highly informed and connected national football journalist yesterday who also knows the people involved with running the club. I asked him where he thought Brentford would be in three years. He paused, cogitated for a moment and said: “Good question! Before the current shenanigans I would have said lower half of the Premier League given the way the club has been run and structured and the high levels of team spirit, self-belief and morale. Now…. who knows?”

We are all feeling uncertain as our world has suddenly turned on its axis. Knowing Bernard as I do as a close personal friend for many years I am saddened that he has decided not to attend should we reach the playoffs. Is that a personal protest or does he see himself as a jinx? Who knows? Perhaps some of my readers can provide both Larry and Bernard, loyal and committed supporters that they are, with some level of comfort and reassurance?

Back To The Football – 22/2/15

Sleep wouldn’t come on Friday night so rather than simply toss and turn upstairs in bed I turned to a holy relic and switched on my much watched and already badly worn tape of the Brentford versus Fulham match. Was it only three short months ago since that magic evening that symbolised everything good about Brentford? I rejoiced in the memories of a performance packed full of energy, skill, confidence, passion and commitment and was struck yet again by the sheer joie de vivre of our approach and the obvious bond and connect between the players, manager and supporters who all came together as one and became a seemingly insuperable force that left Fulham floundering in our wake.

Given the horrors of the past fortnight I wondered if the magic had gone once and for all and if the players and supporters alike would be able to regain their Mojo? On the surface strenuous efforts had been made to paper over the cracks. Mark Warburton had done his imperturbable Zen Master impression, calmly and dispassionately towing the company line in all of his many media appearances. He talked about his gratitude to Matthew Benham for giving him the opportunity in the first place, and his absolute right to take the club in whatever direction he feels is best and how he felt it was better for everyone if he and David Weir were totally honest and parted company with the club at the end of the season if their philosophies differed in how they felt the club should be run moving forward. Who knows what his deep innermost thoughts really are, but he was totally on-message and won the PR battle hands down – not surprising given his extensive media experience obtained whilst running the NextGen series. Cliff Crown also succinctly and convincingly put forward the case regarding Matthew Benham and the Board’s view of the future, and both owner and chairman had visited the training ground on Thursday and had spoken to the players and been grilled about their chosen path.

After last week’s abject surrender against Charlton, nobody really knew how the team would react when there was also the little matter of a match coming up against league leaders Bournemouth, perhaps the best team in the league. All would be revealed on Saturday afternoon and I finally drifted off into an uneasy sleep not knowing what the next day would bring. Would our season get back on track, would the fans back both of their heroes in Benham and Warburton or take sides, an appalling and self-destructive prospect, and would be team merely go through the motions and be picked off contemptuously by a rampant Bournemouth team? Surely their professional pride would not allow that ghastly prospect to come to pass?

I shouldn’t have worried as Brentford rose to the occasion and, totally re-energised, pulled off their most impressive, skilful, determined and passionate performance of the season, and their most important, and proved beyond doubt that they had regained their focus. Whether they were playing for the shirt, themselves, pride, the manager or simply to demonstrate how much they disagree with the owner’s decision is open to question but matters not a jot as Brentford totally overwhelmed Bournemouth and fully merited their three-one victory on the day.

The Gods also decided that we had all suffered enough over the past torrid fortnight and things certainly went our way. Referee Mike Dean gave a performance of sheer Premier League quality, cracking down on our opponents’ niggling and diving. We scored at exactly the right time too with Jonathan Douglas settling nerves by stealing in unnoticed at the back post to convert Alex Prichard’s low centre to round off our first real attack. Bournemouth were reeling as we seized the initiative and never let go for the remainder of the first half. We had regained our touch and played the Brentford way – retaining possession, playing the ball out from the back and probing for openings.

Alan Judge made his long-awaited return from injury and immediately demonstrated how much we had missed his influence. He is a little pocket dynamo whose energy, infectious enthusiasm and ability to see a pass and switch the focus of the attack gave us an edge that we never lost. Alex Prichard too was a man inspired and was touched by genius as Bournemouth couldn’t get near him. He was everywhere, and his work rate and commitment matched his undoubted skill and he was a total inspiration and match-winner with a goal and two assists. Stuart Dallas was given the nod at left back and with the recalled Tony Craig on his right talking him through the match and Judge covering in front of him he rose to the challenge and so frustrated Matt Ritchie that the tricky winger was extremely fortunate not to see red before he was removed for his own protection at the interval.

David Button dominated his area and looked unbeatable but after Jota forced a good low save from Boruc and Pritchard had lobbed a close range chance just wide, Bournemouth equalised well against the run of play when a hopeful ball forward was deflected over Tony Craig by the straining Diagouraga and Pugh scored messily at the second attempt. Would Brentford heads go down? Not a chance, as Dallas immediately played the through ball of the match and set Andre Gray in behind the visitors’ defence. He did everything right, rounded Boruc, kept his head and his angled effort was heading for the unguarded net when Cook appeared seemingly out of a hole in the ground to make an incredible goal-line clearance.

It seemed as if for all Brentford’s efforts they would go into the break level when they deserved far more, but fate smiled on them again. Right on halftime Wilson cynically tripped Judge when the ball had long gone and Alex Prichard’s free kick from over thirty yards was well struck and the ball was moving in the air but it should have been a straightforward save for the keeper, but Boruc had a brainstorm and merely succeeded in flailing the ball into the corner of his own net instead of around the post and Brentford went into the interval with their tails up and the initiative firmly in their grasp.

The second half was a different matter as Bournemouth were stung into action. Substitute right winger Fraser was a tricky customer and tormented the Brentford defence. He combined well with the overlapping Francis and forced Button to push his shot onto the post. That was merely the first of a number of telling saves that the keeper made in order to allow a gritty Brentford team to hold onto their narrow lead. Wilson also lobbed wastefully wide when given a clear sight of an empty net and Brentford put their bodies on the line and defended like heroes with Tarkowski a veritable colossus.

The Bees deservedly weathered the storm and then the tide turned as Bournemouth committed men forward in search of that elusive equaliser and we simply picked them off on the break. Judge went off to a hero’s reception when he had run himself out after an hour but, no matter, Toral was an influential replacement who immediately dominated the midfield. What a prospect that young man is and how I would love us to sign him. Chris Long replaced the tiring Gray and Alan McCormack made his long-awaited return to rampage around the midfield and put even more bite and steel into Brentford’s efforts.

We quite simply have to be the fittest team in the league as we got stronger and faster and more dominant the longer the game went on, and I counted at least seven wonderful chances in the last quarter of the game as we created havoc in the visitors’ defence.  Long’s angled effort was pushed around the post by Boruc who was by now the busiest man on the field as he did his utmost to redeem himself and refute the ringing cries of  “It’s all your fault” from the merciless Ealing Road tricoteuses.

Jota could have scored four in the last few minutes but somehow missed each time. He hit the bar with a screamer and failed twice when he could see the whites of the keeper’s eyes before then hammering another effort inches past the post. Long also got into the act as his deflected drive clanged off the post. Prichard forced an excellent save from the overworked keeper and by now the game was deep into injury time and we all feared that there might yet be a sting in the tail as Bournemouth still retained the quality to hurt us, and in a game of slim margins teams that fail to put away their chances are often punished late on, but not this time as we strode away yet again and Toral’s clever pass put Prichard in space and his hard low cross was turned in exultantly by the ever-willing Long for his first league goal. He was mobbed and deservedly so and victory was ours.

I have written recently about the fears of a rift and disconnect between all the elements connected with the club but yesterday’s victory and the way in which it was achieved has played no small part in bringing us all back together again. Of course we regret how things have turned out over the last fortnight and I desperately wish that we could turn the clock back but we can’t, and it is probably wishful thinking to expect Benham and Warburton to get around a table and put their differences behind them, but what yesterday clearly demonstrated is that wounded though we might appear to be to outsiders, the players are clearly back on board and we still have a chance of achieving our aims this season and reaching the holy grail of the Premier League. Bring on Blackpool!

The Dust Settles – 19/2/15

Yesterday was one of contemplation when Brentford supporters reflected upon and considered the import of the statement issued by the club on Tuesday afternoon and their views differed as to how well they thought the club had handled matters and whether we were all now in a position to put things behind us, move on and concentrate on the football again.

Peter simply hoped that the situation could now settle down:

You have summed up the current situation at the club we both love, and in particular the feelings of the club, its employees and supporters alike. We continue to live in hope and must stay true to our core beliefs around what is best for the long term future of Brentford FC.

Rebel Bee spoke for many when he admitted how conflicted, disappointed and sad he was about the situation and how it had been dealt with:

So after the week from hell and the arrival of a statement finally worthy of the name, we are left in the knowledge that is was indeed Times Journo 1 – BFC 0. That hurts as much as anything that has followed, and the thought of a previously disinterested media dining out on BFC’s shortcomings fills me with rage. 
Whoever leaked the story, if it went down that way, had better stay clear of Griffin Park, they will not be welcome again.

Short lived though it was, the beautiful period is over. Since Mr Rosler departed my bad days at work or troubles elsewhere have been soothed by the magnificent achievements of our club – unified and pulling together. My every moment has been consumed by this fine manager and his team, the growth of Brentford FC, and of course the incredible improvements off the pitch to boot. I honestly thought it could be dynastic, Warbs as our Shankly, Busby or alike. I knew he would move on one day, mad though it sounds only to manage the national team! But it’s all over now, and although I’ll be there as ever cheering on my club, things will never be the same again.

Maybe I’m out of step, old school and lacking the vision and ambition that we need to progress, sorry – I can’t help it. Mark Warburton has been treated shabbily in my eyes and I thought we were better than that.
There seems to be a swing of opinion towards Matthew Benham now, and his money, his club, his ambition etc. Maybe his “Moneyball” formulas and apparent penchant for structure & foreign coaches will pay off, he may be right and I’ll be first in line to commend him if it comes to pass. But for me we had it all, the full package – we were getting there anyway, and now have decided to change tack. 
 He has my gratitude and support – not that he probably needs it, I’ll be a lot more sceptical in future, and I hope the writer of this fine blog is too.

They’ve been caught out and someone needs to provide checks and balances, more so now than ever. Blind faith support for the owner isn’t healthy and if we as supporters form opinion simply through the fear of him bailing out on us, the slippery slope has begun. It would be great to see all of the non playing staff reach out to us fans now and put this to bed, that would go a long way towards bringing us together again.
 So the games come thick and fast and there is all to play for, can Mark Warburton and the team regain focus and get back on track? What happens if they don’t and defeats pile up – not a pleasant scenario for anyone concerned. Our next opponents will help to answer that one, if the Bees turn it on with a packed Griffin Park behind them AFC Bournemouth had better watch out, if not they have all the tools to pull out all the stitches on recent wounds – what then?
 We’ll know soon enough.

John Hirdle too was wrestling with the happenings of the past week and how they had been allowed to come to pass and seemed resigned and cautiously optimistic about the outcome:

As ever you have the situation summed up perfectly. I think the thing I find most difficult to grapple with is why Matthew Benham has chosen this particular time to make these changes to the structure of the club when things were going so well under Mark Warburton and the present system. If we were struggling at the bottom of the table then it would be more understandable. Of course having put in the amount of money into the club he has, Benham has every right to go down whichever future avenue he wishes too and he deserves the trust and support of the fans until he proves to us otherwise. Being the dinosaur I am I can’t say the talk of mathematical modelling and sleep coaches leaves me drooling but who knows? Benham may well be a complete visionary and in three to five years time his success with such methods at Brentford may well have many other English clubs going down the same road.

For the here and now, whether Mark Warburton actually lasts the season out or not, we should all get behind him in the remaining games and show our appreciation of an excellent manager, and as the events of the last week have shown, a man of great integrity also. There will be no shortage of takers for his talents when he becomes available post Brentford, I am sure. The players as always are the key to everything and now we do at least have some clarity on things it is up to them to make the last couple of months of the season exciting. We know they have the ability and quality. The question is with all that has happened will they have the motivation? I guess we will find out Saturday.

Richard Poole from his eyrie in France gave the footballer’s dispassionate viewpoint:

Well, if I read it right the owner is looking to run the running of the club similarly to how we operate in France. I know this system very well as when nearly forty years ago when I signed for second divison club SC Toulon it was the owner who wanted me and not really the coach. Then after six months I got injured and the coach was sacked as for the third year in a row we missed out on promotion by a mere couple of points. So in the end after changing the coach several more times the club finally got promoted in 1983.

But where are SC Toulon today? They exist only in the depths of non league football and the owner’s gamble did not pay off. Though I cannot see this happening to our Brentford I recognise that Matthew Benham, like lots of today’s owners wants more say on the playing side of things and that’s reasonable given that it is their money. How many of the teams in England have a similar system that works? Very few! Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United have strong willed managers who, rightly I feel would not let the owner meddle with the playing side, although I am not suggesting that this is the case at Brentford, but the line is very thin. I have some experience of managing in the lower reaches of non league football here in France many years ago and I am totally old school in my approach. I think that the only thing we Bees can do is to stay behind our team and just hope that it all works out, although like many, I feel it was not just badly handled but quite un-professional and should have been dealt with near the end of the season.

In response to John and Richard I would simply say that things were not planned or meant to have been handled in the manner that transpired. The newspaper leak changed everything and meant that a difficult situation that was being discussed calmly, rationally and slowly behind closed doors between the owner and the manager, and was never meant to go beyond the club until the end of the season became public property and swiftly intensified until it got out of control with the ghastly results that we have all witnessed.

It is also totally unfair to associate Matthew Benham with other interfering, megalomaniac and meddling owners. You all know who they are! He is not doing things on a whim and a prayer or by consulting the runes, totally the opposite. Everything he does is cold, clinical, measured and based on innovation, breaking the mould, best practice, intensive research, data analysis and statistics. He is not accustomed to making mistakes and every Brentford fan will hope that he has got it right again this time.

Someone close to the action remarked to me today that Mark Warburton’s view of life is “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it,” whereas Matthew Benham’s is at entirely the opposite end of the spectrum and is far more akin to “It might not be broken but let’s keep improving it.” Therein lies the difference between the two of them.

Patrick Sutton was far more bullish in his views:

I am amazed at some of the fans’ reactions to this decision and while I understand the support for Mark Warburton I am at a loss as to how and why folk can damn Matthew Benham. For his actions I am behind Benham 100%. To hear fans saying let’s start a petition to get Benham out is outrageous and full of blind ignorance. The matter is now clear and if Mark does not see or agree with Matthew’s philosophy on moving the club continuously forward that is his choice. I get the impression that both had an in-depth heart to heart and though different views were aired, an amicable parting was agreed. Now we as fans must focus on our bright future once again and see that managers like players, as we have witnessed over the last two seasons, come and go almost in a heartbeat.

We are lucky to have a owner who cares about the club, has a long term vision and I’m sure a passion just as big as every other Brentford fan. The only thing I am not sure about is if he should have stayed until the end of the season, and I feel the swift appointment of a new manager would have been the better way for the club although I do see the negative side to this and how it might affect our style of play for the rest of the term. As sad as it is to see this outcome let’s just remember how long we have waited to be in the position we now find ourselves……..Onwards and upwards. Is is not an option…………it’s our destiny.

Thankfully the situation is calmer now that the dust has settled and hopefully the media spotlight and scrutiny will now fall on clubs other than Brentford. Everyone recognises and hails the achievements of Mark Warburton and regrets that he and Matthew Benham have not been able to resolve their philosophical differences and there is a deep sadness that he will be leaving the club. Everybody also recognises Benham as the saviour and lifeblood of the club and trusts him with our future, a trust that he has earned many times already. There is now an uneasy truce between club and supporters and it is hoped that renewed success on the pitch will help bring everybody back together.

The End of the Beginning – 18/2/15

Well the long-awaited statement finally arrived late yesterday afternoon. Brentford supporters have been clamouring for information and clarification from the club ever since Matt Hughes’s bombshell article last Tuesday, which had set the cat among the pigeons by announcing that Matthew Benham had decided to change the management structure at the club and dispense with the services of Mark Warburton. Supporters were confused, angry and disappointed not just at the proposed changes but also because they had been forced to wait for a week until the situation was confirmed. Personally, whilst I welcomed the statement which in its carefully and well drafted nine hundred and twenty-four words gave chapter and verse into the owner’s thinking I thought that it had not arrived late but in reality was three months too early.

I have absolutely no problem with what Matthew Benham is proposing as it demonstrates his vision, openness to change, uniqueness of approach, passion for the club and determination for it to progress and excel. I simply wish that his hand had not been forced prematurely and that the changes could have been announced and implemented as originally intended after the end of the season. Had that been the case then the ensuing uproar could have been handled and managed far better and the fallout would not have been as damaging as has been the case in the last appalling eight days which have seen the club mocked, pilloried and heavily criticised throughout the media and football world and supporters turn on each other. Not just that, but two crucial matches have been lost, we have fallen out of the playoff positions and the players are naturally saddened, angered and confused at what has transpired as well as the lack of clarity.

The statement confirmed that Mark Warburton and David Weir will leave at the end of the season and Sporting Director Frank McParland has been put on immediate gardening leave. Again, their departures, harsh though they might appear, had not been intended to be discussed, formalised and announced until the close season and it remains to be seen if Warburton and Weir can maintain their focus and commitment to a club that they know will shortly dispense with their services and, crucially, manage to re-motivate and inspire the players to climb off the floor, redouble their efforts and ideally maintain our promotion challenge – a tall order indeed.

At least the players now know where they stand and the doubt and uncertainty has been removed. They know that they are playing for their future and for the right to remain at a club that for all the setbacks of the last few days, remains ambitious, progressive and determined to progress further. Getting to the crux of the matter, the players are also well paid and I understand that there is a highly lucrative bonus scheme in place that is worth significant sums to every squad member should we finish at or near the top of the Championship table. There now needs to be a show of unity and togetherness and Mattthew Benham needs to visit the training ground straight away and address the players face to face, stare them in the eyes, discuss his plans with them and persuade them to get back onside. Mark Warburton and David Weir will also be determined to leave on the highest possible note and ideally complete the job that they have both so ably started. They need to convince potential new employers that it is as much their management, coaching and motivational abilities as the structure and system employed at Brentford that has been responsible for the club’s success and at a more basic level there is the natural human reaction of wanting to show the world that Benham has made a massive error in his decision.

Not many Brentford supporters would disagree with the owner that the squad, admirably though it has performed, or even over-performed, needs strengthening both in numbers and quality to cope with tired legs and the pressure of the business end of the season. That opportunity was spurned in January, which, of course, led to the schism between Benham and Warburton and the fateful leak of the news of the owner’s determination to make the changes in both approach and personnel. There is still a final opportunity to bring in loanees and I would hope that a new striker and centre half are at the top of the agenda. Who scouts or selects them now is open to question but the bottom line is that the supporters and players alike would be reinvigorated by a couple of high quality, experienced players who could take the slack off some of the existing squad members who have been visibly wilting under the telling pressure they have experienced. Let’s hope that something is being planned and implemented in time for the visit of Bournemouth and that two of the injured players, Alan Judge and James Tarkowski are also fit to return. The eyes of the world are on Brentford and we need to respond on Saturday.

It is hard to know what to write about the situation facing Mark Warburton. So far forty-two managers have lost their job this season and looking through the list of names and examining their individual records, it seems laughable that a man as obviously successful and gifted as Mark will soon be joining their number. I have written pages of praise about him over the past few months and even described him, accurately, I feel, as “The Renaissance Man of Football.” Without delving too deeply into the stats, his nominations and awards as Manager of the Month and success in getting Brentford over the line last season into the Championship after an interval of over twenty years, his record is unparalleled as he has led to club to wins in fifty-four percent of his matches and the Bees are currently undefeated in seventy-two percent of the games in which he has managed the Bees.

Those figures are quite staggering and yet I am not quibbling with the owner’s decision to move on. Benham knows exactly how and where he wants the club to go and he has rarely been proved wrong in the past. He wishes to remodel the club’s management structure and employ and implement a system rare in the UK but far more common elsewhere in the football world. A Head Coach will be appointed to work alongside a new Sporting Director and he will rely upon a new recruitment structure using a mixture of traditional scouting and other tools including mathematical modelling. Crucially as a key part of the new recruitment structure, the Head Coach will have a strong input in to the players brought in to the Club but not an absolute veto. That, I am sure, was the main sticking point between Benham and Warburton and ensured his departure, given that they apparently disagreed over player recruitment last month and several deals failed to be completed, which brings us full circle.

Mark Warburton will depart with the sincere thanks and gratitude of every Brentford supporter as he has done an outstanding job and he now faces the biggest test of his career with the challenge to ensure that the Brentford players do not merely go through the motions for the remainder of the season.

It was been a horrible week for the club and everybody associated with it and there has been a lot of collateral damage. Now we have to learn the lessons from the mistakes made, lick our wounds, move on and determine never to repeat them. The club also needs to repair the disconnect with the supporters. There is a Brentford style and way of doing things, which appears to have gone by the wayside over the past few days, not I am sure by choice. The club and supporters are generally as one, acting in concert and the two need to be reconciled as only by doing so can we maintain our progress. Matthew Benham’s statistics, formulae and hieroglyphics are crucial to our future, but not nearly as much as the bond between club and fans.

Day Of Reckoning – 17/2/15

Now I know how it must feel to be one of massed crowd of supplicants in St Peter’s Square waiting eagerly for the puff of white smoke that signifies the election of a new pope and I can well identify with their frustration when all they see, instead, is the Fumata Nera, or dark smoke that signifies that the necessary two thirds majority has yet to be achieved.

What’s all this got to do with Brentford FC, you might well ask? Well, along with every other Bees supporter I was hoping to to see on Monday the long awaited statement that promised to bring an end to an appalling week of indecision, muddled thinking and strife at the club that has prevailed ever since The Times revealed the supposed intention of Matthew Benham to replace Mark Warburton as manager of the club at the conclusion of what had, until the publication of Matt Hughes’s fateful article, been an season of phenomenal and exponential progress and success both on and off the field.

Everything turned to dust as the week progressed with no satisfactory explanation or resolution from within the club and and Brentford’s reputation became increasingly sullied with know-it-all commentators throughout the media treating our club as a laughing stock rather than as the ambitious, well run, groundbreaking and united institution that we supporters had thought it to be.

Since last June I have written one hundred and seventy-five articles which have mainly been a paean of praise to the club. Over the course of over two hundred thousand words I have referred time after time to Brentford’s forward thinking, vision, ambition and sense of community, how the club and its supporters connect as one, as well as the groundbreaking partnership of Benham and Warburton.

For the last week I have been doubting myself and my judgement. Did I get it entirely wrong? Recent years had seen a universal sense of wonderment and disbelief as an ugly duckling was transformed into a beautiful and elegant swan. Today I look back at some of the words I have written with bemusement and disbelief as the club that I love and admire is unrecognisable and seems almost to have returned to the bad old days and dark ages.

The last week has been a total and utter shambles, a complete mess entirely of the club’s own making that has, temporarily at least, destroyed the bond and unity between club, players, owner, management and supporters. A bond that had contributed so greatly to our success. A case study of ineptitude, hubris, naivety and stupidity. In years to come I am sure that they will teach Brentfordgate as a case study in how to self-destruct and threaten to destroy something that looked so promising. As Richard Littlejohn would say “You cannot make this up”!!

With the future of the manager up in the air, as well as rumours of disagreements behind the scenes and bungled transfer approaches it was not surprising that the team reacted accordingly with an appallingly tepid and seemingly disinterested performance at the weekend as they visibly disintegrated, and were resoundingly defeated by a Charlton team that had not previously tasted victory for three months. Fans turned on fans, some were in the pro-Benham camp, others pro-Warburton and the reputation of two good men who have both proved in concert to be unparalleled saviours of the club were appallingly and unforgivably vilified by confused and ignorant supporters who should still have known far better.

Immediate remedial action was required before the wound turned septic, and a statement was promised that would ideally set our disturbed minds at rest, take us off life support, out of intensive care and back on the road to recovery. We are still waiting.

I fully realise that after last week’s initial bungled attempt at an explanation that begged more questions than it provided answers, it is crucial that what we are hopefully about to receive is cogent, logical, agreed by all parties and brings closure in such a way as to allow all elements at the club, owner, management team, players and supporters to come together so that we can again feed off each other, regain our unity and trust and even resume our assault on the playoffs. Wishful thinking perhaps but totally necessary if irreparable damage is not to be done.

What made the timing even more crucial for me is the fact that the players return to training today and we need to get them back on message and totally focused on the task at hand rather than on what is happening behind the scenes. Footballers hate uncertainty and they need to know who their manager is and whether he still retains the trust and support of the owner. Only then might they put the last week behind them and be in the right frame of mind to perform to the level that is required and necessary if the season is not to end in disarray, particularly with AFC Bournemouth due to visit us on Saturday.

I wrote the other day of the potential messages that the statement could convey and unless Matthew Benham is a total magician who can conjure a new manager plus coaching and support staff out of his hat this morning then there is really only one option that seems likely and practicable or indeed less damaging than the alternatives.

Like many others I felt that given Saturday’s spineless surrender at The Valley it would be necessary if appallingly callous for Mark Warburton to be sacrificed immediately, but now I believe that that would serve no purpose and only cause far more problems than it solved. The only way forward is for there to be a firm statement, backed up by a visit today to the training ground by the owner, that states clearly and categorically that whilst he and Warburton have regrettably agreed to part company once the manager’s contract expires, they have discussed and sorted their immediate differences and are both totally committed to working together for the remainder of the season to ensure that our impetus is restored and that we finish in as high a position as possible. In that regard there will be an immediate influx of a couple of loan signings that will bolster the squad for the tough games that lie ahead ahead and help us maintain our challenge in and around the top of the league.

Just as the Roman Emperors gave their subjects circuses and gladiatorial shows, we supporters need to have our minds distracted from the current hiatus by the arrival of a centre half and a striker, and not more callow eighteen year olds still wearing their pimples with pride, but a couple of battle hardened and probably expensive professionals who will add value and contribute from the start of their stay at the club. Not easy to find, I grant you, but that is what a scouting department is for.

The season is balanced on a tightrope and can go either way. We can plummet to our doom or we can hold on tight and maintain our balance and equilibrium. I expect to know which way we will go within the next day or so.

Hopeless! – 15/2/15

Over two thousand Brentford supporters travelled to The Valley on Saturday afternoon by car, bus, train and boat all full of hope, if not expectation, that the Bees could put the troubles of the past week behind them and turn on a morale boosting display. But the only team whose confidence was boosted was Charlton who ended their long run without a win and strolled to an easy and comfortable three goal victory against a lethargic, dispirited and well under-par Brentford team.

Before the game the talk was that the mood in the camp was positive and confident and that the team was both determined and well prepared to put on a performance that would demonstrate their support for beleaguered manager Mark Warburton and ensure that their playoff charge was not derailed. So much for good intentions and brave words. The body language did not look right from the off and a well below strength team lacking the presence of Jake Bidwell, James Tarkowski and of course, Alan Judge, started slowly and soon got worse.

Brentford’s success this season has been based on a high tempo pressing game with the ball moved quickly and accurately from side to side of the pitch, maintaining possession for long periods whilst probing for an opening and when one appears for the pace to be increased suddenly so that we can take advantage. What we saw today was a team playing without belief and seemingly going through the motions. Their confidence and pace had been sapped as if by an unseen force as the ball was turned over with monotonous regularity, Gray was starved of support and resorted to niggly fouls, Pritchard and Jota were peripheral influences and Douglas and Toumani probed but to little effect. But for Button Charlton would have scored  far more than their one first half effort as the defence in front of him creaked ominously. Moses seemed to be wearing lead boots so seldom did he forage forward and he was often left trailing and left gaps in defence, Craig and Dean were willing but porous and poor Nico Yennaris was the sacrificial lamb at left back where he was hung out to dry with little support either in front or beside him.

No shots on target was a fair end result for an anaemic and witless first half performance and thankfully the tempo increased after the interval but although we maintained possession better and even ventured into the final third more often, we never threatened and Charlton scored another soft goal on the first occasion they threatened. Jota and Douglas seemed to bicker as we prepared to kick off and the heads went down even further. We huffed and puffed and improved significantly when the invisible Jota as well as Diagouraga and Dallas were replaced by Long, Toral and the excellent Tommy Smith in a rare triple substitution which demonstrated the manager’s displeasure with what he was watching on the pitch.

Charlton panicked when they realised that they were on the verge of their first win for three months and did their best to help us by funnelling back into two banks of four and invited us onto them. Douglas and Pritchard forced comfortable saves from Henderson before we gave away a comic cuts goal in injury time which simply highlighted how poor we were on the day. All three goals were totally preventable and the defence hardly covered themselves in glory, Dean in particular being responsible for two of the goals with Craig running him close in ineptitude. This was not a Brentford performance that we witnessed yesterday – or certainly not one that I had seen since the dog days of the Andy Scott regime. We looked listless, rudderless and played without passion, desire or organisation and our customary sense of togetherness seemed to have disappeared as players did not run to support each other, create space or help their colleagues out.

Charlton are to be congratulated as they fully deserved their win but it is not sour grapes when I say that they were a poor team who we made look far better than they are. What does that make us then? Hopefully a good team having a bad day at the office, weakened by injuries and suspensions and a lack of depth in the squad rather than a team whose spirit has been broken by the undercurrents and uncertainty that has reigned at the club since Tuesday when The Times broke the news of Matthew Benham’s supposed decision to replace Mark Warburton at the end of the season. Hopefully this was a one-off rather than conclusive evidence that things are broken beyond repair.

So where do we go from here? That depends totally on what is said in the club statement that is expected to be released on Monday. Clarity, certainty, harmony and closure are needed if the club is not to be torn apart by the confusion and feeling of total negativity that currently reigns. Nobody at the club has covered himself in glory if the media stories, rumours and scuttlebutt circulating throughout the ground yesterday are correct. As sole owner, Matthew Benham is fully entitled to to change the management structure as, when and how he wants, however he was surely totally naive or badly advised if he expected his alleged exploratory and preliminary discussions with potential replacements for Warburton to remain confidential. Whoever leaked the story to The Times has also succeeded in totally destabilising the club and holing it beneath the waterline. As that infamous statement asserted on Tuesday, football is a village and it is very hard to keep matters secret, as has been proved this week.

As for Mark Warburton, given what he has achieved since he took charge, it is harsh indeed that it would appear that his contract is not going to be renewed, but there has to be a reason for this decision that on the face of it appears to be bizarre in the extreme. Has there been a breakdown in the trust and mutuality that seemed to mark his relationship with Benham? Who knows if Warburton flouted the owner’s instructions and refused to rubber stamp the signing of a number of foreign imports during the transfer window or why deals seemed to go sour at the last moment. He should know by now that Matthew Benham expects to get his own way and can generally back up his decisions with the statistics to prove his case. Did he also reject the offer of additional specialised coaching assistance? That is yet another relevant and unanswered question given how poor our set piece delivery was at Charlton.

The facts though speak for themselves. We are on the slide and the squad is currently weakened by fatigue, injuries and suspension and is sorely stretched. Yesterday the acknowledged achilles heel of lack of cover or enhanced quality at left back, centre half and striker came back to haunt us as Dean and Craig played as if running through treacle wearing gumboots, Yennaris was out of his depth and Gray, surly and isolated. If every Brentford supporter, and, it would seem, the owner can see where the problems lies and the funds exist to bring in quality rather than quantity and the right players were available and willing to come to Brentford, why spurn the opportunity? Another question that needs answering.

We brought in four players in the transfer window, but none of them have helped us, Laurent is one for the future, O’Connell has been sent out on loan when perhaps he might well have been better served remaining at the club, Macleod has not even trained with the squad yet through injury and Long is really not the answer. I am excited by all three of our permanent new additions but they all appear to have been signed with next season in mind when we desperately need new blood now.

I fully understand when Warburton states that McCormack, Bidwell, Macleod, Judge and Tarkowski will all soon be available for selection but the squad also needs enhancing with more quality as well as more numbers if we are to maintain our challenge. The loan window is now open and perhaps we will look to reinforce central defence and up front over the next few weeks but the question then has to be asked who will be in charge?

There are, as far as I can, see five possible outcomes which could be announced next week in a statement which obviously needs to come jointly from Benham and Warburton:

  1. Matthew Benham changes his mind and declares that he is going to renew Mark Warburton’s contract
  2. Benham and Warburton state that no decision about the manager will be made until the end of the season
  3. Mark Warburton will be staying at the club when his contract expires but in another capacity
  4. It is announced that Mark Warburton will be leaving when his contract expires but everyone remains fully committed to working together until the end of the season
  5. An agreement has been made to settle Mark Warburton’s contract and he is leaving immediately

Please let me know if I have missed something out but I have sat on the sofa with a glass of Pinot Noir racking my brains throughout most of Saturday evening trying to come up with every possible permutation and nothing else presented itself to me.

Numbers one and two are total non-starters and three seems highly unlikely, all for reasons that I have given at length in previous articles over the past few days. That leaves numbers four and five. Leaving The Valley today in the slough of despond, I was certain that it would be better for everyone if there was an immediate parting of the way as, cruel though it would be, that might well be the only way to bring club, owner, players, management and supporters back onto the same page. Now having listened to Mark Warburton’s positive and eminently sensible post match interview, I am not so sure.

Frankly I do not believe that anyone at the club yet knows what will be the outcome and I fully suspect that there will be talks and negotiations going on throughout the day when emotions have hopefully cooled after Saturday’s fiasco. Hopefully Saturday saw the nadir of our fortunes and our reputation, both of which have taken a massive battering over the past few days. I am totally sanguine about our mid and long term future, but it is the next few weeks and months that worry me, and I am sure, every other Brentford supporter. When fans are arguing vehemently with each other over the best way forward and some are even openly questioning Benham’s bona fides it is time to draw a line and end this madness.