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?

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16 thoughts on “Voices Of Experience – 24/2/15

  1. Thank you for another good read. Tonight’s game will be my 56 years since first game. Age brings longing for past joys,can’t change that. Just seeing that picture of Chic Brodie yday made me emotional. Nowadays I am cynical about most things in life,especially politicians, but with my club I have to trust and hope. I expressed my unease some time ago and the taking of our shares was proof in my mind that its not about MB,who has his heart and passion in right place,its about the apparatus that surrounds him. They are all in it for business, not me or people like me. The only thing that will never change is my love for those we ho wear that shirt.

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  2. Larry, as you mention my GPG user name in your comment I’ll just clarify my references to the Five Year Plan for BFC that Donald Kerr mentioned in his ‘Day in the Life of a BFC Director’ articles.
    Donald actually wrote ‘We are in the midst of developing a long term strategy for the Club………’ and that is how I have understood it.
    The very last BFC board meeting that I attended before being asked to step down was a full session devoted to ‘Strategy’.
    In my day this used to be known as:
    a) The CEO’s ‘to do list’……. before it became fashionable to call it:
    b) ‘Business Plan for the Future’……. and now it seems to be:
    c) Strategy Plan’
    There is nothing new under the sun and just the titles change to whatever happens to be the current ‘in’ phrase.
    The point that I was making in an earlier comment is that many of us are finding it difficult to articulate on exactly the point MB and MW diverge on the way that BFC should be run in the future and the MB vision must have been committed to in the Strategy Plan for year 2015-16. Beyond that I know no more than you and the second official statement makes it clear that the proposals to dispense with the services of MW and DW at the end of the season came from the BFC board (including I assume the Bees United representatives on the BFC board) and were approved by MB. This I think we can conclude evolved from the Strategy Plan which was certainly in an embryo stage last April/May and I would have thought been close to finalising by now.

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  3. Sorry NLB – I got my ‘facts’ here:

    FC Barcelona – Football club

    Futbol Club Barcelona, also known as Barcelona and familiarly as Barça, is a professional football club, based in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Wikipedia

    Manager: Luis Enrique

    Location: Barcelona

    League: La Liga

    Arena/Stadium: Camp Nou

    Training ground: Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper

    Nicknames: Barça, Barcelona, Blaugrana

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  4. Thanks Alan (abee):
    ‘Business Plan for the Future’ – ‘Strategy Plan’.
    Manager – Head Coach
    E-e-ther, aye-ther.
    Tomay-to – Tomah-to.
    It’s only a name – not a revolution.

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  5. Whether Luis Enrique is a head coach or a manager, I think both of the people you have quoted make excellent points.

    Just one small comment about the value of a purely statistical and mathematical approach working in the world of finance and banking: well, you just need to look at the story of LTCM and the more recent sub-prime meltdown to see that it doesn’t work that way there either.

    LTCM felt that they had covered their positions, and used complex mathematical modelling to caclulate that whilst they were taking on vast amounts of debt, only a once-in-a-thousand year event would sink them. Well it happened, within just three or four years. The mathematical models didn’t take into account the fact that the market is composed of people who don’t all necessarily behave in a perfectly rational manner, and also that LTCM themselves were also beginning to skew the market. Put a tenner on the 3:30 at Kempton and you’re not influencing anyone: stick £100,000 on and you’ve significantly affected the market (in their case, off-balance sheet assets of over USD1 trillion). So they crashed and burned. But that’s just one company.

    Then we’ve had the ‘masters of the universe’ episode, where again complex derivatives were created by mathematical geniuses to spread the risk of dodgy but potentially profitable investments, and then tranched and re-tranched in all three dimensions so that no one knew what the real content of their assets were, If anyone did bother to look, it boiled down to complex statistical formulae with lots of Greek characters which they didn’t understand. So they trusted the ratings agencies who gave these instruments A+ to AAA ratings, Unfortunately, the ratings agencies were no more capable of decyphering the formulae than they were. They piled in – it seemed like money for old rope, which only encouraged the original lenders to take on even more risk.The paper value of the assets became ever more disconnected from the actual contents, which held more and more bad debt. Inevitably, the chickens came home to roost, and everyone suddenly discovered that their prized family heirlooms were just so much fool’s gold. In this case, the hit was just so much harder and after seven years we haven’t yet recovered.

    What’s this got to do with Brentford? Well, hopefully not much. But, as I’ve said in the past, statistics work on the basis of percentages and multiple bets. If you increase your chances from 30 to 50 percent, say, by more and better information, then you’ll win out, in the end. But there’s no guarantee of any particular result, especially when you’re dealing with flesh and blood. You may use whatever training or statistical techniques you like to improve your chances overall, but ultimately, once the flag drops and the 3:30 at Kempton starts, or Brentford kick off the season, you’re reliant on flesh and blood.

    Rather than spread the risk, MB has put all his eggs into the Brentford basket. I hope it holds a Frankel or a Desert Orchid – but you never can tell.

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  6. There is a problem with statistics, which is that either people don’t know how to use them, or people misuse them to prove what they want to prove. For those people who really understand statistics (I don’t quite include myself), they are really powerful and if used properly can provide real insights. Given that Mr. Benham has made a fortune out of statistics, one can assume he is one of the latter.

    If we get to the premiership, then our chances of competing with the big boys as an equal is pretty limited, and so many clubs have crashed and burned after getting to the top tier.

    Trying something different in order to compete with a smaller budget seems to me to be a sensible idea. If we don’t understand it yet, then that’s fine because neither do the competition. It’s a shame about Mark Warburton, because he is a really good leader and plays a blinder on and off the field, but if we got promoted and then he got whisked away with an offer he could not refuse, while we are fighting relegation, what then?

    We have been successful because of continuity, I think that is what they are trying to do again, but with a different model because we have risen faster than expected. Given that I go back as far as the Terrible Twins, I think we should just wait and see, these are exciting times at last!

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  7. Larry’s point is a good one, in that the new structure is essentially just like the one that we have minus the player veto. “Continental” implies a few European faces will be involved, something I suspect MB has a particular penchant for – but what else is different? It certainty doesn’t future proof us against key staff moving on to further their careers or offer security in succession planning. Or does it?

    I think we’ve all been bamboozled by all the fancy talk about structure, planning and analysis – all of which have their part to play – but in the end it comes down to people and they are often unpredictable.

    Maybe my pea brain just can’t grasp it and sacrificing our very own “special one” will all be worth it.

    I like what Swansea are doing, need to investigate this further – as there is no reason that we cannot emulate them.

    Seriously though, if the unexpected really happened and MW / MB guided us to promotion in the next months – could we honestly still let MW go?

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  8. well we are heading for a new approach like here in France which i will say has never really worked thou France won a world cup who was the last champions cup winner in France Marseille years ago Knowing both system head coach or manger i go for Manger just look at English clubs record in europe and thou i know we have a Coach for the England team we won nothing since 1966 .Well i just like any fan just keep my fingers crossed and cheer the team on thou as i said early in the season i would be hard to keep MW and i wonder if this is what the owner was thinking as well and greville you chose just the right season to start this blog and thanks for everything at least now i can see more about my Brentford

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  9. Was Bill Gorman bald or did he have a skin condition ?
    This whole saga has overtones to me of that wonderful team we had in the 50’s. Captain Ron Greenwood got into a pissing match with manager Jackie Gibbons . Then that beautiful team playing ultra modern winning football for the times was broken up and started losing . Sad Ending .
    Stats do have their place but just to put a Bee in your Bonnet. Dallas Cowboys decided that the right players to have were those whose stats meet the best stats for each individual position .Which policy they duly carried out ! The result from being one of the best teams in the NFL they stumbled to being one of the worst .
    Just saying .
    I saw Scott , Ernie Muttit , Leslie Smith , Wilkins dad [ also a smart inside-forward and England cap ]before he was shipped out to become a Desert Rat chasing Rommel . Chisholm [Ferocious centre-half ] who could hardly bend his knees having been burnt and scarred when rescued from his destroyed tank.
    Many happy memories from behind the goal at the Ealing Road end.
    UP The BEES.

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