I worked late last night and then, just to cap it all, had to sit through a boring committee meeting that dragged on interminably. I kept sneaking looks at my watch and after a couple of earlier failed attempts that brought down a cascade of dirty looks on me from my colleagues who seemed more than happy to spend the entire evening chewing the fat, I managed to slip out of a side door almost undetected accompanied by a few last gasps and hisses of disapproval, and with a sigh of relief, rushed home where a far more urgent and pressing appointment awaited me.
It was almost kickoff time before I was able to switch on Bees Player and my Herculean efforts were immediately rewarded when I was able to catch the last moments of the prematch build up so expertly provided by Mark Burridge and his guest summariser Ben Burgess. Ben has established a niche for himself as a lucid, knowledgeable and entertaining contributer to the coverage of Brentford matches in his native North West of England, and, as always, he did not disappoint. Big Ben Burgess, or Triple B, as he became known, almost singlehandedly transformed our fortunes when, as a callow and unknown teenager, Steve Coppell brought him in on loan from Blackburn Rovers in August 2001. Finally we had a dual threat up front and someone to take the weight off Lloyd Owusu who had been forced to plough a lonely furrow for far too long.
Scott Partridge, so elusive and effective on his arrival, had been found out at the higher level and his threat snuffed out, and, as for Mark McCammon, his signing was an aberration – another bad joke inflicted upon us by Ron Noades. I was just this morning speaking about McCammon on the telephone with a friend of mine, a fellow Brentford fanatic, who interrupted my stream of consciousness with the terse, pithy and heartfelt description of him as “that useless lump!” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Poor Mark certainly looked the part and had pace, power and strength in abundance, but whilst he was certainly an athlete, he was never an effective footballer at our level of the game. The ball clanged off him, he always arrived just a millisecond too late to capitalise on chances and for those of you who wonder how lethal he was with the ball in the air, I would just refer you to his glaring missed headed chances in the Cup Final against Port Vale, and even more crucially late on at QPR when he managed to bounce a simple late headed chance down into the ground and over the bar from almost under it. If that had gone in, as it surely should have done, then our history might have been rewritten as we would only have needed to draw that fateful last game of the season against Reading. He tried hard and never shirked, but whilst the flesh was willing he never justified the fee reputed to have been paid for him, and we would surely have been far better served by the elusive Trevor Benjamin who teased us by seeming to be on the verge of signing for us for the best part of a season but somehow always evaded our desperate clutches.
Ben Burgess made us all stand up and take notice when he announced his arrival with a precocious and beautifully taken goal to clinch victory against Port Vale with a twenty-yarder curled perfectly into the bottom corner, and he immediately looked the part. He was well built, strong, powerful, deadly in the air and impossible to knock off the ball. But he was far more than a mere bruiser as he had a subtle left foot that could open a can of peas and he also had an excellent eye for a pass. He formed a deadly partnership up front with Owusu, and but for Noades’s parsimony we would surely have obtained automatic promotion. Coppell was forced to manage with one hand tied behind his back and late on in the 2001/02 season had to sell important squad members in Paul Gibbs and Gavin Mahon. Most crucially, he was apparently not allowed to bring in a loan replacement when Burgess damaged his hamstring when playing for Eire Under 21s. Echoes indeed of the fateful injury suffered by Owusu when playing in a friendly for Ghana against an obscure German team which cost us his services in the promotion run-in in 2006 and contributed heavily to yet another promotion choke.
After incurring his injury, Burgess was little more than a passenger, forced to limp through the remainder of the season, playing like a stork on one leg. His goal threat was seriously diminished and he scored only once more – unfortunately at the wrong end, deflecting a free kick into his own net in the Playoff final against Stoke City. Once promotion was lost our squad was dismantled and the next couple of years were a desperate struggle, ironically with McCammon becoming our number one striker by default, initially partnered with another young loanee in Rowan Vine, an indication of how far we had fallen so quickly.
As for BBB, there was never a chance of our signing him on a permanent basis and he went on to have a career at Stockport, Hull and Blackpool that, whilst decent enough, due to a series of niggling injuries never touched the heights that once looked so likely. He came close to notching twenty goals for us and left us with some indelible memories, in particular that unforgettable, acrobatic overhead volleyed goal in our televised four-nil victory against Brighton, where he demonstrated an almost balletic beauty that totally belied his bulk.
As for last night, Burgess revelled in Brentford’s skill on the ball as well as their dogged determination not to be defeated despite conceding two goals which were largely due to poor defending, lack of concentration and giving the ball away cheaply in dangerous areas of the pitch. He would have been particularly impressed by Jota’s delightful solo equalising goal when he ran unopposed over half the length of the pitch with Long’s clever decoy run creating the space and room for the Spaniard to slot the ball unerringly into the corner of the net from just outside the penalty area. On second thoughts I can’t imagine Ben ever choosing to run fifty yards if there was any other viable alternative! Ben would also have taken great pleasure in Brentford’s other two goals last night. Chris Long provided further evidence of his determination to shoot on sight and received his just reward when his shot was deflected over the helpless keeper. Substitute Andre Gray scored the winner with a close range predatory finish from Jota’s half-saved shot and proved that he was Johnny-on-the-Spot for the second match running.
Last night’s hard-fought three-two victory has given a massive boost to our Playoff aspirations and will have restored confidence after the disappointment of last Saturday. All in all I had a great night’s listening at home with the exception of my disappointment at the slovenly early goal conceded and I had barely finished celebrating Long’s equaliser when, given the presence of my wife in the room, I had to stifle my fury at the concession of a second goal immediately afterwards. But all’s well that ends well and there is now everything to play for as we enter the home stretch, and victory on Saturday against Millwall is a prerequisite given that Ipswich and Wolves both won last night and are hot on our heels. Bolton’s tattooed striker Craig Davies has never been a particular favourite of mine, and he went even further down in my estimation last night when he missed a point blank header that would have given his team a last minute equaliser at Ipswich. He proved far less deadly in front of goal last night than he had been when he scored unerringly against us last year into an empty net from way out on the right wing. That being said it is simply up to Brentford to keep on the front foot and win as many of their games as they can without paying too much attention to our rivals as they hopefully keep taking points off each other.
As for Ben Burgess, it was such a pleasure to listen to him and last night brought back so many splendid memories of his past performances. Bob Taylor shared many of the same attributes as Ben. But with the exception of Marcello Trotta who possesses some of his languid skills, we have seen nobody quite like him since he left us thirteen years ago. BBB Mark Two would be a magnificent addition to our ranks next season.