The New Millennium began with Brentford desperately looking for a new goalkeeper. Andy Woodman had not been the success that we had expected and was on his way out of the club and Jimmy Glass was no more than a short term stopgap. Ron Noades certainly pulled a rabbit out of the hat and bemused us all when the identity of the new goalkeeper was announced. Noades apparently followed the recommendation of Hermann Hreidarsson and signed his Icelandic International colleague Olafur Gottskalksson from Hibernian. Tall, slender and athletic, he had an exceptional first season before suffering a chronic shoulder injury which affected his confidence and mobility and he rapidly lost form, went walkabout on several occasions, conceding costly late goals which threatened to becalm our promotion drive and he was unceremoniously dropped and replaced by young Paul Smith. He retired late in 2002 but reappeared a couple of years later at Torquay and made a surprise return to Griffin Park in the notorious Leon Constantine hat-trick game on Boxing Day 2004 before fading away and later receiving a couple of prison sentences for violence back in his native Iceland.
Paul Smith first came to our attention playing as a young unknown trialist for Crawley against the Bees and soon after he signed for us. He made a massive impact replacing the injured Gottskalksson against Southend in the LDV Vans Area Final when he made a series of brave and brilliant saves against Southend. Ironically he conceded six goals at Swansea on his full debut but he soon proved that he was an exceptional young goalkeeper in the making once he took over as first choice in January 2002. He was calm and unflustered and scouts were soon sniffing around him. Given the club’s financial woes his departure was a foregone conclusion and it was simply a question of getting the highest possible fee for him. Eventually Southampton offered £250,000 plus a series of lucrative add-ons that barely came to fruition as he failed to seize his opportunity on the South Coast, moved onto Nottingham Forest and ended up at Southend United, and what looked at one time likely to be a glittering career ended in anticlimax. Smith made a glorious return to Brentford when he played us seemingly single-handedly in a FA Cup Third Round replay early in 2013 and more than earned the standing ovation that he received.
Alan Julian was the obvious replacement for Smith as the former Junior had impressed in his few opportunities, including one incredible match-winning performance at Rushden & Diamonds but he was far too erratic and inconsistent to make the position his own and eventually embarked on a long career in the lower divisions and upper echelons of non-league football that has just seen him winning the Conference South title with Bromley.
Wally Downes settled on another untried youngster in Stuart Nelson and this time the gamble paid off. Nelson made an unwanted impact on his debut, seeing red for a foul outside his penalty area at Brighton but he soon made the jersey his own and went on to concede an excellent 1.32 goals per game throughout his stay at the club. At first glance Nelson really did not look the part with his shirt perpetually out of his shorts and eagerness to engage with opposition supporters when he was barracked. He had his weaknesses and often came flying out of his goal to little effect. He was not the best in dealing with crosses and his kicking often defied belief with a constant series of shanks and slices into touch. But for all his shortcoming and eccentricities he was reliable and more than got the job done. He was agile and brave and it was rare that he let in a soft goal. His temperament was sound and he scored a crucial penalty kick in a shootout at Swindon and also had a goal controversially ruled out when his long clearance found the net at his former club, Doncaster Rovers. Nelson was a favourite of Martin Allen for whom he also played at Notts County and Gillingham, where he remains to this day.
Josh Lennie made his one and only Bees appearance as a halftime substitute in a long-forgotten LDV Trophy game against MK Dons before drifting into non-league. He memorably describes himself thus on Twitter: “London born & raised washed up ex-pro footballer for Brentford, Wimbledon and Chester, now full-time coach and scout in Connecticut.”
Ademola Bankole, a giant Nigerian international keeper who had previously played at Crewe Alexandra, was brought in as Goalkeeping Coach and also played a few games as a back-up for Nelson. He was tall, spider-like and gangly and, for a coach, worryingly seemed to have no appreciation or understanding of where his penalty area started and ended. He memorably punched away a cross when jumping way outside his area and somehow escaped a red card against Nottingham Forest and was thankfully not seen too often again in the first team.
Clark Masters was given the opportunity to replace the suspended and then injured Stuart Nelson at the start of the 2006/07 season and it was a case of too much too soon as he was patently unready for his premature promotion and leaked goals like a sieve. He played well on his debut against Blackpool but luck was never on his side as he suffered a harsh sending off against Gillingham and conceded seven goals despite impressing when replacing the sent-off Simon Brown at Peterborough. He proved to be out of his depth and his once-promising career never recovered and he soon dropped into non-league football where he remains today. Had he been given more time to develop then who knows how his career might have panned out. We might even have had another star on our hands.
2006/07 was an appalling season which culminated in a fully deserved relegation. By Christmas 2006 it was plainly obvious in which direction the team was irrevocably headed and Scott Fitzgerald tried to plug the gap in goal by signing Nathan Abbey from Torquay. He was exactly what we needed – calm and reliable, uninspired but competent and someone who rarely made an unforced error. He performed excellently and conceded a mere 1.25 goals per game despite having an awful defence in front of him. Despite his efforts he was released at the end of the season and his replacement did little to inspire confidence.
Simon Brown had started out at Spurs and had several years as first choice at Colchester United before moving to Scotland where he played for Hibernian. He was the second goalkeeper to join the Bees from the Edinburgh club but he was never the keeper that Oli Gottskalksson had been and his stay was undistinguished. He rarely looked the part, losing his place to loanee Ben Hamer before being offloaded on loan to Darlington. Hamer arrived on the eve of the season from Reading when Brown suffered a late injury and he was to have three loan spells at Griffin Park making seventy-five league appearances in total. Confident to the point of cockiness he played a massive part in the Championship winning team of 2008/09, missing only one game. He dominated his area, had a vast prehensile reach and kicked the ball huge distances. It came as a surprise when his own poor judgement and recklessness cost him a red card, and the Bees a defeat in a televised FA Cup tie at Barrow. He was also the only Brentford player to successfully hit the crossbar in Soccer AM’s Crossbar Challenge. Ben returned for a third loan spell in 2010 as part of the beauty parade of goalkeepers auditioned by Andy Scott but his late arrival for a midweek match against AFC Bournemouth provided Scott with the excuse he needed to play his Cup goalkeeper Richard Lee in the league and Hamer drifted out of contention. He subsequently had a good spell at Charlton and is now at Premier League Leicester sporting a quite ridiculous bushy beard!
We are nearly at the end of our journey which will be concluded in a day or so.