The fallout from the QPR affair in 1967 left Brentford in a parlous financial position which resulted in a series of drastic cuts and the adoption of the new motto – Economy with Efficiency.
Attendances had plummeted, sponsorship, hospitality and merchandising revenues were unheard of and nonexistent and we relied totally on the income generated from gate money, director loans and the begging bowl.
Multitasker supreme, Jimmy Sirrel, took on the unique role of Manager/Coach/Trainer/Scout and was left with a squad of thirteen players with no reserve or junior teams. Balding striker Denis Edwards did become the club’s first ever loan signing but when we tried to make his move permanent, Portsmouth’s asking price of five thousand pounds was far too rich for us and he joined Aldershot instead.
Stringent economies ensured that the overall debt was slowly whittled down and with the side struggling for results and reeling from the body blow of losing to non league Guildford City in the FA Cup, twelve thousand pounds was scraped together to bring in Ron Fenton and Allan Mansley – a sum recouped when John Docherty was sold to Reading. The priority was simply survival with results on the field of far less importance.
1968/69 saw the emergence of Mansley as our own version of George Best and bigger clubs began to take notice of him. A large fee was in prospect before opponents, outclassed by his pace and effervescence slowed him down the only way they could, by kicking him, and he was never the same player again. George Dobson was another promising youngster whose career was blighted by injury after looking like he had a bright future.
A run to the Third Round of the Football League Cup raised spirits and put some cash into the coffers and with another injury crisis looming, ten thousand pounds was found from somewhere to bring in Arsenal winger Gordon Neilson. He had played at the top level and was tricky and a goal threat, but failed to establish himself and did not stay long at the club. Not the best use of the funds made available.
The cuts were having a beneficial effect with an eighteen thousand pound profit achieved, but at a cost given that Brentford entered the new decade still boasting a squad of only fourteen players. We might have been short in numbers but with the likes of Jackie Graham, Chic Brodie, Gordon Phillips, Alan Hawley, Bobby Ross and Peter Gelson, we were long in character, loyalty, grit and determination. Things slowly improved on the pitch under a talented manager in Frank Blunstone, with promotion just missed in 1970, a wonderful run to the fifth round of the FA Cup the following year and then a return to the Third Division in 1972.
The Man From Uncle, former manager Billy Gray’s young nephew, John Richardson, raised a welcome ten thousand pounds when he left for Fulham and twelve thousand pounds was invested in the elegant Roger Cross, he of the white boots, long throw and venomous shot, who more than justified his fee and was eventually sold for thirty thousand pounds, again to Fulham, who were happy to pick off our best players.
But old habits died hard when, despite scoring freely throughout a massively successful loan spell, the directors were content to allow Alex Dawson to return to Brighton when personal terms could not be agreed with the burly striker – a shortsighted decision in the extreme.
Stewart Houston was well known to Frank Blunstone from their time together at Chelsea and the fifteen thousand pounds invested in him, a massive sum that was only raised with difficulty after much discussion, was entirely justified when he moved back from striker to full back and was signed by Manchester United in December 1973 for a club record fifty thousand pound fee and went on to play for Scotland.
Brentford also hit the jackpot when the board decided to back manager Frank Blunstone’s judgement and paid an initial seven hundred and fifty pounds – chicken feed even by Brentford’s standards – on a tall, raw striker playing for Wimbledon in the Southern League. John O’Mara took time to settle down and initially looked awkward, clumsy and ungainly, but the ugly duckling turned into a swan by dint of his own hard work and Blunstone’s coaching ability.
His ability to hang in the air, his power and subtle skills on the ground led to a twenty-seven goal season and promotion back to the third tier. Instead of investing for the future, the board reverted to type and a few weeks into the next season, just as the Bees looked like they were beginning to find their feet in the new division, O’Mara was ludicrously sold to fellow Third Division Blackburn Rovers for a paltry fifty thousand pounds, much to the dismay of manager and supporters alike – a disastrous and myopic decision that set the club back years, particularly when his replacement, Stan Webb, signed for a not insignificant ten thousand pounds, despite a decent goalscoring record at his former clubs, Middlesbrough and Carlisle, proved to be a total damp squib.
With relegation looming on the horizon the board finally relented and paid around twenty-five thousand pounds to bring back Roger Cross and sign tricky winger Barry Salvage from QPR – too little – too late as the Bees fell straight back down to the bottom division and were almost forced to seek re-election the following season. Money was found to sign Dave Simmons, Willie Brown and Terry Johnson who all did well for the club, although Brown was mystifyingly sold to Torquay at a time when he was still scoring freely for the Bees.
But otherwise the cheque book was firmly locked away as austerity ruled again at Brentford in the mid-70’s until new manager John Docherty arrested the rot and a club record twenty-five thousand pounds was lavished in March 1976 on Andy McCulloch, an injury ravaged striker from Oxford United suffering from bad knees.
It took almost a year to get him properly fit but Andy eventually proved to be a talismanic signing as he formed a deadly fifty-eight goal Little and Large partnership with Steve Phillips – himself a four thousand pound giveaway from Northampton Town. McCulloch was eventually sold for a club record fee of sixty thousand pounds to Jack Charlton’s resurgent Sheffield Wednesday team, a figure that was far too low for a player of his ability, and less than Wednesday were actually prepared to pay for him if the Bees, as always, happy to cash in, had negotiated far harder than they apparently did.
Bill Dodgin built a team that won promotion in 1977/78 through playing exuberant and entertaining attacking football. He had a real eye for a player and built his team for a song. Playmaker Dave Carlton cost a mere three thousand pounds, stalwarts Paul Shrubb and Doug Allder were free transfers and only Len Bond (eight thousand pounds), Barry Tucker (ten thousand pounds) and Pat Kruse (twenty thousand pounds – a club record fee for a defender) cost real money. The sale of goal machine, Gordon Sweetzer for thirty thousand pounds to Cambridge United midway through the promotion season, went a long way towards balancing the books, but we shrugged off his loss and maintained our impetus.
Chairman Dan Tana was prepared to support his manager and as the Bees struggled to cope with the higher level Dodgin was permitted to make a record double transfer swoop with fifty-eight thousand pounds being spent on defender Jimmy McNichol, who cost a new club record fee of thirty-three thousand pounds from Luton Town, and striker Dean Smith from Leicester City. McNichol was a tough defender with a powerful long range shot who performed consistently over a number of years at the club but Smith flattered to deceive, never made the most of his abundant talent, fell out with Dodgin’s replacement, Fred Callaghan and eventually died tragically young in 2009.
The loss of McCulloch was a serious blow as he was bizarrely replaced by Lee Holmes, a part-timer from Enfield who unsurprisingly never really looked the part and it was not until March 1980 that the cheque book came out again and the club record was smashed when striker Tony Funnell arrived from Gillingham for a massive fifty thousand pound fee. Funnell was the total antithesis to McCulloch as he was small and nippy and found space in crowded penalty areas, but he was a strange choice by a manager now under pressure for results. Funnell struggled initially although he scored the winning goal on the last day of the season that ensured survival.
Many thanks to Mark Croxford and Paul Briers for their help in jogging my memory and providing me with crucial facts regarding our record signings over the ages.
AHEAD OF THE GAME
For anyone interested in reading my take on everything that happened both on and off the pitch last season, as well as the odd diversion into nostalgia, player profiles and club history, leavened with some (hopefully) pertinent and amusing comments, my new book Ahead Of The Game is available now.
Here are the Links to where the book can be purchased:
Published 17 June 2015 | 978-1-910515-14-3 | 408 pages | Print and Kindle | £15.99, £8.99