There have been a lot of comments over the past few days on the main fans’ message board, The Griffin Park Grapevine, regarding the players who we loved to hate – the ones who came in for regular and vituperative abuse whatever they did on the pitch, good or bad.
Personally I can’t abide any of our players being subjected to constant and systematic criticism from so called Brentford supporters. What’s the point of it, it only encourages the opposition and barracking is hardly going to inspire the recipient to redouble his efforts and perform better.
I can understand the odd harsh or unsavoury comment slipping out in the heat of the moment if a player is guilty of committing a particularly flagrant error – an open goal spurned, a soft goal conceded, after all football is a game of heated emotions, but anything more sustained is unnecessary, uncalled for, unhelpful and totally unacceptable.
Given the quality of all the players currently at the club and their obvious and total commitment to the cause, I would be absolutely flabbergasted if anyone was to suffer any abuse next season but I’m afraid that I cannot say the same about a small minority of our players from previous years who were either less technically or physically gifted and suffered at the hands of a minority of the crowd who were not prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and forgive them for their perceived inadequacies.
So why were certain players singled out for abuse? Generally because it was felt that they were not up to the requisite standard, a pretty tough verdict given that we have had to endure a plethora of average (or worse) journeymen over the years given our regular shortage of funds, or, more unforgivably, a perceived lack of commitment when a player who generally possessed a decent level of ability was thought not to have been putting in sufficient effort or demonstrating enough passion for the game.
To put things into context, I was fortunate enough to play at a reasonable standard of football as a teenager and sometimes came up against opponents who had played in the Football League and can therefore testify from personal experience that there is a vast chasm between the ability of decent amateurs and actual professionals, so it has to be accepted that anyone fortunate enough to have pulled on a Brentford shirt must have been a pretty decent footballer by anyone’s standard. Having given that caveat I have cast my mind back pretty much as far back as it goes regarding all things Brentford – about fifty years or so – and here are some of the players who were given a particularly hard time by the supporters.
Firstly though I vaguely recall one of my earliest games which saw a thumping five-nil home defeat to a rampant Bristol Rovers team inspired by an Alfie Biggs hat trick. This was an abject Brentford performance best summed up by an own goal of appalling violence from central defender Mel Scott with a diving header perfectly placed into the roof of his own net. The boos echoed across the rapidly emptying stadium as the whole team got it in the neck for a performance of total incompetence and lack of effort and as a highly impressionable young boy I probably joined in.
Keith Hooker was a chunky young midfielder who failed to establish himself in the team soon after the 1967 financial crisis, when by necessity many youngsters were thrown into the deep end and unfortunately not all of them managed to swim. Hooker did manage to score a freak winning goal from a sliced cross from way out on the left wing against Notts County, a feat greated with laughter and sheer incredulity by disbelieving fans who had already cruelly made it clear that for all his willing running they did not believe that he would make the grade.
Stan Webb was the unwitting replacement for departed hero John O’Mara. It would have been an uphill task for anyone to replace such a legend and he got off to an unlucky start when he fell foul of the rugged Dick Renwick on his debut and was carried off. Things could surely only get better for him but they really didn’t and he became the butt of the fans’ displeasure. His career at Brentford never took off but as soon as he returned to his native North East the goals started flowing again. Perhaps a bit more patience might have borne fruit as Stan proved to be a regular marksman at every other club that he played for except Brentford.
Barry Lloyd was a skilful midfielder brought in by Bill Dodgin after spells at Chelsea, Fulham and Hereford. He had played under his new manager at Craven Cottage where he had scored a memorable televised goal against Leicester’s Peter Shilton. Barry scored on his debut against Northampton but for all his subtle skills he never won the approval of the masses who barracked him relentlessly. Maybe he appeared to be too laid back in his approach and he certainly wasn’t as tough in the tackle as Jackie Graham, but few were. Perhaps his Fulham past went against him too? I was saddened because I used to play cricket with him sometimes for Hayes and knew just what a decent man he was but his spell at Griffin Park was short.
Lee Frost was a real enigma. He had a wonderful loan spell in 1978 as a marauding winger who terrorised opponents with his pace. Two years later he signed on a permanent basis and was switched up front to partner Gary Johnson. Not a good move as he appeared to be a totally different player who was languid, easily knocked off the ball and peripheral to the action. The crowd reacted accordingly as they had high hopes and expectations for him which were sadly unrealised.
Inexperienced young keeper Paul McCullough was thrown into the fray when Fred Callaghan fell out with first choice, Len Bond and his performances were riddled with costly errors. He did his best even though he was well out of his depth and he earned the nickname The Kamikaze Kid for his reckless bravery but it was a blessing for all concerned when he was taken out of the firing line after the welcome arrival of Dave McKellar.
Keith Bowen was another lightweight striker who struggled to make an impact and earned the constant wrath of the home fans. Yet away from Griffin Park and the hectoring voices he could appear a different player and on one memorable night at Swindon he tore their defence apart and was totally unplayable. A lesson maybe for supporters to be more patient and perhaps avoid self perpetuating prophecies.
Graham Wilkins also failed to live up to expectations and never really cemented his place after arriving from Chelsea and was not well treated by fans who expected more from a player with top level experience.
Ian Bolton was a similar case. A player who had been an inspiration at Watford and who was expected to steady the ship at Griffin Park. He proved to be an utter disappointment and the fans felt let down by him given his pedigree.
Tom Finney was a tough tackling midfielder who was subjected to loud barracking when his own supporters reacted vehemently to his performance against Bishops Stortford in an FA Cup tie when he was seen to be needlessly aggressive in a match long since won, and he was soon on his way.
George Torrance and Steve Butler were both bought out of the army and initially neither really adjusted to the pace of league football. Torrance tried hard but was out of his depth but Butler’s languid style did not impress and he lost what few friends he had made amongst supporters when he was closer to the corner flag than the goal with an errant penalty kick. Neither stayed long although Butler, like many before and after him, emerged as an exceptional lower league striker – but not of course with us.
Ian Holloway was another who impressed on loan but who looked a different player when signed on a permanent basis. He was periphral and anonymous in midfield and received terrible stick from frustrated supporters. Later it became known that he was suffering from glandular fever at the time and also had serious family problems to deal with. No wonder he was distracted and he recovered his appetite and form soon afterwards, but not at Griffin Park.
Wayne Turner arrived from Coventry for an eye watering thirty-five thousand pound fee and was immediately made captain by Frank McLintock. Again, I believe that our hopes were falsely raised as for that money we expected a Maradona rather than a ball winner with limited passing ability or creative vision.
Experienced striker David Geddis also had a short loan spell at the club and his inept performance against Middlesbrough when he missed any number of clear chances did not endear himself to his new supporters and he was soon on his way.
Eddie May had the thankless task of replacing Andy Sinton and also had the millstone of a record fee on his back when he arrived from Hibernian. He had skill in abundance but did not take games by the scruff of his neck and he appeared hangdog and hesitant. His body language was negative in the extreme and he scampered back over the border as fast as he possibly could.
I will stop for now and save the rest for another day as I am finding this all too depressing for words!
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