I wrote a couple of articles last week which, slightly tongue-in-cheek recalled some of our former players who we loved to hate – or maybe more accurately – hated to love. In response I received many suggestions of a whole raft of other players, many thankfully long-forgotten, who had also earned the displeasure of my fellow Brentford supporters and got it in the neck.
One key question that bugged me and remained unanswered was how does it feel as a footballer to be booed, barracked and abused from the terraces, particularly by your own so-called supporters? Does it inspire you to greater heights in order to try and stuff the critical words back down the throats from whence they came, or do players retreat into their shell and play less expansively, more cautiously and try to eliminate risk from their game determined not to make another mistake that could bring about even more criticism?
I decided to ask former Bee Richard Poole for his view on this contentious subject, as I thought that his opinion would be particularly apposite given that he played for the club during the early to mid 70s, an era where Brentford were not blessed with a plethora of talent and with budgets stretched, generally had to make do with whatever combination of players they could scrape together. Performances were inconsistent to say the least and veered from one extreme to another, and the fans were not slow to express their wrath and disapproval at some of the substandard fare that they were forced to endure.
Here is what Richard had to say:
I was really interested in your comments about Stan Webb as I watched him particularly closely during his spell at Griffin Park given that we both played in the same position. I really felt sorry for him as he was onto a absolute hiding to nothing from the moment he signed for us. His move turned out to be a poisoned chalice as he had the near impossible task of replacing a living legend in John O’Mara. The fans were furious at the lack of ambition shown by the club by selling him just after we had won promotion and saw poor Stan simply as a cheap replacement and they took their frustration out on him. I thought that he was a good influence around the club and he was really not a bad player at all. He had scored goals regularly in the Second Division at both his previous clubs and given half a chance I am sure that he could have done the same for the Bees.
I remember that he would stay behind with us apprentices for extra training in the afternoon and give us some advice, but maybe he was too nice a person which can be a bad failing for a footballer, whatever division you play in. He was strong and could certainly mix it but he was affected by the constant barrage of criticism and his performances suffered and he lost confidence. Given more time and a more sympathetic response from the Brentford supporters I am sure that he could have done much better at the club and I am sure that he must have been delighted and seen it as suitable revenge when he scored a crucial goal against us after he had moved on to Darlington.
I was also subjected to some very harsh comments from Brentford supporters when I came back to play in a reserve game for Watford a couple of months after I had left Brentford. My parents were watching the game in the stands and were really upset by all the abuse I received. It was so bad that some of my new team mates asked me what was going on. The supporters who were giving me such a hard time lived really close to my family and that was very upsetting. There was certainly no love lost between Brentford and Watford supporters, but I needed a job, Brentford had released me which almost broke my heart, and Watford were now the team putting the bread and butter on my table and enabling me to support my young wife.
I have far happier memories of turning out for the Bees and being roared on by our loyal fans, something that always inspired me! I stayed a year too long at my beloved Brentford and in my last season I only seemed to be selected at difficult places like Tranmere Rovers and Northampton Town when we had players out injured or sick and we had very little chance of winning.
You do hear all the comments from the crowd, good and bad, particularly when there are not too many supporters in the ground and it certainly has an effect on your game. When I first came into the side as a youngster my concentration was totally on the game to such an extent that I really only heard the crowd noise when there was a lull in play just before a corner or free kick. I do remember an important home game against Colchester United at Easter on a Tuesday evening with Griffin Park full to the brim with almost seven and a half thousand fans packed inside. I was waiting for a corner kick to be played into the penalty area and I heard a voice behind the goal shouting “Come on Richard!” This really got through to me, inspired me, and made me feel ten feet tall. I looked straight at him and saw that it was an old school friend of mine and it seemed just like yesterday when we were in class – or detention together!
As for being booed by away fans, that simply meant that I must be doing my job properly and getting something right! I clearly remember a game at Lincoln in April 1975 when I came on at halftime to replace fellow striker, Micky French (so much class but there was something missing) to partner Roger Cross up front. I remember we grabbed an unexpected draw against one of the division’s top teams with Roger scoring the equaliser. Well afterwards in the bar their centre half, the massive Sam Ellis came up to me and told me that I had always been a handful against them and even apologised for marking me so hard! He said all this right in front of my manager at the time, John Docherty, and given what a tough competitor Sam Ellis was, that made me really proud.
I suppose that’s why the following Tuesday Mr. Docherty put me straight in the side up front with both Micky and Roger in an end of season game against Southport. But he took me off at halftime and replaced with with a defender in Alan Nelmes! That really hurt and upset me and it was my last official game for the Bees. I suppose it was easier to take off an eighteen year old in his first year as a professional rather than a more established player who might have given the manager a hard time about his decision.
Going back to far happier times, I do so remember scoring that goal of mine against Bradford City at home. I saw everone standing up and applauding and for me it was like there were thousands and thousands of fans cheering me on and supporting me, and even now, over forty years later, writing this sentence I am getting goose pimples just thinking about that magic and unforgettable moment.
I got almost as much pleasure making goals for others which I think I was quite good at but it’s true, when you are a local boy and you are cheered on it gives you such a boost. I can only remember that horrible reserve match for Watford against Brentford when I was booed and it really affected my game. I also played in that remarkable match against Brentford for Watford at Easter at home when somehow (thanks to Paul Priddy) we lost and also missed those two penalty kicks. I wasn’t booed that day, maybe because Brentford won!