The tension and excitement are already building in advance of tomorrow’s local derby against Queens Park Rangers.
Last season’s matches against Fulham were eagerly awaited and anticipated and the celebrations went on long into the night when we completed the double over our near neighbours and joy was unconfined with Jota becoming an instant hero with his two unforgettable last second strikes.
That being said there are many Brentford supporters, in particular those of a slightly older vintage, who look upon the Fulham games as a mere taster for the main course – the clashes against QPR.
Why is that the case and how did the rivalry develop?
The first and most obvious reason is the proximity of both clubs to each other as Griffin Park is a mere four and a half miles away from Loftus Road, as the crow flies.
Families in Acton, Ealing and Chiswick would grow up either as Bees or Rangers fans and there was a good natured rivalry with some supporters attending the home matches of both teams at a time when it was less common to travel in large numbers to away games.
As the Bees fell from grace after the war and stabilised in Division Two before dropping to the third tier in 1954 the paths of the two teams crossed on a regular basis throughout the 50s until indeed the mid 60s.
Honours were fairly even and the derby matches at Griffin Park would attract massive crowds of up to eighteen thousand as the two teams competed for local bragging rights.
Transfers between the clubs were not uncommon but there was much disquiet when The Terrible Twins, George Francis and Jim Towers were scandalously offloaded to QPR in a blatant cost cutting move in 1961 at a time when the Bees were desperately shedding overhead when they were staring relegation to the bottom division in the face.
It just didn’t seem right to see two such Brentford stalwarts wearing blue and white hoops after such long, devoted and successful careers in a red and white shirt.
There was also a swop of wingers in which we sent the veteran George McLeod to Shepherd’s Bush and received the enigmatic Mark Lazarus in return.
Initially we seemed to have got by far the better part of the bargain as the Kosher Garrincha was an effervescent ball of fire who rampaged down the right wing and celebrated his goals with his own individual lap of honour and then by shaking hands with members of the crowd. He became an instant hero with the Brentford fans but apparently fell out with the club after a petty dispute over a bonus payment that he felt entitled to. As a man of principle and also not one to argue with given his membership of a famous East London boxing family, he returned in high dudgeon to Loftus Road where he helped inspire Rangers to a League Cup victory and two promotions.
The ill-feeling and antipathy were raised to a fever pitch when early in 1967 at a time when Brentford were languishing in Division Four and an effervescent Rodney Marsh inspired QPR team was scoring one hundred and three goals on its way to winning the Division Three Championship and League Cup double, news broke totally out of the blue that plans were afoot for QPR to take over Brentford and move to Griffin Park with the Bees disappearing into oblivion.
Dennis Signy was General Manager at Brentford before later joining QPR and he was a close bystander to the entire shenanigans. He was interviewed many years later for the Vital QPR website which I would like to thank for reproducing extracts from his interview where he reminisced about the incredible happenings of that time:
The biggest story of my career over sixty years in newspapers and football came in 1967 … the QPR bid to take over Brentford.
The headline story went round the world yet, strangely for me, I did not write a word on the subject. I was General Manager of Brentford at the time – in fact, I started the whole saga.
It was a chance remark I made to QPR Chairman Jim Gregory that sparked off the soccer sensation of 1967. Billy Gray was my team manager at Brentford – having turned down an offer from Alec Stock to join him with Rangers – and he and I were standing in Ellerslie Road waiting for my wife to arrive for a game against Carlisle United, when we saw Jim.
The previous Saturday Bernard Joy, the famous ex-centre half who wrote so authoratively over the years for the Evening Standard, had produced a feature on the old theme of ground sharing and had linked Brentford and QPR as logical clubs to tie up.
Jim asked: ‘How many do you think we’ll get tonight?’
I told him: ‘I don’t know – about eighteen thousand. If you were playing at Griffin Park you’d get thirty thousand.”
From that casual remark we progressed to a discussion on Joy’s ground-sharing theme and, when Jim Gregory said that he might be interested in pursuing this further I said I would mention it to my chairman, Jack Dunnett, Brentford’s MP chairman.
I did – and that started the train of events that led to the eventual take-over bid. The two chairmen went into the appeals of ground-sharing but moved on to discuss the possibility of Rangers buying the Brentford ground whose capacity at the time was thirty-eight thousand.
Various idea were thrashed around by the two wealthy chairman, including Brentford using Griffin Park on alternate weeks as tenants of Rangers.
I remember sitting in on some of the preliminary discussions as a modestly paid journalist who had moved into football management and knew more about headlines than balance sheets. I did understand, though, that both clubs were losing money heavily.
I was fascinated hearing sums of thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds being bandied about between the Mayfair solicitor who was my chairman and the self-made millionaire from Rangers.
It was like Monopoly – with real money. I used to smile at being asked to intervene with important decisions.
The discussions evolved into this: – Rangers were to buy Griffin Park for two hundred and twenty thousand pounds and were to sell Loftus Road to the council for three hundred and ten thousand pounds. The ninety thousand pound surplus was intended to be used to improve Griffin Park. I was to be in publicity and fund-raising projects.
What was not known even when the story broke in the newspapers and on radio and television was that the two clubs were UNDER CONTRACT. After the breakdown of the merger talks Jim Gregory had proposed to Jack Dunnett: ‘We’ll buy you out, shares, ground, the players, the lot’.
The deal was announced with Alec Stock to be overall manager and Billy Gray and Bill Dodgin the coaches.
The Daily Mail headlined: “Fans call it a sell -out”. The Daily Mirror: “Goodbye, Brentford” .
The next crowd at Griffin Park was a best-of-season ten and a half thousand and the fans left us in no doubt what they thought of the idea. “Who done it? Dunnett dunnit” was the poster I remember.
To cut it short, it never went through and I resigned some weeks later and Billy Gray followed me out of Griffin Park when Dunnett handed over to new chairman Ron Blindell.
Would it have been such a bad thing? I recall Alec Stock’s words: “This would be a great thing for us. If agreement is reached it will mean that we have a first-class ground for what is already a first-class team”. Jim Gregory said: “Economically it was a good proposition for Rangers”.
That is the whole point – it was a wonderful deal for QPR and one that would have brought about the end of Brentford FC.
Now does everybody begin to understand why there is now such antipathy felt by so many Brentford fans towards our neighbours from Shepherd’s Bush who were actively plotting to kill us and put us out of business less than fifty years ago?
What is far worse is that the whole appalling idea was welcomed by our own Chairman, Jack Dunnett, who was looking for a way out of the club after he became the Member of Parliament for Nottingham Central after the 1964 general election and his extravagant expenditure on players over the previous few years had failed to pay off with the anticipated reward of promotion to the top two divisions.
A couple of years ago Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I interviewed Jack Dunnett who although aged ninety-one was spry and fit with a handshake like a vice and here are his detailed recollections of what happened after the news was made public:
I did consider the views of the fans and I said that I would hold some public meetings. I’d seen enough of football supporters to know that it would be seen as a very unusual move but it had a lot of economic benefits.
I did have some misgivings so I called a public meeting and around a thousand people turned up. I’d already announced what it was about and I’d made it clear what we were considering. At the meeting, the fans wouldn’t have it and in fact it got so bad that I had to tell Denis Piggott to call the police and twelve policemen came to the ground to rescue me. I really did feel threatened.
I went onto the pitch with a microphone but I wasn’t really able to get my message across. It was very difficult. With hindsight, I might have suggested that the supporters should have selected a small group of representatives to come and speak with me. I remember Peter Pond-Jones, he was a difficult man. He just didn’t even want to consider the idea.
The reaction of the fans did surprise me somewhat because here I was, in good faith, trying to do something which would give the club a future. I think I was right too – how many times since 1967 have Queens Park Rangers not been in the top divisions? Within ten years Jim was in the First Division and finished second, they were in Europe and did fantastically well. If the amalgamation had gone through, Brentford would have been swept up in that.
I didn’t really care about whether QPR would have taken up more of the new club than Brentford – we’d have still been playing at Griffin Park. I wouldn’t have been Chairman of the new club as that would have been Jim Gregory. I’d have been a director. My objective was to secure a future for Brentford Football Club but without me having to run up and down between Nottingham and London.
I don’t recall that Brentford were losing all that much money at the time. We had a good commercial set-up but we didn’t have a surplus of money that would have enabled us to buy players. We certainly weren’t in danger of going out of business, there’s no way I would have allowed that to have happened.
I don’t think we could have sold the idea to the fans in a different sort of way. I spoke to some supporters after tempers had cooled down and it was apparent that they just didn’t want to be associated with their nearest rivals. Eventually, I could understand that but the main thing for me was to be able to progress through the divisions, to get to the First Division.
The fans seemed to want to rather stay where they were, at the bottom of the Fourth Division, than amalgamate with our rivals and get into the First Division, which I couldn’t understand at the time and still don’t understand. When we started discussing it, it looked to be a good deal to me.
I know that football fans are passionate about their club but to me, doing well means seeing my club go up the leagues and if it isn’t ever going to happen, then what’s the point? In those days, with a slice of luck and if you were well managed, a small club could go right up to the First Division. I proved that with Notts County.
I don’t think I would have benefitted financially. I didn’t care whether I got my investment back or not. I hadn’t paid money that I couldn’t afford and my business was doing well at the time.
Anyway, I was all set to carry on with things continuing as they were and then out of the blue I got a telephone call from Ron Blindell who had been chairman at Plymouth Argyle. He asked if he could see me and when I asked why, he said that he was interested in buying Brentford. He said he thought he could do better with Brentford than he’d done with Plymouth although I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion.
I told him that it would take a good bit of money to move the club on and that he’d also have to buy me out but he said he could find the money. I’ll never forget that we were having a cup of tea or coffee and I told him the figure we were talking about and he dropped his little gold pencil in surprise because the sum was much larger than he’d realised.
But he agreed and it was duly announced and he took over weeks later. As soon as the Brentford fans had made it clear they were against the amalgamation, the deal was dead as far as I was concerned. I didn’t try to push it further. Jim Gregory understood the position too. It had been a great idea though and well-planned apart from agreeing the name for the club but I wouldn’t have gone through with it without Brentford being mentioned in the name.
There is so much that I could wrote about my feelings regarding Jack Dunnett’s words and how they clearly demonstrate his total lack of understanding about how supporters feel and their passion for their club and their determination for it to retain its individual identity. We wanted a Brentford team wearing red and white stripes to be playing at Griffin Park – not some bastard child amalgam.
I will simply let his comments speak for themselves.
On Thursday the twenty-third of February 1967, Jack Dunnett resigned as Chairman and a new board, headed by Ron Blindell, assumed control of the club, with Blindell’s personal financial commitment amounting to one hundred and forty-five thousand pounds.
Brentford FC had been saved, not without a massive fight and the efforts of so many unsung heroes amongst our supporters who were determined to ensure their club’s survival. Austerity though was the rule for the next few years as a huge debt had to be repaid and we were forced to operate with a skeleton playing squad.
After 1965/66 when Brentford hammered QPR by six goals to one on the first day of a season that saw the Bees relegated – it’s Brentford innit, our paths did not cross again on the field until the early part of the current century when we played each other for three seasons. QPR were on the upwards slope and established themselves as a top division team, we hovered in the nether regions, simply trying to stay alive.
Occasionally we would sign some of their castoffs and rejects and in return we sold them our shining star in Andy Sinton, thus sabotaging our late season playoff push in 1989. We had a young Les Ferdinand on loan who was a mere shadow of the player he eventually became and other names such as Mark Hill and Mark Fleming will hardly be fondly remembered by Bees fans.
In 2002 we came so close to promotion but fell just short, not helped by dropping two vital points at Loftus Road in the last but one game of a momentous season. Who can ever forget Mark McCammon’s late header bouncing down and then over the crossbar from almost underneath it?
The final nail in the coffin of our relationship was hammered in by Martin Rowlands, for so long a crowd favourite at Griffin Park with his dynamic midfield play. His last couple of seasons were dogged by injury and his performances suffered. He eventually left for QPR on a Bosman free transfer and when his new team narrowly defeated a severely weakened Brentford team by a goal to nil after a tough encounter at Loftus Road he marked the result by goading and taunting the long-suffering Brentford fans by parading in front of them and kissing the Rangers badge on his shirt. This went down as well as you would expect and he has never been forgiven for his actions.
With he exception of two glorious matches at Griffin Park back in 1965 when the Bees scored eleven goals, matches that helped ensure that I became a lifetime Brentford supporter, Brentford versus QPR matches are generally tense and tight affairs with little between the two sides.
It is now fifty years since we last beat what I hope I have clearly demonstrated is the real old enemy and victory tomorrow night would be especially sweet.