Bees Top Fan – Barr-None? – 15/12/15

Brentford supporter Peter Lumley’s literary contributions have previously graced this column and today I am proud and delighted to say that he wants to pay tribute to a dear friend of his who is a fellow Brentford fanatic and someone that he believes is also the top Bees fan, Barr-none!

During my seventy-three years as a Brentford supporter I have naturally chosen my ‘heroes’ from the scores of talented players, managers and now coaches. But I do not want to overlook the thousands of supporters I have met on the terraces and in the stands over the years. So I have chosen one who, for me, has a record of support that is second to none and which epitomises the loyalty of a legion of fans.

He is John Barr, known by his friends as head of a clan calling themselves the ‘Barr Boys’.

Before going any further I should declare an interest. John and I have led ‘parallel lives’ that were described in the Brentford programme some months ago. First things first:

1) We were both born in the month of September; myself in 1932 and John a year later.
2) We both went to primary schools in Heston about the same time.
3) We both served two years of National Service with the RAF in the early 1950s.
4) We both embarked on careers in local newspaper journalism, firstly in Ealing, Southall and Hayes areas where we first met reporting on inquests at the West Middlesex Coroners’ Court at Ealing Town Hall.
5) We then both worked eventually for the pharmaceutical company, Glaxo (now GSK at Brentford), in the Press and Public Relations Department. John remained with the expanding global company for the rest of his working life while I moved to the industry’s trade association on which Glaxo was the leading British-owned company.
6) We both share a love of golf as a recreation, but our enthusiasm for the game outshines our competence.
7) And for the past 50 years or so we have, for much of the time, occupied adjoining season ticket seats in D Block, immediately in front of the Press Box.

I have encouraged my two sons, Nick and Mike, and two of my five grandsons, James and Matthew, to become Bees fans. Mike is a season ticket holder and the two grandsons have, in turn, been Junior Season Ticket holders.

But that ‘family achievement’ pales into insignificance when compared to John’s family record of memberships. So here it is:

1) Three brothers, Dennis, Brian and Cliff, of whom Dennis and Brian are sadly no long with us;
2) Two grandsons, John and Peter;
3) Two great-grandsons, Joshua, aged 7 and an established Junior Season Ticket holder, and Jasper (just five months at Christmas) has recently been enlisted in the BaBees.

Brother Cliff, retired journalist and ex-Middlesex Chronicle reporter in the era of legendary Bees scribe George Sands, has lived in Florida for many years but on his rare visits to the UK insists on seeing every game possible and otherwise maintains an active interest in the team’s performances through the internet and televised games.

John was one of the founder members of the Brentford Lifeline initiative some 30 years ago, a member of Bees United, a holder of the fund-raising Loan Bond (now donated back to BU), a subscriber to the Goalden Goals lottery and, with his ‘clan’ has sponsored home kits for many players including, most recently, Stuart Dallas and Alan McCormack. He has been a regular at end-of-season dinners and other social events, usually with family and friends.

It was his late older brother, Dennis, who introduced him to Griffin Park in the 1946-47 season and one of his early memories was seeing Bees beat Wolves by 4 – 1 in the old First Division. Sadly, the Bees were relegated soon after, and not for the first time!

Dennis had a son, David, who coincidentally was a friend of another David, the son of the late Eric White, the Bees press officer for many years and a pioneer of match day programmes.

Over the past 68 years, John has missed only a handful of home games and, at the age of eighty-two, still travels to all points of the UK to watch as many away games as possible. He is invariably accompanied by his fire officer grandson, also John Barr and affectionately known as ‘Little John’, a nickname bestowed on him when he first came to Griffin Park at the age of eight. ‘Little John’ is now over 6-feet tall. And has already been a season ticket holder for about 20 years.

There was a period of time in the 1960s when John worked for a newspaper group in North London and was ‘forced’ to report on teams such as Arsenal at Highbury, and semi-pros such as Enfield. He recalls that one of the consolations at Arsenal were the half-time refreshments and being in the press box with the famous Compton brothers, Denis and Leslie. But claims that most of the time he was thinking about how Brentford were performing.

These days, and for many decades, John has been sitting outside the press box at Griffin Park immediately in front of Bees Player commentator Mark Burridge. And John can often be ‘overheard’ on match commentaries urging the Bees to ‘get forward’ or for goal-keeper David Button to release the ball earlier.

He is not a great fan of the disciplined, but somewhat overdone, strategy of defenders passing the ball across the face of goal and then back to the keeper. In our days of schoolboy football and immediate post-war soccer, passing the ball across the face of goal was regarded as a cardinal sin! How times have changed.

John moved to the Thames-side village of Laleham from his family home in Heston some 21 years ago to find that one of his near neighbours was the iconic Peter Gelson who he sees regularly at football or shops and has a quick chat. (What they find to talk about I cannot possibly hazard a guess!).

When not able to follow Brentford away, John’s passion for football is met by visits to Staines Town who in recent times have been managed by Marcus Gayle and currently Nicky Forster. Their fixtures, and other non-league matches, often provides John with glimpses of former young Bees players.

We have discussed Brentford performances ‘ad infinitum’ over the years, but I can recall only one real difference of opinion and that was over the club’s shock decision to part with the services of manager Mark Warburton.

As former journalists and professional PR advisors, we agreed that the Board’s initial statement, responding to media leaks, was a communications disaster. But on the decision itself I was a severe critic, but John’s deep loyalty to the club led him to taking a much more conciliatory approach. So we had to agree to differ on that one.

I have to note that in recent weeks the club’s top management team has displayed a vast improvement in terms of PR/Communications, but not before time.

Finally, like me, one of John’s remaining ambitions is to see Brentford playing Premier League football at the new Lionel Road stadium.

If that ambition is fulfilled it is nothing less that John (and so many loyal fans) deserves for his dedication to the sporting love of his life.

Thank you Peter for this wonderful tribute to a very special man who I am also privileged to have met.

I wrote about Bob Spicer last year, the much missed veteran Brentford supporter whom I confess I still think about to this day and I am sure that there are many others out there like the two of them.

I would love to hear from anyone who would like to write about other similar long-serving and loyal Brentford supporters as I am sure that they all have a great story to tell.

Over to all of you!

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11 thoughts on “Bees Top Fan – Barr-None? – 15/12/15

  1. I was at university with Peter’s son Mike in the early 80’s and shared a flat with him for a while. I’ve many happy memories of going to games with them and also with John too. I remember one visit to the Old Den in around 1982/3 in which we won 1-0 courtesy of Gary Roberts. Getting away from the Old Kent Rd in one piece was an achievement back then. I’ve remainded a regular ever since although with a bit of an interruption this year, living in Qatar until next June when I’ll be back home and away in person.

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    • Richard ,
      Great to hear that you are still supporting ( even from afar ) . I have had similar overseas breaks from watching the Bees ( 8 years in Dubai , 3 years in Poland and 3 years in Latvia – sadly all pre Bees Player days ) but the pull of GP is always too strong when coming back . I took my youngest daughter , Anna (14) to her very first live game at Craven Cottage on Saturday and she also remarked just what an amazing atmosphere the loyal band of Brentford created at the Putney Road End . There is undoubtedly a peculiarly strong sense of belonging and affiliation that the Club manages to instil in its followers . I also remember that Boxing Day fixture at Cold Blow Lane and the ‘Jasper Carrott’ moment when you , me and my father rose spontaneously to celebrate that late winner and then sat down very quickly when we realised that we truly were sitting with the enemy!!

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      • Great to hear from you Mike. So many great memories of games from that time. Remember Swansea away in the Milk Cup?? We were I think listening to the Cure in the car playing 17 Seconds and we scored after, you guessed it 17 secs, I think. I recall it being quite hairy after the win and keeping our accents quiet in the pub. Back in Blighty over Xmas and hope to take in a game altho’ home is York now. Will let you know if it’s at GP and we’ll share a pint!

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  2. Beautifully written account. We are privileged to all be part of the Brentford family, and to have our love for this beautiful unique football club in common. Whilst we are on the up it must not be forgotten that BFC is as much about the friendships made and passion for our area & our people, as it is about the action on the pitch.

    BFC – Middlesex and proud to be so.

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  3. I nice article. I can’t claim the same longevity, since I started to go to Brentford proper in the 67/68 season. I was allowed to go on my own for the first time to Brentford v Halifax which ended in a goal-less draw. And I still went back for more.

    Before then my dad would take my brother and I to see the last 20 minutes or so at an evening game. (I don’t think school nights had been invented then.) In those days, the exit gates were opened just after half-time. I love the atmosphere of an evening game, even then.

    My dad died a few years ago, but he was still going to the Bees in his 80s, still standing, except this time we took him.

    Fast forward to now and now my two brothers are still regular season ticket holders, my nephew was introduced to Brentford at a young age, and although he now lives in Gateshead, will go to the Bees when he is visiting. I also have two childhood friends who started to go to Brentford at much the same time I started, and still going strong.

    When one of said friends (Richard) got married in Hawaii, we did a video for him after a game, managing to get Kevin O’Connor and Greg Dyke to get say a few words. I can’t think of many Premier League clubs where you could do something like. I have no idea as to what Richard’s Kiwi in-laws thought about it.

    It’s a great place to meet-up with people who in a lot have cases you have known all your life – travelling distance being no barrier when it comes to seeing the Bees. And now days we have the added bonus of the football being a treat to watch.

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  4. Grateful to Peter, as well as Greville, for publishing the Barr-None article which I also regard as a tribute to that great army of loyal Bees fans who have stuck with the club through all the tough years as well as the patches of glory. The trials and tribulations, and successes, of this past year have epitomised the mixed emotions linked to the club’s fortunes both on and off the field. The great hope for now and the future is that the significant improvements in playing qualities will be continued and enhanced. The fans have deserved the new standard of football, and expectations, and have shown they will support this improvement and in greater numbers.
    I do admit to being a little too vocal, and maybe critical, in my old age but it does reflect how much I care for the club and its progress. Loyalty can be somewhat strained at times as when you witness the wind-blown thriller at Craven Cottage and then try to lift the players from a seemingly lethargic state at Cardiff on a wet and windy Tuesday night – those are the nights when my much-needed sleep in interrupted by match flash-backs of defensive ‘gifts’ at one end and the rejection of ‘presents’ at the other.
    All power to the pen of Greville, friend Peter and others for putting flesh to the bones of the club and its supporters., And may it be a Christmas and New Year to remember for all involved with the current revival..

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    • Lovely to hear from you John and I salute you for your years of loyal support and encouragement.

      Personally I think that we have never had it so good as we do now and we should simply luxuriate in it and enjoy everything.

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