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!