The prospect of playing promotion challengers Brighton & Hove Albion on Boxing Day is an exciting and enticing one as the Bees will have the opportunity to test their mettle and their own playoff credentials against one of the Championship’s best teams, and one that has only just lost its undefeated record at the twenty-second time of asking. A quite remarkable achievement and we will need to be at our absolute best in order to come out of the match with any reward.
As we await Saturday’s match with a mixture of relish and impatience I thought I would attempt to take our mind off the match by looking back at some of the more memorable Boxing Day tussles we have enjoyed – or not as the case might be – over the past few decades.
Our first Boxing Day clash of the 70s was away at Scunthorpe, hardly a local derby or crowd pleaser over the festive season! A more than healthy crowd of just under five thousand saw a late Roger Cross goal give us an undeserved equaliser.
The following season a bumper crowd of over eighteen thousand crammed into Griffin Park in the anticipation of seeing top of the table Brentford pulverise perennial strugglers Crewe Alexandra but the plucky visitors hadn’t read the script and the Bees squeaked home with a trademark header from John O’Mara.
Our 1972 Boxing Day defeat at Bournemouth was remarkable for us scoring twice away from home for the the first time in that horrible relegation season – our hosts, of course, scored three times, but also for Jackie Graham actually scoring with our well-rehearsed pantomime season free kick where two players pretended to argue with each other before a third took a shot at goal.
The 1973 match against Newport County was the one thousandth consecutive match covered by the Middlesex Chronicle’s George Sands and also the last game played for us by Stewart Houston before he departed gratefully to Manchester United.
I wonder just how many loyal and bleary eyed Brentford supporters caught the coach at eight o’clock on Boxing Day 1975 and were eventually forced to endure a goalless draw away at Exeter City? At least they must have been able to catch up with their sleep, before, after and probably during the game!
Boxing Day 1977 was appropriately named as it will always be remembered for the fisticuffs between Andy McCulloch and Aldershot’s behemoth of a defender Joe Jopling which resulted in the Brentford striker seeing red in more ways than one. Not a happy day all round as our promotion push was dented by a narrow defeat after an error by Len Bond and I sulked all the way home.
The following year saw Barry Silkman give a sumptuous display for Plymouth Argyle but two late Dean Smith goals saw the Bees come out on top.
1983 saw Brentford host Wimbledon on Christmas Eve, the last time a Football League match has been staged on that day, and the visitors won a seven goal thriller. 1984 saw a real Boxing Day dampener when a totally lethargic Brentford team never turned up and were hammered by three clear goals by a Bristol Rovers team who strolled to an easy victory.
Arsenal loanee Graham Rix lit up our easy three-nil win over a hapless Aldershot in 1987 and gave a performance that simply oozed class.
A goalkeeping error by Tony Parks led to a narrow defeat at Reading in 1989 and made me question the sanity of my decision to drive from Devon that morning to attend the game.
Our brief stay in Division One saw a memorable Boxing Day win over big spenders Derby County. Goals from Joe Allon and a perfectly placed own goal from Richard Goolouze ensured a much needed victory for the Bees.
Next season we won a ridiculous and farcical match at Dean Court which saw Bournemouth keeper Vince Bartram slice a simple back pass comically into his own net and then scream abuse at his blameless defender – pure slapstick – and Steve Cotterill then missed two penalty kicks for the home team as we strolled to a three goal victory.
Orient were equally appalling the following season and after conceding three first half goals to a rampant Brentford, their entire team was sent back onto the pitch well before the end of the halftime break with a flea in their ear by their furious manager, John Sitton.
Brighton last came to Griffin Park on Boxing Day in 1995 for a match that surely should never have started given the frozen pitch and icy conditions. They certainly didn’t suit Dean Martin who was cruelly lambasted for his tentative performance by the Brentford faithful and appropriatelay enough the game was settled by a mishit cross by Dean Wilkins which floated into the far corner over the head of Kevin Dearden.
In 1996 we were forced to make the ridiculous journey to Plymouth but came back with a four-one win marked by a rare goal from Joe Omigie.
Brighton again came out on top the following season, this time at the Priestfield Stadium, and we beat Bristol City in 1999 in a match which saw Peter Beadle knock the ball out of Andy Woodman’s hands but the goal was allowed to stand.
Leon Constantine, who never scored a single goal for us, made a triumphant return in 2004 with a well taken second half hat trick which gave his new team, Torquay United a surprise win at Griffin Park.
The following year Brentford leapfrogged Swansea City and went to the top of the table after beating our rivals in a thrilling contest in which the unlikely duo of Eddie Hutchinson and Junior Lewis dominated the midfield and reduced Lee Trundle to a mere spectator.
Adam Griffiths gave Millwall a Boxing Day gift after twenty-three seconds in 2006 when he misjudged a backpass to Clark Masters and the game went further downhill from there as we were hammered by our near neighbours.
Not too many of our recent Boxing Day encounters have been very memorable, bar an excellent victory at Colchester in 2012 and the exciting three-two win over Swindon in 2013 marked by Sam Saunders falling flat on his face when about to take a free kick and after dusting himself off, he recovered and put his next attempt into the roof of the net totally silencing the jeering Swindon fans in front of whom he celebrated with a theatrical dive.
The least said about last season’s catastrophic Boxing Day collapse to Ipswich Town the better and I am sure that it is still fresh in the memory of most Brentford supporters.
Thankfully we seem to have a pretty decent record in matches played on Boxing Day and it is also good to note that more and more of these games are played against reasonably local opposition and we are no longer forced to endure endless trecks to the other end of the country.
As for the likely result of this year’s clash with Brighton, who knows, and hopefully it will be as exciting a match as last season’s five goal thriller. We come into the match in excellent form and Dean Smith will have some difficult decisions to make before finalising his squad.
I can’t wait!