Just to let everyone know why I have not been writing or updating my blog lately. Well to be quite frank I have been pretty busy and occupied in researching and starting to write my biography of Bob Booker which I hope and expect to have published by the end of next year.
Here is a brief extract from Chapter 4 which covers his hat trick against Hull City in 1979. Let me know if you like it.
Bill Dodgin had kept an eye on Bob’s progress at Barnet and as results began to deteriorate and injuries started to bite he had no option but to recall Bob from his loan at Barnet.
Lee Holmes had bruised his ribs at Carlisle soon after scoring with a brave low header, so Bob was thrown straight back into first team action.
He had not played in the Third Division for over a year since November 11th 1978 but on December 8th 1979 Bob’s life was to change irrevocably when he scored a hat trick in a 7-2 thrashing of a struggling Hull City team. His three goals came in the space of just 24 minutes as Brentford notched their biggest victory since the record 9-0 obliteration of Wrexham in October 1963.
Bob remembers the day clearly, as well he might: “It was a misty, dark and drizzly day. Things started well when I made the second goal by flicking the ball to Steve Phillips who scored easily. For my first goal after 35 minutes, I turned away from Gordon Nisbet, went down the right and as the centre half slid out towards me and the keeper started to come off his line I side footed it towards goal I didn’t hit the ball particularly well but it went under the keeper and nestled in the corner of the net.”
The second goal came after a free kick from Alan Glover which was half-cleared and fell to Bob who poked it home and his hat trick was completed when he volleyed home Keith Fear’s right wing cross in the 59th minute.
Long-term Dodgin target Keith Fear had recently signed on loan from Plymouth and was the inspiration and pulled all the strings whilst playing in a free role as well as scoring a brilliant goal from wide out on the wing after Bob had passed him the ball. Steve Phillips scored twice and Bob was tickled pink to beat him to the hat trick, and Pat Kruse scored the seventh. Three goals and two assists in his first game of the season – not a bad way to announce your return to the team!
As for the match ball, it is now in pride of place in the Brentford Trophy Cabinet. Bob and his teammates signed the ball which raised the incredible sum of £1,000 at a Sportsmen’s’ Dinner at the club.
“ I couldn’t believe it went for so much but the guy who bought it said ‘I want you to have it back’ so I gave it to the club and hopefully one day it will be on display at their new stadium in Lionel Road.”
Bill Dodgin was delighted with Bob’s performance: “I thought the experience at Barnet would do him good and he is far sharper and has improved his control of the ball. I brought him in to give us some hustle and bustle and to take the weight off Steve Phillips, and he certainly did that.”
Bob knew that things could never be the same again after his wonderful performance: “This was the most exciting day of my life and it was sheer magic, I was still pretty much unknown and very few Brentford fans knew who I was. You could feel the buzz from the crowd and there were nearly seven thousand people there. But my achievement was a double-edged sword as the hat trick put so much pressure on me as the supporters now expected me to score in every game I played and unfortunately things were to go downhill for me from there.”
Much the same had happened to another callow young striker in Andy Woon who had burst into prominence by scoring three goals on his full Brentford debut in a 5-0 hammering of Port Vale in early 1973. After arriving unheralded from Bognor Regis the previous October. He hung around for a couple more seasons but he failed to meet rising expectations, his promise was unfulfilled and he drifted back into nonleague football with Maidstone United. Would the same fate befall Bob Booker?
Bob kept his place for four of the next five games and scored at Bury but he could not repeat the form he had displayed against Hull and he was dropped. He reflects sadly: “If it had not been for the injuries I would probably have been left out earlier and the crowd certainly didn’t help as they quickly got on my back.”
We will come back to the effect on players of booing in the next chapter but results soon deteriorated as a team suddenly shorn and bereft of confidence sank like a stone towards the bottom four after losing six of its next seven games. Tommy Baldwin simply felt that “the luck just ran out and we never really replaced Andy McCulloch.”
Bill Dodgin carried on with his tried and tested methods and approach just as before as he felt that the tide would turn, but it didn’t as the rot had well and truly set in. Bob Booker returned as a halftime substitute at home to Blackpool and after the “young, lanky striker” headed home the equaliser, he made the winner for Danny Salman, which brought about the first victory since Hull, eleven matches ago.
Bill Dodgin’s last shake of the dice in an effort to turn things around was signing tiny striker Tony Funnell for a club record £56,000 from Gillingham but he was a Steve Phillips clone, started slowly and didn’t improve matters, and six games and four defeats later Bill Dodgin was given a leave of absence and later sacked, which was a poor reward for such an excellent servant to the club who less than a year previously had loyally turned down the chance to join Chelsea as assistant manager, in retrospect a poor and misguided decision on his part.
Brentford Chairman Dan Tana was loath to pull the trigger on Bill Dodgin: “The time around his departure was very difficult, with only a handful of games to go it looked as if Brentford would get relegated and something had to be done to avoid the drop back to Division Four. The supporters had been demonstrating in the forecourt at Griffin Park and I’d spoken up on behalf of the manager – telling people that he’d been good enough to get us up and I thought he was good enough to keep us up. Bill and I spoke about the situation and, until the 6-1 thrashing at Colchester followed by the home defeat to Rotherham, he’d told me not to worry as he had every faith in being able to turn the situation around.”
“But after the Rotherham game Bill came over to my house and we analysed the whole situation and, on further reflection, Bill was no longer convinced that the team would escape the drop. So we came to a mutual agreement that he would step aside. I didn’t sack him – Bill was a very good man.”
Ironically it was the misfit, Tony Funnell, who finally came good and scored the winner in the last game of the season against Millwall that kept the Bees up.
Dodgin was replaced by his former coach, Fred Callaghan who was the antithesis to Dodgin as he was “a tough nut and a bit of a character who worked the players hard.”
The days of long liquid lunches and golf outings were gone as training increased in intensity and three wins in the last seven matches ensured that the Bees finished two places and two points clear of relegation.
This was Bob’s first experience of seeing his manager sacked and replaced and he felt very unsure of what the future had to bring for him.
“Losing Bill was tough to take and it was sad to see him go as he had been a father figure to me and given me my opportunity and believed in me. My main worry was whether the new manager would like and rate me and if I would be in his plans and I knew that I had to prove myself once again. Fred was a fresh face and a fresh voice and we responded to him although he did not change things too much at first apart from training us harder and longer.”
Bob was brought back into the team for a must-win match at Gillingham and he responded by scoring the winner with a brilliant left foot curler from the edge of the area, his best goal to date, which helped turn his career round as it filled him with confidence for the following season.
This had been a roller-coaster season for Bob as he had started it totally out of favour, proved himself during his loan spell under Barry Fry, came back with a bang with that hat trick against Hull, drifted out of contention again before ending the season with a crucial winning goal at Gillingham. All in all he had scored six goals in nine appearances plus three more as a substitute, which was enough to make him equal third top scorer in the team.
He had barely played a dozen Football League matches but so much had already happened to him in his career.