First Thoughts

So how do we all feel a mere two games into a new season? It is still quite a bit too soon to get carried away, start screaming from the rooftops and jumping for joy, and I am all too well aware of the dangers of hubris and counting chickens, but it cannot be denied that the early signs for Brentford are very favourable.

Unlike previous years when the Bees went into a new season seemingly holed below the waterline after a series of high profile departures, Brentford’s squad has now never been stronger with quality, cover and depth in almost every position. Interestingly enough despite the variety of options available to him, Head Coach Dean Smith opted for an unchanged team and substitutes for the first two Championship matches.

Rotherham were swept aside by a combination of quick passing, movement and pace allied to a quality of finishing far more clinical than we fans have been used to seeing. Brentford scored five on a sweltering afternoon and quite frankly it could have been far more. “It was only Rotherham though,” sneered the sceptics, but surely a lot of the doubters have been silenced after Brentford’s performance at promotion favourites Stoke City last Saturday.

Facing a Premier League squad in all but name, the Bees took the game to their much vaunted opponents and made them look plodding and toothless.They even recovered from the blow of a defensive aberration that gifted the lead to the home team, totally dominated proceedings, silenced a vociferous crowd, and but for a few attacking shortcomings and a series of fine saves from Jack Butland would have come away with a victory rather than a draw which was far less than they deserved.

The defence has so far been largely untroubled with Bentley barely having a save to make. Dalsgaard, Barbet, Konsa and Mepham have gelled into a cohesive unit, all comfortable on the ball and keen to surge forward at every opportunity. It is noticeable that all are over six feet tall and it is a long time since the Diddy Men of Brentford boasted four veritable giants in the back four and I believe we are better for it given the barrage of high crosses that we are likely to face in most matches. New signing, Julian Jeanvier has yet to be blooded and will likely make his debut at Southend in the Carabao Cup and Moses Odubajo is now a fully-fledged Brentford player and will hopefully soon be as fit as possible and in contention for a place.

Brentford are justifiably renowned for discovering and extracting gems from the lower leagues and it is already patently obvious that Ezri Konsa will shortly be joining that number. Smooth and silky on the ball, as is required from a Brentford centre half, he also knows how to defend and his partnership with Chris Mepham, two inexperienced twenty year olds will be something to savour.

Given the uncertainty over Ryan Woods’s future, Josh McEachran has been given the opportunity to cement his place sitting in front of the back four and despite his early exit on Saturday with a tight hamstring he has so far looked the wonderful footballer he is, seeing and delivering passes of a quality and precision rarely seen at this level of the game, and just as encouragingly, anticipating and winning challenges and generally looking far stronger and more robust. Could this finally be his year to deliver on his immense potential?

Romaine Sawyers has quite simply regularly demonstrated his God-given ability to thread passes through the eye of a needle and he certainly caught the eye of the envious Stoke City supporters who were distinctly unamused to discover that he was a Bosman free signing. Lewis Macleod is also now fully fit and provides a cutting edge from midfield that has been lacking in recent years.

Brentford rely on breaking the opposition press and breaking forward speedily and in numbers and wingers Sergi Canos and Ollie Watkins have a vital role to play. Canos seems to have recovered his Mojo after an injury-ravaged season, knowing full well that he has the immensely talented Said Benrahma breathing down his neck and waiting for his opportunity off the bench. As for Watkins – what a player and talent he is. Southampton apparently offered around £11 million for him in the close season and were swiftly rebuffed. Totally the right move as his value will surely double this season given the electrifying start he has made. He is so strong, quick and direct and is totally two-footed as thunderous goals with both right and left feet in his last two games prove. He is now being compared in his impact and ability with Dele Alli in his MK Dons days and his future could well be as bright as Alli’s. Watkins is so dangerous cutting in from the wing that it seems likely that the previous plan to play him down the middle is likely to be put on hold for the time being which means that Neil Maupay will need to stay both fit and sharp as we posses very few alternatives apart from the untried Marcus Forss.

The rump of the squad is likely to be given a runout at Southend to give them much needed minutes and it will be interesting to see if Ryan Woods will be included. It seemed a foregone conclusion that he would finalise a move to Swansea on Transfer Deadline day but for whatever reason, Swansea were not prepared to pay the asking price and Ryan is left in limbo. Will another club or even Swansea come back with a loan to purchase move before the end of the month or will he be reintegrated into the squad where he will surely be welcomed with open arms? I suspect that the club was reconciled to his departure as he had given us almost three seasons of dedicated service, we had improved and developed him and it seemed that his valuation was going to be met and that the time had come for him to move on maybe to better things but certainly for more money. Most importantly, in McEachran and Kamo Mokotjo his replacements were already in the building.

It is still early days but the auspices are favourable. Their ability has never been in question but the players also appear to be mentally stronger and more confident and resilient and it is telling how well they recovered from the blow of going a goal down in such ridiculous circumstances at Stoke having dominated the early proceedings.

For me the most disconcerting development to date has been that pundits and rival supporters alike have finally discovered Brentford and recognised how well the club is run, the quality of our football and the talent we possess, and Brentford have been widely tipped to make a serious promotion challenge. Worrying indeed, as I far prefer us to exist and flourish well under the radar and I positively relish the “teams like Brentford” and “pub team” insults and other such disparaging comments that we have been widely subjected to since promotion to the Championship in 2014.

Can Brentford thrive under the additional pressure of being in the spotlight? All will be revealed in the coming weeks. Exciting times indeed!

Advertisements

A New Season is Upon Us!

Time was when I wrote an almost daily blog on the fortunes of our favourite football team. I kept this up with metronomic regularity for a couple of seasons and even succeeded in publishing a couple of books on the back of it (both are still available on the remainder pile in the Brentford FC Superstore if anyone is still interested!)

Eventually I came to the conclusion that over around 400 articles I had written pretty much everything there was to say about the club, the way it operated, its style and ethos both on and off the pitch, its unique and innovative way of doing business and how it was regarded with a combination of suspicion, ridicule and ignorance by the media and the rest of the football world. I stopped at the end of the 2015/16 season because I did not want to repeat myself and run the risk of outstaying my welcome and boring myself and what few readers I had left.

Bees United have now asked me to resurrect my blog and provide a regular series of updates on the coming season and after some misgiving I have agreed and only hope that I find enough of interest to write about.

So what lies in store for the Bees in the months ahead? Will they manage a fifth consecutive top ten finish in a Championship that becomes ever more competitive and is packed full of big battalions swelled with the riches of Premier League parachute payments? Could we even cherish hopes and dreams of marking our last full season at our beloved Griffin Park home with promotion to the giddy heights of the Premier League, or could the fairytale end and reality kick in and we find ourselves overwhelmed and outmatched by clubs with the wherewithal to outspend us? Before we consider this question in detail let’s have a look at some of their rivals and how they might perform.

As I write these words a mere three days before the big kick off, it is still totally impossible to assess how strong each club will be given that the transfer window still has a week to run and many teams will surely take part in a last minute lemming-like trolley dash which might make all the difference between success and failure.

Given that caveat who are the likely contenders? Two of the teams relegated from the Premier League are likely to challenge for an immediate return. Stoke City are managed by the Championship savvy Gary Rowett and are unlikely to inspire but they have already signed a series of battle-hardened experienced pro’s such as Benik Afobe, James McClean and Tom Ince and most importantly, kept hold of their best player, Joe Allen. The jury is out on newly appointed manager Darren Moore but West Bromwich Albion might also find that their functional style of football is well-suited to the demands of the Championship and Sam Johnstone, Kyle Bartley and exciting winger Harvey Barnes are excellent signings.

Despite their apparent financial concerns Derby County have certainly loosened the pursestrings and supported another unknown managerial quantity in Frank Lampard. Despite lots of speculation top scorer Matej Vydra, scorer of a wonderful goal against us for Watford a few years ago is still at the club. Jack Marriott should manage the jump from Division One, Chelsea youngster Mason Mount excelled in Holland last season and we all know just how good (and indeed, bad) Florian Jozefzoon can be.

Middlesbrough will be expected to challenge but will sorely miss the pace, power and dribbling ability of the injured Adama Traore who was easily the best visiting player I saw at Griffin Park last season. Aston Villa could be absolutely anything after the disappointment of missing out in the Playoff Final and staring at the financial abyss but so far have managed to keep hold of their talisman Jack Grealish. Leeds fans still find it hard to accept that they are firmly ensconced in the Championship with their glory years decades behind them and have a well developed sense of entitlement. Who knows how they will perform under the management of the legendary but explosive Marcelo Bielsa and it could all end in tears. Barry Douglas is a fantastic signing from Wolves but there are doubts whether the enigmatic Patrick Bamford will score regularly enough for them. What is certain is that their supporters are certain to experience a rollercoaster ride.

Nottingham Forest have conducted some eye-catching transfer business bringing in a plethora of highly priced Portuguese imports – and Lewis Grabban. However good they prove to be they now possess a bloated squad and a manager in Aitor Karanka who does not inspire too much confidence. Preston North End also over performed last season and will likely challenge again. They are fit, organised and never give you an easy game but might struggle to score enough goals despite the midfield prompting of Alan Browne and Ryan Ledson.

So where does this leave Brentford? How do I feel they will do over the coming season?

As we speak we have, as is customary, lost a few players having already replaced them with relative unknowns and potential bargains. Andreas Bjelland allowed his contract to run down having performed exceptionally well last season as a calm, left-sided defender who was largely responsible for mentoring Chris Mepham and talking him through games. Bjelland suffered the disappointment of missing the World Cup through injury and has returned home to play for FC Copenhagen after three injury wrecked seasons at Griffin Park. Fate was not kind to him and he never really regained the impetus lost by his long term absence through a terrible knee ligament injury sustained on his debut for the club. Club skipper John Egan has also left the club joining Sheffield United for a reported near £4 million club record fee – a massive profit on the initial £400,000 fee we paid to Gillingham. He too proved himself to be a solid, consistent and effective defender who was also dangerous at set pieces but somehow, for all his efforts and endeavour he never totally inspired confidence with the ball at his feet and as we all know our central defenders are expected to split whenever the goalkeeper gathers the ball, come short to take possession and then act as the first line of attack. This was never Egan’s game and hard though he worked and as much as he improved, which was all to his credit I suspect the powers that be felt that we needed to improve in this area.

Konstantin Kerschbaumer enjoyed a successful season on loan at Arminia Bielefeld scoring eight times from midfield. He had flourished towards the end of the 2015/16 season when he enjoyed a good run in the Brentford team and combined well with the predatory Scott Hogan who thrived upon the Austrian’s incisive through balls but perhaps he has found his level in the German Second Division and has joined FC Ingolstadt 04 for a reputed near one million pound fee. He leaves with our best wishes as well as thoughts about what might have been had he not been thrown into the team far too quickly in the Autumn of 2015.

Florian Jozefzoon established himself in the Brentford team last season and ended up with the impressive tally of seven goals and was a constant danger with his pace and set piece ability. Like all wingers he was inconsistent but he will be missed after being sold to Derby County for £2.75 million given that he was coming into the last year of his contact and it is extremely rare for a Brentford first team player to be allowed to run down his contract without being sold. Promising left back Ilias Chatzitheodoridis who impressed in his loan spell at Cheltenham last season but was not in the reckoning for a first team place has left for Panathinaikos where he will hopefully flourish and earn the Bees a healthy sell-on percentage a la Alfie Mawson should he eventually move on.

So far there have been three new arrivals at Griffin Park with two central defenders and a right winger arriving as direct replacements for the departing players. Brentford took advantage of Charlton’s requirement for cash up front by striking where others hesitated and signing their prime asset, England Under 21 International defender Ezri Konsa for a fee reputed to be around £2.5 million and a second centre half arrived earlier this week in the form of Julian Jeanvier from French Ligue 2 champions Reims for around £1.8 million. Jozefzoon’s replacement is exciting Algerian international Said Benrahma signed from Nice for another multimillion pound fee.

What all our signings share in common is that they all arrived under the radar with little speculation and they are all young emerging footballers with immense talent and development potential – as is the Brentford way.

Other long serving Brentford fans like myself still find it hard to read about the club paying (and indeed receiving) such high figure for their players and without checking, and apologies for any errors and omissions, I estimate that we have now paid over seven figures for fourteen players in Moses Odubajo, Jota, Lewis Macleod, Andreas Bjelland, Lasse Vibe, Ryan Woods, Dan Bentley, Sergi Canos, Rico Henry, Ollie Watkins, Neal Maupay, Konsa, Benrahma and Jeanvier and received multi-million pound fees for sixteen players in Hermann Hreiðarsson, Adam Forshaw, Will Grigg, Moses Odubajo, Stuart Dallas, Andre Gray, James Tarkowski, David Button, Jake Bidwell, Scott Hogan, Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin, Jota, Lasse Vibe, Egan and Jozefzoon.

Most Brentford fans are hoping that the number does not increase shortly to sixteen as the elephant in the room is midfield talisman Ryan Woods who is reportedly coveted by Swansea with a potential fee of somewhere in the region of £6-8 million being reported as our asking price. As most Brentford fans realise we remain a stepping stone club which signs young emerging talent, develops and improves them and then sells them to clubs richer than us and ideally further up the food chain at the top of the market, before repeating the process.

Given the size of our current stadium, our attendance levels and limited revenue streams this is the only way we can remain competitive and continue to punch way above our weight. We rely on our analytics and scouting ability to find and secure a constant flow of young footballers who recognise that they will be joining a club with a solid and ever-growing reputation for improving players, putting them into the spotlight and eventually allowing them to leave for greater riches and maybe opportunity when the time is right. And that is the key. We ONLY sell when we believe it is opportune and we have already replaced the outgoing player and only then if we receive top dollar. We are no longer naive and babes in the wood. Clubs have to deal with us on our terms, and generally they do.

It would be wonderful to hold onto Ryan Woods for another year – and maybe we will – but the model would say that it is now approaching the time to sell him when he has two years left on his contract and is approaching peak value. He has also served us well for nearly three seasons and in my view it is now his time to move on up and reap the rewards he has worked so hard for and fully deserves. One day once we have moved into Lionel Road and our revenues have increased exponentially, I hope that we can hold onto all our star players but for the time being we have to be realistic. That being so we have made it clear to predators that the likes of Chris Mepham and Ollie Watkins are not for sale at the moment. The time will of course come, but at the moment they both have long contracts and they are still developing, improving and increasing in value.

There is also social media talk of Nico Yennaris leaving initially on loan to a European club, with the name of Dukla Prague, being mentioned before eventually joining a Chinese club. There is talk that Dukla Prague share ownership with a Chinese club and given Nico’s Chinese mother I assume he would count as a homegrown player which would make him a valuable asset. I have not bothered to check this information out given that this is an unsubstantiated rumour at present. If both players were to leave then surely a replacement would be needed although I am sure both Josh McEachran and Kamo Mokotjo would expect to be given the chance to prove they could fill the gap.

The squad has been fairly bloated in size by Brentford standards although injuries to Maupay and now apparently Emiliano Marcondes have left us short of striking options with only the relatively untried Watkins and the rookie Marcus Forss currently available to play down the middle. I expect us to go with what we have got up front and not reinforce our currently limited resources as great things are expected from both Watkins and Maupay this season and young Forss impressed during the preseason period.

Said Benrahma has already made quite an impression on his teammates in training and he, Sergi Canos, Watkins and the highly impressive young Chiedozie Ogbene will compete for first team places on the wing with Josh Clarke and Alan Judge also available. Much is expected of Canos after an injury ruined 2017/18 season and hopefully he will rise to the challenge and show us just how talented and dangerous he can be. Alan Judge continues to make progress after his awful long term injury which would have finished a lesser man. His fitness has returned but he is still yet to regain his touch but hopefully more game time will enable him to do so.

The immensely gifted Romaine Sawyers will compete with Marcondes for the attacking midfield berth with the latter finally beginning to find his feet after a long settling in period. Lewis Macleod also will challenge for a box-to-box role and has the advantage of having a decent goalscoring record.

We are now strong in central defence with Chris Mepham, surely destined to become our first £20 million transfer, Konsa and Jeanvier backed up by the ebullient Yoann Barbet and the massive young Mads Bech Sorensen whose time will surely come.

World Cup hero Henrik Dalsgaard will put his comic cuts own goal last Saturday behind him and continue to impress at right back, backed up by the versatile Josh Clarke, but we have concerns at left back where Rico Henry is not expected back for a while from his awful knee injury. Yennaris, Barbet or Tom Field could fill in and it remains to be seen if the oft-injured Moses Odubajo will sign a contract and also compete for the shirt. Moses is more than good enough but there are serious concerns about whether he can stay fit enough to make a contribution.

Dan Bentley had an exceptional season last year and should continue to improve under the guidance of his new goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavón, He will be supported by the reliable Luke Daniels and another B Team alumnus Ellery Balcombe fresh from his exploits with the England Under 19 squad. A slight problem on the horizon is that both Bentley and Sawyers have only two more seasons left on their contracts and hopefully they can be persuaded to extend their stay at the club.

Brentford’s performance in last Saturday’s friendly against Watford was Brentford to a T. We overplayed at the back and conceded two suicidal and easily avoidable goals. We were at times overpowered by a stronger and more ruthless team which took no prisoners but our sublime attacking one touch football tore gaps in the Watford defence. As per normal we were guilty of playing one pass too many and refusing to shoot when the chance beckoned. We missed far too many flagrant chances in front of goal.

I am hoping and to a degree expecting that the team both as individuals and a group will grow up this season, continue to play some fabulous football but also fight and scrap where necessary and improve their game management. If that is the case and we pick our moments to shoot and become more clinical in front of goal – big “ifs” it has to be said – then I predict a strong challenge for the playoffs.

I am really looking forward to the season and I hope you are too.

OOH-AAH: THE BOB BOOKER STORY BY GREVILLE WATERMAN – WHY I WROTE IT

I had written and co-authored a few books about Brentford FC – predominantly season reviews and histories, which were well received but frankly of minority interest beyond Bees supporters. If you are going to spend up to a year researching and writing a book then you might as well do something with potentially broader appeal that hopefully people will want to read.

I therefore looked for a footballer ideally with Brentford roots but who had also extended his career elsewhere, and Bob Booker was an obvious candidate.

His playing career lasted from the late 70s until 1993 and he then worked as a youth coach and assistant manager between 1994 until late 2009 so there were over thirty years’ worth of activity at three clubs to cover.

His background was also highly unusual. He had never won representative honours as a youngster and was more of an athlete than a footballer, finishing second in the 800 metres to Steve Ovett in the AAA Championships. He had no ambitions to become a footballer and was playing for Bedmond a local team, for whom he paid to play, when his manager, a landscape gardener bent the ear of one of his clients, Willis Hall, a Brentford director and talked him into giving Bob a trial.

The rest is history. Bob impressed as a tall and determined centre forward, trained for two days a week unpaid for several months while he finished his apprenticeship as an upholsterer and was then given a one-year contract by Bees manager Bill Dodgin.

Bob went from earning up to £200 per week on piecework – twice the national average wage – with a lifetime’s guaranteed employment to an uncertain salary of £60 per week at Brentford. It took him eight years as a first team regular before he caught up to where he was before in financial terms before he became a professional footballer.

Incredibly, Bob came from nowhere to make his debut away at Watford – where he lived – in front of his bemused friends a mere couple of days after he turned professional and scored an incedible hat trick against Hull City on his full home debut the following season.

Through a combination of talent, hard work, determination and dedication he made himself into a professional footballer despite starting years behind his teammates and never serving an apprenticeship. He became a valued and versatile jack-of-all-trades who wore every shirt for Brentford apart from the goalkeeper’s.

The hat trick brought about unwanted and unreasonable expectations and Bob was booed unmercifully for several years but he fought back and eventually earned the grudging support and appreciation of Brentford fans.

He overcame a serious ACL injury and a year out to force his way back into the reckoning but he was lacking in fitness and confidence and contemplating retirement when, despite his dodgy knee, Dave Bassett signed him out of the blue to bolster Sheffield United’s promotion challenge in 1988 and replace another injured player in Simon Webster.

Bob went from a smallish, homely club in Brentford where mid table mediocrity was the norm to the relentless pressure of playing for a big name club in Sheffield United.

It took time to settle down and again, Bob was the victim of vituperative abuse when his early performances clearly demonstrated his lack of fitness and sharpness – but he fought back, worked hard, engaged with the supporters and community and became a massive local hero as he played a major role in Sheffield United’s rise from Division Three to the First Division in successive seasons and Bob captained them to promotion.

The fairytale continued with Bob playing a prominent role in the top division, where he made his debut aged 32, and he scored the winning goal at QPR that ensured the Blades’s survival. I was with Bob in Sheffield last weekend and the welcome he received over 25 years on warmed the heart.

Bob saw out his career at Brentford where he had left in 1988 as one of their lowest paid players and returned, three years later as one of their top earners.

He was crippled by injury but played his part in helping the Bees win promotion in his first season back.

Once his knee finally gave up on him Bob suffered the depression and trauma of how to cope without football before the chance came for him to enter the second phase of his career as a youth coach at Brentford before he was taken to Brighton by Micky Adams and, highly unusually, worked as the assistant to six different managers including Adams, Peter Taylor, Steve Coppell, Mark McGhee and Russell Slade, becoming a well loved and highly respected member of the coaching staff who managed to adapt to the varying needs of each manager.

I hope readers find Bob’s amazing story as fascinating, original and unlikely as I did.

It deals with both the triumphs and tribulations of being a footballer. The euphoria of winning promotion and making a First Division debut against Champions Liverpool at the age of 32 – and there is an iconic image on the front cover of an unbelieving Bob smiling at his dad in the crowd that proud day. Booker had to cope with loneliness and depression as he faced career-threatening injury, struggling to make ends meet on a miniscule salary, desperately striving to earn a new contract and being cruelly disposed of by David Webb.

It could never happen today. He would probably have been scouted at the age of eight and joined an academy. If so he would have run the risk of losing the boundless enthusiasm that was such a crucial part of his makeup. Working in a factory – again something that is almost unknown for a footballer today, gave him the discipline and hunger that he needed to help him succeed as a footballer.

Bob is unique and a one-off who is still revered at the three clubs he served and his career deserves recognition and celebration. I just hope that I have done him justice.

“OOH-AAH – THE BOB BOOKER STORY” IS AVAILABE IN THE BRENTFORD AND SHEFFIELD UNITED STADIUM STORES, CITY BOOKS IN HOVE AND ON AMAZON AT http://tinyurl.com/y8ea8ovx

BOB WILL ALSO BE SIGNING BOOKS IN THE BRENTFORD STADIUM STORE BEFORE THE WOLVES GAME ON 26TH AUGUST AT 2PM AND IS ALSO APPEARING WITH MARK MCGHEE AT THE KOMEDIA THEATRE IN BRIGHTON ON 6TH SEPTEMBER. TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE FROM THE BOX OFFICE ON 01273 647100 OR AT http://www.komedia.com/brighton

Another chapter from my Bob Booker biography which should be out soon after the start of the season. Please let me know if you like it, particularly as this chapter is about Brighton.

CHAPTER 29: Micky Adams (Part One)

Managers tend to surround themselves with coaches that they know they can trust and rely on, but given his previous experiences, Brighton’s Micky Adams was understandably more determined than most to hire someone who could watch his back. Mohamed Al-Fayed had peremptorily dismissed him at Fulham just four months into a new five-year contract in favour of the higher profile Kevin Keegan, shortly after Adams had won both promotion and the Third Division manager of the season award. He then lasted less than a fortnight at Swansea City and explained what had happened to the Daily Telegraph: “I had 13 days there which was pretty controversial at the time. I got promised ‘x’ amount of pounds for the squad but the money never materialised and I told them they could look for another manager. I walked out on principle.”

In 1959 Ian Fleming wrote in Goldfinger, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” and Adams must have nodded his head in appreciation at the astuteness of this aphorism when his next managerial job at Brentford also ended quickly and badly. He inherited a squad that had been denuded of its best players and largely comprised low quality, cut-price nonentities. Assisted by his former Southampton teammate and Rod Stewart lookalike, Glenn Cockerill, who at 38 was comfortably the best player in the team, he brought in a series of experienced campaigners, but for all his energy and enthusiasm the Bees were relegated on the final day of the season.

Adams felt that he had done a good job in difficult circumstances: “I signed loyal players who I knew and trusted and I took them around with me. We did not lose too many games but we could not score and it was the draws that killed us.” David Webb then sold the club to Ron Noades who immediately sacked Adams and appointed himself manager. Thus ended a turbulent year in which he had lost three jobs. No wonder he had trust issues and valued loyalty above all other virtues.

Adams then took a temporary backseat and became assistant manager at Nottingham Forest and he was at a loose end after the dismissal of Dave Bassett in January 1999. Micky had impressed Dick Knight with his knowledge and passion for the game when they met at a reserve game and he was Knight’s only candidate to replace the sacked Jeff Wood.

Adams brought his friend Alan Cork with him as his assistant and together they built a tough, gritty and experienced squad in the image of their manager, which was perfectly equipped to compete and win the physical battles experienced in the Third Division, but also contained some creative players. Most importantly, most of them were known quantities as Paul Watson, Charlie Oatway, Danny Cullip, Darren Freeman, Warren Aspinall and Paul Brooker had played for Adams at either Fulham or Brentford and three of them had played for both clubs. Adams had built up an extensive knowledge of players and recruited other strong characters in Richard Carpenter, Paul Rogers, Michel Kuipers, Nathan Jones and Andy Crosby who were all to play a significant role over the coming seasons.

It is all very well sharing goals throughout the team but any successful side needs a regular goal scorer. Steele was a poacher with little physical presence but Bobby Zamora was the real deal; skilful, quick, elegant and deadly. Adams recalls how he arrived at the club: “We were going through an indifferent spell and struggling for a big centre forward. David Cameron wasn’t up to it and we had been outbid by Brentford for Lorenzo Pinamonte, so I called Ian Holloway at Bristol Rovers who told me: ‘I have got a young lad who’s been on loan at Bath City. He’s only 19 and as raw as anything but he has scored a few goals for them.’ I was not totally convinced but we were desperate and the clincher was when Ian told me he was only earning £140 per week, so I said ‘send him down,’ and the rest is history!”

By the time of Cork’s departure in September 2000 it was clear that Brighton were mounting a serious promotion challenge and it was crucial that momentum was maintained. Cork felt that the opportunity to manage Cardiff City was too good to pass up and having been Micky’s assistant at three clubs it was time for him to become a manager in his own right.

Micky Adams had inherited Bob Booker as his youth team manager when he had taken over at Brentford in 1997. Bob was quick to remind him of the two goals he had scored for Sheffield United against Adams’s Southampton back in 1991, but his new boss purported to have no memory of that feat. Adams recalls that first conversation: “I looked him straight in the eye and told him that I didn’t know him but I would give him a chance and see if he was hard working and loyal, and if so we would be fine. He pointed out the camp bed in the corner of the dressing room and told me he was so committed that he would be sleeping there that night. I burst out laughing and we soon became great friends and I knew that we would work well together.”

Micky Adams had promised to keep his eye on Bob Booker when he left Brentford and Micky knew exactly who he wanted as Cork’s replacement at Brighton: “Corky’s departure surprised me as he had always seemed happy as a number two. I was disappointed but Bob Booker was my immediate choice to replace him. We had stayed in touch and I knew he was unhappy at Brentford. He jumped at the opportunity to join me at Brighton and it was the best decision that I ever made.”

Dick Knight interviewed Bob on Monday 2nd October and he accepted the job before he had seen either Withdean Stadium or the training ground at the University of Sussex. Bob smiled at the memory and recalls that he was always instructed to take potential new signings for a cup of tea at the Grand Hotel where they could see Brighton at its best, and under no circumstances was he to show them the stadium before their signature was safely on the contract.

Dick Knight had vaguely heard of Bob from his time at Sheffield United: “Alan Cork was a good coach and would be hard to replace and when Micky made it clear that he wanted to hire Bob I backed his judgement. He made an excellent impression on me when we met at Topolino’s. Bob was very intelligent and had a lovely sense of humour and it was clear that he and Micky were on the same wavelength.”

Bob hit the ground running as he visited the training ground after lunch, which he greeted with a rueful smile: “Dick Knight loved the sound of his own voice but he was a fantastic chairman who knew his stuff. He made it clear to me that the club was being run on a shoestring and initially I was horrified when I saw the training ground. The facilities were awful, the players were spread over a number of small dressing rooms, the pitches were bumpy and we could only train whenever the University allowed us. Sometimes we had to train on rugby pitches, which made shooting practice interesting, or we would use the AstroTurf pitch, which took its toll on players’ knees. At least they had to clean their own kit and boots so that would not be my responsibility, as it had been at Brentford. Micky did his best to create an ‘us against the world’ atmosphere and made sure that the players made the best of things. I had seen far worse so I just got on with things.”

“Next we were off to Withdean Stadium, which was a total shambles. It was a small, decrepit athletics stadium with a football pitch surrounded by a running track. There were two uncovered stands, one holding 1,800 fans and the South Stand, which contained 4,500 temporary seats installed on a grass bank. It held less than 7,000 fans and there was no real atmosphere there, but we turned it into a fortress. The dressing room was a portakabin with a crooked floor and a leaking roof. There was a tiny office in the home dressing room, separated from the players, where Micky and I would go at halftime if the players were arguing with each other and we would let them sort things out for themselves.”

“Steve Winterburn, the groundsman, worked on his own with only a lawnmower, tractor, fork and a rake. No wonder the pitch was awful. There were no sprinklers or sheets to protect the pitch, which was either flooded or too dry. If a match was in in doubt there would be a general SOS and everyone would turn up with mops and try to get the pitch into playable condition.”

This was turning into a long first day and it ended with Bob getting his first sight of some of the players in a reserve game at Worthing against Oxford United.

Bob got home very late that night, exhausted but exhilarated at the challenge he faced. Initially he commuted every day from Watford and he would leave at about 5.30am and arrive at Micky Adams’s rented house in Burgess Hill before 7 o’clock and bring his new boss a cup of tea and the newspapers. Bob would get to the training ground at about 9 o’clock, an hour before the players.

The physio, Malcolm Stuart, introduced himself to Bob by covering his telephone with cling film on his first full day and when he finally managed to remove it he received a mysterious call purporting to come from the Samaritans stating: “You’re going to need us in this job.”

“Long serving kit man Jock Riddell had just left and was soon replaced by John Keeley who acted as kit man/goalkeeping coach – it was just like being back at Brentford! Dear old Jock used to sell antique furniture at car boot sales and the first time I went into the kit room at the training ground the playing strip was buried under a pile of his unsold stock. He died in 2002 and we all went to his funeral at the Downs Crematorium and just as we carried the coffin inside, a seagull landed on the roof and we all burst into tears.”

Bob shared an office at the training ground with Micky Adams and Malcolm Hinshelwood, Dean Wilkins and Vic Bragg from the youth section crowded in next door. Dean White also arrived at the same time as Bob as reserve team coach/chief scout.

Bob fretted all the way to Brighton on Tuesday 3rd October as despite all the frenzied activity of the previous day neither Dick Knight nor Micky Adams had outlined his responsibilities, but he had no time to think as he was thrown in at the deep end on his first day with the players. Micky Adams told him to run the session, starting with a warm-up, followed by some ball work and passing drills and he said he would come out and join him afterwards. Bob knew that he was being tested and wondered if Adams knew that this was the first time he had ever taken a session for professionals rather than YTS kids?

“I was worried about how the players would take to me and whether they would make my life difficult? I already knew some of them from their time at Brentford and had played with Darren Carr at Sheffield United but I wasn’t particularly close to any of them.”

Bob had particular concerns about one player: “I had clashed with Warren Aspinall several times in his Wigan days and he had developed a reputation for being difficult and upsetting people. How would a wily old pro like him react to me telling him what to do? I was his assistant manager now and I needed to earn his respect. Micky introduced me to the players and I could see Warren looking at me with an enigmatic grin on his face and I had no idea what he was thinking. I tried to put him out of my mind and I got them into a circle and said: ‘Right lads, I’m Bob Booker and I’m taking over from Alan Cork’ and went straight into the session, which was quite nerve racking as I was winging it. The players tested me straight away and tried to wind me up with comments like: ‘That’s not how Corky did it’ but I gave it right back to them: ‘He’s gone, I’m here now and I am not Corky! I’m doing it my way!’ Thankfully the players responded and seemed to enjoy the session. That was a crucial milestone for me as if things had gone differently I could have lost control of the squad and been finished before I had even started, and I learned that it isn’t necessary for every player to like you as long as they respect you.”

Former teammate Darren Carr that week told Andy Naylor in The Argus just what Bob Booker would bring to the Albion: “He was well liked (at Sheffield United) and I cannot see any reason why he won’t fit in with the lads. He is very bubbly and has a good sense of humour, so he will take over from Corky in that respect.”

Bob was a quick learner and realized that he was fortunate enough to be working with an experienced and committed group of players who largely policed themselves.

“There were several leaders. Danny Cullip, Charlie Oatway and Richard Carpenter were the loudest and ensured that nobody coasted. If Bobby Zamora was not producing then Cullip would have him up against the dressing room wall and tell him to ‘start running around as you’re costing me my bonus.’ The players would point fingers and sort things out, which is exactly what you wanted. Everyone was encouraged to speak up and it was a very vocal dressing room, but there were no cliques, no bullying, nobody went too far and everyone accepted criticism. They strongly reminded me of the Sheffield United squad which was also a strong group in the way they looked out for each other.”

Micky Adams understood how difficult it was for Bob at first as: “He knew nothing about the club and had to prove himself with a strong group of fiercely competitive and opinionated players as well as take over from an established number two in Corky. I kept my distance from the players and Bob became the link between them and myself, and he ensured that they knew what I wanted. If I was not happy with them then training would mainly consist of running and sometimes the players would take their frustration and high spirits out on Bob and he would be ragged and stripped naked. He always took it well and maybe he enjoyed being manhandled by Charlie Oatway?”

Bob soon worked out what was required: “I decided to create my own job description and get involved in everything. It was up to me to take the weight off Micky, provide my opinions and make myself indispensable. I understood that trust was paramount as Micky only tolerated people that he could rely on. He had no time for yes-men and wanted someone with opinions about players, tactics and substitutions who could help him make good decisions under pressure.”

“I became the link between Micky and the players. I had to build up their trust and deal with all their problems, ideally on my own but also knowing when I had to involve the manager. Apart from Danny Cullip who would always go straight to Micky, they would come to me with their problems and complaints. Maybe they were a bit wary of what Micky would tell them and preferred to hear it from me? Gary Hart was always the first to ask me why he had been dropped and I would try and tell him Micky’s reasons. Micky kept his distance and largely ruled by fear. He knew how to press their buttons, and he told them exactly how it was. The players responded and never crossed him and instead they would take it out on me and call him ‘Mein Führer’ and ‘Little Legs,’ which was fine, as I knew that it was only frustration and high spirits and I made sure that things never went too far.”

“I remember a spineless performance at Scunthorpe in the FA Cup in December 2000. The defeat was partially my fault as when Micky finished his team talk I sent them out onto the pitch to a resounding cry of ‘unleash hell,’ as I had just seen Gladiator! That worked well! Micky was seething all the way home and when we arrived in the early hours of the morning I had to tell the players to be at the training ground at 8am and he ran them around the nearby pond for 45 minutes shouting: “You didn’t run around yesterday for the supporters so you can make up for it now.”

“My job was to pick them up after he had criticized them. Micky would keep his distance so I could go in and calm everybody down. I kept it light and enjoyed joking with them
and as assistant manager I had to be one of them but also ensure that they did not see me as a spy. They knew what would and would not get back to the manager, such as when someone refused to pay a fine, and sometimes they would use me as a conduit to Micky, particularly when they wanted permission for a team night out.”

“I was a voice for Micky to get into the players and also a vehicle for the players to communicate with the manager.
Sometimes I had to assert myself, challenge them and make it clear who was in charge or the inmates would be running the asylum. I knew that Micky Adams would always back me up but I could tell that the players trusted and respected me. That was the key.”

“We tried to mix things up and sometimes as we were walking off the pitch at halftime Micky would say: ‘You can be bad cop today’ and I would go in and hammer them, which took them by surprise as that was normally Micky’s role. He would then interrupt me and say: “I think you’re being a bit harsh, Bob’ and pick them up. Reverse psychology that always seemed to work.”

“I helped Micky with the coaching and some days I would take all the training and on others we shared it. Micky was an excellent coach and I learned how he ran his sessions and I used many of them for the rest of my career. He was always very structured and organized and the players enjoyed them as he varied things and they were never left standing around. His team was extremely fit and there lots of timed pitch runs.”

Bob loved coaching: “Particularly when something you worked on in the week came off in a match. We spent hours practicing near post flick-ons by Cullip for Zamora to score, as well as a well-rehearsed free kick when Zamora would jog towards Paul Watson and they would pretend to have a chat before Bobby sprinted off just as Paul bent the ball in and he would invariably be unmarked and have a strike at goal.”

“I kept an eye on the young players coming through and I scouted players and future opposition either alone or with Micky. I also liaised with the secretary, Derek Allan, regarding accommodation, pick-up points and training arrangements for away games.

“It was almost like being married to another man – after all I already made Micky a cup of tea and brought him his newspapers most mornings! I was at his beck and call but I seemed to know instinctively what he wanted, learned quickly and I made it up as we went along. We were already friends from our time together at Brentford but I could not take anything for granted and it was clear that you had to be on your toes with him and if you made a mistake he would come down hard on you. I caused chaos on the way to a northern away game when I completely messed up all the pick-up arrangements and he went ballistic with me and I never repeated my error. I totally respected and learned so much from him”

Dick Knight was rarely at the training ground but he soon learned that Bob had settled in well. “There was a discernible gap between Micky Adams and the players. He did not want to get close to them and Bob was the perfect bridge and ensured that the lines of communication were maintained. He was very easygoing and the players responded to him but Bob made it clear that they could not take any liberties.”

Micky Adams was also delighted with his new assistant: “Bob has an infectious nature and gets on with everyone, which is a rare skill. Sometimes when you go into a club you wonder about peoples’ ulterior motives, but Bob was so loyal and he also made me laugh, and I like people who do that. But there was far more to him as he was a deep thinker who really knew the game, he was not afraid to voice his opinions firmly both to the players and me and he was a good coach.”

“Most importantly, he built a rapport with the players who liked and respected him, which was crucial, particularly as nowadays you have to be more of a baby sitter and if you don’t keep players happy you are finished. I knew that I could drip-feed things into them through Bob and that he would pass on my instructions and keep the dressing room happy and in check.”

Bob was relieved that his arrival did not see an end to the team’s success and they continued on their winning ways before clinching promotion after a 2-0 victory at Plymouth on 14th April 2001. A narrow win over promotion rivals, Chesterfield, who had been fined £20,000 and deducted nine points after a series of financial shenanigans, ensured that the championship was won. Albion eventually finished 10 points ahead of Cardiff City; Micky Adams was voted manager of the year and Albion only lost seven times after Bob’s appointment in October.

Bob did not enjoy the initial celebration as: “I went to Micky’s house for a drink after the Chesterfield match and he put on all his favourite Billy Joel albums, which he knew I detested. He sat back in his chair, glass in hand and with a contented look on his face, told me: ‘That’s it, the job’s done and I am going to leave things up to you now, Bob,’ and I made the majority of the decisions for the final couple of matches.”

Dick Knight took the players to The Westin La Quinta in Marbella to celebrate and he noticed with surprise an initial absentee: “Micky Adams only came for part of the trip as he did not want to socialize with the players. Bob and Paul Rogers were in charge and we left Marbella reasonably intact.” Bob laughed and stated that the chairman had given an extremely sanitized version, or perhaps he was not fully aware of what had gone on?

“Warren Aspinall came in late on the first night, cut his hand when he knocked over an expensive vase in the lobby and there was a telltale trail of blood leading to his door. Despite the evidence he was adamant it was nothing to do with him and he asked for a DNA test. Eventually we clubbed together and paid for the damage. Another afternoon a group of players wearing pillowcases with eye slits came in and trashed my room. I knew who the culprits were as they were stupid enough to stand outside my door afterwards and laugh about what they had done, but I took it in good spirits and Messrs Mayo, Cullip, Oatway, Rogers and Carpenter escaped without punishment. I came out to the swimming pool one afternoon wearing a white bathrobe and a Michael Jackson mask, peeled off my robe and dived into the swimming pool, swam a length and walked off. The players all seemed to enjoy my impersonations and I felt accepted and part of the group.”

Bob spent as much time as he could exploring Brighton and soon fell in love with the city. Initially he commuted from Watford but the driving soon began to take its toll on him, particularly when he and Micky had been out scouting the night before, and increasingly often he would sofa surf with Micky, Malcolm Stuart and his wife, Lorraine in Mile Oak, or Matt Hicks, the Football Liaison Manager, who became a particular friend.

“I became a bit of a nomad and by the end of the season I was generally only going back to Watford every Sunday and I knew that I would have to make arrangements to move down permanently which would put further strain on my relationship with Christine.”

“I was doing well financially and I received a £10,000 promotion bonus, which I used to pay for an extension on the house in Watford.”

Bob had enjoyed an exceptional first season at the club culminating in his first promotion as a staff member. He had felt under pressure given the success of the previous partnership between Adams and Cork but he had been his own man and put his own stamp on the job. The friendship he shared with Micky Adams had grown deeper and they also developed an exceptional working relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Bob recalls one incident that brought them even closer together: “We were sitting in his conservatory late one night and wanted a drink. Micky thought there was a keg of beer in the utility room, so we started drinking it but it was a bit warm so he told me to get some ice out of the freezer. I put the ice into the glasses and it started frothing up as we drank the beer. It tasted a bit odd but we finished it and went to bed. We were sharing a bed so Claire, who had just given birth to their son, Mitchel, could get some uninterrupted sleep – it’s a manager/assistant manager thing! In the morning we both felt awful and Claire burst into the room and asked: ‘Where is all the ice?’ ‘We used it in the beer,’ replied Micky. ‘That was my frozen breast milk.’ We looked at each other and he said ‘that’s the closest you will ever get to her breasts,’ and we laughed our heads off. Claire eventually saw the funny side.”

“We were confident about our prospects in Division Two, particularly as Micky signed a new contract and also brought in another of his old boys in Simon Morgan from Fulham. His knees were worse than mine, and he barely trained, but he was another leader who read the game brilliantly.”

“Micky took us to Ballygar, a village in County Galway for a preseason tour. He loved going there although there was only one sloping training pitch at the back of a pub. The trip was great for team bonding and some of our party stole a life-sized horse which was kept outside the pub, and tried unsuccessfully to bring it upstairs to Micky’s bedroom before leaving it in the training field.”

After losing to Sligo, Albion took part in the “Battle of Longford.” It all started badly when Longford Town scored an early goal which never crossed the line and there followed a number of unsavoury incidents including an elbow on Crosby, a falling-out between Wicks and Carpenter, a red card for Oatway and a brawl, which followed an appalling tackle by Steve Melton. Not surprisingly the game was abandoned at halftime and Bob did not help calm the situation when he popped his head round Longford’s dressing room door and said: “Thanks a lot for the game lads,” before beating a hasty retreat! Micky Adams apparently gathered his team together once they had made their escape, with bottles and cans pinging against the side of their coach, and instead of giving them a bollocking, as they expected, he simply said: “You’ll do for me lads.”

Micky and Bob’s partnership continued to flourish as Albion set the early pace in the Second Division with Adams winning the September manager of the month award following a run of four wins and two draws.

There was an early setback in October with an unexpected home defeat by Brentford and the following day Bob received another shock when Micky told him that he was leaving as he had the chance to join Leicester City as assistant manager to Dave Bassett, with the expectation of taking over as manager at the end of the season.

“I knew that Micky was very ambitious and wanted to manage in the Premier League. He felt frustrated at the lack of progress regarding a new stadium for the club and knew that the further we took Brighton, the harder it would be to sustain success, given the constraints of Withdean and the limited budget available. But I did not have a clue that he was about to leave.”

“I was devastated and whilst I totally understood his reasons, I felt that I had been left in the lurch. We had struck up a great relationship which was ending prematurely and I felt that we had unfinished business. I knew that there was nothing for me at Leicester as Micky was going there initially as assistant manager but just as when he left Brentford, he said that he would try and take me with him as soon as the opportunity arose, and, as you will hear, he kept his word at the end of the season. I knew I had done a good job but I was unsure of what would happen to me now as I had only been at the club for a year and I felt very vulnerable as most managers would want to bring their own staff with them.”

I spoke to Micky Adams recently and he explained his decision: “I was very ambitious and given the problems we faced I just could not see Brighton progressing at the pace I wanted. The higher we progressed the more difficult it would be to maintain our success. Dick Knight was always telling me how close we were to getting permission for a new stadium in the city but Bob and I would have a drink every Friday after training and our toast was always ‘Falmer, My Arse’ as we knew just how far away it was despite Dick’s words.”

“Like most chairmen, Dick Knight was strong-willed and opinionated, but he also talked a lot of sense. He never went behind my back and would speak plainly whenever something was on his mind. I was happy to listen to him although the lunches at Topolino’s were hard work as I used to come out stinking of tobacco, but we had good chats and I am extremely grateful to him for his support.”

“I was sorry to leave Bob behind as we got on so well both socially and professionally and it is not every manager who is willing to share his wife’s breast milk with his assistant!”

“In retrospect, I was a little bit eager and hurried in my decision to leave. I wanted to progress as quickly as possible but maybe I should have stayed another year and seen out the next title win – two in a row would have been incredible for me, but that’s life.”

No Hunger In Paradise by Michael Calvin

 


There is so much written about football nowadays and Amazon now stocks over 20,000 books on the subject, but I would be totally amazed if more than 1% of them are more than dross and have much literary merit or originality.

Amongst the ghost written pap there are a frustratingly small number of authors who stand out from the sea of mediocrity and one of them is Michael Calvin. I make no apology for writing about him yet again but with the forthcoming release of “No Hunger In Paradise” he has now written four exceptional football books each providing a detailed and informed study of a different aspect of the sport.

He has previously spent a season as a fly on the wall in promotion winning Millwall’s dressing room, given a voice to scouts – one of football’s most ignored groups, and demonstrated just how stressful and perilous is the role of a football manager.

Now he has surpassed himself with a forensic, lacerating and yet sympathetic study of what it takes to become a professional footballer. He has followed the journey followed by so many desperate and naive youngsters and examines the reasons why well over 99% fall off the parapet and disappear into obscurity or even worse, and only a handful make it into the big time.

Talent is of course a necessary prerequisite but it is by no means the be all and end all. The difference between success and failure can be minuscule. So often it is a case of having a good game at the right time and catching the eye of the right person. Injuries can strike just when contracts are being decided and woe betide any youngster who is perceived to be a problem, or who falls out with his manager or coach.

Calvin journeys far and wide and tells the salutary tales of kids from who are chased by clubs when they are barely more than babes in arms and how they can fall into the clutches of rapacious agents who often seem to act as a law unto themselves and are merely seeking riches without much thought for their clients’ wellbeing.

What can make all the difference is the presence of a levelheaded set of parents who want nothing more than to act in the best interests of their son, instill in them a set of values and protect them as much as possible from those who see them as no more than commodities or as a meal ticket. My heart went out to young Zak Brunt, who has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles at home and abroad and a father who initially found his situation hard to deal with, and is now at Derby County. Zak’s rollercoaster ride is heartrending and has been beautifully and lyrically summed up by Calvin: “Go well, young man. You have earned the right to dream. Stay safe out there, for there are still many swirling rivers to cross.” Not all parents are perfect and we hear of those who are more concerned with making a quick buck rather than looking at doing what is best for their son.

What Calvin describes is a veritable snake pit where corruption is rife and the innocent fall foul of adults who should know far better and are motivated by greed and the allure of finding the next big name.

Calvin exposes the ego driven coaches, such as the goalkeeping coach who insists on lining up the defensive wall for his 13 year old charge, who forget that it is all about the kids and not them, and the bullying mindset that frighteningly has still not been fully eradicated from the game. It really is all very shocking to read.

Fortunately there are some exceptions with heroes such as Steadman Scott with the supportive work he conducts at the wonderful Afewee Training Centre where talented kids from backgrounds well beyond deprived are given the help they need. So far more than 40 boys have benefited from their holistic approach and are now in the academy system, all hoping to follow in the footsteps of their most famous alumni, Nathaniel Clyne.

It is humbling to contemplate the obstacles that some of these kids have to overcome: broken homes, social deprivation, lack of role models and positive parental influence, poor schooling and the ravages of the gang culture. It was truly heartbreaking to read of the academy players whose form dropped off owing to the unimaginable effects of seeing good friends become the victims of street murder.

Everything is slanted in favour of the big clubs who can plunder the best talent from below with impunity owing to the dictates of EPPP, a self-drafted and self-serving manifesto for youth development written by the top six clubs which was ridden roughshod through the protests of their weaker brethren by the threats of withholding the much needed solidarity payments from the Premier League.

Calvin provides a snapshot of the fallout caused by Brentford’s decision to close their Category Two academy in May. He rightly lambasts the club for parading the Under Eights on the pitch before a full house crowd at the Fulham local derby less than a fortnight before the decision was made public, an action that Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles regrets but was forced into owing to HR protocols related to staff redundancies, and as a parent himself, he fully understands how the parents must have felt. Giles is taken to task for this PR own goal but makes a persuasive case for why Brentford decided to stop investing around one and a half million pounds each year in an academy that whilst it was turning out fine young men in abundance, it had yet to produce any first team material and the two most outstanding prospects in Ian Carlo Poveda and Josh Bohui had been picked off by Manchester City and United respectively for relative peanuts. The club, innovative as ever, has now launched a B team Development Squad operating outside the system and its success is being closely monitored by many other clubs who similarly feel that it has hardly worthwhile investing time and money on prospects who either fail to make the grade, or conversely, even worse, prove to be far too talented to hang onto and are snapped up for fees that bear no resemblance to their likely future value.

One small quibble, as is the case with everything written by this author, facts are scrupulously checked, however I would query his assertion that fullback, Rico Henry, singled out as one of the most promising youngsters in the game had found it hard to establish himself at Brentford, given that he was seriously injured at the time of his signing for his new club and was not fit to play until well into the new year, since when he has played almost every game and impressed everyone with the quality of his performances and the heights that he might reach one day.

This is an important book which is often uncomfortable to read and one that raises many important and difficult questions. We owe a massive duty of care to our children and it is apparent that football and its acolytes are falling far short of their responsibilities and Calvin deserves credit for shining a light on and exposing many of the game’s shortcomings.

No Hunger In Paradise by Michael Calvin is published by Century at £16.99.