BOB BOOKER BIOGRAPHY EXTRACT

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.

Thanks.

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.

You Are A Long Time Retired – 21/5/16

I make a point of reading The Football League Paper every Sunday and I always make a beeline for the Where Are They Now column. Every week it features a grainy black and white team photograph dating back up to forty years or so and provides an update on what the players have been getting up to since they retired. Some, but a very small minority remain household names to this day, predominantly as managers and coaches, but the overwhelming majority have faded away into relative obscurity, their glory days long-since passed and they now work in a variety of common-or-garden or mundane jobs. A worrying number have also passed away and I find it hard to realise or accept that a gnarled veteran in his early thirties when I first started watching the game fifty years ago is now in his dotage – or worse. I well remember researching the whereabouts of some of our former Brentford heroes from the sixties when working on the Big Brentford Book series and making the shocking discovery of how very few players from that era still remained with us.

So what happens to footballers when they retire and how do they cope with being out of the spotlight and no longer being a global, national or local hero? What happens when they have to adapt to the dull and prosaic reality of having to manage their own affairs, make their own travel arrangements, find alternative employment, adjust to a massive reduction in their earnings and even look after their passport rather than having it held for safekeeping by their club?

Retired footballers have on average around sixteen thousand days to fill from the time of their retirement until their death and it is not surprising that many former footballers find this transition difficult if not impossible to manage. Many fall upon hard times and the results of the loss of their former fame, glory, stature and even sense of purpose can be drastic and catastrophic with over one hundred and fifty ex-footballers ending up in prison, predominately for drug offenses. Others suffer from mental health issues and bankruptcy. Divorce is rife with a staggering one third of all footballers ending their marriage within a year of hanging up their boots and, tragically, suicide is also all too common.

Writer and award-winning stand-up comedian Alan Gernon has now produced a well-researched, thought-provoking and comprehensive book that is certainly not a barrel of laughs. Retired provides a disturbing analysis of the never-ending variety of troubles and problems that footballers can face once they stop playing; what can and does happen to them, and what support and help are available to them when things begin to go wrong as they attempt to readjust to normal life. Liberally illustrated with a plethora of case studies of ex-players whose difficult and sad stories are either already in the public domain or who have been brave enough to go public with their recollections within this book, Retired is a much-needed and long-overdue cautionary tale of the problems and pitfalls that can await every footballer once he leaves the spotlight.

Mr. Gernon has ranged far and wide in his research and has obtained insights, some of them excruciating in their honesty, from former players such as David Bentley, Lee Bowyer, David Busst, Geoff Thomas, Jody Craddock, Mark Ward, Richard Sadlier, Gary Stevens and John Newsome, amongst others, who between them have suffered from a myriad of problems since the end of their glory days.

Some of the statistics are mind blowing. Research undertaken by XPRO, a charity set up to help, support and advise former professional footballers highlights the following:

  • There are over sixty thousand former players living in the UK and Ireland
  • Two out of every five Premier League players, who earn an average of forty-two thousand pounds per week, face the threat of bankruptcy within five years of ending their career
  • One third of footballers will be divorced within a year of retirement
  • Eighty percent of retired players will suffer from osteoarthritis

World players’ union FIFPro also revealed that thirty-five percent of former players faced problems with depression and anxiety, particularly if they had suffered serious injuries during their playing career, more than double the figure for the general population.

What about the young kids who dream of becoming footballers but have their hopes and dreams shattered? The odds are heavily weighted against them. Former Liverpool schoolboy player Michael Kinsella’s story is typical of so many like him. Thirteen members of his schoolboy side joined professional clubs with only two enjoying long-term careers. Six ended up in prison, with Kinsella himself receiving a ten-year sentence for drug offences.

Some players are fortunate enough to become managers or coaches, others seek the Holy Grail of a pundit’s role within the media but these opportunitiesare few and far between with demand massively exceeding supply. There are nowhere near enough jobs to go round and the majority go to the biggest names.

Some players even die early from the effects of heading the old-style heavy leather football which resembled a cannonball when wet. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain condition becoming more common among footballers. Jeff Astle, a renowned header of the ball for West Bromwich Albion and England in the sixties and early seventies died tragically young in 2002 and the coroner concluded that he suffered neurological damage from heading a football and his illness was later diagnosed as CTE.

Former West Ham player Mark Ward struggled after retirement and turned to alcohol and was short of cash. He rented out a property which was used to store drugs and he ended up in prison. Michael Branch was a special talent at Everton who ended up serving a seven-year sentence for supply of Class A and B drugs.

The book is relentless featuring tale after tale of players who have fallen foul of a variety of problems and pitfalls and it can be so hard for footballers who can resemble thirty-seven year-old newborns emerging from what Niall Quinn has so memorably described as an adults’ playground to adapt to what they have to face in the real world. Thankfully there is now far more support at hand and it is no longer considered a weakness to cry for help.

Hopefully this quite brilliant book will help raise awareness of the seriousness of the situation and reinforce the fact that there is now expert help available whenever it is required.

This is help that perhaps former Southampton player Bobby Stokes could surely have done with. Never a star, but a solid, dependable, all-action midfield dynamo whose place in Southampton legend is assured by virtue of the dramatic and unforgettable winning goal he scored in 1976 to win the FA Cup for The Saints against Manchester United. He was the toast of the town and became that rarity, a Portsmouth boy who became a hero for their hated rivals in Southampton.

He died far too young in straightened circumstances and life after football was not easy for him. Mark Sanderson has lovingly recorded his life and achievements in Bobby Stokes: The Man from Portsmouth Who Scored Southampton’s Most Famous Goal.

It is a biography that has been written with sympathy, affection and respect by a man who has a light and deft touch with words and possesses an immense knowledge of his subject.

Both books are highly recommended.

Retired By Alan Gernon And Bobby Stokes By Mark Sanderson are both published by Pitch Publishing.


Don’t Miss This Book – 16/4/16

Some books are hard to get into but are eventually worth the struggle, others make my eyes glaze over almost from the opening pages and bring about an irresistible urge to fall asleep, but just sometimes you hit the jackpot and pick up a book which engages and delights you from the opening paragraph and you find yourself totally captivated and nodding in agreement with the author’s comments as well as totally identifying with everything that he says.

Apologies for the radio silence over the past couple of days but I have just been indulging myself and was totally engrossed in a wonderful new book mysteriously and enigmatically titled Gus Honeybun, Your Boys Took One Hell Of A Beating by Simon Carter.

So what on earth is this all about and who or what is Gus Honeybun? Quite simply, Simon Carter is a journalist who has enjoyed a love affair with Exeter City for the past thirty-seven years and the book is almost four hundred pages worth of an intoxicating mixture of ecstasy, joy, pride, shock, horror, resignation and shattered expectations as he recounts his memories of following a mediocre lower league football club in their fight for survival against almost insurmountable odds.

As for Gus, he was a Janner, a nickname for all those unlucky enough to be born and (in)bred in Plymouth. He was a popular rabbit puppet who appeared on local television for almost thirty years and helped celebrate children’s birthdays by doing a series of on-air bunny hops and winks. That all sounds pretty harmless and uncontentious to me but unfortunately Gus was also a rabid Plymouth Argyle supporter and would appear on-screen proudly wearing a green and white Argyle scarf whenever they had a whiff of success – pure provocation and something that used to infuriate young Simon as a died in the wool Exeter fan who took particular delight in his club’s rare victories over their local rivals.

Fans of every other Football League team will identify with the exploits and adventures recounted in this book. Taking a total of ten supporters to midweek games up North in the depths of Winter, travelling away with no hint of expectation when actually scoring a goal, or at least winning a corner, was the most one could hope for. Losing miserably and spinelessly to the like of Warrington in the FA Cup with the further embarrassment of seeing your team’s myriad shortcomings transmitted to the entire nation through the live television coverage on BBC. The sense of utter frustration when you just know that your team will let you down whenever it really matters, but, never mind, you will still be there for the next game or the following season with the slate wiped clean knowing full well that further embarrassments and disappointments await you.

Carter writes well and concisely with short, sharp, staccato, tight sentences and he has a keen eye for a headline and an article that grabs your attention in the opening paragraph, draws you in and then never lets go. He is a fanatic without being an anorak or statto and non-Exeter City fans will be able to stay with the book without too much trouble as it deals with a multitude of themes and subjects that will resonate with every football fan without going into mind numbing detail of obscure games, players and events from long ago which would have far more limited appeal.

Carter does celebrate local heroes such as Tony Kellow, a squat goalhanger who, back in the day, often put Brentford to the sword, the late and much lamented Adam Stansfield, goal machine Darran Rowbotham and Peter Hatch, still living in Exeter thirty-five years after spearheading a massive four goal giant killing of Newcastle United, who Carter interviews and then writes about with much poignancy and pride. Sometimes it is good to actually meet your heroes when they turn out to be even better men in the flesh than in the imagination of a young boy.

Supporting a no-hoper is all about patience and tolerance and being able to take pleasure in small mercies and then relishing and celebrating the rare triumphs and achievements when they do come along and there is much here about the glory of winning the Fourth Division Championship in 1990 and gaining promotion back to the Football League in 2008 through the dreaded playoffs. Who can begrudge him the opportunity to play the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in the FA Cup and achieve meritorious draws against both Premier League giants as well as earning enough money from the ties to help keep the club afloat?

Brentford fans will enjoy his account of the quite ridiculous 1982/83 season which saw Exeter barely escape relegation despite scoring eighty-one goals – generally enough to ensure a promotion bid, but Exeter also inconceivably found a way to concede a staggering one hundred and four times and their forty-six matches saw an incredible one hundred and eighty-five goals scored, or four goals in every match.

Eight of those goals came in that unforgettable game which Brentford won by seven goals to one. Carter witnessed this humiliation yet he was back, undaunted, bright eyed and bushy tailed for the next game which saw a massive improvement as his heroes only lost by five goals to one to Orient!

Football is also about friends and companionship and there are many amusing tales of derring-do as Simon and his mates travel the country more in hope than expectation and somehow manage to get back unscathed to their South Western outpost. Bizarrely he also comes across the likes of Brad Pitt, Freddie Starr and Uri Geller in the course of his adventures.

There is gallows humour in abundance and the book is an easy, fulfilling and amusing read but Simon’s account of his unrequited passion and love affair also has the power to stir the emotions and move you at the same time.

This is a book that should not be missed and it is highly recommended for supporters of any football club from Aldershot to Yeovil – apart of course from Plymouth Argyle.

GUS HONEYBUN, YOU BOYS TOOK ONE HELL OF A BEATING BY SIMON CARTER AND PUBLISHED BY PITCH PUBLISHING. AVAILABLE ON AMAZON FOR £12.99.

Who Wants A New Book? – 31/3/16

Today I need to ask everybody a question – how many of you would be prepared to buy a new book by me should I be able to publish one at the end of this season?

Firstly I would just like to thank everybody who was kind or daft enough to purchase a copy of Ahead Of The Game. I am eternally grateful to all of you and only hope that you enjoyed it and were happy with your purchase.

My publisher, James Lumsden-Cook, the owner of Bennion Kearny was brave enough to take a real chance on me and probably against his better judgement decided to go ahead with the last book which thankfully received some fantastic reviews and has exceeded all expectations by selling the best part of one thousand copies.

Now the time has almost come when we need to decide how best to proceed regarding its potential successor.

The last book was pretty straightforward as it catalogued an unexpected but quite wonderful series of triumphs interspersed with the massive trauma of Warburtongate but this time it is likely to be a very different story given all the happenings and ups and downs both on and off the field since last July.

What the publisher quite understandably wants to know is how many Brentford supporters will really want to buy a book that is more concerned with lost opportunities, over expectations, defeats, disappointments plus a few massive high points too as well as an inquest and analysis into the many things that have gone wrong plus of course those that went right and an explanation as to why certain actions had to be taken?

I have already written the best part of a quarter of a million words regarding all the events of this season, both good and bad, and the book will be fair, balanced and objective and will look forward as well as back, rather than just being a moan-fest.

Hopefully there will also be a few unexpected guest writers who will provide their own perspective on all things Brentford.

For those who like their nostalgia, there will also be several more esoteric pieces on players and events from the recent and more distant past which I hope will be evocative and stir a few memories from all fans of a certain vintage.

The new book has provisionally been titled Growing Pains, which I think is a fair summation of where we currently find ourselves in the Brentford Project.

Like the first book it would be around four hundred pages in length, contain some fantastic action photographs from this season and retail at around sixteen pounds.

The BFC Talk blog has been going from strength to strength and the readership levels have risen dramatically this season and particularly over the past three months, so the key question is how many of you who either bought the first book or who read my blog either regularly or from time to time are going to be interested or likely to buy a copy of Growing Pains if and when it is published in June?

My publisher and I have spoken at length about this subject and he wants to guage likely levels of interest in the new book before he gives the project his final go ahead.

I am therefore going to ask if anyone with an interest in buying the book could please email BFC@BennionKearny.com and confirm that they are more than likely to buy the new book should it come out in June.

Reading between the lines we need to know that a minimum of three hundred people are likely to buy the book in order to make it a viable proposition.

Should the publisher receive significantly less than that number of emails expressing interest then the project could well be mothballed and the book not be published.

That is the situation in a nutshell, if enough supporters confirm their interest in buying a copy then it will be published – even, perish the thought, if we are relegated, unlikely though that prospect is.

I am desperately keen for all my work to see the light of day and very much hope that as many of you as possible will send an email to BFC@BennionKearny.com within the next couple of weeks as we need to make a final decision by the end of April.

Please don’t just leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter or on the blog itself, please send your email to the publisher.

Obviously sending an email does not commit you to buying a copy (and please also let us know if you might even be interested in buying an extra copy or two as a present for someone else) but it will certainly give us a reasonable idea of whether the book is likely to be a success or not.

Apologies for having to make this request but I am sure you can all see why I have to do so and hopefully you will all respond accordingly and send in your emails.

Thank you for all your interest and support.

Best wishes

Greville

 

Ahead Of The Game – Book Signing And Review 12/12/15

I just wanted to provide everyone with some advance notice of a special pre-Christmas book signing next weekend.

Brentford Chairman Cliff Crown has kindly agreed to meet and chat to supporters and also sign copies of Ahead Of The Game between 2 – 2.30 pm next Saturday, December 19th, in the BFC Superstore before the Huddersfield Town match.

Cliff very kindly contributed an excellent, erudite and insightful Foreword to the book and he has always been extremely supportive of all my efforts, and I am very grateful to him.

Hopefully some of you will take the time and trouble to come and talk to us both next Saturday, and we very much look forward to seeing as many of you as possible.

In passing, I would also like to thank Dan Williamson, author of the excellent Open Veins of Football website for his enthusiastic and perceptive review of Ahead Of The Game.

Here is what he had to say about the book:

For Brentford fans this book will act as a Bible of what was one of their most successful seasons of recent years. Ahead of the Game is a fans-perspective diary of blog entries of the 2014/15 season by hardcore fan Greville Waterman.

The author has an admirable dedication to, and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of, the Bees, having been a match-goer since he was young and even completing a short stint on the club’s board.

As a neutral I must admit to knowing very little about Brentford FC before reading Ahead of the Game. It was refreshing not being familiar with all of the players involved, or the results of that season.

It gave the book an almost novel feel, like it was sports fiction. I personally enjoyed the off-the-field passages more than the detailed match reports, like a real-life version of the Sky television show Dream Team.

The book begins in pre-season, with the author sharing his dismay at the exit of fans’ favourite Clayton Donaldson to Birmingham City. Greville’s joy at visiting Griffin Park for the first game of the season was palpable, and some of the away-day stories were brilliant.

Often the result pales into insignificance against the enjoyment of a “day out” and as a reader these anecdotes were the most pleasurable to read. One of the highlights was a chance meeting with a Burger King-munching Oldham player at an M6 service station.

The author’s match day experiences with his kids were great too, including when he coincided an away trip to Forest with seeing his daughter who was studying at Nottingham University.

The will-he-won’t-he Mark Warburton saga made February one of the most page-turning months, but perhaps the most excruciating for Brentford fans.

I also really enjoyed learning more about the mysterious presence of Matthew Benham. The media-shy owner and his “moneyball” approach have been covered in the press but it was great to learn more about the man who has transformed the club in recent years.

The diary-format meant that the book could be easily digested in small, bitesize chunks, but at 400-odd pages it is a mammoth read. Some of the passages seemed a little forced and could have been reduced or even removed to make for a more fluid read, but the detail may appeal to certain Brentford fans.

Brentford are currently in mid-table of the Championship, having recently appointed former Walsall boss Dean Smith as the manager, the second since Mark Warburton’s exit to Ibrox.

The ups-and-downs such as these are what makes being a football fan so great, and why it’s so fascinating to keep reading about the sport.

A must read for all Bees fans and recommended for football fans looking for a detailed insight into another club.

Ahead of the Game: Brentford FCs 2014/2015 Season by Greville Waterman (Bennion Kearney, 2015)

A Nice Surprise – 4/12/15

Please forgive me if I blow my own trumpet a little bit today. I woke up yesterday to a lovely and totally unexpected surprise – a long and detailed review of Ahead Of The Game from Rob Langham, the co-founder of the quite excellent Football League website and blog, The Two Unfortunates.

Here is what he had to say:

AHEAD OF THE GAME

 

logo9nobannerThis is a remarkable book from Greville Waterman. Weighing in at a colossal 400 pages, it’s a sumptuous chronicle of one of the best seasons in the history of Brentford Football Club, a warts and all expose of club’s march to the Championship play-offs which, although predicted (kind of) in these quarters, obviously came as a surprise to the nation’s press and the bulk of their opponents, such was the inability to cope with the Bees’ fluid passing style and shrewd tactics in 2014/15.

So how did Greville Waterman, an autogenic therapist, find the time to compile such a tome? The answer is incrementally. By piecing together contributions to his excellent blog, BFCTalk, Waterman has opted to republish the whole set of exhaustive posts within the covers of a print edition, supplemented by the odd new entry.

It’s a format which various blogs have followed before, most notably the pioneering sites Pitch Invasion and In Bed With Maradona and serves a useful purpose. Few of us read every word a website produces so to have them gathered under one roof is a logical summarising statement. IPads notwithstanding, there is also the ease of digestion that a hard copy brings.

Of course there are disadvantages – the immediacy of online commentary as a medium is hard to beat and one becomes used to immediate feedback on one’s work via twitter, comments sections and other social media. That’s less the case with a book where the pedestrian process of printing and distribution and the difficulty punters have in immediately responding can leave one wondering what people think of your writing. Hence, a club based project for the specialist reader will rely on distribution through channels such as the club shop and the community of fans – Brentford are one of the best represented among football league clubs in this respect, the excellent Beesotted sitting alongside Waterman’s blog as a home for considered, thoughtful opinion.

Of course no discussion of Brentford in 2014-5 can avoid the unceremonious parting of the ways with manager Mark Warburton in the season’s run in. Avoiding the inclination to side with club policy, Stalinist style, Waterman takes care to provide opposing points of view and this is the correct decision given that none of us know the real story behind the ex-city trader’s departure and the unusual way in which it was handled.

On the face of it, Warburton, now shooting turkeys in charge of Glasgow Rangers, seemed the perfect fit for Matthew Benham’s stat attack. With a background forged among metrics and variables, the fit was obviously a good one and it seems that less than 100% control over recruitment was the sticking point. Waterman correctly predicts the emergence this season of an ‘I told you so bandwagon’ and no sooner was 2015-6 underway than that particular vehicle could be seen riding into town. But Brentford have stabilised quite well under Lee Carsley and have now managed to tempt Dean Smith away from Walsall. Only a fool would write them off just yet.

Meanwhile, Waterman continues to type away and his musings provide much of interest, not just to Brentford fans, but to supporters of all clubs in the division, not to mention football as a whole. That comes on the back of 50 years supporting the club through thick and, let’s face it, mainly thin. So, the enthusiasm that pours from the page at such a stunningly successful season for the Bees is unsurprising; leaving anyone with an ounce of emotion warm inside.

Ahead of the Game by Greville Waterman
Published by Bennion Kearny 2015 : £15.99 from Amazon

I was totally bowled over by Rob’s kind words and for once almost find myself struggling to know what to say in response – a rare feeling as I am sure you all fully realise.

Recognition from an acclaimed football writer like Rob – even if he is a Reading fan – makes it all worthwhile as does the realisation that your words do matter as they are having an effect upon somebody and that readers are really enjoying and identifying with what you have written.

I love writing this blog and I am giving you all an advance warning that I am already well over one hundred and twenty-five thousand words into next year’s book with the season still less than halfway over and with much more activity anticipated at Griffin Park over the coming months. More grist to my mill I am sure!

Even though there is so much fertile material about the club and everybody associated with it that just begs to be written about, discussed and analysed, sometimes it is hard to find the time, energy and motivation to get it all down on paper, so to receive a boost like I did yesterday from Rob makes it all totally worthwhile.

Thank you once more and now – back to the grindstone!

Book Signing

imagesFormer Bees legend – to me anyway – Richard Lee will be joining me in the BFC Superstore at 1.30pm this Saturday before the Preston North End match to sign copies of Ahead Of The Game.

Richard is featured heavily in the book and also wrote a brilliant review of the season which outlined exactly what is was like to be in the dressing room last season as well as his carefully considered viewpoint on both Matthew Benham and Mark Warburton.

Even if you do not want to read my stuff, Richard’s chapter is well worth the price of the book by itself!

GW & Richard LeeIt would be great to meet fellow Brentford fans who hopefully enjoy my blog and perhaps those who have not yet bought a copy of Ahead Of The Game might now reconsider and come along on Saturday.

So far I have sold around 500 copies which is pretty good for a book on Brentford FC but hopefully with the help of all of you, and maybe a pre-Christmas rush too, we can at least double that figure which would mean that I should then be able to get another book published at the beginning of next season – if that’s what you all want!

Richard and I look forward to seeing you this Saturday!

Best wishes

Greville

Ahead Of The Game is available at the BFC Superstore, via the BFC website or on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/p6tsasj

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Give Football Managers Some Slack – They’re Living On The Volcano – 7/9/15

So who would be a football manager?

The Griffin Park Grapevine fans’ message board is currently awash with mocking and derogatory comments regarding former Brentford manager Terry Butcher’s lack of success at his new club, Newport County, who currently languish at the foot of Division Two with a mere single point from their opening six matches. Schadenfreude at its malicious worst.

Yes, Butcher proved to be a dismal failure throughout his tenure in charge at Brentford eight long years ago, failing to connect with the Brentford supporters and recruiting a ragtag and bobtail of uninspiring journeymen who failed to deliver on the pitch.

It is so easy to carp and criticise but it takes far more effort to look beyond the superficial and obvious and try and analyse why things go wrong. Butcher’s efforts at Griffin Park were hamstrung by a total lack of investment and he was forced to recruit in the bargain basement.

The situation at Newport is even more dire. In the close season EuroMillions lottery winner Les Scadding decided to stop throwing his money into a black hole and the club found itself bereft of his investment, money that had enabled Newport to climb back into the Football League and even come close to promotion to Division One. Manager Justin Edinburgh, the architect of their on field success, buttressed as he was by Scadding’s massive financial support, quite understandably decided to jump ship and has now led his new team, Gillingham to the top of League One.

It might be slightly exaggerating to state that Terry Butcher has inherited a club in turmoil, but it can’t be by very much. The Supporters’ Trust is valiantly attempting to run the club but they have had to cut their cloth accordingly and the very future of Newport County remains in doubt.

The playing budget has been cut dramatically, the better and higher paid players have left the club and their squad now contains a hodgepodge of players released by National League teams, including the unforgettably named Lenell John-Lewis, kids, rejects and bargain basement signings plus some untried young loanees including our own Josh Laurent.

Brentford supporters saw with our own eyes just how strong and talented a full strength Oxford United team was when they obliterated our young and weakened eleven a few short weeks ago. No wonder Newport County are struggling to keep their head above water given the number of recent body blows they have suffered.

Terry Butcher has previously proved at Motherwell and Inverness that he can be a successful manager if he is given a modicum of support and I am sure that his calmness and experience are now crucial as he needs to impart some confidence into his young and overmatched squad and put a metaphorical arm around their shoulders as they learn the hard way about the realities of the game at that level.

His beleaguered team is certainly playing for him and creditably fought back from an early two goal deficit recently against promotion favourites Leyton Orient before falling to an unjust late defeat.

His squad on Saturday was down to the bare bones and included six teenagers given the recent transfer of highly rated teenager Regan Poole to Manchester United and another defender, Kevin Feely deciding to retire and return to full-time education. There is also an ever-growing injury and suspension list that further limits his options.

It never rains but it pours and Butcher is fighting against almost insurmountable odds as his team fights for survival and he tries to remain in a job.

Surely he deserves a little bit of sympathy and understanding rather than the cheap jibes he is currently being subjected to by fans and pundits alike who are totally unaware of the constraints under which he is working.

Brentford no longer have a manager but new Head Coach, Marinus Duikhuizen has also been subjected to some second guessing and criticism barely after he has got his feet under the table at Griffin Park.

After all, expectations have been raised to a ludicrous degree after last season’s massive overachievement, the team has got off to a slow and stuttering start and also Marinus isn’t Mark Warburton.

Reason enough surely for some Brentford fans to get on his back?

Rather than find fault, they should instead consider the long list of serious problems that he has inherited and has had to cope with recently at a club which has undergone a radical revolution from top to bottom over the past few months rather than the more gentle evolution that the majority of supporters would have preferred:

  • Inflated expectations after reaching the playoffs last season
  • The determination on the part of our opponents not to underestimate us again or take us for granted
  • Enduring disappointment at the departure of Mark Warburton and David Weir
  • The loss of key squad players in Craig, Odubajo, Dallas, Douglas and Gray
  • Losing Bjelland, Jota and McEachran to long-term injuries
  • Having to rebuild a team on the verge of the new season
  • Trying to integrate a whole raft of new signings from abroad, none of whom with any experience of playing in England or understanding of the demands of the Championship
  • Being marooned in a new environment and country without the support of his family
  • Inheriting a new management structure at the club where he does not have the final say on player recruitment
  • Facing incessant media questioning over matters that are not under his control
  • The chaos and embarrassment caused by the appalling new pitch at Griffin Park which has had to be relaid

I am quite sure that football fans would be more patient and have a better understanding of the problems and pressures that managers face every day if they took the time to read Mike Calvin’s fascinating and illuminating new book, Living On The Volcano.

Calvin has gained a well-earned reputation over the past few years for obtaining the inside track on what goes on behind the scenes in football and he has now focused his attention on the role of football managers and how they deal with everything that is thrown at them. Calvin has followed his tried and tested method of becoming a fly on the wall and observed a variety of managers, young and old, established and new, successful and otherwise from the Premier League down to Division Two as they went about their business throughout the 2014/15 season.

The title of the book came from Arsene Wenger who compared the insecurity of his job to that of living on a volcano where any day might be your last, and the statistics substantiate his concern.

The average lifespan of a manager is seventeen months in the Football League and a mere eight in the competitive jungle of the Championship. On average it takes a sacked manager eighteen months to get a new job and fifty-eight percent of first time sacked managers never receive a second opportunity to get it right. Ian Holloway has spent nineteen years as a football manager and moved home thirty-three times throughout his long and illustrious career.

The pressure is intense and unrelenting and just as is the case in all other walks of life where one in every four of us suffers from mental health problems, some football managers also cannot cope and become ill. Martin Ling, a chirpy, confident manager at Leyton Orient and Torquay United was so stricken with depression that he underwent an ultimately successful course of Electroconvulsive Therapy and is now making his way back into the game despite the self-proclaimed coffee stain on his CV and the ignorance and prejudice he has to overcome if he is to find a new post.

Despite the fact that managers are in competition against each other every week and new jobs only come about as a result of dead men’s shoes, there is a real sense of family, brotherhood and fraternity between them all and a deep shared understanding of the problems they all face to a greater or lesser degree, such as lack of financial support, second guessing owners and chairmen and the ignorant vitriol spewed on fans’ message boards.

Yes, there are some well-publicised feuds such as that between Neil Warnock and Stan Ternent but Ling was touched to receive many calls of support during his darkest hours from illustrious members of the League Managers Association such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Sam Allardyce.

Notts County manager Shaun Derry was visibly shocked and angered at the total lack of respect paid to Russell Slade by Leyton Orient’s ignorant and bumbling new Italian ownership who totally disrespected him and cut him off at the knees by threatening him with the sack in front of his players if he did not win his next match. Nobody deserves to be treated like that, let alone a manager of Slade’s stature and accomplishments.

Managers cannot show weakness or their true feelings in front of their players and Tommy Docherty once talked about his stuckon smile that he wore every day at the training ground irrespective of his true feelings.

Readers also could not fail to be affected by the poignancy of Adie Boothroyd’s fourteen year old son bursting into tears when informed of his dad’s sacking by bottom of the league Northampton Town and how well his father dealt with the situation and turned it into a life lesson for his son.

Boothroyd also talks a lot of sense about picking a good chairman before you pick a new club and ensuring that football does not take over your life. He also confirms what I have long suspected, that most club chairmen have no real idea of how best to hire a new manager so Adie often has been forced to set the agenda and pose the following key questions during interviews:

  • What is their strategy
  • What is their structure
  • Where do they want to be
  • What are they trying to do
  • What are they prepared to accept
  • What aren’t they prepared to accept

He also makes the gratifying if frankly surprising point for somebody whose job depended on results, that winning football games is not as important as how you play the game.

Gareth Ainsworth is another young manager rapidly making a name for himself at Wycombe Wanderers. He admits that this job consumes your life and eats you up. He transformed the fortunes of a club that was one match away from being relegated from the Football League. They survived by the skin of their teeth with a last day of the season victory at Torquay, a win wildly celebrated on the triumphant bus trip home. Yet in the ruthless and merciless game of football, the following week seven of those selfsame players were released and in all fourteen players left the club.

Ainsworth highlights the importance of providing suitable pastoral care for the young men, often vulnerable and impressionable, who are under his care and he fully admits how painful it is to release players at the end of every season. Football manager as social worker.

He admits too that he has finally learned not to worry too much about the opposition. As a player he always felt that more attention should be given to what we could do to them rather than the other way round. A lesson here perhaps for the likes of Uwe Rosler?

The book continues in this vein as other managers such as Brendan Rogers, Mark Hughes and Garry Monk also reveal the secrets of their trade, their inspirations and the insecurities that they have to acknowledge and deal with on a daily basis. There is much for Brentford fans to identify too with former favourites Jimmy Sirrel, Micky Adams and Mark Warburton also coming under the spotlight.

I can do no more than wholeheartedly endorse and recommend a book that lifts the lid on a subject previously so shrouded in arcane mystery and secrecy. Calvin used the title Family when writing about Millwall FC a few years back and the same title could just as easily have been used for this book as it so perfectly describes the manner in which football managers regard each other as fellow members of a rare and talented breed.

Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin is published by Century.

“Ahead Of The Game” – Book Review – 19/7/15

Final Cover 020615Many apologies for the blatant self-promotion but I hope that you all can forgive me for enclosing this wonderful review of Ahead Of The Game which was written by Tim Street – obviously a really talented and observant book critic – in today’s online newspaper Get West London.

Many thanks Tim for your kind and perspicacious words! I am really knocked out by them.

Brentford blogger documents a season to remember!

BY TIM STREET
New book covers Bees’ most exciting season in decades – and more is to come

It all started by trying to kill some hours on a flight home from Spain by writing about his favourite football club.

A year later, the end result was a book documenting Brentford’s most exciting season in living memory, as they took the Championship by storm and so nearly landed a top flight spot for the first time in 70 years.

Over the course of the season, Greville Waterman, who was, by delightful chance, celebrating his 50 year following the Bees, wrote more than 200 online blogs which he has now put into print with a book, Ahead of the Game .

He said: I was sitting on a plane back from Spain last June with some time on my hands and just started writing, and the words began to flow.

There weren’t any times I struggled for inspiration. Frankly, it was harder to stop writing than start as I wrote over 225 blogs, and nearly 300,000 words, over the course of the season.

My favourite was one I wrote one last December about what Griffin Park means to me and how it has become part of my life, which I am pretty proud of.

As for my least favourite, I could have done without all the articles immediately after Times-Gate last February (when the fact that popular manager Mark Warburton would be leaving at the end of the season whether the Bees were promoted or not was leaked to The Times).

And yes, last season would have been too soon to go up both on and off the pitch, but carpe diem, when the chance comes you need to grasp it and we let it slip. Harsh but true.

If you read Ahead of the Game, you will see that my expectations changed after the Bournemouth away match in August. I was concerned until then, but after we had totally outplayed the ultimate champions on their own turf I knew that we would do far better than establish ourselves.

I have to confess that on the long drive back from Leeds in February (Brentford won 1-0 at Elland Road) I allowed myself to dream of the promised land of the Premier League – and then Times-Gate broke a few days later.

One of the consolations for failing in the play-offs was two more derbies against QPR, relegated from the Premier League, next season, which are bound to bring the memories flooding back for Waterman of his debut season half a century ago – when Brentford’s last glory era was coming to an end and years of decline were about to set in.

He said: My first game was in 1965 as a callow youth, and we beat QPR. 5-2. On my second visit we beat them 6-1. I thought Brentford were world-beaters. Not for too long though!

No other era in the past 50 years can come anywhere close to what we are so privileged to witness now. It’s as if someone up there has said to me and others like me ‘you’ve suffered so much for so long, now it’s your time in the sun.’

As for next season, with so many changes on the pitch and behind the scenes, I suspect that it might take us a little time to gel. As long as the players buy into the new coaching team and we retain the amazing team spirit and will to win of last season we will do just fine. Maybe even better than last season as we are certainly bringing in quality players.

But will next season – under the new era of Marinus Dijkhuizen as head coach, with players scouted using, alongside more traditional methods, a ground-breaking stats-based approach – be blogged and documented too?

Waterman added: I have started writing articles already this pre-season, and my blog, BFC TALK, can be found at bfctalk.wordpress.com. I hope to write a new book the same length next year as I am sure that there will be lots of new material both on and off the pitch.

Ahead of the Game, by Greville Waterman, is available in the BFC Superstore and can also be be obtained as a paperback or eBook on Amazon. The book is 408 pages long and includes a paragraph of endorsement from Brentford owner Matthew Benham.

The Journeyman Footballer – 28/4/15

smith 2Surely you remember Ben Smith? You don’t? Well I still have a clear memory of a sunny late April afternoon back in 2008 when all-conquering Hereford United stomped all over a weak Brentford team and thrashed them three-nil to secure a promotion slot to Division One. Their raucous supporters took over an otherwise morgue-like and desperate Griffin Park and in midfield Watford loanee Toumani Diagouaraga and the aforementioned Smith dovetailed perfectly and ran rings around us, creating chance after chance for the predatory Gary Hooper. Whilst Hooper has gone onto fame and no doubt fortune in his subsequent career at Celtic and Norwich City Ben Smith never succeeded in touching those heights.

He had high hopes when, as a callow, cocky young Essex boy he started off as an apprentice in the hallowed marble halls of Highbury, marvelling at the skills of the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, and dreaming of the day he would play alongside his hero, but it wasn’t to be and he was soon shipped out to begin his long odyssey around the lesser reaches of the football world.

He became the epitome of the journeyman footballer, surviving, if not always thriving, for no less than seventeen years in a sport that mercilessly weeds out the weak and unfortunate and established himself in such outposts of the game as Yeovil, Hereford, Crawley and Swindon.

His marvellous autobiography is published today. No tales of the Champions League or Baby Bentleys here – instead, what you get is a gritty, fascinating and indeed salutary tale as Smith is searingly honest, opens himself up to criticism and scrutiny and spares nobody, least of all himself, as he looks back with the perspective of a now mature adult at some of the naive, immature and frankly daft decisions and mistakes he made that condemned him to the life of a lower league journeyman rather than a Premier League superstar.

Ben certainly had the raw talent to play at the top level as he was skilful on the ball, read the game excellently and had the ability to open up a defence with one incisive through ball but he was never given the opportunity to prove it and when glimmers of hope appeared he was either cursed with bad luck, ill-timed injuries, the vagaries of unsympathetic management or indeed his own myriad shortcomings.

He now realises and admits that early on in his career, before the penny dropped, he squandered his ability through ill-discipline, abusing his body, which was hardly a temple, and a failure to knuckle down to self-sacrifice and the monastic lifestyle required to be a successful professional footballer.

He was left to scrabble around each year for one more contract, a club car, an extra fifty quid a week or an appearance bonus to help secure his future and delay the inevitable. This is what life is really about in the lower divisions where there is no job security and a footballer is simply a depreciating asset with the clock ticking, who is instantly replaceable by another identical clone and can be disposed of at the will and whim of despotic chairmen or managers who have their own agendas, play favourites, pay lip service to the truth and are always looking to find a way to cut the wage bill or slither out of their obligations.

Smith often falls foul of their machinations as he is despatched from pillar to post and learns the hard way about the perils of finding a new club and contract negotiation both with and without an agent. He leaves himself exposed to danger by agreeing to a potential new contract that only kicks in if he plays a set number of games the previous season, and is left to wither on the vine as his manager did everything within his power to avoid him reaching that milestone and get rid of him.

Not that he bemoans his fate as throughout the book it becomes quite clear that he was massively proud and grateful for the chance to play professional football for so long and to make over three hundred appearances at levels ranging from Division One to the Conference South. He was a craftsman, a survivor and he made some money, got the girl, won the odd promotion and title here and there, became a local hero and established a decent reputation in some of the aforementioned outposts of the game, enjoyed himself and most importantly, did not have to succumb to the drudgery of a normal nine-to-five routine.

As we have heard elsewhere this season, football is “a village” and in the course of his travels Smith meets up with so many incredible characters within the game both on and off the pitch and he is an excellent fly on the wall and has taken careful note of their strengths and weaknesses. He is a keen observer and paints vivid word portraits. He is sympathetic to the likes of Graham Turner, juggling the horrendous joint roles of Chairman and Manager at Hereford United but he has little time for and eviscerates Gary Peters and Steve Evans for whom he played at Shrewsbury Town and Crawley respectively. Peters comes over as a totally miserable and negative influence, playing a horrible brand of percentage long-ball football and a man far keener to carp, criticise and diminish rather than empower, encourage and support his players.

As for Steve Evans, the chapters on Smith’s roller coaster ride at Crawley under the aegis of Evans are pure comedy gold and are worth the cover price of the book on their own. The man is obviously as crazy as a fox and he is a total loose cannon with the players never knowing which side of his Jekyll and Hyde character he will display from day to day – or even minute to minute. Players are screamed at, abused and sacked on a seemingly random and daily basis only to be reinstated quickly and quietly. But there is a method to his madness and, fawningly supported by his equally foul-mouthed yes-man number two Paul Rayner, Evans keeps the players on their toes, never allowing them to relax or feel secure and ever ready to indulge in a mad trolley dash to bring in replacements, but his unorthodox approach gets results. Smith found success at Crawley as they rose into the Football League and he played an important part in their incredible FA Cup run that saw them beat the likes of Derby County and Torquay United before the high-spot of his career, running Manchester United extremely close in a narrow one-nil defeat at a packed Old Trafford.

Brentford fans will be fascinated by the sympathetic descriptions of the likes of Toumani Diagouraga, one of the best midfield partners Smith ever played alongside, perennial good pro and nice guy David Hunt, and of course the immortal Martin Allen who plays a cameo role in Smith’s story and orchestrates a hilarious meeting worthy of a Brian Rix farce with the Cheltenham chairman intended to earn Smith a contract at the club.

This well-written book should be required reading for every supporter of a lower league team whether it be Accrington or York as it tells it exactly how it is. Budding young footballers and their parents would also do well to peruse it in order to become aware of the traps and pitfalls that may well await them.

Ben Smith has clearly demonstrated that there is no shame in being described as a “journeyman.” Quite the opposite as he is to be applauded for writing what is surely the best book of this ilk since Garry Nelson’s classic “Left Foot Forward.”

Journeyman: One man’s odyssey through the lower leagues of English football” by Ben Smith is published today by Biteback Publishing and is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.