Bees Top Fan – Barr-None? – 15/12/15

Brentford supporter Peter Lumley’s literary contributions have previously graced this column and today I am proud and delighted to say that he wants to pay tribute to a dear friend of his who is a fellow Brentford fanatic and someone that he believes is also the top Bees fan, Barr-none!

During my seventy-three years as a Brentford supporter I have naturally chosen my ‘heroes’ from the scores of talented players, managers and now coaches. But I do not want to overlook the thousands of supporters I have met on the terraces and in the stands over the years. So I have chosen one who, for me, has a record of support that is second to none and which epitomises the loyalty of a legion of fans.

He is John Barr, known by his friends as head of a clan calling themselves the ‘Barr Boys’.

Before going any further I should declare an interest. John and I have led ‘parallel lives’ that were described in the Brentford programme some months ago. First things first:

1) We were both born in the month of September; myself in 1932 and John a year later.
2) We both went to primary schools in Heston about the same time.
3) We both served two years of National Service with the RAF in the early 1950s.
4) We both embarked on careers in local newspaper journalism, firstly in Ealing, Southall and Hayes areas where we first met reporting on inquests at the West Middlesex Coroners’ Court at Ealing Town Hall.
5) We then both worked eventually for the pharmaceutical company, Glaxo (now GSK at Brentford), in the Press and Public Relations Department. John remained with the expanding global company for the rest of his working life while I moved to the industry’s trade association on which Glaxo was the leading British-owned company.
6) We both share a love of golf as a recreation, but our enthusiasm for the game outshines our competence.
7) And for the past 50 years or so we have, for much of the time, occupied adjoining season ticket seats in D Block, immediately in front of the Press Box.

I have encouraged my two sons, Nick and Mike, and two of my five grandsons, James and Matthew, to become Bees fans. Mike is a season ticket holder and the two grandsons have, in turn, been Junior Season Ticket holders.

But that ‘family achievement’ pales into insignificance when compared to John’s family record of memberships. So here it is:

1) Three brothers, Dennis, Brian and Cliff, of whom Dennis and Brian are sadly no long with us;
2) Two grandsons, John and Peter;
3) Two great-grandsons, Joshua, aged 7 and an established Junior Season Ticket holder, and Jasper (just five months at Christmas) has recently been enlisted in the BaBees.

Brother Cliff, retired journalist and ex-Middlesex Chronicle reporter in the era of legendary Bees scribe George Sands, has lived in Florida for many years but on his rare visits to the UK insists on seeing every game possible and otherwise maintains an active interest in the team’s performances through the internet and televised games.

John was one of the founder members of the Brentford Lifeline initiative some 30 years ago, a member of Bees United, a holder of the fund-raising Loan Bond (now donated back to BU), a subscriber to the Goalden Goals lottery and, with his ‘clan’ has sponsored home kits for many players including, most recently, Stuart Dallas and Alan McCormack. He has been a regular at end-of-season dinners and other social events, usually with family and friends.

It was his late older brother, Dennis, who introduced him to Griffin Park in the 1946-47 season and one of his early memories was seeing Bees beat Wolves by 4 – 1 in the old First Division. Sadly, the Bees were relegated soon after, and not for the first time!

Dennis had a son, David, who coincidentally was a friend of another David, the son of the late Eric White, the Bees press officer for many years and a pioneer of match day programmes.

Over the past 68 years, John has missed only a handful of home games and, at the age of eighty-two, still travels to all points of the UK to watch as many away games as possible. He is invariably accompanied by his fire officer grandson, also John Barr and affectionately known as ‘Little John’, a nickname bestowed on him when he first came to Griffin Park at the age of eight. ‘Little John’ is now over 6-feet tall. And has already been a season ticket holder for about 20 years.

There was a period of time in the 1960s when John worked for a newspaper group in North London and was ‘forced’ to report on teams such as Arsenal at Highbury, and semi-pros such as Enfield. He recalls that one of the consolations at Arsenal were the half-time refreshments and being in the press box with the famous Compton brothers, Denis and Leslie. But claims that most of the time he was thinking about how Brentford were performing.

These days, and for many decades, John has been sitting outside the press box at Griffin Park immediately in front of Bees Player commentator Mark Burridge. And John can often be ‘overheard’ on match commentaries urging the Bees to ‘get forward’ or for goal-keeper David Button to release the ball earlier.

He is not a great fan of the disciplined, but somewhat overdone, strategy of defenders passing the ball across the face of goal and then back to the keeper. In our days of schoolboy football and immediate post-war soccer, passing the ball across the face of goal was regarded as a cardinal sin! How times have changed.

John moved to the Thames-side village of Laleham from his family home in Heston some 21 years ago to find that one of his near neighbours was the iconic Peter Gelson who he sees regularly at football or shops and has a quick chat. (What they find to talk about I cannot possibly hazard a guess!).

When not able to follow Brentford away, John’s passion for football is met by visits to Staines Town who in recent times have been managed by Marcus Gayle and currently Nicky Forster. Their fixtures, and other non-league matches, often provides John with glimpses of former young Bees players.

We have discussed Brentford performances ‘ad infinitum’ over the years, but I can recall only one real difference of opinion and that was over the club’s shock decision to part with the services of manager Mark Warburton.

As former journalists and professional PR advisors, we agreed that the Board’s initial statement, responding to media leaks, was a communications disaster. But on the decision itself I was a severe critic, but John’s deep loyalty to the club led him to taking a much more conciliatory approach. So we had to agree to differ on that one.

I have to note that in recent weeks the club’s top management team has displayed a vast improvement in terms of PR/Communications, but not before time.

Finally, like me, one of John’s remaining ambitions is to see Brentford playing Premier League football at the new Lionel Road stadium.

If that ambition is fulfilled it is nothing less that John (and so many loyal fans) deserves for his dedication to the sporting love of his life.

Thank you Peter for this wonderful tribute to a very special man who I am also privileged to have met.

I wrote about Bob Spicer last year, the much missed veteran Brentford supporter whom I confess I still think about to this day and I am sure that there are many others out there like the two of them.

I would love to hear from anyone who would like to write about other similar long-serving and loyal Brentford supporters as I am sure that they all have a great story to tell.

Over to all of you!

Damned If You Do… – 28/11/15

The airwaves and social media channels alike have been red hot with activity and comment, most of it negative, exasperated, mocking and even vituperative in tone, in response to Brentford Co-Director of Football Phil Giles’s statement last night updating the supporters on the current state of play regarding the head coaching position at the club.

This is what he had to say:

In Lee’s last post-match press conference, he discussed the possibility that the Nottingham Forest game would be his last in charge. This was the expectation of both Rasmus Ankersen and myself. Lee’s comments were made in good faith based on the conversations we held last week.

Circumstances this week have meant that we haven’t been able to make the change as originally anticipated. We will continue with our process to find the right long term Head Coach for Brentford, rather than make a hasty appointment.

Lee has done a superb job since taking charge in September and we look forward to our game with Bolton on Monday evening.

This has been enough to rouse much of the fanbase to fury.

Now before everyone starts with the accusation that I am merely a mouthpiece, shill, or an apologist for the club I will make the point that the purpose of these articles is simply for me to spout off and give my opinion about anything and everything that is happening in and around Brentford FC both on and off the pitch.

I try to avoid unnecessary knee-jerk reactions and, unlike Keith Stroud and Brendan Malone, allow myself time to think before making a final decision. I try as hard as I can to avoid factual errors by taking soundings from friends and contacts in and around – and sometimes well outside – the club and I always endeavour to check my sources before rushing into print. I also take the laws of libel very seriously indeed.

Of course I am probably proved wrong as often – or even more so, than I am correct in my musings, but that is just the luck of the draw. I welcome, publish and respond to any and all feedback and comments to what I write and I am quite used and inured to readers telling me that I am deluded in what I have to say.

I have also not held back in heavily criticising the club over its actions whenever I feel that it is justified. Just to give a couple of examples: I felt that certain individuals were naive in the extreme not to anticipate that ongoing behind closed doors negotiations with potential replacements for Mark Warburton would not leak out into the media and cause the horrendous destabilisation that threatened to jeopardise our promotion push last February. I also felt strongly that the club’s initial crisis management was inept and poorly executed in the extreme.

The appointment of Marinus Dijkhuizen was also totally bungled and we do not know yet how much its impact will eventually influence the outcome of this season given that we have been forced onto the back foot ever since.

I have given a great deal of thought to the current managerial or head coaching hiatus and as far as I am concerned the club cannot and should not be criticised in any way, shape or form for how it has managed and continues to deal with a difficult and complex situation.

Here is my reading of affairs and how they have developed since the end of September and the sacking of Marinus. I fully expect however that much of what I set down is not totally accurate but it is as close to the truth that I can get:

  1. An interim Head Coach is needed at short notice and Lee Carsley is the obvious immediate candidate given his previous, albeit limited, managerial experience and the respect he has gained from the entire squad since his arrival last season
  2. Lee is persuaded to sign on for the rest of the season despite his misgivings, possible concerns about the necessary commitment owing to his family situation and preference to remain as a development coach but he is assuaged by the knowledge that the club will be looking for a permanent replacement from the outset
  3. After two initial defeats, Lee Carsley, aided by the invaluable Paul Williams and Flemming Pedersen is able to put his stamp on affairs and the seemingly terminal decline is arrested and reversed. Not only that, the dramatic improvement in results leads to Lee winning a fully deserved Manager of the Month Award for October
  4. Lee remains entirely consistent and honest in all his public statements reiterating his preference for youth coaching and that he feels that he is not ready for a job of this magnitude which requires a far more experienced pair of hands
  5. Efforts are being made behind the scenes to identify and verify potential candidates for the permanent role but Carsley’s success means that he has bought us sufficient time to ensure that a panic or rushed appointment does not have to be made and that the optimum candidate can be sourced and ideally hired
  6. Given his success I would expect that efforts were made to persuade Lee to change his mind and take on the role on a permanent basis. Maybe he even prevaricated and considered the option too, but the end result remains the same. He does not want to continue in his post any longer than is strictly necessary
  7. A short list is being considered and soundings taken and three names appear in the media: Pep Clotet, Dean Smith and Justin Edinburgh
  8. There is no smoke without fire and it soon becomes evident that Clotet is the preferred candidate. He has limited managerial experience but is an acclaimed coach with an excellent track record, particularly for a man of his relative youth, and Swansea, where he is currently employed, would appear to be a benchmark and exemplar for how Matthew Benham wants his club to set up and play in terms of the quality and style of its football
  9. The situation at Swansea, however is complex, confused and ever changing. Will the manager stay, will he be sacked? Is he being pressurised to make changes in his coaching staff? Will the status quo finally prevail? Is the Chairman willing to allow Clotet to leave or does he want him to stay? Is he looking to extract compensation for him? To a large degree these questions remain unanswered and I am certain that there have been shifting sands over the past couple of weeks
  10. Assuming that Clotet is the man and that he has passed our due diligence (it is of course entirely possible that we have changed our mind too), then it must be a difficult, longwinded and frustrating challenge to firstly persuade him to leave the Premier League and take up the job at Griffin Park and then extract him from his current situation
  11. It would appear that last weekend Brentford believed that this interminable process was near to completion and that we were on the verge of announcing an appointment
  12. Lee Carsley was obviously kept fully updated on the progress of all negotiations and therefore quite reasonably made it clear in his post match interview that he fully expected that the Nottingham Forest match would be his last match in charge
  13. Unfortunately the goalposts changed and what we thought was almost a done deal is no longer the case. Has the change of heart come from Clotet? Has his club decided to hang onto him? Are agents muddying the water? Does his family prefer to stay put rather than move to London? Can we keep compensation and salary costs down to a manageable level and remain within our budgetary constraints? I cannot provide any firm answers to these or any other relevant questions
  14. The bottom line is that what we thought and honestly believed would happen has not yet taken place. Maybe the Clotet deal is dead. Perhaps there will, even now, be a change of heart from whoever is holding things up and he will still be appointed. Highly doubtful, in my opinion
  15. More likely we are on to our next preferred candidate who apparently is the Walsall manager, Dean Smith, and hopefully we will have better luck with him
  16. Second choice does not mean second best. I fully expect that we have identified at least two excellent and ideal candidates for the job either of whom the club would be happy to appoint. For my part I would have liked Clotet for the reasons previously expressed and feel that Smith also has the experience at the coalface to do well and has a football philosophy in line with our own
  17. The only consideration is to get things right this time. We cannot afford another poor appointment if the club is to continue to progress as we fully intend. Thankfully we do not have to make an appointment simply for the sake of doing so and can within reason, take whatever time is necessary
  18. As long, of course, as Lee Carsley continues to play ball and is prepared to hold the fort until the new man is in place. I have no idea if he has set a deadline or if he is willing to remain in charge for an indefinite period as necessary. My gut feeling regarding Lee’s state of mind is that the sooner we are in a position to appoint a new Head Coach the better
  19. I would also add that we are only one of three attractive managerial/head coaching vacancies in West London and it does not appear that either Fulham or Queens Park Rangers are having any more success in getting a deal over the line than we are

I feel that the club has acted entirely responsibly in this entire process and does not deserve the flack that it is receiving from all quarters. Hiring a new manager or head coach is an extremely complex and crucial undertaking. There are so many variables that can change or go wrong. You are dealing with a plethora of individuals, from the candidates themselves, to their agents and representatives. You then have to negotiate with the club and cope with family interests as well. In other words there is a lot of juggling that needs to be done and so much is totally out of your own hands.

I am happy and content that Lee Carsley will remain in charge on Monday and know that he will be fully focused on the task ahead. I also know that the massive amount of work being conducted by the club behind the scenes and under the radar will continue until we are ready to announce the identity of our new Head Coach and I am fully confident that this time it will be the right choice.

Normal Service Resumed – 8/11/15

It is always interesting and illuminating to read what the opposition fans have to say about us and the Blackburn supporters were in full voice both before and after yesterday’s draw at Ewood Park.

There had been several patronising comments beforehand from various ignoramuses who belittled us and felt that a long-overdue home victory was assured given that they were playing what they felt was a smaller and less established team like Brentford who they still thought should be confined to the lower divisions – shades of last season when many clubs felt that they were demeaning themselves and sullying their hands by playing us and that they had a divine right to the three points on offer. We are going to totally hammer them summed up the general smug tone of the prematch assessments and score predictions.

Their tone had changed when they came to review a game in which the Bees played most of the football and dominated for long stretches and were extremely unlucky not to have come away with a victory. Finally there was a grudging respect for the quality of Brentford’s display coupled with tons of vitriol aimed at the home team and their manager Gary Bowyer, in particular. Here are a cross-section of the comments that were made by some seriously fed up and disillusioned home supporters:

For me Brentford were by far the best team to visit Ewood Park this season. They reminded me of Bournemouth over the last couple of seasons.

We were second best today.

A fair point won against a decent and very much in-form Brentford side.

Brentford played us off the park.

It was probably a fair result. If anything Brentford were slightly the better team. Lee Carsley has done a good job as Brentford were well organised and very energetic.

Brentford played simple touch and move football and carved through our midfield at will.

Brentford harried us all over the pitch. In all reality, Brentford had the better chances and should have won.

As for Brentford, by far the best team I’ve seen at Ewood Park this season (far better than Burnley). They pass and move the ball really well and in the end I was pretty happy with the result.

I felt pleased and proud when I read these words as they reinforced what we already know, that we have witnessed a massive renaissance and change in the Bees over the past four weeks or so and that opposing supporters can also clearly recognise our quality.

We are no longer a soft touch or bear any resemblance to that fairly disorganised rabble which earlier this season customarily ran out of steam long before the end of every match and were an easy prey for the predators who inhabit the Championship.

Lee Carsley and Paul Williams have stripped us bare, taken us back to basics and then put us back together again and we are slowly but surely regaining our touch and are going some way towards repeating our role as the surprise packet that we were for so much of last season.

We are trying to replicate what worked so well for us last season and are now pressing far higher up the pitch and playing simple and accurate pass and move football with the ball being moved quickly and slickly between a five man midfield who rotate their positions at will.

We are retaining possession but also looking to do something with the ball and create chances in the final third as possession for possession’s sake is a total waste of time. In that respect we are also getting the ball forward quicker than we have been accustomed to and there is also some pace in the team which helps us turn defence into attack.

We haven’t got everything right yet as our lone striker is still far too isolated as we sometimes struggle to get sufficient midfielders into the box quickly enough to support him but chances are now being created far more regularly even though too many of them are being spurned.

Yesterday was a case in point as we let a poor Rovers team off the hook. Djuricin was lost to injury early on and as of yet there is no news about his prognosis. Vibe was moved upfield and he bothered the giant but clumsy and immobile home central defenders with his sharpness, pace and movement.

Swift’s incisive and perceptive through ball gave him the chance to bundle the ball past Steele to open the score and we then took total command of the game and were never in any trouble until Lawrence’s low, angled cross from way out on the left wing squirmed through a packed penalty area and somehow ended up in the corner of the net for an undeserved equaliser that came totally out of the blue.

Button was forced to turn a Marshall drive onto the post but Woods shot wide and McCormack almost restored our lead when Steele saved well from his effort.

Brentford dominated the second half with Diagouraga running the show in midfield but were unable to turn their possession into goals with Vibe and Kerschbaumer both missing excellent opportunities to regain the lead. Sam Saunders also made an effective cameo performance as a late substitute and his energy and excellent use of the ball auger well for the future.

Blackburn finally roused themselves out of their lethargy when Ben Marshall moved forward to support the attack and Button made a phenomenal late save to push his late rasping long range effort past the post and preserve our point.

So a point it was when three were really well within our grasp and we can also bemoan the absence of Alan Judge, still recovering from his tight hamstring, as his energy, vision and effervescence might well have made all the difference and helped us to the victory that we fully deserved.

The international break comes at a good time as we now have a fortnight in which a lot of tired bodies will have the chance to recover from their recent exertions. Carsley has relied upon the same bunch of players with changes kept to a minimum and he has been rewarded with a series of excellent and fully committed performances.

It is noticeable that our improvement in results and performance has coincided with Lee Carsley restoring the rump of our homegrown players with all but one of the foreign newcomers relegated to the substitutes’ bench. This has allowed them some breathing space in which they can gradually acclimatise themselves to the demands of the Championship, and it was illuminating to listen to Lasse Vibe’s post match interview in which he admitted that he was still coming to terms with what was required of him in what he now realised was a higher and far tougher standard of football than he had been accustomed to before he joined the club.

The spirit might well be willing, but the flesh is weak and the bruised and battered squad will benefit from a rest. Hopefully Judge and Djuricin will be fully fit in time for the Nottingham Forest match and ideally there will also be some good news about poor Lewis Macleod who suffered yet another injury setback in the Development Squad’s win at Reading on Friday.

Sam Saunders can also work on his fitness and perhaps the likes of Jota, Colin and McEachran will also be inching their way closer to a return to full fitness.

It has been a roller coaster ride for every Brentford fan but the tide seems to have turned in our favour recently as we have gone back to the future in our approach and, as is demonstrated by the comments of the Blackburn supporters, it is evident that normal service is gradually being resumed.

The Bees are currently the Kings of Championship football in West London as we are ahead of our deadly rivals QPR and Fulham who have both responded to the indignity and shame of the situation by sacking their manager.

Brentford are back!

Grudging Praise – 20/10/15

There was a bit of a mixed reaction to Brentford’s win over Rotherham on Saturday. Everybody seemed to share my feeling of utter relief that we had beaten a team likely to be fighting for their life at the bottom of the league at the end of the season but there was also a fairly widespread sense of disappointment and let down at our performance and the lack of quality on display.

Many seemed to feel that the match was more akin to a League One tussle rather than a Championship match and whilst I can see their point of view I stand by my opinion that it is no use crying over spilt milk.

I am certainly not too happy about where we are and how poorly we compare in so many ways with last season but I am also under no illusions and fully expect our recovery to be gradual and tortuous and it was totally unrealistic to expect a display of total football played with freedom and abandon given the nerves, lack of confidence and gloomy atmosphere that pervaded Griffin Park before Saturday’s match.

Michael Ohl had also managed his expectations:

As you rightly said Greville it was a win. Also, we didn’t have majority possession, yet still won, and I’ll settle for that. Yennaris, Swift and Woods impressed. We didn’t give away goals – their equaliser was unstoppable, although we did rely on Button, yet again.

There was more passion from most of the team. What mostly annoys me about some of the new signings, such as Hofmann, is not so much that I think they are poor buys, but more his visibly giving up, when the ball isn’t just at his feet. At least make the effort. We are also missing that spark of quality which can turn a game. Toumani can do that sometimes . . . Jota, I really can’t wait for his return.

Still it’s a start. But as Lee Carsley said – there is no time to sit back, Wolves are next.

Alan Dally was more sceptical and scathing:

Yes Greville the win was so important, but the first shoots of recovery? I have grave doubts. As you say Rotherham are more than likely going to be fighting an uphill battle against relegation, yet they were more than a match for the Bees.

I walked out of Griffin Park just shaking my head in disbelief, that how such a vibrant Bees side of a few months ago has turned into the rabble of a team that was on display on Saturday.

We are a mere shadow of the team of last season and unless something unique happens soon, we are surely set for relegation this season. Yes I know we have injuries and have lost a few players, but whatever happened to the proud boast that all the departing players will be replaced by somebody better? The evidence so far suggests exactly the opposite.

If we have to rely on the same people who brought these new players in again, then I have little faith in their ability to get it right the second time around; As they say those who got you into the mess, are unlikely to be the ones to get you out of it.

It is so depressing specially when you think to build on the last three years, we just needed a bit of fine tuning. Instead of that we have opted for wholesale change and are paying a heavy price. To me it is stupidity beyond belief. Still we live in hope that things will change for the better, but I wouldn’t bet much money on that happening.

Richard Poole was just happy with the win and the makeup of our team:

Well a win under the belt is all that matters to me and I am glad that finally we put a few youngesters into the team. We might not have had much choice but they did their bit and now is the time to progress from here. Last season has gone.

As you know football changes very quickly and I am looking forward to our next game. COME ON YOU BEES

beesyellow22 was cautiously optimistic but also bemoaned how far we have fallen:

Another great article which sums up pretty much the debacle of our performance yesterday and the key thing being the fact that after three defeats we finally got a much needed win. As you say Greville, there is no point constantly going over the same old thing week after week, game after game. What’s happened has happened and this is now where we find ourselves.

However, I do have to concur entirely with what Alan says in terms of walking out of Griffin Park after the match, shaking my head and wondering whether I’d somehow entered some kind of parallel universe, such is the difference between the Brentford side that finished last season and the current team we are watching at the moment.

Let’s look at the positives (apart from the win). Our reluctant manager had the wherewithal to revert to the successful 4-1-4-1 formation that served us so well last season. Also, he ditched the Ankersen/Giles Moneyball flops (Kershbaumer, Gogia, Hofmann, etc.) and gave youth a chance in the shape of Woods and Swift with the exciting Canos out wide. And possibly most importantly of all, he had the players psyched up from the first minute, with a level of pressing and desire that I have certainly not seen before this season.

Unfortunately however, that really is where the positives stop. Judge’s two goals aside, we were absolutely awful. For pretty much the majority of the game, it really did look like a poor League One side taking on another poor League One side. Lots of long balls from us, very little in the way of free-flowing possession football and a performance that at times resembled more of a Sunday morning game down at the local rec than a Championship-quality league match. But…

It was a win. And I actually thought that Carsley’s comments post-match were both refreshingly honest and totally accurate. We really did only play decent possession football for perhaps twenty of the ninety-six minutes. We did look jittery. But we did grind out the result, regardless of the fact that it was against possibly the division’s poorest side. We have the victory we needed, we now move onto Wednesday and we hope we can build on the positives of a rare victory.

For me, as we now look forward to going to Molineux, there are three things to ponder on. Firstly, as Alan (and Michael) touch on above, the Moneyball signings are extremely worrying. Yes, they need time to settle into Championship football, but that is quite simply time we no longer have! As has been discussed, Kerschbaumer looks utterly clueless, Hofmann is unimposing and Gogia is no Stuart Dallas. Barbet I like but Carsley apparently does not, whilst Vibe does, I think, offer some quality but could now find it difficult to work his way into a system that now employs only one striker. The point I am somewhat laboriously making is that these players were supposed to be the great new hopes for this season; players to replace the likes of Dallas, Pritchard, Douglas, etc. The paucity of quality shown by many of them surely has to give all of us cause for concern when it comes to the ability of Ankersen and Giles to get decent signings in.

The second thing is far more positive and touches on something you mention, Greville – namely we are inching ever closer to the likes of Macleod, Jota, Colin and McEachran finally coming back into contention. Outstanding players that will hopefully make all the difference to us and finally see us start to play the kind of football we were all so used to (and possibly spoiled by) last season.

And thirdly I go back to my prediction chart that you so kindly published a week or so ago. I know they are only predictions, but I said we’d lose at Derby and beat Rotherham, and so it turned out! I now believe we will lose at Wolves and Charlton, get a draw against QPR, then lose the next two to Hull and Blackburn! Defeatist talk? I don’t look at it that way! Even saying that we will lose all of those games, as long as we can then pick up eight points from twelve against MK Dons, Nottingham Forest, Bolton and Fulham, we will go into the home game against Huddersfield pre-Christmas on twenty points – just ten behind my thirty point mid-season safety target! And by then, we will hopefully have the likes of Jota, Colin, McEachran and Macleod back playing for us again.

So overall, a bit of a mixed bag. A poor performance but a great result. Messi-like brilliance from Judge, but still defensive question marks hanging over Harlee Dean (sorry Greville, I don’t think he’s the player he was last season, which may or may not have something to do with his current contractual situation). An encouraging show from Yennaris (I can’t believe I actually just typed that, but credit where it’s due – he played pretty well) but practically zero service to the forlorn-looking Djuricin (who I still think had as good a game as he could have done under the circumstances).

Let’s celebrate the positives, seek to eradicate the negatives and focus on the fact that things might, very, very, very slowly, be starting to get slightly better. Or not.

Rebel Bee also was not too impressed with what he had seen:

Relief is the definitely the word I’d use to describe my feelings coming out of Griffin Park on Saturday.

The main piece and other comments have covered most of the key points well, so all I can add today are some random observations.

Make no mistake that was a relegation battle, our results against the other strugglers are key.

Thank God for Judgey, and Button – we urgently need to sort out new deals for these two, plus the other key players – Tarks, Harlee etc.

With Woods in the side we did at least have a pass into midfield, and someone who can move it about.

All the coaching and improved fitness training from Lee Carsley can’t hide the backwards steps taken in squad quality and the level of many of the new signings. We got through on Saturday without the stats influenced newcomers who have all been flops so far.

Ankersen’s post match comments were optimistic in the extreme!

We need a striker (again). And if we’d only kept Dallas this side would look a whole lot better.

The division seems more even than last year with no real outstanding sides emerging yet, this gives us some hope that we can stay up.

Over ten thousand fans at the match – that is impressive, just imagine what we could achieve if we had got this season right.

I was pleased with the tribute to Martin Lange, which was nicely observed by the Rotherham fans too. Can somebody tell me if the current Chairman has said anything on his passing as I didn’t see a programme?

Captain Colon remarked upon our toughness – not a word often used about the Bees:

It certainly was an ugly but much needed win. I can’t remember a Bees team at home conceding so many fouls. Beautiful football it most certainly wasn’t but if that is what is needed, then so be it.

In passing, I was sad to see Uwe Rosler lose his job again yesterday but he must have gone into the Elland Road hot seat with his eyes open and well aware that Cellini’s itchy trigger finger would ensure that he needed to be an instant success if he was going to remain in his post beyond the short term. Quite what is next for him I am not totally sure, but it has been a horrible year for Uwe, and one that I would not wish upon anybody. I wonder if he now bitterly regrets his decision to leave Brentford as it has been nothing but failure for him ever since

On a happier note, the Development Squad won at Crystal Palace thanks to two late goals by Sam Saunders including a trademark free kick. Montell Moore also scored a cracker and Lewis Macleod got another ninety minutes under his belt, this time as a holding midfielder. Good news at last!

Maybe he and Sam will shortly be in contention for selection. What a pleasant thought to end upon.

Pure Gold Dust – Peter Lumley’s Brentford Memories – 9/10/15

For the last couple of seasons I have sat in the same row in D Block in the Braemar Road stand as a wonderful hale and hearty, friendly gentleman who has entertained me with many stories of his long years supporting the Bees. Peter Lumley is a man of modesty, charm and obvious intellect and lucidity and it took quite a while before he let slip that he had been for many years a well known and regarded local journalist who covered Brentford on his regular sports beat.

The opportunity was far too good for me to miss and I asked Peter if he would pen some of his memories of his time spent following the club as both writer and supporter, and here is what he has to say:

I am grateful to Greville for inviting me to write this article on some of my memories spanning seventy-three years as a Brentford supporter.

What are my credentials for taking on such a task?  

Firstly, my ambition as a teenager was to become a sports journalist and as a stepping stone, my first job on leaving school was as a cub reporter on the Middlesex County Times at Ealing, a local paper that I believe is now more generally known as the Ealing Gazette.

For most of the 1950s and early 1960s I was Sports Editor of that newspaper and covered virtually every Brentford home game during that period, and many away games into the bargain.  I spent many happy days in the Griffin Park Press Box and fondly recall a delightful couple in the late Bob Parkes who acted as the club’s Press Steward and his wife who provided cups of tea and sandwiches for the starving hordes of journalists at half time.

I also have fond memories of the late Eric White, who was for many years the inspiration behind the Brentford programme and, of course, two iconic local newspaper colleagues in George Sands of the Middlesex Chronicle and Ernie Gifford of the Richmond and Twickenham Times.

My credentials as a player were modest to say the least. My best days were as a reasonably talented schoolboy performer with two special highlights to recall. I played against George Robb, a Spurs and England amateur and full international winger as well as on a separate occasion the great Johnny Haynes of England and Fulham fame, too.

My first introduction to Griffin Park was in 1942 at the age of ten and in my first season my Father and elder brother took me to Wembley for the  London War Cup Final  in which the Bees beat Portsmouth by two goals to nil with two superb goals by Leslie Smith, an England international left winger. On the right wing was Welsh international Dai Hopkins and other Brentford players from that period who I recall most vividly are goalkeeper Joe Crozier, centre half Joe James, right half Ernie Muttitt and full back Billy Gorman.

Mentioning Dai Hopkins reminds me of an extraordinary incident when the Bees met Wolves in the first full First Division season after the Second World War. Hopkins was lying prostrate on the turf on the extreme right wing touchline and he was obviously injured. Wolves centre half Stan Cullis, the England captain, ran towards the injured Hopkins and I was convinced that he was about to express his concern for a fellow professional and international player. Instead he appeared to aim a kick at the stricken winger. I may have been mistaken but I do not think so! Incidentally Brentford were relegated at the end of the season and have yet to win back a place in the top division, but I still live in hope!

Greville claims that he has been a Brentford fan for over fifty years – well I can top that claim by another twenty-three years!

That brings me onto something of a gripe about those who supported club owner Matthew Benham in his spat with Mark Warburton in February. I was repeatedly told that Mr. Benham had invested millions of pounds in the club and had been its financial saviour. In my seventy-three years as a Brentford supporter I calculated that relative to our respective incomes I must have have invested an equal proportion of my income in the purchase of season tickets, match tickets, programmes, club purchases et cetera for myself, my two sons and two grandsons too. Many thousands of other long-serving fans who also wanted Mark to stay as manager would’ve done the same, yet our voices were seemingly completely ignored.

I wrote a number of protest letters to the Chairman of the Board of Directors with copies to Mr Warburton and others at the time. I received a delightful personal response from Mark which I will treasure for the rest of my life.

From Mr Cliff Crown I received a stereotyped letter some months later in which he managed to address me as “Dear Mr King” – I threw the letter away in disgust!

That is now water under the bridge but I’m sure we have not seen the last of the repercussions and the Chairman and his fellow directors may end up with considerable egg on their faces in the weeks and months ahead. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case.

Having got that grievance off my chest I will now return to the substantive task in hand. One of Greville’s suggestions was for me to name the best Brentford players or team I had witnessed over all those years, or perhaps even the worst.

On further consideration I felt that this was a virtually impossible task so I’ve opted for a safer solution.

I will mention the players that have impressed me the most and whose names come readily to mind. I will classify them within the old-fashioned positions that I have become familiar with from the beginning of my Griffin Park journey.

So here goes :

GOALKEEPERS

  • Joe Crozier
  • Alf Jefferies
  • Gerry Cakebread
  • Chic Brodie
  • Len Bond
  • David McKellar
  • Gary Phillips
  • Stuart Nelson
  • Ben Hamer
  • David Button

FULLBACKS

  • Billy Gorman
  • George Poyser
  • Ken Horne
  • Ken Coote
  • Billy Manuel
  • John Fraser
  • Alan Hawley
  • Alan Nelmes
  • Roger Stanislaus
  • Martin Grainger
  • Kevin O’Connor
  • Alan McCormack
  • Jake Bidwell
  • Moses Odubajo

CENTRE HALVES

  • Joe James
  • Ron Greenwood
  • Jack Chisholm
  • Mel Scott
  • Peter Gelson
  • Stewart Houston
  • Pat Kruse
  • Terry Evans
  • Jamie Bates
  • Tony Craig
  • Harlee Dean
  • James Tarkowski

INSIDE FORWARDS

  • George Wilkins
  • Peter Broadbent
  • Jimmy Bloomfield
  • Johnny Brooks
  • Jim Towers
  • Jackie Graham
  • John Dick
  • Bobby Ross
  • Chris Kamara
  • Alan Judge
  • Alex Pritchard

CENTRE FORWARDS

  • Jack Holliday
  • Dave McCulloch
  • Len Townsend
  • Billy Dare
  • Tommy Lawton
  • George Francis
  • A.H. (Jackie) Gibbons
  • Ian Lawther
  • Billy McAdams
  • John O’Mara
  • Carl Asaba
  • Steve Phillips
  • Francis Joseph
  • Gary Blissett
  • Gordon Sweetzer
  • Dai Ward
  • Nicky Forster
  • Roger Cross
  • Andy McCulloch
  • Robert Taylor
  • Andre Gray

WINGERS

  • Leslie Smith
  • Dai Hopkins
  • Dennis Heath
  • John Docherty
  • Gary Roberts
  • Marcus Gayle
  • Alex Rhodes
  • Stuart Dallas
  • Jota

MANAGERS

  • Harry Curtis
  • Malcolm MacDonald
  • Jackie Gibbons
  • Bill Dodgin Jr.
  • Tommy Lawton
  • Frank Blunstone
  • John Docherty
  • Phil Holder
  • Martin Allen
  • Micky Adams
  • Ron Noades
  • Steve Perryman
  • Uwe Rosler
  • Frank McLintock
  • Mark Warburton

OWNERS

  • Fred & Harry Davis
  • Jack Dunnett
  • Dan Tana
  • Martin Lange
  • Ron Noades
  • Matthew Benham

Many thanks to Peter for his reminiscences which are highly evocative and pure gold dust.

Hopefully I can inveigle him to write some more and tease some additional gems out of him as he is a repository of wonderful stories about our great club’s past.

The Fans’ Verdict – 7/10/15

With ten games gone and Brentford wallowing in the nether regions of The Championship I wrote an overview of our current situation on Sunday and made a few suggestions regarding how I felt matters both on and off the field might conceivably be improved.

Here is what some of you had to say in response.

Richard Poole harked back to the past and the influence that an experienced old hand could have on his younger team mates as well as the importance of the fans maintaining their support when things are going wrong:

You’re right about Jimmy Gabriel.  I was playing alongside him at the time. Yes, he could hardly run but he did not need to as he totally dominated possession and was a total inspiration to us youngsters and someone to come into the team like him now would help a lot.

Jackie Graham also played in that Brentford team and even now you could take him out of retirement and I’m sure that he could help, if not on field at least in training even at his advanced age. He would put grit into the team and let everyone know exactly what it means to pull on that red and white striped shirt.

I can understand the effect of so many injuries and even that some players might not be up to standard but if I am reading correctly in between the lines these players are not coming off the pitch having given everything.  There’s nothing you can do if they not prepared to run and you fans know who is trying or not.

Yes it looks like we are going to be in a long relegation fight and I can understand the fans being disappointed after last season’s showing but that’s football – it turns so quickly.

We have just got to get behind our team, yes that’s what supporting a club means and I know so well how much you fans have suffered over so many years but I can tell you after what I experienced as a young teenager coming in to the side THEY NEED YOU FANS more than ever. We were nearly bottom of the fourth division but the supporters got behind us home and away. They were fantastic and we need that spirit again.

Larry Signy agreed that more independent representation was needed in the Boardroom:

Any form of dictatorship is a bad thing – so your fourth suggestion – “a couple of independent non-executive directors” – hits the nail firmly on the top of the bonce. It is, I would suggest, essential. I for one don’t want a backroom that is in my opinion full of yes-men and I include the two Bees United board men, who are outvoted in any case.

David M felt that it was simply a case of too much too soon:

Too much change too fast. We needed evolution not revolution. The players brought in on the statistical system needed time in the development squad building up their fitness and stature whilst getting well acquainted with our system of play. Meanwhile players already proven in this league should have been brought in to replace those sold on. Players that would slot in to the role they were replacing. And yes we need someone with some football league experience having some kind of say, someone who knows how to go about things in this league because at all levels we lack experience and the one thing that will get us out of this mess is someone who’s dealt with it before and knows exactly how to go about repairing the team.

Rebel Bee used an extremely pejorative term to describe what is going on – one that I do not concur or agree with:

The most positive thing I can find after 10 games is that we are fifth from bottom after an awful start. This suggests that the division isn’t as strong as last time and that there are plenty of other candidates for the drop. If we could find a way to finish the season in our current league position I’d bite your hand off for it right now.

Our problems are not simply coaching related, this team isn’t nearly strong or balanced enough at present. The vanity project is flawed and there is a startling lack of football experience in the club to put it right.

I would love to be proved wrong but I fear the worst, and I don’t want to describe how bad that looks.

Ben picked up on this point:

There is nothing wrong with vanity as it covers many things such as arrogance, pride, self regard, traits that most successful people possess. So I find that a cheap dig at Matthew Benham’s initiative.

However there are some some very good thoughts on here regarding the situation even if there are not many solutions that excite me. We look like the same team that finished last season at Middlesbrough but with only ten games under the belt rather than the fifty that team had endured.

I have worked out that all was not well with Marinus at the training ground but I can’t understand why that didn’t come to light in preseason training in Portugal some three months ago. I liked Marinus and thought that he would eventually have turned things round as he seemed like a good coach and proper football man. Lee Carsley hardly excites at the moment and his post match interview on Saturday was unrecognisable from the comments of fans who were at the game.

Rasmus gave a good interview in the week and seemed very laid back and assuring about Carsley’s position and admitted they got it wrong with Marinus but if we lose the next four games which is very possible, how long will he be given before he has to repeat these words? Why didn’t they just say Carsley was overseeing the first team for an indefinite time and save any more embarrassment. I would go for Karl Robinson, sort out who wants in and who wants out on the playing side and that goes for Dean, Judge, Tarks and anyone who is sulking on the pitch. I agree that this is a poor league this season and the hope is that there are a few clubs worse than us.

Rebel Bee came back as follows:

I think that analytics have some value and support Matthew Benham for looking at ways to make us more competitive. The concept has value I’m sure, but the forced pace of change culminating in Mark Warburton’s departure, and the subsequent outcomes from the decisions taken, in a results based business, totally justify questions and balanced criticism.

I would have preferred Warburton’s time at the club to have run its course, he wasn’t at all against analytics and was the perfect man to take Benham’s ideas forward. Warburton may well have left us ultimately, and then Matthew Benham could have pushed on further. So if the concept has value then I have to question its implementation, the way it has been communicated to the fans, and most of all the personnel entrusted to make it work.

So in summary I don’t disagree with the project in its entirety, what I disagree with is getting beaten every week by ordinary teams, and throwing away a brilliant platform that Matthew Benham and Mark Warburton built together. The damage seems self inflicted to me.

You defined vanity as “arrogance, pride, self regard” and I’d include all of those words in my description of this as a “vanity project”.

beesyellow22 summed it all up extremely well:

A fantastic response from Rebel Bee.

You have put it all so eloquently that I really have very little to add except for a big round of applause for what you said and the way you said it.

Unfortunately this is now the way things seem to be at Brentford. Matthew Benham has done so much for our club, that to be seen to criticise him in any way attracts criticism itself.

The forced pace of change has been horrendous and we are now seeing the evidence of that on the pitch, the table does not lie, we really have only won two games out of ten. Also, I agree that the people brought in have, so far, not exactly covered themselves in glory.

I like Ankersen and Giles as people. In interviews and at the fans’ forum they came across very well. But again, the proof of the pudding is where we sit in the table, the lack of any clean sheets and the way in which we have played.

Yes, we have injuries, but we also have the likes of Djuricin, Vibe, Kerschbaumer and Gogia playing. Players all brought in by our new Co-Directors of Football who have patently not yet performed to the required standard.

Like Rebel Bee I too do not disagree with the project and I applaud our owner for having the vision to seek success in a brave new way. But when you have your most successful season for eighty years and then do not do everything in your power to retain the person largely responsible, then that, in my opinion, is pure folly.

To call it a vanity project might be a little harsh on Matthew Benham. However, the fact is, he did allow Warburton to leave and was seemingly implacable in his belief that the Moneyball approach was worth the sacrifice.

We all hope the international break does us good, helps the players bond with the new Head Coach, hone things on the training pitch and ultimately bring a good win over Rotherham, which we can then build on. However, until we see a definitive turnaround on the pitch, including a bit of desire from the players, coupled with something resembling a game plan, then people will continue to question the actions of the owner and I believe they have every right to do so.

Interesting comments from everybody, some of which I feel are more balanced than others, but football is certainly a game that stirs the emotions!

It will be fascinating to see what happens over the next week as the Bees take the opportunity to recharge their batteries, concentrate on upping their fitness levels and working on team shape and will hopefully come out reinvigorated and refreshed for the tough challenges that lie ahead.

Last night saw perhaps the first chink of light at the end of the tunnel with the Bees winning yet again against the Old Enemy Queens Park Rangers in the Under-21 Premier League Cup. What’s more Lewis Macleod started the match, played for an hour, set up the opening goal and then scored the winner with a delicately flicked header from a delicious cross from Sam Saunders, who was also making his comeback from injury.

It is early days, of course, but Lewis looked full of energy and was one of the best players on the field. What a boost it will be to see him recover full fitness and start to make the impact that was so eagerly anticipated when he arrived at the club nine long months ago.

What Brentford Means To Us All – 6/8/15

Towards the end of last season, along with several club directors, staff members and many other Brentford supporters I was interviewed so that I could express my own feelings and sentiments regarding the football club.

What did it mean to me? What made it stand out? Why did I continue to support the club and return week after week to the shrine that is Griffin Park? What was special and unique about Brentford?

There was also a lot of discussion about the Brentford brand and what it stood for. As the fan base continues to grow and more and more people begin to take an interest in Brentford, was the club being introduced and presented to supporters, both new and old, in the right way? What values best personified the club looking pack to the past as well as now, in the present, and most importantly,to what extent would these remain the same in the future?

How could the club retain its traditional positive character traits and not alienate long term supporters yet still remain relevant and contemporary to the younger fans now being attracted to the club by virtue of its recent success and growing reputation for playing vibrant attacking football?

A lot of work was conducted by the club who then drilled down even further through a series of online questionnaires to season ticket holders and members and finally a working party was established with a group of fans of all ages and backgrounds who analysed and reviewed the initial findings and acted as one last sounding board.

The salient points and learnings from this research project will, I am sure, become evident over the coming months by virtue of changes and ideally improvements in how the club presents its public face through communication channels such as its website and all areas of social media and, on Tuesday, as a first step the club released a brand new video which allowed fans of all ages to tell their own stories about Brentford, what it means to them, their mood regarding the current state of the club and how they felt about the immediate future.

It can be found on the Brentford website and I commend it to you all as it is three minutes and forty-five seconds of pure gold dust which made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and I have to say it also gave me goosebumps. It is a truly excellent piece of work which is evocative, pulls at the heart strings but is also confident and forward thinking and it has accurately portrayed what the Brentford brand represents, retrospectively, in the present, and ideally, moving forward.

Through a series of short sharp vox pops it clearly communicates the values of the club and helps to explain what makes us different and unique.

Brentford surely means different things to every supporter but each and every interview had one thing in common that clearly shone through – a feeling of unity and belonging. We are all in this together as one extended family and there is not the dissonance and void that exists in many bigger clubs where there is a clear separation and divide and a feeling of them and us.

Brentford is part of and serves a vibrant local community and must never lose sight of that fact and however high we rise in the football food chain, we cannot fall into the trap of becoming a soulless, amorphous and clinical conglomerate. The intimacy, charm and, frankly, ramshackle nature of Griffin Park is the glue that binds us all together and Lionel Road must, and surely will, replicate that sense of warmth and togetherness.

Many of the comments, viewpoints, memories and assertions expressed by supporters in the video will strike a chord with all Brentford supporters and here are some of my favourites:

  • The walk to the ground through streets of terraced houses
  • The only ground with a pub on all four corners
  • It feels like being at home
  • Brentford is at the heart of its community
  • There is a closeness – a real community spirit
  • We have a close-knit bunch of fans
  • I see people I have known for fifty years
  • It is what you call a friendly club
  • There is a community spirit and sense of togetherness that other London clubs do not possess
  • It is my spiritual home
  • Wherever you go on a match day you are always going to bump into a friendly face
  • Brentford is part of my family, it is part of me
  • Saturday would not really be the same without going to Griffin Park
  • Coming through the gates at Griffin Park just makes you buzz
  • The people here are all in it together
  • The atmosphere is electric
  • I love the fact that it is an old-style stadium
  • It is one of the few remaining ones with terracing
  • The fans are close to the pitch and it is very, very intimidating for the opposition
  • I get an adrenalin rush when I go there
  • The quality of the football over the past couple of seasons has been second to none
  • What I am seeing is a football team that is evolving and progressing
  • We have grown together almost out of adversity and from being an underdog
  • The owner is very forward thinking
  • The investment that the owner and staff have put in is all about making this club fit for the future
  • These are really exciting times
  • Who knows what the next ten years can bring
  • This is a club that is going places
  • We have always been a bit innovative
  • It’s been a roller coaster ride but finally people can believe that this club will be successful for years to come
  • You can have contact with Brentford, you feel like you are a part of the club
  • We are a London club, but we are also a local club, it is the best of both worlds
  • I am prouder than I have ever been in my life to walk around West London wearing red and white 
  • We are traditional but progressive

I am sure that all these words will make you feel just as proud and emotional as they did me when I first watched the video. The club is to be commended and has done an excellent job in capturing the mood and spirit of its supporters and I feel proud of our past, delighted about the present and confident about the future.

RIP Professor Adrian Woods – A Tribute – 4/8/15

Like everyone else on The Griffin Park Grapevine fans’ message board, I avidly looked forward to the next contribution from ade211. He wrote exclusively about statistics, analytics and even mathematical modelling, subjects of massive relevance to all Brentford fans nowadays . For someone that struggled with the intricacies of Maths O Level far too many years ago this could have been a step too far for me but ade211 always made a difficult subject fresh and interesting. Rather than just concentrating on and getting bogged down by the actual numbers, he instead demonstrated how to interpret them, what they really meant and the benefit they could bring in terms of understanding the game and how players perform.

What’s more, it was obvious that he was a man of great intelligence who had an open mind and was keen to embrace new concepts and ideas.

His posting were clear, concise, illuminating and often self-deprecating and witty. He never patronised his audience but he was a wonderful teacher with his obvious bubbling enthusiasm for the subject and clarity of expression. In short he was an absolute jewel.

A couple of weeks ago I approached him and asked if he would be prepared to write a longer article on the subject which would serve as a general introduction to the convoluted word of statistics, analysis and mathematical modelling and how best to gain a competitive advantage through their usage. He immediately agreed but stated that he had not been in the best of health and it might take him a little time.

I was therefore terribly shocked and saddened to hear about his sudden death yesterday and only then learned that his real name was Professor Adrian Woods. I contacted his son Anthony to discuss the article and he kindly gave his permission to use it so I am enclosing it today as a heartfelt tribute to a man who I never met but greatly admired.

It is only recently that the application of statistics to football has become widely known and broadly accepted. Today clubs purchase data from companies like Opta using back room staff to analyse the data. If you look at the back room staff involved at say Chelsea or Manchester City you will see the massive resources they have in this growing area. Brentford is now investing heavily in both the acquisition of data and the staff qualified to analyse it and has quickly gained a reputation as being in the vanguard of this move towards the use of stats to help predict performance.

While most football supporters know about the use of statistics, many remain confused about how they are best applied and are sceptical about their value. One of the key objectives is to reduce a manager’s and coaches’ subjective evaluation of a player and replace it with a cold, clinical and more objective one based on statistics. So how does this work? A simple illustration may help to demonstrate.

For players it is possible to report on their shot accuracy as well as the number of shots they take. Let’s take two Brentford players as an example. Last season Andre Gray took 2.68 shots every ninety minutes he played with an accuracy level of 54%. Alan Judge in comparison took 2.35 shots every ninety minutes he played with an accuracy of 38%. Is it possible to delve further into this?

Of Gray’s 2.68, 2.37 were within the box. Of Judge’s 2.35 shots only .65 were within the penalty area. So the difference between their accuracy may be explained in part by the fact that Gray takes more of his shots in the box ( 88%) than Judge does (28%).

Now if we look at Stuart Dallas to we see that he had a shot accuracy of 55%, took 1.74 shots per game with half in the box and half outside. In terms of goals, Gray scored .43 goals every ninety minutes he played, with 93% of them scored in the box. Judge scored 0.09 goals every ninety minutes he played with 67% within the box. In fact this is misleading for Judge as he only scored three goals in total of which two were in the box. Dallas scored 0.24 goals per ninety minutes he played with 50% scored from inside the penalty area.

This exercise could be repeated for each player, broken down by home games and away and for different parts of the season. These are objective statistics, However they still need interpreting by experts to uncover any coaching issues that may arise. Other statistics could also be looked at, such as passing, tackles and chance creation, in order to give a fuller picture of a player’s contribution to the team. It is interesting to note that Judge created 2.41 opportunities per game compared to 0.98 for Gray and 1.31 by Dallas. Judge was also fouled more often per match than both Gray and Dallas. The figures are 2.09, 0.71 and 1.23 respectively per ninety minutes

The data analysis used by Matthew Benham and his analysts uses very good data, analysed by excellent statisticians to provide the manager and his coaches with insights into players that are objective and not biased by subjective opinion. The profiles of Judge, Gray and Dallas used data in the public domain and even then used only a small part if it. Brentford have access to much more in-depth data and have the people skilled in analysing it. This should at least in the Championship provide the club with a competitive advantage.

Using statistics guards against us suffering from confirmation bias. This is when we believe something to be true then filter evidence to support this viewpoint. We tend to remember instances when an event supported our view and forget or undervalue evidence when it does not. My own favourite example is from watching pundits on television argue for putting a man on the post at corners. Now I have no idea if this is a good or bad thing to do, but I do know that most corners do not result in goals, only a very few do. Yet by selective editing it is possible to find the minuscule number of corner out of all the corners taken over a weekend where a man on the post would have prevented a goal. These then get shown on ad infinitum on television to substantiate an incorrect assertion. In an entire season what percentage of goals from a corner would have been prevented by a player on the post, and if the player had been deployed elsewhere would this have prevented more goals, or if a player had been sent forward at corners as Brentford invariably do, would the team have scored more goals from opposition corners ? I have no idea of the answers but I think many suffer from confirmation bias on this topic, remembering dramatic goal line clearances and forgetting all the other times it made no difference at all. By looking at the statistics for this a manager or a coach can be better informed on whether to use a player this way or not without being influenced by their own confirmation bias.

If what other ways can statistics can be used?

The most common use of statistics in football is to assist in the analysis of a player and his value. If the market for players was efficient every player would have a value that accurately represented their actual worth to their team. But as we know this is not the case. What statistics on players help to do is to identify players that the market otherwise ignores or undervalues. In the past scouts would spend time going to games, watching players to see who might represent good value. By using statistics a wider field of players can be searched at a much lower cost and the subjective element in player acquisition minimised. Also scouts watching a player in the flesh may by influenced by chance. They could, by chance, pick the rare occasion when he has a great game. The opposite could also happen. Now players can be identified from their statistics, drawn from a lot of games, before being watched. Looking at the players we have acquired recently clearly demonstrates the work that the background analysts have done in identifying players.

From what Matthew Benham has said, the model used by Brentford has propriety algorithms embedded in it to make the choice of player even more efficient than by our just using other more readily available statistics. As this is not in the public domain given its commercial sensitivity we do not know what it consists of. At the centre though is the certainly that subjective assessment on potential players has been substituted by more objective analytical tools. The players we have acquired recently are the fruits of this approach. We now search a much wider area than others in our league and it is safe to assume that we consider many more players in order to find latent value. In the future other areas of Europe will be searched I suspect, as well as the USA and even Asia. Benham is apparently keen to establish links with the KGH Sports Football Academy based in The Gambia. So perhaps The Gambia will be the next place Brentford looks for players!

Another way statistics can help is by giving players and coaches data on areas of weakness that need attention, as well as ensuring that strengths are maximised. This allows more individual sessions to be planned and their results monitored in game situations. The use of a player’s heat map can show whether they have had the discipline to play exactly how and where the manager wanted. Deviations from this can be discussed and steps taken to rectify errors in positional play. A player’s statistics can also be used to assess whether a player’s impact is declining in so a plan can be drawn up to replace him and also help him find a new, more suitable club to join.

A lot of us, I suspect, will find the use of stats in player acquisition and player improvement not that controversial or difficult to assimilate. Other aspects of the use of statistics most certainly are.

There is a wealth of statistical analysis based on large amounts of data that look at, for example,the probability of scoring from a corner, or from a cross or from shots outside of the box. Most find the low probability of scoring from these quite surprising. With the appointment of a specialised set piece coach our success rate should improve to become, hopefully, above average for the league. One early and well known piece of statistical work was undertaken for Manchester City regarding corners. The manager felt they were not scoring enough from corners. The statistics drawn from across the Premiership found that in-swinging corners aimed at just past the penalty spot had a higher probability of leading to a goal. Even though the manager favoured away-swingers, in-swinging corners were used and more goals occurred. Work also has been done on the kilometres covered by a team in a match. The consensus being, at present, is that the team covering the most ground is more likely to win.

One observation that causes controversy can be expressed by ‘ goals wins matches but defences win leagues’. This emphasises the importance of keeping clean sheets. Under Warburton Brentford played an expansive style but some have argued that defensive weakness caused by over-attacking left us short at the back, resulting in losing points and detracting from our chances of promotion. In about 23% of our games we kept clean sheets, this compares badly to the near 45% of matches in which Middlesbrough kept a clean sheet. Two of the promoted teams, Norwich and Watford, managed 31% and 33% respectively.

One area that has attracted serious work is penalties. Several studies have shown that the keeper staying still in the middle of the goal increases the chance of the penalty being saved. The reason why keepers dive is that we all prefer action to inactivity. So there is a bias at work which psychologically nudges the keeper to dive. Interestingly the taker should focus solely on where he wants the ball to go. If he looks at the keeper in the moment before the kick he tends not to hit the ball cleanly and often it goes high or wide of the goal. This gaze effect has been documented in other sports. Just having someone stand in the middle of the goal, even if not a professional keeper is often enough to disrupt the taker’s ability to strike the ball correctly. I have to say I find that hard to believe but there are several pieces of work on this now that substantiate this view.

At present the Holy Grail is to develop statistics that predict accurately how many goals a team will score in a match. People working on this for obvious reasons are loath to put this into the public domain. Also predicting match outcomes has produced a lot of work of which only a proportion reaches a wider audience There are also models where league position is predicted. Typically these look at wage bill, then injury, then suspension, then managers. The remainder being luck. Running these models from what can be ascertained, means that after about 20 games luck has pretty much evened itself out and a team’s league position reflects the other factors. Some have put the manager’s impact on performance at only about 20%. Evidently Brentford has a very good model for this which was used to identify candidates for the Head Coach position. It may even be able to factor out random events in order to uncover how well the team is doing and if random events had a neutral impact on performance. This mitigates against taking rash decisions based too much on luck and random events.

The experiment being undertaken by Brentford is actually not so radical. The owner is a leading figure in football odds-making,  building up resources over several years to produce models that predict match outcome better than this competitors. What I think is new is that he actually understands the statistics and what they can and what they can’t do, as well as having some of the best models available and, crucially, some of the best people to analyse the statistics. He is an astute businessman who has made a considerable personal fortune out of this. In doing so he has acquired excellent skills in running a business. One skill he clearly demonstrates is his strategic ability. Since it become public knowledge exactly how he wanted the club to be run, new managerial and coaching staff have been employed as have new players. These have not been acquired overnight but are the clear end result of having a vision and from that a plan. His majority shareholding in FC Midtylland and the way he has tested his approach there with great success also demonstrates his single-mindedness and determination to break new ground. He has succeeded where others failed in the imminent building of a new ground, something the club has been trying to achieve for years. Again part of his long term vision.

On the whole we are now seeing the outcome of decisions made quite a long time ago. At present he, his board and managerial team are planning for what will be required in the Premier League. Just as players emerged from outside of our radar I suspect this will happen again. The use of better statistical analysis will be introduced as will other more specialised coaches and analysts. At present we supporters are focused solely on the season ahead. I reckon he is thinking five years ahead. Just as with hindsight we can now see what he has been up to for the last few seasons, in five year’s time individual decisions will form a coherent pattern to solidify our place in the Premier League. We may struggle at times to see the big picture but there will be one.

While he is the owner of Brentford I can’t see us going back to the ‘good old days of jumpers for goalposts’ and day trips to Hartlepool where the ball is just belted up and down the pitch.

RIP Professor Woods and our sincerest condolences to his son, Anthony, and all of his family,

.

“Learning From This” & “Testament To The Character” – 5/1/15

I know how fed up I often get reading some of my own words back, so I can only imagine what it must be like for everybody else. I have therefore been trying to encourage other voices to make themselves heard on this blog, and today I am thrilled to say that Mick Cabble, star of screen and stage, or at least Bees Player and the Griffin Park Grapevine, has kindly provided his own overview of this remarkable season, as well as his take on the current state of affairs at Brentford Football Club, and I really hope that you all enjoy his words as much as I did.

It may seem an odd title for an article on a blog covering football and all things Brentford. But if you took a snap shot of a Mark Warburton post match interview these are my favourite quotes that tend to crop up as regularly as an Alan Judge cross field pass. If we lose a game Warbs’s defence becomes more rigid than Harlee and Tarky were on Saturday with a “we have to learn from this,” and when we bounce back from a defeat or set back it is a “testament to the character” of the team.

It’s clever tactics and media skills from the Breadman, but whilst some may construe these quotes as just standard sound bites to answer questions professionally, a more pertinent question that could be aired after three defeats in eight days and being hustled out of the FA Cup by Brighton yesterday in an otherwise stain-free season could be: what are the lessons from the first half of the season and what we need to do differently?

One thing about being a newly promoted team in a higher league is the level of expectation, as when we rolled up in August to entertain Charlton, an element of trepidation was in the air and after sweating towards an honourable one-all draw the talk was that every point towards fifty was going be a challenge.

In reality the Bees have breezed through the first part of the season, amassing forty points by the halfway stage. Teams came to Griffin Park expecting to weather a storm from “little old Brentford” and break us down and take the points, whereas in reality the lesson we learnt quickly was that our standard of pass and move and football was giving the other teams the run around. We were good, no, we were very good and we picked up points as easily as pop stars pick up groupies, but we did it with far more class.

Quickly it became apparent; we were better on the ball than Birmingham, more attacking than Leeds, more clinical than Reading. We then proceeded to floor Derby, outclass Forest. We outmuscled and outfought Millwall in their own Den, smashed and broke Fulham and tore apart Wolves before dissecting Blackburn and leaving Cardiff dazzled by our stars with a first half from the footballing heavens. We were good and better on the day than all these so-called big names.

We had learnt we were playing the team, not the name on the shirt or the tradition and following these Championship giants have. We were the new boys on the block and openly strutting our stuff, and, as Warburton would tell, us it was testament to the players and the back room staff that the belief was carrying us to new heights and that there was no limit to where this team could go.

So after getting a taste of our own medicine against a good organised Ipswich side and losing games we have dominated against Wolves and on Saturday against Brighton, what should we be doing differently? Well the evidence is we score goals for fun, with forty netted already, but Bournemouth crashed through the seventy goal barrier at Rotherham to show us we are good but not prolific, so whilst Warburton is attack minded we are not converting our healthy possession statistics into chances converted.

Andre Gray, who has surpassed expectations with his goals tally this year has had three poor games and the heat and strain was showing against Brighton as he snatched, skewed and generally found good positions to miss from. The fact Warbs did not trust Big Nick told us all we needed to know, Proschwitz is on borrowed time more than game time and we need a suitable back up for Andre to help the youngster up.

Also we have started to let goals in like a swinging gate. A clean sheet is as rare as a Big Nick start. Dean, Craig and Tarkowski have been playing pass the parcel with the ball at the back like a hot potato since Christmas, as well as a game of musical chairs, as they all take turns to sit in the two positions at centre back. Nobody is holding down a place with any confidence as the goals fly in and it looks like a new centre half will be required to calm the nerves and help find the most suitable pairing.

But other than that, do we need to be doing anything differently? From this viewpoint at the back of New Road, no we don’t. Pass and move, easy on the eye, high intensity football that we have been waiting a lifetime for, to quote a good football manager, as long as when we get the odd setback we “learn from this” then I’m sure our results and football will finish with our highest placing in the football league for sixty seasons, and that my fellow Bees will be a “testament to the character” of the players and more importantly to our manager and his trademark quotes.

It’s a simple game football, but we play a purer game than most, we are a work in progress and with Warburton’s tweaks and new additions this Brentford team is going to create a few more surprises along the way before the blossom falls. These are great times, but you feel the fun has only just begun.

I have been a little bit down ever since we threw Saturday’s match away, but after reading Mick’s wise and wonderful words, which bear testimony to his sharp analysis and deep knowledge of all things Brentford, there is a new spring in my step and the smile is back on my face.

His optimism and positivity is contagious and I am now looking forward to next Saturday’s match with renewed optimism.

The 125th Anniversary Book Has Arrived! – 20/11/14

GW with 125 bookWell it has finally arrived.

The Brentford 125th Anniversary Book has just been published and, to answer the question that is surely on all of your lips – yes, it was certainly well worth waiting for.

We had a photo shoot with Mark Warburton at the training ground yesterday lunchtime, and afterwards he was so engrossed in the book that it was extremely hard to get it back from him at the end of the proceedings.

Managerial icon Harry Curtis features prominently on the front cover and we suggested to Mark that given the way he has started in the job we very much hope that we will have to find room for him too when we come to print a second edition.

Let’s all just hope that this is the case!

Producing the book has been a true labour of love, and has necessitated hours of delving and research in the local libraries as well as unearthing clippings, memorabilia, programmes, photographs, poems, cartoons and all sorts of other ephemera from private collections and all the other hiding places where they had languished and lain dormant and undiscovered for so many generations.

What we have ended up with is a gorgeous and breathtaking book which exactly follows the style, design, format, layout and typeface of the three previous Big Brentford Books which I very much hope that some of you enjoyed – (copies of all three titles are still available at a special discounted price from http://www.legendspublishing.net).

The new book is a large and meaty publication, jam packed with articles, match reports and photos that will fascinate and engross every Brentford supporter young and old, but, at just under three hundred pages, it is around half the length of the Nineties book, so it is far more manageable and easy to carry around and peruse.

I salute and pay homage to David Lane and Mark Croxford for all their tireless and relentless endeavours which have resulted, in my biased opinion, in what I truly believe is the most original, fascinating and beautifully designed and produced book that has ever been published about the club.

Unlimited praise and thanks must also go to all the guys at HM Printers in Park Royal, life-long Brentford fans to a man, who have done a superb and painstaking job of printing and binding the book as well.

All in all I hope you will all share my view that it is a fitting tribute to mark such a worthy and important milestone in the club’s history.

The book simply meanders through the byways and tributaries of the past one hundred and twenty-five years.

It is not a chronological history but more a reminder, acknowledgement and recognition of the key games, events and personalities involved with Brentford FC both on the field and off.

As we stated in the Introduction to the book:

This book celebrates Brentford Football Club’s 125th Anniversary with a sentimental and often emotional excavation of club landmarks throughout the years.

From the events surrounding the formation of the club by its founding fathers, right through to the euphoria that surrounded the promotion celebrations in May 2014.

125WarbsBut even more than that, it also provides a wonderful snapshot and social history of Brentford itself, and emphasises just how important a part the club has played as a focal point within its local community and how the town of Brentford itself has evolved.

The language, equipment, clothing and playing kit might change over the decades, but what remains the same is the unabashed enthusiasm, dedication and, indeed, devotion displayed by loyal supporters and club servants alike throughout every decade of the club’s existence.

You will learn about how the club was formed, its great triumphs and disasters, the relentless rise through the divisions under the direction of Harry Curtis and its equally speedy and catastrophic fall from grace after the Second World War, culminating in near oblivion not so long ago in 1967.

Fittingly the book ends of a note of optimism and triumph as it celebrates last season’s momentous promotion to the Championship.

The early pioneers are depicted in all their glory, and you will marvel and rejoice at the length and verbosity of many of the early match reports which range far and wide and go well beyond merely describing the match in question.

You will discover so much fascinating detail, not just about the club and the matches it played, but also concerning the actual times and milieu and what else was taking place in the world.

We have rightly used the terms “unusual” and “quirky” to describe the book, but what should not be in any doubt is the depth and breadth of material that has been discovered and which in most cases is being shown for the first time for many decades.

group 125launchI found the history of the early years particularly fascinating, and the sense of local pride engendered when Brentford won the Middlesex Junior Cup in 1892 by defeating Westminster Ponsonby was moving in the extreme.

I also never really grasped until now just how incredibly good our team of All-Stars really was in the late 30s, and how a dynasty was being created at Griffin Park.

Quite how far they might have gone had fate not intervened so cruelly and cut short their progress, can only be conjectured.

There is something here for everybody and you will all find your own personal favourite passages and features, and I hope that you cherish them as much as I do mine.

The book is a true work of art and an act of homage and love and I simply hope that you enjoy reading it as much as we have in creating it and putting it together.

The Official Brentford 125th Anniversary Book is published by Legends Publishing at £29.99 and will be available later today to order online via the Brentford website and copies will also be on sale in the Club Superstore from tomorrow morning.

Please let me know what you think of it and I suppose David, Mark and I will soon be looking for another project to get our teeth into!