Kings Of West London! – 3/5/16

i would like to start today’s article by expressing my heartfelt congratulations to Burnley who sealed their fully deserved promotion to the giddy heights of the Premier League by narrowly defeating Queens Park Rangers in a tense encounter at Turf Moor yesterday afternoon.

Burnley possess the perfect blueprint for what is required to achieve success in the Championship, a mean defence which has conceded only thirty-five goals, experience throughout the squad exemplified by the enigmatic Joey Barton, who has proved to be an absolute inspiration, a hard working midfield which never allows opponents any time to settle on the ball, the inventiveness and trickery of George Boyd and of course the unselfishness of the battering ram Sam Vokes and the predatory instincts of Ande Gray upfront. All in all a winning combination which has now received its just reward.

Brentford have made a massive contribution to their success through providing them with Andre Gray scorer of twenty-two goals for his new club in forty matches, and James Tarkowski who only appeared four times but provided additional strength in depth.

At first sight it would appear that Burnley obviously got the better end of both deals given their promotion and the undisputed fact that they now possess two appreciating assets who could both flourish next season in the Premier League.

Close examination of the facts from a Brentford perspective, however, tells a different story.

Neither player wanted to remain at Griffin Park once their head had been turned by the siren song emanating from the lips of their potential new employers and Tarkowski, in particular made it totally impossible for the Bees to keep him after his toxic and inexcusable behaviour resulting in his downing tools and refusing to play against Burnley in a televised Championship encounter in January, something that I have never seen before and hope very much never to experience again as it left an extremely sour taste in the mouth.

Our hands were tied and we had no option but to sell particularly given the need to remain Financial Fair Play compliant and it was therefore simply a matter of extracting as much money as possible for the pair of them and in my opinion we certainly did so.

At the time of his leaving Burnley fans were stunned and bemused and openly carped at the size of the fee that their team was reported to have paid for Gray which will now increase to around nine million pounds given their ultimate success. I suspect that they are feeling somewhat different now.

Given that Tarkowski was definitely damaged goods, only wished to return to his native North West which narrowed his options, and that there did not appear to be a queue of teams competing for his signature, to receive an initial fee of around three million pounds from Burnley represented exceptional business on the part of the Bees.

As if that was not enough we will now be receiving another three and a half million pounds in additional bonus payments given Burnley’s promotion. And it does not end there as there will be even more money owing should Burnley avoid immediate relegation back to the Championship as well as generous sell-on fees if either player is sold at a profit as Gray assuredly will be at some point in the future should he maintain his massive progress.

Both Gray and Tarkowski perfectly exemplify the Brentford strategy and approach – in other words, identify young talent ahead of our rivals, buy low, give them an opportunity as well as the platform, support, coaching and encouragement to improve and then, when the time comes, sell them on at the top of the market given that for the time being at least we are unable to hold onto them given our lack of financial clout.

The missing part of the equation is how well we replace our departing stars as for our business model to succeed and for us to maintain our place at the top end of the Championship we need to keep replenishing our talent pool, and again, I believe that we have not missed either Gray or Tarkowski nearly as much as I am sure most supporters would have either feared or expected.

A few weeks ago I would have conceded that we did not possess any player with the potential to replace Gray but now with the emergence of Scott Hogan who has made a totally stunning and barely believable return from his two career threatening injuries with five goals in barely a full game’s worth of action but has also demonstrated a clinical ability to take chances in the six yard box the situation has certainly changed.

Hogan is a year younger than Gray, possesses similar strength, energy and running ability and is perhaps a more composed finisher in front of goal. Assuming that he completes his recovery as anticipated, and much praise is due to the Brentford medical team for their dedication, we will see a talented and hungry young player who will be determined to make his mark next season.

Brentford are to be congratulated for extending his contract by a further year before he made his comeback and their loyalty appears certain to receive its reward. Now might not be a bad time to try and persuade Scott to sign on for yet another year before his value rockets sky-high.

As previously mentioned, Gray has scored twenty-two times for Burnley but our strikers have more than matched his total with Lasse Vibe finally proving his international ability by scoring six goals in April and surely being a serious candidate for Player of the Month. Throughout the season Lasse has notched thirteen goals, a more than reasonable total for somebody new to the English game, and Philipp Hofmann and Marco Djuricin, four each. Scott Hogan’s five, all in April too, makes a total of twenty-six goals scored by our current strikers, not including the two that Andre managed at the start of the season for us before he left.

James Tarkowski was the epitome of Longfellow’s Little Girl With The Curl: She was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid. At times his play was sublime as he showed the genius of a thoroughbred, winning the ball in the air or on the ground and then he would effortlessly stride away from his opponents and set the Bees on the attack.

Unfortunately there were times when he overreached himself and took unnecessary risks and the cost would be immense with the ball invariably ending up in our net. But this was how he was encouraged to play and you cannot praise him when things work out and excoriate him when they don’t, you have to take the rough with the smooth.

It will be fascinating to see how he adapts to the Premier League, if he indeed manages to win a place in the starting eleven and I suspect that his seemingly casual style of play will probably prove to be a success at the highest level.

His lack of respect towards his head coach, teammates and supporters makes it impossible for me to mourn his departure and the emergence of Yoann Barbet has also meant that we have replaced him with a young player who possesses the potential to become even better than his predecessor.

Since receiving his opportunity Barbet has rapidly gained in confidence, has pace and aggression, reads the game well, loves a slide tackle and possesses a wand of a left foot which can ping the ball fifty yards directly to the feet of a waiting teammate.

He cost around half a million pounds from the lower divisions in France and has already proved to be a marvellous signing. He, Jota and Maxime Colin are three players who perfectly personify our use of proprietary stats and analytics as we plucked all three of them from abroad without a whisper of interest from any other English club. Brentford at its best!

So thank you and well done to Burnley and also many, many congratulations to Brentford who last night sealed their position as the Kings of West London given that QPR are now five points behind us with one game to go and Fulham are trailing eleven places beneath us and have obtained fourteen points less than us.

Another amazing achievement by the Bees who are dwarfed by both of their rivals in terms of income and turnover but we totally outclass them both on and off the pitch and our success is a confirmation of just how far you can go on hard work, creativity, original thinking, teamwork and planning plus a course the ability shown by a talented and committed group of young players.

I did some research this morning and this is only the sixth season ever when all three West London teams have been competing against each other in the same division, and it is the first time since 1948/49. This is now the third time in those six seasons that the Bees have come out on top, a feat that they also achieved in 1930 and 1931 and the Bees went on to win promotion to the top division a mere four years later. Hopefully a precedent for us to follow.

What a great time it is to be a Brentford supporter!

Easy Pickings! – 1/5/16

I took my Fulham supporting friend, Phil, to the local derby at Griffin Park yesterday afternoon and warned him not to make an exhibition of himself when seated in the Braemar Road stand, wear black and white or do anything else that might out him and reveal his true allegiance. If truth be told, the only time he became animated during what turned out to be a long and trying afternoon for him was when he heard his fellow Fulham fans jeering their team with an heartfelt and scornful chorus of you’re not fit to wear the shirt and it was only with difficulty that he managed to restrain himself from joining in, and I honestly could not have blamed him if he had.

I am reliably informed that back in the day, the Fulham programme used to include a prominently placed advertisement for The Samaritans and given their abject surrender and total lack of fight I suspect that it will not be too long before it reappears, and I can certainly think of one angry and sadly disillusioned supporter who might well avail himself of their services.

Fulham were a total disgrace on the day, lacking drive, positivity and commitment and really were not at all up for the fight. The fact that it was supposed to be a keenly contested local derby with West London bragging rights up for grabs barely seemed to have registered with them and they ran up the white flag and surrendered from the moment when Brentford hit them hard and early and scored two goals within the first seven minutes of the game.

Their highly paid team of mercenaries capitulated without a struggle or a whimper and for all their possession and neat football they barely threatened and apart from Ross McCormack who drifted in and out of the game but struck the woodwork twice and forced David Button into his only action of what was perhaps one of his easiest afternoons of the season, Brentford were the only team who looked as if they had any interest in either competing or scoring goals.

The Bees, by contrast were fully aware of how much this match meant for their supporters and how poorly they had played at QPR recently abd put in a massive shift in order to ensure that we all went home happy.

The quality of their performance was all the more praiseworthy and meritorious given how ludicrously stretched were our resources and our eighteen-man squad included two Academy products in Reece Cole, who spent the match on the bench and young left back Tom Field who made a remarkably composed and assured debut when surprisingly given the nod to replace the injured Jake Bidwell, who missed his first match of the season.

Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Alan McCormack were also late injury absentees and our selection problems for this match simply mirrored what has invariably been the case pretty much every week since last August as there has been a nonstop and seemingly ever-growing procession of players who have missed large chunks of the season, and yesterday was no different with the likes of Macleod, Bjelland, McEachran and Judge joining Bidwell, Vibe, Djuricin and McCormack on the injured list.

Hopefully we have now used up all our bad luck and next season will see us have a near full strength squad from which to choose. Scott Hogan, as last man standing, made his first ever Championship start for the Bees and Sam Saunders joined Woods, Yennaris, Canos and Kerschbaumer in a small but mobile midfield quintet.

Any nerves were settled within the opening seven minutes which saw the Bees take the game to their opponents who could not cope with their energy, drive, pressing, direct running and movement off the ball.

The appalling Ashley Richards, a total liability at right back where he proved to be a one-man fifth column before his merciful substitution at the interval, was forced back towards his own goal by Field and was robbed of the ball on halfway by Canos, perhaps illegally, but Mr.Haywood who let the game flow admirably all afternoon, saw no evil and Sam Saunders made a lung-bursting break from his own half and was criminally allowed to run opposed towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area. Canos picked him out perfectly and Sam’s finish was audacious, instantaneous and immaculate as he flicked the ball perfectly over the advancing Bettinelli with his first touch.

Fulham resorted to bickering amongst themselves and Parker and Ince gave their hapless teammate a real mouthful and the game was won and lost in that instant. Even better was to come when Yennaris and Woods combined to win the ball back in midfield, and Kerschbaumer played a perfect first time through ball in between the two slow and lumbering central defenders Ream and Stearman who were dozing in the sunshine blithely unaware of the danger, like a pair of wildebeest in the Serengeti totally oblivious to the presence of a lioness lurking in the long grass. Scott Hogan was too quick in both thought and action for both of them, he was switched on and alert and ran on unopposed and finished perfectly and without fuss into the corner.

Fulham were stunned and out for the count and spent the remainder of the half passing the ball sideways and backwards, going absolutely nowhere. Brentford pressed, harried and defended in numbers and never gave an inch and it came as little surprise when they stretched their lead from their first corner when Field’s perfect inswinger was thrashed into the roof of the net by the predatory Hogan – who else?

McCormack might have made a game of it right on halftime but squandered an excellent opportunity, hitting Button’s post when given a clear sight of goal and Fulham heads went down even further and team left the field to a deafening crescendo of boos and jeers.

Hogan had taken some knocks and sensibly was not risked after the break and he has now scored an impressive and unlikely five goals from eight attempts at goal in little more than ninety minutes of action and yet despite his absence there was no respite for Fulham who were as yellow as their shirts, as Canos went up top and ran his opponents ragged.

Fulham had most of the possession as the home team invited them onto them, but it was the Bees who created the best chances when they repeatedly used their pace and cohesion to create havoc in a demoralised defence. Kerschbaumer and Canos both might have scored twice but for Bettinelli who also saved brilliantly from O’Connell’s rising effort.

All three substitutes, Jack O’Connell, Andy Gogia and Josh Clarke played a full part in the victory and Gogia joined Kerschbaumer in coming so close to his first ever Brentford goal when he curled an exquisite late effort inches wide.

All fourteen Bees were heroes with Field making an exceptional debut before suffering a calf injury and he was given support and encouragement by all his teammates who talked him through the game. Both Dean and Barbet were peerless and largely snuffed out the threat of McCormack and second half substitute Dembele and Max Colin was also back to his imperious best. Woods, Saunders and Yennaris dominated the midfield and Alan McCormack’s physicality was barely missed.

Unfortunately this might well be the last that we see of Sergi Canos at Griffin Park and if so, he will have left on a high as he has been wonderful for us and we have been equally good for him. He can hardly have expected to have played thirty-seven times in the Championship as a nineteen year old and with six goals, including that incredible effort at Reading, his contribution has been immense and he has lifted everyone with his coltish enthusiasm and all he lacks is a tail to wag.

Fulham were rightly described as an embarrassment and shameful by their manager, Slaviša Jokanović and I suspect that there will be a clear-out at Craven Cottage given how narrow has been their escape from relegation to League One. In contrast, Brentford played as a team and this was their sixth win in a magical month that has seen them gain the incredible tally of nineteen points and score the same number of goals and rise from the edge of the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of tenth place in the Championship.

This is an incredible achievement which I will dissect in much more depth after our final game next weekend but so much credit is due to everyone at the club as well as the fans for the way in which we have all pulled together and this unity has been rewarded with a resurgence in results, performances and confidence despite the nagging and ever-present  problems caused by injuries and exhaustion.

The squad has been tested to its fullest extent and every player has responded brilliantly and risen to the challenge, and nobody has been found wanting, and despite the recent loss of one of the best players in the Championship in Alan Judge we have clearly demonstrated a grim determination to succeed and have fully deserved to rise up eight places in the league table.

We cannot match the likes of Fulham for the time being in terms of our income, squad numbers and, indeed, overall quality but where we leave them trailing far behind us in our wake is in terms of our spirit, shape, effort, planning, organisation, energy, ethos and determination never to give in, plus of course our exceptional team behind the team..

Brentford are a club to be proud of and Fulham, for all their riches, heritage and tradition could not live with us.

Brentford’s Injury Hoodoo – 14/4/16

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Sitting With The Enemy – 13/12/15

Phil Mison used to do the commentaries on the Brentford match videos way back when in the days of Gary Blissett, Terry Evans and Keith Millen. He did a fine job but for all his on-air enthusiasm for the Bees he managed to conceal a deadly secret – he is and always has been a rabid Fulham fan – a revelation that might have seen him drummed out of Griffin Park had it become more widely known.

We have always stayed in touch over the years and he invited me to accompany him to yesterday’s match which I watched from the Hammersmith End, a solitary Bee in amongst a horde of Fulham supporters.

It was both interesting and illuminating to watch the game through their eyes and also observe the Brentford supporters – all five thousand of them – packed behind the opposite goal.

There is a feeling of muted anger, disappointment but also acceptance amongst the Fulham fans. They know that their team has massively underperformed over the last couple of years, that they have been landed with a series of managers who have been unable to turn things around and with the money expended upon the squad and the massive amount of talent within it they should at the very least be up and around the top of the Championship table and not languishing down amongst the also-rans.

But nobody seemed to get too worked up about it, they gently seethed in the wind and rain and politely put up with the multitude of inadequacies that they were forced to observe throughout the afternoon without overly criticising or subjecting any of their players to much vitriol or abuse.

Their supporters finally came alive when they scored and near the end of the match when the dangerous McCormack and Dembele were combining dangerously and looked as if they might earn their team an unlikely and totally undeserved victory.

There was no real feeling of emotion or anticipation or that we were at a West London derby match being played against a deadly rival where bragging rights were at stake and that the result really mattered and a defeat would cause the remainder of the weekend to be spent in a fog of despair.

The Brentford team and fans were barely abused, noticed or even referred to, we were simply another in a long series of teams outplaying their heroes on their own home turf and the only time the Fulham fans became really animated was to jeer when the Bees supporters celebrated in vain when Jota’ s late effort was controversially disallowed.

This was in massive contrast to the Brentford supporters who could be heard quite clearly from the other end of the pitch as they provided their team with nonstop encouragement and vocal support for the entire game.

That is the difference between the two clubs. We are on the way up and are revelling in the excitement of our journey and rejoice in the anticipation of even more triumphs and glories to come.

Fulham are merely faded glory and look likely to drift rudderless and fall even further until somebody eventually gets tight control over them and an inspirational and competent manager succeeds in clearing out the plethora of deadwood and getting the rest of their overpaid and underperforming former stars to put in a shift every week and, more importantly, learn how to defend.

Brentford looked a compact, well organised and talented team and in truth should have come away with all three points but they shot themselves in the foot by conceding a daft equalising goal close to halftime and by missing three golden opportunities to retake the lead early in the second half when they were totally dominating the game.

Fulham scored a well taken second goal totally against the run of play but, miracle of miracles, the Bees equalised almost immediately from a beautifully worked corner before seeing their celebrations stifled when Jota’s close range header seemed to have regained the lead but was adjudged to have been narrowly offside.

Diagouraga and Woods worked tirelessly to win possession back from a talented but immobile Fulham midfield which out passed but never outworked Brentford. Judge buzzed around as normal providing energy and inspiration in equal doses, Canos burst into life spasmodically before being booked for an unnecessary and overzealous tackle and praise is due to Kerschbaumer who finally looked comfortable and not out of place in the first team and produced a hard working display in which he used the ball effectively and could also have broken his goalscoring duck had his first half effort not been blocked and the keeper not got down well to save his close range poke after the break.

McCormack and Dembele are without doubt the two best strikers in this division and they were a real handful, particularly when they were joined by Woodrow and Smith late on and Fulham fielded a four pronged attack which stretched our defence to its limits. We coped well with Bidwell immense and inspirational, twice blocking goal bound efforts right in front of goal when Fulham threatened late on.

O’Connell and Tarkowski stood up well to the tough challenge they faced but Tarky lost concentration twice and his errors were extremely costly as he headed a McCormack cross almost out of Button’s hands into his own net and he also allowed Dembele to run off him onto McCormack’s subtle flick and he was outpaced and was unable to get in a tackle before the ball was despatched past Button for a goal of brilliant simplicity. Yennaris was as efficient and competent as normal and Button made one stupendous save from a rasping McCormack free kick.

Brentford took time to grow into the game but took the lead when Bidwell’s run into the area after a sweeping move was ended by a poorly timed tackle by Richards. The Fulham fans belatedly emerged from their torpor and bemoaned the decision. Never a foul and outside the area was their one-eyed verdict but the television evidence was damning and Judge took responsibility for converting our long-overdue first spot kick of the season and scored calmly and confidently.

Fulham had a lot of the ball but did little with it as we pressed them relentlessly and Parker and O’Hara never looked a convincing or effective pairing for our hosts and but for Tarkowski’s aberration we would have been in front at the interval.

Bidwell almost won a second penalty straight after the break but this time Fredericks timed his tackle perfectly. Woods frustratingly scuffed his shot when well placed and Lonergan saved well from Kerschbaumer and quite brilliantly from Vibe before Fulham scored with their first effort on target in the second half.

We responded quickly when Bidwell’s perfectly placed corner was flicked on by Tarkowski at the near post and converted jubilantly by Jack O’Connell for his first goal for the club. Swift and Jota made a real impact as substitutes and it was Swift’s centre that Jota flicked home with his head for what we all felt was the likely winner, but the assistant referee thought differently and all available evidence would suggest that he got the decision hopelessly wrong.

The last quarter of the match was frenetic with non-stop action and the game ended with Fulham pressing hard, but the Bees held out and the honours were even. Brentford are now a competent and above average Championship team with aspirations to progress far higher than that.

The foundations have been laid, there are yet more talented players to come back from injury and suspension and challenge for a place on the bench – let alone the starting eleven, and we look likely to get even stronger as the New Year approaches.

I enjoyed my afternoon sitting with the enemy and appreciated that I was allowed to walk directly towards Hammersmith after the match rather than being sent on the same circuitous detour endured by every other Brentford fan, but I know which one of the two clubs is going somewhere fast – and it certainly isn’t Fulham.

They Played For Brentford And Fulham – Part Two 11/12/15

Today I am going to conclude my overview of the footballers who have played for both Fulham and Brentford. We had not yet reached the turn of the new century yesterday and yet the list was already pretty long and comprehensive.

Bees manager, Micky Adams, a former Fulham player and manager himself, made one forgettable appearance for the club as a substitute in the Auto Windscreens Shield match at Luton but thankfully concentrated more on his thankless task of attempting to save the club from relegation to the bottom division in 1997/98. He brought in several of his old boys to assist him and Paul Watson was one of his more successful imports. A right footed left back who excelled in swinging in dangerous curling corners and free kicks, he soon became a fan favourite but he was replaced by the quicker Ijah Anderson and left for a successful stay at Brighton.

Danny Cullip was a no-nonsense bullet headed centre half who took no prisoners but he lost his place after damaging his knee and, like Watson, moved on to help Brighton to promotion.

Darren Freeman of the long curly mane, was an effective if inconsistent winger or striker who was surprisingly released by Fulham and had a free scoring start to his Brentford career under Ron Noades before joining the exodus to Brighton.

Steve Sidwell proved to be one of Brentford’s most effective loan signings. Despite his youth and total inexperience, Arsenal entrusted him into the care of Steve Coppell and he quickly flourished into a wonderfully skilful midfielder with a eye for goal and the ability to open up a defence with a single pass. He was far too good to join us on a permanent basis, particularly when we failed to gain promotion in 2002 and he eventually made his mark in the Premier League with the likes of Reading and AstonVilla before providing excellent service to Fulham too.

John Salako made his name as a two footed winger with electric pace at Crystal Palace and later enjoyed a short spell at Fulham under Kevin Keegan. he was thirty-five when Martin Allen signed him but he found a new lease of life and produced some excellent spells on the left wing and some less good ones as an emergency left back. He was deadly from the penalty spot too – except when it mattered in front of the television cameras at Hinckley.

Michael Turner was a wonderfully strong and elegant centre half for the Bees and gave us wonderful service for two seasons before being spirited away by Hull City. He became a Premier League regular and last season he played against the Bees for both Norwich City and Fulham.

Darren Pratley continues in his career as combative midfielder who caused us many problems a week or so back when playing for Bolton Wanderers. He began his career at Fulham but made only a single appearance for them as a substitute before he had two successful loan spells at Griffin Park under Martin Allen before joining Swansea. He was hard running and strong with an excellent shot on him and did well for us until he fell out with some of the supporters after a mad and chaotic night at Gillingham in 2006.

Paul Brooker deserves an article all to himself! He was a tricky winger who was predominantly a super sub at Craven Cottage before establishing himself at Brighton. He joined the Bees on a free transfer but despite his obvious talent he never produced or did his ability justice on a regular basis despite scoring a solo goal of utter world class at Swindon and his spell at the club ended in acrimony after he fell out with supporters and management alike.

Junior Lewis drifted from club to club after making his debut for Fulham before making his mark at Gillingham. He joined the Bees as a non-contract player in 2005 and played an immense part in a Boxing Day victory over promotion rivals Swansea City when he totally controlled the midfield. An true on-field leader, he has since become a coach and manager.

Calum Willock was a total waste of over fifty thousand pounds when he signed from Peterborough as the last gasp replacement for DJ Campbell. It is really hard to understand quite why he was so inept given his previous track record as a regular goalscorer for Posh, whom he joined after unsuccessful spells at Fulham, QPR and Bristol Rovers. He scored a mere three goals for the Bees and never looked likely to become the player that was required to spearhead our promotion push. The one abiding memory of him was his farcical and appalling air shot against Barnsley that a naive referee embarrassingly interpreted as having been caused by an opponent’s trip and he awarded us the softest penalty kick imaginable.

Jamie Smith had a good spell as an attacking fullback at Crystal Palace and enjoyed a loan spell at Craven Cottage. He joined the Bees on loan from Bristol City in 2006 but never really impressed and missed a very presentable goalscoring opportunity in the playoff defeat by Swansea.

Robert Milson was a young red headed midfielder who along with his colleague Wayne Brown, a small but tricky right winger, joined the Bees on loan in 2008. Milson could certainly play and split the Accrington defence with a perfect through pass for Alan Connell to score an excellent goal and Brown too played an effective role in an improving team before they both returned from when they had come.

Richard Lee was an all-time Brentford favourite for his ability in goal allied to his sunny temperament and I have already written many times about him. He had fallen out of contention at Griffin Park initially through injury and made a surprise loan move to Fulham as injury cover late last season but never played a game. Despite that we still remember him with great fondness!

Pacy fullback or winger, Ryan Fredericks had a spell at Griffin Park on loan from Spurs but barely played a game. He is now at Fulham after a short stay at Bristol City.

We will end, appropriately enough, with Marcello Trotta who is written indelibly in Brentford’s history for what transpired deep into injury time against Doncaster back in 2013. He was brave and confident enough in his own ability to venture back to the club for a second loan spell from Fulham and he helped lead us to promotion and more than vindicated himself. He is now making a great success of his career back in his native Italy.

There are so many close links between the two clubs, so many shared hero and villains, and we have not even taken into account the careers of Brentford managers such as Bill Dodgin, Fred Callaghan, Micky Adams and Leroy Rosenior who all cut their teeth at Craven Cottage.

Roll on Saturday!

They Played For Brentford And Fulham – Part One 10/12/15

The sense of anticipation and sheer excitement is mounting as we start to count down the days, hours and even minutes until Saturday’s massive clash at Craven Cottage where local bragging rights are once again up for grabs.

It is notoriously hard, if not impossible, to predict the outcome of local derbies as form so often seems to go out of the window and matches can be decided on one incident, a referee’s whim or a lucky bounce so I shan’t even try to do so at this juncture.

Instead I shall try my hardest to alleviate some of the tension that we are all surely beginning to feel by reminiscing about some of the footballers who have played for both the Bees and Fulham over the years.

Starting way back in the mists of time with a remarkable man in Tom Wilson who was hardly an archetypical footballer as he was also a qualified surveyor who played with distinction for both clubs throughput the 50s as a sturdy and reliable right back.

After retirement he returned to Fulham as a director of the club where he worked closely with his former team mate Jimmy Hill to negotiate the purchase of Craven Cottage from the Bank of England which saved the club from being merged with Queens Park Rangers and Craven Cottage from being sold for development.

John Richardson is a name that should have become well known throughout the football world as he seemed certain to become a star but it somehow didn’t happen for him and his career never reached the heights that at one time seemed likely. He followed his Uncle, Billy Gray, from Millwall to Brentford as a seventeen year-old and soon broke into the first team at a time when the Bees were concentrating on youth as they could not afford to pay older and more expensive players. Some, like Eddie Reeve, Phil Basey and Mike Ogburn soon fell by the wayside but Richardson was an exciting prospect who, despite his youth, dominated games from his berth at inside left until he broke his ankle in three places soon after scoring at Port Vale. He recovered but was never really the same and was moved to a more defensive role and the crowd were not the most patient with him either. He was sold to Fulham when still only twenty but his career fizzled out at Aldershot after a spell playing in America.

I have written many times about the late, great, Allan Mansley and I mourn him still as watching him sprint down the left wing leaving a trail of beaten opponents in his wake was one of the wonders and delights of my youth. Injury cruelly halted his career in its tracks when greatness beckoned and he had a brief and unsuccessful loan spell at Craven Cottage, playing once in a heavy defeat at Swansea before his career ended so sadly and prematurely.

Roger Cross is another who is pretty high up on my list of boyhood heroes. He of the flowing locks, white boots, long throw and howitzer left foot shot. He oozed elegance and class after his move from West Ham United and it was no surprise when after scoring fourteen times in his first full season he moved on to Fulham for a thirty thousand pound fee when the directors kept their word to allow him to return to a higher level if the opportunity ever arose.

He looked a different and lesser player in the Second Division, more cumbersome and less prone to take a match by the scruff of its neck and he soon returned to his natural home where he sparkled for another four years before making a surprise move to Millwall which never worked out for him. He is still involved with the game as a scout at Charlton and has enjoyed a long and illustrious career.

Barry Salvage forged an excellent career for himself as a quick winger with an eye for goal. He never left London and played for five local clubs, starting with a brief spell at Fulham before moving to Millwall and Queens Park Rangers. He enjoyed a productive stay at Brentford, often cutting in for a shot and I remember his winning goal after a mere twenty-four seconds against Charlton. He had a second spell at The Den and then moved to play in America and Norway before tragically dying very young.

Dave Metchick was a small and skilful ball playing midfielder whose career never quite took off. He started off at Fulham but failed to establish himself in the First Division and drifted from club to club before making a surprise move to Arsenal where he never played in the first team. He joined the Bees in 1973 on his return from playing in the North American Soccer League and made an immediate impact, pulling the strings in midfield and using the ball neatly and effectively. A really good player for us who shone in a mediocre team.

John Fraser joined the Bees after a decent spell at Fulham which included him playing in the 1975 FA Cup Final out of position at left back when Les Strong, also to play for Brentford later in his career, was forced to pull out through injury. He transformed himself from a fullback into an excellent ball winning midfielder who was a mainstay of the team until, like several others, he apparently fell out with a former Fulham colleague in Brentford manager, Fred Callaghan and ended up as a taxi driver.

Dave Carlton was a bargain signing by Bill Dodgin – another ex-Fulham stalwart – who gave us excellent service for four years. He had a wonderful eye for a pass and often switched the point of attack. He created many goals but could sometimes lose his head on the pitch and incur the wrath of referees.Fulham left him go as a youngster but Carlton established himself at Northampton Town before a mere three thousand pound transfer fee brought him to Griffin Park.

Steve Scrivens is another footballer who bemuses me to this day. A lithe and quick left winger who played a few games for Fulham as a teenager, he joined Brentford on loan in December 1976 and impressed everyone with his ability. Despite all our efforts, Fulham would not allow us to sign him on permanent basis and he returned to Craven Cottage – and never played for them, or any other Football League club again. Can anybody please explain why as it appeared to be a total waste of an exceptionally talented young player?

Paul Shrubb is quite simply one of the bravest men it has been my honour and privilege to meet. Rejected by Fulham after one measly appearance, he made a name for himself in South Africa before joining Brentford where he sparkled for five seasons and played nearly two hundred games for us in a variety of positions. He was consistent, honest, versatile and skilful whether he played as a central defender, midfielder, striker or even as an emergency goalkeeper. He gave everything to the team and was a wonderful clubman. He then gave equally good service to Aldershot where he also became a local hero and to this day he continues to be an inspiration to everyone as he fights Motor Neurone Disease. Shrubby, every Brentford supporter salutes you.

Barry Lloyd is one of the rare players who had spells at all three West London clubs as he started at Chelsea before making over two hundred and fifty appearances for Fulham and was on the bench for the 1975 FA Cup Final. He also captained the club and is best remembered for a superlative volleyed FA Cup goal against Leicester City’s Peter Shilton which wowed the Match of the Day viewers. For some reason he never captured the hearts and minds of Brentford fans and was subjected to some unpleasant barracking. He did decent enough job in midfield and contributed to our promotion push but his stay was short and he moved to America before a long and successful career as a manager and scout.

Most goalkeepers count the number of clean sheets but for Trevor Porter it was clean windows. He was Peter Mellor’s understudy at Fulham and did a good unassuming and unspectacular job when he signed for Brentford after Len Bond’s injuries sustained in a car crash. He remained at the club for a couple of seasons combining the role of reserve goalkeeper with his window cleaning.

Terry Hurlock is best remembered for his swashbuckling and rumbunctious performances for Brentford. A terrifying and unforgettable sight with his long flowing hair, beard and gold earring twinkling in the sunshine, he combined aggressive tackles with an unexpected range of more subtle skills and enjoyed a long and illustrious career which was finished off with a short spell at Craven Cottage where at the age of thirty-seven he retired after he suffered a broken leg after a tackle by Martin Grainger, ironically enough in a friendly match against the Bees.

Francis Joseph is another near-legend at Brentford who played a few games for Fulham in his swan song. He promised so much but never fully recovered from a badly broken leg, lost his greatest asset in his pace and was never the same player again. A terrible waste of an exceptional talent.

His partner during his golden spell at Griffin Park was Tony Mahoney. He was discarded by Fulham like an unwanted old sock after his early promise evaporated but he was revitalised after Fred Callaghan signed him for the Bees. He proved to be an exceptional target man who scored fifteen goals in only twenty-eight games before tragedy struck and he suffered a broken leg on an icy pitch against Swindon Town. And that was pretty much that for him as he never fully recovered form or fitness.

Left back, Les Strong was a Fulham stalwart for many years and is best remembered for missing the 1975 FA Cup Final through injury. He had a brief loan spell at Brentford near the end of his career but retired soon afterwards.

Terry Bullivant was another Barry Lloyd in that he did well at Craven Cottage as a midfield player who earned a big money move to Aston Villa but he never really impressed at Griffin Park where his over-aggressive style and inconsistent form ensured that his stay was short. He later returned to Griffin Park more successfully as part of Ron Noades’s coaching team and later became Assistant Manager to Andy Scott.

Tony Parks also had a loan spell at Fulham after he lost his place in goal at Brentford to Graham Benstead and he eventually joined Fulham on a permanent basis but he only played twice for them.

Striker Tony Sealey had two loan spells at Fulham before joining them on a permanent basis and was a regular goalscorer. Small, nippy and sharp, he made his debut for Brentford at Anfield in the FA Cup before scoring memorably after just thirteen seconds against Bristol City.

Striker Kelly Haag scored prolifically in the reserves and youth team but he found the step up to first team football a bit too steep and never managed a league goal for the Bees but scored a few times for both Fulham and Barnet.

Tony Finnigan was another player who never really settled down anywhere after leaving Crystal Palace and had brief spells at both Brentford and Fulham without much effect.

Gerry Peyton was a Fulham goalkeeping legend who played nearly four hundred games for the club. Despite being thirty-six years of age he was wonderfully calm and consistent when he had two spells at Griffin Park in our ill-fated relegation season of 1992/93.

Gus Hurdle never managed a first team appearance at Fulham but he was rescued from a career on the buses when he walked in unannounced to the Brentford training ground and had a decent career as an attacking fullback.

Glen Cockerill joined the Bees from Fulham as Micky Adams’s assistant manager but he played an important role on the field as a solid defensive midfield player despite being nearly forty years of age. He had enjoyed an illustrious career but still had something left in the tank.

As you can see there are so many links between the two clubs and I will finish my list of players who enjoyed spells at both clubs tomorrow.

Strength In Depth – 6/12/15

In truth, yesterday saw the Bees stroll to a comfortable victory over a poor Milton Keynes Dons team and the two goal margin should have been doubled if not even tripled given the fact that the Bees controlled the game totally once the impressive Lassse Vibe scored with what was our first attempt on target after twenty minutes..

From then on the floodgates should have opened and a four goal lead at the interval would have by no means flattered Brentford who created and then frittered away chances with the generosity of potentates distributing largesse – they knew there was more to come and could afford to be so generous and profligate.

The second half continued in the same vein with the Bees in total control but for us long-suffering supporters, we could never relax despite the sumptuous quality of some of our football.

It was almost torture at times as the chances kept coming without consummation, and gilt-edged opportunities too, and a sense of frustration and concern prevailed as we waited with resignation for the careless error, the quick breakaway or set piece that might enable our outplayed visitors to get out of jail and steal away from Griffin Park with an ill-deserved point.

But this is New Brentford and despite our profligacy up front, we kept the back door tightly bolted and eventually the second goal came and we could finally breathe more easily.

MK Dons were always a benchmark for us in Division One as they used to set the standard for ball possession and the quality of their passing, and looking at yesterday’s stats, they pretty much matched us for possession and pass numbers but we have now left them far behind us and trailing in our wake as we were so much more incisive than our visitors who went backwards and sideways with mindnumbing regularity and Maynard and Bowditch were lightweight upfront and were never able to cause the imperious Tarkowski and the improving O’Connell any problems that they were unable to deal with.

The speedy Murphybut the afterburners on and beat Yennaris once early on, but never again, as Nico smothered his threat and was also lively and impressive when supporting the attack. As for Jake Bidwell, he set a captain’s example, had his usual long range shot fly high, wide and not too handsome and put a perfect curling cross right onto the head of the straining Lasse Vibe who converted the chance with élan.

The strong wind played tricks with the ball blowing back towards Ealing Road but we kept the ball on the deck and coped easily with the elements, as well as being turned round to play towards our supporters in the first half by the wily Karl Robinson who is well aware of our preference to attack Ealing Road after the break.

Our visitor’s most effective players were our goal frames as Alan Judge, who has been named as Man of the Match more times than any other Championship player this season, struck the top of the post with a wonderful curling thirty-yard free kick which sailed over three walls –  two of which were set by us, before bouncing clear with the excellent David Martin totally helpless in this instance and merely waving it past and hoping for the best.

Sergi Canos was left with a clear run in on goal by Vibe’s persistence and hassling of the central defenders and hammered the ball onto the crossbar when a little less impetuosity and more control would surely have seen him scoring and, early in the second half, Vibe turned inside after some lovely interplay, and hammered the ball onto the crossbar.

Alan Judge also missed carelessly when sent clean through by Kerschbaumer’s brave header but he hit Martin’s head as the keeper spread himself when the goal was gaping. Kerschbaumer then saw his poke cleared off the line, Vibe had a clinically taken effort disallowed for offside but also shot horribly over when he saw the whites of the keeper’s eyes after Button’s brilliantly placed half volley sent him away down the right wing.

The litany of misses continued in the second half with Judge firing over from close range after a corner was flicked on by a defender and Woods was also denied right in front of an empty net before the clincher finally came.

We are not the most dangerous of teams from corners, let alone short corners, but this time we hit the jackpot, aided and abetted by some lumbering and inept defending. The ball was played to Sam Saunders whose raking cross was headed for the arms of Martin before it was headed almost out of his hands by Kay and Alan Judge sent the ball back towards goal, rather than shot, where it eluded a bunch of straining defenders and slowly trickled past the unsighted Martin and settled into the corner of the net.

It was ironic indeed given the quality of some of our earlier play which cut our visitors apart that the match clinching goal came from a lucky break, but one that was long overdue and well-deserved given the earlier happenings of the afternoon.

This was a wonderful start for the new management duo of Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly who must be jumping for joy at the obvious quality, and more importantly, depth of the squad that they have inherited.

Yesterday we were without the suspended Harlee Dean and his return to the squad cannot now be guaranteed given how well the new partnership of Tarkowski and O’Connell has settled down. They look comfortable and well-matched together and Tarks is a far better and happier player on his more natural right hand side of defence.

The acid test of our new central defensive pairing will come next Saturday when they will have to deal with the massive threat of McCormack, Dembele and Smith at Craven Cottage but we have an embarrassment of riches in this position given the talent of the emerging Barbet who is patiently learning about the English game and waiting for his chance to arrive.

Nico Yennaris had his best ever game for us yesterday and will not relinquish his shirt to Max Colin without a fight. We certainly have two high quality right backs.

Yesterday we were without the injured John Swift and Alan McCormack also tweaked his groin in the warmup, yet we shrugged off their loss, never missed either of them, and totally dominated the midfield.

Toumani Diagouraga was imperious, comfortable on the ball, showed vision and commitment and drove us forward. Ryan Woods was finally moved to his favoured central spot and was the glue that held us together. You never really notice him until he isn’t there, as was the case after his late substitution when we lost our way for the final few moments. He is fast becoming an indispensable part of the team.

Konstantin Kerschbaumer also justified his selection with a hardrunning display which demonstrated his quality and good use of the ball. He has been slow to settle and I do not see him as a first choice when everyone is fit but he is fast improving. Sergi Canos stepped in at the last moment and excited and frustrated in equal measures but he is a massive talent and has now proved that he is fully capable of starting – rather than just finishing – games. he led Dean Lewington a merry dance and will be a massive asset to us as the season progresses.

Alan Judge was simply energy personified and was unstoppable at times and he is the fulcrum of the entire team. Sam Saunders also showed that he is fully restored to fitness and put in a good shift off the bench.

If that is not enough, yesterday saw the return of Jota and our first sight of Josh McEachran. Jota was given a short runout and looked as good as ever as he glided over the turf and also put in a couple of enthusiastic challenges. Welcome back to The King after so long and frustrating a break. We must not expect too much too soon from him but his return is an enticing prospect. Josh too will add immeasurably to our strength in depth. Oh and maybe Lewis Macleod will also be challenging for a place one day in the not too distant future.

I cannot remember when we last, or ever, boasted so much strength in depth, talent and quality in midfield.

Lasse Vibe, or our Jamie Vardy, as Dean Smith so memorably referred to him, was energy personified and never gave his opponents a moment’s rest. He held the ball up well, looked sharp, brought others into the game and looked dangerous in front of goal. Maybe we will be fine with just him and Philipp Hofmann as our only available strikers for the next month?

I have left the best to last. Yes, we were excellent on the ball and at times resembled last season’s team in terms of our quality, pace and incision but what stood out yesterday was how hard we worked without the ball. We pressed and challenged as a team and were tireless and relentless in our efforts to win the ball back.

Perspiration and inspiration in equal quantities – surely the sign of a good team?

Dean Smith’s era has started off with a bang and there is much to look forward to as he begins to impose his influence on what, with key players finally returning from injury, is starting to look a high quality squad with excellent options in every position.

Craven Cottage awaits!