Brentford v QPR – The Rivalry! – 29/10/15

The tension and excitement are already building in advance of tomorrow’s local derby against Queens Park Rangers.

Last season’s matches against Fulham were eagerly awaited and anticipated and the celebrations went on long into the night when we completed the double over our near neighbours and joy was unconfined with Jota becoming an instant hero with his two unforgettable last second strikes.

That being said there are many Brentford supporters, in particular those of a slightly older vintage, who look upon the Fulham games as a mere taster for the main course – the clashes against QPR.

Why is that the case and how did the rivalry develop?

The first and most obvious reason is the proximity of both clubs to each other as Griffin Park is a mere four and a half miles away from Loftus Road, as the crow flies.

Families in Acton, Ealing and Chiswick would grow up either as Bees or Rangers fans and there was a good natured rivalry with some supporters attending the home matches of both teams at a time when it was less common to travel in large numbers to away games.

As the Bees fell from grace after the war and stabilised in Division Two before dropping to the third tier in 1954 the paths of the two teams crossed on a regular basis throughout the 50s until indeed the mid 60s.

Honours were fairly even and the derby matches at Griffin Park would attract massive crowds of up to eighteen thousand as the two teams competed for local bragging rights.

Transfers between the clubs were not uncommon but there was much disquiet when The Terrible Twins, George Francis and Jim Towers were scandalously offloaded to QPR in a blatant cost cutting move in 1961 at a time when the Bees were desperately shedding overhead when they were staring relegation to the bottom division in the face.

It just didn’t seem right to see two such Brentford stalwarts wearing blue and white hoops after such long, devoted and successful careers in a red and white shirt.

There was also a swop of wingers in which we sent the veteran George McLeod to Shepherd’s Bush and received the enigmatic Mark Lazarus  in return.

Initially we seemed to have got by far the better part of the bargain as the Kosher Garrincha was an effervescent ball of fire who rampaged down the right wing and celebrated his goals with his own individual lap of honour and then by shaking hands with members of the crowd. He became an instant hero with the Brentford fans but apparently fell out with the club after a petty dispute over a bonus payment that he felt entitled to. As a man of principle and also not one to argue with given his membership of a famous East London boxing family, he returned in high dudgeon to Loftus Road where he helped inspire Rangers to a League Cup victory and two promotions.

The ill-feeling and antipathy were raised to a fever pitch when early in 1967 at a time when Brentford were languishing in Division Four and an effervescent Rodney Marsh inspired QPR team was scoring one hundred and three goals on its way to winning the Division Three Championship and League Cup double, news broke totally out of the blue that plans were afoot for QPR to take over Brentford and move to Griffin Park with the Bees disappearing into oblivion.

Dennis Signy was General Manager at Brentford before later joining QPR and he was a close bystander to the entire shenanigans. He was interviewed many years later for the Vital QPR website which I would like to thank for reproducing extracts from his interview where he reminisced about the incredible happenings of that time:

The biggest story of my career over sixty years in newspapers and football came in 1967 … the QPR bid to take over Brentford.

The headline story went round the world yet, strangely for me, I did not write a word on the subject. I was General Manager of Brentford at the time – in fact, I started the whole saga.

It was a chance remark I made to QPR Chairman Jim Gregory that sparked off the soccer sensation of 1967. Billy Gray was my team manager at Brentford – having turned down an offer from Alec Stock to join him with Rangers – and he and I were standing in Ellerslie Road waiting for my wife to arrive for a game against Carlisle United, when we saw Jim.

The previous Saturday Bernard Joy, the famous ex-centre half who wrote so authoratively over the years for the Evening Standard, had produced a feature on the old theme of ground sharing and had linked Brentford and QPR as logical clubs to tie up.

Jim asked: ‘How many do you think we’ll get tonight?’

I told him: ‘I don’t know – about eighteen thousand. If you were playing at Griffin Park you’d get thirty thousand.”

From that casual remark we progressed to a discussion on Joy’s ground-sharing theme and, when Jim Gregory said that he might be interested in pursuing this further I said I would mention it to my chairman, Jack Dunnett, Brentford’s MP chairman.

I did – and that started the train of events that led to the eventual take-over bid. The two chairmen went into the appeals of ground-sharing but moved on to discuss the possibility of Rangers buying the Brentford ground  whose capacity at the time was thirty-eight thousand.

Various idea were thrashed around by the two wealthy chairman, including Brentford using Griffin Park on alternate weeks as tenants of Rangers.

I remember sitting in on some of the preliminary discussions as a modestly paid journalist who had moved into football management and knew more about headlines than balance sheets. I did understand, though, that both clubs were losing money heavily.

I was fascinated hearing sums of thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds being bandied about between the Mayfair solicitor who was my chairman and the self-made millionaire from Rangers.

It was like Monopoly – with real money. I used to smile at being asked to intervene with important decisions.

The discussions evolved into this: – Rangers were to buy Griffin Park for two hundred and twenty thousand pounds and were to sell Loftus Road to the council for three hundred and ten thousand pounds. The ninety thousand pound surplus was intended to be used to improve Griffin Park. I was to be in publicity and fund-raising projects.

What was not known even when the story broke in the newspapers and on radio and television was that the two clubs were UNDER CONTRACT. After the breakdown of the merger talks Jim Gregory had proposed to Jack Dunnett: ‘We’ll buy you out, shares, ground, the players, the lot’.

The deal was announced with Alec Stock to be overall manager and Billy Gray and Bill Dodgin the coaches. 

The Daily Mail headlined: “Fans call it a sell -out”. The Daily Mirror: “Goodbye, Brentford” .

The next crowd at Griffin Park was a best-of-season ten and a half thousand and the fans left us in no doubt what they thought of the idea. “Who done it? Dunnett dunnit” was the poster I remember.

To cut it short, it never went through and I resigned some weeks later and Billy Gray followed me out of Griffin Park when Dunnett handed over to new chairman Ron Blindell.

Would it have been such a bad thing? I recall Alec Stock’s words: “This would be a great thing for us. If agreement is reached it will mean that we have a first-class ground for what is already a first-class team”. Jim Gregory said: “Economically it was a good proposition for Rangers”.

That is the whole point – it was a wonderful deal for QPR and one that would have brought about the end of Brentford FC.

Now does everybody begin to understand why there is now such antipathy felt by so many Brentford fans towards our neighbours from Shepherd’s Bush who were actively plotting to kill us and put us out of business less than fifty years ago?

What is far worse is that the whole appalling idea was welcomed by our own Chairman, Jack Dunnett, who was looking for a way out of the club after he became the Member of Parliament  for Nottingham Central after the 1964 general election and his extravagant expenditure on players over the previous few years had failed to pay off with the anticipated reward of promotion to the top two divisions.

A couple of years ago Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I interviewed Jack Dunnett who although aged ninety-one was spry and fit with a handshake like a vice and here are his detailed recollections of what happened after the news was made public:

I did consider the views of the fans and I said that I would hold some public meetings. I’d seen enough of football supporters to know that it would be seen as a very unusual move but it had a lot of economic benefits.

I did have some misgivings so I called a public meeting and around a thousand people turned up. I’d already announced what it was about and I’d made it clear what we were considering. At the meeting, the fans wouldn’t have it and in fact it got so bad that I had to tell Denis Piggott to call the police and twelve policemen came to the ground to rescue me. I really did feel threatened.

I went onto the pitch with a microphone but I wasn’t really able to get my message across. It was very difficult. With hindsight, I might have suggested that the supporters should have selected a small group of representatives to come and speak with me. I remember Peter Pond-Jones, he was a difficult man. He just didn’t even want to consider the idea.

The reaction of the fans did surprise me somewhat because here I was, in good faith, trying to do something which would give the club a future. I think I was right too – how many times since 1967 have Queens Park Rangers not been in the top divisions? Within ten years Jim was in the First Division and finished second, they were in Europe and did fantastically well. If the amalgamation had gone through, Brentford would have been swept up in that.

I didn’t really care about whether QPR would have taken up more of the new club than Brentford – we’d have still been playing at Griffin Park. I wouldn’t have been Chairman of the new club as that would have been Jim Gregory. I’d have been a director. My objective was to secure a future for Brentford Football Club but without me having to run up and down between Nottingham and London.

I don’t recall that Brentford were losing all that much money at the time. We had a good commercial set-up but we didn’t have a surplus of money that would have enabled us to buy players. We certainly weren’t in danger of going out of business, there’s no way I would have allowed that to have happened.

I don’t think we could have sold the idea to the fans in a different sort of way. I spoke to some supporters after tempers had cooled down and it was apparent that they just didn’t want to be associated with their nearest rivals. Eventually, I could understand that but the main thing for me was to be able to progress through the divisions, to get to the First Division.

The fans seemed to want to rather stay where they were, at the bottom of the Fourth Division, than amalgamate with our rivals and get into the First Division, which I couldn’t understand at the time and still don’t understand. When we started discussing it, it looked to be a good deal to me.

I know that football fans are passionate about their club but to me, doing well means seeing my club go up the leagues and if it isn’t ever going to happen, then what’s the point? In those days, with a slice of luck and if you were well managed, a small club could go right up to the First Division. I proved that with Notts County.

I don’t think I would have benefitted financially. I didn’t care whether I got my investment back or not. I hadn’t paid money that I couldn’t afford and my business was doing well at the time.

Anyway, I was all set to carry on with things continuing as they were and then out of the blue I got a telephone call from Ron Blindell who had been chairman at Plymouth Argyle. He asked if he could see me and when I asked why, he said that he was interested in buying Brentford. He said he thought he could do better with Brentford than he’d done with Plymouth although I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion.

I told him that it would take a good bit of money to move the club on and that he’d also have to buy me out but he said he could find the money. I’ll never forget that we were having a cup of tea or coffee and I told him the figure we were talking about and he dropped his little gold pencil in surprise because the sum was much larger than he’d realised.

But he agreed and it was duly announced and he took over weeks later. As soon as the Brentford fans had made it clear they were against the amalgamation, the deal was dead as far as I was concerned. I didn’t try to push it further. Jim Gregory understood the position too. It had been a great idea though and well-planned apart from agreeing the name for the club but I wouldn’t have gone through with it without Brentford being mentioned in the name.

There is so much that I could wrote about my feelings regarding Jack Dunnett’s words and how they clearly demonstrate his total lack of understanding about how supporters feel and their passion for their club and their determination for it to retain its individual identity. We wanted a Brentford team wearing red and white stripes to be playing at Griffin Park – not some bastard child amalgam.

I will simply let his comments speak for themselves.

On Thursday the twenty-third of February 1967, Jack Dunnett resigned as Chairman and a new board, headed by Ron Blindell, assumed control of the club, with Blindell’s personal financial commitment amounting to one hundred and forty-five thousand pounds.

Brentford FC had been saved, not without a massive fight and the efforts of so many unsung heroes amongst our supporters who were determined to ensure their club’s survival. Austerity though was the rule for the next few years as a huge debt had to be repaid and we were forced to operate with a skeleton playing squad.

After 1965/66 when Brentford hammered QPR by six goals to one on the first day of a season that saw the Bees relegated – it’s Brentford innit, our paths did not cross again on the field until the early part of the current century when we played each other for three seasons. QPR were on the upwards slope and established themselves as a top division team, we hovered in the nether regions, simply trying to stay alive.

Occasionally we would sign some of their castoffs and rejects and in return we sold them our shining star in Andy Sinton, thus sabotaging our late season playoff push in 1989. We had a young Les Ferdinand on loan who was a mere shadow of the player he eventually became and other names such as Mark Hill and Mark Fleming will hardly be fondly remembered by Bees fans.

In 2002 we came so close to promotion but fell just short, not helped by dropping two vital points at Loftus Road in the last but one game of a momentous season. Who can ever forget Mark McCammon’s late header bouncing down and then over the crossbar from almost underneath it?

The final nail in the coffin of our relationship was hammered in by Martin Rowlands, for so long a crowd favourite at Griffin Park with his dynamic midfield play. His last couple of seasons were dogged by injury and his performances suffered. He eventually left for QPR on a Bosman free transfer and when his new team narrowly defeated a severely weakened Brentford team by a goal to nil after a tough encounter at Loftus Road he marked the result by goading and taunting the long-suffering Brentford fans by parading in front of them and kissing the Rangers badge on his shirt. This went down as well as you would expect and he has never been forgiven for his actions.

With he exception of two glorious matches at Griffin Park back in 1965 when the Bees scored eleven goals, matches that helped ensure that I became a lifetime Brentford supporter, Brentford versus QPR matches are generally tense and tight affairs with little between the two sides.

It is now fifty years since we last beat what I hope I have clearly demonstrated is the real old enemy and victory tomorrow night would be especially sweet.


First Thoughts About Next Saturday – 12/10/15

There was a good response to Dave Washer’s recent article which provided his view on how many points we need to obtain in order to ensure Championship survival.

edmundpw queried the points total that was suggested by Dave:

Where does the idea that sixty points are required come from? Can anyone find an instance of when fifty-five wasn’t enough? And quite often fifty is more than adequate.

He is quite correct in what he said as the most points gained by a relegated team that I can remember was when Peterborough went down on the last day of the season in 2012/13 in heartbreaking circumstances despite having an incredible fifty-four points. A points total that I would bite your hand off for at the moment.

Rebel Bee took a gloomier view on the current situation:

A good read from Dave, but I’m a bit more pessimistic and need to see some signs of recovery before being able to contemplate safety. I expect Rotherham will be a very hard game – more typical of the division below us, and our lack of physicality worries me.

All that matters is that we find a way to win, then we can push on a little. Lose and I think we may be looking for another head coach, part of me thinks that somehow we will get out of trouble, but there is no science behind this, just hope. At least you’ve gone for some predictions.

A view that was also shared by Andrew Martin:

The number of points needed is a tough one, saturdays game is massive. Rotherham will have a new manager so the players will want to impress. I think it is vital for us to score first, to give the players and fans a lift, the first clean sheet this season will also be massive for the confidence of the players, fifty points is always a target to aim for, but it may need more or even slightly in a very competive championship.

Mike Rice also advocated caution:

I hope Lee Carsley has been studying the recent Birmingham versus Rotherham game, which Rotherham won two-nil, arguably one of the more surprising results so far this season. I have a (depressing) feeling this will be nil-nil as we try to keep a clean sheet at the expense of an attacking threat.

If we lose at home to Rotherham, it will be difficult to imagine who we can beat this season, placing an awful lot of pressure on the shoulders of young players who have barely played for us, or not yet played at all.

Dave Washer took note of everything that had been said and then came back with the following riposte:

Thanks to Greville for publishing my ramblings and thanks too to everyone who has taken the time to post a comment. To be honest, nothing I wrote was based on any particular kind of watertight analysis, and to take edmundpw’s point, the whole sixty point equation was really just me looking at fifty possibly being enough for survival and then sticking an extra ten on top just to be sure!

Reading the comments from Rebel Bee and Mike, I cannot disagree with your somewhat downbeat appraisal of the situation. The article was not so much based on what I truly believe will happen in terms of us picking up points, as much as giving me a set of targets for us to hit if we are to have any chance of staying up this season.

Like Rebel Bee I also think Rotherham will be a tough game – even more so now that they have a new manager in charge – and I think anyone who rocks up at Griffin Park next Saturday expecting a guaranteed three points is living in a dreamworld. We must expect that Neil Redfearn will have them fired up and well prepared for an intense battle. However, we can only hope that our reluctant manager has also imbued his Bees side with the same kind of battle-ready mentality.

This is a genuine six-pointer and whoever wins will gain a massive psychological advantage. However well Rotherham defend and whatever kind of resilience they show on the day, we have to be ready to match and exceed them in all areas across the park. Quite simply, this is the day for every single Brentford player to step up, work their socks off and get the result we so desperately need.

If, as expected, Tarkowski partners Dean at the back, they need to show a resilience that has in the main been completely absent this season. If McCormack is reinstated at right back, he has to match his unquestioned tenacity with a capacity to support and feed whoever is playing on the right side of midfield – just as Odubajo did so brilliantly last season. And on the left, captain Bidwell needs to finally stand up and be counted, combining his defensive duties with a strong attacking performance that will inspire the rest of the team.

In midfield, Diagouraga needs to be the fulcrum that breaks up the opposition play and starts our attacks, whilst Ryan Woods and John Swift (if indeed he actually starts the match) need to be tenacious and rapier-like in their forward play, giving Marco Djuricin the kind of service that his undoubted finishing will hopefully feed off with one or possibly more goals.

As for the remaining players that will start the match, Alan Judge has just to keep doing what he has done so far over the first ten games, take the game by the scruff of the neck and exert his undoubted ability on the Rotherham back four, whilst Vibe (if selected) has to step out of the shadows, realise that we need him to have his best game yet in a Brentford shirt and hook up with Djuricin in a potent and dangerous attacking partnership.

Of course, I hope that all of that will happen. I also hope that Sergi Canos will come on and make a goal or two and that we will run out comfortable winners and send us home happy for a change. But as I sit here writing this with just under six days to go, I can honestly say I really don’t know what will happen. I can see us winning it, I can see us drawing it and, God forbid, I can also see us losing it as well!

All we can do is cheer them on from the first minute until the last, keep everything crossed and pray that these two weeks have given them a chance to regroup and discover some kind of collective spirit and common purpose.

The nightmare scenario: we lose to Rotherham, lose at Wolves and then lose to Charlton. If it’s five defeats out of five from Carsley’s first five games in charge, I predict that we will then be looking for our third manager since the start of the season!

What stands out a mile from all the heartfelt, pragmatic and even in some cases, pessimistic, comments expressed by everybody above, is that realism rules and nobody is under any illusions and is expecting anything against Rotherham other than a tense battle. The gauntlet has been thrown down to Lee Carsley and his squad and the supporters expect – nay demand, a performance from them all next Saturday.

Nothing less than total commitment will do and if the players show the required level of energy and tenacity and tackle, cover and press like demons, then maybe, just maybe, our superior technique will shine through and we can obtain a morale boosting and much needed victory.

The alternative hardly bears thinking about.

A Real Dilemma! – 26/9/15

I really wasn’t too sure who I wanted to win last night’s West London derby between our two hated rivals Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. Unfortunately Football League regulations do not yet allow for a verdict of nul points to be awarded so I was feeling utterly conflicted about the eventual outcome.

Perhaps I would settle for a nil-nil draw with lots of injuries – nothing too painful but certainly lingering and long-term to be suffered by the likes of star players Ross McCormack and Charlie Austin and the game to be refereed by Keith Stroud at his enigmatic best and be littered with a series of red and yellow cards which would leave the two teams seriously weakened for the challenges that lie ahead throughout the remainder of the season.

The outcome was a surprise as Fulham pulverised QPR by four goals to nil and the score could easily have been doubled had they taken more of the clear chances that they created on the night. French teenager Moussa Dembele was a towering target man who combined pace and power in abundance and proved a handful for the Rangers defence. Hopefully he will not remain for too much longer at Craven Cottage before a Premiership team snatches him away.

The aforementioned McCormack was far too clever for the visitors with his movement and scored twice and O’Hara and Pringle dovetailed beautifully in midfield. Fulham it has to be said looked like a team bursting with purpose, poise and confidence and their previously porous defence was barely tested on what turned out to be a night of shame and humiliation for the visitors.

Rangers barely mounted a challenge, ran up the white flag from the early moments when they conceded a ludicrously soft opening goal and after they eventually managed to carve open the Fulham defence with an admittedly lovely move which ended with Luongo spurning a golden chance to equalise by firing carelessly wide, their heads went down and they allowed Fulham to take total control.

Success in the Championship is obtained by a winning combination of perspiration and inspiration and you have to demonstrate both qualities if you are to prevail. On the night Fulham, to their credit, certainly did so and the entire team, apart from the totally unworked Andy Lonergan in goal sweated buckets as well as playing some beautiful one touch football but their task was made far easier by the fact that Rangers were not prepared to press or challenge or do any of the unseen and nasty work off the ball that is necessary if you are to ensure that possession is won back after it is conceded. Rangers never really appeared to want to break sweat on the night and their lack of commitment is highlighted by their only committing ten fouls throughout the game and barely putting in a tackle worthy of the name.

The question has to be asked if Fulham were simply unstoppable on a night when everything came off for them and they performed to their full capability, or if they were in truth made to look far better than they really are by a totally inept and craven display by QPR? The jury is out on that matter, but last night’s match certainly reinforced the fact that the overall quality of Championship players is exceptionally high and the majority of teams possess game changers – players who have the ability to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it in favour of their team by virtue of one moment of brilliance.

By the end of the evening QPR had degenerated into an ill-disciplined shambles exemplified by the totally inept Chery stalking straight off to the dressing room in an apparent hissy fit after being dragged off and substituted before the interval and top scorer Charlie Austin limped off on the hour with what appeared to be a hamstring injury which hopefully will be a serious one and take quite a while – ideally over a month – to heal!

Their supporters were reduced to silence by their team’s pathetic display and it is also interesting to note that there was much made of the fact that they brought 4,000 fans to Craven Cottage – over two thousand less than we took to our match there last season!

I have a rather annoying acquaintance who is as fanatical about his beloved Queens Park Rangers as I am about the Bees and he persists in sending me a series of taunting texts and tweets whenever his team wins or we loses. Interestingly enough he seems to have gone very quiet over the past few hours and I wonder if I will hear from him today? I somehow think not!

The humiliation of QPR has certainly brought about a more than decent start to the weekend, ignoring of course the necessary but unpalatable fact that as a result Fulham took the three points on offer. What would top things off perfectly would be for Brentford to do the business this afternoon against a tough and resourceful Sheffield Wednesday team that will be bursting with confidence after beating Fulham and then Newcastle United in their last two matches.

They had the better of us last season with a fairly even goalless draw at Griffin Park followed by a totally self-inflicted one-nil defeat in the return match when we conspired to miss a plethora of gilt-edged chances and then set up the winning goal for our opponents on a plate after yet again overplaying at the back and losing possession in a dangerous area of the pitch.

Our confidence will have been boosted by last weekend’s much needed victory over Preston North End and the defence will also be strengthened by the return of James Tarkowski who has recovered from his calf injury. There are some selection dilemmas for Marinus Dijkhuizen today in terms of whether he retains Josh Clarke at right back and who he selects to play in midfield. Will Ryan Woods get his long awaited first start for the club? Marinus will also have to decide whether Sergi Canos merits a start or if his flair is best used as a substitute when he can come on and ideally wreak havoc against a tiring defence.

Wednesday carry a real threat up front where they combine strength and flair in abundance and today would be an ideal time for that long awaited first clean sheet of the season to arrive.

These are interesting and challenging times for a Brentford squad that remains seriously depleted in both numbers and quality. Our fighting spirit however is not in any doubt and if we can somehow find a way to overcome adversity and obtain at least four and ideally six points from today and next Tuesday’s home game against a revitalised Birmingham team then the season might be on the verge of taking off.

Payback Time? – 15/9/15

Brentford take on the might of Middlesbrough tonight and whilst on the face of it they might appear to be on a Mission Impossible there is much to be optimist about and in the immortal words of Robert Louis Stevenson, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour. 

And believe me, we will have to work hard to get anything out of tonight’s match.

Last season saw Middlesbrough firmly established as our bogey team. We could barely buy a goal against them, let alone a victory and four matches, including the two playoff semifinals ties saw us suffer four defeats and score only once whilst conceding ten times in all. You can’t really argue with the facts, but two of the games were closely fought and there is no way that the Bees should have lost either tussle at Griffin Park.

We totally dominated proceedings in the January league match, missed chance after chance in a totally one-sided first half and yet somehow went in at the break trailing to a soft penalty kick conceded by David Button after Harlee Dean unaccountably ducked under a harmless through ball and let in the predatory Patrick Bamford. I suspect that the explanation for this apparent aberration is that Harlee received a call to leave it from somebody in the adjacent area and I don’t believe that the person concerned was wearing a red and white striped shirt!

We created even more opportunities in the second half and Stuart Dallas could have scored four had the luck been with him but Boro were strong, professional, organised and resilient and managed to hold us at bay.

There was a similar tale to tell in the first leg of the playoff tie when after a poor first half we battered them and finally managed a goal when the predatory Andre Gray took full advantage of the keeper’s error in dealing with a harmless through ball. From then on we grew in confidence, created and missed further opportunities, saw Jonathan Douglas’s header force a miraculous save and then fell victim to a sucker bunch with an injury time winner from a deflected shot after a corner kick. Life is hard and unfair sometimes.

As for the away games, there is really not much to tell. We were tentative, disorganised, defended poorly, created little and allowed ourselves to be totally outmuscled and outplayed. In other words we totally deserved the two thrashings we received.

That though is all in the past. Now we have to look forward and go into tonight’s game with a clean slate and simply learn from the errors and mistakes we made last season and have a game plan that gives us a realistic opportunity of getting something from the match. Last season we invariably played the same way. We had a Plan A where we set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation every time and we always tried to take the game to the opposition whatever the circumstances.

It also worked far more often than not as is evidenced by our final fifth place. The one exception was against Middlesbrough, who, like everybody else, knew exactly what was coming from us, but unlike most of the other Championship teams, knew how to counter us.

They sat back, took whatever we could throw at them, dominated the midfield, kicked us up in the air whenever necessary – and sometimes when it wasn’t , took advantage of poor and weak refereeing and then picked us off on the break.

Unlike us, their finishing was clinical and they wasted very few goalscoring opportunities. They also exerted a stranglehold on the centre of the midfield, so often our strength, where Toumani Diagouraga and Jonathan Douglas were totally outgunned, outfought and outplayed by Leadbitter and Clayton who dominated proceedings. They were tigerish in their challenges, gave us no peace or time on the ball and then invariably used the ball effectively and set up a series of attacks that threatened our goal. Albert Adomah was also a constant danger on their right wing and led Jake Bidwell a merry dance with his pace and trickery.

So what can we do to turn the tide tonight? Firstly we must forget about the so called Middlesbrough Hoodoo – it no longer exists. We start again with a clean slate and have the chance to set our own agenda against a team that has been strengthened by the arrival of experienced international players in Stewart Downing and David Nugent. Adomah though has fallen out of contention after a dispute with the management.

Our team is different and several of the players that capitulated in the playoffs last season will not be involved. Odubajo, Douglas, Jota, Pritchard and Gray won’t be playing for us for a variety of reasons and we have new blood aplenty who are untainted and will not go into the game burdened with negative thoughts from last season’s series of poor results against Middlesbrough.

I do not expect us to be as expansive as we were last season and we are better suited to the new 4-3-3 formation preferred by Marinus Duikhuizen. The key will be in midfield where we ceded control far too easily in all four games last season.

Alan McCormack will be crucial to our game plan tonight and ensure that we are not bullied and knocked (or should that be kicked) off the ball. He will protect our back four and support Toumani whose passing ability will be needed to ensure that we break their press and are able to move forward whenever possible.

In my opinion this is not a game for Konstantin Kerschbaumer who is still finding his feet in English football. Instead I would start with Ryan Woods who would provide a more solid and forceful approach. He is a little ferret who wins the ball effectively and then plays with his head up and rarely wastes possession.

Middlesbrough will surely dominate the ball tonight but we must not turn it over to them cheaply, particularly in our last third of the field. We need to be patient, absorb the pressure that they will doubtless put on us but not be as open and exposed as we were last season. Our chances will come and we need then to get Alan Judge on the ball when he can ideally feed the bullets for Lasse Vibe and the predatory Marco Djuricin.

If we defend properly, as we did on Saturday, avoid doing anything stupid or kamikaze, then we have every chance of getting something on the night and maintaining our improvement. We have the players, we have the ability, we simply need to allow our new team to bed in and find their feet.

Elland Road was a massive challenge that we overcame, tonight is yet another one and I feel that if we stick to our game plan we can triumph and enjoy the long trip home.

Oh, and it would also be nice to wipe the smile off Adam Forshaw’s face too!

International Break – 3/9/15

International breaks seem to be all the vogue at the moment, so if you can’t beat them then join them.

Tomorrow I am off on my own short break and will do my utmost to try and think of things other than Brentford FC for the next week or so. In reality I suspect that the club and everything relating to it both on and off the field will cross my mind perhaps once every five minutes instead of the permanent tape loop that is my normal state of affairs.

It is a good time to go away. The maelstrom of uncertainty that seemed to envelope and overwhelm us finally seems to have dissipated and there is a clear breathing space before the next match at our old friend Uwe Rosler’s Leeds United where we will also come up against Stuart Dallas and a particular favourite of mine in Tom Adeyemi, someone who I really wish that we had been able to sign on a permanent basis.

We did the double over Leeds last season and were comfortable winners in both matches against a toothless and insipid team who barely managed to lay a glove on us. With the exception of the Blackpool walkover when he could just as well have taken a book out onto the pitch with him, David Button certainly enjoyed his two most comfortable games of the season against Leeds and he was hardly called upon to dirty his knees in either match.

It will be illuminating to compare ourselves against Leeds and see if we are able to repeat our dominance over them or if the balance of power has changed.

The players are now enjoying a few days off and given the background of the majority of the squad, have probably spread themselves far and wide throughout Europe. Hopefully they will return to training next week refreshed and reinvigorated and more attuned to the challenge that awaits them. With a now replenished squad containing three new players to integrate, Head Coach Marinus Dijkhuizen will, for the first time since his appointment, have the very real problem of who actually to leave out rather than having to worry about how to fill the substitutes’ bench so that it doesn’t resemble a creche.

There is much to look forward to and the onus is now on the team management to use the break productively to hone and develop the squad into an effective and cohesive unit and hopefully demonstrate that we can both win matches and entertain at the same time. Mind you a clean sheet would not be unwelcome given our recent defensive shortcomings.

August was a truly horrible month where everything that could have gone wrong did so – and more too! September can, and hopefully will, be a lot better.

It is now time for the family, a good book or three, a sun lounger and a snorkel and for conversation to range around subjects far away from Griffin Park and its environs.

We are all feeling a bit jaded and beaten up by the traumas of the past month and I for one am really looking forward to my break.

I suspect that as the week progresses, my brain and typing fingers will start itching and twitching and I might just fall into temptation and find a subject that merits another article.

Maybe……maybe not.

If not then I look forward to seeing you all at Leeds a week on Saturday.

Time To Move On – 14/8/15

It is time for every Brentford supporter to put the last couple of weeks behind us. The past fortnight has seen a series of misfortunes and embarassments both on and off the pitch which have  been allowed to snowball and caused even the most optimistic of us to look into our glass and see it as half empty rather than full to the brim, but now we need to put an end to all feelings of negativity and look forward and not back.

But first let’s just get everything off our chest one last time before we move on:

  • A patchy end to the preseason with unconvincing performances and defeats at Luton and Norwich
  • Being hit by an injury jinx that now affects Josh McEachran, Scott Hogan, Lewis MacLeod, Jota, Marcos Tebar, Nico Yennaris and Andreas Bjelland with our record signing likely to miss the entire season
  • Harlee Dean and Alan Judge falling foul of a bug
  • A settled looking squad losing the services of Jonathan Douglas, Stuart Dallas and Moses Obubajo
  • The will he, won’t he Andre Gray saga which is still being played out in front of us
  • Pitchgate and how the club has been made to look bumbling and incompetent by its failure to provide an adequate surface, resulting in the postponement of our next home game against Birmingham
  • The Oxford United Capital One cup fiasco and how we shot ourselves in the foot by fielding seven debutants before subsiding to an appalling four goal home defeat to a club two divisions below us who took the tie seriously
  • Murmurings of discontent from some of the faithful, culminating in the over-the-top applause for the returning Jonathan Douglas and the ludicrous cries in support of the departed Mark Warburton
  • Some totally uncalled for and highly unpleasant abuse of goalkeeper Jack Bonham on Tuesday night. Admittedly he had a shocker but how is belittling him going to improve his performance

Is that everything or have I missed anything out? If so then let’s just acknowledge and accept everything that has happened, put our negativity behind us and instead concentrate on the immediate future and on all the positive things that are happening in and around the club.

A quick search on YouTube will reveal a wonderful new documentary made by Copa 90 on the similarities in approach between both Brentford and FC Midtylland. It features our Co-Director of Football Rasmus Ankersen and a number of supporters discussing how the clever and innovative use of statistics and mathematical modelling has transformed the fortunes of both clubs and made them the talk of the football world.

Watching the film reinvigorated me and  totally renewed my faith in what we are doing and how we are doing it .

We are only one game into what will be a marathon Championship season. There are still forty-five matches to go, plenty of time for us to have bedded in our new players, sorted out our best team, established our optimum pattern of play and given our new management and coaching team sufficient opportunity to understand the harsh realities of the league in which they are now competing.

Marinus Dijkhuizen has already come in for some sniping and criticism from supporters who are quick to find fault and compare him to his predecessor. Given the management structure now in place behind the scenes Marinus is possibly feeling the heat and taking the blame for decisions taken by others, although he was naive in the extreme to underestimate the quality of the challenge that Oxford United would pose and decide to field a team that was so lacking in experience.

Rather than damn him with criticism or at best, faint praise, I would instead commend him for his actions last Saturday when, fully aware that his team were being outplayed and were offering little threat to an Ipswich team that was totally dominating the midfield, he was brave and flexible enough to make changes early in the second half, bring on Gray and Vibe who revitalised a flagging team and go to three at the back which allowed more players to pour forward until we had five attackers on the pitch by the end.

I honestly do not think that Mark Warburton would have responded to a tough situation to the same extent as Marinus did and his tactical flexibility and positivity received its due reward with two late goals that earned an unlikely point.

Today also saw the arrival of a replacement for the departed Moses Odubajo, and is is now the custom, nobody outside the magic circle within the club could have guessed his identity, heard of him or known anything about his capabilities. Twenty-three year old right back Maxime Colin has arrived from Belgian side Anderlecht for a fee rumoured to be around £900,000, or about a quarter of the the sum we received from Hull for Moses. Yet another example of our selling high and replacing far cheaper. French Under 20 international Maxime is another total mystery to us supporters but is reputed to be skilful on the ball and quick and will therefore fit in perfectly with the way we intend to play.

Maxime is our ninth signing of the summer and with the exception of Ryan Williams, who is a cheap anomaly, Josh McEachran and the experienced Andreas Bjelland, the other six in Akaki Gogia (Hallescher), Yoann Barbet (Chamois Niortais), Konstantin Kerschbaumer (Admira Wacker), Philipp Hofmann (Kaiserslautern), Lasse Vibe (Goteborg) and now Maxime Colin (Anderlecht) all fit the same pattern being young foreign players with bags of room for improvement, reasonably priced, totally unknown to us and not apparently on the radar of any of our rivals. This last named fact means to me that we are either identifying and scouting prospects far better and more thoroughly than our competition, or else we are signing players that have already been considered and rejected by everybody else! My money is on the first option. Last season Brentford and Wigan seemed to share an identical shopping list, now we appear to be streets ahead of other teams.

Our new arrivals will all take time to settle down and there is no guarantee that they will all prove to be a success but the chances are that we will have some new heroes to enjoy as the season develops. As for Andre Gray, hopefully he can now get his head down and concentrate on scoring goals for us, and if he does so then his move will come, perhaps sooner rather than later, and given his rapid rate of improvement, I am sure that he will end up playing for a far bigger fish than Hull City, and if and when he does leave us then his replacement, who I am pretty certain has already been identified and his club approached, will shortly arrive in his place, and he will also fit the pattern of the rest of new signings in terms of his age and development potential.

We simply have to believe and trust in the process. Of course there will be some bumpy roads ahead and lots of teething problems for us to overcome, and quite a bit of patience might well be called for on our part as we bed in new players, staff and systems, but our basic premise and business plan is sound and is surely the only one that allows Brentford, a veritable minnow in comparison with the giants in the Championship, to compete on an almost even playing field.

We have a tiny budget compared to the rest of the league, many of whom are buttressed by massive parachute payments. Last season was miraculous and our success was due to our having a number of good players who were well managed and prepared and who took the opposition by surprise. We were generally underestimated and the other teams will not make that mistake again.

We can do the same or even better this season but we supporters need to recognise just how tough it will be for us to do so as we need to keep progressing merely to stand still and we also have to try to manage our expectations which have become somewhat inflated and are in my view quite unrealistic.

Perhaps we need to consolidate for a year before we push on again? It just remains to be seen and maybe a finish halfway up the league might in the circumstances be just as impressive as finishing in the playoff positions was last season?

Tomorrow will be another tough test at a revitalised Bristol City team still on a high from their promotion to the Championship last season. We will have to keep a careful eye out for their most dangerous attacker in central defender Aden Flint, scorer of a quite glorious own goal the last time the two teams met at Griffin Park but he has since proved to be far more lethal at the other end of the pitch and we will concede set pieces at our peril.

Hopefully our nemesis Keith Stroud will also have one of his less combustible days and decide that he has already done us far more than our fair share of damage in recent years and not be an influence on proceedings. If we can impose ourselves on the game early on and silence the crowd then three points are well within our grasp and I am hopeful of a successful outcome.

I look forward to seeing you all there tomorrow!

The Way Of The World For Brentford – 7/8/15

Southampton totally surpassed expectations a couple of seasons ago by establishing themselves in the Premier League and playing a highly effective brand of football based upon patient possession and pressing high up the field. Their football was easy on the eye was and rewarded with a fully deserved eighth place finish, equalling their best ever Premier League position. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino marshalled his troops efficiently and effectively and incredibly, three players from such an unfashionable team, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert were named in England’s World Cup squad.

Everything in the garden seemed lovely with the club on the crest of a wave – and then the vultures pounced. Lallana, Shaw and Lambert were the first out of the door, swiftly followed by star defender Dejan Lovren and the impressive young Calum Chambers, all for vast sums. Manager Pochettino left for Spurs and it seemed only a matter of time before two of the remaining stars, Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez joined him.

The fans wailed and gnashed their teeth, the club was accused of greed and lack of ambition and were nailed on favourites for relegation last season. So what happened? Dutch manager Ronald Koeman seamlessly replaced Mauricio Pochettino and The Saints made a number of astute signings in the summer, including winger Dušan Tadić, striker Graziano Pellè, goalkeeper Fraser Forster attacking midfielder Sadio Mané and loanee centre back Toby Alderweireld. None of these players were as heralded or expensive as the stars they replaced yet the newly built squad improved on the previous season and finished seventh.

This close season has yet again seen the departure of even more high profile players in Schneiderlin, Alderweireld and Nathaniel Clyne but they have all been replaced by players of apparently comparable ability at far less cost. Schneiderlin’s replacement, Jordy Claisie was signed for well under half the twenty-five million pounds the club received for their departing midfielder as was the case with Clyne’s replacement at right back, Cedric Soares.

Southampton’s business model is brave and innovative and should be examined closely by every other far-sighted club in the country. Everyone has his price and can go if that price is achieved. Nobody is irreplaceable. Every football market around the world is scrutinised for emerging talent and potential bargains not yet spotted by less astute rivals. New recruits are carefully identified and scouted before being brought in at under market value and they all ideally have massive development and resale potential.

The structure and system is far more important and long-lasting than any one individual and analysis and knowledge are the keys to success as they enable the club to buy low and sell high.

I hope that any Brentford fans reading this have had the patience to stay with me to this point as I am sure that they will fully recognise the massive similarities between what Southampton have achieved over the past couple of years and how they have done it, and what is happening now at Griffin Park.

I am writing this article on the eve of a new season and am trying to assess the evidence as to how Brentford will do over the coming months. Can they match or even surpass their incredible fifth place finish of last season or will we become also-rans or, perish the thought, return in ignominy from whence we came so triumphantly in 2014?

We have lost a number of players from last season’s tight-knit squad. Tommy Smith and the under performing Nick Proschwitz were both gently ushered out of the door. Alex Pritchard and Jon Toral returned to their parent clubs after jobs extremely well done. Young defender, Alfie Mawson, understandably preferred the prospect of immediate first team football at Barnsley rather than an uncertain future at Brentford. Striker Will Grigg was deemed not to be up to scratch and was despatched to Wigan in return for a seven-figure fee. Tony Craig returned to Millwall with our heartfelt best wishes and thanks for three years of unblemished service. Stalwarts Richard Lee and Kevin O’Connor both retired and Jonathan Douglas moved to Ipswich when it was made clear to him that after four good years he was now surplus to requirements. Stuart Dallas wanted the opportunity to play every week, something that was likely to be denied him at Brentford and rejoined Uwe Rosler at Leeds for a fee of well over a million pounds. More contentiously, star full back Moses Odubajo left this week for fellow Championship rivals Hull City who met his release clause fee of three and a half million pounds.

The supporters have understandably been disturbed and unsettled by the loss of so many players as well as the Andre Gray saga which still remains unresolved. Hull have been banging at the door for him for the past week or so but have not matched our asking fee which is reputed to be in the region of eight million pounds, along with another two million pounds in add-ons. Whether the deal is resurrected or another club comes in for him is unknown at this stage but the star striker, so impressive in preseason with four goals to his name, is expected to lead the attack against Ipswich on Saturday. The situation there is quite simple, the club currently holds all the aces and Gray will only leave if we are overwhelmed by an offer and he would, of course, be replaced by another player of a similar ilk.

We are in a confusing new world where players will regularly come and go, with the ones that either surpassed themselves or even fell short of expectations being replaced by cheaper, younger and ideally more promising new arrivals from off the conveyor belt that hopefully never stops.

Odubajo made it clear in his interview today that he considered Hull to be a bigger club than Brentford, and however much it hurts and angers us to hear such comments, I am afraid that they are the unpalatable truth for the time being, until we identify and obtain new revenue streams. I fully suspect that Moses has at least tripled his salary after his move and unfortunately money talks and Hull City, bloated and replete with Premier League television money and now parachute payments, have far, far more of it than us.

Let’s look on the bright side, we have brought in eight high quality recruits with, I am sure, more to come before the end of the transfer window. Andreas Bjelland and Yoann Barbet look as if they will strengthen our central defensive options. Konstantin Kerschbaumer has impressed as an all-action midfielder, Andy Gogia has shown pace and trickery on the flanks and strikers Philipp Hofmann and Lasse Vibe have excellent track records. Midfielder Ryan Williams is a promising low cost gamble in midfield and unfortunately Josh McEachran has broken his foot and is hors de combat for the forseeable future.

However unsettled supporters are feeling, they need to take comfort from the fact that no less than eight of the members of the successful team that began our last few matches last season remain at the club with only Odubajo, Douglas and Pritchard having departed. Moses will undoubtedly be replaced shortly and stringent efforts are being made to identify a playmaker who can replicate or even better Pritchard’s achievements of last seasonPerhaps Jota will be given the chance to play in the middle where he could well prove to be more influential than he is when isolated on the wing? Players like David Button, Jake Bidwell, Harlee Dean and Alan Judge can also only improve after the experience and confidence they gained last season.

How will they gel as a team? The jury is still out as the preseason preparations were hampered by injuries and uncertainty. Premier League Stoke City were well beaten as we demonstrated our full potential but we were similarly outplayed last weekend at Norwich City. There is also a totally new management and coaching team who are also settling down in their new surroundings.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. This needs to be our motto and mantra for the foreseeable future. Let’s simply look at the Southampton model, acknowledge its success and then replicate and adapt it. It will take some time to get used to the new way of the world and it might well be a little while before our new squad finds its feet but I am certain that this season will ultimately prove to be as exciting, fulfilling and successful as last year.