There is a lot of muttering and murmuring at the moment from some Brentford fans, the majority of whom I suspect are fairly wet behind the ears in terms of the length of their support and never lived through the bad old days of the likes of Stan Webb, Murray Jones and Eddie Hutchinson and many others of that ilk, players whose second touch was generally a tackle and who could also be relied upon to send the majority of their shots into orbit.
These fans have understandably become spoiled by the success of the incredible last three years which have seen Brentford finally climb out of the depths of the third tier of English football and rise to the Championship for the first time in over twenty years and then come within a hairsbreadth of reaching the unforeseen heights of the Premier League by playing a wonderful brand of effervescent, attacking football.
They are expecting our progress to be maintained and for the squad to be enhanced. Spend, spend spend is their mantra as if they were reincarnations of Viv Nicholson of pools win fame from 1961 and there is a feeling of deep frustration and even anger at the recent sales of so many talented players and their not being immediately replaced and no understanding of the realities of the situation that we face.
I always try to look at both sides of any story or subject concerning Brentford FC and then attempt to provide a measured opinion ideally based on analysis and research as well as sounding out the views of others rather than just on simple emotion and gut feeling.
In this instance I am fully prepared to nail my colours to the mast and in response to all the criticism I would simply refer you all to the words of the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, when in 1957 he asserted that the people have never had it so good.
Here is what I think about our current situation:
1. We are punching way above our weight in what is only our second season in the Championship
2. The dictates of Financial Fair Play mean that we cannot just throw money that we don’t have at improving the squad
3. Even if we could why should Matthew Benham spend more than he has budgeted, a sum which is already generous in the extreme
4. Last year was a massive overachievement due to brilliant young players, a team ethos, good management and coaching, a lot of good fortune regarding injuries and first year syndrome and the time to take an educated gamble was last January but the opportunity was lost
5. Our best players have been snatched away because they were all more than good enough to progress higher, and were offered wages in some cases two to three times what they earned at Brentford by clubs awash in revenue due to the benefits of larger stadia and Parachute Payments
6. Players chase the money – that is a given as theirs is a short and risky career and they must strike whilst the iron is hot and unlike in previous years when we took what we could get, we are now recruiting far better players who all have other options and they and their agent can generally call the tune
7. Given our lack of revenue, which is in the bottom four of the Championship, we could not afford to keep them or risk a divided dressing room so we made sure we got top dollar for all of them, something we have never achieved before in our history
8. This money has and will continue to be invested in new players but not until the end of the season when we can extract maximum value rather than in January when it is a sellers’ market
9. We are now hamstrung by massive over-expectations caused by a dangerous and intoxicating combination of excitement, impatience and ignorance
10. We are looking to progress but cannot do so at the pace we set last season – nobody could – and it is quite impossible to replicate or even build upon our success given the financial realities of our situation and the fact that many other clubs are now trying to replicate our recruitment model and use analytical scouting techniques
11. Yes there were some daft, ill-thought and unrealistic comments earlier this season from people high up at the club which raised expectations and should not have been made which are now coming back to haunt them – and rightly so
12. This is how it is going to be until we get to Lionel Road and with enhanced revenues we will then have a bigger budget to play with
13. How it is going to be is still pretty damn good in my opinion given our post war history as we should remain a mid table Championship team playing good football until we can afford to invest more in the squad
14. We already have some wonderful young players in Colin, Barbet, Hogan, Bidwell, Woods and McEachran and the foundations are in place both on and off the pitch
15. All will be well as long as we continue to recruit properly. In 2014 we recruited brilliantly, in 2015 half the signings have come off and half have yet to do so and we could also do with some luck with injuries
16. Everything hinges on who leaves and who comes in this Summer. This is the key, we have to continue to bring in young promising and undervalued players from both at home and abroad who we can develop and improve – some will come off and be successful and others won’t
17. The time to worry will be if we do not make serious efforts to rebuild the squad in the close season. How we attempt to replace Alan Judge, should he leave, as I expect him to do, will be very illuminating
18. The remainder of this season is about consolidation and experimentation – no more – no less
19. Be careful what you wish for and remember where we have come from if you continue to criticise Matthew Benham and tell him to get his cheque book out
It is only fair that I now publish the comments and opinion of some of the readers of my column in order that everybody can read all of the differing points of view and then come to their own conclusion about the current situation.
Bill Benn was very emphatic in his support of our strategy:
Why take notice of television pundits slagging off our club and owner? Just ask yourself why aren’t they managing a football team?
These are the same people who slated Ranieri at the start of the season. Let’s be fair, management is hardly an easy job as Garry Neville is finding out.
We are a club which is very much in a state of transition. I think at times like this fans should just get behind the side and support what the club is trying to achieve.
Players don’t want to play for little clubs with small crowds when big clubs with big wages come calling. We can’t control that and all we can do is get the correct money for them, something we have never done in the past.
We lost a game at Brighton – so what? We were great in our last away game at Preston now we are rubbish!
Let’s keep things in proportion.
Cris Glascow was not feeling as bullish or positive:
The club’s hierarchy shouldn’t be surprised if a number of newer fans retreat into their own bunkers rather than wasting money watching some of the impotent performances that have been served up recently.
I hope they think seriously about how the playing side is being run at the moment.
It’s all very well saying we are safe (we aren’t yet) but a run of poor performances to the end of the season will just encourage our few remaining talented players to leave, thinking that the club has no real ambition.
Cutting your cloth according to your budget is one thing. Showing a lack of direction or momentum is quite another.
Russell Hawes was not happy with the way we lined up on Friday and I also wonder if the favoured 4-2-3-1 formation best suits the players we currently have:
My thoughts on the performance – neither Vibe, Djuricin or Hofmann suit the lone striker role. The five man midfield is fine with attacking flair but not with Sam, Woods, Josh and Swift. It is just never going to work. Judge is dropping deeper and deeper to get in the game and our striker is barely getting a touch.
We need to play to our strengths. Barbet and Woods are great passers so use their ability to play longer passes to create different openings.
Vibe or Djuricin need a partner up front and I would play Hoff and Vibe, sit Judge behind and use Canos, Swift/ Gogia down the wings with a holding player, Woods or Josh. The back four would remain as they are but concentrate on defending!
Rebel Bee is also worried about our current thinking and what lies ahead of us:
A very bad night and it was unfortunate that it was live on television, when it really needed burying amidst a busy midweek schedule. Yes it’s open season on us with the media at present, much of the criticism is unjust but we aren’t helping ourselves are we?
Do we have problems in the camp again, do we have enough to get through to the end of the season, and is Dean Smith going to be up to this job? I’m asking myself these questions today.
I’m also concerned by the now seemingly huge task of putting a new side together in the summer.
Whilst I totally get that our resources are not at the level of many other clubs in the division, please let’s not use this “little Brentford, we can’t compete” stuff as a comfort blanket for some of the things that patently aren’t working as hoped.
I’ve just watched Leicester win big at Manchester City, they top the premier league and are real contenders – if we blindly follow the resourses argument then this just shouldn’t be happening. So why is it? I’d say they have a great coach, excellent recruitment here and abroad, and a real team ethic. Leicester have a strong spine, tight defence and a real outlet up front – and he came from Fleetwood! This is totally relevant to us and where the real real debate should be right now.
Worryingly, most of our divisional rivals have strengthened whilst we haven’t, some of the sides below us will now fancy their games to come against us.
The season has been a mess and without Lee Carsley we’d be in real trouble.
Sorry to those that don’t like my views, I Iove our club deeply the same as you all do. I’ll be at Hillsborough next week, but I go both in hope and fear in equal measure.
Rob O also expressed his concerns:
I’m at a loss about what I think and feel is going on at the club at the moment. I was at Preston the other week and we did play well and it was an enjoyable day out. I watched pretty much the same players at Brighton and they were completely out of sorts and not far off humiliated.
Tempo, drive and positivity seem to be the difference in the two performances. I think perhaps we should fine the players if they pass backwards or sideways, at least when quick forward movement is on.
Everything was so slow and laboured – tentative would be the word I’d use. The players seemed to be intimidated. Maybe we just don’t like playing on Friday nights!
I fully appreciate the rational arguments about our relative size, Matthew Benham’s dedication and huge sums of money he’s invested and the amount of work going on off-field in all sorts of areas.
But supporters are generally not rational when it comes to football and we seem to be losing the emotional argument – the feel good factor.
The Bees are not an easy sell at the moment. My son and his friend are thirteen and I must admit I struggle to put into words for them what’s happening (in a positive sense), though intellectually I know things are far better than they were only a few years ago.
Peter Lumley urged that we maintain a sense of perspective:
I have no great desire to defend Sky but in recent times I have heard Ian Holloway, in particular, make some very complimentary remarks about the progress of Brentford and the quality of their football.
We have to take the rough with the smooth.
Ray Bailey got it in one, in my opinion:
Being a pessimist by nature, I still look to see how far we off relegation rather than looking up the table before we reach fifty-one points!
I believe some people need to get a reality check on our current position in the league.
Yes, last season was brilliant and I couldn’t believe some of the football we were playing, but since winning promotion I’d certainly take our current position any day.
I’m afraid I do still worry about Dean Smith being the right man but he needs to be given time to get his style across and build his own team and then we’ll see.
The pundits were doing my head in as well, especially as they were trying to portray that we were willingly selling all our best players, just because somebody bid for them rather than the players wanted away as was the case!
So what sort of ambition have we got? Well, with crowds of ten thousand what do they expect us to do?
I’m sure Rotherham and Bristol City fans would give their right arm to swap with us!
Once we get into Lionel Road and hopefully get bigger crowds, then I will start to dream that one day we might reach the giddy heights of the premiership, but it’s going to be a massive struggle, just look at Nottingham Forest and Leeds and how many years they’ve been trying and that’s with bigger crowds than we are going to get!
So, come on everybody, let us smell the roses and enjoy the current ride rather than expect overnight success!
Paul Fletcher also remains to be convinced:
I would hope the two Directors of Football realise that the latest exodus of experienced Championship proven players cannot be balanced by the signing of two untried kids and an extended contract given to a player who is anything but a Championship regular.
I honestly feel sorry for Dean Smith and sincerely hope he is given the opportunity to show us what he can do.
I am less enamoured by the performance of Messrs. Ankersen and Giles however, who having failed with the recruitment of Marinus as Head Coach have not inspired with the majority of players they have brought to the club. Certainly only Woods and Colin have been close to the quality of signing we made prior to their appointment.
We are at a bit of a crossroads I believe and decisions need to be made that convince players we value and supporters alike that we are building a better squad in the long term .
Gordonbankole feels that mistakes have been made and lessons need to be learned:
A club in transition? No problem with transition – just depends on whether it’s rough or smooth, and I’d suggest the last twelve months have been pretty rough after three years when we pretty much got everything right.
It was very important that the Head Coach appointment after Warburton was right, and sadly we got it wrong. Do we have a better gaffer than Warbs now? I’d say not.
Do I have faith in the Directors of Football?
I didn’t like Giles to start with, but in fairness he has become the mouthpiece and has been open and forthright. As for Rasmus? Sorry, but no.
We need someone working with Giles who has deep knowledge of and significant contacts within English football.
The team? Very poor recruitment in the summer, especially up front. But not just up front. We are a lot weaker now in all areas other than goalkeeper.
I understand how those ridiculous parachute payments have hindered us, but not all the departures were forced.
The Danish effect? I’m really not sure it’s helped us, and in fact I’d argue things have gone downhill since attention was divided. Half and half scarves? Burn the bloody things.
Matthew Benham? Still a legend without whom we would be unsustainable, a brilliant owner for the club but someone who needs to learn from a number of mistakes over the last year.
I guess we were extremely lucky to have such a fantastic last few years when he was literally beyond reproach, but this doesn’t mean he is beyond criticism now. We are so lucky to have a fan as owner, but the whole hierarchy will need to look at this season and think about how they could have done things better.
Lee Carsley? Thanks a million mate. The form either side of your tenure has been relegation standard. With you it was promotion standard.
I hear the season is over already. Sorry, but until we have fifty-two points on the board it isn’t. I remember 1993.
On current form over the last ten games suggests we will only hit this in games forty-one or forty-two.
Graham wrote from America and perhaps distance lends perspective:
Greville – I’ve been following your blog for many months now and really appreciate your articles and the discussions they provoke.
They allow long-range fans like me to stay connected to all of the ins and outs of following the Bees, so thanks for your tireless efforts!
I did want to weigh on the current topic of where the club is headed as, being an exiled Bees supporter (in the US for over twenty years) it seems that from a distance the current season is proving be much more of a roller coaster than last year (wonderfully documented in your book).
Other than a couple of weeks in February last year when Warburton’s exit was made public, it seemed there was generally a good vibe around the club.
After all, most of us long-suffering fans expected last year to be a battle for survival in the second tier. Once the first few victories were achieved it felt like mostly a positive continuation of the promotion season with an unimaginable appearance in the play-offs.
This term by contrast started with the pre-season excitement of all the new signings, followed by the rapid exit of four key players, ridiculous injuries, PItchgate, the Marinus debacle etc.
Then it was up again on the back of the Carsley revival, combined with confusion over the head coach position. And most recently, the hit-and-miss start to the Smith era and the loss of even more first-teamers (if you include Pritchard’s loan ending, we have now lost seven of last season’s first eleven). With the Tarky strike added for good measure, it’s been a pretty draining campaign this year.
So, as many have previously stated, being a long-term Bees supporter, I’ll take mid-table in our second season in the Championship in a heartbeat.
Keep in mind of the six clubs promoted in the last two seasons – Brentford are the highest placed (albeit now tied with Wolves) and Rotherham, MK Dons and Bristol City are all in a dogfight at the bottom.
And look at how Doncaster and Yeovil have fared since they stole promotion from us in 2013.
Establishing a multi-season presence in this league would be a great achievement and a platform from where to push on once the new ground is built.
That all said, we definitely need those three extra wins to put any concerns to bed. Then we can enjoy the rest of the season and play the role of spoiler – defeating Fulham in the penultimate game of the season to send them down! We can always dream, right?
Peter Lumley would also like some answers from the club:
We are fast approaching the first anniversary of one of the most controversial days in the club’s long history (11 Feb 2015).
It was the day we were told that if Brentford were to successfully compete in future with bigger and wealthier clubs it would have to replace the weaknesses of human judgement and experience with the virtues of statistical analyses.
Unsurprisingly, the consequences of that fateful decision are still with us today. One is that a large segment of the UK’s football community is under the impression that Brentford is a club that is at war with itself!
Please can someone at the club put a hand on his heart and tell me that I have got it all wrong? Also that supporters have a good chance of seeing their team reach the Promised Land of Premier League football at Lionel Road South by the end of this decade.
Would it be too much to ask the club’s owner to give a considered response to the thrust of the comments made by so many loyal and passionate fans?
Spanish Bee had a few points to make:
Being criticised by pundits on Sky TV should be seen as a badge of honour. If you don’t believe me ask any fan of Valencia, I can’t print what my mates there would say. We should adopt a Millwall attitude, “nobody loves us and we don’t care”.
The manager is very limited in his options because we don’t have a variety of ingredients, as people here have clearly identified, nobody capable of the lone striker role, no ball winning midfielders and no pace. This would suggest to me that we have a recruitment problem, ironic no?
If Matthew Benham planned major changes this time last year, how much more important is this year? If we don’t get the summer signings right, next season could be very difficult. So who is responsible for recruitment?
Rebel Bee tried to sum everything up:
The huge response to this blog is telling, and whilst there are differing viewpoints there is a lot of consensus too.
Nobody has a bad word to say about Matthew Benham, nobody is unhappy at our mid table position. Where we all seem to find consensus is exactly where fair questions and debate are needed.
beesyellow22 also saw the bigger picture:
I’ve stayed out of this until now because pretty much everything’s been said. But I guess I’ll add my two pennyworth.
Rather boringly, I think I’m probably something of a fence-sitter.
I, like all of us, was blown away by what happened last season. Having said that, I was not such a Warburton fan that I wasn’t occasionally left frustrated by his apparent lack of a plan B (i.e. what do we do when the likes of Middlesbrough work out how to nullify our 4-1-4-1).
This season promised much and I was quite excited when Marinus was appointed, along with the summer signings (Kerschbaumer, Barbet, Vibe, etc.).
Marinus went, Carsley came in, things looked good. Then Carsley went (then came back, then went again), then Smith came in.
Thirteen games later, we’ve won four drawn three and lost six.
Admittedly not a great return, but some slack does need to be cut, as we were extremely unlucky not to beat Fulham, lost to a last minuter at Cardiff, were again unlucky to lose to Birmingham, played great against lucky Boro, and probably should have beaten a lacklustre Leeds. Had those results worked out as a win, a draw, another draw, a win and another win, then Smith’s record would read, won seven drawn four and lost only twice, which would have given us all considerably more heart and reasons to be cheerful.
Whilst I fully understand the frustration felt by many Bees supporters at the moment, I am rather uncharacteristically erring on the side of optimism.
I think it is understandable to feel somewhat dejected and perhaps even disillusioned by much of what has transpired this season – particularly when compared to the miracle of 2014/15.
But I do think we still have to put it all into some kind of context. Yes, this season hasn’t worked out the way we hoped it would. But surely when we achieved promotion to the promised land when we beat Preston two years ago, most of us would have been extremely delighted were we to then consolidate and become a recognised, established Championship team for three or four seasons, before making a serious and sustained push for the Premiership – ideally in our new stadium.
Of course last season raised expectations – including my own. But memories of 1992/93 remain pretty vivid, and surviving in this massively competitive division for several seasons should not be seen as failure!
Yes, it’s been a disappointing season in terms of players that have left, and maybe we as fans should have been better prepared for the exodus in the wake of Warburton parting company with the club.
To lose the outstanding quality of the likes of Odubajo, Gray, Dallas and Tarkowski has been tough to take – but footballers are a fickle bunch and none of the above love the club as we do.
Pritchard was always only going to be with us for one season and Douglas was never going to keep his mouth shut once the writing was on the wall for Warburton.
Losing Jota has been a particular blow, but bad things happens as they say and who knows, perhaps once things settle down for him all will be better and our Spanish maestro will become a Bee once again.
As for players that have come in, Colin looks excellent, Barbet has great potential and Woods is outstanding. Yes, the likes of Gogia, Kerschbaumer, Hofmann, Djuricin and Vibe have question marks hanging over them, but they continue to gain more Championship experience with every game they play and who knows how much better they could all be next season?
It’s deeply depressing when we get dismantled the way we did on Friday and even more so when compared to what we did last season.
But the fact is, that was then and this is now. We are in a state of massive transition and we need to be realistic about our goals for this campaign. Will we get into the playoffs? No. Will we get relegated? Probably not. Do we have to stick together as a club and support the team for these final, vital sixteen games? Yes – because we certainly aren’t safe yet and we need to carve out four or five more wins to make sure.
Are we allowed to voice our frustration and disapproval about what has happened over the last twelve months? Absolutely. But let’s not lose sight of everything we’ve achieved – and where we all hope we’ll be by 2021 – in a fantastic new stadium in the Premiership.
If we achieve that, the disappointments of this season will suddenly seem less disappointing.
David Meyer raised an interesting point too:
I remember seeing the first few league matches under Marinus and thinking, why are we moving so ponderously, where is the speed and movement we had last season?
Then Lee Carsley took over and it was all back. Now we are slowing down again. Our movement off the ball last season and under Carsley threw other teams into confusion, it undermined their tactical plans.
Often they ended up not knowing quite what to do or where we were. Now our every pass is to a player accompanied by a marker, no one is in clear space, stronger players can just edge us off the ball.
Everything is too static. I really hope at some point Dean Smith catches on to this or with the type of players we have, we are going to start sliding.
Would anybody else like to add to the debate?