End Of Term Report – Part 1 – 14/5/16

Now that the season is finally over the time has come for me to give my brief verdict on every player and how they each performed last season. Here is the first part with, of course, more to follow:

2. Maxime Colin. We were all concerned about how well we would be able to replace the talented Moses Odubajo and the biggest compliment that I can give Max Colin is to state that Moses’s name has barely been mentioned for many months now, so well has the newcomer done. Signed in mid-August from Anderlecht for nine hundred thousand pounds, he impressed on his debut as a substitute at Burnley and just got better with every game. Strong in the tackle and good in the air, his defensive positioning improved with experience and he was only given the runaround by Brighton’s Jamie Murphy and Josh Murphy at MK Dons. He had the pace and ability to rampage forward and dribble past opponents at will and his cross led to a classic headed goal by Lasse Vibe at Ipswich. Knee ligament and groin injuries cost him nearly half the season and led to the threat of an operation. Hopefully he will return for the new season fit and ready to go as he is an exceptional player who has already proved to be a bargain signing.

3. Jake Bidwell. At only twenty-three years of age Jake has already made over two hundred appearances for the club and proved to be a popular team captain. He is so unobtrusive it is easy to take him for granted and fail to recognise just how good he is. Unfortunately he suffered a hamstring strain at Hull and lost his ever-present status, missing the local derby win over Fulham. He also finally broke his scoring duck in his one hundred and eighty-sixth game for the Bees and obviously enjoyed the feeling so much that he scored twice more before the end of the season. He was cool, calm and collected and very tough to beat and when he did make a mistake against Leeds which cost a late equaliser it stood out all the more because of its rarity. He was always eager to overlap and his accurate crosses led to four assists and his left footed curling corners and free kicks also improved throughout the season. The only problem with Jake is persuading him to sign a new contract as his current agreement expires at the end of next season.

4. Lewis Macleod. Another injury-wrecked season for Lewis and we still remain totally in the dark about his capabilities. His deep-rooted hamstring injury finally cleared up in late 2015 and allowed him to show his ability in the Development Squad and score eye-catching goals against QPR and Bristol City which clearly demonstrated his quality and whetted our appetite for more. He finally made his long awaited and much-delayed debut for the Bees with an eight minute runout at Brighton before succumbing to the injury hoodoo yet again, suffering a medial ligament injury in training. Next season perhaps? Surely he deserves some luck and the chance to show us what he can do?

5. Andreas Bjelland. There was palpable excitement and perhaps some disbelief amongst the Brentford supporters when the club smashed their transfer record by paying two million three hundred thousand pounds to sign Danish international central defender Andreas Bjelland from FC Twente. His preseason was hampered by a groin injury and he was given a runout on a terrible Griffin Park pitch in the Capital One Cup tie against Oxford United and must have wished he hadn’t as he suffered a serious knee ligament injury and missed the entire season. A terrible blow for the club and player alike. He is now back in training and hopefully will be fit for selection at the beginning of next season. But where will he play given the recent success of the Dean/Barbet partnership? What a wonderful problem for Dean Smith to have.

6. Harlee Dean. What a turnaround for the defender who ends the season with two hundred appearances for Brentford under his belt and a new two-year contract safely signed. How things have changed for the central defender who at one time looked certain to walk away on a Bosman free transfer at the end of the season. He came of age throughout the season and allowed his feet to do the talking rather than behave like a loose cannon, ever-ready to shoot off at the mouth if something upset him. He visibly matured, got a lot fitter, benefited from the long-term injury to Andreas Bjelland and the transfer of James Tarkowski, to become an automatic selection, a team leader and a tower of strength. He would not have been Harlee if there had not been one faux pas, in his case, the ridiculous red card he brought upon himself against Nottingham Forest. He read the game well and the blend of a tough traditional defender like Dean alongside a ballplayer like Tarkowski and subsequently Barbet, worked a treat. He won most of his challenges both in the air and on the ground, rarely dived in, showed far more mobility and also demonstrated an unexpected ability to play the ball accurately out of defence. His main weakness was in the opposition penalty area where he showed an infallible tendency to misfire or head the ball wide of the goal. At twenty-four his best is yet to come and he is finally playing for a Head Coach who believes in him and that has made a real difference to him.

7. Sam Saunders. After two injury-wrecked seasons it seemed that Sam might well be on his way out of the club and indeed it appeared likely at one time that he would move to America and play for Tampa Bay. Fortunately Sam chose to remain at Brentford and he more than justified his contract extension with a series of exceptional performances which ensured that he is about to enter his eighth season at Griffin Park. Dean Smith rightly valued his experience and leadership plus his ability to help his less experienced teammates and Sam rose to the challenge as well as scoring three beautifully taken goals against Leeds, Ipswich and, most memorably, his lob against Fulham, which highlighted his talent and growing confidence. He reads the game so well and finds time and space in the crowded midfield area and his bubbly enthusiasm, knowledge of the game and ability to keep possession is of massive value to the team.

8. Marco Djuricin. But for an ill-timed injury at Blackburn a mere eight days after his goal won the long-awaited West London derby against QPR and gave us our first win over the old enemy for fifty years, Marco Djuricin might have ended up as one of the stars of the team, but fate was against him and his season, and almost certainly his Brentford career fizzled out in frustration and disappointment. The Austrian international striker signed on loan from Red Bull Salzburg in late August although his arrival had been rumoured in January 2015. He made an excellent initial impression, scoring a cooly taken goal within twenty-nine minutes of his debut against Leeds United and made it two goals in three games when he scored the winner against Preston a week later. Another goal arrived soon afterwards at Wolves and when he scored the winner against QPR, running adroitly to the near post to convert a Judge cross, it appeared that we had a new hero in our midst. He played on the shoulder of the last defender, was sharp in front of goal and was eager to shoot rather than pass and was beginning to adapt to an unfamiliar role as a lone striker. A serious ankle ligament injury was the beginning the end for him as he was forced to miss two months of action and never regained his fitness or sharpness on his return and drifted out of contention. A real shame, as Marco possesses a striker’s instinct, something instinctive that cannot be taught, and will certainly come again, but surely not at Griffin Park, although his status as a Brentford legend is assured.

9. Scott Hogan. Sometimes people do get what they deserve and receive due reward for all their effort, dedication and determination not to give in when everything appears to be against them. Finally the Gods are smiling down upon Scott Hogan after he suffered and then overcame two career-threatening cruciate injuries and missed the best part of two season’s worth of football. Much was expected of Hogan when he was brought in to play ahead of Andre Gray at the beginning of the 2014/15 season and now he finally has the opportunity to show us why we signed him. He has certainly been a man on a mission since he was introduced as a late substitute on the nineteenth of March against Blackburn Rovers. Further short run-outs followed against Bolton and Ipswich before he finally made his mark by winning and then missing a penalty kick against Bristol City, before netting his first goal for the Bees with a last-gasp predator’s header which earned us a point. Two more clinical finishes against Cardiff made us realise that this was a really special player who was single-mindedly determined to make up for lost time. He was being carefully managed by the medical team and his time on the pitch was strictly rationed, but Lasse Vibe’s injury meant that Scott was named in the starting eleven against both Fulham and Huddersfield and he rewarded Dean Smith’s faith in him with four more goals. He ended up playing less than two full matches, one hundred and seventy-two minutes in all, and yet he scored an incredible total of seven goals and clearly demonstrated that he is a cool, calm and deadly finisher who has the rare ability to ghost in behind defenders and find time and space within crowded penalty areas. He has been compared in style and approach to Jamie Vardy and has already attracted the attention of the Eire selectors. Brentford have certainly been rewarded for their faith in Scott and for extending his contract for another year before he made his comeback and next season cannot come soon enough for him. What a prospect he is and if he can stay fit we will have a magnificent striker on our hands.

10. Josh McEachran. There was much excitement when we signed Josh McEachran from Chelsea for seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He seems to have been around for ever but is still only twenty-three years old. But scratch beneath the surface and his CV was slightly concerning as he had had five loan spells at clubs like Middlesbrough and Watford without establishing himself and he desperately needed a home and a role as his career appeared to be drifting. Unfortunately nothing has gone right for him since he joined Brentford. The first half of his season was ruined by a training ground collision with Toumani Diagouraga which resulted in a fractured foot, and, incredibly, he suffered a similar injury in March which ended his season. In between he managed fifteen appearances without really making too much of an impact. He describes himself as a holder and a passer, dictating play and his approach should have suited our play given the manner in which we always try to play through the midfield, but despite showing glimmers of his ability with a dummy here and a perceptive pass there, it never really happened for him and his passing generally lacked incision or penetration and was too often sideways or backwards and he generally hung out a foot rather than tackle properly. Perhaps it is simply a case that he was simply lacking in match fitness and confidence? We can only hope that he recovers in time for the start of next season and that he can then show us what he is capable of.

11. Philipp Hofmann. The enigma that is Hofmann. So much ability but so little end result to date. Expectations were high when we signed the massive German Under 21 international striker and it was hoped that he could provide us with a different type of option upfront given his size and strength. His progress was hindered by a series of niggling injuries and he seemed to find the Championship a massive learning curve and did not appear ideally suited to the lone striker system employed by the club. He did not have the pace or mobility to run the channels and, despite his height, he was not strong in the air. What he did have, though, was an unsuspected ability, strength and trickery on the ball and a real subtlety of pass. He only started six games all season but still managed to score four goals, including a wonderful finish at Bristol City, a calm dribble around a stranded goalkeeper at Wolves and the triple-ricochet winner at home to Nottingham Forest. He also missed a simple headed chance to win the home game against Brighton. I hope that next season he proves that he has a real future with us and that he relishes the challenge of adapting to the Championship. The jury is out.

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Lumley’s Lament! – 3/3/16

I am always keen to give loyal readers of this column the right of reply and to publish articles that they submit to me either spontaneously or sometimes at my request. After all, we share one thing in common, we are all fervent, if not rabid Brentford supporters who only want the best for our beloved club and we all have our own opinion and take on everything that has been happening at Brentford FC.

I might not always succeed, but I always attempt to provide a calm, considered and objective view and opinion on the way that the club is run and what is happening both on and off the field.

Sometimes I feel that I am a bit too cold blooded, detached and rational and that occasionally it does no harm to vent a bit and let those emotions out and today is going to be one of those days, even if the words that you are about to read are not my own and perhaps they go too far!

Peter Lumley is quite evidently not a happy man and he appears to be feeling a combination of anger, sadness, frustration and disappointment at most of the events of the past year and he has just sent me the article that I enclose below which succinctly sums up exactly his current state of mind.

Some of you might well agree with every word of what he says, I certainly do not share his opinion on most of the matters that he criticises and have already rebutted them many times in previous articles, others might see it as an impassioned or maybe even ill founded rant or, more charitably, simply as a dedicated, loyal and long-suffering supporter offloading because of what he perceives as an opportunity lost and that we are now a club that is drifting and suffering from the mistakes made in our overall strategy over the past year.

Whilst I accept that you can generally only predict the future by examining the past and that there are certainly several things that I would certainly have done differently, I have made it clear over the course of well over half a million words that I have written since I started this blog in June 2014 that I am fundamentally massively supportive and appreciative of the way that Matthew Benham, Cliff Crown and the rest of the senior staff have constantly tried to innovate and think outside the box in order to catapult Brentford way up the pyramid so that we are competing on an almost even keel with clubs far richer and larger than us and teams that we would barely have dreamed that we would be playing against, let alone defeating.

That being said, nobody is above criticism as long as it is fair, constructive and carefully thought through.

I have given chapter and verse on countless occasions exactly why I feel that we have gone backwards this season, but only after we began from a ridiculously high base line that could never in reality have been sustained given our circumstances.

Mistakes have certainly been made and we are currently in a bad patch, but we have also been the victims of bad luck and poor fortune on a massive scale as well as, it has to be acknowledged, poor judgement and we have suffered grievously at the hand of rapacious and far better heeled teams with the power to divest us of our better players. Such is life and we have to get used to it and plan for the future.

As for the future, again, I have made it clear just how crucial this Summer will be and I await what transpires with interest as well as the expectation that the right moves will be made, not just from blind faith but also from my soundings regarding the way in which we intend to operate.

Perhaps I will be proved wrong but somehow I doubt it and I firmly believe that we will retrench and come again next season.

In the meantime, here is what Peter has to say and, as always, I look forward to receiving your feedback on his article, which is hard hitting in the extreme.

I decided to write this item in the hope that it represents the views of dozens or hundreds of other Brentford supporters like myself. From the outset I should state that I was just one of the ninety-eight percent of fans who, according to a social media poll at the time, were opposed to the announcement by the Board of Directors, on the eleventh of February last year, that the club intended to dispense with the services of Mark Warburton as Manager at the end of the season, come what may!

At the time I wrote at least four letters to the club chairman, Mr. Cliff Crown, expressing fears that this decision would, almost inevitably, lead to a destabilisation of the club with a consequent loss of morale among a very successful squad of talented players who had treated fans to a quality of football they had not seen at Griffin Park for years.

Not surprisingly, my fears fell on deaf ears. It took at least two to three months for the chairman to even acknowledge my letters. When his response did eventually arrive it was not worth the paper it was written on – quite apart from the fact that I was addressed as “Dear Mr. King” rather than by my correct name. Many may say that this was a trivial offence. But to me it was symptomatic of the club’s attitude towards its loyal fans.

Perhaps I should recap, briefly, on the events that led up to the controversial decision and the subsequent fallout from that fateful day last February.

That morning an exclusive leaked story appeared in The Times newspaper announcing that Mark Warburton’s rolling contract would not be renewed at the end of the season even if the club was promoted to the Premier League. In a panicky response the club issued an interim statement that was an utter disgrace and an insult to anyone with a scrap of intelligence. To the press and the UK football community, it made the club a laughing stock from which, in my opinion, it has never really recovered.

In an attempt to make amends, the club subsequently issued a more considered response, the gist of which read as follows (using my own words):

The club believes that if it is to sustain the progress achieved over the past three seasons and is to compete successfully against bigger and more wealthier clubs in the future, it must rid itself of the hazards of human judgement and experience and replace them with a greater use of statistical analyses. Particularly as an aid to the recruitment of better players and coaches. Then, and only then, will we be able to reach the Promised Land of Premier League football at the proposed new stadium at Lionel Road.

Again, briefly, I went through all the emotions of shock, anger, bemusement, but I eventually came to terms with the decision and decided, in the interests of sanity and loyalty, to give the new direction a chance to succeed. And although I rated Mark Warburton as a great and highly popular manager, there were those who took the view:

1) That he possibly overplayed Jonathan Douglas, when he was not getting any younger and his box-to-box style of play demanded an enormous amount of energy.

2) There was a reluctance to recruit a second striker to take the pressure off Andre Gray.

But to me he was the perfect manager and a great asset to the club.

Now I want to fast forward to the present day. There are a growing number of fans who believe they are owed an explanation for what appears to have gone wrong with the current approach and a prediction of of what they can expect in the immediate future. This should come from the club chairman or a representative of the senior management team and should take the form of a progress report.

If I were to be asked to ghost write a statement on his behalf it would probably read as follows (in my own words):

1) Hello, all you grateful and loyal Brentford fans. We very much regret that many of you are suffering from a severe bout of nostalgia at this very trying time. We are confident, however, that this problem will soon pass and you can look forward to some quality football again shortly!

Quite naturally, our esteemed club owner is very reluctant to admit that, possibly, he has made a ghastly mistake and that, as yet, his massive gamble does not seem to be paying off. By nature he is a very shy and private person who wishes to remain incognito for as long as it takes. He believes he has a right to remain silent and no one should criticise him for that. Fair enough.

He also believes that fans should understand that money talks (or doesn’t talk!) to the tune of ninety million pounds! He is confident that his much cherished one direction will soon seem like music to the ears of many of you – and he will come up smelling of red and white roses.

Finally, he would just like to point out that foresight is a wonderful thing and he hopes you will now be prepared to show a little more patience!

2) We also have to admit that we have lost far too many good players to our rivals in the Championship and have been unable to recruit adequate replacements except with two possible exceptions. We would like to point out, once again that foresight is a wonderful thing etc etc….

3) We also admit that we cannot claim that our recruitment of new and better coaches has been wholly successful but we would like to point out etc etc ….

4) Our club chairman has agreed that the fears expressed that he was putting the club’s stability at risk were, with the benefit of hindsight, possibly well-founded. But he asks us to point out etc etc ……

5) Yes, we are conceding far too many goals and missing far too many scoring chances but would like to point out etc etc ……

6) At least one of our Co-Directors of Football has other fish to fry (possibly Danish) and cannot possibly be expected to devote more time and energy to the interest of Brentford. But he does ask fans to show a little more patience and a lot more loyalty to the club!

7) We ask fans and potential fans (if there are any out there!) to show a lot more patience, loyalty and optimism in the future. Because that is the only way that we will achieve our common goal (strikers permitting) of a place in the Premier League.

8) We also admit that the recruitment of better coaches has not really improved the performances of our youth and development teams in recent weeks. Due to unforeseen circumstances we lost the services of, arguably, the best Development Squad coach in the land. We then appointed the ultra-loyal Kevin O’Connor as lead Development Squad coach but quickly replaced him in what some describe as undue haste. Patience has, however, never been one of our strong points. In fact there are some among us who hardly know the meaning of the word! Regretfully, Kevin’s replacement has not met with much success but we would like to point out etc etc …

9) Finally, we pledge to give our very loyal fans regular and forthright updates, based on our very latest statistical analyses of the progress being achieved, we will then not have to rely on that young upstart, Peter Lumley, to do the job for us.

The Inside Track – Football & The Media – 26/2/16

Peter Lumley has been a regular contributor to this column recently and his razor sharp reminiscences of over seventy years of watching the Bees are always welcome and of great interest.

Today he has used the knowledge gained from his professional experience of being a local journalist covering the club and then a public relations practitioner to provide his viewpoint on Brentford’s current PR stance and approach.

Peter, as always, holds strong opinions and trenchant views, and it is perfectly obvious that there is much that has happened at the club over the last twelve traumatic months that has certainly not been to his liking and which has left him feeling angry, concerned and confused.

There has been much debate recently regarding Brentford’s expertise (or lack of it) in communicating with various media outlets – newspapers, radio, television and social media in general. It is a subject that is close to my heart in that I have had the privilege of working on both sides of the fence, so to speak.

My first job on leaving school at the age of sixteen was to join the Middlesex County Times at Ealing as a trainee cub reporter with a special interest in sport. At that age I had already been a Griffin Park regular for six years since my first visit in 1942.

I should point out that the newspaper had a weekly circulation of over fifty thousand copies and covered an area embracing Ealing, West Ealing, Hanwell, Greenford and Northolt – a very fertile catchment area for Brentford fans at a time when the club encountered so many severe financial problems.

One of my primary objectives was to help the club by trying to expand the coverage and gain greater support. I also wrote a weekly column covering a range of local sports activities – similar to a blog in modern parlance. One regular feature of that column was references to Brentford of which at least ninety percent could fairly be described as more than favourable or positive.

Among my many sources of information were a number of players with whom I formed a friendship and who were always interested in what I had written about their performances and those of their team mates. And I can honestly claim that I never betrayed a confidence nor did I compromise their relationship with Griffin Park officials.

For all these reasons I looked forward to establishing a close working relationship with senior club officials to share in a common cause. But subsequent events proved otherwise. There were two local newspaper rivals at that time. One was the iconic George Sands, of the “Middlesex Chronicle” a lifelong bachelor who devoted much of his life to Brentford and covered every Bees game, home and away for season after season. The other was Ernie Gifford, of the “Brentford and Chiswick Times”. Both gave the impression that they watched Brentford through red-and-white tinted spectacles.

This quite naturally endeared them to the Brentford management, particularly the club’s General Secretary, the late Denis Piggott, who was also General Manager/Secretary for a brief period. And it was this fact that led me into my first confrontation with club officialdom. Regularly on Thursday mornings I phoned Mr. Piggott to try and glean any information of potential interest to my readers before going to press later on in the day.

Invariably Mr. Piggott was less than enthusiastic about giving any information away even though he was well aware that my intention was to try and whip up interest among potential supporters for the next match.

Mr. Piggott seemed much more interested in complaining about any criticisms I had levelled against Brentford performances in the previous week’s edition. The fact that I had significantly extended the coverage of Brentford games went utterly unappreciated.

On one very memorable occasion, when I had written an article that club officials took particular exception to, I walked across the Braemar Road forecourt to be confronted by the then manager, Malcolm MacDonald, who threatened to punch me on the nose if I ever repeated the perceived offence.

And my alleged criticism that caused so much consternation would look like praise compared to some of Greville’s critiques of recent Brentford performances, particularly the one at Brighton!

But one Brentford Official who did appreciate the extra coverage given to the Bees, warts and all, was the late, great, Eric White who for a number of years acted as the club’s Press Officer. We became firm friends right up until his sudden and untimely death.

Another was no less than Mr. Jack Dunnett, who as Club Chairman invited me and other journalists to his luxury home for a pre-Christmas party for players and club officials. Mr. Dunnett was later to become a villain among Griffin Park fans as he prepared to sanction a takeover by West London arch rivals, Queens Park Rangers.

Fortunately the club was saved from extinction by another wealthy benefactor, Mr. Ron Blindell who succeeded Mr. Dunnett as Club Chairman. Mr. Dunnett later moved to Nottingham on becoming their Member of Parliament.

My years covering Brentford games spanned the years 1948/64. It was a period that produced an exciting but nerve-racking roller coaster of a ride but was also dramatically newsworthy for a young local journalist.

1) There were two relegations from the Second Division to the Fourth and promotion back to the Third.

2) The retirement of that great manager, Mr. Harry Curtis, who in the pre-war days took Brentford from the Third Division to the First.

3) England international Leslie Smith, hero of Brentford’s two-nil victory over Portsmouth in the London War Cup Final at Wembley in 1942, returned to Griffin Park for a short spell on being released by Aston Villa.

4) Perhaps my favourite player of all time, Ken Coote, completed more than 500 appearances for the club.

5) The defection of two of the stars of that wonderful half-back line of Tony Harper, Ron Greenwood and Jimmy Hill.

6) The great Tommy Lawton was Player/Manager for a brief period.

7) The skill and artistry of wonderful players like Johnny Brooks, Peter McKennan, Johnny Rainford, Dai Ward and John Dick.

8) Starlets Peter Broadbent and Jimmy Bloomfield, plus the Terrible Twins Jim Towers and George Francis, who were both so deadly in front of goal were all transferred, much to the dismay of every Griffin Park fan. How we could do with two strikers of their calibre today?

All these events – good and bad – were the subject of detailed analyses in my reports and personal weekly column. But it was my reporting of the various setbacks that befell the club that caused me the greatest heartache in terms of my relationship with the club’s management who appeared to perceive any criticism in a local paper as an act of disloyalty.

As an aside, it was my experience as a journalist that led me to encourage a school friend of one of my stepsons to follow his dream of becoming a sports journalist. He is none other than Neil Ashton, the Daily Mail’s brilliant award winning soccer correspondent, who also has his own regular Sunday morning slot on Sky TV.

Back to the debate on how the club should handle criticism from the Press.

A number of contributors urge the club to hire the services of a professional PR practitioner with the specific responsibility to improve the image of Brentford among the various Press outlets and to the UK football community at large.

I take a contrary view based on my experience spanning some twenty years of working for an organisation that represented multi-national companies in an industry that has been regularly been under the media spotlight and has been the target of much criticism – the pharmaceutical industry.

I make these points to put into some sort of perspective the demands placed on such organisations to represent themselves to the press in the same way that football clubs, in general and Brentford in particular seek to influence media and public opinion.

My experiences convinced me that while PR practitioners have a role to play in routine press relations activities, organisations should always seek to rely on a chief or senior executive to step up to the plate and appear on television or radio to put the case on behalf of their club or company. They will always command more authority and credibility than is possible with a slick smooth-talking PR man or woman.

A good example of this was when Brentford’s joint Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles, gave an interview to explain the club’s position on bringing in new players (or not!) during the recent January transfer window.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone agreed with me but, on balance, I believe his contribution was appreciated by a majority of those who saw it.

In conclusion, I would like to mention a particular hobby horse of mine. I fully appreciate that benevolent club owner, Matthew Benham, has always pursued a policy of staying out of the limelight so far as his role is concerned. And, of course, no one should criticise him for that. It is clearly his right to do so.

But I sincerely believe that the so-called “sacking” of Mark Warburton just over a year ago was so controversial that it demanded a much more forthright explanation than was offered at the time by the club chairman on behalf of the owner. And who better to give that explanation to the media, and to thousands of loyal but baffled supporters, like myself, than the man who was the driving force behind the intended change of direction?

With the benefit of hindsight I hope he might be persuaded to give an update on what he, and members of the Board of Directors, believe has been achieved in the last twelve months towards the stated aim of improving the recruitment of better players and coaches.

Another Fans’ Forum could certainly provide an appropriate platform!

Thank you, Peter, for your fascinating insight into the paternalistic way in which football clubs viewed their local paper and the cosy relationship that existed far too often between them.

As for his suggestion and exhortation for better, more open and regular communication between club and supporters, I really do not see how anybody can disagree with him.

From my perspective I always feel that it is fascinating and instructive to hear it from the horse’s mouth from club officials as well as the players, past and present when they are contributing to Bees Player, and it is always illuminating to be made privy to the inside track on what is really going on in and around the club and to how footballers think.

What does everybody else have to say on this subject which is totally relevant given the current circumstances?

Pitbulls Or Chihuahas? The Midfield Dilemma – 23/2/16

I could barely take my eyes off Bradley Johnson on Saturday as he rampaged unchallenged across the Griffin Park turf, and woe betide anyone, friend or foe, who got in his way. A massively built man, he totally dominated the entire midfield area with an unstoppable combination of brain and brawn.

If he could not beat you with his subtlety and skill, and undoubtedly, he is a massively talented footballer with a howitzer of a shot who can really play the game, he would simply run through you and leave you dazed, beaten, bruised and helpless.

He is a veritable behemoth of a man who reminds me of the description of the Norman leader Bohemond:

The sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror.

His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest men.

There was a hard, savage quality in his whole aspect, even his laugh sounded like a threat to others.

That’s what you get for a mere six million pounds – a colossus who bestrides the entire midfield and stops the opposition from playing as well as scoring and making goals for his own team.

He it was who almost singlehandedly rallied his Derby team mates when their heads went down after we scored and by sheer force of personality raised them off the floor and inspired them to their late victory.

Watching him, I was green with envy as he exemplified exactly what it is we are missing from our squad – a leader who by force of personal example will make things happen and grab his team mates literally and figuratively by the scruff of their neck and inspire, cajole, or even terrify them and make them play to the very best of their ability – and even beyond.

Our team of lightweights and midgets tried their hardest and did their best but simply bounced off him and the likes of Josh McEachran and Konstantin Kerschbaumer wisely gave him a wide berth and kept their distance as they were all totally outmatched, outclassed and outmuscled – it looked more like men against boys than a competitive and even midfield battle.

With Alan McCormack currently sidelined with a lingering and frustrating calf injury we have nobody capable of fighting fire with fire and for all his vim, growl, tough tackling, energy and ability to manage the referee, Alan is not in the same class as Johnson, and nor should he be expected to be, but he is easily the best that we have and his example is sadly missed as we currently find ourselves on a run of demoralising defeats and badly lack the type of leadership and inspiration on the pitch that Alan can provide.

Jonathan Douglas performed a similar role exceptionally well for four years.

He is unfairly described on Wikipedia as a tenacious midfielder, whose strengths are focused on energy and aggression rather than technical skill, as in my opinion he greatly improved as a footballer last season developing a subtle and imaginative touch with his passing as well as the ability to ghost late and unseen into the penalty area, and he scored a career high of eight goals in a season.

Douglas it was who fought and won the majority of the midfield battles and his menacing presence enabled the likes of Pritchard, Jota and Judge to weave their magic safe in the knowledge that there was somebody around to protect them and exact retribution should an opponent take it upon himself to attempt to stop them playing by fair means or foul.

Even more importantly, Douglas, along with Toumani Diagouraga, acted as a shield and protector to the back four and helped keep opponents at a safe distance from our goal.

In order to describe how much we currently miss his influence I will simply provide the following shocking statistic – no Championship side has faced more shots on target this season than Brentford (one hundred and sixty-eight).

Proof indeed that as a team, we are not doing nearly a good enough job of defending from the front, pressing properly, winning the ball back and, of course, preventing the opposition from getting within shooting range.

Jonathan Douglas was an exceptional on-pitch leader who led by example and only slowed up and became tired and less influential when he was overplayed by Mark Warburton and only once rested last season when he was fit or available for selection. Not the most sensible policy for a player in his early thirties who would have benefited from the odd day off.

For reasons probably linked to his influence within the dressing room, Douglas outstayed his welcome at Brentford, his face didn’t fit and he became toxic and persona non grata and was released in the preseason, and it has come as little surprise that he has since flourished at Ipswich Town where he has played an important part in their efforts to reach the playoffs again at the end of the season.

It would seem that our current manager and Co-Directors of Football have not recognised the urgent, and to us fans, patently obvious, need to replace him with a similar type of player and we have certainly seen the results of that totally misguided policy in terms of the sheer number of goals and shots conceded at one end allied to the lack of creativity at the other.

To be fair to them, it might well be that they recognise that such a player able to compete at Championship level and combine skill with strength would cost far more than we are able to afford and there is no point in buying a second rate bruiser who will only give the ball away once he has won it.

George Evans might have done the job had we managed to get his transfer over the line but we seem to hold the naive belief that pure football will always win the day and appear to disregard the indisputable fact that sometimes you have first to battle in order to win the right to play.

Ryan Woods is certainly an excellent box to box footballer but is not a ball winner and he is currently paired with Josh McEachran who, for all his skill on the ball, vision and passing ability, is a non-tackler and does not pay anywhere near sufficient attention to the defensive side of his game.

A total recipe for disaster.

This season we have lacked a focal point, an on-field leader and inspiration, and someone with the ability to drive us forward and pick us up when things are going badly.

The time was, not so long ago, when we scored late goals as if by rote and never knew when we were beaten. Now the boot is on the other foot and it is rare that we recover from going a goal down and we have now conceded late goals in each of our last four matches.

Tony Cascarino hit the nail on the head the other day when he discussed the Championship and what you need to come out on top in that division and remarked:

It’s dog-eat-dog in that league and you need a few pitbulls. 

Players like Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton at Middlesbrough who ride roughshod over us whenever we come up against them, Darren Pratley, Hope Akpan, Dale Stephens, Joey Barton, Jacob Butterfield, George Thorne, Henri Lansbury and Kevin McDonald all combine the qualities that we so sadly lack and so desperately need.

Unfortunately all we have at the moment, apart of course from Macca, are chihuahuas.

A Missed Opportunity – 27/1/16

Let’s just get things into context for a moment.  I am sure that most Brentford supporters left Griffin Park last night frustrated and not a little fed up after Jake Bidwell’s calamitous and most untypical error gifted Leeds United a late and totally unmerited equaliser that cost Brentford two crucial points as we attempt to stay on the coat tails of the playoff chasing pack.

This morning I have had some time to think more carefully and rationally about the events of last night and now my overriding view is quite simply how far we have come as both a team and a football club when we are moaning and gnashing our teeth at our failure to defeat one of the country’s biggest and most established teams – tarnished and faded glory that they undoubtedly are.

I well remember our inferiority complex when we played Leeds in 2009 after a gap of several decades and our sheer incredulity that the minnows of Brentford were allowed to share a pitch with the giants of Elland Road.

Oh, and by the way, times have changed. Leeds have not beaten us on any of the six occasions that we have played them since then and there was only one team trying to play football out there last night.

It was also Groundhog Day as there was a similar sense of frustration earlier in the season when we totally dominated proceedings at Elland Road, squandered chance after chance to score what would undoubtedly have been a match clinching second goal and then succumbed to a late equaliser after an unforced error when Ryan Woods was caught in possession.

Last night saw us play some quality football particularly in the first half when we totally dominated but failed to make our possession count – a failing that came back to haunt us after the break when we put the handbrake on and created very little.

Had we held on, as we should have done, and emerged with a confidence boosting and much needed and long overdue home win, as well as the first clean sheet of the year, then we would today be congratulating the team for a solid, competent and professional performance.

The fact that we were unable to see the game through was certainly galling and provided further proof, if any was needed, that we are still a work in progress and nowhere near the finished article, but there was also much to take pride and pleasure in.

Sam Saunders was a bundle of energy and effervescence and he frolicked around with the enthusiasm of a new born lamb.

He scored a beautifully taken goal when he ran at the heart of the Leeds defence from the halfway line and distracted as they were by the excellent decoy runs of Judge and Vibe, they criminally backed off him and Sam picked his spot perfectly into the corner of the net from the edge of the area before deservedly milking the applause from the Ealing Road faithful.

Sam is rumoured to be on his way shortly to Tampa Bay but given the sheer professionalism and excellence of his performance last night there is surely still a place for him in and around the first team squad at Griffin Park.

Given the current uncertainty over James Tarkowski, Yoann Barbet needed to step up to the plate last night and he more than met expectations, winning all of his aerial challenges, showing strength and pace as well as demonstrating his skill on the ball and ability to pick out a pass.

He is a real find and there is now a refreshing French feel and Gallic flamboyance in our defence with Barbet and Max Colin both looking as if they will be in the team to stay and I prophesy that it will not be too long before they attract serious attention from other interested parties.

There has been some recent criticism, both veiled and overt, regarding the quality of our recruitment since the end of last season so it is also important and only fair to give praise and recognise the achievements of our Directors of Football whenever it is justified, and in Colin, Barbet, as well of course in Ryan Woods, we have struck gold and made potentially exceptional signings.

We might well be talking about another one very shortly if Josh McEachran continues in the same vein as last night.

Toumani Diagouraga, watching for most of the match from the Leeds dugout where he must have recoiled from the nonstop verbal onslaught from his uncouth new managerial team, must surely have appreciated the sheer quality of his likely successor’s performance as Josh combined some welcome and unexpected grit, pressing and tackling with the eerie ability to find time and space in a congested midfield as well as the vision to invariably find a team mate with his pass.

McEachran clearly demonstrated that given full fitness he will become a massive asset for the club and his burgeoning partnership with the bustling Ryan Woods, lightweights that they both are, augers well for the future and will ideally prove that brain overcomes brawn.

John Swift and Alan Judge too often dribbled into blind alleys and their final ball was often lacking, but we never stopped probing for openings and perhaps the key moment came soon after we had scored when Swift found Judge who turned inside his marker, switched the ball onto his left foot and curled his shot inches over the bar with Silvestri helpless.

A second goal then would surely have put the game well beyond Leeds but we rarely threatened after the break and Leeds finally took advantage when the normally reliable Jake Bidwell shanked his clearance when under no real pressure and Carayol took full advantage with a well placed curling shot just out of the reach of the straining David Button.

So a curate’s egg of a performance which reconfirmed many of our strengths and weaknesses.

We do not make the most of our possession and let teams off the hook and I would hate to count up the number of giveaway goals we have gifted the opposition this season.

The formation we play requires our midfield to flood forward far quicker in support of our lone striker and I am afraid to say that in my opinion we need far better up front than the three strikers we currently possess, as none of them have really convinced that they are the solution to the problem.

We are not using Lasse Vibe to the best of his ability and his minimal threat was easily snuffed out last night which meant that the ball rarely stuck in the final third and the pace and bubbly enthusiasm of the injured Sergi Canos was also badly missed.

However the good easily outweighed the bad and we now move on.

Who knows what might happen in the next few days before the end of the Transfer Window?

Will we escape unscathed or suffer further losses and depredations, and if so who might come in to augment our depleted squad?

That though is a reflection for another day.

 

Player Power – 16/1/16

I was doing some research in the early hours of this morning and chanced upon the wording of a standard footballer’s contract which I found particularly fascinating reading given the remarkable happenings at Griffin Park over the last twenty-four hours.

I have highlighted a couple of relevant clauses:

Duties and Obligations of the Player

The Player agrees:

 when directed by an authorised official of the Club

1. to attend matches in which the Club is engaged in

2. to participate in any matches in which he is selected to play for the Club

3. to play to the best of his skill and ability at all times

4. to undertake such other duties and to participate in such other activities as are consistent with the performance of his duties and as are reasonably required of the Player

Well it would appear that Brentford defender James Tarkowski must be suffering from dyslexia or a reading disorder given his recent behaviour when he informed his manager, Dean Smith that he did not wish to play against Burnley in last night’s Sky Bet Championship match and declared himself unavailable for the fixture despite being selected in the starting line-up.

The net result of his action was to bring about unspecified disciplinary action from the club but also to wreak havoc on team morale and organisation which surely played a major part in explaining Brentford’s spineless first half surrender to a rampant Burnley team which took full advantage of the home team’s ineptitude and total lack of fight, spirit, organisation or apparent ability to win any challenges for first and second balls.

It is all very well partially excusing the player for his actions by claiming that he was poorly advised and was perhaps misguidedly following his agent’s instructions but for me that does not wash. He is not a child but a twenty-three year old man who has shown a total lack of judgement and should surely know better and be able to know his own mind and make more reasoned and sensible decisions. As it is he has painted himself into a corner and made himself a total pariah in the eyes of all Brentford supporters who were previously great admirers of his on-field ability.

Apart from breaking the terms of his contract, Tarkowski’s strategy is incredibly dumb and ill thought through and will have totally the opposite effect to the one desired by him as all it will do is harden attitudes towards him from club officials and make them even more determined that he will not succeed in his effort to leave on his terms.

He has made it patently clear that he wishes to leave the club and ideally return nearer to his roots in the North West of England with last night’s opponents, Burnley, rumoured to be his preferred destination. He would also surely have noted the seriously enhanced wages that his former team mates are now earning higher up the food chain.

Well every player has his price, a statement that is particularly apposite and appropriate at Griffin Park where it has always been made quite clear that we cannot compete with the budgets and deeper pockets of our better heeled competitors and will sell our players should they wish to leave and if, and only if, our valuations are met by the potential buying club.

An offer of around four million pounds plus lucrative add ons from Fulham was apparently turned down for the player right at the end of the August Transfer Window, more I suspect because the club did not want to be seen to be selling yet another major asset at a time when the likes of Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray had already left the club rather than because the sum offered was unacceptable.

That has set the benchmark for him and it is understood that Burnley’s recent offer for Tarkowski is for far less than half that sum and is therefore nowhere near the figure that is being sought by the club.

By refusing to play he is now trying to force Brentford’s hand and stampede them into accepting a low ball offer for his services rather than wait for full market value to be offered by either Burnley or another of several clubs also rumoured to be sniffing around him.

His approach is totally doomed to failure as it is patently obvious that he has neither really thought matters through nor has he properly considered who he is dealing with. In a game of poker I would not expect Matthew Benham or his Co-Directors of Football to be the first to blink.

I fully expect that Tarkowski has bitten off far more than he can chew and that he is certain to follow the fate of Adam Forshaw who also made it clear at the beginning of last season that he wanted to leave the club and was promptly put on gardening leave and not selected again, and crucially was not allowed to leave the club until Wigan finally came up with the goods and offered us near what we were looking for in terms of his value.

A similar fate is surely certain to befall Tarkowski as he has totally burned his bridges and it is now quite impossible for him to play for the club again as the fans would not countenance his doing so and to allow him to win and force a bargain basement transfer would be scandalous and demonstrate that the players rule the roost and that by behaving badly and unconscionably they can force the issue.

Brentford are far stronger and more resolute than that and Tarkowski will now be left to kick his heels, ideally train on his own and, at best, play in the Development Squad until Brentford receive an offer that reflects his full value – however long it takes.

His agent would now be far better employed in drumming up further interest for his client, ideally at a fee level that will be acceptable to Brentford FC.

The current situation, which has been brought about totally by the player’s actions (or perhaps inaction might be a better description) is frankly of no benefit or use to anyone and the sooner it can be resolved the better it will be for all parties, but there is only one way out of this impasse which is for the club to be offered an acceptable amount for him and hopefully that is what will happen within the next fortnight.

Tarkowski’s character is now stained and blemished indelibly and he follows the likes of Gary Alexander into our personal Rogues Gallery and Hall of Shame for his pathetic and unacceptable behaviour.

What he should have done is quite simply follow the example of Alan Judge. He too is rumoured to be the target for several clubs in the Transfer Window, so what did he do and how did he respond?

Well rather than behave in the same puerile, selfish and blinkered manner as Tarkowski, he simply played his heart out and used the televised match against Burnley as a national showcase for his talent and total commitment to the cause. He was Brentford’s best player by a mile, scored a good goal and spearheaded a second half revival that at least regained a semblance of pride for a team that had been totally overrun before the interval and could easily have been trailing by five or six goals rather than just three.

Any managers and scouts watching the match cannot fail to have been impressed by his performance and attitude and we can only hope that he remains at the club until at least the end of the season.

That is how to do it and Alan Judge went up in the estimation of every Brentford supporter for the way he handled the situation last night.

As for the match itself, well there really is not too much to say as Brentford came up against an excellent team that smelled blood, went for our jugular from the first whistle and we were never allowed to settle down into our normal rhythm. Brentford chased shadows and made football seem like a non contact sport given the time and space they granted their visitors who were allowed to show off their ability and run rings around us in the first half.

The second half was a different affair and had the excellent Sam Saunders scored with an unlikely header or Maxime Colin’s shot have brushed the net on the inside rather than the outside of the post then who knows what might have happened as the comeback would really have been on but Burnley were streets ahead of us and fully deserved their comfortable victory.

We have now lost four games in a row and three home matches in less than a week. There is much work to be done as we have performed for only around half of each of our last three games and scored only once.

How we should go about that is for another day. For now I just hope that James Tarkowski is already reflecting upon his behaviour and has already realised that he has totally let his team mates, the Brentford staff and supporters and of course, himself, down by his selfish and inappropriate behaviour – and more importantly, that it will not succeed or get him the result that he desires.

 

Button Fingers! – 13/1/16

We seem to manage to find ever more creative, original and quite frankly daft and utterly ridiculous ways of losing to our bogey team Middlesbrough and last night took the biscuit as we totally surpassed ourselves in terms of the unbelievable way we conceded the winning goal.

The previously underemployed David Button flapped at a harmless left wing corner from Leadbitter that was caught in the swirling wind and he managed the remarkable and seemingly impossible feat of punching the ball backwards into his own net despite being under little challenge.

This totally undeserved goal on the hour took the wind out of our sails and despite a late and frenetic rally Middlesbrough held out comfortably for their sixth victory over the Bees in the last two seasons in the course of which they kept an incredible ninth consecutive clean sheet.

Middlesbrough are the epitome of a likely promotion winning team in that they are incredibly well organised, totally committed to the cause and give you absolutely nothing. We, on the other hand possess flair and ability in abundance but are profligate where it matters the most – in both penalty areas.

Middlesbrough were dull, boring, negative and cynical in the extreme and also did a wonderfully professional job of managing the hapless referee, Gavin Ward, who was mere putty in their hands and allowed them to get away with all their excesses whenever we threatened to get behind them. Grant Leadbitter was in the official’s ear at every opportunity and helped ensure that every marginal decision went their way.

The Bees needed to put on a performance and to regain some confidence and self respect after Saturday’s insipid display against Walsall and they certainly succeeded in doing so.

Their football was fluent, sharp and creative, the pace and intensity so sadly lacking against Walsall was back and every player looked more than comfortable on the ball. They dominated possession and forced Middlesbrough backwards with Woods outshining the combative Clayton and Leadbitter and Colin rampaging forward at every opportunity.

Quite simply we let our illustrious opponents off the hook by squandering two early and glorious opportunities which were both created by Lasse Vibe skipping past the lumbering Ayala.

First he set up Alan Judge who tried to pass the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the area but shot just wide, and then when given a clear run in on goal he delayed his shot fatally and could only hit Konstantopoulos as the keeper flung himself at his feet.

That really should have been the opening goal and despite minor flurries at the other end, particularly when Diagouraga’s poor backpass almost gifted a goal to Nugent, the Bees totally dominated the first half with Woods, Judge, Swift, Colin and Bidwell combining beautifully to find pockets of space and gaps in the visitors’ defence.

For all our possession, relentless pressing and probing the final pass was not quite there. Dean headed wide and Judge forced another excellent save from the keeper who pushed the ball onto the post (shades of Stuart Dallas in the same match last season) but far too often our threat petered out in the final third where Vibe, after his opening burst, was lightweight  and easily brushed off the ball and never looked capable of holding the ball up long enough to allow our midfielders to flood forward in support of him and our threat was snuffed out.

Saunders had a long range floating free kick turned over the bar but the half ended all square when Brentford’s wonderful display deserved far more.

The second half started off where the first had ended and some glorious one touch pass and move football ended with Colin’s powerful effort being turned aside by a goalkeeper who was coming under increasing amounts of pressure.

A goal looked likely to come but when it did it was Brentford who gifted the lead to a team which took full advantage and then choked the life out of the game as they sat on their lead and dared Brentford to break them down.

For all our possession we rarely threatened to do so despite three attacking substitutions which saw Canos, Hofmann and Djuricin augment our attack and we even tried the previously elusive 4-4-2 formation but the die was cast and after some late thuggery by Clayton who took one for the team after he cut Judge down when he was in full flight, all our efforts came to naught and Middlesbrough had stolen the points.

Last night provided a clear demonstration of all our strengths and weaknesses.

I brought my Watford supporting friend to the match who left purring with pleasure at the entertainment we provided but he hit the nail on the head when he stated that for all our pretty football and the delicate patterns that we weaved we had very little upfront and our attacks too often fizzled out given Vibe’s inability to act as a target man and bring his midfield into play. Get the ball into the mixer was his advice and one worth listening to at times.

We would have gleaned many style points for the intricacy of our play but there was no bite at either end of the field.

Unfortunately I read the game correctly when, pessimist that I am, I predicted that we would create and spurn several chances and then self-destruct at the other end and that is exactly what happened on the night.

It is time to manage expectations and look at us as a work in progress. What happens in the remainder of the transfer window is key. Will we weaken or will we continue to develop? There are still massive question marks about the future of the likes of Judge and Tarky who are two of our shining lights. If they go they must be replaced with players from home or abroad with the potential to be even better than the ones leaving the club.

Even if they don’t another new face or two would not go amiss. Colin and Woods are both exceptional young players who have slotted seamlessly into the team and we will need another few gems like them if we are to continue on our upwards path.

The loss of Jota is a terrible blow and his ingenuity and pace might have unlocked the Middlesbrough defence. A replacement has to be found as Canos is a raw and impetuous talent, a young colt who will understandably thrill and frustrate in equal measures.

The playoffs this season remain a possibility but are highly unlikely given how brittle we are in both penalty areas. We always look like conceding a soft goal.

Yesterday the culprit was Button and his error cost us dear as we were well on top when it occurred. Goalkeepers are fallible and human and in David we have an exceptionally talented one who was long overdue such a faux pas.

Toumani also almost gave our visitors a gift and the overwhelming majority of the goals we concede are down to lack of concentration and individual error.

Vibe, Hofmann and Djuricin all have their strengths but none of them are really what we need given the way that we play. Can something be done about that situation? Probably not until the end of the season but yesterday highlighted our shortcomings.

Frankly Middlesbrough showed us we need to toughen up, take more responsibility and do a bit more of the dirty work. We are too quiet, nice and soft where it really matters.

Leadbitter was a constant presence, screaming at, encouraging and cajoling his team mates and setting a wonderful personal example. He would not allow them to be beaten and we lack somebody like him as well as leaders on the pitch.

There is so much to admire about us and we should take all the positives out of last night’s performance, but we should also recognise what we are, a very decent Championship team that is establishing ourselves in the league and one that is totally easy on the eye and full of young talent.

That is pretty good and more than enough for the moment as long as we continue to improve and progress.

Middlesbrough join Birmingham City on my personal hate list but we have much to learn from them about professionalism and game management and hopefully we can ponder on the key lesson from last night which is never give a sucker an even break. We had them on the ropes but let them escape to fight another day.

Last night was a reality check and we cannot afford to be so naive, wasteful and generous in the future.