Martin Lange – RIP – 14/10/15

01ASWTTZ; MARTIN LANGE Chairman, Brentford FC. COMPULSORY CREDIT: UPPA/Photoshot Photo URM 010092/B-12 08.08.1995

Martin Lange, the former Brentford Chairman died on Monday after a long illness. He was only seventy-one, no age at all in the grand scheme of things and he died long before his time.

He was also a man who was ahead of his time as he was rightly recognised for his innovative and original ideas and approach throughout his long career in football. He owned the majority shareholding at the club for a sixteen-year period, between 1981 and 1997 and also served as the Third Division representative on the Football League Board.

Like our current owner, Matthew Benham, Martin Lange was no outsider as he was Brentford through and through and he was first taken to Griffin Park as a small boy by his father.

His hobby soon became an obsession and after he became a successful property developer he was invited onto the club board at the early age of thirty-seven by the club’s then chairman, Dan Tana and soon afterwards he took over the reins for what turned out to be a real rollercoaster ride.

His new position was rather a poisoned chalice as he took over a club saddled with debt and his first task was to stump up the ludicrous seventy thousand pound fee decided by the transfer tribunal for Alan Whitehead’s purchase from Bury.

A salutary lesson for him about the economies of the madhouse that so often prevailed in football given how poorly the central defender was to perform and the size of the loss we incurred on him when we were finally able to offload him.

Lange wasn’t afraid to take tough decisions and one of his first was to replace the loyal and long serving Denis Piggott, who had become part of the furniture at the club but was soon swept out by the new broom.

He surrounded himself with exceptional people such as Keith Loring, Christine Mathews and Polly Kates but there was never any doubt who was in charge.

Just as the Roman Emperors ensured their popularity by giving their citizens games and circuses, so too did Martin Lange guarantee his place in Brentford folklore by coming up with the idea of signing Stan Bowles, a man who became a Brentford legend and singlehandedly revived the spirits of a supporter base who had had very little to get excited about in recent years.

Brentford were a middle of the road third tier club going nowhere, attracting small gates and Lange had to balance ambition with pragmatism and reality as he fought a constant and losing battle to balance the books.

Lange inherited Fred Callaghan as manager who was a terrific judge of a player and knew the lower leagues well. He bought players of the calibre of Terry Hurlock, Gary Roberts, Chris Kamara and David Crown and Martin also gained respect by always being approachable and he handled Terry Hurlock brilliantly as a combination of Father Figure and Dutch Uncle who ensured that the sometimes hothead always toed the line but was also persuaded to invest his money wisely in bricks and mortar rather than fritter it away.

Lange eventually decided to replace Callaghan – in retrospect a bit too quickly, as he gave in to the entreaties of the fans to make a change and his first appointment was Frank McLintock who proved to be a far better player and captain than he did a manager. John Docherty, a former Bees manager, surprisingly reversed roles and became Frank’s assistant but despite an abortive trip to Wembley and a Freight Rover Trophy Final defeat to Wigan in 1985, the combination did not gel and Steve Perryman was promoted from within.

Lange had got it right this time as Perryman proved to be a success both on and off the field and together they slowly improved the playing fortunes and infrastructure of the club. The team ran out of steam in 1989 and missed out on promotion when it looked within their grasp after an incredible run to the sixth round of the FA Cup with famous victories over Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers before bowing out with pride and dignity at Anfield.

Lange and Perryman fell out spectacularly apparently over the abortive signing of Gary Elkins and it appeared that the club would go downhill again but Phil Holder seized the opportunity as caretaker, and Lange was brave and astute enough to appoint him and recognise that very little needed changing. Holder was perhaps more chirpy and streetwise than Perryman and the team responded well to his promptings and after an abortive playoff campaign (now where have we heard that before) he led the Bees to the title and promotion in 1992.

Amazingly at the time of his greatest triumph Martin Lange was not there to share in the glory. As he said in his interview in The Big Brentford Book Of The 80s:

The sad thing was that I had to go over to America to oversee a big, four hundred acre development – it’s been well documented, but I simply had to be there, but I never actually saw Brentford get promoted!

It was sod’s law, as a lad I’d seen Brentford in the old Second Division when my dad brought me down in the early-Fifties, so I knew all too well how important it was to finally escape from the third tier again, so to miss the Peterborough match was devastating. Then to add to my frustration, the only two matches I was able to see in the 1992/93 Division One season were at West Ham and Bristol City!

Without his steady hand on the tiller, Brentford imploded. Dean Holdsworth was sold badly to Wimbledon, incredibly without a sell-on clause being included in the deal – total madness and poor business practise which cost the Bees dear when he made a big money move to Bolton Wanderers.

Money was squandered on a series of poor signings – Joe Allon and Murray Jones anybody? Relegation was confirmed after a disgraceful last day of the season surrender at Bristol City and the Bees were back from whence they came.

Phil Holder – perhaps unfairly, also did not survive relegation and Lange’s return to take day control of the club.

But things were never the same again and Lange admitted that the blow of relegation was the beginning of the end as far as I was concerned I think.

David Webb was rapturously received as the new manager and he embarked on a cost-cutting exercise, weeding out the older players and building a team in his own image that was tough, gritty and hard to beat but always had some inspiration and goals up front given the likes of Nicky Forster, Bob Taylor and Carl Asaba.

Promotion eluded the Bees cruelly in 1995 when they finished second in the one year when only the top team gained automatic promotion – its Brentford innit?

And two years later they collapsed spectacularly as they neared the finishing line in a manner that almost begged a Stewards’ Enquiry.

Exhausted and frustrated after the best part of twenty years in charge without being able to lead the club to the promised land, Lange decided to sell up and a consortium fronted by Webb and including Tony Swaisland and John Herting, bought fifty-one percent of his shares for the same price that he had paid for them so many years earlier.

There is no escaping the fact that Martin Lange was also responsible for pulling down the famed Royal Oak Stand and he admits to regretting his decision but he gave the following explanation:

The truth is that the back of the stand was condemned and the cost of repairing it was phenomenal. The combination of the dilapidated conditions and the club debt, plus me being a property developer, meant that redevelopment just had to be considered to clear the debts. And once the bank was off the club’s back, running the club certainly became a lot easier.

I understand passions still run high over the demolition of the Royal Oak, and in hindsight it has restricted Brentford’s scope to develop Griffin Park, but it was the right decision at the time, especially as I was constantly looking for a site to build Brentford a state-of-the-art new stadium at Western International.

Even if we’d decided to pull the Royal Oak down, rebuild it just as big, but with executive boxes etc, the council wouldn’t have let us.

Hindsight is easy but at the time, rightly or wrongly, it seemed the most sensible thing for him to do.

After selling the club Martin remained on the board until 2002 before withdrawing from the spotlight but he always remained a good friend of the club and was keen to do whatever he could to ensure its future success and he was highly supportive of Matthew Benham and his plans for Brentford.

Martin’s influence within the game spread far beyond the boundaries of Griffin Park and he proposed a number of changes to tackle falling attendances and hooliganism, including introducing the end of season playoffs in 1986 as well as supporting the introduction of individual squad numbers and names on each player’s shirt.

When asked to assess his time at the club, Martin Lange responded with characteristic modesty and self-effacement:

Looking back at my time as Chairman, in hindsight maybe I would have done a few things differently, some people, rightly or wrongly, have suggested I could have been more adventurous and spent big trying to get Brentford to the promised land, but as a custodian I think fans can look back and say that, when I was there, there was never a survival threat, there was never any real crisis to deal with, and I was a safe, stable and genuinely caring chairman.

That is not a bad epitaph and way to be remembered even if for the time being no Brentford fan can yet look kindly upon the introduction of the dreaded playoffs.

Martin Lange though was a thoroughly decent, pleasant and talented man who achieved so much that was good during his time at the club and we should all give thanks to him for everything he did for us, celebrate his life and mourn his premature passing.

RIP.

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Managing Bees – Part 1 – 2/1/15

hoThe recent news of Chris Hughton’s appointment as Brighton manager and the realisation that there would now be a familiar face in the opposition dugout on Saturday sent me scurrying to the record books in search of the answer to the question that I am sure is on all of your lips, namely, how many other former Brentford players have become managers in recent times?

Before I start I wonder if anyone would like to hazard a guess?

No, I thought not.

I did and I found that I was miles out with my answer.

I didn’t have too long to spare for my research so I decided to make the arbitrary choice of 1970 as my start date, and I hit pay dirt straight away.

John Docherty had an incredible five spells at Brentford, three as a player, one as manager and finally, as assistant to Frank McLintock.

His most successful times as a manager came away from Griffin Park, firstly at Cambridge United where he performed near miracles on a shoestring budget and, after leaving Brentford for the final time, he and McLintock bizarrely swapped roles with Doc taking over as manager at Millwall with Frank as his number two, and together they led Millwall into the top flight for the first time in their history.

A truly remarkable achievement given their resources.

Docherty’s next stop was at Bradford City, in March 1990.

He was neither popular or successful there and I remember murmurings against him after Brentford won there with a late Neil Smillie goal in 1991, and he eventually returned for a second spell at Millwall before leaving the game for good.

Brian Turner is best remembered for hitting the post late on in that FA Cup match at Hull in 1971, but there was far more to him than that as he earned over one hundred caps for New Zealand and later became national team manager.

roger-cross-west-ham-united-4472959I can still picture Roger Cross, resplendent in his white boots, and the elegant striker had a long and distinguished career within the game as youth team manager at Millwall and as a coach at Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur, where he was also assistant manager to Gerry Francis, and then back where he started, at West Ham, as coach and chief scout.

Other stalwarts from the 70s in Paul Bence, Jackie Graham and Terry Scales managed in non-league at Wycombe Wanderers, Staines Town and Hoddesden Town respectively.

Stewart Houston was perhaps one of the biggest managerial names that Brentford have produced.

He coached at Plymouth Argyle before becoming George Graham’s assistant during Arsenal’s successful spell in the early 90s and he twice held the caretaker reigns at Highbury, leading the club to the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, where the Gunners lost to a last-minute freak goal – “Nayim from the halfway line!”

Perhaps unfairly, he became known as the “Cone Man,” a title apparently dreamed up by Ian Wright but QPR were impressed enough with his credentials to name him as their manager in 1996.

I got to know him at that point as I worked closely with the club managing Ericsson’s sponsorship.

gg-sacked-1995-2To call him dour might perhaps be a tad harsh but I certainly did not find him the most expansive of personalities and any conversation beyond football was strictly limited, until one day, stuck for something to say to him and with the silence lengthening, I somehow started burbling on about a show I had just seen, and suddenly Stewart came alive.

He was passionate about musicals and from that day on we had something in common and a point of contact!

His time at Loftus Road was not a success and after the inevitable parting of the ways he had further spells coaching at Ipswich Town, Tottenham Hotspur, where he was re-united with George Graham, and finally at Walsall, before returning to Arsenal as a scout.

Alan Murray came and went quickly at Griffin Park, ending up as top scorer with a miserly total of seven goals from midfield in our dreadful 1972/73 relegation season, testimony indeed to the folly of the Board of Directors’ decision to sell John O’Mara without allowing the manager to bring in an adequate replacement.

Murray began his management career at Hartlepool United in 1991 when, with boss Cyril Knowles battling against a brain tumour, Murray made the unusual shift from chief executive to manager.

He then moved to Darlington before working for Graeme Souness at Southampton, and then as assistant manager at Newcastle.

David Court was also long past his peak and came and went in a blink of an eye, but lasted for years back at Arsenal as Assistant Academy Director and Assistant Head of Youth Development.

Keith Pritchett also had a short stay at Griffin Park before impressing at Watford under Graham Taylor.

Eventually he emigrated to New Zealand where he managed the New Zealand national team, taking charge for the first time in June 1996. New Zealand won two, drew one and lost eight of his eleven games in charge.

Ironically the player with almost the shortest playing record for Brentford has had one of the longest and most successful managerial careers!

Harry Redknapp lasted a mere thirty-eight minutes as a triallist at Aldershot before suffering an injury and leaving the club following the arrival of Bill Dodgin as manager a few days later.

He cut his managerial teeth at Bournemouth and survived a nine-nil trouncing in his first match as caretaker manager at Lincoln in December 1982.

It was an icy day, and Bournemouth could not afford AstroTurf boots, so they could barely stand up and Lincoln slalomed past them at will.

After the game Harry was asked if he was disappointed and apparently complained bitterly that the seventh goal was offside.

redThings could only get better after that and Redknapp has now been in the hot seat for over thirty years at West Ham United, Portsmouth (twice) where he won the FA Cup, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Rangers as well as being widely touted at one time as England national team manager.

His record certainly bears scrutiny as he has achieved a creditable forty per cent success rate in over thirteen hundred matches in charge.

Tony Burns had a decent loan spell at Brentford in 1977 and the former Arsenal keeper went on to manage Tonbridge three times as well as Gravesend & Northfleet.

He was Millwall’s goalkeeping coach for fourteen years and was appointed joint caretaker manager of Millwall for a month in April 2006.

Remarkably, at the age of seventy he joined Gillingham in July 2014 as senior goalkeeping coach where he works with Stuart Nelson, still impressing in the Gills goal.

Neil Smillie finished his long career with two years at Gillingham as player/coach, including a spell as caretaker manager, before moving on to Wycombe Wanderers as youth team coach and later becoming first team manager.

He always struck me as being far too nice and decent a man to succeed as a manager in the cut-throat world of professional football!

Barry Lloyd is also a survivor as after managing at Yeovil and Worthing, he took over at Brighton as long ago as January 1987.

He guided them to promotion in his first full season and they also reached the Second Division playoff final in 1991 before money got tight and he eventually resigned in 1994 just before the roof fell in.

He took the well-trodden path into scouting and has been at the club for the past seven years as chief scout.

Bob Booker is a rarity as he has become a folk hero at no fewer than three clubs, Brentford, Sheffield United and finally Brighton where he became assistant manager and continued to serve the Seagulls in a variety of roles for over a decade, including two spells as caretaker manager.

Ron Harris parlayed his experience of playing over seven hundred games, predominantly for Chelsea, into a brief term as player-manager at Aldershot but he soon tired of football management and turned to property development and after dinner speaking.

Roberts_G“Gasping” Gary Roberts was a firm favourite at Griffin Park, apart from with Francis Joseph, who always complained that the winger was far too greedy and never passed to him in front of goal!

Maybe Gary knew what he was doing as he managed to score sixty-three goals for the Bees, including a hat trick scored in four amazing minutes against Newport.

He has combined his new career as a policeman with over eleven years as a successful manager at Cambridge City where he remains today.

Chris Kamara led Bradford City to promotion before not doing as well at Stoke City and correctly coming to the conclusion that television punditry was a better and more secure way to spend his time.

Striker David Kemp only played a handful of games for the Bees as a loanee before injury struck and he has managed and coached for nearly thirty years as the number one at Plymouth Argyle, Slough Town and Oxford United as well as having a plethora of jobs as assistant manager, including spells at Wimbledon, Millwall, Portsmouth, Stoke City and then back at Crystal Palace where he became technical coach in 2014.

He has worked extensively with Tony Pulis and will doubtless be following him to West Bromwich Albion.

Full back Les Strong was far too sensible to enter the dog-eat-dog life as a manager in England, but instead spent three years as manager of the Anguilla national team in the West Indies.

I spent my honeymoon there and it is simply paradise on earth.

Midfielder Terry Bullivant took charge at Barnet and Reading, where he signed Carl Asaba from us, before he returned to Griffin Park in 1998 as a member of Ron Noades title-winning coaching staff and he stayed for almost three seasons before quitting in April 2001 and having spells at Crystal Palace, Watford and Birmingham City.

In March 2008 he made a third return to West London as assistant manager to Andy Scott and once again helped the team to a championship success before teaming up with Scott again at Aldershot Town where he remains today, and I watched his team give Conference leaders Barnet a tough match yesterday afternoon.

wignallSteve Wignall started his managerial career at Aldershot Town before taking over at Colchester United followed by shorter spells at Doncaster Rovers and Southend United.

His autobiography is well worth reading and reveals much about life at the bottom of the football league.

I will end this article with the amazing tale of Rowan Alexander, whose underwhelming stay at Griffin Park soon came to an end and he returned to Scotland with Greenock Morton where, ironically, he rediscovered his shooting boots, before moving into management with his first club Queen of the South.

He then moved to Gretna where he benefited from the largesse of Brooks Mileson and enjoyed huge success and led the tiny club to the promised land of the Scottish Cup Final and the Premier League before the money ran out.

So many former Bees who became managers in recent years, and yet, I have barely scratched the surface, as will be revealed tomorrow.

Manager of the Month – 16/12/14

I posed a question recently after Mark Warburton was named as Manager of the Month for November.

I asked if anyone could list all the Brentford managers who had previously won this award.

I received a few replies, and many thanks to everyone who responded, but I am afraid that nobody came anywhere near providing a comprehensive list.

To be honest, at the time I set the task, I really had no idea myself of what the correct answer was, so I had to do my own research as well.

Wikipedia was of no help in this instance so I consulted the oracle, Mark Croxford, co-author and inspiration of the Big Brentford Book series.

Mark has unparalleled records of everything that has happened both on and off the field in and around Griffin Park for the past forty-five years.

Nothing, however seemingly inconsequential, escapes his eagle-eyed attention and everything is recorded for posterity – or indeed, the next Big Brentford Book.

Mark received my request with total equanimity, he is always totally calm and unflappable, traits that I do not share as I crack at the first sign of pressure.

Within the hour an email slithered into my inbox with the answer, and I was totally amazed at what I read.

Before letting the cat out of the bag I will simply ask the following question:

How many times have Brentford managers won the coveted Manager of the Month Award?

Five, eight, twelve, Fifteen times, perhaps?

blunWell I was staggered when I added up the numbers.

Mark Warburton’s selection in November was the twenty-second time that a Brentford manager has won this coveted award.

Frank Blunstone won twice, both times during the momentous 1971/72 promotion season, in September 1971 and again in March 1972.

September saw Brentford win three out of five matches and hammer Hartlepool and Peterborough at Griffin Park with eleven goals scored in two memorable home games, and March included a promotion clinching run of five consecutive victories inspired by the return of John O’Mara from his harsh five week ban.

dochJohn Docherty took over the manager’s job from Mike Everitt in early 1975 and revitalised a struggling team.

His efforts were recognised in April when, with Roger Cross and Micky French scoring eight goals between them, the Bees won four times to finish in an excellent eighth place in the league table.

Bill Dodgin’s team played wonderful football throughout the 1977/78 season which was deservedly rewarded with promotion and what is surprising is that he only won the Manager of the Month award once, but there again, Watford, under their own inspiration, Graham Taylor, finished eleven points clear at the top of the table!

dodgDodgin won in March, which saw eight matches crammed into the month and Brentford rose to the challenge with six victories.

Over a decade was to pass until a Brentford manager again caught the eye of the selection panel and the reigns of Fred Callaghan and Frank McLintock passed without reward, as, unsurprisingly did that of Mike Everitt in the early seventies!

Callaghan might have gone close in his first month in charge, April 1980 when his new team went on an undefeated run of four matches before results deteriorated but even in his most memorable season of 1982/83 when his team scored eighty-eight league goals, the results were far too inconsistent for him to have come into serious contention for the award.

The mid-eighties were a time of mediocrity when an average team played unmemorable football in front of poor attendances, and apathy ruled.

Momentum was restored under Steve Perryman, who was the next Brentford manager to win the award in January 1989.

This was a wonderful month which saw seven matches pass undefeated and Walsall and Manchester City defeated in the FA Cup.

I will pause for a moment now and ask the question, which Brentford manager has won the Manager of the Month award the most times?

Given where I have got to in my narrative I suspect that most of you will have guessed that the correct answer is Phil Holder, but what is even more praiseworthy is that he won the award four times in his three seasons in charge.

Phil Holder first won the award in December 1990 when an unbeaten run of five matches saw Brentford begin their challenge for the Playoffs.

Brentford fell for the first time in the Playoffs that season but the following season saw the Third Division title won and Holder’s magnificent achievement was recognised twice, in November 1991 and in April 1992.

November saw a cagy draw against fellow promotion aspirants, Birmingham City, a four goal hammering of a poor Wigan team and the amazing come from behind recovery from a two goal halftime deficit to beat a John Williams, “the Flying Postman”, inspired Swansea.

April saw a procession of five victories including the unforgettable mauling of Fulham as an inspired Brentford team totally delivered at the business end of the season and strode triumphantly towards the title.

Holder’s overall managerial record at the club was highly impressive as he won fifty-nine out of one hundred and thirty-eight league matches over three seasons. There were many other factors than poor management that caused our relegation in 1993 and his achievements merit massive credit.

Indeed Holder even won the Manager of the Month award in our relegation season, in December 1992, when the Bees went undefeated for five matches and ended the year in a comfortable mid table position, looking upwards towards the top of the league rather than down towards the bottom.

Unfortunately our optimism was to be misplaced given how the season ended.

Holder’s successor, David Webb won the award twice, in January 1995 and in August 1996.

Both seasons were to end in Playoff disappointment, but January 1995 was capped with a scintillating six-nil thrashing of Cambridge United, which saw all the goals scored in the last twenty-five minutes as the opposition, down to ten men after ex-Bee, Billy Manuel saw red, finally capitulated.

August 1996 was a time of renewed optimism as our new front four of Nicky Forster, Carl Asaba, Bob Taylor and Marcus Bent threatened to steamroller the opposition, and the month ended with Carl Asaba scoring the club’s fastest ever hat-trick in eight minutes at Shrewsbury.

Unfortunately, the season turned sour after the sale of Nicky Forster and we limped into the Playoffs and a Wembley embarrassment by Crewe Alexandra.

1997/98 was a horrible season marked by fan disaffection and revolt, the exodus of our best players and a fully justified relegation to the bottom division.

Amazingly, new manager Micky Adams, replacing the doomed Eddie May won the award in March 1998 when he inspired his strugglers to three wins and an undefeated five match run.

1998/99 saw an immediate promotion and the appointment of multitasking Owner/Chairman/Manager Ron Noades whose arrival was generally welcomed given the that truth of his “investment” in the club had not yet emerged.

wallyHe won the award in August 1998, one of the few times when a manager won the award in his first ever month as a Football League manager, a feat, of course, matched by Mark Warburton in December 2013, as well as by a more unexpected name in Wally Downes.

Noades and his support team built a vibrant young team packed full of hungry, young, talented players from Non-League and promotion and the title was won in a canter.

Steve Coppell came within a hairsbreadth of leading Brentford to promotion in his one season in charge and he won the award in October 2001, a month of breathtaking achievement when the Bees won all five matches, including wonderful away wins at the two eventually promoted teams, Brighton and Reading.

Wally Downes inherited a sinking ship, a team bereft of its best players who left the club after Playoff defeat to Cardiff and with no money to play with.

Despite these handicaps, it all started so well for him and he won the award in August 2002 when he motivated a team of kids, loanees and journeymen to a six match unbeaten run.

Unfortunately there was only one way for him to go from such a wonderful start and he never threatened to win the award again.

Martin Allen’s arrival undoubtedly saved the club from another relegation and he led the club to two marvellous FA Cup runs to the fifth round and two unsuccessful Playoff campaigns.

He won two Manager of the Month awards in September 2004, after three wins and a draw, and February 2006 which saw a thrashing of Paul Merson’s sleepwalking Walsall team and an excellent win over league leaders, Southend.

Andy Scott turned the club around after the disasters of the Leroy Rosenior, Scott Fitzgerald and Terry Butcher eras and led the Bees to the title in 2009.

His achievements were recognised in April 2009, a month in which the title was finally won.

scottHeroes can turn into dunces so quickly in football and Andy Scott went from winning the Manager of the Month award in October 2010 to the sack after the Dagenham debacle in early February 2011.

That leads us onto the reigns of Uwe Rosler and the current incumbent, Mark Warburton.

Uwe won the award in November 2013, which saw five consecutive victories and after his unexpected departure to Wigan, Mark Warburton simply took over the mantle and
ensured that the award remained at Griffin Park as he oversaw four wins in December 2013.

Phil Holder has set the bar extremely high with four awards, can Mark Warburton equal or even surpass him?

All will be revealed over the coming months and years but I fully expect that he will eventually achieve this momentous feat.

One final thought.

What a shame that such an award was not in existence during Harry Curtis’s long and successful reign at the club.

He would surely have set new records for the number of times a manager received this award!