It’s FA Cup Time Once More – 8/12/15

The draw for the third round of the FA Cup is traditionally one of the more anticipated and truly magical moments of every season as it is the time when dreams can come true and David gets the rare chance to put Goliath firmly in his place.

A favourable draw can help put a minnow on the map and even mean the difference between surviving for another season or even falling into the ravages of administration.

Just put yourself in the place of Whitehawk’s manager Steve King whose team fully deserved their last gasp equaliser at Dagenham & Redbridge yesterday. They are now just a replay win away in a game that seems certain to attract live television coverage from a money-spinning tie at Premier League Everton, one that will offer an outside chance of glory, put their players in the shop window and probably earn the club more in an afternoon than in an entire season in the confines of the National League South.

Given the occasion, I made a special effort and rushed home from work last night in order to catch the draw which was apparently set for seven o’clock. In retrospect I really needn’t have done so, as like every other sap who was imbued with romantic memories of sepia-lit FA Cup ties in the dim and distant past who had done the same as me, I had to sit through fifteen interminable minutes of boring and sterile filler material – a series of totally unnecessary interviews and highlights intended to set the scene and build the atmosphere and sense of theatre before the numbered balls were drawn out of – not the traditional velvet bag – but a soulless Perspex container. Where had the magic gone?

There was one snippet of previous action that I did enjoy watching over the weekend, Scott Hogan soaring in the air to score a beautifully taken header for Rochdale against Leeds United. We can but hope that we will be seeing him in similar goalscoring action for the Bees in the not too distant future.

Apparently I am now a supporter of one England’s so-called elite clubs given our fairly new-found Championship status and somehow that also makes things feel rather different given that we now enter the competition at the Third Round stage and have not had to fight our way through two previous ties to get to this point.

So what was I looking for from the draw, once it finally began? A matchup against a Premier League big boy and the chance to test ourselves on national television? A lower league team at Griffin Park? An away game at a minnow? Death or glory?

What we actually received highlighted the wonder and the unpredictability of the competition. A home tie against either Chesterfield or Walsall, Division One opposition who should both surely be beatable at Griffin Park. Or so you would thought as you can take nothing for granted when it comes to predicting the outcome of cup matches and as we know to our cost the Bees have been the victims of giant killing themselves. Does anyone else remember Guildford City turning us over in 1968 and the likes of Barrow and Wrexham too in more recent times?

Chesterfield earned a replay with a late scrambled equaliser on Saturday and should they come out on top next week then that would set up the first ever FA Cup meeting between the two teams.

Walsall are a far more enticing prospect given the recent arrival of their former manager Dean Smih as the new Head Coach at Griffin Park. Their supporters would doubtless relish the opportunity to obtain some quick revenge against the team that enticed him away from The Banks’s Stadium.

Since his move was first mooted the airwaves and social media have been buzzing with harsh, ribald and ill thought through comments from diehard Walsall fans on the one hand damning their former manager and his achievements on their behalf with faint praise and also suggesting that he has barely bettered himself by moving to Brentford. Fighting talk indeed and Brentford supporters will also be looking for the chance to refute their assertions.

Walsall currently boast several of the lower divisions’ finest young prospects within their ranks and the Bees will welcome the chance to view the likes of Tom Bradshaw, Rico Henry and Romaine Sawyers at close quarters particularly at a time when the transfer window will have recently opened. It would be an enticing prospect if one or more of them ended up using this match as an audition before a move to us – we can but dream!

Should Walsall earn the right to play us next month then it would be the fourth time that the two teams had been drawn against each other in the past forty-five years and the Bees have come out on top on every occasion to date. Hopefully another good omen.

The Bees defeated Walsall in the Second Round in 1970/71 when we reached the last sixteen of the competition and eventually went out with full honours to Hull City. The match against Walsall was closely fought and after Gordon Phillips had foiled the evergreen Colin Taylor with a series of excellent saves, Roger Cross finished off a carefully choreographed move from a free kick to settle the match.

It was a similar situation in 1988/89 when we reached the Sixth Round before losing at Anfield. Walsall were higher division opponents and a Keith Jones goal earned a draw at Fellows Park before the replay was settled by Allan Cockram who scored joyfully from close range after Fred Barber had parried an effort from Kevin Godfrey.

Our most recent meeting was in 2009/10 when newcomer Leon Legge gave an all action display, winning the match with a typical towering header from a corner and saving it with a perfectly timed and executed sliding tackle to rob Walsall striker Steve Jones who had a clear run in on goal. Unfortunately we were not destined to have a long FA Cup run that season as we went out in the next round to Doncaster Rovers.

Whoever we play it will be certain to be a tough and closely fought match against a team determined to bring its so called better down a peg or two. We now have three home games in a ridiculously short six day period and with promotion challengers Middlesbrough and Burnley due to visit Griffin Park immediately after the cup tie neither League game can be termed a gimme.

The management has always spoken of the need to build up a large squad with excellent cover in every position and our depth will surely be tested as changes will need to be made over this period to ensure that the players are well rested. Lee Carsley certainly picked practically the same team for every match but squad rotation will be a must over this packed period of activity and thankfully, with our stars returning from injury we will be able to cope with the challenge.

It is now almost three years since we last had a decent FA Cup run and I still find it hard to believe that we did not beat Chelsea in that epic Fourth Round clash at Griffin Park but that is a story for another day.

After a slow and difficult start, this season is finally gaining momentum and promises much excitement as Christmas approaches. An FA Cup run would simply be the cherry on top.




Jeepers Keepers – Part One – 30/10/14

bees4I was reading through some old Brentford programmes from the 60s the other day and saw a note congratulating Gordon Phillips on making his debut for the club in an FA Cup match against Margate.

Nothing really out of the ordinary, apart from the fact that the article revealed that after the arrival of Joe Crozier in 1937 Brentford only played nine different goalkeepers between then and the mid 60s.

A quite remarkable record when you consider how regularly teams change players, as well as how often goalkeepers get hurt.

For the record, throughout that thirty year period the Bees fielded Joe Crozier, Ted Gaskell, Reg Newton, Sonny Feehan, Alf Jefferies, Gerry Cakebread, Fred Ryecraft, Chic Brodie and Gordon Phillips.

What is even stranger is that the last four named played in successive games in 1963.

How often can a club have had different goalkeepers in four consecutive matches?

I certainly cannot think of any other examples and wonder if anybody else can?

Joe Crozier was unobtrusive and a model of consistency and was a key part of the Brentford team that took the First Division by storm in the late thirties.

What a bargain he was as he was signed for only one thousand pounds.

He played three wartime International matches for Scotland, conceding eight goals against England on his debut, and yet he kept his place for the next game.

cakeShades of Frank Haffey  at Wembley in 1961 perhaps?

After his retirement from football Crozier became managing director of Cory Lighterage and a Freeman of the City of London.

I have previously written about Gerry Cakebread and how he combined a career with the Admiralty with his football commitments.

He was the undisputed first choice for nearly a decade, and played one hundred and eighty-seven games in a row between 1958 and 1963.

In 1955 Gerry was named as reserve goalkeeper in the England Under 23 squad to Coventry City’s Reg Matthews.

Two players from the Third Division were recognised as the most promising young goalkeepers in the country.

It could never happen today.

Reg went on to win full International caps, but hindered perhaps by his part time status, Gerry didn’t, but many supporters think that he was the finest goalkeeper they have seen play for the club.

Remarkably, in his last season at Griffin Park, with his career winding down, Gerry was allowed to take a leave of absence of nearly a month to visit Russia for an extended business trip.

Can you see any manager granting a player similar permission today?

ryeHe also had a long and successful career after football and was awarded an OBE in 1995 for his work on Hydrographics at the Ministry of Defence.

Fred Ryecraft was his patient understudy from 1959-1964 and from the look of him he would appear to have spent much of his spare time eating and training in the local Wimpy Bar rather than in the gym, as he was a portly figure to say the very least, and was known to eagerly accept, if not solicit, sweets proffered by young supporters standing behind his goal.

He is the nearest that Brentford have ever come to Fatty Foulke, and quite how he ever managed to get his massive frame off the ground hardly bears thinking about.

He certainly filled the goal but, in truth, loyal deputy that he was, he wasn’t really up to the standard required and drifted off to Gravesend where he was also known to play at centre forward.

He wasn’t alone in that feat as Luton goalkeeper Tony Read was converted into a striker during the 1965/66 season and scored an impressive twelve goals in only twenty games, including a match-winning hat-trick against Notts County, before he ran out of goals and was moved back to his original position.

Vice-Wimpy-Streatham-exteriorTalk about lack of gratitude!

Chic Brodie was a wonderful servant to the club and was calm and composed in everything he did on the pitch.

He was an old style goalkeeper, nothing ruffled him, and he was consistent and totally lacking in flamboyance.

He was also one of the last goalkeepers I can remember who rarely, if ever, seemed to wear gloves.

Those were the days when keepers simply spat on the palm of their hands and hoped that the ball would stick.

Misfortune seemed to follow Chic around throughout his career.

He is best remembered for conceding nine goals to a rampant Ted MacDougall when playing for Margate, and, of course, for the notorious incident when a stray dog ran full tilt into his knee at Colchester practically ending his professional career.

Ted MacDougall has a clear recollection of poor Chic Brodie:

chic2The keeper always said he thought he was the unluckiest goalkeeper in football.

He said one day he went to put his flat cap on for a game because it was sunny and he found a hand grenade in it.

Then when he was playing for Brentford a Jack Russell ran on the pitch and smacked him on the leg and nearly broke it.

Then, during another game, the crossbar broke and fell on his head.

And then to top it off, I scored nine goals against him.

Chic suffered his final tragedy when he died far too young, but he was a skilled craftsman and, ever vigilant, he will always live long in my memory.

pkGordon Phillips was a local prospect who was initially behind Brodie in the pecking order given his age and lack of experience, but he made the goalkeeping position his own in 1966 for a couple of years, and he and Chic vied for the first team spot in the late 60s with first one coming out on top, and then, the other, and it was not until Chic’s retirement that Gordon became the undisputed first choice.

Given our customary lack of resources, Gordon was also named as an outfield substitute at Crewe in September 1970, but his services were not called upon on the night.

Gordon was an ever present in the 1971/72 promotion team and enjoyed a wonderful season, but things soon turned sour with Brentford suffering the ignominy of relegation at the end of the following season and Gordon’s time at the club was over.

Where Chic was solid and consistent, Gordon was smaller, slighter and more dynamic in his approach.

Soccer - League Division One - Watford v LiverpoolGiven his lack of height, he struggled with crosses, but he compensated with his speed of thought and reaction, acrobatic shot stopping and his ability to snuff out danger by diving fearlessly at opponents’ feet.

Another local boy, Paul Priddy, still an amateur, succeeded Gordon, but after an up and down couple of years he was replaced by Steve Sherwood who achieved the rare feat for a loanee of being ever present in the 1974/75 season and also being voted Player of the Year.

We apparently made a pretty feeble effort to sign him on a permanent basis, but Watford outbid us by shelling out a mere five thousand pounds.

Instead of buying a promising young keeper who would end up playing in the Football League until he was forty, we ended up taking a four thousand pound gamble that unfortunately did not pay off and totally backfired.

That was Brentford to a T!

Bill Glazier had a long and distinguished career at the top level, playing over four hundred and fifty games for Crystal Palace and Coventry City and three times for the England Under 23 team.

glazHe was only thirty-two when he was persuaded to put off his retirement and sign for Brentford, but he seemed to be far more interested in running his hotel in Brighton than in keeping the ball out of the Brentford net.

He was distracted, commuted from the South Coast, and seemed to lack commitment.

His performances were poor, culminating in an appalling and costly fumble that led to Brentford conceding a soft equaliser at Old Trafford just when it appeared that the Bees might be on the verge of pulling off a massive League Cup giant killing.

He soon shuffled off into retirement and Paul Priddy seized his opportunity and played for a couple of seasons without ever totally convincing either his manager or the supporters that he was the long term answer to our goalkeeping problem.

He had one unforgettable afternoon at Vicarage Road when he was unbeatable and touched by genius, saving two penalties and single-handedly earning Brentford a rare victory at Watford.

prOn other days he was less authoritative and consistent and Bill Dodgin, perhaps harshly, released him in 1977.

Another local boy who so nearly made it, but not quite.

Paul wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and even managed to sneak back for a third spell at the club as reserve goalkeeper in 1981, playing one farewell match against Chester, when he signed off with a clean sheet, before having a long and successful career as a well-respected goalkeeping coach.

The cheque book then came out and Dodgin paid Bristol City eight thousand pounds for Len Bond, and he repaid us with three good years of consistent and brave goalkeeping, before falling out with Fred Callaghan and leaving the club.

boWe made a profit on him, but his leaving was a real shame as he was still in his prime, and he subsequently had a long spell at Exeter, but he was stretchered off on a return visit to Griffin Park before being the largely blameless recipient of Brentford’s seven goal salvo at Exeter in 1983.

Brentford’s last goalkeeper of the 70s was Trevor Porter, a last minute emergency replacement when Bond was injured in a car crash, just before the start of the 1978/79 season.

Porter was an old friend of Paul Shrubb, and had also played under Bill Dodgin at Fulham, and we rescued him from oblivion at Slough Town for a fee of seven hundred and fifty pounds.

He lasted for a couple of seasons and did a steady, unobtrusive job when called upon, and, when he wasn’t, he kept up his previous career as a window cleaner.

So, Brentford fielded a variety of goalkeepers in the 60s and 70s, some good, some indifferent, but the only real shocker I can remember was Garry Towse, a talented all-round sportsman in his own right, but an average goalkeeper at best, who signed for the club from Crystal Palace and was in goal on that sad October afternoon in 1973 when Brentford conceded four goals in the opening seventeen minutes at Scunthorpe, and sank to the bottom of the Football League for the first time in their history.

The only way from there was up and I will reminisce about Brentford’s goalkeepers from the 80s and 90s in the near future.

The Seventies Revisited – 1/8/14


As the years go by your memory seems to fade and incidents seem to merge into each other or get lost completely into the mists of time.

Whilst faces, appointments and names are forgotten and my glasses and mobile phone remain permanently lost, there is still one decade that remains sharply in focus to me – namely the Seventies.

Why should that be when so many other years have gone totally blank?

Maybe because it was my formative years, the time of my teens, “O” and “A” levels, learning to drive, going to University (or in my case, three of them!), leaving home, my first job – even my first girlfriends, and the Seventies have forged some indelible memories into my psyche that I can still remember as if they occurred yesterday.

It was the era of Progressive Rock – all those bands with ridiculous, pretentious names like Focus, Hatfield and the North, Caravan and Gong that you are now forced, on pain of death, to listen to alone in the car with the windows wound tightly shut.

It was the time of Abba, M*A*S*H, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, the first colour televisions, decimal currency, the Three Day Week, flared trousers, loon pants, sideburns, the baking hot Summer of 1976, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Punk Music, The Winter of Discontent and the election of Margaret Thatcher – and you can all add your own favourites.

Bringing matters back to football, who can forget Brazil and The Beautiful Game in the 1970 World Cup?

The Gordon Banks save from Pele, Mavericks such as Peter Osgood, Stan Bowles, Tony Currie, Alan Hudson and Frank Worthington, the Chelsea versus Leeds FA Cup Final replay kicking match at Old Trafford, and for me, most evocative of all: Barry Davies’s iconic commentary:

“Lee…. interesting….very interesting. Look at his face, just look at his face”

as Francis Lee’s fulminating twenty-yarder screamed into the roof of the Manchester City net.

brentford-photo-graham1As for Brentford, the Seventies saw two promotions, a relegation, and an FA Cup run to the Fifth Round – a bit tame perhaps for a normal Brentford decade given the excitement and non-stop action of subsequent years!

I can still vividly picture great talents such as Roger Cross, John O’Mara, Pat Kruse and Andy McCulloch, the moody genius of Steve Phillips, the loyalty of characters such as Peter Gelson, Paul Bence, Bobby Ross, Alan Hawley, Gordon Phillips and Alan Nelmes and the steely determination, skill and commitment of the man who, for me, best symbolised what being a Brentford player is all about – the immortal Jackie Graham.

brentford-photo-phillips1As for individual moments that encapsulated the decade, what better than Bobby Ross’s coolness personified penalty against Exeter that clinched promotion in 1972?

Any goal by John O’Mara, Roger Cross, Gordon Sweetzer, Andy McCulloch or Steve Phillips, beating Cardiff in the mud bath at Ninian Park, Alex Dawson’s last gasp winner against Gillingham in the FA Cup, Paul Priddy’s Superman impersonation at Vicarage Road, saving those two Watford penalties, poor Stan Webb attempting the impossible by trying to replace the legend that was John O’Mara – a real Dean Holdsworth/Murray Jones scenario.

How about Bob Booker’s legendary hat-trick against Hull, Lee Holmes riding pillion on the motorbike on the way to his wedding after defeating Southend, Bill Glazier literally throwing away the chance of an historic League Cup win at Old Trafford, the exciting smooth-as-silk attacking football of the Bill Dodgin promotion team and winning the first set against Crewe by 6-4?

One other name to conjure with – John Bain – bar Stan Bowles, has there been another midfielder as cultured and skilled at the club since his short stay came to such a premature end?

There was a real sense of togetherness between the players and the supporters with many memorable trips to distant away games at such far-flung and uncharted territories as Workington, Southport and Darlington.

Most poignantly, who can forget the packed Royal Oak, the two 18,000+ crowds in 1971-2, a triumphant promotion season where we attracted crowds of over 10,000 to fifteen Football League games and wonder where they have all disappeared to now?BFC 70s crowd

I still bemoan the lost opportunity, the last one for some considerable time, when lack of vision, ambition and investment saw the club crash straight back into the bottom division in 1973, a calamitous fall which saw us hit the bottom of the entire Football League in the very next season.

Let’s not hark back on sad memories, instead we should concentrate on the things that gave us all so much joy.

A Sense Of Duty – 23/7/14

higgyI wasn’t sure what to write about yesterday.

Maybe something about the development and make-up of the squad?

Perhaps an examination of how Mark Warburton and his regime has freed and empowered the players to go out and play with discipline, certainly, but with no fear?

Then I saw something on the official club website that made my mind up once and for all.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the death of a true legend of the club.

Tommy Higginson was not a name that reverberated on the back pages of the tabloid or style press, but every Bees fan of a certain age knows exactly who he was and what he represented.

Loyalty, grit, determination and a total commitment to doing your job without complaint and to the best of your ability.

Sometimes it’s hard to write this blog and I end up staring at an empty page which stares balefully back at me as if to reproach me for kidding myself that I can write.

Yesterday was different and the words came very easily and it was hard to stop the flow.

Why was this do you think?

I’m really not totally sure but I think it was simply that Higgy represented something that has pretty much disappeared from today’s world of instant fame and the self aggrandisement of social media.

In other words, values, self-effacement, a sense of duty and putting the interests of others before your own.

Judging from the positive feedback that I’ve received over the past twenty four hours including a touching note from Higgy’s son, some of you seem to have agreed with me.

The point that I’m trying so clumsily to make is that Brentford is a special club and however far we progress on our current magic carpet ride we supporters are pretty grounded and will never forget or lose track of where we have come from because, who knows, we might well end up back there someday given just how cyclical is success.

We are fortunate in having a club owned and run by thoroughly decent people with a sense of values and a deep understanding and respect of the club’s roots.

The current set of players also seem a pleasant lot too, disciplined, ambitious, thoroughly professional but still more than happy to engage with the fans.

Where else would you have found the owner, Chairman, club captain and half the squad chatting, laughing, drinking and celebrating with the supporters after promotion was clinched last season?

I can’t imagine any other club in the country where these scenes would have been allowed to take place.

Long may this attitude prevail, and I am sure that it will.gelson

I was brought up at the altar of long serving one club men such as Peter Gelson, Alan Hawley and Gordon Phillips who had a real love for the club and what it represents for its local community and it is wonderfully gratifying that these values remain firmly in place today despite our rise in stature.