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.

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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.

Heroes – 28/7/15

feBack in the late 60s and early 70s I used to spend most of my school Summer holidays at Lord’s cricket ground where, like many youngsters of a similar age I spent the day not watching the cricket and glorying in the achievements of the stars of the time in the Middlesex team such as Peter Parfitt, John Murray (an ex-Brentford Junior), Mike Brearley, John Price and Fred Titmus but instead, I remained glued all day to the back door of the Members’ Pavilion in the hope and anticipation of actually meeting the players in the flesh.

An MCC steward, an ex-military type in full commissionaire regalia would guard the pavilion door seemingly with his life and suspiciously look down his nose at us lest one of us should attempt to enter the hallowed and forbidden ground which was the province of lords and gentry rather than a bunch of ragamuffin kids like ourselves. He would establish a cordon sanitaire and we were not allowed to come within a few yards of the entrance in case we obstructed the path of our elders and betters.

Players would come and go throughout the day, some of them would sign our dog-eared autograph books with lordly disdain, others would engage us in a bit of patronising banter and small talk and we would barely manage to stammer our replies so overwhelmed were we that they had actually deigned to speak to us, a few (and one day I shall name and shame them) would ignore us and mercilessly push past the beseeching pack of schoolboys as we clamoured for their signature.

One sweltering hot Summer’s morning Lancashire came to town and we boys salivated at the prospect of obtaining the cherished autographs of the likes of stars such as Clive Lloyd, Jack Simmons and Peter Lever. They drove into the ground in a convoy of vehicles and we surrounded them in the car park in search of their signatures. One of the players was struggling under the weight of his massive cricket coffin and I instantly zeroed in on him. It was the wicketkeeper, Farokh Engineer, an Indian Test player of massive ability, charm and flamboyance. Wicketkeepers always seem to accumulate more equipment than their team mates and he was desperately looking for some help.

I seized my opportunity and without being asked, I grabbed hold of one end of his case and together we manhandled it towards the pavilion door where the jobsworth steward awaited us.

He can’t come in here he roared with relish as he pointed at me scornfully, and to my undying surprise and pride Farokh said he’s with me and I have invited him in. Stunned, the steward stood back and I accompanied Farokh inside the holy of holy’s and together we puffed our way up the stairs to the away dressing room bent double with the weight of his case – now I know where my bad back came from!

I expected to be peremptorily dismissed once we had arrived but instead Farokh sat me down and took the time and trouble to engage me in a long and detailed conversation about myself, my schooling and whether or not I played cricket. He, an established Test player and superstar treated me, a young kid whom he had never met before and would never see again, with interest and as an equal, and I have never forgotten his kindness.

Forty-five years or so on, and I still have the pictures that he autographed: To Greville with Best Wishes from Farokh Engineer and he inspired me to become a wicketkeeper.

You will not be surprised to learn that to this day Farokh Engineer, now a portly man of seventy-seven years, and long since retired, remains an absolute hero to me and always will do.

As I hope you will understand from that convoluted story, given the example he set and how wonderfully Engineer behaved towards me, since that occasion sportsmen do not earn the sobriquet of hero very easily from me and in fact there is only one other sportsman who has ever come up to the mark.

I have been watching Brentford, man and boy, for fifty years now and however much I have liked and admired so many players there is only one who I would actually class as a hero, and he and the others who come very close to earning that accolade all come from the same era – the late 60s and early 70s, a time when I was still young and impressionable and in those more innocent days I still saw some of the Brentford players in an heroic light.

My first couple of years watching the Bees passed by in a blur as the players were largely faceless and indistinguishable to me as I was still earning my spurs as a supporter and was not yet able to identify them as the individuals that they were.

sma_31_allan_mansleyAllan Mansley was the first Brentford player who truly stood out to me initially as much for his looks, as he had the long flowing locks and sinuous gait of a George Best, as for his ability. In an era of plebeian mediocrity when players with real flair and talent were the exception rather than the rule – particularly at Brentford, Ollie Mansley completely broke the mould. He played with passion and effervescent joy, galloped down the left wing with gay abandon and beat his opponents by virtue of a combination of pace, body swerves, dribbling ability, trickery and the precocity of youth.

He had an annus mirabilis in 1968 when he was touched by the Gods and scored goals of every hue – swerving free kicks, rasping volleys, solo runs, clinical angled finishes, even a looping twenty-yard header over a mesmerised Halifax goalkeeper. I followed him with the rapture of a star struck thirteen year old and he could do no wrong in my eyes and I ached to be as talented and handsome as he was.

However like all the best heroes, his fame was glittering but transitory and shortlived as he was irrevocably hobbled by the thuggery of the pantomime villain, Chesterfield’s Keith Kettleborough and never truly recovered his pace and verve and within a year or so he was gone and his career withered on the vine.

Alan Mansley remains a hero to me to this day because he was the first Brentford player who stirred my emotions and made me realise that football was a beautiful art as well as a sport and that there was room for guile and intelligence as well as organisation and brute strength.

The fact that despite his outrageous ability his career never reached the heights that had once looked likely, was truncated through injury and that he also died tragically young, makes him even more of an heroic figure to me, if a more tragic one. I never spoke to him – I never dared to do so, and can only hope that the man himself lived up to the image. Thankfully I am reliably informed by others who knew him that he was indeed a lovely young man and I am glad to hear so.

There were others of that same long past generation who I also revered although not to the same extent that I hero worshipped Allan Mansley. The likes of Chic Brodie, Gordon Phillips, Peter Gelson, Alan Hawley, Alan Nelmes, Jackie Graham, Roger Cross, John O’Mara and Bobby Ross were all talented players who gave the club long, loyal and dedicated service. I admired them all but none moved me as much as Ollie had.

Over the years the club has boasted many more players of massive ability and personality including such personal favourites likeFrancis Joseph and Stan Bowles but as I grew up and the players indeed, became younger than me I knew that the day for heroes had both come and gone and was now long since passed.

As an adult my eyes have been well and truly opened and I see the players for what they are – good honest professionals doing a job generally to the best of their ability, living separate lives off the field and possessing the foibles, weaknesses and shortcomings of all men.

I know that their loyalty to the club that I have supported for nigh on half a century and will do for the rest of my life, will last for the duration of their stay with us and not a jot longer – and nor should we expect anything else. Brentford, in most cases, is simply a staging post in what they hope will be a long, varied and successful career.

70s launchThe nearest I came to feeling any different was when we launched The Big Brentford Book Of The Seventies four years ago and Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I invited some of the most popular players from that decade to a launch event at the club and Alan Hawley, Jackie Graham. Peter Gelson, Paul Bence, Terry Scales, Pat Kruse, Andy McCulloch, John O’Mara and Paul Bence all attended.

They were without exception a delight to be with, reminiscing happily about the club to which they had all devoted so great a proportion of their footballing career. Icons they, and the likes of Kevin O’Connor, most certainly are, but real heroes, in the true sense of the word are rare on the ground and I have only had two sporting heroes and I will be forever grateful to Farokh Engineer and Allan Mansley for providing me with so much joy and inspiration.

Tony Craig – An Appreciation – 5/7/15

There was a universal reaction amongst all Brentford supporters to the news that broke yesterday that captain and inspiration Tony Craig had left the club and returned for yet another spell – his fourth including an earlier loan, to Millwall where he will become team captain. It was simply one of thanks and gratitude to TC for the three years of exceptional service he gave us, as well as pleasure and delight that he will now be given the opportunity to play every week, a privilege that would surely have been denied him if he had remained at Griffin Park.

Tony made his reputation at Millwall as a tough and committed central defender or left back and he led his team to promotion to the Championship. His arrival at Griffin Park in the summer of 2012 for a fee reputed to be around one hundred and fifty thousand pounds was seen as a real coup for the club and Uwe Rösler soon recognised his leadership ability and named him as captain. Tony played a prominent part in our success over the past three years. He was a real and visible presence on the field – you knew that he was in charge and he set a wonderful example as he never knew when he was beaten.

I will always remember him in the prematch huddle, with jaw set, eyes blazing and with his head bobbing up and down like a metronome as he exhorted his team mates to greater efforts and forcefully reminded them of their personal responsibilities. He made it perfectly clear who was in charge on the pitch and what winning the match meant to the club. Woe betide anyone caught shirking or falling short in his task.

Once the whistle went he was a human dynamo and set a massive personal example. He never gave up and that long left leg would sneak out to save the day when all otherwise looked lost. Not the tallest of defenders, he timed his leaps well and won more than his fair share of aerial challenges. Most importantly, he read the game brilliantly and could anticipate potential danger and snuff it out before any serious damage occurred. He was indestructible and was rarely injured and shrugged off fearsome assaults that left him covered in blood or cinder rash and would have resulted in lesser men leaving the field. He was our bionic man and a total inspiration.

No wonder that his three seasons saw the club rise to almost unprecedented heights of achievement with a promotion and two appearances in the playoffs to add to his already impressive CV. This was no accident and TC played a massive part in ensuring our promotion to the Championship and his central defensive partnership with either Harlee Dean and James Tarkowski was mean and effective.

Tony had played previously in the Championship with Millwall and initially he made a seamless transition to the higher level. He also embraced the club’s new found patient and short passing approach to the game and demonstrated calmness and a previously unsuspected and unseen skill on the ball. His left-footedness provided a much needed balance to the back four and he changed the direction of our attack by pinging any number of accurate long range passes to an appreciative and generally unmarked Jota or Odubajo on the right wing.

Tony started last season well and was consistent and competent and fully earned his contract extension. He made an inspirational return to his old stamping ground where he received a rapturous welcome from the otherwise subdued Millwall fans and he stood up bravely and brilliantly to Millwall’s aerial bombardment and helped steady the ship and cement our victory after we had conceded two quick goals.

However as the season progressed a few chinks began to appear in Tony’s armour as he came up against a seemingly never-ending series of canny, strong and experienced strikers. He struggled and came out second best in his personal battles against exceptionally talented players like Danny Graham, Grant Holt, Rudy Gestede and Daryl Murphy, looked vulnerable to balls played over the top which forced him to turn and Mark Warburton began to rotate his three central defenders as he sought to establish his best pairing. Tony finally lost his place and fittingly made his last appearance for the club in a thrilling victory over eventual Champions, AFC Bournemouth before being forced to settle for a cheerleader’s role on the bench.

This was no place for such a legend and with two new central defenders already having arrived at the club in the last couple of weeks, it was obviously best for all concerned that he was allowed to move on and it remains to be seen whether similar experienced players like Alan McCormack, Sam Saunders and Jonathan Douglas, like Craig, mainstays of the promotion team, decide to remain at the club and fight for the opportunity to play against increasingly strong competition, or also recognise that their time has time and that our levels of success and progress have overtaken them.

Tony’s disciplinary record was also good although he saw red three times during his spell at the club. An assistant referee bizarrely concluded that he had struck Dave Kitson at a crucial stage in  that momentous match at Sheffield United, a decision endorsed by our old friend Keith Stroud. Despite video evidence that seemed to exonerate him, Craig received a devastating three match ban and missed the last two league matches as well as the first playoff game against Swindon. Had he been on the pitch I wonder whether we might have got over the line without recourse to the dreaded playoffs and I am certain that he would have had something to say about Marcello Trotta’s fateful decision to take that penalty kick against Doncaster Rovers!

He took one for the team with a last man red card card against Carlisle and then fell foul of Mad Madley when he got on the wrong side of Clayton Donaldson and compounded his error by clutching at his former colleague, conceding a penalty kick and earning an early bath.

The most amazing statistic about Tony is that he never scored – and barely looked like doing so in his three seasons at the club. He came the closest when his memorable rasping long-range effort was brilliantly saved by the Peterborough keeper and his header from a corner against Leyton Orient was blocked on the line. He was also clumsily pulled down by Adam Barrett, earning us a spot kick against Gillingham, otherwise his efforts were invariably high, wide and not very handsome.

He will best be remembered for his heroic defending against Oldham Athletic in Mark Warburton’s first match as manager when a swift breakaway left him alone facing five opponents as they bore down on the home goal, but Tony was calmness personified and saved the day against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Then there was his wide-eyed celebration in front of a jubilant Ealing Road terrace after scoring a perfectly taken and utterly crucial penalty kick thrashed high into the roof of the net in the Swindon playoff second leg shootout, a feat he repeated in a less frenetic atmosphere last season at Dagenham & Redbridge!

We forgave him for his lack of prowess and threat in front of the opposition goal, we even overlooked the three own goals he scored in his first season at the club, one of them a perfectly placed unstoppable header from a corner which arched beyond the reach of the helpless Simon Moore and gifted Hartlepool an unlikely last minute equaliser at Griffin Park.

Tony Craig epitomises all that is good about professional football. He gave us everything throughout his three years at the club and inspired his team mates to greater heights of achievement. He has returned to his first love and I suspect that he will lead Millwall to promotion – and I will celebrate and raise a glass to him if he does so.

Tony Craig will live long in our memory and I thank him and wish him nothing but joy and success in the future.

Final Cover 020615Ahead Of The Game

For anyone interested in reading my take on everything that happened both on and off the pitch last season, as well as the odd diversion into nostalgia, player profiles and club history, leavened with some (hopefully) pertinent and amusing comments, my new book Ahead Of The Game is available now.

Here are the Links to where the book can be purchased:

http://www.brentforddirect.co.uk/product/400/0000-4811

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ahead-Game-Brentford-2014-Season-ebook/dp/B00ZPO1OBU/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1434732211&sr=1-3&keywords=ahead+of+the+game

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ahead-Game-Brentford-2014-Season/dp/1910515140/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1434732211&sr=1-3

Published 17 June 2015 | 978-1-910515-14-3 | 408 pages | Print and Kindle | £15.99, £8.99

The Roll Of Honour – 21/6/15

I saw a fascinating article on the Brentford website yesterday which totally grabbed my attention and highlighted and confirmed just what an exceptional season we have all just enjoyed. It simply listed everyone involved and associated with the club – players, management and coaches, back room staff and indeed supporters whose incredible achievements have been recognised and marked with awards both internal and external.

Let’s start by perusing the entire list of Brentford FC’s Roll Of Honour 2014/15 and I hope that the BFC Media Department does not mind me repeating this information:

  • Family Excellence Award: Brentford FC
  • Sky Bet Championship PFA Team of the Year: Alex Pritchard
  • Sky Bet League Two Player of the Year Top Three: Alfie Mawson (on loan at Wycombe Wanderers)
  • Sky Bet Championship Player of the Year Top Ten: Alex Pritchard
  • Zoo Magazine Sky Bet League Two Player of the Year: Alfie Mawson
  • MATCH Magazine FL Wonderkid: Alex Pritchard
  • FourFourTwo Top 50 Players in the Football League: Jota, Alex Pritchard
  • MATCH Magazine Top 100 Players in the Football League: Andre Gray, Jota, Alex Pritchard
  • Brentford FC Club Hero: Roger Crook
  • London Manager of the Year 2014: Mark Warburton
  • Special Awards: Mark Warburton (to mark his time at Brentford FC) and Richard Lee (to mark his retirement)
  • Special Achievement Award: Roger Crook (for his work for Brentford FC Community Sports Trust, the Club and Brentford Women’s and Girls FC)
  • Supporters’ Player of the Year: Toumani Diagouraga
  • Players’ Player of the Year: Alex Pritchard
  • Goal of the Season: Stuart Dallas (v Fulham 3 April 2015)
  • Community Player of the Year: Jake Bidwell
  • Bees Player Moment of the Season: Jota (for winning goal against Fulham on 21 November 2014)
  • Bees Travel Club Player of the Season: Toumani Diagouraga
  • Junior Bees Player of the Season: Toumani Diagouraga
  • The Brentford Football Club Norwegian Supporters’ Player of the Season: Alex Pritchard
  • Irish Brentford Supporters Club Player of the Year: Alex Pritchard
  • Player of the Season for 2014/15 from Brentford’s Italian supporters: Alex Pritchard
  • Social Media Player of the Season: Alex Pritchard
  • Goal of 2014: Jota (v Cardiff City 20 December)
  • Youth Team Player of the Year: Nik Tzanev
  • Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month November 2014: Mark Warburton
  • Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month November 2014: Andre Gray
  • LMA Performance of the Week: Brentford (v Wolverhampton Wanderers 29 November 2014)
  • Hottie of the Year: Andre Gray
  • British Legal Awards Property Team of the Year: Taylor Wessing (for work securing planning permission for a new stadium for Brentford FC)
  • Brentford FC Nominations for Football League Team of the Decade: Wojciech Szczesny, Michael Turner, Jonathan Douglas, Lloyd Owusu
  • Graham Haynes Trophy: Dave Morley
  • Alfie Mawson won six awards from Wycombe Wanderers – Supporters’ Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year, Official Wycombe Wanderers Supporters Association Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Away Travel Player of the Year, Wycombe Wanderers Independent Supporters Club Player of the Year
  • Lewis Macleod won the Rangers Goal of the Season Award
  • International Honours while with Brentford this season:
  • Stuart Dallas: Four Northern Ireland caps and one goal
  • Moses Odubajo: Six England Under 20 caps
  • Alex Pritchard: Six England Under 21 caps
  • Will Grigg: Two Northern Ireland caps (while on loan at Milton Keynes Dons)
  • Liam Moore: One England Under 21 cap
  • Daniel O’Shaughnessy: Five Finland Under 21 caps and one goal, One Finland Under 20 cap
  • Nik Tzanev: Three New Zealand Under 20 caps
  • Julius Fenn-Evans: Three Wales Under 16 caps
  • First Team players Alan Judge (Republic of Ireland) and Chris Long (England Under 20) and Academy players Kyjuon Marsh-Brown (Antigua and Barbuda) Harry Francis (England Under 15), Ross McMahon (Scotland Under 16) and Josh Bohui (England Under 16) were also called up to training camps or squads
  • The following players were named in the Football League Team of the Week: Alfie Mawson (three times) Jota (twice) Alex Pritchard (twice) Jake Bidwell David Button Jonathan Douglas Andre Gray Alan Judge Jon Toral Mark Warburton Will Grigg Nico Yennaris (from Wycombe Wanderers)
  • The following were inducted in to the Brentford FC Hall of Fame this season: Terry Evans, Bob Booker, Peter Gelson, Keith Millen, Alan Nelmes, Danis Salman, Kevin O’Connor and Marcus Gayle
  • The following were inducted in to the Brentford FC Hall of Fame posthumously this season: Harry Curtis, Gerry Cakebread, Ephraim Rhodes, Fred Monk, George Bristow, Jimmy Bain, Jimmy Cartmell, Arthur Bateman, Patsy Hendren, Ernie Muttitt, David McCulloch, Austin Underwood, Allan Jones, Chic Brodie, Jimmy Jay, Bill Gorman, Arthur Charlton, Fred Halliday, Jack Lane, Jack Holliday, Leslie Smith, Billy Scott, Jim Towers and Johnny Rainford

An impressive list as I am sure that you will agree and one that bears testimony to the enormous success that we enjoyed both on and off the field throughout what was in my opinion our best season in living memory. I also doubt whether we have ever previously received so much recognition from external sources and media groups.

The only addition that I would suggest to what is already an exceptionally thorough and comprehensive list is that of Tom Higginson, dear beloved “Higgy” to the Brentford FC Hall of Fame, as, unless I have got it wrong, and if so I apologise unreservedly to the club, then he has perhaps fallen through the cracks – an oversight that I am sure will be speedily rectified once the facts are checked.

This seems a perfect way of drawing a line under the 2014/15 season and starting to look forward with a mixture of optimism, trepidation and excitement to what awaits us next season. It has certainly been a close season which has already seen much change with a completely new football management structure at the club and the arrival of two players to date, a number which is likely to increase exponentially shortly after the beginning of July.

Final Cover 020615

For anyone interested in reading my take on everything that happened both on and off the pitch last season, as well as the odd diversion into the tributaries and byways of nostalgia, nonsense, player profiles and club history, leavened with some (hopefully) pertinent and amusing comments, my new book “Ahead Of The Game” is available now.

Here are the Links to where the book can be purchased:

http://www.brentforddirect.co.uk/product/400/0000-4811

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ahead-Game-Brentford-2014-Season-ebook/dp/B00ZPO1OBU/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1434732211&sr=1-3&keywords=ahead+of+the+game

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ahead-Game-Brentford-2014-Season/dp/1910515140/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1434732211&sr=1-3

Published 17 June 2015 | 978-1-910515-14-3 | 408 pages | Print and Kindle | £15.99, £8.99

End Of Term Report – Part Three – 28/5/15

25. Raphael Calvet

Never really challenged for a place and has been overtaken by others coming through the ranks. After two seasons without making any impact it is surely time for him to leave.

26. James Tarkowski

A stop-start campaign for James as he had to undergo a massive learning curve, experiencing Championship football for the first time. He ended up playing thirty-four games partnering a combination of Harlee Dean, Tony Craig and Liam Moore. Dean and Tarks ended up in firm possession of the shirts and gelled together well in the latter part of the season but James had to cope with the extra handicap of having to play on an unfamiliar left side of the defence, and this caused him problems as he was sometimes caught in possession whilst trying to take an extra touch and get the ball onto his favoured right foot.

He was as comfortable on the ball as ever, striding forward, dropping his shoulder and advancing menacingly into the opposition half. He distributed it beautifully as well, and he played an important part in helping us break through the initial press and start our own attacks. Sometimes, though, he lost concentration and overplayed, costing us a number of goals, but he is still learning and improving and has more than enough ability to play at Championship level or even higher.

He also had a one hundred percent record at taking penalty kicks!

27. David Button

David Button had a wonderful season and was a Championship ever present in goal. He was very much our first point of attack as well as our last line of defence and his quick and accurate distribution played a massive part in our overall style of play and freedom of expression. He generally tried to play it short but would occasionally hit the ball long for Gray or Dallas and he was the instigator of Andre’s brilliantly taken and confidence restoring goal against Watford – Route One football at its most effective.

He sometimes failed to deal effectively with crosses and he could also use his physique better as he is an enormous man, but he was utterly reliable and often quite brilliant and he won us numerous points with some incredible saves against Birmingham, Rotherham and Norwich in particular. You can count his blatant mistakes on the fingers of one hand and Button has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship with admirers from the level above. He is another who we will do well to hang onto this summer.

28. Nico Yennaris

His season at Brentford never got started and he only played once in the Championship, unfortunately in our worst performance of the season at Charlton, where he looked uncomfortable and exposed at left back. Nico had a successful loan spell at Wycombe Wanderers where he played at both right back and in midfield and ended his season at Wembley in the playoff final. Will he be back next season for another crack at establishing himself at Griffin Park or will he perhaps be searching for regular first team football elsewhere? Nico has real ability but he still needs to make his mark.

29. Liam Moore

Liam’s return to Griffin Park for a second loan spell was generally welcomed given his pace and left sided bias but the England Under 21 international totally failed to seize his opportunity. He had mixed fortune in his three matches, struggling against Clayton Donaldson at Birmingham, coming out all square in a physical battle against James Vaughan of Huddersfield and looking weak and totally out of his depth against Ipswich’s aerial bombardment. He was withdrawn from the fray at Portman Road and soon returned to Leicester allowing Dean and Tarkowski to develop an effective defensive partnership.

30. Josh Clarke

Formally a flying winger, Josh reinvented himself as an attacking fullback in the style of Moses Odubajo, and he impressed in his new position in the Development Squad. This was enough to earn him a contract extension and now it is up to him to prove that he has what it takes to forge a successful career.

31. Chris Long

Twenty year-old Chris Long arrived in the January transfer window to back up and support Andre Gray and he more than did his job whenever he was fit. He scored four times in ten appearances including three in his two starts. He was what we had previously lacked all season, a goal sniffer and six-yard box predator. He would doubtless have played more games had he remained fit and he also made a couple of perplexing returns to turn out for Everton when we were desperate for him to play for us. I hope we make every effort to ensure his return to Brentford next season on either a loan or permanent basis.

32. Jack O’Connell

The tall, cultured, yet powerful left sided defender did not feature for the Bees beyond sitting on the bench after his January transfer from Blackburn Rovers but he is seen as a potential star of the future. He performed well whilst on loan to Rochdale and did enough to suggest that he will be challenging for a first team place at Griffin Park next season when his presence, if selected, would enable Tarkowski to revert to his more natural right side.

33. Montell Moore

Montell made an instant impact on his debut as an eighteen year old at Dagenham with a goal and three assists. He was named as a substitute on several occasions but never played again and unfortunately received a criminal conviction. It was considered politic and best for his development to send him on loan to FC Midtjylland in Denmark where he has since gained valuable experience. Let’s see how he responds next season.

34. Daniel O’Shaughnessy

A regular in the Development Squad who did not look out of place in the preseason friendlies but was never close to earning a first team place. His future at the club might well depend upon whether Alfie Mawson decides to stay with Brentford or take his chance elsewhere. I suspect he will be given another season to prove himself and perhaps be sent out on loan.

35. Jermaine Udumaga

Nineteen year-old Jermaine Udumaga impressed as an attacking midfielder or striker whose goal tally reached double figures in the Development Squad. He was named as a substitute for the first team on four occasions but has yet to make his debut. He has signed a new one-year deal and will probably be competing for opportunities next season with Montell Moore.

39. Nick Proschwitz

A last minute purchase that reeked of uncharacteristic panic and poor judgement. He contributed little off the bench and never looked up to the standard required. He was offloaded to Coventry City where he had an equally unimpressive loan spell.

Alfie Mawson

The tall central defender enjoyed a wonderful season at Wycombe Wanderers where he was named Player of the Year and he now has a tough decision to make. Does he accept Brentford’s offer of a new contract or instead move to a new club where he can start as first choice? The central defensive position is in a state of flux at Griffin Park with at least two of the six current incumbents likely to move on as well as perhaps one new arrival.

Mawson is unlikely to force his way into the first team squad next season but he could yet decide to sign a new deal with the Bees and go out on loan again, but my guess is that he will move on.

Will Grigg

Will enjoyed a sensational season on loan at MK Dons where he scored twenty-two times, helped them to promotion, won their Goal of the Season Award and was named in the Northern Ireland international squad alongside Stuart Dallas.

He still has one year remaining on his Brentford contract and a decision now needs to be made on him. Should we give him a clean slate and see if he can force his way back into the reckoning at Griffin Park or sell him when his stock is at its highest? The key questions are whether we see him as a Championship striker and if we feel he can thrive in the system we are likely to employ next season. I suspect that in the event that MK Dons, or another club meets our valuation of him that Will is likely to leave on a permanent basis.

The manager, Mark Warburton, his assistant, David Weir, coaches, Simon Royce, Kevin O’Connor and the rest of the back room staff also made a massive contribution to the team’s success as they filled the players with confidence, encouraged them to remain true to their principles and ensured that they continued to play positive, attacking football throughout the entire season.

Groundhog Day – 18/5/15

imagesSo despite their best efforts Brentford’s season came to its conclusion at the Riverside Stadium on Friday night. The Bees just couldn’t pull back the one goal deficit from the first leg, conceded again halfway through the first half when Tomlin’s long range effort received a helpful deflection off Harlee Dean which took it beyond Button’s reach, and then carelessly lost possession twice after the break and were ruthlessly punished by breakaway goals from Kike and Adomah. A four goal aggregate defeat in the tie was cruel indeed on Brentford who deserved slightly better but it cannot be denied that we were comfortably second best overall.

For us to reach Wembley there were several prerequisites. We needed to be at our absolute best and to be brave and positive on the night. We also had to display the self-belief and confidence to play our own game and take care of the ball. We needed leaders on the pitch who would set a personal example and help encourage their team mates. Most crucially, we had to be clinical in front of goal when chances came our way. Unfortunately none of these boxes were ticked and we subsided to a comprehensive defeat.

We must give credit where it is due. Middlesbrough were everything that we weren’t. Tough, big, strong, compact, organised, street-smart, determined, ruthless, comfortable on the ball, quick to turn defence into attack and deadly in front of goal.

Their game plan worked a treat. Firstly, just as had been the case at Griffin Park, they let us know they were there and knocked us out of our stride and never allowed us to build up a rhythm by commiting a series of cynical and deliberate fouls whenever we threatened to break forward. They gambled correctly that the referee would not intervene early on and by the time Lee Mason belatedly decided to exert his authority and use his yellow card, it was far too late and the damage had already been done. We were nervous and tentative and never managed to break at pace as Middlesbrough funnelled back and denied us any space as soon as we reached the congested midfield area.

Leadbitter and Clayton chased and harried and snapped at our ankles from the first whistle. They were relentless and tireless in their efforts to snuff out danger before it developed and not to allow us the time and space we needed to hurt them. But they were both far more than water carriers and mere defensive spoilers as they demonstrated a real ability to read the game and to pass the ball accurately and with precision.

Both Jonathan Douglas and Toumani Diagouraga have been inspirational for the Bees this season but it was instructive to compare their overall effectiveness and impact upon the game with that of Leadbitter and Clayton who clearly demonstrated the difference between excellent players and the true elite at this level.

With our creativity stifled at birth, Jota, Judge and Pritchard flickered into life only intermittently and were never an influence on the game. Our chances were few and far between and there was no margin for error. We simply had to take our opportunities when they fell our way, but we let them all slip.

Early on, Jota shot weakly from outside the area and his effort was easily saved but our two key moments came either side of halftime. Judge’s angled cross eluded the straining head of Ayala and Gray was left with a clear sight of goal but his weak headed effort was going nowhere when it hit a defender and was deflected straight to the keeper. We came out far more determined and positive after the break and straightaway the overlapping Odubajo’s perfect low centre was somehow missed by Gray as he attempted to turn the ball in from right in front of goal. That could have been a turning point as if he had scored it would have silenced the crowd whose anxiety would doubtless have transmitted itself to the team. That was it until a sweet move opened up the defence near the end but substitute Chris Long was pressurised into slicing his angled effort well wide of the goal.  I doubt if we have ever created fewer chances in a match over the course of the entire season but you have to give due credit to the job that Middlesbrough did on us as well as acknowledge that we did not do ourselves justice on the night.

Harlee Dean was by far our best player closely followed by Moses Odubajo, David Button and James Tarkowski. Jake Bidwell appeared to be mesmerised by the pace and twinkling feet of Albert Adomah and was far too preoccupied with his defensive responsibilities to help support his ailing attack.

We did our best but it never really looked as if it would be enough and Middlesbrough finished up beating us four times in a row over the course of the season, scoring ten times with us managing one measly goal in reply, despite our knocking on the door so many times, particularly in our two home matches.

Could and should we have approached the game in a different manner? I would, in passing, refer you to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Mark Warburton and Plan A anybody? We basically played the same game four times against Middlesbrough with identical results on each and every occasion. It would certainly have been brave and maybe even foolhardy to have tinkered with, or even changed a formula that had worked so well throughout the season and that had indeed been responsible for getting us to the playoffs in the first place. Managers are paid extremely well to problem solve and be flexible and imaginative where necessary but nothing changed and on Friday our limitations and shortcomings were yet again ruthlessly exposed.

It would be churlish indeed to carp and criticise given how wonderfully well we have performed all season and the amount of pleasure that Brentford have provided to all lovers of pure attacking football around the country. Mark Warburton’s loyalty and commitment to his squad was also laudable and their sense of unity and togetherness certainly played a large part in our success, but our failure to strengthen in January when the opportunity apparently presented itself, meant that we were forced to rely on a small squad and there were precious few options available to freshen things up or make significant changes off the bench.

I know that I have mentioned it before, but I still believe that the most illuminating statistic of the season is the fact that thirteen of the eighteen players in our squad on the opening day of the season on the ninth of August last year were still involved when the season finally drew to a close on the fifteenth of May. The five who fell by the wayside were Richard Lee, Marcos Tebar, Nico Yennaris, Montell Moore and Nick Proschwitz. They were replaced by Jack Bonham, Toumani Diagouraga, Jota, Jon Toral and Chris Long. So with the exception of Chris Long, who arrived in January, and Liam Moore who came and went in the new year, the squad remained almost unchanged for the entire season, something that I doubt has ever occurred in modern day football where there is invariably a high turnover of players who come and go and are seen as replaceable assets.

That was the way that Mark Warburton wanted to manage and it will be fascinating to see whether his ultimate successor favours a different approach next season in terms of squad size and rotation and, indeed, our overall formation and pattern of play.

That is for the future and now is the time simply to reflect on all the incredible events of the past nine months and salute the Bees and everyone involved with the club for providing us with such an incredible season that came so close to returning us to the top flight of English football for the first time in sixty-eight years. Friday’s match ended in a cacophony of sound as the travelling Brentford supporters paid a raucous and heartfelt tribute to their team and its supporting cast of Mark Warburton, David Weir and Matthew Benham.The imminent departure of Mark Warburton and David Weir certainly marks the end of this chapter but the story has barely yet begun.