When Does Banter Become Abuse? – 15/3/16

There was so much that I didn’t enjoy about Saturday’s visit to Loftus Road. Firstly let’s get the obvious out of the way. Losing by three clear goals to your closest rivals after a performance that started well and deteriorated the longer the game went on made for a pretty gloomy and depressing afternoon’s viewing.

The fact that QPR were really no great shakes themselves and simply cashed in on our plethora of mistakes and inadequacies simply made matters worse and left me with a feeling of total frustration as well as one of impending doom unless serious steps are taken immediately to reverse our slide before it becomes terminal and irreversible.

The day started well when I found a free parking space ideally situated just a short hike from the ground but it was all downhill from there.

What struck me forcibly as soon as I took my seat half an hour before kickoff was the dark, aggressive and ugly mood amongst so many of the Brentford supporters. Rather than looking forward with relish and anticipation to the chance of completing a rare double over the old enemy, the packed School End was a cauldron of hate with far too many supporters totally out of control and resembling a baying mob of howling banshees.

Their songs and chants were inflammatory and obscene as well as boringly repetitive and unimaginative and the language foul in the extreme as quite appalling words and sentiments that could very easily see you facing a serious Public Order charge in different circumstances time after time poured out of the mouths of supporters of all ages, most of whom were quite old enough to know far better.

I am all for poking some gentle fun at our opponents and for making Griffin Park a fortress and an intimidating place to visit, but this went far beyond the pale as QPR, their players, supporters and anything and everything connected with that club were subjected to a fusillade of nonstop abuse and woe betide anybody who made any attempt, however futile to make our supporters behave themselves with some small element of decorum.

What is even worse is that as the game began to turn against the Bees, moods darkened even more, the wind changed and now it was the turn of our own players to become the whipping boys and the targets for abuse. They were assailed with moronic and vitriolic comments and insults both singularly and collectively, with poor, hapless John Swift a particular target. Fans also turned against fellow fans as any supporter who continued to cheer on his team also risked becoming a target. Just as had been the case against Charlton, the previous week, the final whistle saw more boos, catcalls and derogatory comments as the team slunk off.

I had a similarly unpleasant afternoon earlier this season at Derby when a large group of intimidating so-called Brentford supporters unfortunately seated right by me spent the entire match eyeballing rival home fans and singling them out for a nonstop torrent of vehement abuse. What happened on the pitch – nothing much if truth be told – was totally immaterial to them and I doubt if many of them could have told you the final score given that they had watched so little of the game. Again this sickened and quite frankly, frightened me and fortunately I managed to move to a slightly more salubrious spot at halftime but it ruined my afternoon and I could not wait to leave. The difference though was that the mindless abuse was aimed solely at the opposition whereas now it is the Brentford team and management that is more often than not being targeted.

Perhaps the solution is simple and a couple of good wins would end this nasty trend that seems to be becoming more and more prevalent but it is something that is making my visits to football less and less pleasant and I am sure that I am not alone in feeling this way.

I suspect that we have also picked up quite a few floating and glory hunting supporters attracted by our success of last season who have no sense or even interest in the history and tradition of the club and what it stands for and now when results are going against us are quick to criticise or worse without any understanding of the reasons why matters have deteriorated so quickly.

Just look at the Rotherham fans who have become their team’s twelfth man and have contributed so volubly to their recent success. Their sheer passion and nonstop roars of encouragement have helped to turn games in their favour and influence referees, as we learned to our cost. That is what we should be aiming for, a team and band of supporters united as one and working towards a common goal.

I can’t say that I am too thrilled either by a lot of the rubbish that is currently being spouted on social media sites where supporters seem to feel that it is open season on owners, players and managers alike who are subjected without a second thought to torrents of filthy abuse with Dean Smith, Matthew Benham and the Co-Directors of Football being particular recent victims.

Again, there seems to be no sense of tolerance or decency and boundaries of reasonable behaviour seem to have been ignored and overturned. Anyone appears to be fair game for an ever increasing phalanx of mindless keyboard warriors who feel that they have an inalienable right to make their opinions and feelings known however stridently or abusively they wish to express them.

Any criticism of them regarding the way in which they form their arguments and the actual words they have used is either ignored or more commonly results in a further tirade of splenetic abuse and strident claims that they are fully entitled to have their say however they choose to do so. So often they excuse their excesses by claiming that their comments are simply harmless banter but that explanation does not wash for me as anything said or written that is wounding, demeaning and insulting is totally inexcusable and they quite evidently do not know the real meaning of the word.

And that is where the problem lies as many people do not understand just how far they can go and where acceptable behaviour ends. I totally accept that nobody, however exalted should be above criticism but in my opinion it is how that criticism is couched that makes all the difference. Why should anybody read, take in, assimilate or even respond to torrents of crude and foulmouthed abuse? A more reasoned comment, opinion or argument might well generate some sort of answer but I suspect that the intent is generally to shock and mock and promote a sense of self rather than encourage a proper debate.

I am not going to run the risk of being called an old fogey by calling for the return of National Service or the stocks as I am a massive supporter of social media and instant access to the news agenda. Properly used it allows for an immediacy and an honesty, clarity and openness of communication that cannot be matched elsewhere. I just hate it when its powers are abused by mindless oafs who know no better and just spoil things for everyone else.

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Good Hunting! – 13/3/16

Over three thousand Brentford supporters went to Loftus Road yesterday afternoon, perhaps more in hope than in expectation and for half an hour or so the team, and we will come back to its composition shortly, was well in the game with Canos twice and Judge going close before conceding a brilliantly taken but eminently avoidable opening goal which was totally demoralising after we had given as good as we had got.

Even after such a sickening blow we showed some fight and resilience and came so close to an immediate equaliser when Ryan Woods took a short free kick in his stride and drilled a long ranger against the post. The second half was a different story as after Judge curled narrowly but wastefully over we created next to nothing and the ball became a hot potato as we conceded possession with monotonous regularity and our final ball was invariably overhit or poorly directed.

We conceded two quite appalling goals after schoolboy errors firstly when Woods was dispossessed and then after Swift played a careless and suicidal pass across the midfield, each time leaving us with a yawning chasm down the middle. QPR took full advantage of both gifts, that horrible celebratory Pigbag tune blared out and assailed our senses and eardrums and yet another game had slipped away without any reward.

We collapsed like a pricked balloon as the fight and confidence drained out of us and the last twenty minutes was more notable for a mass exit as Brentford supporters left in droves, shocked, horrified, confused, infuriated and let down by what they had seen and, sadly, many of those who were left turned upon each other and the players too who were subjected to vitriol and insults as the game dragged on to its by now inevitable conclusion.

Such is the reaction however unacceptable and unattractive when a team loses for the ninth time in its last twelve Championship matches and subsides to a comprehensive and embarrassing defeat to its local rivals who quite frankly barely had to break sweat to beat us, so eager were we to help them given that all three goals came gift wrapped with a bow on top.

Effort and passion there most undoubtedly was – at least for the first three quarters of the match, but we played exactly like the team we have become over the horror show of the past couple of months, one that is desperately lacking in quality, imagination, creativity, pace, craft, strength in midfield, defensive organisation and most importantly, confidence.

Dean Smith took the brave if highly unusual step of leaving both of his two remaining fit, if pallid strikers, Djuricin and Vibe on the bench and playing Alan Judge up front on his own in a new 4-1-4-1 formation. The main thinking behind this move was to encourage the nimble Judge to run at the man mountain Clint Hill in the home defence. Perhaps Smith also intended a coded message and that this move, which quite frankly smacked of desperation, was also a cry for help to the two Co-Directors of Football and an acknowledgement that we currently do not possess a striker worthy of the name and that none of them merit a first team spot.

Judge did his best but was a fish out of water and he was never really able to hold onto the ball in order to create things and give his defence some respite particularly when far too many passes aimed at him were fired at his head rather than directed to his feet. His influence was sorely missed elsewhere as our main creator of goal chances and it has to be said that the experiment did not work and contributed to our defeat although Vibe was typically weak, anonymous and infuriating when he was finally introduced as a second half substitute.

Alan McCormack made a welcome return in front of the back four and helped shore us up and for a time appear more solid but he must accept some of the blame for the crucial opening goal when the dangerous Hoilett picked the ball up on halfway and was allowed to drift towards our goal as we simply backed off him. McCormack belatedly thought about making a challenge but criminally pulled out and allowed Hoilett to pass unscathed and, left in splendid isolation, the winger had the ability to curl a sublime effort into the top corner of the net. If you give a good player time and space he will punish you.

The game turned on this moment as the home team was energised and reinvigorated by a moment of sheer quality and noticeably went up a gear and after that near miss from Woods our heads went down and our challenge faded.

Dean Smith now appears to be simply rearranging the deckchairs and desperately trying to find some semblance of a structure or shape from the same small, ever diminishing and underperforming squad of players. We are quickly disintegrating into a rabble and are quite frankly in free fall and his face is taking on an increasingly haunted look as he seeks some answers and solutions which continue to elude him.

Whether the manager deserves criticism for not managing his limited resources better and ensuring that we at least put in a decent shift and make the most of what little we have is open to question. Comparisons at this stage with Lee Carsley are both pointless and invidious.

There is no appetite within the ownership of the club to make another change at this juncture of the season and such a move would be totally unjust and make us a laughing stock given that Smith has not been able to introduce a single new face while losing three key members of his squad as well as seeing the injury bug begin to bite deep again.

That being said the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue given that even with Bolton and Charlton seemingly doomed there is still a third relegation place left to avoid as Rotherham’s revival continues unabated.

The thought persists, indeed it is a raging certainty, that we should not have allowed ourselves to get into this situation with an ever worsening spiral of defeats but recriminations are for later, now we simply have to concentrate on the task in hand and do whatever it takes to ensure that we start next season in the Championship. Given our plans and ambitions, relegation is utterly unthinkable but it is looming up on the blindside and could still yet overtake us if we do not take strong and immediate remedial action.

My recent meeting with Phil Giles left me excited and reassured about the mid to long term future of the club but I was also extremely concerned about the here and now as it is no use having ambitious plans about squad strengthening in the Summer if we end up having to start next season in League One. The chances of this happening are admittedly still low but increasing by the week and at present it is hard to see where the two wins we need are going to come from.

I understand why we sold players and did not strengthen the squad in January given the exorbitant prices we were quoted for some of our targets but perhaps if you sell high as we most certainly did, occasionally there is the need to buy high too in order to maintain the status quo.

I think that our current fall from grace has taken the senior management totally by surprise and caught them with their pants down and we are struggling to cope with the situation.

Fortune has certainly not favoured us but it is hard to look back at the horror show that has been the story of this year and identify many matches where we were unlucky not to take points. We should not have lost at Birmingham or been beaten by Middlesbrough or even dropped two stupid late points at home to Leeds, otherwise we have very little to complain about and the results and performances speak for themselves.

So what can we do? Is there any potential salvation from within our current resources? I do not expect to see Colin or Macleod again this season and have no expectations of Hofmann once he recovers from injury. The only potential ray of hope is Scott Hogan, which shows just how desperate we are, as untested and half fit though he undoubtedly is, I would hope that he is given a place on the bench next weekend for what is now a crucial clash against Blackburn Rovers.

Perhaps his return would give us all a boost and fillip although it would be patently unfair on him to see him as our potential saviour. He is, however, enthusiastic and hard running and would provide us with an injection of energy and he is also untainted by the cloud and gloom that surrounds the team at present.

We need fresh faces and belatedly I am now certain that stringent efforts are being made to bring in short term reinforcements in time for next Saturday. We will need to take a deep breath and temporarily at least ignore our principles and accepted modus operandi.

Think about the likes of Bidwell, Schlupp, Berahino, Forshaw, Harris, Trotta, Pritchard, Toral, Swift, Long and Canos and they all had something in common being young, promising and inexperienced. What we need now are a couple of players who have been around the block a few times, battlers who know and fully understand the demands of the Championship and can lead and inspire our faltering squad as well as provide a spark in front of goal.

It will be difficult both practically and philosophically for us to do so as well as cost us a lot of money currently earmarked for other purposes. I fully expect that some of the war chest ideally being pigeon-holed and conserved for next season will now need to be used in order to pay for players who will probably be earning far more than our current squad. Such is life and we will need to be adaptable and flexible as our salvation is paramount.

Other clubs in and around us have found such players recently and have been able and prepared to pay the necessary wages in an attempt to ensure Championship survival. Blackburn sold their prime asset in Jordan Rhodes but have brought in high quality short term replacements in Jordi Gomez, Tony Watt and Danny Graham, who we will all face next week. Charlton signed Yaya Sanogo from Arsenal, suspended now but a striker who led us a merry dance last week. There is an unsubstantiated rumour going around that we were offered him first but turned him down. MK Dons brought in Alex Revell, Nottingham Forest, Federico Macheda, Huddersfield have just signed Rajiv Van La Parra and most noticeably Bristol City have splurged out on Lee Tomlin and Peter Odemwingie.

I am sure that most of these names will understandably make our Co-Directors of Football come out in hives and not all of them quite frankly, fill me with much too enthusiasm, but much as it pains us to do so, we will need to follow suit with someone of that ilk next week if we want to do absolutely everything within our power to ensure that our precious Championship status is preserved.

I wish our two Co-Directors of Football all good fortune in their quest.

Bragging Rights – 9/3/16

I am fortunate enough to live in a pretty, leafy and quiet road tucked away in a beautiful backwater in North London where the days go by calmly and tranquilly without us being assailed by the constant irritating noise of passing traffic as thankfully it is neither a main road nor a cut through or rabbit run. Neighbours nod politely to each other as they pass each other on the street whilst walking to the nearby shops and tube station and always find the time to stop for a brief moment to enquire about the health of their respective offspring and how they are doing at school or university.

The odd creaking and arthritic labrador or relative bent with age is gently walked up and down the road to get some fresh air and exercise. Nobody pries or attempts to invade each other’s privacy and the nearest we have come to united action was when there was a dispute with the local council over rubbish collections and which of two neighbouring boroughs different parts of the road were situated in.

The residents are an eclectic bunch encompassing a variety of races, ages, backgrounds, creeds and religions, they keep themselves mostly to themselves and rarely reveal anything private or personal.

Imagine my amazement then when the peace was disturbed late in the afternoon of Saturday twenty-fourth of May 2014, a date now indelibly fixed in my fading memory.

I had been watching the Championship Playoff Final between Derby County and Queens Park Rangers and was left reeling from the shock of Bobby Zamora’s last gasp goal with the only shot on target that they managed all afternoon which somehow took the R’s to the Premier League on an afternoon where the Gods most certainly favoured them as they had been totally outplayed and the result was an aberration which quite frankly beggared belief.

The Bees had already secured their place in the Championship and whilst I knew that Fulham awaited us in 2014/15 the real prize was QPR and I was devastated that our prey had escaped us and had been snatched from our grasp in so unfortunate and unfair a manner and that the fates had yet again laughed in our face.

I needed to go for a walk around the block in order to calm down, get over my disappointment and settle my shattered nerves and as I passed a house no more than fifty yards from mine I saw something that still haunts me to this day.

Occasionally some of the local residents celebrate Christmas or Chanukah with a few muted and tasteful external decorations but this was different as the entire outside of this house was covered and daubed from roof to basement with Queens Park Rangers banners, scarves, posters and blue and white bunting. Lights flashed and music blared breaking the customary sepulchral calm and quiet of the neighbourhood and the drive was filled with cars full of raucous QPR supporters celebrating their unlikely achievement.

I had no idea that our street housed a rabid QPR supporter given that we are situated so far away from their heartland and whilst I am by nature a calm and totally law abiding individual my hackles rose and it was all that I could do to restrain myself from giving vent to my frustration and tearing down the decorations which so offended me.

Worse still, they remained in place, although thankfully fading, throughout that long hot Summer and it was not until the season began and it became obvious that Queens Park Rangers were in over their head and totally overmatched in the Premier League and were certain to return shortly from whence they came that they were dismantled at which point I calmed down and finally refrained from thinking poisonous and murderous thoughts every time that I walked past that house on my way home.

I wrote at great length about the longstanding rivalry and history between Brentford and QPR and the reason for the animus between both clubs before our first meeting last October and I was so delighted and proud to be present at what was our first victory over our bitter rivals for fifty years on an evening packed full of pride, effort, energy and passion – all of which was expended by the team wearing red and white stripes.

The entire Brentford team raised its game as every player was well aware of just how much the game meant to every home supporter. Beating QPR was everything to us all and the throaty roar of triumph at the final whistle almost raised the Ealing Road roof. We outplayed and outworked our opponents who strolled through the match and gave a limp and pallid display which seemed to imply that they felt that it was rather beneath them to be forced to sully their hands and share a pitch with a team and a club that was not on their radar and that they thought so little of and that aristocrats like themselves had no need to sweat.

Much has changed for the Bees in the months since that momentous victory. We were then in the midst of a brief but highly successful spell under Lee Carsley when the team seemed well organised, confident and extremely hard to beat. Everybody seemed to understand their role and there was a sense of togetherness with every player working hard to cover his team mates.

QPR rarely looked like scoring bar for two efforts from Luongo just before the break and once Marco Djuricin became an instant Bees legend by timing his run to perfection to convert Alan Judge’s incisive near post cross, our eventual victory barely seemed in doubt as we played out the remainder of the game with total confidence and determination.

This year has seen the Bees crumble and disintegrate and a weakened squad lacking so many of its best players and bereft of confidence and the apparent ability to either score goals or keep them out, is crawling and limping towards the finish line, praying that the games run out before they can be caught up and overtaken by the bottom three.

Despite their victory at Griffin Park last Saturday, Charlton Athletic as well as Bolton Wanderers appear to be beyond salvation but a resurgent Rotherham team, responding brilliantly to the management style of the inimitable Neil Warnock has now won three on the trot and we are beginning to look anxiously in our rear view mirror.

However insipid have been the team’s recent performances, the fans also need to do their bit, particularly on Saturday when just under three thousand Bees will face a hostile home crowd at Loftus Road. It was noticeable just how loud and intimidating the atmosphere was when we played at Rotherham recently as the home supporters provided unconditional support, forgave their heroes for all their mistakes and bayed for free kicks, real and imaginary. Brentford and, of course, the referee wilted under the relentless pressure as we eventually caved in for what could well turn out to be a damaging defeat.

Griffin Park has been like a morgue recently with the crowd seemingly stupefied and reduced to silence or at best groans of anger and disappointment given the horrendous lack of quality of so many of our recent performances.

We are now facing a drama which we can help become a crisis if we continue in the same vein. Of course the team needs to do its bit and at least show some effort, organisation, energy, bite, aggression and determination on Saturday – and some quality too would also not come amiss!

We supporters also have a job to do and we need to take on board the marvellous example of those long-suffering Rotherham fans just the other week. We have to provide a nonstop cauldron and cacophony of noise and simply exhort and encourage our team totally and unconditionally and for the entire duration of the game.

That is something that is well within our gift, everything else is out of our control and we can only hope and expect that Dean Smith selects the right team and game plan and that the players remember just how important this game is and perform accordingly both with and without the ball.

To beat QPR twice in a season, do the double over them and win for the first time at Loftus Road since the ninth of October 1964 would go quite some way towards ensuring that this season is remembered for far more than our recent fall from grace and nosedive towards the nether regions of the Championship table.

Saturday is a quite massive game for a variety of reasons, not least because I want to maintain and extend the bragging rights within my road and make sure that my misguided neighbour knows exactly who is the best Championship team in West London.

Brentford v QPR – The Rivalry! – 29/10/15

The tension and excitement are already building in advance of tomorrow’s local derby against Queens Park Rangers.

Last season’s matches against Fulham were eagerly awaited and anticipated and the celebrations went on long into the night when we completed the double over our near neighbours and joy was unconfined with Jota becoming an instant hero with his two unforgettable last second strikes.

That being said there are many Brentford supporters, in particular those of a slightly older vintage, who look upon the Fulham games as a mere taster for the main course – the clashes against QPR.

Why is that the case and how did the rivalry develop?

The first and most obvious reason is the proximity of both clubs to each other as Griffin Park is a mere four and a half miles away from Loftus Road, as the crow flies.

Families in Acton, Ealing and Chiswick would grow up either as Bees or Rangers fans and there was a good natured rivalry with some supporters attending the home matches of both teams at a time when it was less common to travel in large numbers to away games.

As the Bees fell from grace after the war and stabilised in Division Two before dropping to the third tier in 1954 the paths of the two teams crossed on a regular basis throughout the 50s until indeed the mid 60s.

Honours were fairly even and the derby matches at Griffin Park would attract massive crowds of up to eighteen thousand as the two teams competed for local bragging rights.

Transfers between the clubs were not uncommon but there was much disquiet when The Terrible Twins, George Francis and Jim Towers were scandalously offloaded to QPR in a blatant cost cutting move in 1961 at a time when the Bees were desperately shedding overhead when they were staring relegation to the bottom division in the face.

It just didn’t seem right to see two such Brentford stalwarts wearing blue and white hoops after such long, devoted and successful careers in a red and white shirt.

There was also a swop of wingers in which we sent the veteran George McLeod to Shepherd’s Bush and received the enigmatic Mark Lazarus  in return.

Initially we seemed to have got by far the better part of the bargain as the Kosher Garrincha was an effervescent ball of fire who rampaged down the right wing and celebrated his goals with his own individual lap of honour and then by shaking hands with members of the crowd. He became an instant hero with the Brentford fans but apparently fell out with the club after a petty dispute over a bonus payment that he felt entitled to. As a man of principle and also not one to argue with given his membership of a famous East London boxing family, he returned in high dudgeon to Loftus Road where he helped inspire Rangers to a League Cup victory and two promotions.

The ill-feeling and antipathy were raised to a fever pitch when early in 1967 at a time when Brentford were languishing in Division Four and an effervescent Rodney Marsh inspired QPR team was scoring one hundred and three goals on its way to winning the Division Three Championship and League Cup double, news broke totally out of the blue that plans were afoot for QPR to take over Brentford and move to Griffin Park with the Bees disappearing into oblivion.

Dennis Signy was General Manager at Brentford before later joining QPR and he was a close bystander to the entire shenanigans. He was interviewed many years later for the Vital QPR website which I would like to thank for reproducing extracts from his interview where he reminisced about the incredible happenings of that time:

The biggest story of my career over sixty years in newspapers and football came in 1967 … the QPR bid to take over Brentford.

The headline story went round the world yet, strangely for me, I did not write a word on the subject. I was General Manager of Brentford at the time – in fact, I started the whole saga.

It was a chance remark I made to QPR Chairman Jim Gregory that sparked off the soccer sensation of 1967. Billy Gray was my team manager at Brentford – having turned down an offer from Alec Stock to join him with Rangers – and he and I were standing in Ellerslie Road waiting for my wife to arrive for a game against Carlisle United, when we saw Jim.

The previous Saturday Bernard Joy, the famous ex-centre half who wrote so authoratively over the years for the Evening Standard, had produced a feature on the old theme of ground sharing and had linked Brentford and QPR as logical clubs to tie up.

Jim asked: ‘How many do you think we’ll get tonight?’

I told him: ‘I don’t know – about eighteen thousand. If you were playing at Griffin Park you’d get thirty thousand.”

From that casual remark we progressed to a discussion on Joy’s ground-sharing theme and, when Jim Gregory said that he might be interested in pursuing this further I said I would mention it to my chairman, Jack Dunnett, Brentford’s MP chairman.

I did – and that started the train of events that led to the eventual take-over bid. The two chairmen went into the appeals of ground-sharing but moved on to discuss the possibility of Rangers buying the Brentford ground  whose capacity at the time was thirty-eight thousand.

Various idea were thrashed around by the two wealthy chairman, including Brentford using Griffin Park on alternate weeks as tenants of Rangers.

I remember sitting in on some of the preliminary discussions as a modestly paid journalist who had moved into football management and knew more about headlines than balance sheets. I did understand, though, that both clubs were losing money heavily.

I was fascinated hearing sums of thousands and hundreds of thousands of pounds being bandied about between the Mayfair solicitor who was my chairman and the self-made millionaire from Rangers.

It was like Monopoly – with real money. I used to smile at being asked to intervene with important decisions.

The discussions evolved into this: – Rangers were to buy Griffin Park for two hundred and twenty thousand pounds and were to sell Loftus Road to the council for three hundred and ten thousand pounds. The ninety thousand pound surplus was intended to be used to improve Griffin Park. I was to be in publicity and fund-raising projects.

What was not known even when the story broke in the newspapers and on radio and television was that the two clubs were UNDER CONTRACT. After the breakdown of the merger talks Jim Gregory had proposed to Jack Dunnett: ‘We’ll buy you out, shares, ground, the players, the lot’.

The deal was announced with Alec Stock to be overall manager and Billy Gray and Bill Dodgin the coaches. 

The Daily Mail headlined: “Fans call it a sell -out”. The Daily Mirror: “Goodbye, Brentford” .

The next crowd at Griffin Park was a best-of-season ten and a half thousand and the fans left us in no doubt what they thought of the idea. “Who done it? Dunnett dunnit” was the poster I remember.

To cut it short, it never went through and I resigned some weeks later and Billy Gray followed me out of Griffin Park when Dunnett handed over to new chairman Ron Blindell.

Would it have been such a bad thing? I recall Alec Stock’s words: “This would be a great thing for us. If agreement is reached it will mean that we have a first-class ground for what is already a first-class team”. Jim Gregory said: “Economically it was a good proposition for Rangers”.

That is the whole point – it was a wonderful deal for QPR and one that would have brought about the end of Brentford FC.

Now does everybody begin to understand why there is now such antipathy felt by so many Brentford fans towards our neighbours from Shepherd’s Bush who were actively plotting to kill us and put us out of business less than fifty years ago?

What is far worse is that the whole appalling idea was welcomed by our own Chairman, Jack Dunnett, who was looking for a way out of the club after he became the Member of Parliament  for Nottingham Central after the 1964 general election and his extravagant expenditure on players over the previous few years had failed to pay off with the anticipated reward of promotion to the top two divisions.

A couple of years ago Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I interviewed Jack Dunnett who although aged ninety-one was spry and fit with a handshake like a vice and here are his detailed recollections of what happened after the news was made public:

I did consider the views of the fans and I said that I would hold some public meetings. I’d seen enough of football supporters to know that it would be seen as a very unusual move but it had a lot of economic benefits.

I did have some misgivings so I called a public meeting and around a thousand people turned up. I’d already announced what it was about and I’d made it clear what we were considering. At the meeting, the fans wouldn’t have it and in fact it got so bad that I had to tell Denis Piggott to call the police and twelve policemen came to the ground to rescue me. I really did feel threatened.

I went onto the pitch with a microphone but I wasn’t really able to get my message across. It was very difficult. With hindsight, I might have suggested that the supporters should have selected a small group of representatives to come and speak with me. I remember Peter Pond-Jones, he was a difficult man. He just didn’t even want to consider the idea.

The reaction of the fans did surprise me somewhat because here I was, in good faith, trying to do something which would give the club a future. I think I was right too – how many times since 1967 have Queens Park Rangers not been in the top divisions? Within ten years Jim was in the First Division and finished second, they were in Europe and did fantastically well. If the amalgamation had gone through, Brentford would have been swept up in that.

I didn’t really care about whether QPR would have taken up more of the new club than Brentford – we’d have still been playing at Griffin Park. I wouldn’t have been Chairman of the new club as that would have been Jim Gregory. I’d have been a director. My objective was to secure a future for Brentford Football Club but without me having to run up and down between Nottingham and London.

I don’t recall that Brentford were losing all that much money at the time. We had a good commercial set-up but we didn’t have a surplus of money that would have enabled us to buy players. We certainly weren’t in danger of going out of business, there’s no way I would have allowed that to have happened.

I don’t think we could have sold the idea to the fans in a different sort of way. I spoke to some supporters after tempers had cooled down and it was apparent that they just didn’t want to be associated with their nearest rivals. Eventually, I could understand that but the main thing for me was to be able to progress through the divisions, to get to the First Division.

The fans seemed to want to rather stay where they were, at the bottom of the Fourth Division, than amalgamate with our rivals and get into the First Division, which I couldn’t understand at the time and still don’t understand. When we started discussing it, it looked to be a good deal to me.

I know that football fans are passionate about their club but to me, doing well means seeing my club go up the leagues and if it isn’t ever going to happen, then what’s the point? In those days, with a slice of luck and if you were well managed, a small club could go right up to the First Division. I proved that with Notts County.

I don’t think I would have benefitted financially. I didn’t care whether I got my investment back or not. I hadn’t paid money that I couldn’t afford and my business was doing well at the time.

Anyway, I was all set to carry on with things continuing as they were and then out of the blue I got a telephone call from Ron Blindell who had been chairman at Plymouth Argyle. He asked if he could see me and when I asked why, he said that he was interested in buying Brentford. He said he thought he could do better with Brentford than he’d done with Plymouth although I’m not sure how he came to that conclusion.

I told him that it would take a good bit of money to move the club on and that he’d also have to buy me out but he said he could find the money. I’ll never forget that we were having a cup of tea or coffee and I told him the figure we were talking about and he dropped his little gold pencil in surprise because the sum was much larger than he’d realised.

But he agreed and it was duly announced and he took over weeks later. As soon as the Brentford fans had made it clear they were against the amalgamation, the deal was dead as far as I was concerned. I didn’t try to push it further. Jim Gregory understood the position too. It had been a great idea though and well-planned apart from agreeing the name for the club but I wouldn’t have gone through with it without Brentford being mentioned in the name.

There is so much that I could wrote about my feelings regarding Jack Dunnett’s words and how they clearly demonstrate his total lack of understanding about how supporters feel and their passion for their club and their determination for it to retain its individual identity. We wanted a Brentford team wearing red and white stripes to be playing at Griffin Park – not some bastard child amalgam.

I will simply let his comments speak for themselves.

On Thursday the twenty-third of February 1967, Jack Dunnett resigned as Chairman and a new board, headed by Ron Blindell, assumed control of the club, with Blindell’s personal financial commitment amounting to one hundred and forty-five thousand pounds.

Brentford FC had been saved, not without a massive fight and the efforts of so many unsung heroes amongst our supporters who were determined to ensure their club’s survival. Austerity though was the rule for the next few years as a huge debt had to be repaid and we were forced to operate with a skeleton playing squad.

After 1965/66 when Brentford hammered QPR by six goals to one on the first day of a season that saw the Bees relegated – it’s Brentford innit, our paths did not cross again on the field until the early part of the current century when we played each other for three seasons. QPR were on the upwards slope and established themselves as a top division team, we hovered in the nether regions, simply trying to stay alive.

Occasionally we would sign some of their castoffs and rejects and in return we sold them our shining star in Andy Sinton, thus sabotaging our late season playoff push in 1989. We had a young Les Ferdinand on loan who was a mere shadow of the player he eventually became and other names such as Mark Hill and Mark Fleming will hardly be fondly remembered by Bees fans.

In 2002 we came so close to promotion but fell just short, not helped by dropping two vital points at Loftus Road in the last but one game of a momentous season. Who can ever forget Mark McCammon’s late header bouncing down and then over the crossbar from almost underneath it?

The final nail in the coffin of our relationship was hammered in by Martin Rowlands, for so long a crowd favourite at Griffin Park with his dynamic midfield play. His last couple of seasons were dogged by injury and his performances suffered. He eventually left for QPR on a Bosman free transfer and when his new team narrowly defeated a severely weakened Brentford team by a goal to nil after a tough encounter at Loftus Road he marked the result by goading and taunting the long-suffering Brentford fans by parading in front of them and kissing the Rangers badge on his shirt. This went down as well as you would expect and he has never been forgiven for his actions.

With he exception of two glorious matches at Griffin Park back in 1965 when the Bees scored eleven goals, matches that helped ensure that I became a lifetime Brentford supporter, Brentford versus QPR matches are generally tense and tight affairs with little between the two sides.

It is now fifty years since we last beat what I hope I have clearly demonstrated is the real old enemy and victory tomorrow night would be especially sweet.

Splashing The Cash – Part One – 7/7/15

The news that Brentford had broken the two million pound transfer fee barrier when they signed Danish international defender Andreas Bjelland from FC Twente last week shook me to the core, as I am sure it did every other long-established Bees fan, brought up as I was supporting a club with a well deserved reputation for caution and parsimony in the transfer market.

This is the club that in recent times eagerly snatched the money on offer for star strikers such as John O’Mara, Andy McCulloch, Dean Holdsworth, Nicky Forster and DJ Campbell and replaced them instead with cheap nonentities and journeymen like Stan Webb, Lee Holmes, Murray Jones and Calum Willock. Oh, and in Nicky Forster’s case the stupendously idiotic decision was taken not to replace him at all.

That was then and this is now as the Bees have now paid three transfer fees in excess of a million pounds in the last year for Moses Odubajo, Jota and the aforementioned Bjelland and I suspect that there are more to come too.

In order to highlight just how much our approach towards investing in emerging young talent has changed since Matthew Benham took over control of the club, it is illuminating to look back over the past century and see how our record transfer fee gradually and slowly increased in value with a few blips along the way.

Middlesborough were the first club to pay a four figure sum for a player in 1905 when they signed Alf Common from Sunderland. Brentford took twenty years to match them when they invested one thousand pounds, or forty thousand pounds at today’s equivalent value, on centre forward Ernie Watkins from Southend. This was rightly seen as a massive sum for an impoverished and struggling club, but the gamble paid of as the threat of re-election was averted and he scored a club record twenty-four goals in the following season.

The wonderfully named fullback, Baden Herod, cost fifteen hundred pounds from Charlton three years later but Harry Curtis quickly cashed in on him when Spurs offered four thousand pounds for him in 1929, or one hundred and seventy-seven thousand pounds at today’s value.

Despite Brentford’s meteoric rise in the mid to late 30s the highest fee paid at that time by Harry Curtis was a mere six thousand pounds to Hearts for star striker Dave McCulloch, or just under three hundred thousand pounds in today’s figures. He also provided massive value for money, scoring ninety times for the club in three years and playing for Scotland, before surprisingly being sold to Derby County for a fee of nine and a half thousand pounds – a sum not far short of the then British record transfer fee.

So even at the time of Brentford’s greatest success, money still talked and our star asset was sold and then not properly replaced. How many times since then have we seen that self-same scenario repeat itself?

Jackie Gibbons and Ron Greenwood were brought in soon after the Second World War for eight and nine thousand pounds respectively and both were fine players, and the five-figure barrier was finally broken in 1952 with the astonishing signing of the legendary centre forward Tommy Lawton for an eye watering sixteen thousand pounds from Notts County. Lawton had scored almost a goal per game in twenty-three England internationals, but at thirty-two years of age he was well past his best. He was still a massive attraction though and the chance to watch a fully fledged star saw gates soar, with thirty-one thousand watching his home debut against Swansea. He performed decently on the pitch and became player-manager before a decline set in and he resigned before making a surprise return to the First Division with Arsenal.

Relegation back to the Third Division in 1954 saw the beginning of a near-decade of austerity where the club, particularly under the astute management of Malcolm MacDonald relied upon a conveyor belt of local youngsters and cheap imports from junior football in MacDonald’s native Scotland and transfer fees were a rarity. Despite the lack of investment he twice almost led his team back into the Second Division but fell just short, and with the end of the maximum wage and money in short supply a weakened and depleted squad dropped into the bottom division in 1962.

New Chairman Jack Dunnett blew out the cobwebs around Griffin Park and determined to spend in order to buy the club back to respectability. An all international forward trio of Johnny Brooks, Billy McAdams and John Dick supported by other expensive purchases in John Fielding, Matt Crowe and Mel Scott, reversed the slump and saw the Fourth Division title won in 1963 with a massive ninety-eight goals scored.

John Dick became Brentford’s record signing when we splurged seventeen thousand five hundred pounds on the experienced thirty-two year old Scotland international forward who had been West Ham’s top scorer in Division One just the year before. The football world was bemused at how the Bees had managed to persuade Ron Greenwood to sell him and suspected that the old boys’ network had come into play, but the West Ham manager knew that he had a young converted wing half called Geoff Hurst ready and waiting in the reserves to fill the vacancy upfront!

Over sixty thousand pounds had been spent in the transfer market in order to build a team that won promotion back to the Third Division and the spending did not end there, as within the next eighteen months additional major signings such as Dai Ward, Mark Lazarus, Allan Jones, Chic Brodie, George Thomson, Jimmy Bloomfield, Joe Bonson, Billy Cobb and Ian Lawther took the total expenditure on players since Dunnett took over to a sum in excess of one hundred and fifty-thousand pounds, a figure that would have been significantly increased if an audacious forty thousand pound bid for former international striker Gerry Hitchens, now playing for Torino, had been accepted.

Brentford had gone from famine to feast and to put all this expenditure into context, Dunnett spent the equivalent at today’s prices of over two million pounds on transfer fees, predominantly on a series of undoubtedly talented but in the main, experienced players whose best days had long since gone and who had little or no resale value. Indeed we did not recoup our investment on any of the players who he brought into the club. He gambled on getting the club back into the Second Division but after a narrow miss in 1965 an appalling turnaround saw the Bees back in the bottom division in 1966.

These were the economics of the madhouse and it was a policy that came within a whisker of destroying the club in 1967 when, scenting blood, QPR mounted an abortive takeover bid. Disaster was narrowly averted but we were holed beneath the water line and the next few years after Dunnett decamped to Notts County saw budgets slashed, squad numbers reduced and austerity rule. With priority naturally given to paying off the now massive debt, transfer fees would become a distant memory for the foreseeable future.

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AHEAD 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

Stan Is Still The Man – 22/6/15

SBLike everybody else I was shocked and distressed to hear the sad news over the weekend that Stan Bowles has unfortunately developed a form of Alzheimer’s disease. There was a picture of Stan on his Facebook site celebrating Fathers’ Day and thankfully he looked to be in good spirits. It was good to see him with a smile on his face as he gave such pleasure to untold millions of football fans with his skill, joie de vivre and overall approach to life.

The term genius is thrown around with gay abandon and often applied to merely the very good rather than the rare one-offs and special ones, but nobody could ever quibble or complain at Stan being so described. He had a wonderful career that spanned the best part of twenty years and he played nearly six hundred games, testimony to the fact that he was not a luxury player who picked his games but he loved to play and was a tough competitor.

Immaturity, massive competition for places and some dodgy off-field connections cost Stan the opportunity of early stardom at Manchester City but he rehabilitated himself in the nether regions of the Football League at Crewe and Carlisle and whilst other teams dithered, Gordon Jago took the gamble and signed him for Queens Park Rangers  in September 1972 for what turned out to be a bargain fee of £110,000. Rodney Marsh had long been the idol of all QPR fans who had bemoaned his transfer, ironically to Manchester City, of all places, but Stan proved to be the perfect replacement and became an instant hero at Loftus Road and the hallowed number ten shirt soon had a worthy new owner.

Stan stayed seven years at QPR and was in his pomp during that period, but despite his ability and consistency and excellent goalscoring record he failed to convince successive England managers of his temperament and played only five times for his country – a terrible waste of talent and an indictment of the cautious and puritanical establishment running the game at the time who could not cope with free spirits like Stan. He joined fellow mavericks such as Frank Worthington, Alan Hudson, Charlie George, Peter Osgood and Tony Currie who were treated with suspicion and never fulfilled their undoubted ability at international level.

Stan was not the first footballer to fall out with the mercurial Tommy Docherty and was sold to Nottingham Forest – out of the frying pan, into the fire, where he also fell foul of Brian Clough, ruling himself out of playing in the 1980 European Cup Final. His career looked like it was drifting towards its conclusion when his next move to Leyton Orient left him treading water but he was revitalised and enjoyed one last hurrah when Fred Callaghan and Martin Lange persuaded him to join Brentford in October 1981 for what proved to be a giveaway £25,000 fee.

It was an inspirational move for the club as Stan re-found his enthusiasm for the game and revitalised players and supporters alike with his sparking presence and twinkling feet. Despite his advancing years, he provided marvellous value for money and played nearly one hundred games for the Bees, scoring seventeen times in all and assisting on countless others. He has also gone down in Brentford legend by forming the final leg in what became perhaps our finest midfield trio since the Second World War.

Terry Hurlock was passionate and aggressive and took no prisoners, Chris Kamara was a marvellous box-to-box runner who also provided goals and heading ability and Stan was just Stan. He didn’t do a lot of running, confining himself to the left side of midfield, but he didn’t really need to as the other players did it for him. He simply conserved his energy and sprayed the ball around and cut helpless opposition defences wide open with his rapier-like passes.

The fans adored him and a season’s best attendance of nearly seven thousand crammed in to see him make his debut at home to Burnley. Three days later he pulled all the strings as the Bees destroyed Swindon with a convincing win at The County Ground and he maintained his consistency for the next eighteen months. He also scored regularly, six times in 1981/82 and he managed a remarkable eleven goals the following season when he played over fifty times and laid on goals aplenty for the rampaging forward line of Tony Mahoney, Francis Joseph and Gary Roberts although sometimes he was too clever for them and they could not read his intentions.

Stan could seemingly do anything on the pitch, he was the complete master of the football and his left foot was like a wand. He scored eleven out of twelve times from the penalty spot, languidly strolling up and sending the goalkeeper and the crowd behind the goal one way before stroking the ball effortlessly into the other corner of the net. I still cannot believe that he actually missed one kick and remain sceptical, as no photograph seems to exist of that rare happening one Friday night at Wrexham. Would that he could provide some expert tuition in the long lost art of penalty taking to the hapless Brentford players of today who seem to find the task of scoring consistently from the spot totally beyond them.

Not content with that, Stan also produced his party piece of scoring direct from a corner kick against Swindon and he was naturally deadly from long-range free kicks as Wimbledon’s Dave Beasant could attest. Stan was a star and you simply could not take your eyes off him, but he also mucked in and was just one of the lads and was universally popular with everyone at the club. There were no airs and graces, he always played to win and gave everything that he had rather than merely going through the motions and playing only when the mood took him.

Stan provided full value and lit up Griffin Park with his wonderful ability and ever-present smile and the fact that he had been a hero at our massive rivals QPR was soon forgiven and forgotten as he so obviously gave everything to the cause throughout his spell at Brentford. He is fondly remembered by everyone associated with the club and we all salute him and send him and his family our best wishes today.

Final Cover 020615

Ahead 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, 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