I wrote an article just the other day about my growing concerns about the increasing amount of foulmouthed abuse that the team and individual players and indeed the Brentford management are increasingly being subjected to both at matches as well as on social media.
It is a subject that I feel extremely strongly about as I fully support the right of all people to express their opinion but only if it is done in a reasonable manner, and I think that most sane and sensible people fully understand and realise when the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour has been crossed.
I also fully accept that football is a passionate game that stirs the emotions and fans can quite easily lose momentary control in the heat of the moment particularly when, as is the case at the moment, the team is neither playing well nor winning games.
Frustration, fear, confusion, disappointment and anger are an intoxicating brew indeed and can well lead to behaviour that in the cold light of day would be deemed well out of character.
That though is not to excuse it and some of the aggression and comments that I have either witnessed or read recently are, in my opinion, totally beyond the pale and serve only to further break the crucial bond between the team and the fans, and indeed create divisions between different factions of supporter at a time when we all desperately need to be pulling together.
The time for inquests is surely at the end of the season, or when our fate is finally sealed, and not now at a key point in the season when we need to be united and act in concert to support the team unconditionally and do whatever we can to help ensure that we get over the line unscathed by obtaining the points required to ensure our Championship survival.
I was not sure what reaction my initial comments would receive and whether I would simply be seen as out of touch and a dinosaur but the article seems to have touched a cord amongst many Brentford supporters, young and old who all contributed their views on this difficult and emotive subject.
Edward Coleman also had an upsetting experience at Loftus Road last Saturday:
I was sitting in the lower stand with my fifteen year old daughter and was appalled. When I have been at previous way games it has been noisy but with an element of humour. This was just nasty. It was reminiscent of an English Defence League rally (I am not saying this flippantly as I was caught up in one several years ago.)
I live in South Ealing where Fulham and QPR fans are mixed in with Bees and I do not hate my neighbours. Whilst I am a newish fan (I got back into football because my daughter is football mad) I am not some sort of prude. I have worked in nightshelters and used to work in adult mental health. We sit at home in Braemar Road because both of us enjoy the adult repartee. I met another local fan who was at the match with her daughter and she also found it very frightening.
Steve was far more succinct and forthright in his comments:
Well said Greville. Keep this blog as a beacon of sense as elsewhere there is madness.
Regarding the insults, seeing men in their forties screaming abuse at teenagers playing football does make me wince. How do they think it is either acceptable or likely to help the players?
More of the same from Lew:
You’ve touched upon something that’s been aggravating me for a while but I’ve not fully been able to vocalise it. As a group we’ve been split into two rough groups for ages: keep the faith or go back to how things were, we’ve stopped getting behind the team and started looking for excuses. But that lack of unity in the stands is just as important a factor as the lack of consistency on the pitch. It would be excellent if everybody modified their opinions and just cheered as one on Saturday.
Wise words indeed and I totally endorse his analysis of the situation.
Simon Pitt took a different stance:
Last season we finished fifth and were told by Matthew Benham that the club needs to be taken in a different direction to make us more competitive with big clubs with more resources in the championship. Finishing fifth to me suggest we are going in the right direction and so (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) why the need for change? If we finished in the bottom half or survived a relegation battle then fair enough.Every player and athletes in general thrive to reach the top of their sport and those players of last season must have known how close they were to achieving their goal of playing in the Premier League.
Matthew Benham’s vision should have been put on hold and encouraged the players and manager to give us one more year. I fully respect Matthew Benham and understand his philosophy, but he got the timing wrong. Mark Warburton obviously had huge respect from the players and I’m sure that if he had stayed so too would have the players. A couple more signings and I’m sure we could have done it this year. This is why the fans are so angry, frustrated and mystified as to what has been going on and so normal placid fans are making there feelings known.
When I asked Simon if he felt that the manner and way in which disappointed and disgruntled supporters are currently making their views known is acceptable and if he agreed that it was just making things far worse rather than helping as the extreme negativity being expressed so unpleasantly is driving us all further apart and polarising us rather than bringing us all together, he replied:
No I don’t think it’s acceptable but it goes on at most grounds up and down the country and will never change and there is very little that can be done about it. If people are offended then stop going and choose a different sport to follow.
I understand his frustration but cannot accept that the end justifies the means and that we should simply ignore the problem, put our head in the sand or simply stop attending matches and let the idiots win.
Rob shared my view:
Greville, great blog as always and I totally agree one hundred percent. Although we qualified for tickets quite early in the process we as a family passed up on the QPR game. My eleven year old hates football at the best of times but surrounded by a Bees mad Father, Mother and elder brother he has to put up with it. However various away games this season (and last) really have put him off away games. The vile verbal abuse seems the best we can resort to rather than creative singing and chanting to try and raise the team.
I recently attended the Brighton versus Sheffield Wednesday game, midweek, rubbish weather and to be honest very poor football. But over fifteen hundred Wednesday fans, no matter how poorly they were playing, not only stood as one throughout, but sang their hearts out in encouragement – even when the simplest and most basics of mistakes were being made by their team. Compare that, and I do understand we are at the other end of the table, to the abuse dished out not just at away but also home game to individuals in our team.
For thirty-nine years I have watched good and bad performances and players (more bad than good I’m afraid) but never feel it is either our right, nor correct that players should be abused or booed. The trouble it would seem is with the relative success over the last few years or so, those thirteen to fifteen year olds who started with their fathers as supporters are now sixteen to eighteen year olds who believe in a culture where they feel through social media it is their right to verbally abuse and insult not just the players, but management, coaches and owners.
They spout off regarding team selections, who should be sold and who should be sacked all in the strongest terms and yet then in the next sentence complain how tough their A-Level homework is! They have no experience of life and yet feel they know all there is to know about running a football club (and much more!) and engage their brains without any due consideration to the impact of where they are saying.
The next best thing in their mind is launch into vile, personal and disgusting abuse. Those older should know better, but they are role models for those younger who without any consideration to their actions don’t really care about much else than themselves.
It is not my intention to point the finger at all within their age bracket, but the same bunch that demand immediate gratification and believe it is our God given right to win promotion season after season are the same ones who sometimes make me ashamed to be a Bees fan.
John Hirdle has also seen and heard more than enough:
An excellent article as ever and something that i think has been waiting to be said by somebody for a while now. It is the way of the world these days though and sadly I don’t see it changing any time soon. I am old school like yourself and do find some of the vitriolic stuff rather distasteful I must say. We are all frustrated and angry at what has happened over the last year and our current spectacular nosedive. None of us, including myself, are exempt from letting our frustrations boil over from time to time, but there is a fine line between momentary passion-led shows of disappointment and personal targeted vile abuse which gets us all nowhere.
I used to love standing amongst the younger lads at away games and having a good sing song. But in recent seasons I must say I deliberately make sure I book seats well clear of the back of the stands and most of the smoke bomb idiots. It was the main reason I chose the Upper Tier at Loftus Road on Saturday as I knew I would be amongst more reasoned people.
I don’t by any means label all of our younger lads with the same tag as I personally know many and they are good guys, and indeed some of my own generation and older are just as culpable of foulmouthed and offensive behaviour. Maybe it is just bigger crowds brought about by the success of recent seasons and you notice it more, but I, like you, have become more aware of the less than savoury minority element of support we now have both at games and across social media. Or maybe I am just getting old?
Rebel Bee was characteristically hard hitting and forceful in his comments:
Some of the stuff that went on on Saturday really wasn’t good and it is completely right and fair to raise it in your fine blog. But with huge respect to you and other posters I am going to try to offer some mitigation and push back a touch. Rangers fans were dishing it out to us all day and it wound a few Bees up before and during the game – getting spanked by them brings out the worst in people, and I too had to walk out before the end to avoid losing the plot. Is it right – no, but we are watching football not rugby – football people and its culture is different – warts and all.
As to aggression between Bees fans, I’ve seen this a few times and it is sad to see, trust me it is coming from both sides of the argument over the club’s deteriorating fortunes. People have invested in our big new ambitions massively, many are confused, anxious and angry at the way this season has been conducted.
By the way this part of a far wider football issue than you may think, I’ve heard of Arsenal fans turning on each other recently – and the same at many other clubs. We invest more than ever in support of our team and I don’t just mean in monetary terms.
You reference Rotherham – sure, but they are as mean and hostile a bunch of fans as you’ll find on their day, this has been lacking at Griffin Park this season because we don’t have a unified cause or purpose and aren’t pulling together – but they are not a group of librarians – trust me.
Where I strongly agree is the use / misuse of social media. It is easy to be really offensive when you are anonymous or don’t face your victim. It is a societal problem though, often football fans get blamed for things that go on and are worse in wider society – it’s always been that way since I’ve been around. We all used to go to the pub to let off steam and say what we needed to say in a confined space. Now people jump on to Twitter and most regret if afterwards.
Whilst it may not be ideal, football fans come from all backgrounds and types of upbringing, some are more articulate than others. It doesn’t mean that really bad behaviour should be blindly tolerated, but it should also not be forgotten that it has always been the game of the working class. Fan culture and tribalism are aspects of all that we love, some times it boils over and is ugly.
Finally there is a risk that we allow the narrative to shift over our club’s failings this season, and move the root cause so that it becomes the fans’ fault for being so negative. I see this happening already, those that have backed all the big decisions said we’d be fine, and they aren’t so sure now, fair enough but please let’s not put this on our brilliant fans – regardless of their point of view on the big topics. Football fans are always such an easy target.
Saturday was a bad day all round – we move on and hopefully can pull together to get the wins we need to all be able to leave this season behind us – united again.
Red Rose Bee blames matters on the new batch of so-called supporters:
Empty vessels make the most noise and drunken empty vessels desperate to impress their equally empty-headed mates make a great deal of noise. One of the problems of our great success of the past five years is that we have attracted some idiots who have jumped onto the band wagon and who lack the intelligence and maturity to realise that supporting a team like Brentford will inevitably have more downs than ups.
I never saw these characters at places like Scunthorpe, Rochdale, Macclesfield and Morecambe in the very recent past.The only bright side to our present plight and possible relegation is that they will take themselves elsewhere and go and pollute a different club.
Spanish Bee agrees with him:
I think Rebel Bee is making a very valid point here. There is no justification for the behaviour you criticise and from a practical point of view, it doesn’t help the team, so it is self-defeating or to put it another way just stupid. However, changing everything so radically when we had had our most successful season for decades was a very risky thing to do and it has not turned out well. Without going into details, Brentford Football Club has significantly raised expectations and then has fallen very short. We should not blame the fans for this.
Lawrence Bending also puts the blame on raised expectations and the presence of glory hunters:
The sort of bilious hatred on view by some supporters leaves a sour taste regardless of the outcome of the match. I first watched the Bees regularly in 1967 so QPR will never be favourites of mine – but funnily enough – their fans and players are just other human beings. The atmosphere has changed recently due to our relative success, and probably huge disappointment at seemingly throwing this away, has contributed I believe to most of these excesses – it is ironic that if God forbid we are relegated it will largely disappear. For goodness sake lets pull together and concentrate on supporting the team and not abusing the opposition.
beesyellow22 tried to take a balanced view:
I’m sure we would all like for us to beat Blackburn and come together as supporters and a club. Unfortunately I don’t think it will be as easy as that. Yes, a win on Saturday will help, but until survival is guaranteed and there is something positive to look towards next season I think that many will continue to share the philosophy of Simon Pitt (one I don’t completely disagree with myself) and question where the club is actually going and why Matthew was so happy to dispense with the services of our greatest manager in the modern era.
Of course it does not excuse the kind of behaviour that Greville is talking about – but at the same time there is an enormous amount of frustration amongst supporters, surely borne out of a perception that so much of what we have witnessed this season has been self-inflicted.
Yes, it is up to the fans to continue to get behind the team and the manager – but it is also up to the powers that be to give the fans a reason to keep believing. Is blind faith the answer? Sometimes – particularly when you love your club. However, blind faith after ten defeats out of the last thirteen games is a hard thing to muster.
Jim Levack is also fed up with the behaviour he has witnessed:
I totally agree with Greville’s take on the unfortunate civil war that seems to be enveloping the club and its supporters.
I have had, at times, quite heated disagreements with some close Brentford supporting friends since Mark Warburton left the club so I know how easy it is to become embroiled in an exchange of views.
The common theme among these rows is passion, we are all passionate about our club and passionate about how we feel the current slide can be arrested.
Last week against Charlton I watched one player – I think it was Sergi Canos – chase a lost cause. He didn’t win the ball but was roundly applauded. If Brentford fans see total effort they respond. if they don’t they won’t.
We want the people running the club to be as passionate as we are, but currently the lack of action in strengthening the squad gives the impression – most likely a false one – that they don’t share our passion. To my mind they have forty-eight hours to allay fears by bringing in at least two loan players to freshen things up and give Dean Smith a fighting chance of putting his mark on the side. If they don’t their actions could be considered as bordering on negligent.
Whatever happens though, in-fighting – however satisfying it might be in the short term – will do more harm than good to our chances of staying up.
Bernard Quackenbush made a pithy comment:
One of the things I hate about the modern game is this practice of abusing others quite mindlessly and then excusing it by referring to it as banter.
Finally, Garry Smith gave his measured view from afar:
I have been moved to contribute by the current situation and the very raw tones of all your contributors of late (dare I say many of them in panic at the potential loss of a league status that all but the most recent of supporter recruits have yearned for, for a long peiod of time.)
I will re-iterate my previous assertion that whilst used by many generations, social media is the younger person’s preferred (if not only) avenue of communication and that a fair amount of these critics are the very same recently attracted supporters that only know the successful Brentford, we need these young blood supporters as they are the future, but we must understand they are trying to compete with their peers who support Premier League teams who they can support via television and the internet and therefore these supporters are far more frustrated with their first period of hardship than us who have seen it all before.
I am not sure what the driving force behind the older generation of critics is, maybe they have always been critics (and maybe always had poor performances as a reason to be) or maybe they too are recent recruits. Maybe the in-fighting is an attempt by the hardened critics (who are really loyal supporters) not liking the attitude of recent critics, I don’t get it anyway, because a supporter is allowed to moan but should never be in a big enough minority to actually affect everybody else!
Here is the nub of why I wanted to contribute again, I am sure that a conscious decision was made by senior management (once the Marinus experiment failed) to bring in a proven English style manager (who likes to play a passing game) with a view of building for next season, it was felt that enough points (no small thanks to Lee Carsley) and enough good players had been accumulated for us to survive and at the same time gain premium prices for players we were never going to find it easy to hold onto, so we could hoard our resources for a real go again next season.
I have always been fully behind this approach, this is the first time we have been in the second flight for two successive seasons in all my fifty-three years of supporting and I KNOW we have Matthew Benham to thank for this, I am sure recent supporter recruits will not fully understand this for the reasons given above.
Unfortunately it has probably been underestimated how quickly and vehemently the fans would turn on senior management, coaches and players. This is contributing to an undermining of confidence in players and coaches alike, which cannot fail to translate itself onto the pitch. Yes I know our current squad has nowhere near as much skill and quality as last season, but I am sure they are a lot better than they are appearing at present.
This is where I would like to make my big plea, please can all supporters reading this, or being influenced by fans reading this, realise we will be in serious trouble if we do not all pull together very soon. I will harp back to Martin Allen again, whose contribution I will never forget, One man pulled everybody together by being positive. We can only pull this around by being together – the negativity, in-fighting, criticism of players, coaching Staff and management, can only harm our chance of remaining in this division until we restrengthen our squad.
Please, please, all pull together and encourage the players, staff and each other, even (or maybe especially) when we don’t always do things well, this is real and it is now. We have enough winable games left if we all get together and pull in the same direction.
Go On You Bees !!
I cannot end this article on a better note than with Garry’s rousing rallying call.
Peter Lumley has been a regular contributor to this column recently and his razor sharp reminiscences of over seventy years of watching the Bees are always welcome and of great interest.
Today he has used the knowledge gained from his professional experience of being a local journalist covering the club and then a public relations practitioner to provide his viewpoint on Brentford’s current PR stance and approach.
Peter, as always, holds strong opinions and trenchant views, and it is perfectly obvious that there is much that has happened at the club over the last twelve traumatic months that has certainly not been to his liking and which has left him feeling angry, concerned and confused.
There has been much debate recently regarding Brentford’s expertise (or lack of it) in communicating with various media outlets – newspapers, radio, television and social media in general. It is a subject that is close to my heart in that I have had the privilege of working on both sides of the fence, so to speak.
My first job on leaving school at the age of sixteen was to join the Middlesex County Times at Ealing as a trainee cub reporter with a special interest in sport. At that age I had already been a Griffin Park regular for six years since my first visit in 1942.
I should point out that the newspaper had a weekly circulation of over fifty thousand copies and covered an area embracing Ealing, West Ealing, Hanwell, Greenford and Northolt – a very fertile catchment area for Brentford fans at a time when the club encountered so many severe financial problems.
One of my primary objectives was to help the club by trying to expand the coverage and gain greater support. I also wrote a weekly column covering a range of local sports activities – similar to a blog in modern parlance. One regular feature of that column was references to Brentford of which at least ninety percent could fairly be described as more than favourable or positive.
Among my many sources of information were a number of players with whom I formed a friendship and who were always interested in what I had written about their performances and those of their team mates. And I can honestly claim that I never betrayed a confidence nor did I compromise their relationship with Griffin Park officials.
For all these reasons I looked forward to establishing a close working relationship with senior club officials to share in a common cause. But subsequent events proved otherwise. There were two local newspaper rivals at that time. One was the iconic George Sands, of the “Middlesex Chronicle” a lifelong bachelor who devoted much of his life to Brentford and covered every Bees game, home and away for season after season. The other was Ernie Gifford, of the “Brentford and Chiswick Times”. Both gave the impression that they watched Brentford through red-and-white tinted spectacles.
This quite naturally endeared them to the Brentford management, particularly the club’s General Secretary, the late Denis Piggott, who was also General Manager/Secretary for a brief period. And it was this fact that led me into my first confrontation with club officialdom. Regularly on Thursday mornings I phoned Mr. Piggott to try and glean any information of potential interest to my readers before going to press later on in the day.
Invariably Mr. Piggott was less than enthusiastic about giving any information away even though he was well aware that my intention was to try and whip up interest among potential supporters for the next match.
Mr. Piggott seemed much more interested in complaining about any criticisms I had levelled against Brentford performances in the previous week’s edition. The fact that I had significantly extended the coverage of Brentford games went utterly unappreciated.
On one very memorable occasion, when I had written an article that club officials took particular exception to, I walked across the Braemar Road forecourt to be confronted by the then manager, Malcolm MacDonald, who threatened to punch me on the nose if I ever repeated the perceived offence.
And my alleged criticism that caused so much consternation would look like praise compared to some of Greville’s critiques of recent Brentford performances, particularly the one at Brighton!
But one Brentford Official who did appreciate the extra coverage given to the Bees, warts and all, was the late, great, Eric White who for a number of years acted as the club’s Press Officer. We became firm friends right up until his sudden and untimely death.
Another was no less than Mr. Jack Dunnett, who as Club Chairman invited me and other journalists to his luxury home for a pre-Christmas party for players and club officials. Mr. Dunnett was later to become a villain among Griffin Park fans as he prepared to sanction a takeover by West London arch rivals, Queens Park Rangers.
Fortunately the club was saved from extinction by another wealthy benefactor, Mr. Ron Blindell who succeeded Mr. Dunnett as Club Chairman. Mr. Dunnett later moved to Nottingham on becoming their Member of Parliament.
My years covering Brentford games spanned the years 1948/64. It was a period that produced an exciting but nerve-racking roller coaster of a ride but was also dramatically newsworthy for a young local journalist.
1) There were two relegations from the Second Division to the Fourth and promotion back to the Third.
2) The retirement of that great manager, Mr. Harry Curtis, who in the pre-war days took Brentford from the Third Division to the First.
3) England international Leslie Smith, hero of Brentford’s two-nil victory over Portsmouth in the London War Cup Final at Wembley in 1942, returned to Griffin Park for a short spell on being released by Aston Villa.
4) Perhaps my favourite player of all time, Ken Coote, completed more than 500 appearances for the club.
5) The defection of two of the stars of that wonderful half-back line of Tony Harper, Ron Greenwood and Jimmy Hill.
6) The great Tommy Lawton was Player/Manager for a brief period.
7) The skill and artistry of wonderful players like Johnny Brooks, Peter McKennan, Johnny Rainford, Dai Ward and John Dick.
8) Starlets Peter Broadbent and Jimmy Bloomfield, plus the Terrible Twins Jim Towers and George Francis, who were both so deadly in front of goal were all transferred, much to the dismay of every Griffin Park fan. How we could do with two strikers of their calibre today?
All these events – good and bad – were the subject of detailed analyses in my reports and personal weekly column. But it was my reporting of the various setbacks that befell the club that caused me the greatest heartache in terms of my relationship with the club’s management who appeared to perceive any criticism in a local paper as an act of disloyalty.
As an aside, it was my experience as a journalist that led me to encourage a school friend of one of my stepsons to follow his dream of becoming a sports journalist. He is none other than Neil Ashton, the Daily Mail’s brilliant award winning soccer correspondent, who also has his own regular Sunday morning slot on Sky TV.
Back to the debate on how the club should handle criticism from the Press.
A number of contributors urge the club to hire the services of a professional PR practitioner with the specific responsibility to improve the image of Brentford among the various Press outlets and to the UK football community at large.
I take a contrary view based on my experience spanning some twenty years of working for an organisation that represented multi-national companies in an industry that has been regularly been under the media spotlight and has been the target of much criticism – the pharmaceutical industry.
I make these points to put into some sort of perspective the demands placed on such organisations to represent themselves to the press in the same way that football clubs, in general and Brentford in particular seek to influence media and public opinion.
My experiences convinced me that while PR practitioners have a role to play in routine press relations activities, organisations should always seek to rely on a chief or senior executive to step up to the plate and appear on television or radio to put the case on behalf of their club or company. They will always command more authority and credibility than is possible with a slick smooth-talking PR man or woman.
A good example of this was when Brentford’s joint Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles, gave an interview to explain the club’s position on bringing in new players (or not!) during the recent January transfer window.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone agreed with me but, on balance, I believe his contribution was appreciated by a majority of those who saw it.
In conclusion, I would like to mention a particular hobby horse of mine. I fully appreciate that benevolent club owner, Matthew Benham, has always pursued a policy of staying out of the limelight so far as his role is concerned. And, of course, no one should criticise him for that. It is clearly his right to do so.
But I sincerely believe that the so-called “sacking” of Mark Warburton just over a year ago was so controversial that it demanded a much more forthright explanation than was offered at the time by the club chairman on behalf of the owner. And who better to give that explanation to the media, and to thousands of loyal but baffled supporters, like myself, than the man who was the driving force behind the intended change of direction?
With the benefit of hindsight I hope he might be persuaded to give an update on what he, and members of the Board of Directors, believe has been achieved in the last twelve months towards the stated aim of improving the recruitment of better players and coaches.
Another Fans’ Forum could certainly provide an appropriate platform!
Thank you, Peter, for your fascinating insight into the paternalistic way in which football clubs viewed their local paper and the cosy relationship that existed far too often between them.
As for his suggestion and exhortation for better, more open and regular communication between club and supporters, I really do not see how anybody can disagree with him.
From my perspective I always feel that it is fascinating and instructive to hear it from the horse’s mouth from club officials as well as the players, past and present when they are contributing to Bees Player, and it is always illuminating to be made privy to the inside track on what is really going on in and around the club and to how footballers think.
What does everybody else have to say on this subject which is totally relevant given the current circumstances?
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.
I was doing some research in the early hours of this morning and chanced upon the wording of a standard footballer’s contract which I found particularly fascinating reading given the remarkable happenings at Griffin Park over the last twenty-four hours.
I have highlighted a couple of relevant clauses:
Duties and Obligations of the Player
The Player agrees:
when directed by an authorised official of the Club
1. to attend matches in which the Club is engaged in
2. to participate in any matches in which he is selected to play for the Club
3. to play to the best of his skill and ability at all times
4. to undertake such other duties and to participate in such other activities as are consistent with the performance of his duties and as are reasonably required of the Player
Well it would appear that Brentford defender James Tarkowski must be suffering from dyslexia or a reading disorder given his recent behaviour when he informed his manager, Dean Smith that he did not wish to play against Burnley in last night’s Sky Bet Championship match and declared himself unavailable for the fixture despite being selected in the starting line-up.
The net result of his action was to bring about unspecified disciplinary action from the club but also to wreak havoc on team morale and organisation which surely played a major part in explaining Brentford’s spineless first half surrender to a rampant Burnley team which took full advantage of the home team’s ineptitude and total lack of fight, spirit, organisation or apparent ability to win any challenges for first and second balls.
It is all very well partially excusing the player for his actions by claiming that he was poorly advised and was perhaps misguidedly following his agent’s instructions but for me that does not wash. He is not a child but a twenty-three year old man who has shown a total lack of judgement and should surely know better and be able to know his own mind and make more reasoned and sensible decisions. As it is he has painted himself into a corner and made himself a total pariah in the eyes of all Brentford supporters who were previously great admirers of his on-field ability.
Apart from breaking the terms of his contract, Tarkowski’s strategy is incredibly dumb and ill thought through and will have totally the opposite effect to the one desired by him as all it will do is harden attitudes towards him from club officials and make them even more determined that he will not succeed in his effort to leave on his terms.
He has made it patently clear that he wishes to leave the club and ideally return nearer to his roots in the North West of England with last night’s opponents, Burnley, rumoured to be his preferred destination. He would also surely have noted the seriously enhanced wages that his former team mates are now earning higher up the food chain.
Well every player has his price, a statement that is particularly apposite and appropriate at Griffin Park where it has always been made quite clear that we cannot compete with the budgets and deeper pockets of our better heeled competitors and will sell our players should they wish to leave and if, and only if, our valuations are met by the potential buying club.
An offer of around four million pounds plus lucrative add ons from Fulham was apparently turned down for the player right at the end of the August Transfer Window, more I suspect because the club did not want to be seen to be selling yet another major asset at a time when the likes of Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray had already left the club rather than because the sum offered was unacceptable.
That has set the benchmark for him and it is understood that Burnley’s recent offer for Tarkowski is for far less than half that sum and is therefore nowhere near the figure that is being sought by the club.
By refusing to play he is now trying to force Brentford’s hand and stampede them into accepting a low ball offer for his services rather than wait for full market value to be offered by either Burnley or another of several clubs also rumoured to be sniffing around him.
His approach is totally doomed to failure as it is patently obvious that he has neither really thought matters through nor has he properly considered who he is dealing with. In a game of poker I would not expect Matthew Benham or his Co-Directors of Football to be the first to blink.
I fully expect that Tarkowski has bitten off far more than he can chew and that he is certain to follow the fate of Adam Forshaw who also made it clear at the beginning of last season that he wanted to leave the club and was promptly put on gardening leave and not selected again, and crucially was not allowed to leave the club until Wigan finally came up with the goods and offered us near what we were looking for in terms of his value.
A similar fate is surely certain to befall Tarkowski as he has totally burned his bridges and it is now quite impossible for him to play for the club again as the fans would not countenance his doing so and to allow him to win and force a bargain basement transfer would be scandalous and demonstrate that the players rule the roost and that by behaving badly and unconscionably they can force the issue.
Brentford are far stronger and more resolute than that and Tarkowski will now be left to kick his heels, ideally train on his own and, at best, play in the Development Squad until Brentford receive an offer that reflects his full value – however long it takes.
His agent would now be far better employed in drumming up further interest for his client, ideally at a fee level that will be acceptable to Brentford FC.
The current situation, which has been brought about totally by the player’s actions (or perhaps inaction might be a better description) is frankly of no benefit or use to anyone and the sooner it can be resolved the better it will be for all parties, but there is only one way out of this impasse which is for the club to be offered an acceptable amount for him and hopefully that is what will happen within the next fortnight.
Tarkowski’s character is now stained and blemished indelibly and he follows the likes of Gary Alexander into our personal Rogues Gallery and Hall of Shame for his pathetic and unacceptable behaviour.
What he should have done is quite simply follow the example of Alan Judge. He too is rumoured to be the target for several clubs in the Transfer Window, so what did he do and how did he respond?
Well rather than behave in the same puerile, selfish and blinkered manner as Tarkowski, he simply played his heart out and used the televised match against Burnley as a national showcase for his talent and total commitment to the cause. He was Brentford’s best player by a mile, scored a good goal and spearheaded a second half revival that at least regained a semblance of pride for a team that had been totally overrun before the interval and could easily have been trailing by five or six goals rather than just three.
Any managers and scouts watching the match cannot fail to have been impressed by his performance and attitude and we can only hope that he remains at the club until at least the end of the season.
That is how to do it and Alan Judge went up in the estimation of every Brentford supporter for the way he handled the situation last night.
As for the match itself, well there really is not too much to say as Brentford came up against an excellent team that smelled blood, went for our jugular from the first whistle and we were never allowed to settle down into our normal rhythm. Brentford chased shadows and made football seem like a non contact sport given the time and space they granted their visitors who were allowed to show off their ability and run rings around us in the first half.
The second half was a different affair and had the excellent Sam Saunders scored with an unlikely header or Maxime Colin’s shot have brushed the net on the inside rather than the outside of the post then who knows what might have happened as the comeback would really have been on but Burnley were streets ahead of us and fully deserved their comfortable victory.
We have now lost four games in a row and three home matches in less than a week. There is much work to be done as we have performed for only around half of each of our last three games and scored only once.
How we should go about that is for another day. For now I just hope that James Tarkowski is already reflecting upon his behaviour and has already realised that he has totally let his team mates, the Brentford staff and supporters and of course, himself, down by his selfish and inappropriate behaviour – and more importantly, that it will not succeed or get him the result that he desires.
I am going to pose a deep and hopefully interesting and relevant philosophical question to all of you this morning.
What would you prefer to watch, a team that plays with freedom and attacking abandon and entertains and frustrates in almost equal measures, or one that sits back and simply grinds its way to victory?
I suppose it depends if you are a Cavalier or Roundhead in your approach to the game or whether you support Brentford or Birmingham City?
I know exactly where I stand and I will nail my colours to the mast without any delay or prevarication. It would drive me mad to have to watch Birmingham play every week, and that is not to denigrate or decry what they do and how they go about things.
They are supremely well organised and have been perfectly set up by their talented manager Gary Rowett to draw the sting of the opposition, absorb their pressure like a moving sheet of blotting paper and then rely on set pieces, mistakes and the odd fast breakaway to snatch the points.
This they did to perfection yesterday and you have to admire them for the thoroughness, skill and single mindedness with which they executed their manager’s game plan. It worked a treat and Brentford just could not find a way to break through two solid banks of four players determined that nothing should pass them by.
Brentford dominated totally in terms of possession and successful passes but never really got in behind the home defence or created much in front of goal and they subsided to a defeat that does little for their playoff chances.
In many ways the match was a carbon copy of last season’s dreary encounter with the Bees having the lion’s share of possession but doing nothing with it, constantly running into blind alleys, being crowded out and, fatally committing to attack, getting picked off on the break.
Birmingham will look back at a job well done and can also point to a run of three consecutive home wins against Cardiff City, MK Dons and now Brentford so their approach is certainly successful and bears fruit, but would I cross the road to watch them?
Personally, I would draw the curtains if they were playing in my back garden and to me, Birmingham City represent everything that is bad about the game, they are the epitome of anti-football who squeeze all the joy and excitement out of the game and concentrate on boring and frustrating their opponents into submission. They are total parasites and drones who feed upon mistakes and bring very little to the party except solidity and organisation and an ability to carry out their manager’s instructions to the letter.
There is certainly talent within their squad and I suspect that if the shackles were taken off they would still thrive and win their fair share of matches but as things stand I cannot believe that any but the most rabid Blues supporter can honestly say that they enjoy the fare that is being put in front of them.
Maybe I am being naive and results are indeed the total be all and end all, but I suspect that the majority of Brentford fans would share the view of the late, great Danny Blanchflower of Spurs fame in that the great fallacy is that the game is first and foremost about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.
These forty-eight words, in my opinion totally summarise the Brentford philosophy of football, for better and for worse.
There have been many games over the last couple of unforgettable years when we have snatched victory out of almost certain defeat and not allowed games to drift into boring draws, but you have to take the rough with the smooth and yesterday was certainly a perfect example of where we sacrificed an almost certain point and lost at the death when chasing an elusive victory.
In that respect it was almost a replica of the Cardiff match where we fought our way back to equality but refused to settle for a draw and lost sickeningly and frustratingly through a soft goal in the last minute.
Of course we need to defend better and avoid daft and stupid errors and total giveaway goals but otherwise we adopt a policy of risk and reward and it is easy to forget the many times when our positivity has paid off particularly at time like this morning when we are left sulking and licking our wounds.
We were drawn into Birmingham’s spider’s web and were unable to set ourselves free and did not manage a shot on target until late on when we equalised Maghoma’s well worked and well taken goal when he was set free by a clever pass from Toral, was allowed to make an unchecked run into the area with Diagouraga not tracking his run and his instant angled shot beat the previously untested Button at his near post.
Toral should not even have been on the field after his potentially leg-breaking assault on Bidwell right on halftime was punished with an extremely lenient yellow card when his red mist should have been punished with a card of the same colour.
The pattern of the match remained unchanged with Brentford unable to create opportunities or gain a foothold in the final third of the field until Hofmann’s arrival in place of the invisible Vibe helped us get up the pitch and gain momentum and cracks finally began to appear in the home team’s previously impassable defence.
Judge was set free on the halfway line and ran unchallenged towards goal with the defenders trailing in his wake. Surely this would be the equaliser, but, shades of MK Dons a few weeks ago and Sheffield Wednesday last season, he missed horribly and unforgivably, blazing over the crossbar with the goal gaping.
That surely was that and I was reconciled to the game drifting towards what seemed an inevitable conclusion but Colin fed Judge and his well hit shot from long range was surely meat and drink for the previously untroubled Kuszczak but he unaccountably fumbled the ball straight to the feet of Hofmann, following in like all good strikers and he couldn’t miss.
Under Uwe Rosler the game would have been closed out and we would have gone away content with a draw, but Brentford do not settle for one point when three are still on the table and we pushed on and fell to a sucker punch when Dean advanced into the final third but telegraphed his pass which was easily intercepted and the home team broke away down our deserted right flank and Vaughan’s cross shot was turned in by Kieftenbeld who had made a positive supporting run, and he beat McEachran to the ball to score a late and totally undeserved and sickening winner.
So what have we learned from yesterday’s defeat, and here I am going to be totally objective and I apologise for any perceived negativity:
- We lack pace throughout the team and are vulnerable to quick breakaways
- We do not track runners and have conceded several avoidable goals recently by allowing players to run into the area unchallenged
- Defenders are caught upfield and we lack cover and numbers at the back when the opposition breaks quickly at us
- We lack bite, height and doggedness in midfield and rarely win a tackle or second ball or impose ourselves upon the game or opposition
- There is nobody prepared to fight and scrap and fight fire with fire
- We do not have a box to box midfielder who can replicate what Douglas did for us when he was in his pomp. Kerschbaumer is the nearest we have but he is patently not yet ready
- We are too well behaved and polite. There is an acceptable middle ground but Birmingham got into the ear of the referee at every opportunity and benefited from his decisions. We stand around like choirboys
- We lack strength up front and the ability to win the ball, hold it up, run the channels and are not at all clinical in front of goal
I make no mention of our approach in terms of never settling for anything other than a win as, firstly, I totally agree with this philosophy as long as we do not go too kamikaze when chasing the win, and secondly, this is how Matthew Benham insists that we play, and nothing will change this, whatever I or any other pundit says.
I fully appreciate that we are nowhere near the finished article and we are limited by our resources but I wonder whether any of the weaknesses noted above will be addressed and rectified in the transfer window?
We are still a soft touch to teams like Birmingham and seem unable to deal with them as this was the third time in a row that they have defeated us and we have to learn some lessons from this as Bolton and Cardiff City were other teams that recently have succeeded in knocking us out of our stride and I am sure that Middlesbrough will not be shrinking violets either when we meet them in the very near future.
Brentford play beautiful one touch football, but we can come unstuck when the pitches are bad or when the opposition simply set up to frustrate or kick us out of our stride. It is all very well being known as the Arsenal of the Championship but we have a soft underbelly and unless rectified this will prevent us reaching the heights that we aspire to.