Brentford’s Top Eighty Goals – 1/1/16

Firstly I would like to wish everybody a very happy and healthy New Year and today I am going to set you all a poser as you gaze weary and bleary eyed at the computer screen and do your best to recover from an evening of excess and a lack of sleep.

We were graced with two goals of pure brilliance from Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos at Reading on Monday afternoon and I am therefore going to ask you all to nominate the best goals you have ever seen Brentford score.

The one ground rule to remember is that we are only talking about quality here and not the importance of the occasion so, for example, a certain Gary Blissett strike at Peterborough in 1992 might not necessarily qualify despite what the goal actually meant for the club.

Given my rapidly failing memory I have only gone back to 1970 so apologies to my older readers although I am happy to consider any nominations for goals scored before that date.

Please can you all provide me with your own favourites and I will put the names of everybody who replies into a draw for a signed copy of my Brentford book, Ahead Of The Game.

So here we go and the goals are all in date order rather than being ranked in terms of actual quality as that would be a mammoth task which perhaps we can all share in the very near future.

  1. John O’Mara’s second goal v Darlington in 1971/72 when he finished off a wonderful flowing move by smashing home a long range effort from a cross from Paul Bence.
  2. Paul Bence’s thirty yard screamer at home to Rotherham in September 1974
  3. An acrobatic overhead kick by Mickey French against Barnsley on his debut in February 1975
  4. Bob Booker curling the ball into the Gillingham net from twenty yards in April 1980
  5. Paul Walker scoring from a well-worked short corner routine at Walsall in August 1980
  6. David Crown’s second goal against Oxford United in November 1980 when he beat three defenders before scoring
  7. Chris Kamara’s looping twenty yard header at Swindon in November 1981
  8. An unstoppable curling free kick by Stan Bowles against Wimbledon in April 1982
  9. Gary Roberts’s thunderous goal against Swansea in the Milk Cup n October 1983
  10. Robbie Cooke’s turn and shot at Bournemouth in the Freight Rover trophy in April 1985
  11. Andy Sinton’s winner against Port Vale in October 1987 when he beat two men, cut in from the left and buried the ball into the top corner
  12. Roger Stanislaus running from the halfway line and scoring from thirty yards (not fifty as popular legend has it) at Fulham in the Littlewoods Cup in August 1988
  13. Roger Stanislaus against Northampton in January 1989 when he combined brilliantly with Andy Sinton and Kevin Godfrey before scoring emphatically
  14. Dean Holdsworth turning on the edge of the box and rifling home an unstoppable drive into the roof of the Walsall net in January 1990
  15. Neil Smillie’s solo goal against Shrewsbury in March 1990 when he ran from inside his own half, jinked past a defender and hit a thirty-yarder into the roof of the net
  16. Dean Holdsworth finishing off a slick four man move with a fantastic volley against Bolton Wanderers in September 1990
  17. Marcus Gayle’s first senior goal with a turn and long range thunderbolt into the roof of the Reading net in October 1990
  18. Marcus Gayle almost breaking the Bradford City net in March 1991 with a thirty yard Exocet after a powerful run
  19. Lee Luscombe’s debut goal against Barnet in the Autoglass Trophy in December 1991 after a slick move which went from one end of the pitch to the other
  20. Lee Luscombe’s solo run and finish at Leyton Orient in December 1991
  21. Lee Luscombe’s outrageous swerving volley from way out on the left wing against Charlton Athletic in November 1992
  22. Gary Blissett’s curler at Derby County in the Anglo-Italian Cup in February 1993
  23. Denny Mundee’s hat trick goal against Bristol Rovers in January 1994 when he hammered home from an acute angle after a mazy run
  24. Robert Taylor’s long range lob against Cambridge United in January 1995
  25. Paul Abrahams running from the halfway line and lobbing the Gillingham keeper from twenty yards in August 1996
  26. Carl Asaba’s winner at Gillingham in March 1997 when he picked the ball up on the left touchline, knocked it over a defender’s head and allowed it to bounce before unleashing a rocket from a tight angle into the roof of the net
  27. Tony Folan’s solo goal at Peterborough in October 1998 when he went on a mazy run, cut in from the wing, left several defenders with twisted blood as he dribbled past them before floating a perfect chip over the keeper
  28. Tony Folan from the halfway line in December 1998 after he picked the ball up on the edge of his own penalty area before lobbing the Cambridge United keeper from fully forty-five yards
  29. A Paul Evans thirty yard angled screamer against Swansea City in May 1999
  30. Martin Rowlands’s solo goal at Bury in August 1999 when he ran forty yards and beat several defenders before scoring emphatically
  31. Paul Evans from behind the halfway line, scoring from sixty-two yards, inside the Brentford half in September 1999 straight from our kickoff against Preston North End with the ball travelling like a shell and still rising as it hit the net
  32. Paul Evans scoring two games later in October 1999 at Burnley from a mere forty yards, taking his effort on the run
  33. Martin Rowlands scoring against Bristol City in December 1999 when he ran thirty yards, beat three players before curling home an exquisite shot
  34. Gavin Mahon’s thirty yard rocket at Bristol City in December 2000
  35. Paul Evans’s chipped Panenka-like penalty kick against Oldham Athletic in September 2001 – pure class
  36. The Ben Burgess swivel and volley from the edge of the area against Brighton in January 2002
  37. Lloyd Owusus’s spectacular volley at Blackpool in March 2002
  38. Steve Sidwell’s perfectly placed lob from thirty-five yards against Stoke City in March 2002
  39. Stephen Hunt’s weaving run and curler against Northampton Town in March 2003
  40. Jay Tabb’s fifty yard solo run at Barnsley in April 2004
  41. The Alex Rhodes solo effort against Bournemouth in May 2004
  42. A searing volley from Kevin O’Connor against Wrexham in August 2004
  43. Deon Burton’s flick over a defender and wonderful finish against Luton Town in December 2004
  44. Deon Burton’s cool finish at Sheffield Wednesday in December 2004 after Alex Rhodes’s solo run
  45. Isaiah Rankin’s thunderous twenty yard volley at Bournemouth in January 2005
  46. Deon Burton’s thirty yard volley against Sheffield Wednesday in February 2005
  47. Michael Turner’s spectacular long range effort against Tranmere Rovers in April 2005
  48. Jay Tabb’s solo run and shot against Hull City in May 2005
  49. Isaiah Rankin’s curling effort at Chesterfield in August 2005
  50. Sam Sodje’s defence slitting pass to Kevin O’Connor who scored against Chesterfield in December 2005
  51. DJ Campbell’s superlative flick up and volley at Southend United in January 2006
  52. Paul Brooker’s outrageous solo goal at Swindon in April 2006 when he ran seventy yards before scoring
  53. Jo Kuffour’s scissor kick against Bradford City in September 2006
  54. Glenn Poole’s swerving volley at Rochdale in October 2007
  55. Glenn Poole’s fantastic volley from a Ryan Dickson corner against Wycombe Wanderers in December 2007
  56. A three man breakaway against Macclesfield in October 2008 which led to a Charlie MacDonald goal
  57. Ryan Dickson’s trickery on the ball before scoring against Accrington Stanley in April 2009
  58. Cleveland Taylor’s headed goal at Southampton in August 2009 after a beautiful dribble and cross by Ryan Dickson
  59. Charlie MacDonald’s midair volley at Oldham Athletic in March 2009
  60. Clayton Donaldson’s goal against Colchester United in September 2011 when he was set free by Myles Weston and scored clinically
  61. Clayton Donaldson’s thirty yard volley at Notts County in October 2011
  62. Saido Berahino’s unstoppable curling effort against Carlisle United in February 2012
  63. Clayton Donaldson’s solo effort against MK Dons in March 2012
  64. Clayton Donaldson’s left foot volley at Swindon from Paul Hayes’s flick on in November 2012
  65. Harry Forrester’s solo run and long ranger against Sheffield United in November 2012
  66. Bradley Wright-Phillips’s header at Crewe Alexandra in April 2013 after a lovely flowing four man move
  67. Shaleum Logan’s cut inside and long range left footed curler at Port Vale in August 2013
  68. The Sam Saunders falling over free kick routine against Swindon Town in December 2013
  69. Adam Forshaw’s instant thirty-five yarder at Crewe Alexandra in February 2014
  70. Moses Odubajo’s goal against Brighton in September 2014 after a perfect Alan Judge through pass
  71. Andre Gray’s powerful run and clinical finish against Wolverhampton Wanderers in November 2014
  72. Jota’s unstoppable angled effort at Cardiff City in December 2014
  73. Jota’s breakaway goal at Norwich City in January 2015
  74. Jota’s pitch length run at Blackburn Rovers in March 2015
  75. Stuart Dallas’s thirty yarder at Fulham in April 2015
  76. Alex Pritchard’s clinical finish at Derby County after a wonderful breakaway move in April 2015
  77. David Button’s perfect assist for Alan Judge to score with an angled shot against Sheffield Wednesday in September 2015
  78. Alan Judge’s breakaway goal at Charlton Athletic in October 2015
  79. Ryan Woods’s long range screamer at Reading in December 2015
  80. Sergi Canos’s trickery and sheer brilliance at Reading in December 2015

It’s FA Cup Time Once More – 8/12/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Pep Talk – 15/11/15

JS53729436Talk is cheap and whilst all the rumours are still unsubstantiated, the fact remains that there is growing speculation that Brentford are closing in on their preferred choice to replace Lee Carsley as Head Coach. Much of the chatter is on social media but the mainstream press has finally joined in the fun too with The Daily Telegraph yesterday naming a new candidate, and one who had not previously been openly mentioned in connection with the club.

According to journalist John Percy, the Swansea City Assistant Manager, Pep Clotet, is in serious contention to take over at Griffin Park. It would appear that any leak has come from the Swansea rather than Brentford end given that Percy is the Midlands football reporter for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and predominantly deals with the Premier League. Indeed only a few days ago, on the ninth of November, he wrote a detailed story about the current state of affairs at Swansea and revealed that their manager, Garry Monk, has effectively been told by the club’s chairman, Huw Jenkins, to agree to changes to the overall management structure of the club or risk losing his job given Swansea’s recent dire run of only one win in their past nine games. It is alleged that Jenkins has suggested that Monk must agree to bring in an experienced coach to assist him and in that regard the name of Colin Pascoe, a Swansea legend and Brendan Rogers’s former assistant at Liverpool, has been mentioned.

Now it emerges that Clotet, whose role at his current club might now be under real threat given the chairman’s apparent ultimatum, could be a serious target for the Bees and has apparently been interviewed by Matthew Benham over the past few days.

Is Percy jumping to conclusions or could there be some – or even a lot, of truth in his suggestion regarding Clotet which has now been picked up by other media outlets in Wales? Perhaps it would help if we examined Clotet’s background and credentials in more detail in order to see if he might fit the criteria required for Brentford’s new Head Coach.

He was born in Barcelona and is still in the first blossom of youth at only thirty-eight years of age. He had a totally undistinguished playing career before earning his coveted Pro License when only twenty-six years of age and took his first coaching role whilst still in this twenties at UE Cornellà before moving to RCD Espanyol’s where he worked with their youth teams. He then joined another local team in UE Figueres but was fired after only nine games as they were relegated from Segunda División B. He subsequently returned to his previous club, still in charge of the youths.

Not the most impressive of starts but all the time he was gaining crucial coaching experience which he then began to use to good effect at Espanyol before he was was spotted by Roland Nilsson at Malmö FF, who won the 2010 the Allsvenskan championship with Pep acting as his assistant. His first major Head Coach appointment then came at Halmstads BK but it ended in disappointment when they finished bottom of the table.

Still he kept moving on and learning and coached at Viking FK before catching the eye at Málaga CF where he began to make his name under Manuel Pellegrini by developing several  young players who would shortly make an impact in the first team.

Swansea City were impressed by what they had seen and in November 2013 Clotet was appointed academy consultant at the club before being promoted to assistant manager in May last year where he has remained ever since as manager Garry Monk’s main confidant and support.

Those are the bare facts which confirm that Pep has packed in a massive amount of coaching experience despite his tender years but we also need to put some flesh on the bones and for that I am going to Mike Calvin who profiled Garry Monk in his excellent recent book on football managers, Living On The Volcano.

Monk spoke extremely positively about Clotet when interviewed by Calvin. Apparently Pep was influenced greatly by the coaches at Barcelona and Johan Cruyff in particular before attending one hundred and sixty training sessions when Louis Van Gaal was in charge of the club in order to analyse the way he set up his teams to maintain possession of the ball. Closet is also renowned for breaking down matches into five minute segments so that he can assess thoroughly what is happening on the pitch and pass on information in real time to Monk. He is quite obviously open minded, thorough, relentless and committed to his role and would fit in perfectly with Brentford’s stats and analysis led approach.

There is talk that he came onto the Brentford radar last year when he was recommended to the club and was apparently considered for the managerial vacancy at FC Midtjylland over the Summer and given the situation at Swansea, it would appear likely that he might well be available and would perhaps not require us to pay compensation in order to acquire his services.

Like the majority of Brentford fans, I would prefer that Lee Carsley remained in post until the end of the season given the way that the squad has responded to him and the renewed sense of togetherness and organisation which has culminated in a series of much improved performances and results, however that does not seem to be an option given that it seems he is determined to leave his position as Head Coach as soon as possible given his total aversion to many elements of the job.

If that is in fact the case then we can only thank him for all his efforts on our behalf and for buying us enough time to make the right appointment to replace him. I would hope that there will still be a role for Lee at the club given his obvious ability but somehow I doubt if that will suit him and his ambitions. Hopefully if and when the new man arrives there will be a hand over period and given his popularity with the players I would anticipate that Paul Williams will be retained as a coach which will help maintain some element of continuity.

I am sure that this coming week will reveal whether or not Pep Clotet is the man for us. He appears to tick many of the boxes for us in terms of his background, reliance on stats and the fact that he has gained a massive amount of coaching experience around Europe given his relative youth. Most importantly, he has worked in England in the Premier League, fully understands the physical demands of the English game and is working at a club that is renowned for its excellent passing and possession based football. How players respond to him is something I am not qualified to answer.

I might be wrong – I normally am – but it would not surprise me if Pep is the man for us and that as long as he can get the players on board and convince them to buy into his methods then we might well have identified a massively impressive candidate who will become exactly the type of Head Coach that we have been seeking .

A View From A Blazing Meteor – 23/9/15

I wrote an article the other day inspired by Sergi Canos’s blistering home debut, about other young players who started off like a house on fire at Griffin Park and then fizzled out for a variety of reasons and never really made their mark.

One of the players I mentioned was 70s striker Richard Poole who has strong views on the subject:

Well Greville your list could go on and on. At the time when I was promoted into the First team I was playing for Brentford FC in the South East Counties Under 18 League against the likes of Chelsea, QPR and Fulham and we always tried our utmost to ensure that those  bigger teams knew that they had been in a game when they came up against the Bees!

As you know I came into the side as a sixteen year old apprentice in February 1974 and just a week later my friend Kevin Harding followed me into the first team. We were coming straight from junior football into a team that had just been relegated to the bottom division the year before and we were fighting a desperate battle to avoid the need to seek re-election. You must remember at that time in the Fourth Division there was no automatic relegation but the bottom club had to be re-elected by its peers and although I do not know the political ins and outs and how the system worked, I still wonder to this day what would had happened to us if we had needed to seek re-election to the Football League. How would our arch enemies QPR and Fulham have voted? Would they have done their best to see us kicked out of the League?

We could not take the chance of that happening so we just did our best to ensure that we finished out of the danger zone. So here we were like new born babies coming into a team that still boasted inspirational veterans like Peter Gelson and Jackie Graham. Kevin and I trained each day with our boyhood idols and we were welcomed with open arms and treated so well along with Roy Cotton, another promising player from the Under 18 team.

Having avoided the threat of re-election we all started the new season with fresh hope and enthusiasm but alas, things did not work out and John Docherty replaced Mike Everitt as manager midway through the season. So here I was with a new manager who had been my team mate when I made my first team debut and who now would sign me as a professional footballer on my eighteenth birthday.

Although I have made it clear previously that I seemed to fall out with him, it was only later on in my life that I realised certain things about that difficult time that I am still unable to put into words even to this day over forty years on.

Yes I did play a few games for him generally in midweek at the likes of places like Tranmere and Northampton and I always tried my best but I feel even now that I was not given a proper or decent chance.

The tipping point came in April 1975 after I came on as a substitute and helped the team to a good result at Lincoln. I was delighted to be named in the team the following week against Southport but was surprised to see that both Roger Cross and Micky French were in the team too. I must confess that I thought that having three centre forwards in the starting line up was bizarre in the extreme.

I did not see much of the ball in the first half and at half time I was replaced by Alan Nelmes – a striker replaced at home by a defender in a match that was still goalless. What did that say about my prospects at the club? No wonder I left soon afterwards! But I still treasure to this day the fact that I played in the red and white stripes of my beloved Brentford and no one can take that away from me.

Anyway before that fiasco, about half way through that season I came to a very difficult decision and asked to be put on the transfer list or even loaned to a non-league side as I just wanted to play first team football somewhere!

We had a reserve team that year and I always gave my best when I played for them but I simply needed to stretch myself and progress. Maybe I was not good enough but I thought I could do somebody a service if they gave me a chance!

Anyway John Docherty refused to let me go and said he needed me. And yet he barely played me and I was frozen out of the reckoning.

Nothing had changed at the end of the season and I was given a free transfer. We played an end of season game against Hounslow and several clubs approached me directly and said that they would come and watch me play as they knew I would be a free agent. This was an opportunity for me to put myself in the shop window and earn myself a decent move.

Little did I know what was in store for me! John Docherty announced the team just before the match and amazingly I was the only one of all the players who had been released not to be given a game. I wasn’t even put on the bench.

I could not believe it and when I spoke to the manager afterwards and told him that there had been clubs there to watch me play all he said was “You should have told me beforehand.”

To this day I do not know if he was scared that I might go to another club and do well and make him look bad, or if he thought I was not good enough to play in the Football League. Eventually I joined Watford although I was also asked to sign for SC Toulon, one of the top teams in France so I must have had something about me!

I still look back at the Brentford Junior team I played in and in my opinion it contained so much ability in the year I made my first team debut but none were retained apart from me and I can tell you I was by no means the best player in that talented side.

When John Docherty arrived we were swamped by a lot of fairly decent young players who he knew from his previous club, QPR, but not many of them lasted long or made any impact at Brentford.

It is a shame that I fell out with the manager and at the time I was a starry eyed kid who was living the dream but I think that today’s young players are not as naive as I was but despite everything I regret nothing and would not change a moment of those incredible five years I spent at Brentford as both an apprentice and as a professional footballer.

When John Docherty became manager I think he had the choice of running either a Youth or a Reserve side and even though I came straight into the First Team from the Juniors i think that not having an Under 18 team was a big mistake. Most of the time we had first team players coming back from injury, some of whom even refused to play in Reserve games.

We were in the Midweek League and going to places like Peterborough or Southend I think was not too enticing a prospect for some First Team players! We also had lots of trialists as well so you never knew who was playing with you from week to week whereas we knew each other in the Youth Team and could develop partnerships on the pitch.

I really think that the club wasted a massive opportunity as there were several talented youngsters who were not really given a chance to impress. Brentford and the management did not know how to bring these players into  the First Team.

John Docherty preferred skilful ball playing players but in the Fourth Division you needed more than that. Just look at some of the players he brought in. Some of the youngsters like Danis Salman did work out but not too many others did.

In my first year as a apprentice with Frank Blunstone in charge the Youth Team felt part of something great in the making and this even continued under Mike Everitt but I think when John Docherty took charge, and do not forget he inherited quite a few players he had played with and others who were brought in by Mike Everitt too, I really think that things did not go as well as they should have done.

Trenchant views and plenty of food for thought from Richard Poole who felt totally frustrated and stifled as he was forced to leave the club he loved and where he still thought he could have made the grade had he been given a decent chance to establish himself.

I will try and finish the article covering lots of other blazing meteors who promised so much over the years at Brentford but who never fulfilled their potential in the next few days.

I will end on a lighter note.

I was reading a programme from January 1987 today and my eyes were drawn to a letter from a certain Mr. R. P. Marsh from Ealing who ccould barely contain his excitement:

It made a nice change to hear that we had secured the services of David Geddis on a month’s loan with a view to a permanent transfer. I have long been an admirer of Geddis and the prospect of him playing up front with Robbie Cooke is the sort of Christmas present I could really enjoy.

Here’s hoping that Geddis and Cooke can give the new Brook Road stand the send off it deserves against Middlesbrough.

Oh dear!!

Geddis was a total disaster – a damp squib rather than a blazing meteor who missed at least three sitters in that aforementioned Middlesbrough game, was dragged off at the interval and his services were swiftly dispensed with – if not swiftly enough for most Brentford supporters!

Heroes – 28/7/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It Is Like To Be Booed – A Player’s View – 16/7/15

I wrote a couple of articles last week which, slightly tongue-in-cheek recalled some of our former players who we loved to hate – or maybe more accurately – hated to love. In response I received many suggestions of a whole raft of other players, many thankfully long-forgotten, who had also earned the displeasure of my fellow Brentford supporters and got it in the neck.

One key question that bugged me and remained unanswered was how does it feel as a footballer to be booed, barracked and abused from the terraces, particularly by your own so-called supporters? Does it inspire you to greater heights in order to try and stuff the critical words back down the throats from whence they came, or do players retreat into their shell and play less expansively, more cautiously and try to eliminate risk from their game determined not to make another mistake that could bring about even more criticism?

I decided to ask former Bee Richard Poole for his view on this contentious subject, as I thought that his opinion would be particularly apposite given that he played for the club during the early to mid 70s, an era where Brentford were not blessed with a plethora of talent and with budgets stretched, generally had to make do with whatever combination of players they could scrape together. Performances were inconsistent to say the least and veered from one extreme to another, and the fans were not slow to express their wrath and disapproval at some of the substandard fare that they were forced to endure.

Here is what Richard had to say:

I was really interested in your comments about Stan Webb as I watched him particularly closely during his spell at Griffin Park given that we both played in the same position. I really felt sorry for him as he was onto a absolute hiding to nothing from the moment he signed for us. His move turned out to be a poisoned chalice as he had the near impossible task of replacing a living legend in John O’Mara. The fans were furious at the lack of ambition shown by the club by selling him just after we had won promotion and saw poor Stan simply as a cheap replacement and they took their frustration out on him. I thought that he was a good influence around the club and he was really not a bad player at all. He had scored goals regularly in the Second Division at both his previous clubs and given half a chance I am sure that he could have done the same for the Bees.

I remember that he would stay behind with us apprentices for extra training in the afternoon and give us some advice, but maybe he was too nice a person which can be a bad failing for a footballer, whatever division you play in. He was strong and could certainly mix it but he was affected by the constant barrage of criticism and his performances suffered and he lost confidence. Given more time and a more sympathetic response from the Brentford supporters I am sure that he could have done much better at the club and I am sure that he must have been delighted and seen it as suitable revenge when he scored a crucial goal against us after he had moved on to Darlington.

I was also subjected to some very harsh comments from Brentford supporters when I came back to play in a reserve game for Watford a couple of months after I had left Brentford. My parents were watching the game in the stands and were really upset by all the abuse I received. It was so bad that some of my new team mates asked me what was going on.  The supporters who were giving me such a hard time lived really close to my family and that was very upsetting. There was certainly no love lost between Brentford and Watford supporters, but I needed a job, Brentford had released me which almost broke my heart, and Watford were now the team putting the bread and butter on my table and enabling me to support my young wife.

I have far happier memories of turning out for the Bees and being roared on by our loyal fans, something that always inspired me! I stayed a year too long at my beloved Brentford and in my last season I only seemed to be selected at difficult places like Tranmere Rovers and Northampton Town when we had players out injured or sick and we had very little chance of winning.

You do hear all the comments from the crowd, good and bad, particularly when there are not too many supporters in the ground and it certainly has an effect on your game. When I first came into the side as a youngster my concentration was totally on the game to such an extent that I really only heard the crowd noise when there was a lull in play just before a corner or free kick. I do remember an important home game against Colchester United at Easter on a Tuesday evening with Griffin Park full to the brim with almost seven and a half thousand fans packed inside. I was waiting for a corner kick to be played into the penalty area and I heard a voice behind the goal shouting “Come on Richard!” This really got through to me, inspired me, and made me feel ten feet tall. I looked straight at him and saw that it was an old school friend of mine and it seemed just like yesterday when we were in class – or detention together!

As for being booed by away fans, that simply meant that I must be doing my job properly and getting something right!  I clearly remember a game at Lincoln in April 1975 when I came on at halftime to replace fellow striker, Micky French (so much class but there was something missing) to partner Roger Cross up front. I remember we grabbed an unexpected draw against one of the division’s top teams with Roger scoring the equaliser. Well afterwards in the bar their centre half, the massive Sam Ellis came up to me and told me that I had always been a handful against them and even apologised for marking me so hard! He said all this right in front of my manager at the time, John Docherty, and given what a tough competitor Sam Ellis was, that made me really proud.

I suppose that’s why the following Tuesday Mr. Docherty put me straight in the side up front with both Micky and Roger in an end of season game against Southport. But he took me off at halftime and replaced with with a defender in Alan Nelmes! That really hurt and upset me and it was my last official game for the Bees. I suppose it was easier to take off an eighteen year old in his first year as a professional rather than a more established player who might have given the manager a hard time about his decision.

Going back to far happier times, I do so remember scoring that goal of mine against Bradford City at home. I saw everone standing up and applauding and for me it was like there were thousands and thousands of fans cheering me on and supporting me, and even now, over forty years later, writing this sentence I am getting goose pimples just thinking about that magic and unforgettable moment.

I got almost as much pleasure making goals for others which I think I was quite good at but it’s true, when you are a local boy and you are cheered on it gives you such a boost. I can only remember that horrible reserve match for Watford against Brentford when I was booed and it really affected my game. I also played in that remarkable match against Brentford for Watford at Easter at home when somehow (thanks to Paul Priddy)  we lost and also missed those two penalty kicks. I wasn’t booed that day, maybe because Brentford won!

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

25. Raphael Calvet

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

26. James Tarkowski

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

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

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

27. David Button

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

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

28. Nico Yennaris

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

29. Liam Moore

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

30. Josh Clarke

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

31. Chris Long

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

32. Jack O’Connell

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

33. Montell Moore

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

34. Daniel O’Shaughnessy

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

35. Jermaine Udumaga

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

39. Nick Proschwitz

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

Alfie Mawson

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

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

Will Grigg

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

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

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

End Of Term Report – Part Two – 26/5/15

15. Stuart Dallas

Stuart Dallas can look back with great pride at his season’s accomplishments. He established himself in the Northen Ireland squad and looked fully at home in the international arena. He also played over forty times for Brentford, scored eight valuable goals, played on either flank as well as filling in seamlessly at centre forward and full back. Dallas was often a victim of the numbers game given that we possessed so many quality midfielders and was a real danger coming off the bench when he was often able to turn the match in our favour.

Strong, quick, direct, powerful, good in the air, and with a rasping shot, he is a manager’s dream and he will go down in Brentford history for scoring two wonderful, unstoppable and unforgettable goals at Craven Cottage against the old enemy, Fulham.

16. Jack Bonham

Jack Bonham played only once last season and impressed against Brighton in the FA Cup and, more importantly, kept first choice David Button on his toes through his quality performances in training. He proved that he is developing into an excellent goalkeeper but at some point he will need to gain some Football League experience ideally through a loan spell away from Griffin Park.

17. Jon Toral

Another loanee who played with a level of maturity way beyond reasonable expectations given his total lack of experience before he joined the Bees. To end his debut season at the age of twenty with thirty-four league appearances and six goals, including a couple of magnificent volleys and a hat trick against Blackpool, was no mean achievement. Tall, rangy, comfortable on the ball, technically excellent, and with a few tricks in his repertoire, he has a glittering career ahead of him, hopefully at Griffin Park, if a suitable deal can be negotiated with Arsenal for whom he has signed an extended contract.

18. Alan Judge

He was the team dynamo, a never-stop-running bundle of energy, our go-to guy who simply made us tick. His contribution was immense with three goals and a team leading thirteen assists and he was badly missed during his extended injury break early in 2015. He was always able to spot and then execute long range passes and create gaps in the opposition defence. His long range shooting was as powerful as ever even though his radar was often a bit off, but his perfect curling match-clinching free kick at Fulham was one of the moments of the season. His immense contribution was finally recognised when the Irish Messi won his first Republic of Ireland full senior call up on 12 May 2015, when he was named in the provisional squad for two matches the following month. Perhaps our most important and influential player overall.

19. Andre Gray

In his first season as a regular Football League player Andre Gray totally defied expectations by scoring eighteen goals and barely missing a game. All this whilst playing in a totally new position for him as a lone striker at a level three leagues above what he had experienced on a regular basis before. His overall contribution was absolutely staggering and some of his goals were eye-opening and quite brilliant in their execution – think of Derby, Wolves and Watford at home and Millwall and Cardiff away. No wonder that scouts were queuing up to cast their eye over him. Of course he showed his inexperience and was by no means a complete player. There is still much room for improvement and I think that he will perform even better when playing in a wider position supporting another central striker, but it remains to be seen if our new Head Coach will change our system and play with two strikers.

Andre was frustrating as he missed a ton of chances, but he created so many of them for himself, and ploughing a lone furrow was an exhausting and thankless task. Next season he will be even better.

20. Toumani Diagouraga

What a season from a player who had pretty much been written off at the start of the season. He simply got his head down and when his opportunity finally came he produced a series of brilliant performances and he maintained his form until the end of the season. Dovetailing perfectly with Jonathan Douglas, with one sitting and the other playing in a more forward role, he was our ball-winner and quarterback who got us up and running and helped turned defence into attack with his unerring ability to find a man. His shooting was as appalling as ever but we really didn’t mind and expected nothing more. His level of improvement and consistency was staggering.

Being totally objective, our eyes were well and truly opened when we saw how impressive Leadbitter and Clayton were for Middlesbrough playing in a similar role to Diagouraga and Douglas and that is the level that we need to aspire to next season.

21. Alex Pritchard

Quite simply, Alex Pritchard was absolutely brilliant for us and was one of the most influential loanees we have ever had. This was, however, a double-edged sword, as the better he played, the less chance we had of signing him on a permanant basis. He also established himself in the England Under 21 squad and will be welcomed back to his parent club, Tottenham Hotspur, next season with every chance of establishing himself as a Premier League player.

He scored twelve times for us, demonstrated that he knew how to take a penalty – a rare skill for a Brentford player, assisted on another seven goals and made eighty key passes from open play, more than any other Championship player. Alex made a massive contribution to us in the new year, scoring eight times, including a quite brilliant long range curling effort at Derby that had us all drooling and blinking in total disbelief and he maintained an eye-opening level of consistency and commitment that was admirable in a young player and a loanee as well.

Alex always managed to find pockets of space in which to operate and he was mesmerising on the ball. To watch footballers of the skill and panache of Pritchard, Jota, Judge and Odubajo play together for Brentford was something totally beyond my wildest dreams and clearly demonstrates just how far we have come.

22. Betinho

Who? Why? Answers on a postcard please.

23. Jota

If I close my eyes and allow myself to daydream I can see a clear image of Jota dribbling down the right wing with the ball seemingly tied to his bootlaces. Head up, he looks for openings, cuts inside with the ball glued to his left foot, leaving defenders trailing in his wake bewitched by his twinkling feet, before ending up with a perfect cross or effort on goal.

We expected a lot given his background and the record fee we had paid for him, but Jota, or José Peleteiro Ramallo, to give him his full name, was even better than we could ever have envisaged, and he ended a remarkable first season in English football with eleven goals and a glowing and enhanced reputation.

Even if he had done nothing else, he would have lived long in our memory as Jota – in the last minute! To score a season-defining late winner against Fulham was enough to make him an instant hero but to repeat the feat by scoring again late on at Craven Cottage, followed by a last gasp equaliser against Nottingham Forest in the next match truly beggared belief.

It wasn’t so much the number of goals he scored, although eleven was quite a tally for someone who played out wide, but the way in which he did so and the variety of goals he scored. A mesmerising dribble in a packed penalty area against Leeds, a close range tap-in against Reading, cutting inside and shooting from outside the box against Fulham, rolling the ball home through the eye of a needle against Wolves, a curling long range belter at Cardiff, finishing calmly and clinically against Blackburn, Norwich and Wigan, a brilliant near post volley at Fulham, running from his own half at Blackburn and picking his spot and a most unlikely header against Nottingham Forest. The pace of a long and exhausting season understandably seemed to take its toll in the last few games when he appeared to run out of steam and was less effective, but he did more than enough by virtue of his undoubted skill and bravery on the ball to attract the attention of Premier League predators. He will be even better next season as he becomes more attuned to the demands of the English game and I desperately hope that we can hang into him.

24. Tommy Smith

Tommy was consistency personified whenever he was called upon, generally as a late substitute. He always put in a shift, looking for the ball and using it sensibly and he was a valuable calming influence. He scored the opening goal of the season – a much needed late equaliser against Charlton, and contributed several assists, none more crucial than when he stood up a perfect cross in a packed penalty area that took out the goalkeeper and picked out Jota for his injury time equaliser against Nottingham Forest.

He more than justified his contract as he was also an excellent influence and example in the dressing room and if we do not see him again he leaves with our thanks, admiration and gratitude.

We Can Do It! – 10/5/15

It is merely halftime in our playoff semifinal against Middlesbrough and whilst we go into Friday’s second leg at the Riverside Stadium trailing by one goal there is absolutely no reason at all why we still cannot prevail and keep our promotion dream alive. The tie is still wide open, it is not a foregone conclusion that everything is lost and here is why we can win the match on Friday.

We know exactly what we have to do. It is quite straightforward and simple, only a win will do and winning away is something that we do extremely well. In fact given our ability to counterattack and break at pace we often look a better and more dangerous team on the road and we won a massive eleven times away from home this season, more than anybody in the Championship except AFC Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich. We know how to win away from Griffin Park and we never go into an away game looking for anything other than a win, and once having taken the lead we keep going for the jugular and do not sit back and invite pressure onto us. We scored a massive thirty-two goals in our twenty-three away games, the sixth best record in the league, and we know no other way to play other than to attack.

Our defensive record away from home is slightly less impressive as we leaked thirty-one goals, but only six teams conceded less and we managed to keep five clean sheets, including one at Leeds United where we withstood the relentless physical assault of a determined and aggressive home team wound up by over twenty-thousand rabid, vociferous and baying supporters. We were also victorious at the cauldron that is the New Den where we were inspired by the powder-keg atmosphere and put on a sparkling display.

Playoff games are won by teams that display the right temperament and do not buckle under pressure and one thing that we can take for granted is that we won’t be fazed by or give in to the pressure of the big occasion or large and hostile crowds. The bigger the crowd, the stadium or the heritage, tradition and reputation of our opponents the better we seem to rise to and cope with the challenge.

This is leaving aside the very fact that even being in the playoffs is beyond the wildest dream of any of our supporters, as who amongst us would have dared suggest last August that we would have emerged victorious on our travels to teams of the calibre of Nottingham Forest, Millwall, Cardiff City, Norwich City, Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Fulham and Reading? You would have been laughed out of court or more likely people would have said that you needed your sanity testing! And yet we won away to all these massive names and in many cases gave them a football lesson too. Oh, and I will also mention our recent visit to Derby County where, although we were denied a victory at the death, we played our illustrious opponents off the pitch and silenced the stadium.

It is also payback time given that we have played Middlesbrough three times already this season and lost on every occasion, and indeed we have only scored once against them in two hundred and seventy minutes of play and that came after an out-of-character goalkeeping howler. But the figures hide the fact that we created chance after chance in the last two matches and were only denied by a combination of poor finishing, desperate defending, great goalkeeping and sheer bad luck. I can still remember Stuart Dallas’s shot clanging off the goalpost and his two second half efforts in January that seared inches over the crossbar. Andre Gray could have had a hat trick last Friday, and what about the two incredible saves by the giant Dimi Konstantopoulos who denied Jonathan Douglas at the death in January and who also stretched out a prehensile hand to turn away his looping header in the first leg? We just need to be more clinical, ensure that there is some tangible end product from all the possession that we will undoubtedly have next week, maybe even have some better luck in front of goal and on the law of averages surely it has to be our turn now?

Professional pride will also have an important bearing on how matters turn out on Friday. As Mark Warburton, all the players, as well as the five hundred and sixty-seven supporters who had the misfortune to travel to our first encounter at the Riverside Stadium in September will testify, we were “Middlesbroughed” on the day and never turned up at all. For once we fell below our high standards, never competed and suffered the consequences. We were cut to pieces by an excellent team, lost by four clear goals and from all reports it could easily have been seven. That non-performance has been used by the management as a motivator all season long and as a grisly reminder of what can happen when you under-perform.

The players will surely not allow that to happen again, particularly in a match of such importance. I fully expect them to show a combination of organisation, determination and commitment as well as no little skill to put on a performance that will make us all proud of them as well as impress the watching millions.

Let’s be honest, the prize is extremely high with the players competing for the opportunity to play in the most heralded match of the season at the national stadium at Wembley with the carrot of a place in the Premier League at stake. What more can you ask for? For the Brentford squad, most of whom were pretty much unknown on the wider stage at the start of the season, they are playing for contracts and their careers and will also be looking to impress whoever it is who comes in to replace the soon-to-be-departed Mark Warburton. If there is not a place for any of them under the new regime at Griffin Park they will be looking to impress potential new employers.

There is a wonderful sense of togetherness amongst this close-knit Brentford squad. We only used twenty-four players all season in the Championship and of those, four – Scott Hogan, Marcos Tebar, Betinho, and Nico Yennaris, made a mere seven appearances between them. Mark Warburton maintained his loyalty to his squad, made minimal changes and whatever we all may think about the lack of strengthening in January, his faith in his players was amply rewarded by the achievement of the coveted playoff spot. All eleven players who started the first match of the season against Charlton way back in early August last year will, if fit, be involved next Friday, with eight expected to start and three on the bench. In addition two of the seven substitutes that day will likely also be in the squad. I have no way of checking, but I would think that this is a rare if not unprecedented feat and bears testimony to the consistency and togetherness of the squad.

Loyalty works both way and the players have all made it abundantly clear how much they owe to their manager and they will be determined to ensure that Mark Warburton leaves on a high and not with a damp squib. Ideally that would mean that the season and his Brentford career ends with him holding the Championship playoff trophy aloft at Wembley with the ultimate objective of promotion to the Premier League finally accomplished. That might still be a pipe dream at this juncture but what I can be certain of is that this Brentford team will not go down easily and without a fight.

As for Middlesbrough, they certainly boast an exceptional home record, losing only three times all season and conceding a miserly twelve goals, far and away the best record in the Championship. All they have to do is keep another clean sheet and Brentford’s goose will be cooked, but maybe their late winner at Griffin Park might even work against them? Perhaps there will be some uncertainty about whether they should stick or twist, maybe they will sit back and invite us onto them hoping to pick us off on the break? If so we will need to take advantage of the chances we create as well as ensuring that we keep the back door locked when the likes of Adomah and Bamford threaten our goal.  Certainly it will need us to be at our best and combine skill, ingenuity, creativity and composure with the more plebeian but equally essential attributes of sweat, toil, organisation and commitment.

The Middlesbrough team, bench, management and supporters all rubbed our noises in it at the final whistle last Friday, wildly celebrating their late and fortuitous victory as if the job was done and their Wembley place already confirmed, and it would give us all enormous pleasure to pay them back in kind.

It has to be said that history is not on our side as no Championship team has previously gone into the playoff final after losing the first leg at home. Southampton and Leicester went the closest in 2007 and 2010 respectively, winning away after losing at home but both lost out in the eventual penalty shootout. So the odds are certainly stacked against the Bees but this team has already accomplished so much in this momentous season so why should they not be denied their place in history?

I will give the last words to Graham Westley whose Stevenage team have reached the League Two playoffs this season. Here is his recipe for winning the playoffs:

It IS about adventure. It IS about being brave. You have to score goals to win so you have to play goal scoring players to get through. It IS about playing on the front foot, getting out there and attacking the situation. It isn’t for the faint hearted. It IS for the brave.

Now which team do his words remind you of? We CAN do this!

The Dreaded “P” Word – Part One – 6/5/15

So it’s to be the playoffs for Brentford, news that was greeted by every Brentford supporter with utter relief and jubilation which given our appalling playoff record over the past twenty-four years might appear on the face of it to be a strange and perverse reaction. The only positive thing that can be said about Brentford and the playoffs is that at least we are consistent – consistently awful in fact, as we have so far failed to win promotion through this route on every occasion that we have reached the dreaded playoffs – seven in all. Amazingly enough there is one club, Preston North End, whose ineptitude makes our record look almost acceptable as having blown automatic promotion on Sunday they are about to embark, doubtless with fear and trepidation, upon their tenth playoff campaign with a one hundred percent failure rate.

If our past record wasn’t bad enough we really have nobody else to blame apart from ourselves given that the playoffs were the bastard child invention of our former chairman Martin Lange back in 1987 when he saw them as a way of maintaining  and extending interest on the part of clubs who would otherwise have seen their season fizzle out once their hopes of automatic promotion had disappeared. The playoffs have rightly been considered a complete success by armchair supporters as well as by everybody not specifically involved in them as they undoubtedly add a sense of theatre, occasion and excitement even though they represent pure torture to the nervous followers of the teams actually competing in them.

Our first experience of the playoffs arrived in 1991 when we crept into sixth place in Division Three on the back of a well timed and frankly unexpected run of five victories in the last six games of the season. We had never really mounted a challenge for automatic promotion and were more than happy and gratified to have obtained a playoff spot particularly as a patently unfit Dean Holdsworth had fired blanks all season and we were totally beholden to Player of the Year Graham Benstead who had performed a series of miracles in goal.

The playoffs were a novelty, an unexpected gift and we were naive ingenues with absolutely no expectations and totally unaware of the devastation and horrors that a playoff failure could wreak on us. Tranmere awaited us, a team that had already defeated us twice that season, but we felt no fear as we were just pleased to be there. The first leg was at home and we totally dominated, scoring first through Terry Evans after a well-worked Wilf Rostron free kick and missing several other chances to put the tie well beyond our listless opponents. The match turned on its head after the break when Tranmere’s previously anonymous striker Steve Cooper performed his party piece by rising as if on springs to head home two identikit goals from corners. Little did we know at the time that Steve had excelled as a gymnast as a youngster which probably helped him in his athleticism and ability to leap in the air to score his trademark headers. We were stunned and wondered if Cooper bore a grudge as he had also scored four times against us for Newport County six years previously. We fought back from these body-blows and eventually salvaged a draw when Kevin Godfrey lobbed a late equaliser past the static Eric Nixon. We travelled to Prenton Park more in hope than expectation and lost narrowly by a single scrambled goal in a game of few chances where we dominated possession but lacked incisiveness in front of goal. Given the novelty value of our situation I don’t remember any real sense of sadness or loss at the time, that would come in good time after some of our future playoff disappointments.

1995 was a case in point and I am still traumatised by how cruelly we were treated and what fate laughingly had in store for us. We had a vibrant exciting team inspired by the goals of the FT Index, Nicky Forster and Robert Taylor who managed forty-seven goals between them. We were tough and organised in defence and had a potent threat from set-pieces in marauding full back Martin Grainger. This was the one and only season when, owing to the reorganisation of the Premier League, there was a trickle-down effect which resulted in only one team receiving automatic promotion from Division Two. There are no prizes for guessing who finished second! Promotion was in our own hands and we let it slip. Without mincing words we choked in the last month of the season, scrambling a last minute equaliser at home to an abject Chester team, then losing meekly in a crucial midweek promotion clincher at our closest rivals Birmingham City who did the double over us before allowing a Bournemouth team seemingly doomed to relegation to beat us in our last home game.

This time we felt totally different as the cup had been dashed from our lips and faceless bureaucracy had denied us the promotion that was indubitably our just reward for finishing second. Surely we would right the wrong done to us by winning the playoffs, and cementing promotion at Wembley would be a wonderful way of doing it. I felt that our victory was assured as it was so obviously right and proper that we did so, but unfortunately nobody had informed Neil Warnock and his tough and driven Huddersfield team. We drew a hard-fought first leg away from home with Nicky Forster scoring a well-worked team goal and his strike partner Taylor improbably and almost unbelievably skying over an empty net with the goalkeeper already lying helpless on the floor for an iconic miss.

We scored early on at home through a cool, calm and collected Grainger penalty kick but we took our foot off the gas and were punished by Andy Booth after Dearden was surely impeded. Both teams became increasingly cautious and cancelled each other out, afraid to risk defeat by opening up and going for the winning goal. The dreaded penalty shootout arrived and Huddersfield blinked first when Dearden saved brilliantly, but Denny Mundee, who had scored twice from the spot against Steve Francis at Huddersfield the previous season blew the chance to put us two goals ahead when he was outguessed this time by the keeper. Jamie Bates too criminally failed to put his foot through the ball and one kick later our season was over. We left the stadium in utter silence, disbelieving and devastated at the turn of events. Had we really witnessed what we thought we had seen? How could we have lost that tie? Was life really that cruel? Twenty years on and I still ask myself the same questions and, yes, it hurts even today to remind myself of that torrid evening when it all unravelled for us. Of all our playoff failures 1995 perhaps rankles the most given the circumstances although as we will see, 2013 comes close behind!

We needed a year to recover from the trauma of 1995 but we came again in 1996/97 when we again tanked promotion through our own inadequacies and mis-management and were forced to rely yet again on the playoffs. Surely we should by now have known better? The new four-pronged spearhead of Forster, Asaba, Taylor and Bent inspired us to an eleven match unbeaten run at the start of the season and we were coasting at the top of the league when the quite staggering decision was taken in January to sell Nicky Forster to arch-nemesis Birmingham City for a mere £700,000. He was never replaced, the prolific Carl Asaba was mysteriously shifted out wide to the left wing and the remaining seventeen league matches produced a mere eighteen points. We failed to score in ten of our last fourteen games and won only once at home after Christmas. We can all speculate as to why the management stood idly by and allowed our promotion challenge to disintegrate as we limped into the playoffs holed below the waterline. Miraculously we recovered our Mojo for the tough-looking playoff Semi Final against Bristol City and surprised everyone, including perhaps ourselves by winning both legs and qualifying for our first ever playoff final against a Crewe team bursting with young talent and ideally suited for the massive Wembley pitch. Having been taken to the heights by the renewed confidence and organisation we displayed against Bristol City, we plummeted to the depths of despair and embarrassment by playing like a disorganised rabble at Wembley. We had Statham sent off, were totally outclassed and could easily have lost by six goals rather than the one that the opposition actually managed. Our Neanderthal long ball style could not cope with the short passing and clever movement of our opponents. Crewe outplayed and out-thought us, hit the woodwork three times and the heroic Carl Hutchings cleared the ball off our goal line on two further occasions.

I was left fairly unmoved by our defeat in 1991, and was distraught in 1995, but this time I felt humiliated and angry and was just glad to leave Wembley as fast as the crowds would allow. We lost a lot of fans that day when we capitulated and completely failed to compete. It is time to stop now as I need to take a deep breath and have a break before I resume this tale of disaster and disappointment.