Jeepers Keepers – Part Five – 29/4/15

wsToday we will conclude our review of all the Brentford goalkeepers from the past forty-five years, and we pick up the story in 2008/09 with loanee Ben Hamer firmly in possession of the position. His backup was Seb Brown, a self-admitted AFC Wimbledon fan who played once for us in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and saved a penalty in a shootout victory over Yeovil before signing for his favourite team where his two penalty shootout saves against Luton helped them gain entry into the Football League. Young Lloyd Anderson also had his moment in the sun when he came on to replace Hamer when he was stupidly sent off at Barrow and he conceded two goals for his trouble before finally ending up as perhaps the only other Brentford player since Keith Hooker to play for both Brentford and Brentwood Town. Mikkel Andersen was another one-game-wonder, as one Reading loan goalkeeper replaced another when Hamer was suspended. Mikkel could not have chosen a more exciting game to play in and he really looked the part too in our last gasp victory over Bradford City in which he was named Man of the Match. Not a bad way to mark your only appearance for the club. Mikkel is still only twenty-six and was stuck on Reading’s bench when we played them last Saturday, but I fully expect that he will eventually make his breakthrough and become an established top level goalkeeper.

With Hamer returning to his parent club, newly promoted Brentford were on the lookout for a new goalkeeper and they ended up playing four of them throughout the 2009/10 season. Andy Scott was apparently offered Everton’s John Ruddy on a season-long loan but changed his mind at the last moment and signed Derby County’s Welsh International keeper, Lewis Price instead. This was not one of the best decisions that he ever made given how well Ruddy has subsequently progressed and Price’s inconsistency. Lewis did made a phenomenal last minute save from Morgan Schneiderlin to earn us a meritorious point at Southampton, but, looking far smaller and frailer than his claimed height of six foot three inches, he never really convinced and conceded a bizarre last minute equaliser at home to Millwall from a forty-yard free kick from way out on the left wing which precipitated his replacement, but more of that anon.

The Bees also made the surprise signing of Aldershot’s Nicky Bull who, after being their undisputed first choice for many years, had decided to retire but quickly changed his mind and joined Brentford as back-up keeper instead. He spent a frustrating year largely kicking his heels after suffering a back injury but his rare appearances saw him go from the ridiculous to the sublime when firstly he dozily stepped over his own goal line whilst still holding onto Simon Francis’s seemingly innocuous long-range free kick against Southend before saving a penalty kick at Leyton Orient. Bull was soon forgotten when Scott then totally redeemed himself by making perhaps the most inspired signing of his managerial career in young Arsenal starlet Wojciech Szczęsny.

Not yet twenty years of age but already a full international for Poland, he saved a penalty kick in his second match and it was immediately obvious that we had a star on our hands. He remained on loan until the end of the season, conceded just over a goal per game and his incredible all-round ability and sheer force of personality shone through. He put on goalkeeping masterclasses game after game and some of the saves he made against Norwich, Leeds, Carlisle and Bristol Rovers in particular beggared belief. Have a look on Youtube if you doubt me and I guarantee that you will be as astounded as I was. His ability was merely confirmed by the general bemusement amongst Bees supporters when he had a rare off day and played appallingly against MK Dons and was totally responsible for two soft goals, but as the old saying goes – “the defects of great men are the consolation of the dunces.” He received the ultimate accolade of receiving a fully deserved standing ovation from the home supporters when he was withdrawn for Simon Moore to make a brief debut just prior to the final whistle of the last game of the season so that he could milk their applause. We will not see his like again as he was precociously brilliant and light years ahead of anyone else we had watched at Griffin Park, in my memory at least.

leeHow do you replace such an icon? Well Andy Scott seemed to have hit the jackpot when he brought in experienced Watford keeper Richard Lee, but he made a disastrous start and was rusty and unimpressive in his first two preseason appearances. Scott handled the situation poorly and instead of giving Lee, a keeper of proven ability and pedigree, the opportunity to settle in to the role, he immediately banished him to the bench and gave young Simon Moore a brief chance before bafflingly auditioning two more loan keepers who further muddied the water. Alex McCarthy was yet another Reading goalkeeper who followed the well-trodden path to Griffin Park but he was soon on his way back after a tentative and stuttering loan spell which saw six goals fly past him in only three games. McCarthy has subsequently proved himself at Premier League level but he was distinctly below average for us.

Like a bad penny, Ben Hamer was soon back for his third loan spell at Brentford replacing his own teammate Alex McCarthy. Again he did nothing wrong but by this time the Bees had embarked upon successful runs in both the Carling Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and Richard Lee seized his chance to establish himself as our “Cup Keeper” with some phenomenal performances. He impressed in a narrow win over Hull City before earning his spurs with a superlative match-winning performance against Premier League giants Everton. Lee made save after save to help keep us afloat before becoming an instant hero when saving Jermaine Beckford’s effort in the penalty shootout. Our Carling Cup run came to a cruel halt with a shootout defeat at Birmingham in the next round but it was in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy where Lee came into his own as the Bees won three penalty shootouts in a row against Orient, Swindon and Charlton on their way to a Wembley final appearance. I have written previously about Richard’s Three Card Trick against Charlton when he emulated Graham Benstead’s feat against Wrexham and made three consecutive, and indeed, outrageous penalty saves. Not surprisingly Lee soon took over in league matches too from the blameless Hamer who had become surplus to requirements. As if fate had not intervened enough, Lee’s roller coaster season ended with him being named as Player of the Year but also missing out on a place at Wembley when he dislocated his shoulder making a brave save against Orient.

Poor Richard never had much luck with injuries and eventually his recurring shoulder problems forced him out of the reckoning far too early and for good, and this enabled firstly Simon Moore and then David Button to establish themselves in the first team. He has remained in the background in a supporting role and as an overall good influence and will retire at the end of the season after a long and distinguished career that never quite rose to the heights that his undoubted ability suggested. Given his popularity and affability we will gloss over his recent short-term and career-ending loan at Fulham! His business nous and intelligence will surely provide him with a fulfilling and successful post-football career.

Goalkeeping Coach Simon Royce, a man who had already enjoyed an excellent career, deputised for Lee when he was sent off and subsequently suspended and clearly demonstrated in his brief appearances that it was time for him to pack up for good and concentrate on teaching rather than doing. Trevor Carson, a loanee from Sunderland, also made a brief cameo appearance at Sheffield Wednesday and was never seen again.

Simon Moore fought his way up from being an unheralded trialist from the Isle of Wight and, aided by Lee’s injury battles, he became first choice and quickly demonstrated his exceptional ability. Unspectacular, calm and competent he made few mistakes and picked crosses out of the air with consummate ease. Having secured his reputation as one of the brightest talents outside the top flight, he joined Premier League Cardiff City on the eve of the 2013/14 campaign for a substantial fee but his career has unfortunately stymied as he has so far been unable to displace David Marshall.

Unknown Frenchman Antoine Gounet emulated Gus Hurdle by walking unannounced into the training ground and earning himself a contract. He was small, agile and unorthodox and finally earned his opportunity when helping the Bees to an FA Cup replay victory over Bradford City before fading out of contention.

That leads us to the present day, and our excellent current pairing of David Button and Jack Bonham about both of whom I have already written extensively. We have been blessed with some exceptional goalkeepers over the past four decades or so and whilst comparisons are invidious, if pushed, my top ten in terms of a combination of talent and overall popularity would be as follows:

  • Chic Brodie
  • Steve Sherwood
  • Len Bond
  • Dave McKellar
  • Graham Benstead
  • Paul Smith
  • Wojciech Szczęsny
  • Richard Lee
  • Simon Moore
  • David Button

Please let me know if your verdict differs from mine, as I am sure that it will.


Jeepers Keepers – Part Four – 23/4/15

oliThe New Millennium began with Brentford desperately looking for a new goalkeeper. Andy Woodman had not been the success that we had expected and was on his way out of the club and Jimmy Glass was no more than a short term stopgap. Ron Noades certainly pulled a rabbit out of the hat and bemused us all when the identity of the new goalkeeper was announced. Noades apparently followed the recommendation of Hermann Hreidarsson and signed his Icelandic International colleague Olafur Gottskalksson from Hibernian. Tall, slender and athletic, he had an exceptional first season before suffering a chronic shoulder injury which affected his confidence and mobility and he rapidly lost form, went walkabout on several occasions, conceding costly late goals which threatened to becalm our promotion drive and he was unceremoniously dropped and replaced by young Paul Smith. He retired late in 2002 but reappeared a couple of years later at Torquay and made a surprise return to Griffin Park in the notorious Leon Constantine hat-trick game on Boxing Day 2004 before fading away and later receiving a couple of prison sentences for violence back in his native Iceland.

Paul Smith first came to our attention playing as a young unknown trialist for Crawley against the Bees and soon after he signed for us. He made a massive impact replacing the injured Gottskalksson against Southend in the LDV Vans Area Final when he made a series of brave and brilliant saves against Southend. Ironically he conceded six goals at Swansea on his full debut but he soon proved that he was an exceptional young goalkeeper in the making once he took over as first choice in January 2002. He was calm and unflustered and scouts were soon sniffing smitharound him. Given the club’s financial woes his departure was a foregone conclusion and it was simply a question of getting the highest possible fee for him. Eventually Southampton offered £250,000 plus a series of lucrative add-ons that barely came to fruition as he failed to seize his opportunity on the South Coast, moved onto Nottingham Forest and ended up at Southend United, and what looked at one time likely to be a glittering career ended in anticlimax. Smith made a glorious return to Brentford when he played us seemingly single-handedly in a FA Cup Third Round replay early in 2013 and more than earned the standing ovation that he received.

Alan Julian was the obvious replacement for Smith as the former Junior had impressed in his few opportunities, including one incredible match-winning performance at Rushden & Diamonds but he was far too erratic and inconsistent to make the position his own and eventually embarked on a long career in the lower divisions and upper echelons of non-league football that has just seen him winning the Conference South title with Bromley.

Wally Downes settled on another untried youngster in Stuart Nelson and this time the gamble paid off. Nelson made an unwanted impact on his debut, seeing red for a foul outside his penalty area at Brighton but he soon made the jersey his own and went on to concede an excellent 1.32 goals per game throughout his stay at the club. At first glance Nelson really did not look the part with his shirt perpetually out of his shorts and eagerness to engage with opposition supporters when he was barracked.  He had his weaknesses and often came flying out of his goal to little neleffect. He was not the best in dealing with crosses and his kicking often defied belief with a constant series of shanks and slices into touch. But for all his shortcoming and eccentricities he was reliable and more than got the job done. He was agile and brave and it was rare that he let in a soft goal. His temperament was sound and he scored a crucial penalty kick in a shootout at Swindon and also had a goal controversially ruled out when his long clearance found the net at his former club, Doncaster Rovers. Nelson was a favourite of Martin Allen for whom he also played at Notts County and Gillingham, where he remains to this day.

Josh Lennie made his one and only Bees appearance as a halftime substitute in a long-forgotten LDV Trophy game against MK Dons before drifting into non-league. He memorably describes himself thus on Twitter: “London born & raised washed up ex-pro footballer for Brentford, Wimbledon and Chester, now full-time coach and scout in Connecticut.”

Ademola Bankole, a giant Nigerian international keeper who had previously played at Crewe Alexandra, was brought in as Goalkeeping Coach and also played a few games as a back-up for Nelson. He was tall, spider-like and gangly and, for a coach, worryingly seemed to have no appreciation or understanding of where his penalty area started and ended. He memorably punched away a cross when jumping way outside his area and somehow escaped a red card against Nottingham Forest and was thankfully not seen too often again in the first team.

Clark Masters was given the opportunity to replace the suspended and then injured Stuart Nelson at the start of the 2006/07 season and it was a case of too much too soon as he was patently unready for his premature promotion and leaked goals like a sieve. He played well on his debut against Blackpool but luck was never on his side as he suffered a harsh sending off against Gillingham and conceded seven goals despite impressing when replacing the sent-off Simon Brown at Peterborough. He proved to be out of his depth and his once-promising career never recovered and he soon dropped into non-league football where he remains today. Had he been given more time to develop then who knows how his career might have panned out. We might even have had another star on our hands.

2006/07 was an appalling season which culminated in a fully deserved relegation. By Christmas 2006 it was plainly obvious in which direction the team was irrevocably headed and Scott Fitzgerald tried to plug the gap in goal by signing Nathan Abbey from Torquay. He was exactly what we needed – calm and reliable, uninspired but competent and someone who rarely made an unforced error. He performed excellently and conceded a mere 1.25 goals per game despite having an awful defence in front of him. Despite his efforts he was released at the end of the season and his replacement did little to inspire confidence.

hamerSimon Brown had started out at Spurs and had several years as first choice at Colchester United before moving to Scotland where he played for Hibernian. He was the second goalkeeper to join the Bees from the Edinburgh club but he was never the keeper that Oli Gottskalksson had been and his stay was undistinguished. He rarely looked the part, losing his place to loanee Ben Hamer before being offloaded on loan to Darlington. Hamer arrived on the eve of the season from Reading when Brown suffered a late injury and he was to have three loan spells at Griffin Park making seventy-five league appearances in total. Confident to the point of cockiness he played a massive part in the Championship winning team of 2008/09, missing only one game. He dominated his area, had a vast prehensile reach and kicked the ball huge distances. It came as a surprise when his own poor judgement and recklessness cost him a red card, and the Bees a defeat in a televised FA Cup tie at Barrow. He was also the only Brentford player to successfully hit the crossbar in Soccer AM’s Crossbar Challenge. Ben returned for a third loan spell in 2010 as part of the beauty parade of goalkeepers auditioned by Andy Scott but his late arrival for a midweek match against AFC Bournemouth provided Scott with the excuse he needed to play his Cup goalkeeper Richard Lee in the league and Hamer drifted out of contention. He subsequently had a good spell at Charlton and is now at Premier League Leicester sporting a quite ridiculous bushy beard!

We are nearly at the end of our journey which will be concluded in a day or so.

Farewell To Farid! – 15/7/14


So it is farewell to Farid El Alagui who completed his transfer to Hibernian yesterday.

Like many Bees fans, I was sorry to see him go, but he fully deserved the opportunity to play first team football every week and that was not going to be the case for him at Griffin Park, so a return to his old stamping ground across the border made sense for all parties.

Farid’s stay at Brentford will always be filed in the “Might Have Been” category as injury totally ruined his chance to establish himself at the club.

He arrived in the Summer of 2012 on the crest of a wave as the Scottish First Divison Player of the Year after scoring twenty-seven goals for Falkirk and he seemed exactly what Brentford needed, a strong target man with a real eye for goal.

He was seen as the replacement for the departed Gary Alexander and it was anticipated that his partnership with Clayton Donaldson would spearhead Brentford’s promotion challenge.

The fans loved his “kissing the coin” ritual after every goal that he scored and his warm and sunny personality ensured that he was instantly welcomed and accepted by players and supporters alike.

Unfortunately we were to be shortchanged, as after a promising start including a classic last minute diving header winner against Colchester, the injury hoodoo hit.

Characteristically chasing down a lost cause, he collided with Crawley keeper Paul Jones with a sickening thud, and suffered a serious knee injury which ended his season – and pretty much his Brentford career.

Bravely he fought his way back to fitness at the start of last season and onto the Brentford substitutes’ bench, but his days as a first choice were over.

Typical of the man, he shrugged off his disappointment and contributed mightily from the bench, with a crucial ninety-sixth minute equaliser at Gillingham, as well as playing a significant role in Clayton Donaldson goals against Peterborough – a vital late winner, and Crewe.

Just to emphasise that he was as sharp as ever, he also scored five goals in the various cup competitions.

His all action, bustling approach and power in the air did not fit in with the patient passing style adopted by Brentford last season, but he provided an incredibly valuable option off the bench which allowed us to go seamlessly to “Plan B” with every likelihood of success.

It should also be said that he found the time to play an active role in the club’s community programme.

In January the decision was made by Manager Mark Warburton to allow Farid to move on loan for the rest of the season to Dundee United where he scored three times.

This was a surprising and more than magnanimous gesture as it allowed a player coming to the end of his contract the opportunity to put himself in the shop window and ideally secure a new deal elsewhere.

The gamble paid off both for Farid and ourselves but there were certainly times when we missed him and the impetus he gave us, but all’s well that ends well.

Farid’s transfer is the most recent of a series of moves between Brentford and Hibernian.

Eddie May, a Scottish Under-21 International, was signed by Steve Perryman from Hibernian for a club record fee of £167,000 as Andy Sinton’s replacement, but he never settled in London.

May was skilful with a good eye for goal but was also lightweight and often peripheral to the action and soon returned North of the border.

Clayton Donaldson also had a fairly indifferent spell at the Edinburgh club before finding his feet – and his goal touch, at Crewe.

Remarkably, Brentford also signed two goalkeepers from Hibernian; the eccentric Olafur Gottskalsson, who started off so well and tailed off so dismally, and the ineffable Simon Brown who started off badly at Griffin Park and got worse.

Hibs fans will probably not want reminding of the final link between the two clubs – Manager Terry Butcher, whose dismal spell at Griffin Park was surpassed by his exploits at Hibs last season where he was at the helm for their disastrous relegation from the Scottish Premiership.

I am sure every Brentford supporter will join me in wishing Farid “bon chance” for the future as I cannot think of another player who deserves it more given what he has gone through, and yet he has emerged smiling from the other side of the abyss.

I shall certainly look out for Farid throughout next season and my regular Sunday morning forensic examination of team lineups for ex-Bees will require more attention now to the Scottish game.

I am off on holiday later today for about ten days so it is unlikely that I will be able to update my blog during that period.

The key question for me is….. will anybody notice!

Brazil Nutted! – 9/7/14


So who expected that?

Has anyone ever seen anything quite like it?

What a humiliation!

Brazil one, Germany seven! I have just typed those words and I still cannot really believe it.

Talk about blowing it and choking and the images of Brazilian supporters in tears and a state of shock will stay with me for a long time.

The 7-1 scoreline was equal to the worst defeat in the history of Brazilian football and was also Brazil’s heaviest World Cup defeat, the next being their 3-0 loss to France in the 1998 Final.

It was also the first time that Brazil had conceded more than five World Cup goals since 1938, although on that occasion they managed to comeback to beat Poland 6-5 after extra-time.

Furthermore, Brazil had not let in seven goals at home… ever!

No other team has ever scored seven goals in the semi-finals of the World Cup and Germany’s six goal victory was the heaviest semi-final defeat in the tournament’s history, ahead of West Germany’s 6-1 defeat of Austria in 1954 and Uruguay’s win by the same scoreline against Yugoslavia in 1930.

I have never seen a top international team – or come to think of it, a Sunday League team after a night on the beer, defend so awfully as Brazil did and as somebody so memorably tweeted last night: “Well at least when your team gets a drubbing next season you can truthfully sing it’s just like watching Brazil!”

Brentford nemesis David Luiz was on his knees and in floods of tears at the end of the match, as would have been any defensive coach analysing his appalling performance in which he went totally AWOluizL.

Brentford supporters – still fuming at his cowardly and totally unnecessary assault on the diminutive Jake Reeves could easily be forgiven for their feelings of schadenfreude at Luiz finally getting his comeuppance – a true flat track bully being brought down to size!David Luiz collides with Jake Reeves

For their part, Brentford have also suffered some terrible hidings over the years, conceding seven goals on six occasions, most recently on that appalling November afternoon back in 2007 at Peterborough.

In its own way that was as much a capitulation as Brazil’s last night as Peterborough inflicted a joint record heaviest defeat on ten-man Brentford.

Bees keeper Simon Brown was sent off in the first minute for conceding a penalty which Aaron McLean tucked away and Clark Masters came on to do his best to stem the tide, like Canute trying to hold back the waves – and with about as much success!

McLean volleyed the second, put another penalty against the bar, and sealed his hat-trick before Chris Whelpdale scored from close in.

George Boyd’s low shot made it five, Craig Mackail-Smith ran free to hit the sixth and Rene Howe fired the seventh before Boyd had an effort disallowed.

As you can read from this brief match report, no mention of any Brentford attacks.

What is even more telling is that despite the severity of the defeat, not one Brentford player earned a yellow card which highlights how resigned they were to their fate and their lack of fight on the day.

Peterborough declared at seven, they were scoring at will and could doubtless have reached double figures had they been so inclined.

Looking at the Brentford team that fateful day, it has to be said that it was poorly led by Terry Butcher and was paper thin.

It included such luminaries as John Mackie and Matt Heywood forming an immobile and porous central defensive partnership that was no match for the pace and skill of Mackail-Smith and McLean.

Darius Charles and Charlie Ide represented the younger generation and journeymen Glenn Poole, Craig Pead, Ricky Shakes and Lee Thorpe also turned out.

Ironically Bees loanee Emile Sinclair, ploughing a lone furrow up front, must have done something right as he eventually joined the Posh a few seasons down the line!

The Bees eventually plateaued out under Terry Butcher and Andy Scott arrested the slide and led the team to promotion the following season.

For all of his subsequent failings, Scott’s achievement should never be minimised and he deserves much credit for restoring pride, passion and structure to what was a pretty disorganised rabble.

Just as Brentford recovered from their humiliation at London Road, so will Brazil from theirs last night.

The odd disastrous result here and there can be quite good for the soul and can also lead to introspection, re-examination and change.

Brazil will tear their team and infrastructure apart and will be the better for it, just as was the case with Brentford.