David Carpenter’s Bees Memories – 15/10/15

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I am sure that David Carpenter would not mind my referring to him as a Brentford fan of deep experience and long vintage given that he has been coming to Griffin Park for over seventy years, and despite all the bad times he has witnessed he still retains his enthusiasm and optimism for the future. He possesses a sharp eye for cant and hypocrisy and not much escapes his scrutiny and he is quick to express his sometimes trenchant opinions, but what shines through is his deep love for a football club which has played such an important part in his life. Here are his memories of supporting the Bees:

I’m pretty sure it was 1942 when I first came to Griffin Park. My Dad used to take me on the crossbar of his old Hercules bike from Chiswick and we parked in the garden of my mother’s Aunt Hetty’s house in New Road. Not a freebie, though. We paid our penny, or was it tuppence, like everyone else. In those days all the houses around the ground took in bikes, and there were so many, literally thousands, that if you were late you struggled to find a space. Front gardens, back yards, even hallways were full.

In those days of low footballers’ wages, top players in leading teams like Brentford in those days, like Leslie Smith and Ernie Muttitt, and probably others, didn’t live in mansions like today’s stars. They lived in Braemar Road. Handy for the ground!

Looking back, getting there was quite an adventure. The war was on and my Dad was just too old to go back into the army. He had been in the First World War and had had a bad time. But West London was a bit of a war zone, anyway. Now and again you could be lucky enough to find a bit of prized shrapnel in the back garden. Air raids were common and later the dreaded doodle bugs – cruise missiles to younger folk – were a terrifying threat. You did not want to hear that Ram Jet cut out! All these years later the sound of a siren on an old film clip still has the ability to send a shiver down my spine.

Looking back, it was a bit crazy to go to Griffin Park by bike, dodging doodle bugs. But that was the draw of Brentford Football Club. Incidentally, we stopped going by bike after being stopped by a policeman. Riding on the crossbar was deemed dangerous. Never mind the high explosives going off!

Once through those wicked turnstiles, and on to the terrace, what excitement! Maybe a military band marching up and down, or the Dagenham Girl Pipers. And then the cheering when the players came out.

An old lawyer friend had a wonderful homily: “Recollection improves as memory fades.” So it may be a case of rose-tinted spectacles, but the crowd was very good natured in those days. The referee was fair game, of course, but the players were treated with respect. I really don’t understand why some spectators feel that they have to hurl abuse even at their own players, even if they are having an off game – especially if they are having an off game. I do think it has got better just lately, but so has the football.

In those days Brentford were a top team. They were in the First Division, now Premier League, albeit interrupted by the war. We enjoyed all the greats coming to Griffin Park – Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Burnley, Chelsea, Charlton, Preston, Sheffield United, and so on. Great clubs of the day, but not all so great today with many of them with us in the lower leagues.

A great memory was coming early to a match to see the “Busby Babes” play our juniors before the senior game. It would be good to see that sort of thing again. Or perhaps our junior/development squad matches being shown on live feeds.

Another was a testimonial game when Stanley Matthews and other top stars appeared. An abiding memory from that game was to see Raich Carter, long retired, standing in the centre circle, never taking more than a gentle step or two before making a series of inch-perfect passes.

After the war and relegation to the Second Division, it was still a busy place. We could still attract crowds of seven thousand – for reserve games! And between twenty-five to thirty thousand for league games. Who could forget days like the sixth Round FA Cup Tie with Leicester City with thirty-nine thousand  jammed into Griffin Park, and all us kids were passed over heads down to the railing and allowed to sit at the edge of the pitch. That was possible in the days before the New Road stand was reduced and the old shed or Spion Kop at the Brook Road end was still large. Everywhere was standing, the only seats being in the Braemar Road stand behind the paddock. Sadly part of the Brook Road end was sold off for re-development. But for that the club might not have to be moving to Lionel Road.

While I’m not old enough to remember the glory days of the 30s, this was still a major club in the 40s and 50s. We had so many great players like Tommy Lawton, Ron Greenwood, Dai Hopkins, Jackie Gibbons and many, many more too. Lots about them in books on the club’s history by Greville and others for a nice wallow in nostalgia. You can see a lot of them on the DVD of the film, “The Great Game”, also featuring the delightful Diana Dors. In that film she gets passed over heads behind the Ealing Road goal. Apparently her boy friend tried to punch the lights out of someone who goosed her.

Later we had super players like Francis and Towers, Kenny Coote and one I will never forget, Ken Horne who sadly died very recently. He was an excellent full back and perhaps the fastest ever to bathe and dress after every game  Once we went to the Boleyn for a memorable game with West Ham. As a kid collecting autographs, we went straight to the dressing room exit just in time to see Ken come out shiny as a new pin. He kindly took my book into the West Ham dressing room and got the whole team to sign. It was wonderful to see him at Griffin Park again before he died.
I finally got to meet George Francis too just before he died. He was a delightful man who was a hero to me. He had a wonderful technique of being able to get some part of his body between the defender and the ball. Worked a treat.

It has not all been great. There was the aborted QPR take-over. Not surprising that feelings there still go beyond local rivalry. There was the awful moment in the last game of 1947 when we were relegated, and not quite going straight back up the following year. If only…

There have been other things to forget, like two of our players I can remember being booed off by their own fans, one a thug and the other who just didn’t want to be there.

Some of the highs and lows have been combined, like our appearances at Wembley (apart from 1942) and Cardiff.

I only decided once to stop going to Griffin Park and that was in the Webb era. Otherwise, it’s been a pleasure from the top division to the bottom. It’s been a place for heroes if not a whole lot of success.

For the future I hope we have some success. But I do hope that it does not change the character of the club too much, and that after seventy-odd years my Grandson, too will feel part of Brentford FC.

When I retired (for the second time) I said that only two things would tempt me back to work. One was to work for a magazine for a long term hobby interest, and the other, something to do with the club. My early career was as a journalist with national daily and weekly newspapers and I returned to edit my favourite magazine a year after retiring.

Later, I joined the board of Bees United at a most interesting time, the lead up to the sale of the majority share in the football club and the start of the project proper for Lionel Road. The decision to sell to Matthew Benham was a no-brainer really. By the time of the sale he was putting in so much money (but only a fraction of the amount today) that there was no alternative. I took on the role of devil’s advocate in all this, which did not always go down well!

But I was happy to leave after the sale with safeguards in place to ensure that Brentford Football Club would continue in the event of the “unthinkable” happening. One of the Bees United directors has recently stated that is still the case. Excellent!

It is the one thing they have to keep on top of. Especially now that all the independent directors have been moved off the main club Board.

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”

George Bernard Shaw

Thank you David for your wise and evocative words which I hope that everybody enjoys a much as I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AHEAD OF THE GAME

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

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

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

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

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

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