For one group of relatives supporting Brentford is truly a family affair. 31 loyal supporters from 3 generations in 10 different locations around the UK -from Cumbria to Devon, Newcastle to Hampshire. I first bumped into one of the 31 at the London Museum of Water and Steam where the exhibition ‘Farewell Griffin Park- the Fans Story’ is on throughout this season.
Dave Renforth had travelled up from his home in Plymouth for the game against Brighton and like a growing number of supporters was calling in first at the exhibition. He told me he had just spotted the name of his grandmother Gwen Randall on a brick. Back in 2006 Bees United raised funds for the club by selling bricks which fans could have engraved with their own names or that of relatives.
Dave Renforth with the brick in memory of his grandmother Gwen Randall
At the next Bees game, away at Wolverhampton, I bumped into Dave, with his mother Mary and father Alan who were just off the train from their home in Worcester. From them I discovered the story of the travelling Renforths and all their other kith and kin. They have a range of surnames but all family roots lead back to a certain Frederick Randall.
Mary Renforth explained; “my grandfather Frederick was born in 1880 and started to going to see Brentford in 1889 when the football club was established. His wife Mary and his daughter Dorothy became fans which was most unusual in this days because football was so male dominated. Frederick passed on his love of the club to my father Ron who became so keen he used to clean the players boots and put dubbin wax on them. He felt it was such an honour, he was so proud of being allowed to do the boots of the players.”
Mary herself first went to Griffin Park, along with her three elder brothers, when she was very young and living in Hounslow. She moved to Hemel Hempstead in the 1950s and other wings of the Randall family spread out across England taking their love of Brentford with them. The full list of counties reads: Cumbria,Devon,Hampshire, Lincolnshire,Northamptonshire ,Tyne and Wear, Worcestershire and Yorkshire. None of the family live in West London any more.
The diaspora of Bees fans now meet up at games whenever ticketing and budgets allow. Mary adds:”Then there is my daughter Caroline and her husband Chris who live near Perth in Australia. They are moulding the family’s youngest supporter baby Benjamin who at 6 months wears the official baby wear on match days. Both Caz and Chris watch the matches despite the 8 hour time difference.”
When I met Mary at Wolverhampton we talked about the brick which her son Dave had spotted at the Brentford exhibition. She told that back in 2006 she had bought two bricks one in memory of her mother and one in memory of her father Ron Randall. She said the bricks were “a memorial to have at Griffin Park where my family heart lies. My mum Gwen was a founder member of Lifeline and other members have contributed financially via Bees supporters funds and bucket collections, ‘Buy a brick’, not to mention supporting Bees United, BIAS and the Club shop.”
But where we wondered was the brick for her father?
I consulted Bees United board member Ron Cooper who first had the idea of the bricks using the strap line: ‘Back The Bees, Build a Future’.He explained: “ It was not a new idea, clubs across the country, Europe and South America had all done something similar to raise money for their clubs.In 2006, when Bees United became owners of Brentford Football Club, we wanted to find a way to celebrate this significant moment in the club’s history.However, our bricks would only have a temporary home at Griffin Park as we hoped they would be moved to Lionel Road in the fullness of time. This has yet to happen while the club find a suitable space to put them within the stadium complex.”
Ron then set off in search of the missing Ron Randall brick and we have now been able to tell Mary Renforth and through her the far flung extended family that the Ron Randall brick has been found safety and is now being put on display alongside the other bricks in the exhibition at the London Museum of Water and Steam.
The Museum is open from 1000 to 1600 at weekends. More details here
On September 27th I’ll be 50 years a Bees fan, which is surprising for two reasons. Historically my family had no interest in football and lived in Acton within 2 miles of QPR! My father was an Ealing based builder and happened to be working for a lifelong Brentford fan a few doors down from Eddie Lyons (the then Bees Physio) on Ealing Common. Dad said he had no interest in football but told him I was football mad! I was too young for 1966 but the 1970 World Cup (in colour!) captivated me. Recreating Rivellino’s banana kick in Walpole Park became an obsession.
I went to my first game against Stockport County on September 27th 1971, a Monday night game, which we won 2-0. I was told this could be a promotion year particularly with the previous year’s FA Cup run ending at Hull and the signing of my all-time favourite striker, John O’Mara. Getting to the match involved a walk from home, near to what was then Ealing Tech, down to GP. One day, the start of the journey was punctuated by the cry of “Ollie Ollie Ollie” which turned out to be Jack Holliday!
Other early memories included the 6-2 demolition of Darlington, Barry Salvage bombing down the left wing and the Andy Woon hat-trick on his debut. I also remember a brilliant end to end game with Mansfield Town, eventual champions, which ended 3-2 to them after we got to 2-1 up after their opener. In later years Cup runs to Liverpool (went up on a minibus with Terry Evan’s dad!), Charlton and Southampton will stick in the memory.
Cup Finals, on the other hand, have been our nemesis. My bucket list of my team winning a final and being on Match Of The Day have been realised!
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of our great legends. Lloyd Owusu on a trip back from Cyprus (Lloyd you still owe me a pound for your airport trolley), Richard Lee supported my goalkeeping coaching, I met “Super Kev” at a non-league cup final and played against Dean Holdsworth a couple of years ago in an over 50’s game! Geoff Buckingham is also “very lucky” to have watched me score two goals for Ealing Estate Agents in the late 70’s – a rare occasion when I was deemed “too good” to be in goal!
However, my long term treasured friendship is Alan Hawley and his family. I’ve known Alan a good while now and he was guest of honour at my 50th .
GP is a big miss for me but I know we have outgrown the club although I do have a constant reminder of those early days when I hear Mr. Gilham’s dulcet tones. If anyone deserved to lift the cup! What a brilliant gesture – I STILL can’t believe it!
My hope for the future is that we retain our “family values” and push on for further success, which I am personally very optimistic about.
PS: Anyone who printed out a ticket in recent years can spot me in the red banner that goes out with the confirmation. I’m with my son Rob on the right, he has already done a quarter century!
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This charming article (it’s well worth a proper read) appeared in the Daily Telegraph in September. The journalist (and former National Hunt jockey) Marcus Armytage told of a cousin of his who had become an actor. The cousin’s first name was Deighton (the surname wasn’t mentioned) and his agent had advised him to create a stage name. He was a keen Brentford fan and he finally chose Mr Brent Ford.
We set out try to find Mr Ford. In the database which records all appearances in films and TV Brent Ford was only listed as having appeared in a 1994 episode of ‘Red Dwarf’ and a 2004 episode of ‘Teachers’.The only photograph we could find was one in a social media profile.
Eventually Mr Ford was kind enough to talk to us and confirm the main points of his cousin’s article.Yes he had been told by his agent to create a stage name, yes it was Brent Ford and yes he was a Brentford fan. He explained that it happened in his early twenties, the agent said the new name had to be something simple and easy to remember. He said he talked and still does talk about Brentford all the time ‘probably every day of my life’. His friends always noticed this and one of them suggested he called himself Brent. Using the surname Ford followed on from that. It wasn’t a testament to show his undying love for the club. In fact he now regretted his decision, being ‘Brent Ford’ didn’t particularly help his career as an actor although it may have helped sell some of the novels he’d written under the same name, particularly in the American market. But he’d learned to Iive with the fact that more people knew him as Brent Ford than under his real name and he still loved the Bees.
There was a time when if a footballer went down injured during a game a ‘trainer’ would run onto the pitch clutching a wet sponge. Now things are very different. As an example Brentford’s Head of Medical, Neil Greig, explains what happened when Bryan Mbeumo was injured against Wolves in September: ‘As I was running onto the pitch my colleague Nick Stubbings was in the dugout, replaying the video of the specific incident that had occurred seconds before. He was checking a feed from multiple cameras to see if there was any contact to Bryan’s head, was he moving when he hit the floor. As I was approaching Brian lying on the ground I was already getting feedback on the radio in my earpiece from Nick reassuring me ‘he was never unconscious’ following the collision.
The increased focus on possible head injuries and concussion management is just one of the many changes Neil has seen in his eleven years at Brentford. He is one of the club’s longest-serving staff, having joined in June 2010 at the end of our first year in League One after promotion from League Two. He’d spent five years as a Sports Therapist at Watford. “I came in predominantly to set up the medical side of the academy system that the club wanted to start instead of a centre of excellence. It was really a blank canvas, there was nothing in place from a medical and sports science for the younger guys and the vision of the club was so impressive.
“When I first arrived at the training ground in Jersey Road there was just the Pavilion building, later portacabins grew and multiplied around it. The Pavilion was the gym and the canteen. There was an old stove in the corner which the kit man/chef Dave Carter would heat up for a pan of beans at lunchtime.You could be having your beans on toast and somebody would be sweating on a bike next to you doing their workout.”
Neil (3rd from left in middle row) with the 2011-12 squad at Jersey Road
Neil says that with better players and bigger expectations changes had to be made. “When I came there was one usable pitch and everything else was a grassed area that wasn’t really tended to. Now we have got two semi-synthetic pitches similar to the one at the stadium, we’ve got pop-up sprinklers in every area and more goals than you can shake a stick at.”
Pre-Season training in Germany in 2016
Football’s attitude to medical matters has changed too. “This is my 17th season in football and everything has become much more player centred,. We always take the view of what’s in the best long-term interests of an individual player and that might not always be what’s in the club’s best short-term interests. We’re fortunate to work for a club and an owner who care and who have strong moral values, which isn’t always the case in all clubs.”
Neil Greig with Ollie Watkins at a friendly at Wimbledon in 2017.
The medical staff includes several physiotherapists and doctors, Neil says: “I’ve got a fantastic team which we’ve tried to develop people from within. There’s a group of physios led by Nick Stubbings, with Liam Horgan and Richard Potts supporting on the First-team side and recently we’ve recruited Stella Zhang, who brings great experience including Australian rules football to work with the B team. My role within the daily running of the training ground is to ensure that these outstanding people can maximise their contact time with the players under their care. If I can field the majority of the other medical matters, then these guys have a platform upon which they can perform their roles to the best of their ability allowing them to thrive and develop,
“I should also mention Chris Domoney, whose title is ‘soft-tissue therapist’ but who has also become so much more than that including a mentor to some of the younger players and even the staff.” There are also two doctors Dr Stephen Thompson and Dr John Korgaonkar who share the work across training and matches. All of these guys dovetail with the other departments at Jersey Road, in particular the Performance team, led by Chris Haslam, who are always developing innovative ways to push the players to new levels.
“The work doesn’t stop when the players go home, especially when they have long-term injuries. “We’ve had players from abroad recuperating from surgery, maybe on crutches, living alone in an apartment with no lift. We have to think ‘how is he going to get food, how can we help with the chefs, with transport, with a supportive shoulder when they need it? Trust is such an important thing especially when players are injured. They want to, and should, know everything about their injury. They want to understand, they are bright and intelligent people. If there’s a problem, what are the different solutions that we can try? Players have to be at the centre of that discussion.”
Neil Greig and colleagues with Neal Maupay at QPR in 2018
Then along came COVID which Neil says ‘has taken over my professional and- my wife will tell you -my personal life. The hardest part at the start was that we were being asked questions when we really didn’t have any answers. We had to be honest and say we didn’t know, although we would try to find the answers. Nobody really knew. Honesty has been one of the most important parts of managing the group through Covid. We felt that it was OK to say “we don’t know” to players and staff. It was important for them to know that the answers weren’t necessarily out there and we needed to work together.
“In general, the players and staff have all stood up and supported the Covid processes that have been in place. We’ve tried to use it as a competitive edge, knowing that if we could be X percent better than our rivals, that might translate into an added performance benefit. Over the 18 months the bubbles have changed in line with government regulations. When we initially returned to Jersey Road we were really restricted, you couldn’t have more than five players on a training pitch, they had to come in at staggered times, you couldn’t go within two metres of anybody, you weren’t even allowed indoors to shower.
“Now we are 70% back to normal we’ve been allowed to relax some of our protocols but we still have a COVID officer from the Premier League on site every day. The guys can now eat together again but it is in a ventilated marquee with strictly limited numbers. Players and staff have to complete a short app before they arrive at the training round each day showing that they haven’t had symptoms or been in contact with anybody. We call for honesty in that and players have called us up and asked for advice before they travel.
“The club is built on good people with good values. I would be lying if I said we hadn’t had frustrations with the restrictions but we are slowly moving back towards normality. I think we are going to be living with this COVID issue probably forever to some degree but hopefully not with the restrictions that we still have.”
Brentford’s Co-Director of Football Phil Giles says; ““Neil has done a fantastic job through the COVID pandemic, he is a really organised person who has helped navigate us through a whole series of challenges and requirements from the EFL and PL. I think we have generally avoided the worst impact of the pandemic so far and that directly contributed to us getting where we are today. Neil is like a lot of our staff because a lot of his work goes unseen outside of the training ground, but is vital in getting fit, healthy and happy players performing for us on the pitch.”
COVID was at its height as Brentford seemed poised for promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2019-2020 season. “Looking back the Barnsley game was probably the lowest point in my career. I don’’t think I’ve seen a group of people in a dressing room quite so low after a football match. It was devastating at the time. Then to get to Wembley against Fulham and not really perform how we’d hoped, we wondered where do we go from here? But you realise with experience that life goes on, you can’t dwell on it and there is always something else around the corner.`’
His prophesy and optimism was proven right a year later, initially in the second leg against Bournemouth when Brentford went two -nil down on aggregate. “The four thousand fans in the stadium got behind the team, it was such a fantastic day. We went into the final against Swansea with so much belief, I was a little more scared than most having lost at Wembley three times in my career. But it was everything we had worked for over 10 or 11 years all coming to fruition. I find it hard to talk about it without getting emotional. It’s not like a normal ‘job’. Your family, your friends, everyone becomes emotionally invested in it. It meant so much to so many to win on that day at Wembley and it was just reward to everyone who been involved in this incredible journey.”
Neil says it has been a ‘bit of a whirlwind’ ever since with Premier League regulations to comply with and he realises “there’s a lot more scrutiny from the Premier League on us from the medical side of things. I think you are mindful that you are under the spotlight when you go out there. The cameras are on you and potentially the video is going to be played back and reviewed.”
Overall he is pleased with life in the Premier League so far.“I think we have acquitted ourselves fantastically well, players and coaches have performed, every time we’ve been presented with a challenge, the players and the coaching staff have really come up trumps.We are now where we want to be and deserve to be. We are still learning but the club is about learning, feeling comfortable trying new things that may not always work, that’s one of the strongest things that I think Matthew, Phil and Ras and the board in general have brought into the club. In 15 to 20 years time there will be a book or a film about what’s been created here and you wouldn’t be able to script it.”
Just when you might have thought Neil might needed some time off he’s i training for his 7th marathon, being run in Manchester on Sunday 10th October. The club have christened it ‘Running for Rob’ because one cause he will be fund-raising for is CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) the favourite charity of Suzanne Rowan, wife of Brentford’s late Technical Director Rob Rowan.
Neil Greig completes the London Marathon
“The players are very generous and supportive of fund-raising events particularly when they can see something tangible at the end of it, to see where their money is going.Part of the money raised will be for screening young people to help identify heart conditions that they don’t know they’ve got. We hope to do that at the stadium. But I also wanted there to be another end product. We had three players in the stadium when Christian Eriksen went down in the Euros and his life was saved because there was a defibrillator, an AED (automated external defibrillator) in the stadium. I wanted some of the funds to go towards providing AEDs for clubs and educational facilities around the Brentford area.The Brentford Community Sports Trust will organise that. The club itself has been very generous and the players have been key contributors. Josh Dasilva was the first person to put his name down. He said to me ‘how much is a defib’? I said about a thousand pounds, he said ‘right, here you go, a thousand pounds to start you off’.
“Josh is a player that Rob was instrumental in bringing to the club, he was devastated as was everybody was when we lost Rob. He kicked off the fund-raising and everybody else jumped on board.Players in general receive a lot of bad press and it’s largely unwarranted, they are genuinely good people .And particularly we are blessed with a really, really good group.”
You can donate to ‘Running for Rob’ here
A visit to Brentford by one Cabinet Minister and warm words from another suggest the Government is going to support an innovation pioneered by Bees United being adopted at other clubs.The process started when Conservative MP Tracey Crouch, who is leading the Government’s ’fan-led review’ of English football. published her interim report which included this section:
‘We have seen strong evidence that existing protections of key club heritage items of great cultural and emotional importance to fans is not sufficient. The most pressing of these has been the many clubs who appear to have lost the rights to their home grounds, but much evidence was also received of concerns relating to items such as club badges, location, colours and competitions. I therefore intend to develop proposals with the Panel to offer greater protection for these important assets through a ‘golden share’ for fans, giving veto powers over reserved items, to be held by a democratic legally constituted fan group.’
No specific club was mentioned as an example but both Bees United and BIAS had given evidence to Tracey Crouch and her team. They pointed to a ‘special share’ owned by BU in BFC which means the club can only sell their stadium if there is a new ground to move to and that it meets criteria defined in an agreement between BU and BFC.
Ms Crouch is now finalising her proposals which will go to the Secretary of State for Digital,Culture,Media and Sport. At the end of August the person in that job Oliver Dowden MP visited Brentford and especially asked to meet fans representatives. BU Chairman Stewart Purvis invited BU Secretary, Don Tanswell to join him along with Gemma Teale from BIAS and LGBeeTs. Mr Dowden was accompanied by a photographer from DCMS.
Mr Dowden asked about the ‘golden share’ and also about the agreement between Brentford and Bees United under which BU has a director on the board of the club. The current holder of that post Stewart Purvis explained how the agreement worked and also told Mr Dowden that said the fan groups supported Tracey Crouch’s wider proposals.
After the meeting Dowden gave an interview to the Times in which he praised Brentford as a ‘model club’ .The Times correspondent ,Henry Winter, wrote that Brentford was a ‘well-run, fan-orientated family club’.When the article appeared the Minister tweeted about his visit to Brentford.
Three weeks later Oliver Dowden was no longer DCMS Secretary of State, moved by Boris Johnson to be Chairman of the Conservative Party. In his place came Nadine Dorries MP and on her very first appearance in the Commons in her new role she was asked by a MP about what she was doing to introduce a golden shares for fans. She replied:
‘My predecessor saw at first hand at Brentford that a golden share can do what the hon. Gentleman outlines without undermining the ownership of clubs…. I look forward, as the hon. Gentleman does, to my hon. Friend’s report later this year’.
Translated from parliamentary language that means: ‘it’s not for me to tell Tracey Crouch what to say in her final report but you can be sure she’s going to recommend a golden share for other clubs because what Brentford has shown is that this doesn’t undermine club owners’.
Soon Ms Dories was tweeting to show her enthusiasm for reform in football.