EVERTON 2 BRENTFORD 3

EVERTON 2 BRENTFORD 3

Ever experienced one of those days when nothing goes right? Well, Everton has. At Goodison Park for all of the first 18 minutes the home side looked like spanking a bemused Brentford side. They took the lead after just ten of those and must have felt all was well with the world. And then the sky fell in.

Having made considerable progress in avoiding relegation under the tutelage of recently appointed manager Frank Lampard, the sweetly-nicknamed Toffees were favourites with the bookies to send the Bees back to London with nothing to show for their trip other than a collection of might-have-beens. 

With a 1-0 defeat at the Community Stadium last November to avenge, they set about the Bees in workmanlike fashion. And they forged their way ahead until a long-range punt born of necessity rather than creative thinking saw 19-year-old centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite chasing a rampaging Ivan Toney and, despairing of ever catching him, clattered him to the ground from behind. The resultant free kick came to nothing, but by then Braithwaite had departed with a red card for company, one of 103 collected by Everton in their long history.

The shape of the game changed from there on, with a reorganised Everton setting about hanging on to the lead established when Dominic Calvert-Lewin finished an Anthony Gordon free kick with a touch as light as a feather duster.   

The Bees drew level thanks to Everton full back Seamus Coleman’s head, which sportingly got in the way to divert a Yoane Wissa cross past Jordan Pickford. But soon the home side were again in front, thanks on this occasion to Mads Bech Sørensen, who was having a torrid time trying to contain the home side’s refusal to mind their own business and unwisely toppled the Brazilian Richarlison in the penalty area.

Richarlison, having converted the resultant penalty, bit the dust again shortly afterwards and was ignored by everyone concerned other than Christian Eriksen, who did the very decent thing of trotting over to the striker to see if all was well. It was, in a manner of speaking.

Bech Sørensen was replaced by Thomas Frank at the interval as the coach shuffled his side to inject speed by dispensing with much of the defence and sending extra midfielders Josh Dasilva and Vitaly Janelt into the fray. Smart move: with about half-an-hour remaining an Eriksen corner homed in on a crowded goalmouth, only to be intercepted by Wissa’s head and from a narrow angle found its home inside the far post.

And, blow me, two minutes later Brentford were in front, a fine Matthias Jensen cross being met by an airborne Rico Henry to guide it out of Pickford’s reach.  

Those kind-hearted among the TV audience could not help but feel sympathy for an indefatigable Everton side, especially when, with two minutes of normal time left to play, late substitute Soloman Rondón felled Henry with a tackle that had foul writ large over it to leave only nine dejected souls trooping from the pitch.

The afternoon ended with Brentford in eleventh place in the Premier league table, with only one game remaining of their extraordinary season and Everton still in search of the three points that might – no guarantees, mind – keep them in the Premier League. 

‘Crazy game’, was Thomas Frank’s verdict. ‘We wuz robbed,’ complained Lampard, who thought his side should have been awarded a penalty for some shirt-pulling in the box just before the sending off. Perhaps the Bees can help them out by snaffling the points themselves when they meet up with the Toffees’ relegation rivals Leeds United at the Community Stadium next Sunday

Everton: Pickford; Coleman (substitute Rondón 84), Branthwaite, Holgate; Iwobi, Doucouré, André Gomes (Kenny 72), Mykolenko; Gordon (Gray 72), Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison.

Brentford: Raya; Ajer (Dasilva 59), Jansson, Bech Sørensen (Janelt 45), Henry; Jensen, Nørgaard, Eriksen; Mbeumo, Toney, Wissa (Roerslev 75). 

This report first appeared on the Chiswick Calendar website

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BRENTFORD 1 LEEDS UNITED 2

BRENTFORD 1 LEEDS UNITED 2

After the Lord Mayor’s show of a season comes the dustcart of a finale. Such a shame, even if the thousands of loyal Brentford fans lingered in the Community Stadium to say thanks to the manager and team that delivered so many thrills as they became a footballing force in the Premier League, while the sides that had accompanied them from the Championship disappeared back from whence they came. 

For all that, the last game of the season was a damp squib that failed to ignite; a pedestrian contest in which the Bees should have sent lacklustre Leeds also into the league below.

They failed to do so in what once was typical Brentford style – haphazard and error-strewn, a difficult mountain climb that should have been a walk in the park. Chances were created and wasted, sporadic Leeds attacks shown far too much respect and, worst of all, the home side finished with only nine players on the pitch.

 Is this too harsh a verdict? Let me recall the painful progress of Thomas Frank and his squad and then explain it without resorting to the cliche, ‘That’s football’.

Early on, Brentford held the upper hand and looked likely to score, even if Bryan Mbeumo had once again forgotten his shooting boots. What a fine and valuable player he is, but something happens when he finds himself in prime position; namely, he loses his sense of direction.

The large and vocally supportive contingent from Yorkshire urged on their injury- decimated team and, to everyone’s surprise – possibly including many of team – they appeared to go ahead, with striker Joe Gelhardt firing a shot past David Raya. VAR cut short the resultant elation by declaring the effort offside and Leeds’ head coach, Jesse Marsch, winner of the Most Animated Manager of the Year award, resumed his technical area (and nearby) aerobics. 

The excitement subsided and the rest of the first half consisted of random long-range shots from Leeds and some thoughtful, attractive but mostly ineffectual football from the Bees. But surely the home side would up their game in the second period? Well, no…

On 56 minutes lively forward Raphinha careered into the penalty area and was brought down by a resourceful but illegal clobbering from David Raya. Raya. whose inadequate clearance had put him in the pickle to begin with, did his best to unnerve the Brazilian with goal-line calisthenics, but the penalty whistled into the net as the keeper took off in the wrong direction.  

Thomas Frank then proceeded to introduce a trio of substitutes, with Josh Dasilva, Sergi Canós and Shandon Baptiste arriving in stages to provide fresh legs but no noticeable cutting edge. Until, that is, with ten minutes left to play a fine cross from Yoane Wissa was met by Canós’s equally excellent header, which flew wide of goalkeeper Illan Meslier. 

With Kristoffer Ajer having limped off with a leg injury, Brentford were reduced to ten men, the maximum number of subs having been already reached. But worse was yet to come. 

Canós earned a first warning because of the extravagant celebration of his goal and within two more minutes collected a second for a clumsy foul on Raphinha. Off he marched, nursing the remarkable record of having scored in both Brentford’s first and last games of the season and squeezing a red card into the record books too. 

Nine men standing and ten minutes left plus subsequently the referee’s award of five extra minutes. They battled valiantly and Leeds shot poorly before, until with inside a minute remaining Jack Harrison fired in a shot that hugged the ground from the edge of the penalty to take a slight deflection and find the back of Raya’s net.

There was just one kick, to restart the game, remaining. The tension that had marred the performances of both sides evaporated. The Leeds’ squad and their manager gathered in the corner of the visitors’ enclave to make whoopee. 

Only when they eventually dispersed did Frank and the injury-listed Christian Nørgaard and his family lead a Brentford procession around the pitch that included many small children of the players, running and handholding and laughing in the late afternoon sunshine. Thousands of home fans were still there, to sing and dance as if in a carnival.

I turned, as always, to seek the opinion of the game from my mate Charlie, but noticed that his cheeks were damp as he stared at this extraordinary sight.

‘What a wonderful season,’ said Charlie.

Brentford: Raya; Ajer (injured 77), Jansson, Bech Sørensen (substitute Baptiste 71), Henry (Canós 63); Jensen (Dasilva 58), Janelt, Eriksen; Mbeumo, Toney, Wissa. 

Leeds United: Meslier; Koch, Llorente, Cooper, Firpo; Raphinha, Greenwood (Klich 85), Phillips, Harrison; Rodrigo; Gelhardt (Struijk). 

This report first appeared on the Chiswick Calendar website

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BRENTFORD 3 SOUTHAMPTON 0

BRENTFORD 3 SOUTHAMPTON 0

What a wonderful season this has turned out to be. Who could have predicted that a bus stop in Hounslow would emerge as major players and acknowledged supreme entertainers in one of the toughest football competitions in the world?

Witness the latest chapter in a remarkable story: another superlative performance by Brentford as the Saints failed to go marching in. 

Southampton beat them 4-1 at home earlier in the year, but this team was one that couldn’t find its way through a resolute Bees’ defence, even one depleted by the absence of the injured Ethan Pinnock. And it was only six days since Manchester United had sent Brentford home from Old Trafford nursing a 0-3 defeat.

No wonder the home crowd were so reluctant to leave the Community Stadium as the team trouped from the pitch after their familiar lap of honour to leave thousands still dancing on the terraces and in the stands.

With just two matches still to play in this first, accomplished Premier League season, the Bees regained twelfth place in the table to put eleven points between them and the relegation box. The fact that Norwich City and Watford – the two sides automatically promoted at the end of last season – were confirmed as returning immediately to the Championship, proved just how far play-off-winners Brentford have come in their first top-tier outing since 1947.

Okay, games in hand by those jostling for position below means that occupying a relatively lofty position may not last. But, hey, hands up any fan who would not have grabbed with both hands a near-mid table place if offered it back in August of last year.

Southampton started well, with slick passing at speed that would have caused Brentford to scratch their heads had they not been busy trying to get out of their own half. It didn’t last long, although David Raya was almost caught napping when attempting to clear the ball while harassed by striker Adam Armstrong.

Then all genuine attacking action switched to focus on visiting goalkeeper Fraser Forster, all 6ft 7ins of him. Matthias Jensen went close, Yoane Wissa shot too near the keeper after a superb Ivan Toney head-flick feed, and Christian Eriksen failed to convert a couple of chances, proving that this playmaster does not always display finishing finesse.

No matter. An explosive Brentford burst after 12 minutes saw an Eriksen’s corner chipped back into the goalmouth by Toney for Pontus Jansson to bundle it into goal. The skipper scored his first Premier League goal four games ago – looks like he’s in danger of making a habit of it. 

Skip now to little more than a minute later when Eriksen was brought down midway inside the Southampton half and referee Michael Salisbury showed commendable judgement in recognising Brentford’s advantage as Wissa collected the loose ball and sprinted away to beat Forster with a measured pass that even his great reach couldn’t cope with.

Adam Armstrong managed to get the ball past Raya just before the interval, only to be judged offside. Otherwise, the pattern remained the same, Brentford buzzing threateningly – a Toney shot rebounded, only for Bryan Mbeumo to blast it skyward – while the Saints, relying on two wings and probably a prayer, added several long shots to their repertoire to not avail.

Just under the half-hour of the second period saw a melee in the visitors’ goalmouth when several Bees tried to force the ball home, a pinball episode ended by Jensen firing over. No matter; a slightly shorter repeat performance saw Kristoffer Ajer appear somewhat surprisingly in the midst of it all to sidestep a tackle and then neatly nutmeg Forster for his first Brentford goal.

Game over, really, although Thomas Frank’s decision to substitute 19-year-old forward Nathan Young-Coombes for his first-team debut just a few minutes before the end was good for his morale and hopefully for Brentford’s future.    

The entertainment mentioned earlier this review was on this occasion provided by the appearance in the main stand of former player and broadcaster Chris Kamara, ex-club chairman (and restaurateur) Dan Tana, and Bradley Walsh, one-time on the playing staff but now a popular TV host and actor, dapper in suit and tie.

Nice to see the celebs turning out, I murmured to my mate Charlie.

‘What celebs?’ said Charlie.

Brentford: Raya; Ajer, Jansson, Bech Sørensen, Henry; Jensen (substitute Young-Coombes 87), Nørgaard, Eriksen; Mbeumo (Baptiste 81), Toney, Wissa (Dasilva 68). 

Southampton: Forster; Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Salisu, Perraud; S Armstrong, (Romeu 83), Ward-Prowse; Diallo (Elyounoussi 64); Redmond, A Armstrong, Broja.

This report appeared first on the Chiswick Calendar website

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BRENTFORD 2 WEST HAM UNITED 0

BRENTFORD 2 WEST HAM UNITED 0

This is getting to be a habit for the Bees. Thumping London rivals from the top six in the division, that is. 

For the second consecutive weekend, highflyers were despatched comprehensively as Thomas Frank’s first-team pool of players snaffled three points to distance themselves further from the relegation zone lurking down below. Oh joy – no wonder the jubilant crowd at the Community Stadium on Saturday seemed so reluctant to go home.

West Ham, the team I supported in my youth, has thrived under the managership of David Moyes, even if the glory days of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst are long gone. Today the Hammers are in sixth place in the Premier League and competing in Europe, with dreams of a Champions League place yet to fade and die.

But it’s a fickle old game, football, with many a hiccup on the way to success and equally so on the road to failure.

Witness from the kick-off on Saturday, when the mischievous Brentford faithful gave visiting centre-back Kurt Zouma a torrid time whenever he touched the ball. Zouma, you may recall, had made the national news bulletins when appearing to confuse a pet cat with a training football. What a catastrophe, one that Brentford’s wittier patrons were anxious to ensure was not forgotten.

When injury determined that after 29 minutes he had to be withdrawn from the fray to be replaced by Issa Diop, he might well have felt some relief to escape the taunts as well as frustration at possibly missing his club’s vital Europa League quarter-final clash with Lyon this week. 

The Bees had the visitors on their collective back foot from the start. Brian Mbeumo unleashed a fizzer of a shot that was turned away by Lucasz Fabianski at full stretch – one of Bryan’s several might-have-been moments in the first half – and Christian Eriksen’s artful free kick lacked the venom to trouble the keeper.

At the other end, David Raya was rarely exerted by a visiting attack in which hotshot Michail Antonio seemed out of sorts. But with Brentford’s chances lacking execution, the reward of League points remained no more than a promise 

That changed just three minutes after the interval, when the Old Firm of Mbeumo and Ivan Toney produced the goods that have been characteristic of their partnership in this first Premier season after years of trying. A throw-in that found Toney saw him provide a cultured flick for Mbeumo to run on to and rifle a low drive past Fabianski. 

Missing from the scoresheet for far too long, the Frenchman celebrated with a mixture of elation and relief. Much back-slapping from other team members was accompanied by Eriksen’s supportive demonstration of delight. 

After 63 minutes the Old Firm proved it really was back in business when Rico Henry’s long, high cross was volleyed back into the goalmouth by Mbeumo and there was Toney to head powerfully home.

West Ham, with the volume of ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’ increased encouragingly by their supporters, pulled up their socks and set out to rectify the situation. Said Benrahma, fondly remembered from his time at Brentford, was substituted for Manuel Lanzini to weave his magic (‘Said wants to come home’ sang the Bees’ crowd), but it wasn’t enough. 

Eriksen’s dominance of the Brentford midfield, Kristoffer Ajer’s immaculate performance and stand-in skipper Christian Nørgaard’s authority throughout, plus a defence that grows in stature with every game – unwell captain Pontus Jansson’s absence was barely noticed by Frank’s revised jigsaw of a back four – stood out in a team oozing confidence as it saw off the Hammers for the second time in the season.

Next up, Watford away from home, whose automatic promotion from the Championship has disappeared from sight, to be replaced by a real and present danger of relegation for the Hornets.

Unlike many of Chelsea’s snooty supporters the previous week, most West Ham fans stayed loyally until the bitter end of the match. Good for them, although their choral contribution of ‘Blowing Bubbles’ had achieved little.

‘The bubbles burst,’ said my mate Charlie.  

Brentford: Raya; Ajer (substitute Roerslev 83), Zanka, Pinnock, Henry (sub Roerslev 83); Janelt, (sub Jensen 69), Ericksen, Nørgaard; Mbeumo (sub Canós 78); Toney, Wissa. 

West Ham: Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Zouma (sub Diop 29), Cresswell; Soucek, Rice; Bowen, Luzini (sub Benrahma 57), Formals’; Antonio (sub Viasic 66). 

This report appeared first on the Chiswick Calendar website.

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BRENTFORD 0 BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION 1

BRENTFORD 0 BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION 1

It had to happen sometime, but few among the Brentford faithful expected it to be delivered by a Brighton side as polished as the front room sideboard but with more perspiration than inspiration. We’re talking of course about the Bees’ loss of their slender unbeaten record – three Premier League games and a Carabao Cup challenge by Division Two’s Forest Green. Okay, it wasn’t much, but for followers of a fledging side in the upper echelons of English football it was serving us nicely, thank you very much.

What with a suspension of business to accommodate the pre-World Cup international requirements, a recap is perhaps in order. A season-opening win over Arsenal was followed by a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace, then the cup-tie at home to Forest Green, when after conceding a first-half-goal the Bees scored three times to ease into the third-round draw, more of which later.

Forest Green, then cruising in or near the top of Division Two, were dismissed by goals from substitute Bryan Mbeumo – more of him later, too – Marcus Forss  and new signing Yoane Wissa, a Congolese attacking midfielder of speed and determination. Peculiarly, there will be no more of Wissa for the time being as he has languished on the bench ever since.

Photograph by Liz Vercoe

Brentford’s final outing before the international break was to Aston Villa, to where Dean Smith and Ollie Watkins, Bees’ head coach and striker respectively, have been transplanted with some success. Ollie was unfit to play and it was another front-man, Bees’ record goalscorer Ivan Toney, who stamped his authority on the game with a seventh-minute goal that was negated six minutes later by a Villa equaliser. One win and two draws were enough to keep Brentford lurking near the top of the League and all was well with the world.

Until Brighton came to call. With Shandon Baptiste replacing Samon Ghoddos in the starting line-up, Brentford went off at a ferocious pace. Brighton, in sky blue kit to match large patches of the sky, scampered after them and soon were matching Brentford’s energy, too. A splendid game developed, a pleasure to watch as the Bees created chances to score and Brighton didn’t.

But the failure to capitalise on those chances began to irk before the interval. Mbeumo shot high then even higher before unleashing a fierce raking effort that sped wide of the far post. High and wide but not at all handsome from a player who contributes more with every match, yet in the department of putting the ball in the net has a scoring touch that has gone missing more infuriatingly than a pet cat.

Brighton employed two substitutes in the second half, having the best of the end-to-end play that developed. Thomas Frank introduced a trio of of his own for the home side without any noticeable improvement. Tony remained a danger without getting a good enough service from midfield and looked increasingly fed up as the game progressed.

Photographs by Liz Vercoe

The Brighton crowd, in good voice throughout, began to taunt the home supporters, greeting the award of a free kick against the Bees with: ‘You dirty northern bastards’. Brighton were winning the witticism contest, too.

Neal Maupay, an admired up-front player when at Brentford, shot wide and at the final whistle appeared to be in a skirmish with Toney. Players milled around and referee Graham Scott, a meticulous man especially when it came to throw-ins being taken exactly where the ball had crossed the line, seemed perplexed

If this goes on, we’ll concede a goal, I had earlier told my mate Charlie. And so they did, neatly exactly on the full-time mark, when sub Alexis MacAllister fed Leandro Trossard – a constant irritant to the home defence and arguably the best player on the pitch – who made space and curled a swerving drive beyond David Raya.

Brentford: Raya, Ajer, Jansson, Pinnock, Canos, Baptiste, Norgaard, Janelt, Henry, Mbeumo, Toney. Substitutes used: Roerslev, Jensen, Onyeka.

Brighton: Sanchez, Webster, Duffy, Dunk, Veltman, Lallana, Bissouma, Cucurella, Trossard, Maupay, Welbeck. Subs used: MacAllister, March.

This report first appeared in chiswickcalendar.co.uk 

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BRENTFORD 2 ARSENAL 0

BRENTFORD 2 ARSENAL 0

This was no flash in the pan, no riding of luck by new boys of the Premier League. Here we saw the dismantling of one of the most famous teams in football by a side offering a total of less than an hour at this level; a club that arrived at the summit after 74 years of varying fortunes and myriad disappointments. 

What a team, what a squad this is. And what an army of supporters, christening the Premier League debut at their state-of-the-art new stadium with full-throated support but also standing after 28 minutes in tribute to late technical director Rob Rowan, who died suddenly at the age of 28, and then repeating the exercise in respecting Arsenal’s sub Bukayo Saka, who suffered appalling online abuse after missing a penalty for England in the Euro final earlier in the year. 

The preparation for this occasion had seen emotions flooding the two challenging friendly fixtures at the Community Stadium. 

Although losing 0-1 to West Ham – fittingly, the Hammers’ goal was crafted and scored by Said Benrahma, a star Bee and crowd favourite until transferred at the beginning of last season – Brentford looked sharp and hungry. Then came Spanish visitors Valencia, a match I watched on TV in Spain that left confident Valencians shaking their heads as Ethan Pinnock and new signing Frank Onyeka each scored to cancel out an earlier Valencia goal and give Brentford a 2-1 victory.

Back in West London, as the days ticked by towards the first Premier League game of the season – an occasion to be further heightened by full TV coverage – anticipation and optimism grew. There was magic abroad in the air. 

And so to the big event and the atmosphere, which appeared to have been transported unaltered along Kew Bridge Road from Griffin Park. Only the locale had changed, now resembling pre-match like a major movie location. 

Media crews scuttled here and there. The pitch sprinklers sprinkled prettily. Peter Gilham – Mr Brentford – stood close to the edge of the centre line, presumably pondering on how his introduction of the teams could make history. The west end collectively cleared its throat and the decibel count soared.

Five minutes to go and Hey Jude reached a crescendo. The words of head coach Thomas Franks’ address on the big video screens were drowned out. So was Peter Gilham’s welcoming of the teams, except for the familiar bellow of the word BRENTFORD, which flirted with the crowd noise and could just about be made out by those with an acute sense of hearing.

Both teams fielded the selected starting line-up together with substitutes, Arsenal resplendent in multi-coloured tops, Brentford in a scarlet that shouted as loudly as the West Stand Alliance massed behind the home goal – ‘A place for the Brentford supporters who want a real atmosphere at Lionel Road’.

Arsenal, famous for their red shirts and white shorts but here tidy in their blue third strip, set off at a crackerjack pace. For five minutes or so, Brentford looked as if they might be overawed by the North London superstars, but with new signings Kristoffer Ajer and Frank Onyeka settling into the defence and midfield respectively, the Bees established a rhythm that began to unsettle the visitors. 

The home crowd dominating an attendance of 16,479 loved it; ‘We’re just a bus stop in Hounslow’ they chanted with self-deprecation, while Arsenal fans mustered their own choir to proclaim superiority (‘We’re just too good for you’) bred in history and confirmed in 2020-21 – hardly their best of seasons for one of soccer’s elite – with eighth position in the League.

And then Bryan Mbeumo hit a post, denying the Bees the lead by a few inches. No matter. With a defence looking more impenetrable by the minutes and striker Ivan Toney marshalling the attack force with customary skill, it looked likely that Brentford might be the first to score. And so they were, with Ethan Pinnock heading the ball into the path of Sergi Canós for the wing back to sprint across the penalty area to fire a shot fierce enough to beat goalkeeper Bernd Leno at his near post.

Arsenal, doubtless with a pep talk from manager Mikel Arteta ringing in their ears, regrouped and became more of a threat after the interval. As the home defence wearied, it became clear that a decisive thrust was required to hold them off. Another goal, for example, which was stunningly provided when Mads Bech Sorensen, having been substituted for Ajer, propelled a long throw from the touchline into the goal area and Christian Nørgaard climbed higher than a stuttering Arsenal defence – and leaping colleague Mbeumo! – to head firmly into the net. It was Norgaard’s first-ever goal for the club. It was that kind of game.

Following Frank and his squad’s lap of honour, the crowd left the ground, reluctantly, cresting a sea of delirium.

 ‘I wouldn’t have wished to be anywhere else on earth today,’ I told my mate Charlie.

‘And we’re top of the League,’ said Charlie. And and so we were, for about 990 glorious, golden minutes. 

Brentford: Raya; Ayer, Jansson, Pinnock; Canos, Onyeka, Norgaard, Janelt, Henry; Mbeumo, Toney. Substitutes used: Bech Sorensen 71, Bidstrup 80, Forss 86.

Arsenal: Leno; Chambers, White, Mari, Tierney; Sambi Lokonga, Xharka; Pepe, Smith Rowe, Martinelli; Balogun. Subs used: Saka 59, Nelson 71, Tavares 81.

This report first appeared on the Chiswick Calendar website chiswickcalendar.co.uk 

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