On the final whistle a giant yelp of delight echoed round the empty stands. Normally the victory cry of a Brentford captain after the defeat of the Championship leaders would have been submerged into the crowd noise. But since Bees support inside Griffin Park was barely into double figures Pontus Jansson could be heard clearly.The Bees had beaten the Baggies to move up the table and the gap to the top was coming down. ‘Celebration’ played out across the ground.
From the start the old stadium put on a special show for this Covid-19 BCD (Behind Closed Doors) game. The pitch looked perfect, the Braemar Road stand was dressed with cut-out photos and over a hundred flags. Peter Gilham was on top form on the PA even if there was barely anybody there to hear him apart from the players. ‘Come on Brentford’ rang out as passionately as ever just before kickoff but he couldn’t deliver it from his usual pitch side position because that was in the so-called ‘red zone’. And mascot Buzz Bee certainly wasn’t considered essential enough to be allowed in to collect his normal high five from Peter.
Peter Gilham in his usual perch alongside the masked media.
There were many unusual sights around the ground : a temperature check on the front gate with no exception for owner Matthew Benham, face coverings and masks everywhere, the goalposts being sterilised ten minutes before the game, instead of standing fans at the Ealing Road end there was just one steward and one TV cameraman. A mobile shower unit for the away team had been set up where the programme collectors normally buy and sell. Old club offices had been turned into the medical facilities and changing facilities the EFL protocols demanded. The press room had become doping control. Nearly fifty pages of requirements had been delivered to the letter for CEO Jon Varney by Director of Operations Alan Walsh, Stadium Operations Manager Dave Gregg and Safety and Security Manager Barney McGhee. Credit to them and to Club Secretary Lisa Skelhorn and Assistant Claire Hiskett.
Brentford’s ‘Princes of EFL Protocols’ Alan Walsh and Dave Gregg
When it came to sounds ‘Hey Jude’ was eerie in an empty stadium, there was no fake crowd noise (Sky put that on for TV viewers ) but the Brentford directors made themselves heard with Chairman Cliff Crown in particularly good voice.
During the warm up Mathias Jensen switched from the starters to the subs which was the first clue he wasn’t going to play after all because of an injury and Emiliano Marcondes would take his place. Immediately after the kickoff Romaine Sawyers settled into central midfield and began plotting passes in his usual style, fortunately for Brentford that only lasted for five minutes and the returning hero had a quiet night.
Had this been a normal game the first half would have ended with a standing ovation for the Bees. They had the only goal; a Fosu-Da Silva-Benrahma-Da Silva-Watkins move that ended with Ollie poking it home and jokingly cupping an ear to the empty away end. Brentford had all the best chances.
WBA couldn’t have got much worse in the second half and they didn’t. Two substitutions made them much more positive. Sub Kenneth Zohore hit the top of the crossbar and others missed good opportunities. The Bees goal was under siege but the back four stood strong and Ethan Pinnock was outstanding.
Just as he had at Fulham Thomas Frank held off substitutions until the second drinks break and again the arrivals made all the difference, especially Shandon Baptiste who set up Josh Da Silva for a shot that went wide. When Shandon and Tariqe Fosu were signed from Oxford in the January window who could have guessed how important they would be in a June and July run-in.
Brentford stayed in good shape until the end: Ollie Watkins was still running and delivering clever sideways passes to colleagues and Bryan Mbeumo made a subs appearance that reassured fans his asymptomatic bout with COVID had left no after effects.
At the end there was a moment between Josh Da Silva and Pontus Jansson that seemed to sum up ‘#BeeTogether.
Up in the part of the Braemar Road stand reserved for ‘Scouts’,Wigan manager Paul Cook sat working out how he will resist the mighty Bees in the next game at Griffin Park after our two wins in a week against promotion rivals. He’ll have a worrying week.
Wigan awaits: Paul Cook in the Braemar Road stand.
But first Brentford have to face Reading away as they go into a Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday merry go round that some in the Bees camp still believe might yet clinch them an automatic promotion slot.
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Marcondes (sub Baptiste), Nørgaard, Dasilva (Mokotjo); Fosu (Mbeumo), Watkins, Benrahma
West Bromwich Albion: Johnstone; Furlong, Hegazi, Ajayi, Gibbs; Sawyers, Livermore (Harper; Phillips (Krovinović), Pereira (Edwards), Diangana (Robinson); Robson-Kanu (Zohore)
What the Griffin Park Grapevine christened the ‘gatecrashers’: from left Jon Varney, Monique Choudhuri, Stewart Purvis, Rasmus Ankersen, Donald Kerr, Cliff Crown, Eddie Rogers and Matthew Benham.
“It was a crazy lockdown idea really” says Bees fan Steve Tidy. “I’d been furloughed from my job at the airport and I was on a bike ride with my friend Paul Davis. I took a picture outside the new stadium with my Brentford flag and his flag.That night I was laying in bed admiring the picture and I just thought ‘how good would it be if I could get enough flags to fill the whole of the fence down the side of the new stadium and get some pictures’.”
Steve’s flag(left) was the first on the fence. Many more would follow.
To deliver Steve’s ambition he had an impressive logistical plan that involved 289 miles on that bike.“I went back to Lionel Road with a tape measure and measured the fence at around 680 feet. I started to get my idea out to people that I knew had a flag. Then I put something on Brentford FC Facebook chat and I had a great response from supporters. I’m an all or nothing sort of guy and so I thought I would collect all the flags from the fans. I got their post codes, agreed what time they would be at home, then rode around for a few days using google maps collecting flags. Some people paid to have their flags delivered to me. I reassured them they’d get them all back as I know what a flag can mean to its owners.”
More than 50 flags later.
Steve created a master list of what was on each flag and who had lent it. Then he sought the co-operation of the security team on the stadium site: “we agreed that if I put the flags up on a weekend it wouldn’t get in the way of the building workers. On a Saturday evening I put up 57 flags that took up about 540 feet of the fence. I didn’t leave the flags there, they are worth a bit of money, mine alone is worth about £400.”
Steve took them back to his bedroom where the flags, all tagged and named, took up one side of the room. “Brentford contacted me and asked to put all the flags in Griffin Park for the remaining games. That meant me asking all the owners and checking that they had fire certificates for their flags.”
Brentford’s Director of Fan and Community Relations, Sally Stephens, was already bringing in flags as part of CEO Jon Varney’s plan to create as much colour as possible in Griffin Park for the remaining games. The flag movement developed further momentum when another Bees fan, Gary Levine at TW8 Casuals, offered special discounts to supporters who could have a flag made with their own message and delivered to Griffin Park in time for the WBA match. The club confirmed; “We want to do all we can to make Griffin Park feel like home for the team during this time when we can’t be there in person to cheer them on – so absolutely we’d like to have as many flags on display as possible! For those that already have flags at Griffin Park, we will keep those in place unless you would like to move them.”
On the night TV viewers got a good look at what the club and Steve had brought together at Griffin Park.
Steve Tidy’s own history in flags goes back to the 1999 victory at Cambridge that clinched the Division Three title . “I had a Union Jack with Brentford written across it which a family friend had done for me. I’ve got a picture of me with my hair sprayed red.Since then I’ve always had at least one flag, at the moment I’ve got 2 or 3, its just a passion of mine.”
Steve (plus red hair and flag) at Cambridge in 1999.
Steve comes from a QPR family but began supporting the Bees at the age of 9. Now he’s back at work with American Airlines Cargo but not before he thanked on Facebook Paul Davis, Chris Gillbert, Chris Parsons, Nick and Michael Catchpole, James Saupin, Craig Tillyer and Sarah Farley plus Brentford photographer Mark D Fuller. And, of course, the other fans who lent him their flags; ‘I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart in all your efforts of helping me complete this little project’.
UOL (Universo Online), based in Sao Paolo Brazil, is the world’s largest Portuguese language web portal and sports streaming service.This month their reporter Joshua Law wrote an article about Brentford after interviewing the Chairman of Bees United and Billy Grant of Beesotted. Joshua has kindly agreed that we can publish this translation.
In the small stadium of Brentford, a team of the second English division, it is common to hear the fans praising one of their idols. “There’s only one Matthew Benham”, they sing (‘Só tem um Matthew Benham’ in Portuguese) But Benham is neither the team’s top scorer nor the sheriff of the defense: he is the owner of the club, the one who transformed the way Brentford faces football and created the possibility of the team reaching the Premier League. The recent success of Brentford, due to the analytical intelligence methodology created by Benham, unusual in the world of football, is the reason for the veneration. A fan of the club since childhood, he uses data and methods developed by his sports betting company
This way of thinking also influences Brentford’’s organisation and even training. With this, the team is able to achieve a level of performance above that which would be expected for a club with its budget. Before English football stopped because of coronavirus, the team was fighting with much richer and more illustrious opponents for a precious spot in the millionaire English Premier Division. Today, despite having the fourth smallest budget in the Championship, England’s second division, Brentford is fourth on the table. In the last five seasons, since moving up from third division, it has never finished out of the top 11 out of 24 clubs. In addition, he profited more than £ 120 million from selling players in the same period.
After graduating in physics from Oxford University, Benham made a fortune in the world of sports betting. He realised that, with his mathematical knowledge, he could build models to predict the results of football matches more accurately than bookmakers can predict. Benham set up a company, Smartodds, hired professionals with a doctorate in statistics, and started building his fortune.
In 2006, he helped to clear the £ 3 million debt when the club was on the verge of bankruptcy. In 2009, he became Brentford’s largest shareholder. Benham was investing money and implementing his sophisticated analytical methods, and the team went up from the fourth to the second division.
Stewart Purvis, director of Brentford and president of the fan association, Bees United, explained to UOL Esporte how the model works: “It is to gather as much intelligence as possible about players and matches, so that we can make the most scientific prediction. This is how [Benham] makes money, and the idea is that you can use the same data to manage a football club. You can find valuable players that other clubs don’t see”.
The analysis department looks for young athletes in less popular championships that perform well, but have not yet finished their professional development. After looking at the data, analysts watch videos and, if they like what at they see, travel to watch the player in matches. “Brentford also looks at the psychological side of the player more than the other clubs,” says Purvis. “It’s a mixture of the best of the old way of hiring with the best of the new. It’s not just the numbers.”
So the club found Scott Hogan in little Rochdale in July 2014, paying £ 750,000. In January 2017, after developing his skills and scoring 21 times in 36 games for Brentford, Hogan was sold to Aston Villa for £ 12 million. In July 2017, Brentford invested £ 1.6 million to bring Neal Maupay from Brest, a French second division team. Two years later, Maupay moved to Premier League Brighton for £ 20 million. These are just two of many examples
This profit from the sale of players is necessary for the club to maintain itself financially. The current stadium, Griffin Park, is famous for being the only English stadium with a pub on each of the four corners, but it only seats 12,763 fans, much smaller than local rivals Chelsea, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers. In addition, there are no cabins or executive areas.
Rasmus Ankersen, Brentford’s football co-director, explained to TalkSport Radio that, because of the low commercial income, “we depend on the sale of players. We profit from the sales, gradually adding value to the squad and gradually improving the level of the squad.”
In the 2019-20 season, Brentford’s highlight has been the offensive trio of Ollie Watkins, Saïd Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo. The team’s scorer Watkins was in the English fourth division before arriving at the club. Benrahma and Mbeumo disputed the French second division. Watkins and Benrahma were hired for less than £ 2 million each, while Mbeumo cost £ 5 million. Now, according to the newspaper The Sun, Benrahma is being negotiated with Chelsea for a value of around 35 million pounds.
Director Stewart Purvis explains that Brentford doesn’t pay high wages, but is still attractive to young players because athletes know that “they will be well trained and have a stage on which they can shine. The understanding is that if Brentford gets a good offer from a club that can pay a higher salary, they will be sold without complaints.”
After arriving at Brentford, the training that players receive differs from other teams. Ankersen and the head of performance, Chris Haslam, use the services of several experts to help. It has a coach for lateral throws and another that teaches players the best technique to hit the ball. Athletes have access to a sleep specialist, healthy cooking classes and work with a coach who focuses only on dead balls .
“If you work strategically for a defender to score four more goals from set balls [per season], his value goes up,” Ankersen told Bleacher Report .
To analyze the team’s performance, and therefore the coach’s work, Brentford also uses unusual methods. Directors do not look at the results; focus on other indicators. In an interview with New Statesman magazine, Ankersen said that “your position on the table is not the best metric for measuring success. Football is a low-scoring sport, so random events have a big impact. The ball can deflect, the referee can make mistakes. The best team wins less often than in other sports. “A practical example of this mentality is with the current coach, the Danish Thomas Frank. When he took office in 2018, the team won just one of its first ten games, generating criticism in the press. But Ankersen analysed the statistics, using a tool called xG, or ‘expected goals’, and saw that the team was creating good quality chances and taking kick goals with a low probability of entering. There was no luck. Frank was not fired and in the following ten games the team won six, drew three and lost one.
These changes in the way of managing the club initially generated media criticism and strangeness from the fans. Purvis, director of Brentford and president of the fan association, emphasises that, “at the end of each season, two or three of the best players leave the club. You have to get used to it. It took me a little getting used to. Why sell the best players? Because that is the model and the way to finance the club.”
After seeing the success, fans are more willing to accept that this is the reality of the club, as Billy Grant, a Londoner, fan of Brentford and editor of the Beesotted fanzine, explains. “Brentford is a small club,” Grant tells UOL. “We don’t have the money from Leeds United, Derby County or Fulham. But we love the fact that these teams hate playing against us. We may not have the money, but the methods that Benham uses undoubtedly give us an advantage. There are still a few fans who are not comfortable with the way the club is managed. But it is normal in a sport like football, where people are very, very resistant to change.”
Another modification that was initially frowned upon was the closure of the youth team. The club was spending £ 2.5 million a year to maintain its young player training center, but Ankersen and Benham saw that it was producing few athletes of sufficient quality to serve on the professional team or to be sold. And the few potential players they had at the base were being signed, at 16 or 17 years old, by bigger clubs, like Manchester United and Manchester City, without Brentford receiving adequate remuneration.
Instead of paddling against the tide, Benham, along with former technical director Rob Rowan, who died at the age of 28 in 2018, decided to found ‘Brentford B’, a squad of players aged 17 to 21 who are likely to become professional athletes. Many of the players at Brentford B have been rejected by larger clubs or are European talent looking for an opportunity to play in England.
The team does not compete in the Premier League under-23 championship; instead they play friendlies against teams from all over the world and semi-professional competitions against other English clubs. Since the beginning of the year, Brentford B has faced Chelsea under 23; FC Liefering of the Austrian second division; the Chinese Beijing Renhe; the South Korean FC Seoul, and Pafos FC, Cyprus, among several others. Everything is done for young people to gain experience in different situations.
Supporter Billy Grant says he was disappointed when the youth squad closed because “every fan likes a player trained at home”. But he understands the reason for the decision. “Brentford B’s success is proven”, he highlights. “So much so that he has trained 16 players for the main team in the past four years. One of those players, Chris Mepham, was sold to Bournemouth for £ 15 million.”
Fortunately for fans, all of this profit is geared towards improving the club’s team and infrastructure. Next season, Brentford is due to play in a new, modern stadium a mile from old Griffin Park. Brentford Community Stadium will leverage the club’s income, with increased capacity and new executive suites. The fans, of course, expect the first games in the new home to be against the big ones in the Premier League.
There are eight games left to end this season and, with 60 points, Brentford is eight behind West Brom and Leeds who currently occupy the second of two places that guarantee automatic access to the Premier League.
In an interview with Sky Sports, coach Thomas Frank admitted that catching West Brom will be difficult: “We need to make perfect games and that will be extremely difficult. The games will come quickly and not just for a week or two, but for five and a half weeks.” Even if they don’t pass West Brom, Brentford will still have the chance to make it through the playoffs, a knockout tournament that decides the third place in the Premier League.
According to the Danish coach, the players are ready for that possibility. “We are doing well and we can’t wait to go there and compete again,” he said, also on Sky Sports. If Frank and his players get that access, Brentford’s transformation will be complete. And watching from their sofas, fans will sing: “There’s only one Matthew Benham.”
99 days after it was meant to start Fulham v Brentford finally kicked off at Craven Cottage. The Putney End stand which would normally be packed with Brentford fans was empty.There was one small pocket of Brentford support, the 10 seats allocated by the EFL to visiting ‘Directors/Execs’ . Leading them was owner Matthew Benham, Chairman Cliff Crown, CEO Jon Varney and Co-Directors of Football Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen. The remaining seats at this game and all other games for the rest of the season were shared on a rota basis between the other directors and associate directors. Bees United Chairman Stewart Purvis, who holds the BU seat on the club board, was allocated a seat for the Fulham game.The BU Board, sensitive to the fact that other supporters could not be at the game, debated how best to use the ticket. We decided that Stewart, who has covered 16 away games this season for BU, would write a different kind of match report. Since most supporters will have watched the game on Sky or Ifollow he would focus on what the TV cameras couldn’t show, what it was like to be a Bees fan sitting in the Johnny Haynes stand at Craven Cottage in these most unusual circumstances. Here is his report:
There were only two words for it: ’weird’ then ‘wonderful’.
First the weird bit. If these weren’t such unusual times you’d find it very odd to turn up half an hour before a very important football match and find nobody outside. But this is becoming the new normal for the resumed Premiership and Championship season. I did spot one man wearing a Fulham supporters cap but he only seemed to be there because he was taking his young daughter for a cycle ride past Craven Cottage. I suspect that by the time the game started he and and all the other Fulham and Brentford supporters had taken their places -socially distant of course- in front of TV sets or computers.
For those on the official list to be allowed into the ground the first step was a temperature check by a device pointed at our foreheads. Being told I was 35.8 didn’t mean a lot to me, when I was at school we did science in fahrenheit. But I was cleared to go forward into the reception area where I was given a bottle of water, there being no food or drink available further on. I was offered a mask and given a pass with the number 10 on it. Slightly baffled as to which row this particular number 10 would be in, I realised these numbers corresponded with white stickers on the elderly wooden seats in the Johnny Haynes Stand. This way the handful of people in the stand could be kept at least five metres apart by some very conscientious stewards. They helpfully explained that a trip to the toilets would involve a one way traffic system around the stand. Our thanks to them for looking after us, especially the one who whispered that they were really a Brentford supporter.
When it came to atmosphere the home of the ‘clappers’ had not made any special arrangements. It was very much business as usual: no fake crowd noise (any you did hear was put on by Sky) no cut out pictures of fans and when the announcer on the PA read out the teams before the game he paused after each name as usual but of course nobody cheered to fill the gaps. Perhaps the oddest moment was when the teams came out for the game itself the polite applause in the main stand reminded me of a village cricket green when a new batsman comes out.
On the other side of the pitch there was nothing much to see because the Riverside Stand has been demolished to make way for a new one.The gap meant I could see the chaps from the South Bank Sailing Club going about their Saturday sail. The Putney End stand where thousands of Bees fans would normally be making one hell of a noise was row after row of empty black seats totally silent.
The major news from the team sheet was that Bryan Mbeumo was identified as the person who’d tested for COVID earlier in the week and was therefore not available. In a subsequent round of testing there were fortunately no further positives so Tariqe Fosu took his place wide on the right.
As all Bees fans know by now Brentford shaded the first half but Fulham hit the post and went just wide moments later. At the start of the second half Fulham took command and Mitrovic had the ball in the net but was ruled offside. Five minutes later David Reya made the first of a series of good saves from Fulham headers. Brentford were living in a dangerous silence.
The turning point was the second water break, taken at 67 minutes. That’s when the wonderful stuff started. Thomas Frank took off Mathias Jensen and Tariqe Fosu and brought on Emiliano Marcondes and Shandon Baptiste. Both made an immediate impact, particularly Emiliano who picked up where he left off with that great goal against Sheffield Wednesday back in March. His cross from the right was destined for Said Benrahma’s left foot. In truth the Algerian had been having a quiet game until then because of an efficient Fulham defence.That was all forgotten as he ran off to celebrate with an elbow bump with Christian Norgaard who had started the move.
Until then there had been no noise in the ground apart from players calling for a pass and the glorious sound of boot on ball. But now In the Brentford ‘away end’ all ten of us, not entirely sure what the ‘protocols’ decreed about such moments, were on our feet applauding. Just three minutes later we pushed the celebration envelope a bit further when Benrahma and Marcondes switched roles, the Algerian setting up the Dane who cut inside and crashed it into the Fulham net. In 25 minutes Brentford had gone from holding on for a draw- which would have been a fair result in itself- to a glorious victory, one to compare with the best of times at Craven Cottage even if so few were there to witness it in person.
At the end Henrik Dalsgaard, who’d again been in top form, signalled his teammates to come over to acknowledge our acclaim. After a little hesitation about whether the COVID rules allowed it they formed up, soclally distant, and waved back.
Captain Pontus Jansson, who’d kept Mitrovic under tight control at key moments, did a live Sky interview and then joined the line.Finally Thomas Frank came over and with a fist held high signalled to owner Matthew Benham that this was only just the start of what his team can achieve in the next few weeks.
Fulham: Rodák; Odoi, Hector, Ream, Bryan; Reed (sub Arter), Cairney; Knockaert (Jasper), Decordova-Reid (Johansen), Kebano (Cavaleiro); Mitrović
Brentford: Raya; Dalsgaard, Jansson, Pinnock, Henry; Dasilva (Valencia, Nørgaard, Jensen (Marcondes ); Fosu (Baptiste), Watkins, Benrahma
1940 – 2020
Robin Williams was one of those supporters for whom Brentford was family. First taken to Griffin Park by his father with his brother, he later took his own son to the New Road Stand where they were season ticket holders. His brother in law and nephews are Bees fans living in New Zealand who get to games whenever they are in the UK.
He was born in Hanworth, Middlesex, the youngest of 3 children born to Herbert and Susan Williams. His sister Pat has lived in New Zealand for many years and his brother Jack (known as JockBee to readers of the Griffin Park Grapevine message board) now lives in Scotland.
Robin spent most of his childhood in Hanworth attending Oriel School. The family moved to Teddington when Robin was 12 years old and a year later he was enrolled as a boarder at Holbrook Royal Naval School in Suffolk as his father was ex Royal Navy. Robin spent two years at boarding school and loved the sport side of it especially cricket –he became known as the “demon bowler”. He left boarding school when he was 15 years old. However, the lure of civvy street did not appeal to him for long and at the age of 18 he enlisted in the Royal Navy and trained as a Writer dealing with pay and allotments at HMS Ceres in Yorkshire. On completion of his training he was drafted to HMS Orion in Devonport where his brother Jack was serving.
In 1958 his parents moved from Teddington to Somerset to take over the Half Moon Inn in Stoke-sub-Hampden but unfortunately his father died suddenly of a heart attack after only 6 months. Robin served as a Writer on board HMS Orion, HMS Forth and the aircraft carrier HMS Albion – a time in his life he really enjoyed.
When he left the RN after 7 years’ service as he was then a married man with a son he lived in Feltham and he was always interested in the computer and IT field. He worked for many years for various companies in the UK. On retirement he moved to Blackwater, Hampshire and, apart from supporting Brentford FC, he filled his time writing, playing tennis as well as helping out with his two grandchildren.
Robin and Jack’s love of Brentford Football Club was initiated by their father who said people normally support their local team and as they were still living in Hanworth at the time he took the two boys to reserve games on a Saturday afternoon. When they got older the boys cycled to Brentford leaving their bikes at a safe house in Ealing Road while the game was on.
One of Rob‘s memories, which he often mentioned to his family, was about the day King George VI died which happened to be when Brentford were playing at Luton in an FA Cup replay. They were waiting for the bus from Hanworth to Hounslow in full football supporter regalia when a group of women at the bus stop began to hassle them about ‘going to a football match on such a day’. Jack says Robin never forgot that.
Robin was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia about two years ago and spent the last 18 months in a Care Home . His family say he was very well looked after, especially when he was taken ill.
If you would like to pay tribute to other Bees who have died after contracting COVID-19 please email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘A Great Day Out’ by Greville Waterman.
There are some days that will live long in the memory and always bring a smile and a warm glow when you think about them. Yesterday was such a day.
Like most Brentford supporters I was aware that former favourite, Paul Shrubb, has been suffering from Motor Neurone Disease for quite a while and when another long-term fan, Paul Hewson, suggested that Paul might enjoy reading The Big Brentford Book of the 80s in which his exploits are highlighted, I jumped at the opportunity to personally deliver a copy. There was an added bonus when Paul mentioned that Andy McCulloch, who he knows extremely well, would also be there given that he is Godfather to one of Paul Shrubb’s daughters.
So I turned up at Paul’s beautiful home in Ash not quite knowing what to expect, but from the moment I arrived I was made totally welcome and spent a couple of hours chatting and laughing and relaxing in the company of some of the nicest and most pleasant people I have ever met.Neither player, of course, needs any introduction to any Bees fans who remembers the late seventies and early eighties.
Paul began his career at Fulham, played one first team game and, then, much to his disgust was released just after the 1975 FA Cup Final.He then spent two years playing out in South Africa, before returning to England and joining Brentford in March 1977.After scoring on his debut as a midfielder, he moved back into the defence and formed a successful partnership with Pat Kruse which helped the Bees to promotion in 1978.He was an absolute fans’ favourite and in all made almost two hundred appearances during his five years at the club, before moving on to an equally successful spell at his local club Aldershot, where he is also revered.
Shrubby was a very skilful footballer, quick to see a through pass and with the ability to score from long range, but more importantly he could be relied upon to give absolutely everything he had for the team’s cause.He never gave up, never hid and was always there to help and support his colleagues.He sublimated his own abilities for the sake of his team and was loved and respected by everyone for doing so.Nothing has changed today.
He looks extremely well and his legs remain strong.There is not an ounce of self-pity in him and he takes pride in the fact that he is about to commence his ninth year with an awful wasting disease that normally takes its terrible toll well within that time period.
Not only is he surviving, he is thriving and acts as a source of inspiration to other sufferers from MND, visiting them in the local area and encouraging and supporting them through his own personal example.He is fortified and succoured by a close and loving family in whom he takes great pride, joy and comfort and he appears to be a person with great inner strength who is totally at peace with himself.
He is also a man of steely determination who stated that because he was so small he was used to fighting for everything in his life and that nothing had changed and he would never give up. He was full of stories about his time at Brentford.It was a real family club where everybody mixed well.
He remarked with pride that every member of staff at the club, from the manager to all the players, and also the back room team took the time and trouble to attend his first daughter’s Christening.That was just the way it was done in those days.
He mentioned the time when he partnered Steve Phillips up front at Southend, neither of whom were the tallest of men, and Paul acted as the target man – a more unlikely one would be hard to picture – but he got one over his morose strike partner when he scored and Phillips didn’t!
Before his Brentford debut, skipper and team inspiration Jackie Graham gruffly advised him to just get on with his game but offered to “help him out” if any of the opposition started to pick on him – not that Paul needed any assistance as he was never a soft touch and his opponents certainly knew that they had been in a battle. He regretted that he never won the Player of the Year award but he did collect it once at the presentation at The Winning Post when the actual winner, Andy McCulloch was unable to attend.
He is still friendly with Paul Priddy and Trevor Porter and he was responsible for bringing Porter, another former Fulham colleague, to the club when Len Bond was injured in a car crash and reserve keeper Graham Cox was suspended after being sent off in a preseason friendly. Andy McCulloch was also an absolute delight to spend time with.
Andy McCulloch with Paul Shrubb in 2014
Relaxed, witty and urbane, he looked lean and fit and he too spoke fondly of his spell at the club and acknowledged that Brentford had sold him far too cheaply to Sheffield Wednesday, although that meant he could ask for higher wages in compensation! Ian St John, Jack Charlton’s assistant had tapped him up whilst he was lying on a stretcher following an injury sustained in a match when he was being scouted by Wednesday. His knee was a total mess when he joined Brentford after botched treatment at Oxford United, but Director Eric Radley-Smith, a noted knee expert, eventually got him right and Andy became the perfect striker.
Tall, fearless, great in the air, strong on the ground and excellent in front of goal.He spoke of his battles with the massive centre halves of the time like Millwall’s Barry Kitchener and Aldershot’s Joe Jopling and was most interested to learn that his former nemesis still owned a pub nearby, and remarked that he might pay him a visit! He well remembered what happened at Aldershot back in 1977 when Jopling feigned injury and the referee bought it and sent Andy off for an alleged headbutt. Seeking revenge after the match, Andy tried to get into the home dressing room but was fought off by Jopling’s wife brandishing an umbrella.
His mother came to watch him play for Cardiff one afternoon at Craven Cottage. The team left the dressing room reluctantly as the Grand National was just starting. Andy scored after thirteen seconds, was sent off a minute later for telling the linesman what he thought of him, stalked off the field, apologising to his Mum as he went for her wasted afternoon, and was safely back in the dressing room in time to hear the commentary of the rest of the race.
He enjoyed playing with Gordon Sweetzer who he felt was far too brave for his own good and also recalls playing at Luton where their Chairman, Eric Morecambe, would always visit the away dressing room before the game, go through his repertoire of jokes and facial expressions and do his best to put the opposition off.These and many other stories made the minutes and hours flash by and a great time was had by all.
Paul Hewson suggested that Shrubby should attend the Brentford versus Fulham match next month and ideally come onto the pitch to be introduced to the crowd. Paul thought about it for a moment then, his face wreathed in smiles, said that he would take great pleasure in doing so and would wave at both sets of supporters and he then demonstrated exactly the gesture he would employ towards the Fulham fans given that his opinion of that club is exactly the same as ours.
Paul, we salute you.
A brave and exceptional man who is an example and inspiration to us all.
Thank you for letting me into your life.