One of my real pleasures in life during the football season is to lie in bed on a Sunday morning reading the sports section of the Sunday Telegraph on my iPad counting how many former Brentford players I can spot in the line ups of the other teams in the Premier, Football and National Leagues.
Does anybody else do the same as me or am I just a total anorak and sad sack who needs to get a life – or maybe somebody to share my bed with on Sunday mornings? On second thoughts please ignore that question as I think I intuitively know the answer without being told. I generally set myself a goal of discovering a set number of ex-Bees, generally around fifty, split between permanent signings and loanees.
With the rapid turnover of players over the past three years there is an increasing number of our former favourites now playing at a more than decent level elsewhere, even though sometimes I have to cheat to pad the numbers in the hope of reaching my target by including current players out on loan or even look, generally in vain, at the Scottish line-ups.
What strikes me is how many former players we have plying their trade in the upper echelons of the game. This is surely a testimony to the ever-increasing quality of the squad as we improve year on year which has resulted in us developing and the selling our best players at a vast profit initially to the Championship but now, more than ever to the EPL. Looking at the other end of the spectrum, in the not-too-distant past leaving Brentford having failed to make the grade almost invariably meant a journey to the non-league elephants’ graveyard of the likes of Hillingdon Borough or Boreham Wood, but now graduates from the successful Brentford B Team, even if not considered good enough to play for us, are finding that it can prove to be a successful pathway towards a Football League career.
That is particularly gratifying as if both time and money is spent on developing a youngster ideally there will be some return on the investment ideally by means of a transfer or sell-on fee or at least from the satisfaction gained from knowing that the club has assisted in sporting, pastoral and holistic terms in his development both as a footballer and a young man and put him on the path to a successful career at whatever level he can achieve.
Looking at last weekend’s games the Premier League saw no less than nine former Bees in action:
Ezri Konsa and Ollie Watkins played for Aston Villa with Ollie scoring a glorious match winning goal after a typical pulsating run whilst Neal Maupay came on a substitute for Brighton.
James Tarkowski played solidly for Burnley and our hopes of receiving a lucrative sell-on payment recede by the day as it appears more and more likely that Burnley will allow his contract to run down at the end of the season and probably let him leave on a free transfer.
Jeffrey Schlupp made a late cameo substitute appearance for Crystal Palace and I well remember the impact he had as a frighteningly quick goalscoring loanee way back ten years ago in 2011 when he came close to saving the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final against Carlisle but his late effort crashed off the post.
Another far less distinguished former loanee in Alex McCarthy was in goal for Southampton as they lost at Norwich City and he can only be the twin brother of the hapless keeper who fumbled and stumbled through a desperately unimpressive and tentative loan spell at Brentford many years ago. He conceded a gift goal early in his debut against Walsall and never really recovered – but look at him now – a prime example of the old adage that the game is as much about confidence as ability.
Said Benrahma, so effective for West Ham this season, had an uncharacteristically quiet match and was substituted at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
On Sunday both Stuart Dallas and Adam Forshaw started for Leeds as they narrowly lost at Spurs. Dallas has been a massive success for Leeds and perhaps, for once, we undersold him when we received about £1.3million for him in August 2015 since when he has played nearly 250 times for the club. As for Forshaw, he has been dogged by injury since he joined Leeds and it is good to see him back after such a long layoff.
In the Championship Yoann Barbet was an ever present for QPR under another former Bee in Mark Warburton last season and played in their win against Luton Town with two other former Bees, Andre Gray and Moses Odubajo out injured.
John Egan and Simon Moore played for Sheffield United and Coventry City respectively in their tight goalless draw with the unfortunate Jack O’Connell, who has been out for well in excess of a year with a knee injury still on the long-term injured list and, sadly, unlikely to play this season. He made a massive impact as an overlapping central defender in the EPL and selling him was perhaps not one of our best transfer decisions given his early impressive performances for his new club.
Dan Bentley has been consistency personified for Bristol City and thankfully has recovered both the form and confidence lost in the latter part of his spell at Brentford. Alfie Mawson’s career has yet to really take off to the extent that seemed likely at some point and he was an unused substitute for Fulham. David Button’s career has also stalled since leaving the club and he continues to mark time on the West Bromwich Albion bench when he could surely be doing a good job in somebody’s first team. Jordan Rhodes hardly plays now but is back where he first made his name at Huddersfield Town.
Former loanee Callum Elder has been a regular for Hull City but was injured and did not play on Saturday in their rare win against Birmingham City who fielded three ex-Bees in Harlee Dean, Ryan Woods and Scott Hogan but Maxime Colin is out with an Achilles problem. The first three certainly exemplify the Brentford policy of selling high at the peak of the market and quite frankly none have since really justified the money paid for them.
Luke Daniels’s patience has been rewarded and he is now first choice goalkeeper at Middlesbrough and former loanee George Saville, so influential in our 2013/14 promotion team, played for Millwall.
Josh Laurent has established himself at Reading and has moved back to midfield where he partners the influential John Swift who was unfairly given a hard time by some supporters during an excellent loan spell when he scored seven times as a 20-year-old. Personally, I would love to have him back at the club. Liam Moore, who lumbered his way through two deeply unimpressive loan spells played at centre half where he came up against Nottingham Forest’s Lewis Grabban who was, in my view, short-changed and released when he could certainly have done a decent job for us. Not too many complained when he was shown the door by the time that Uwe Rosler arrived at the club but his subsequent conversion to a devastating central striker has proved that perhaps our judgement could have been better – easy though it is to be wise after the event.
The ever-popular Romaine Sawyers scored against us for Stoke City recently and is spearheading their impressive promotion charge. Jack Bonham excelled at Gillingham after leaving Brentford and I was surprised when he joined Stoke City given the strength of their goalkeeping department. He was on their bench on Saturday. Hopefully he will also find a club where he can play regularly but it is of course difficult for goalkeepers with only one spot up for grabs.
Former loanee Ben Hamer will also be fondly remembered for his key role in the 2008/9 promotion team and he has now established himself in goal for Swansea City where he plays alongside another former favourite in Jake Bidwell.
Derby County, now seemingly hopelessly cast adrift at the foot of the Championship after their latest points deduction, surprisingly beat Bournemouth without the services of suspended former Brentford loanee Nathan Byrne but Chris Mepham played for the losers. He is another yet to fully develop and flourish since leaving us, but I am sure that his time will come given his undoubted talent
Down to League One and another former loanee in Saido Berahino of whom the least said is better, is trying to re-establish himself at Sheffield Wednesday.
Two youngsters who never really made it at Griffin Park came up against each other when Cheltenham beat Shrewsbury Town. Striker Kyle Vassell was released without making an appearance for us and has since become an established lower division striker and Aaron Pierre is a rugged central defender who could still easily play at a higher level.
John Akinde scared the life out of us when he starred for Wycombe Wanderers in a memorable 3-3 draw at Griffin Park way back in 2009 but failed to impress when on loan to the Bees. He has made an excellent career for himself and is still at Gillingham. John Bostock was another star in the making who somehow never made it. He scored twice on his loan debut for Brentford against Millwall in 2009 but is now plying his trade at Doncaster Rovers.
Toumani Diagouraga was a huge fan favourite and is still playing well for Morecambe, helping them to win promotion to League One last season. Another former Brentford midfielder in League One is Josh McEachran who is gradually building himself back to form and fitness at MK Dons. They beat Burton Albion last Saturday for whom Ellery Balcombe remained on the visitor’s bench in a loan spell that really seems to be going nowhere for either party, although he made two excellent penalty saves in a recent Birmingham Senior Cup victory. Aaron Pressley is gaining valuable experience at AFC Wimbledon learning from the experienced Ollie Palmer and he generally comes on as a late substitute. He is going to have a fine career.
Conversely, Will Grigg has had a strangely up and down and frustrating career and has perhaps underachieved after his big money move to Brentford but he is scoring goals for promotion chasing Rotherham where Chiedozie Ogbene is currently starring, recently scoring twice for the Republic of Ireland. Brentford had high hopes for the flying winger but his chances were limited and he preferred to move for first team football and it looks like he made the right decision.
Alex Pritchard is another who I would have expected to become a massive star in the Premier League rather than stagnating and coming off the bench for Sunderland and I fondly remember just how brilliant he was for us in 2014/15.
Oxford United did not play owing to a COVID scare but John Mousinho – a worthy professional is still their club captain. Sullay Kaikai, another underperforming loanee at Griffin Park, is also doing rather better at Wycombe Wanderers.
Former B Team full back Nicholas Tsaroulla is rapidly making a name for himself at Crawley Town, scoring a brilliant goal against Leeds United in the FA Cup last season and Zain Westbrooke is still trying to establish himself at Bristol Rovers.
Theo Archibald always had talent to spare but something was missing, so he left Brentford but it is pleasing to see him starring at Leyton Orient for whom he scored his fourth goal of the season last weekend when they beat Sutton United for whom ex-loanee Rob Milson plays. Another ex-loanee in the 36-year-old Darren Pratley is also still figuring in the Orient squad.
Struggling Scunthorpe United also feature two ex-Bees in central defender Manny Onariase and attacker Myles Hippolyte.
Midfielder Alex Gilbert is impressing during his loan spell at Swindon Town who won at Newport County for whom Courtney Senior plays but is out with a long-term knee injury. Winger Nicky Adams had a short and undistinguished spell at Griffin Park over a decade ago and is still at Oldham Athletic.
There are three ex-Bees at Stevenage in Luke Norris, the skilful Jake Reeves and Arthur Read and it is good that they are all still in the game and thriving. Alan Judge is now recovering from a calf injury and should soon be back playing for Colchester United. We all wish him well and still remember THAT tackle at Ipswich Town by Luke Hyam.
As far as the National League is concerned, defender Chris Bush is at Bromley, the evergreen Myles Weston is still thrilling down the left wing at Dagenham & Redbridge, Wood is at Dover Athletic, Manny Oyeleke at Chesterfield and former loanee Rhys Murphy at Southend United.
I have more than reached my original target of 50 ex-Bees. That’s my Sunday morning research done. Time for a snooze now!