Larry Signy meets Brian Burgess and John McGlashan

Wednesday, 30 April 2003 | In Focus

When former Bees United chairman John McGlashan gave up the task of running the Supporters' Trust to take on the equally onerous post as chief executive while at the same time becoming an executive director and company secretary of the football club, many people wondered why he needed to work full-time at Griffin Park.  
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When former Bees United chairman John McGlashan gave up the task of running the Supporters' Trust to take on the equally onerous post as chief executive while at the same time becoming an executive director and company secretary of the football club, many people wondered why he needed to work full-time at Griffin Park.

Well, wonder no more. Having spent a day tracking him – trying to keep up would be a better description – I can tell you that it's not an easy mission. John, who's 53, works long and very, very hard at helping his beloved Bees in their efforts to survive in the current financially-dangerous football times.

"He's doing a fantastic job for the supporters in two demanding roles," sums up his Bees United successor Brian Burgess.

Quite true. On the day we met, John got in to his office at Griffin Park at 7.40 in the morning – we'll have to take his word for it, I'm not that early a riser – dealt with messages from club members and supporters for a while, and was still at work reading a whole variety of web message boards when I arrived. That done, he picked up the newspaper cuttings and went through them to see what was being said about the club.

In all, John spent the best part of a couple of hours doing that (he needed one hour alone to check messages), the idea being, of course, to try and glean more daily information on what the fans think and want. It is often a useful pointer for his various jobs.

When he had finished those routine tasks, John had several telephone calls to make as well as sending off and replying to a whole pile of letters.

That done he settled down to his "real" morning's work – in this case, reading and analysing a new option agreement over funding and bank guarantees from Ron Noades' company Altonwood.

Between times, John told me of his long-time support of Brentford. He once sold programmes at Griffin Park, a tradition his 15-year-old youngest son Andrew has followed, and said he first picked up on the club as a stripling six-year-old living in Bedfont.

"I've been a supporter since I first realised the club existed," he recalled. "We'd just got our first telly, and I was watching the football results on it when the name Brentford was read out. I thought 'That's where we pass on the Green Line when we go to see nan' – and I've been a fan ever since!"

It was another eight years before the then 14-year-old John saw his first Brentford game, though. It was against traditional rivals QPR – and Brentford won 5-2. "I remember Brian Bedford (a highly-prolific scorer for Rangers in the lower leagues who later moved to Brentford in 1966) scored for us that day, which was hilarious. He was still playing for them at the time!"

It is the kind of memory that tickles John, and an indication of his wry, dry sense of humour – a wit that seems to help him ride the frustrations that inevitably go with his new responsibilities with both the football club and Supporters' Trust.

"It's difficult to say whether or not this is a better job," said John, who worked as a wireless data consultant before going full time for Brentford. "This is a situation that is unfolding all the time, but if someone told me it would eventually be a success then it probably would be better. Having said that, if I didn't think we would be successful I wouldn't have given up my previous job."

The joking kicks in again. "Anyway, my wife (Mary) worked out the finances – and she said it was OK! And I felt it was the right thing at the right time."

A great one for timing is John. "It is all important, and it is something we have tried to use in all our strategies at Bees United," he told me. "The timing has to be right for things to happen – and I think we have done the right things at the right times so far."

Having said that, John went on to talk about the work he now does. "The big thing is that it's no longer a them and us situation – it's us and us now. And it has been since we in Bees United were told a year ago that administration was the answer. We had two choices then – to keep the club going, or to go into administration. We fought – and so far we've kept the club alive."

Time for a break, and over a cuppa he turned his attention back to the urgent matter of Brentford's finances under the new administration. "The budget for next season is a supporter's budget – and it's not a relegation budget," he told me. "Bearing in mind the money available, I think it is a good one.

"We wanted to give Wally bloody good funds – and I think we have. But to make our budget work we have to have attendances of more than 5,250. That's down to the supporters, for them to show whether they really support Brentford or not. What we are trying to do is to give the club back to the supporters – but we need them to come along to help."

John was at great pains, however, to point out that Bees United doesn't intend to borrow large amounts of money to pay for a new stadium or players. "The trouble is, most fans want everything right now – but I'm afraid it's not going to happen like that. Let's just say that recent events have been like getting an 18th birthday present, and we can't have a birthday every month. If everyone can just wait a while, hopefully we'll get a massive 21st."

Back to work, and in the afternoon John had to attend a meeting in London – with a company interested in including Brentford in a development proposal at Hillingdon. "It was just a first meeting, but it is something we will consider," he said.

The meeting over, John returned to Brentford. The gates of the ground were locked and everyone had gone home by the time we got back. But John's work wasn't done – not by a long way. In the evening he attended a private Bees United meeting with supporter's group BIAS, various fanzine editors, and some committed fans like himself.

What went on has, for the time being, to remain confidential – but I can tell you it revolved around some more audacious projects that could help the club in its quest for a new home – hopefully at Lionel Road.

"As I said about this afternoon's meeting, we have to – and want to – listen to anything that might help," said John as the meeting ended at around 10.15pm…..over fourteen-and-a-half hours after John had started work.

By that time my brain was hurting, my body aching, my notebook full. I went home – but John stayed on awhile just chatting to some of the others about Brentford and Bees United and the way ahead. I heard later that he didn't get home until midnight.

A full time day job? John was just getting into the first period of extra time……and he does it day after day after day. For me, a good night's rest and preparations for my meeting with new Bees United chairman Brian Burgess the following evening.

We met up in Brentford just a throw-in from Griffin Park, and right from the start Brian insisted he has, "A Brentford heart, a business head, and a community spirit".

He smiles as he says it – but his eyes show you that he will stay deadly serious in his efforts to keep the club he loves alive. "What we are looking for is a long term result – a sustainable future," he insists.

"If you look at what Bees United has achieved over the last year – well, if anyone had offered us what we now have a year ago, we would all have accepted it. At least, I think so. But now we have to go forward, and any future progress has got to be by evolution. My task as chairman is to achieve that, and to ensure that Bees United's strategy gets the right result in the long term.

"We must aim to progress. At the moment we can afford to keep the club going for only one more year – we have got to get to a stage where we break even, and then eventually make a profit."

Brian is probably one of the least-known executives of Bees United – at least by the majority of fans – and it strikes you on meeting him for the first time that that's the way he likes it. He is friendly, smiles a lot, has a rather subtle sense of humour – and is intense about the jobs he takes on.

He was born in Chiswick 52 years ago – and that sense of humour shows when he tells you as an aside that his birthday is on April 5th. "I came into this world just before midnight," he says with a smile. "My father was delighted – it meant he could claim a whole year's tax rebate!"

Maybe that's what gave him the urge for the financial security he is trying to bring to Brentford and Bees United, but in any case his business career has given him 30 years in industry with experience in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

He qualified as a chartered engineer and developed a career in engineering and construction project management as well as in the energy and utility industries. He has extensive experience in project, commercial and general management, and has served as an executive and non-executive director on the boards of subsidiary companies and joint ventures in the UK and international gas industries and on the board of a community based charity.

Apart from that, the tireless Brian has worked on a voluntary basis with an inner city youth project, is currently a member of the management committee of Kaleidoscope (a drug treatment project in Kingston), and since January last year has been an independent business consultant working with an assortment of clients in the private, public and voluntary sectors.

He is a member of Community Action Network – a mutual learning and support network which backs people with the vision and drive to make things happen – and spends a large proportion of his time working with CAN to develop business in the health and social care sectors. That includes jobs for the NHS – and a project funded by the Football Association, the Home Office Active Communities Unit and think tank Mutuo to produce a guide for transforming under-used football grounds into community centres.

Brian is a true man of Brentford. He was raised in Hounslow, and has supported Brentford FC since the beginning of the 1960's when his father Frank first took him to Griffin Park. He has kept up the family tradition – with his 19-year-old daughter Katie becoming a club mascot when she was just ten.

These days, Brian talks of his own early days supporting The Bees with pride. They were the days of The Terrible Twins, George Francis and Jim Towers – and Brian happily remembers the time Francis scored a goal from wide out on the right wing, very much like Steve Hunt's a few weeks back. He also smiles benignly when he recalls watching Brentford's record league victory – 9-0 against Wrexham in 1963. "That was Dai Ward's first game – and it was a great team. My own favourite was Johnny Brooks, who came to Griffin Park a couple of weeks back – pity I couldn't meet him."

Brian is still a passionate fan. "I can get pretty wound up and vocal," he enthuses. "And I have to admit that I did shout and scream at Bobby Gould a couple of weeks ago when his player had to be escorted off by the police. I told him his player was a disgrace!"

All that, however, now brings him to Bees United – an extra 'job' in which he has the full backing of his wife Sylvia and the whole family.

"Bees United has made incredible progress in a relatively short time, and I feel honoured to take on the role of chairman as the club moves forward into a new era," he says. "As chairman, what I am endeavouring to bring to Bees United is a Brentford heart, a business head and a community spirit. My vision is to help Bees United become a pioneering example of a social enterprise, running a community-owned football club with a new multi-use stadium complex providing services to local communities.

"My main focus is to work with all parties, including the club, supporters, local community groups and the local authorities to develop a genuine community stadium that will be of benefit to the community 365 days a year. I hope that at last we can all work together to achieve the aims we all share."

Somehow, you feel he will stay deadly serious in his efforts to maintain those aims.

"But we all still have to work hard to safeguard the future of Brentford FC," adds Brian. "Survival is obviously the key objective, but we have to be realistic. We have seen some champagne years, but they are not sustainable at the moment. We have some very good plans lined up – but we have to keep all our options open and look at all alternatives

"It will be a slow job – all I hope is that the fans will stick by us."

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