Monsieur Salut writes: Billy Grant* talks about his beloved Brentford the way we all wish we could talk about our beloved Sunderland. They’re a joy to watch, he says, and he really does believe they’re on the point of walloping someone (to be fair, he didn’t actually say it would necessarily be us, but given the sorry state of our confidence … ).
I have a soft spot for the Bees since I live only a mile away from Griffin Park when not in France and my younger daughter’s first senior game was for their ladies’ team. I see huge posters for the club on the back of local buses. At least one neighbour gets to most home games.
Read on for another fine, authoritative interview from another fine supporter of proper football. Saw our decline a mile off, considers Terry Butcher maybe the worst manager he’s seen, says Sunderland away is Brentford’s ‘big game’. Brentford away, meanwhile, offers a great awayday/away-weekend and if you are among those likely to be there (I get home from France two days too late) you can follow the links below to see where friendly pubs, plenty of them, are located …
A couple of promotions in recent years and a flirtation with the Premier League, reaching the playoffs two seasons ago, and a creditable ninth finish last season but you’ve started badly this time (if not as badly as us). Do you fear a troubled season ahead?
Billy Grant: Not at all. We’re playing very good football. We’ve been the better side in 80 per cent of the matches we’ve played this season. Every opposition fan, on the Beesotted Pride of West London post-match podcast (PrideOfWest.London), has pointed out how good we were against them. Derby at home and Villa and Boro away – we should have smashed them both off the park. Their fans all said so. I know possession means nothing but at some stage of the Derby match we had nearly 85 per cent. Derby fans were gutted they didn’t bring binoculars to be able to see the ball in the other half.
We let in a very late equaliser against Bristol City at home.
Ironically, we get our first three points at home (against Millwall) in which we didn’t play very well. But we ground the points out against a side that harried and hassled us and didnt give up for 90 minutes. They weren’t the better side. But they were hard to play against.
If we were playing badly, I would be worried. But we have new players we bought in the close season and they need to bed in. It will come. Trust me. Someone is due a right bashing soon [Ouch – ed].
Dean Smith as manager, Matthew Benham as owner: how do you assess them and is Smith the right man to get you pressing for another top six place or is midtable security the main target in the short term?
Dean Smith a top bloke. Really lovely. Personable. And from what I can gather he is great with the players. He has his ups and downs in his management of the Brentford team. Sometimes we have lean spells of eight or nine matches when we don’t win. Then we go on runs of nine or 10 matches unbeaten.
He has us, at times, playing some fantastic passing football.
The owner Matt Benham, trusts him. He believes in only one style of football. Ball on the floor. Flowing football. Passing football. So he has employed the staff and players who he believes can do that. He could have employed Warnock. Or Holloway. Or Redknapp. But that’s not the Brentford way. Benham would rather employ a head coach who is slightly off the radar who gets the club to play a particular style of football.
He’s put around £100m into the club and is funding our move into the new stadium which will be in a few years time – only 15 minutes walk down the road near Kew Bridge. The fear you always have of an owner putting so much money into the club is if he ever walks away, the club is left crippled. We have been given assurances that Matt Benham – if he were ever to decide not to pursue his interest in the club – he would not leave us in a pickle. He has supported Brentford since schooldays and his heart is in the football club. So we have to consider ourselves lucky – but not so much so that we will take anything that comes (like how Cardiff fans were treated by Vincent Tan or how Hull fans are getting a rough deal in return for their investment of cash).
As for promotion. We have been told it is our medium to long term aim. We lose £10m a year. We have a small stadium with not much ancillary income. The Premier League will help our cash flow no end. However, we’re not stupid enough to believe that that’s a given. So we’ll see how it goes.
I would like to think that our side is good enough to be mid table or higher this season. However, it only takes a few injuries, a terrible run and bad luck and you could find yourself in all sorts of problems.
Looking at your squad, it looks young with a bit of experience from players such as John Egan – who briefly won a place in Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland squad – and Alan Judge. Who are your danger men and where are there glaring weaknesses?
We have a very young squad. If anything, that’s part of the problem. Our average age last season was under 24. But at the same time, what we do is find young players that no one has heard of or certainly are unwilling to take a risk on in the Championship. We develop them .. they get really good. Then unfortunately more often than not, richer clubs buy them.
Andre Gary – £500k (Conference side Luton) .. sold him for £9m .. plus we got more when he was sold for £18m to Watford
Scott Hogan – £750k (2nd Division Rochdale) … played around 20 games … sold him for £12m to Villa
Jota – £1m ish (La Liga side Celta Vigo) …. played a good season .. then went to Spain and had a horrendous 18 months … was on his knees .. came back and had four good months .. sold him for £6m
The selling part is always gutting I have to admit. But its unfortunately part and parcel of being a club with 12k capacity losing £10m a year.
The theory of the directors of football is we will always be able to find better players with the money we get.
They have – for the most part – done a good job. It’s a risk game when you sell a player who is flying on all cylinders for £9m then buy a replacement for £1.5m expecting him to perform the same. The chances of it going wrong are high. But we’ve actually done all right in this area.
Saying that, Maupay we just bought from France for £1.5m ish. He works very hard but still has to really hit the spot. On the other hand, players like Josh Clarke (currently playing left back but traditionally right back and right wing) have really stepped up to the plate. Dan Bentley proved what a great keeper he was keeping Millwall at bay last week with a couple of great saves AND a penalty save. Ollie Watkins plays in an attacking role – we bought from Exeter in the summer for £1.5m – is young and strong and I expect big things of him. Midfielder Romaine Sawyers got LOADS of stick last season from fans – much of it undeserved – but this season he has really stepped up his game.
If our team plays well and everyone is on their game, it’s a joy to watch. And it becomes a team thing. Not an individual thing.
Brentford’s heyday was the mid-1930s, with the club’s highest finish – top flight fifth place – in the same season, 1935-36, that we last won the title (though check out the clip above for footage of Brentford winning the London War Cup final in 1942). Can you ever recreate the glory days?
Of course. Anything is possible. Look at Huddersfield last season. The season before, they were close to relegation. Leicester a few seasons before were struggling in this division. They get promoted and a few seasons later, they have won the Premier League. Not saying it’s gonna be easy. But the fact that we have set ourselves up to try to out-think our opposition and not out-spend them – in the way we buy our players – if we have a bigger pot of money to play with, I would like to think we would be picking up a better calibre of unknown or unfancied players to compete in a higher league.
And does being close to Chelsea, in a city with several big clubs, have any impact on local community support for the Bees?
Yes and no. We have a very defined fanbase. Our fans are very proud of being Brentford fans. I don’t know that many people who say “I support Chelsea .. and Brentford”.
Matchday is tremendous in Brentford. There are loads and loads of pubs. They are all away fan friendly. We don’t do bouncers on the doors. It’s hard to find an away fan who doesn’t enjoy their day out in Brentford. Yes the stadium may be a bit dilapidated and olde skool but that’s part of the charm. But you’ll get a good welcome from Bees fans – in a MANNERS type of way – with supporters happy for away fans to come down and enjoy our manor as long as they do it with respect (MANNERS).
Our website Beesotted will carry a pub guide in the Sunderland preview article which goes up a few days before the match.
Your best times as a fan?
I’ve seen us win promotion four times. 1992 from Div 2 to the old Div 1 (this division). 1999 – from Division 3 to Division 2. 2009 from Division 3 to Division 2 and 2014 from Division 1 to the Championship.
Honestly. My favourite was probably 1992 when we won the league at Peterborough – ahead of our fiercest rivals at the time Birmingham City who we pipped to the Championship on the final day, with the Football League already having driven the cup up to Birmingham to present it to them because they started singing too soon. That was a tremendous day. I also loved when we won the league at Cambridge in 1999 when Ron Noades was manager – Lloyd Owusu, Ijah Anderson and co. We all went up in straw boater hats and posh jackets and I’m sure a few of us went punting. Brilliant brilliant days. Whoever won that match, won the league.
The parties after those two matches were brilliant.
Saying that, when we got promoted in 2014, the whole Brentford team went down the pub with us after the match for the whole evening. Bet you wouldn’t get that up at Sunderland [Sixer and I drank a lot in the company of players in a Durham pub after we won promotion in 1999, though it’s fair to say two of the players’ wives ended up scrapping on the floor – Ed].
And the worst?
We’ve never won a playoff. Not sure how many now. Maybe nine. But the worst of them had to be 1995 season when we lost out on automatic promotion to our fiercest rival Birmingham (I mentioned that before did I not). It was the season when they cut down the number of teams in the Premiership down to 20 teams. So only ONE team was automatically promoted that year – not two.
We finished second of course. So went into the playoffs. Played Neil Warnock’s Huddersfield. Drew at their place but Bob Taylor missed a sitter. We were buzzing after that match though. Took them back to Griffin Park – ended up losing on penalties. I was devastated. We were so set for promotion that season and it just didn’t happen.
What does supporting the Bees mean to you?
It’s very much part of my identity. If I go on holiday and meet a Preston fan or a Barnsley or a Burton fan or a Bournemouth fan that means something different than meeting say a Man United fan or an Arsenal fan. No disrespect to those teams and every team has its loyal supporters. But you have gone through a lot of parallel pain as a Brentford or Barnsley or Bournemouth fan.
It’s about your team and your Brentford community. The community is the club and is much more important than the players. The players are who we go and see every week. But players come and go. The community is always there. So we need to ensure that we do as much as we can to preserve our community. Our identity. That’s what Brentford means to me.
Who are the finest players you’ve seen in your red and white stripes – and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
Stan Bowles was special. So was Terry Hurlock great and Chris Kamara. We feel it was our best midfield ever (still). Dean Holdsworth was on paper the best striker. I loved Lloyd Owusu who was scored the winner at Cambridge in 1999 to get us the Division 2 Championship. And recently, I have to say Jota did give a real buzz to Brentford fans. When he was on his game he was brilliant. He would take players on. So something magic. Scored a last minute goal to beat Fulham. Scored in the last minute against Fulham again. And scored an absolute worldie against QPR. It’s a shame the way he left – for Birmingham City – after claiming he wanted to move to a Premier League team to better his football. Birmingham are just above Sunderland for Christ’s sake.
As for who shouldn’t have played. Murray Jones has gone down on record as the worst Brentford striker ever. He had to fill big boots. Dean Holdsworth’s boots. When we were promoted to Division 1 in 1992 (now The Championship). I don’t think he scored a goal and we were relegated. Cheers.
Thoughts on SAFC – the club, the fans, the city and region and Simon Grayson?
Haven’t been to Sunderland since the early 90s so can’t really comment. I do go up there for Football Supporters’ Federation meetings every now and again as I’m on the board but I’m always in and out.
The fans seem fairly passionate and decent and level headed.
The region. We LOVE going up to the North East. Probably you won’t be happy with me saying this but Middlesbrough is one of my favourite awaydays. We never have a bad time there despite losing every time (except this year). We were officially the first set of football fans to set foot in Sherlocks in Baker Street when it was an unknown micro pub as you can see in this video. Newcastle was always fab too.
Sunderland is designated the unofficial BG (big game) this season but it falls on FA Cup 5th round day. You would have to buy train tickets around November 18 for that match but very few fans will take that risk as it is FA Cup day. By the time the match is confirmed, the train tickets will be sky high which is a shame.
We took 3,500 to Newcastle last year. We would have taken at least 2500 to Sunderland I reckon but the FA Cup has scuppered that. I did actually write to Grand Central Railway AND Virgin Trains East Coast to see if they could somehow honour our train tickets for a future match if the match was cancelled to ensure that they get our custom but they both weren’t interested. Oh well. You can only try.
As for Simon Grayson, he plays a particular style of football. He did OK with PNE but they were a particular type of team. It can be not that pleasing on the eye. Maybe we’re spoilt but we’re used to watching decent football even if we can’t put the ball into the back of the net (as yet). I was surprised when Sunderland appointed Grayson.
Are you surprised by the steep decline or did you see us as disaster waiting to happen?
Your relegation was just a matter of time. You kept avoiding it but it was on the way. The difference between yourselves and Newcastle is – they were in trouble but Rafa came in and fixed the club and the systems and the vibe right from the bottom to the top. It seems to me Sunderland has a lot of problems internally and that won’t help any promotion or relegation battles.
Terry Butcher is perhaps the best known link between our clubs though we were reportedly in for Ryan Woods in the summer. Any thoughts on those and others I have probably overlooked?
Terry Butcher was possibly the WORST Brentford manager in my lifetime – and many Brentford fans’ lifetime.
Ryan Woods – there was a rumour. Not sure where it came from. I would be surprised if he moved to the North East as his family are settled in the Midlands as far as I know. Saying that, wheelbarrows of cash normally change things. He’s under contact so Sunderland would have to pay a lot to even turn our heads – and that’s even before you have had a chance to tempt him away.
He’s a very good player and it depends on how you do over the next six months or so. Some of our players and ex-players are starting to realise that the grass isn’t always greener and they could possibly have a better chance of challenging for a Premier League place if they stayed put rather than take the cash and go to a so called bigger club.
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?
Brentford – 10th (down from 4th predicted at the start of the season)
Sunderland – 20th
Our supporters are already bemoaning the quality of refereeing in the Championship. Do you consider it to be inadequate?
Refereeing is atrocious. The ref against Millwall on Saturday was terrible. To be fair, we’re thanking him as he blew for a penalty just before Millwall scored. It was two seconds later and he could have played the advantage.
If you’re down here long enough, you will hear all fans bemoan the referee so it’s nothing new. Just get used to it.
Are diving and other forms of cheating as big an issue at this level and which practice annoys you most?
Diving not so much so although Millwall players did seem to be continually taken out by snipers on Saturday. You do get a bit of diving here and there but not as much as the Premier League. In fact, if I remember rightly Harlee Dean, who has moved on to pastures new at Birmingham City, once admitted they he was embarrassed that he faked a fall once to get a free kick. And said he would never do it again.
One step the authorities should take to improve the lot of football supporters?
Ticket prices is a huge issue. How can you have Leeds charging £39 and Sheffield Wednesday charging £42 and then Birmingham charging £20 and Burton £18 and Brentford charging £25 in this division?
The authorities should have more power to even it out so that fans don’t get stung. Why should a Sunderland fan be charged £36 because they will travel in huge numbers whereas a Burton fan gets charged £25 say? Football fans shouldn’t be victimised because their team is more popular than others. Fans can’t (or shouldn’t) change their team. You can shop at another supermarket if the price isn’t right. But in football, they really take the p!ss out of fan loyalty and that isn’t right.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Of course I will be there. Did all 49 matches last season. Brentford will win 2-0
* Billy Grant on himself:
I’ve a record label, lecture at university on business and marketing and work freelance in football digital marketing and content creation. I’ve been supporting Brentford for 38 years now. I co-run Beesottedfanzine with Dave Lane – blogging, podcasting and video blogging for them for years now.
Check our our post-match podcasts (normally live at 7pm straight after each game on PrideOfWest.London
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