John McCormick writes: I’d hoped to make this fixture but circumstances dictate otherwise, which means I’ll have to wait another year (or more likely a decade, according to some comments I’ve read) before I can renew my acquaintance with what is probably my favourite ground in all of London. For now, I’ll have to make do with more of Pete Sixsmith’s memories. They happen to coincide with mine when it comes to Stamford Bridge but my memories of Griffin Park are much happier than his:
Griffin Park, Braemar Road, Brentford, TW8 0NT is a ground that I have visited but twice – and I won’t be making a third visit this Saturday. Nothing against The Bees, whom I regard as a thoroughly decent club with a loyal and thoughtful support, more to do with the rail fares that shoot up whenever one of the three North East teams are playing in the capital. The joys of the privatised railway…..
It’s not a ground that we have played on very much. We have made seven appearances there over the years and have won on four occasions and drawn twice. The first time we played there, we won 5-1 in front of 24,720 spectators. We were on our way to what is our last League Championship (ever, I would suggest) with Bobby Gurney scoring twice, Len Duns, Raich Carter and Patsy Gallacher notching the others. Dai Hopkins, who I suspect was Welsh, replied for the Bees who finished fifth in the league that year.
The only defeat came in October 1937 just after we had won the FA Cup for the first time. Brentford were on a roll that year, beat us 4-0 and finished sixth while we ended up two places below them. There were a couple of visits just after the war and then Brentford went into decline, ending up in Division Four and being threatened by a takeover by noisy neighbours Queens Park Rangers. That was in 1967 and the boarders were repulsed but the pressure was still on. There was talk of a move to Hillingdon and a new name in Brentford Borough but that came to little.
That was the occasion of my first visit to Griffin Park on the 28th April 1968. I had been to see us lose at Chelsea earlier in the day. The trip down had started at midnight when John Tennick’s bus picked me up outside the Imperial Hotel in Darlington. The trip took us down the A1 past Doncaster, Newark, Grantham, Huntingdon, Baldock and Biggleswade and deposited us in Midland Road in time for breakfast. It was a decent day weather wise and it was my first visit to Stamford Bridge, a creaking, rusting stadium already acquiring a reputation as a thoroughly unpleasant place to go. We lost 1-0 with Peter Osgood scoring the goal in the 39th minute in a game in which I vaguely remember Charlie Cooke having a blinder, and absolutely nothing else.
We lined up;
Jimmy Montgomery; Cec Irwin, Len Ashurst; Charlie Hurley, George Kinnell, Colin Todd; Ian Porterfield, George Herd, Billy Hughes, Colin Suggett , George Mulhall, sub; Bruce Stuckey (on for Suggett).
The Pensioners, managed by Dave Sexton, attracted a crowd of 33,000 to see this team;
Peter Bonetti; Ron Harris, Eddie McCreadie; John Hollins, Dave Webb, John Boyle; Charlie Cooke, Tommy Baldwin, Peter Osgood, Alan Birchenall, Peter Houseman. Sub; Marvin Hinton.
After the game I went with my good pal Don Coupland to Griffin Park to take in the Brentford v Workington game. The Bees played on Saturday nights for a while in an attempt to boost crowds and they got at least two that they wouldn’t have had they kicked off at 3.00p.m. There was a problem on the way as we were attacked by a group of skinheads at Parsons Green station. Both of us took a whack, Don had his scarf stolen and I decided that it was best to get away from it all, thereby establishing a reputation for cowardice that I have effectively maintained for 50 years.
I can’t remember how we got to Griffin Park and I remember very little about the game. I did not sample ale in any of the four pubs that occupy the corners of the stadium. Neither side were doing well and Workington finished second from bottom, above Bradford Park Avenue and just behind York City and Chester, all of whom were re-elected to the League at the AGM. Brentford, who finished 14th, won the game 2-1 with goals from Allan Mansley and Paul Gelson, and The Reds replied through Tommy Spencer, a centre forward/centre half whom they had signed from York and who went on to play 167 games for Workington, 74 for Lincoln City and 138 for Rotherham United. He clearly had a penchant for playing for teams who wore red.
The trip back followed the usual route with much lolling, snoring and breaking of wind. I got back to Darlington and walked up to the railway station and helped them load the papers on to the vans in return for a lift home and I helped unload them at Jimmy Wilson’s shop before I went out and did my round. Homework was forgotten about that weekend – as it was every night and weekend….
My next visit was the last time we played there, in 2006. We were rock bottom of the Premier League and the Bees were buzzing around the top of Division One. Under Martin Allen they had put together a good side with DJ Campbell (who Allen always called Dudley “as that was his name”) the stand out player. He put them ahead, Julio levelled and then the defence went to sleep and allowed Campbell to score the winner in the 89th minute.
We lined up;
Kelvin Davies; Justin Hoyte, Gary Breen, Neil Collins, Danny Collins; Liam Lawrence, Tommy Miller, Dean Whitehead, Julio Arca; Kevin Kyle, Jon Stead.
Subs: Ben Alnwick, Nyron Nosworthy, Christian Bassila, Anthony Le Tallac, (for Stead 61) Andy Gray (for Kyle 61).
Brentford’s team was;
Stuart Turner; Andrew Frampton, Sam Sodje, Michael Turner (the one who played for us), Sam Tillen; Ricky Newman, John Mousinho, Jay Tabb; Lloyd Owusu, Dudley Campbell, Isiah Rankin.
Subs: Ademola Bankole; Paul Brooker (for Tillen 73), Eddie Hutchinson (for Rankin 82), Scott Fitzerald (too busy writing The Great Gatsby to get stripped), Marcus Gayle (who had scored for Brentford the last time we had played there in 1987).
As before, it was a coach journey but not an overnight one. Pints were taken in nearby pubs but not in any of the four around the ground. It was a long and bitter journey back and McCarthy lost his job as we went on to take a single point from the net six matches. Kevin Ball took over in the short term as Bob Murray frantically looked to sell the club.
Manager struggling, owner wanting out, humiliating relegation at the end of the season….Do I get a sense of déjà vu here, comrades?
Our doughty opponents have done well over the last few years. This is their second consecutive season at this level and, under former Walsall boss Dean Smith, they are looking to become a solid Championship club. They don’t score many but don’t concede either something to which former Sunderland player John Egan has made a contribution. The Irishman was unlucky with injuries during his time with us. He formed a good centre back partnership with Louis Lang (currently at Hartlepool) and had a series of loans before joining Gillingham. Brentford signed him last year and he has made real progress, so much so that he is now the club captain. He also scores goals and could well join Daryl Murphy and David Meyler in proving the inexorable rule of the (Irish) ex if we fail to mark at corners. They have a good keeper in Daniel Bentley and a couple of sound midfielders in former Chelsea wonder boy Josh McEachran and Alan Judge, who was linked with us until it was realised that Brentford wanted more than a handful of magic beans for him.
It’s another hard game and will be played in front of a crowd who will relish seeing the once (relatively) mighty toppled. Optimism does not abound at Sixsmith Towers; I shall be out of the North East avoiding any contact with it.
How did it get to this stage…….?