THERE was very little for Brentford fans to cheer about in February 1967 – QPR’s takeover bid still loomed large, and a goalless draw at Tranmere meant Brentford were still to win since the turn of the year. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel as chairman Jack Dunnett guaranteed at least one more season for Brentford FC; former director Walter Wheatley tells a meeting he’s confident of a future for the club; and a 17-year-old player called John Richardson comes to prominence at Prenton Park. In this column, from February 10, 1967, the Middlesex Chronicle’s George Sands gives his take on events.
SINCE the New Year dawned, Brentford have neither won nor lost a league game, all three having been drawn. In those four and a half hours of Fourth Division football, the defence has only conceded four goals, and although the forwards have emulated their opponents by getting the ball into the net only once in this period, it could be pointed out that two of these three games were played at the grounds of Wrexham and Tranmere, both of whom claim an unbeaten home record and, like Southend, with whom Brentford also shared points, they are in the forefront of the promotion field.
Friday night’s match with Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park ended with the score just as it was at the kick-off. But while some goalless games are flat, insipid affairs, this one certainly wasn’t; for in practically every minute of the 90 there was an imminent likelihood of the 0-0 being wiped off the slate.
Frequently after an away game, a Brentford player asks me: “Was it a good game to watch?” Doherty did so on Friday night, and I felt fully justified in answering with an emphatic affirmative. At Chester, on our way to Birkenhead, we had phone news that Brentford were sure to be in action at Griffin Park next season, and the players went all out to show the Prenton Park crowd why that should be so; and as the Rovers had a big promotion incentive, the stage was set for the thriller which duly materialised. It was a struggle which kept the onlookers on their toes, or on the edge of their seats, with thrills around each goal in turn, and the ball travelling from end to end almost as speedily as on the centre court at Wimbledon.
With George Hudson, signed on the previous day from Northampton, as the star attraction, Tranmere had a crowd of 9,836 – about a 50 per cent increase on their next highest league gate of the season. Gelson travelled with the party, but knee trouble kept him out of action, his place being taken by Richardson. Curley returned on the left wing, and with Reeve doing another stint of substitute duty, the teams lined up thus in the charge of Mr P Baldwin (Middlesbrough):-
Tranmere: Cumbes, Starton, Robertson, John King, McFarland, Alan King, Hill, Yardley, Hudson, Pritchard, Williams.
Brentford: Phillips, Hawley, Jones, Higginson, Richarsdon, Thomson, Docherty, Lawther, Etheridge, Ross, Curley.
From the Brentford angle, the happiest feature of the match, apart from the point, was the good form of 17-year-old John Richardson at No.5. In recent weeks I’ve seen him play for the Juniors and the Reserves, in addition to the League side; and without a doubt, this was his best performance to date. In the opening minute he brought off a smart tackle and pivoted to send Docherty away with a neat pass; and from that point he played confidently and well. The measure of the young pivot’s display may be gauged by the fact that towards the close, a group of Tranmere adherents around me were morosely questioning paying a reputed £15,000 for their new centre-forward. Bit early for that kind of criticism, of course; Hudson scored lots of goals for Northampton and Coventry, and will assuredly get some for Tranmere. He was only an inch or two from opening his Prenton Park account two minutes from time with a header which skimmed the bar.
Once again a feature of Brentford’s play was their resourcefulness covering in the face of the heaviest pressure. Higginson seemed to have solved the problem of being in two places at once; Thomson earned and deserved applause for the astute manner in which he played the ball out of defence; and behind them Hawley and Jones, seemingly indefatigable, not only set their front-liners in action with long or not-so-long passes, but were never loath to provide the man-over with an upwing run.
In the first-half the Bees forwards (if that is the right designation for the modern Nos. 7-11 in these days of formations) had their fair share of the ball; and although there were several super-hectic moments almost on Phillips’ doorstep, the direct shooting in the opening 45 minutes came mainly from Brentford. Curley set the fashion by prancing into the middle from the left wing and right-footing a shoulder-high drive, which Cumbes finger-tipped away with a trapeze-like dive; Docherty, boring in from the right and aiming low for the far corner, had his shot deflected; and the margin of error was slight indeed when Lawther hit a ball outside after a swift through-the-middle twosome with Ross. Right on half-time, when the bounce of the ball from a very long punt by keeper Cumbes beat the Brentford defence, Hudson was left with a clear 40-yard run on goal. But Phillips, racing out and smothering the shot, ensured that the first-half should be goalless.
After the turnaround the greater part of the play centred on Brentford soil, but persistent Tranmere could not break a give-away-nothing defence. Phillips had a lot to do, and did it uncommonly well, although he had to stand up to a lot of unceremonious buffeting, not least from Yardley; on such occasions the referee seemed unduly tolerant. Twice Hawley, stationed under the bar at corner kick time, cleared from the vital line. “Lucky!” chorused the Rovers fans. Not so; it’s the normal thing for full-backs to take a goal-line place for a corner; and they don’t do so for ornamental purposes.
Despite Tranmere’s strong pressure, the Rovers goal was not always on the map, and Brentford, in their counter-sallies, often looked like repeating the victory they gained on their last visit to Birkenhead. Best shot of the second-half from either side came from Etheridge, who pounced on a loose ball near the 18-yard line and hit a rising left-footer. The shot seemed certain to shake the net but…Phillips wasn’t the only good goalkeeper on view. An exciting game climaxed with an unwanted thrill for the home crowd. Hawley, who had surged well upfield, hit the ball diagonally across the Rovers area; but no Bee was up to applying a killing touch and it went dead just beyond the far post.
ALSO IN THE NEWS:
Brentford chairman Jack Dunnett, the man at the centre of the QPR takeover bid, guarentees at least one more season of Brentford FC, but questions both the ability of other interested parties to finances the club, and public interest in saving it, estimating an average crowd of 12,000 would be needed for survival. Dunnett said: "I still feel the original proposals put forward by QPR would have presented the best solution. The pick of both teams would have meant top class football at Griffin Park at an early date. Mr Gregory (QPR chairman) has now withdrawn his original offer...However, I have now made other arrangements with him which will preserve Brentford FC as a seperate entity...involving QPR playing at Griffin Park, and Brentford also playing their first team fixtures there."
At a Bees Club meeting, Walter Wheatley, part of the seven man syndicate looking to buy out Dunnett, rubbishes the idea of Brentford being tenants in their own ground. More than £8,000 worth of donations from supporters has already been put in a trust fund, including pledges from as far away as Southern Rhodesia and Czechoslovakia, and 10 shillings from one woman who had never watched a football match in her life. The meeting is held by candlelight, not because Brentford cannot afford a lightbulb, but because a fuse blows.
Poor Eddie Reeve! Having travelled all the way to Tranmere on Friday night as a substitute for the first team, and arriving back in London at 4am, had to leave again six hours later to play for Brentford's reserves at Birmingham.