HOPES that Sunderland, Fulham and Charlton would be among next season’s callers at Griffin Park were shattered at Hove on Wednesday evening, when Brighton, with a 6-0 triumph over Watford, booked their passage to the Second Division.
Following their dramatic 1-0 win over Brighton on Monday, in the presence of the largest Griffin Park crowd for six years, Brentford headed the table on goal average for 48 hours, with their supporters hoping against hope that the improbable would happen – that Brighton would drop both points in their concluding game.
But it was not to be, and Brentford finished the season as runners-up in a Southern Section of 24 clubs.
Unsuccessful though it was, the Bees’ bid for promotion was a wonderful effort. Following their defeat at Swindon on March 8, they were as low as 10 th on the list, with 37 points from 33 games, and, in view of the formidable opposition yet to be encountered, by no means certain to qualify for Third Division membership next season by finishing among the top dozen.
The came the great run. Six games were won in a dozen, and from their last 13 matches of the season, the Bees collected 21 points, only losing once. During that spell they did the double over Reading, took three points from the eventual champions, and drew at Plymouth, with the Argyle final occupiers of third place.
In the memory of nearly everyone who follows the fortunes of Brentford, Easter Monday will go down as the black day of the 1957-58 season, for on that afternoon they lost unexpectedly at home to Torquay (then in 24 th place), who they had beaten in Devon only three days earlier. That was the one defeat in the last 13 games, and, as it transpired, the forefeiture of two points proved fatal.
But that’s taking the short view; and, indeed, there were extenuating circumstances for that Easter Monday slip, as the Bees were virtually 10-strong after the opening quarter of an hour. It would be even more correct, I think, to say promotion was lost at Northampton in September, when the Bees obtained an early goal and then surrendered the initiative to what was then a very poor side; in the home game with Colchester, wherein a point was dropped after a 3-0 lead had been established; at Southampton, where the Saints wiped out a 2-0 deficit to win 4-2; or at Gillingham, where a point was cast away needlessly in the last minute. Most galling of all was the double defeat handed out by Crystal Palace over Christmas.
But no team can be expected to go through a programme of 46 games without a few off-days, and although Brentford fans may claim that, but for an unexpected defeat here, or the dropping of a point there, promotion would have come to Griffin Park, every club in the league can say very much the same thing.
Brentford have just missed out on promotion, but, taking at all round, they have had a grand season. And while Malcolm MacDonald would be the first to hand all the laurels to his players, he is really entitled to the biggest share of them. As managers come and go – and they come and go very quickly – Malcolm is in a class by himself; and I speak as one who has had the privilege and pleasure of seeing every game he has served the Bees as player, trainer, coach or manager, at home and away, as well as in Holland and Sweden.
And not once, in any of those capacities, have I heard him criticise a Brentford player. No doubt, after a disappointing performance, he has "torn off a strip" in the dressing room; but in public you wouldn’t hear him say a word of condemnation about any player who has had a bad game, any forward who has missed a sitter, any defender who has given away a goal. To complete the picture, not once during the season did I hear any Brentford player criticise his managers’ actions. And that’s not something exceptional; it’s a miracle!
A word, too, for Fred Monk, who took over the trainer’s duties last summer. Brentford are a 90 minutes side, so there’s no more to be said on that score.
Ian Dargie, the only Bee to have played in all 46 games, has improved greatly since the start of the season. Cakebread, Rainford and Coote have each missed only one match; all three have given consistent service. Bristow and Horne have been ever-presents since returning to the 1st XI in September; and in the defensive department, I could wish that the crowd had shown great appreciation of Wilson’s worth to the side, particularly over the last two months.
Towers, although missing for ten games, has set up a Brentford post-war record of 29 goals. Francis follows him with 23, mostly obtained in batches. Parsons, first a flu victim and out of the last 12 games with an ankle injury, has had a good season; and while Newcombe has shed a lot of his scoring potential, his colleagues have not under-estimated his value to a hard-pressed defence. Heath has proved a very useful stand-in for Parsons.
The Bees, who opened the season at Kilmarnock, will also finish the 1957-58 season north of the border. They meet St Mirren on Saturday, May 10, in the Paisley Charity Shield. If I go to Scotland next week without running into rain, it’ll be the first time.
ALSO IN THE SPORTS PAGES:
n John Pearson is transfer-listed by Brentford, while Frank Dudley, Reg Newton and Roy Yeatman are handed free transfers. Ken Coote, meanwhile, has been in Spain, as a reserve for the London FA XI playing Barcelona.
n A sturdy display in defence by Peter Talbot sees Hanworth retain the South-West Middlesex Victory Cup, with a 2-1 win over Hillingdon at Denbigh Road. On the same ground, Ron Brown nets seven times as Reeds Corrugated Cases hammer Bedfont Rangers 11-2 in the Hounslow League Challenge Cup Final.
n There’s less joy at their Denbigh Road ground for Hounslow Town, when Finchley become only the second side to beat them there in six years, taking a 5-0 victory back to north-west London. But a Peter Ellis brace and a Ted Halsey strike give Staines Town a 3-1 win over Luton Town A in the Hellenic League.