It was noted that Saturday’s stunning defeat of promotion rivals Plymouth Argyle was the first time we had beaten them since our League Cup victory back in 2003. Well our record against tomorrow night’s opponents Grimsby can challenge that – if you’re wondering ‘not another Tuesday night trip to Blundell Park’, the last time we played at Grimsby on a Saturday was also back in 2003…and the last time we won there? Over 40 years ago believe it or not, on 22nd September 1979, winning 2-1 thanks to two goals from Trevor Lee, with the U’s managed by none other than Bobby Roberts on that day.
Brentford v Colchester United
Wednesday 1st January, Tuesday 18th February and Tuesday 11th March 2003
Nationwide League Division Two (Tier 3)
Attendance 0 (January), I have no idea (February) and 3,990 (March)
Ahead of yet another vital game on Tuesday night we have something of an oddity and a bonus in the Matches of Yesteryear series – three games for the price of one – and as we’re currently being battered by Storm Ciara, quite an appropriate selection as well. Match #43 of the series is actually a trilogy, the U’s taking three attempts to finally complete their much weather-affected league fixture at Griffin Park in the 2002/03 season. What’s even more bizarre was that each attempt was under a different manager for the U’s.
#1: January 1st 2003
The first go was New Year’s Day, the U’s at the time managed by Steve Whitton. Em and I had travelled up to London on New Year’s Eve, joining revellers in various bars around Westminster and Waterloo before gathering at the foot of Big Ben to cheer in the new year. The plan for the next day was twofold, Em was meeting friends for lunch, then doing a bit of sight-seeing and shopping, I was meeting my Brentford supporting mate Nick for a few beers and the game. Em and I had an absolutely brilliant night on the streets of London, something we’d never done before, and enjoyed it immensely!
It had been quite wet in the days leading up to the match, and although relatively dry whilst we’d been out and about in the evening, it then proceeded to pour down throughout the night. We awoke in our Waterloo hotel somewhat bleary-eyed, to a text message from Nick “Match postponed – waterlogged pitch”. Though disappointed that my afternoon of beer and football was up the creek, I was of course absolutely thrilled that it allowed me to share some memorable shopping experiences with Em (yay me). Not surprisingly, I don’t have a programme for this match, and I’d guess most if not all ended up in landfill – but if any survived, they’d probably be quite a collector’s item these days.
#2: February 18th 2003
Attempt no. 2 a month later, and with Whitton since departed, the U’s were being caretaker-managed by Geraint Williams, winning his previous two matches away at Bristol City and home to Mansfield. Determined to give it another go, me and Nick arranged to meet up before the game in the Royal Oak. My company had a major excavation going on at the time, ahead of the development of Heathrow T5, so a bunch of colleagues also turned up to watch the game. Although all neutrals as far as support was concerned, they were quite content to sit in the covered New Road stand with Nick, rather than share the pleasure of the Ealing Road open terrace on a freezing night with me and a hundred or so other hardy souls. I’ve no idea what the attendance was, and I can’t find it published anywhere – Brentford were averaging about 5.5-6k easily at home, but there was no way the crowd that night was anywhere near that.
There had been a pitch inspection late in the afternoon, and although there were concerns about the icy conditions, referee Phil Crossley had decided to let the game go-ahead – much to the delight of Soccer AM’s resident ladette and Torquay celebrity fan Helen Chamberlain. Long-standing Griffin Park stadium announcer Peter Gilham was booked to be away on holiday for the rearranged fixture and needed someone to stand in. Completely by chance, he saw Helen Chamberlain on Soccer AM state she had always wanted to be an announcer at a football ground, so he contacted her to see if she’d stand in, and she jumped at the chance.
For the record, the U’s line-up at kick-off was Brown, Stockley, Fitzgerald, White, Chilvers, Duguid, Pinault, Izzet, Keith, Williams and McGleish, with substitutes Morgan, Bowry, Atangana, Baldwin and McKinney. Amongst others, Rowan Vine was on the pitch for the Bees. The conditions were exceptionally icy underfoot, with players struggling to keep their feet, particularly in the shadow of the main Braemar Road stand on the south side of the ground. In a difficult first half, it was really the U’s who were adapting better to the conditions. Brentford goalkeeper Paul Smith had to be on his toes to save a number of decent efforts from the U’s, and late in the half Scott McGleish hit the post with a good strike. It wasn’t all U’s though, with Simon Brown denying Kevin O’Connor when he was clean through, and O’Connor putting another decent opportunity over the bar.
However, not only was the icy pitch difficult to start with, the temperature was plummeting and the conditions actually deteriorating as the half progressed. With the score 0-0 at halftime, the referee carried out another inspection and decided enough was enough and the game had to be abandoned. Unfortunately for Helen Chamberlain, the announcement came just as she was getting into her stadium announcer opportunity, and despite her entreating us all to stay and listen, we rapidly filed out of a frozen Griffin Park for the welcome warmth of nearby pubs. Brentford club historians reckoned it had been the first match at the ground that was actually abandoned in over 35 years – tough break Helen.
#3: March 11th 2003
And so, finally, on to attempt no. 3 in March, this time under new manager Phil Parkinson. Now I think (because there have numerous visits to Griffin Park over the years) that this was when I first met up with a suited and booted Whalebelly, in the New Inn – our meeting was definitely an evening game at Brentford, and the timing feels about right for this year, but maybe you can remember more Whales? I’m fairly certain my mate Nick wasn’t available for this match, because I think he was back at Lampeter University at the time – but I may have got the two crossed, and I met Whales at no. 2 and Nick at no. 3?
Perhaps understandably, at this stage Brentford had abandoned any effort to produce yet another full matchday programme, and instead printed off what was little more than a team sheet – two pages of double-sided A4, stapled and folded into an A5 programme – they still had the temerity to charge £1 for it though!
The U’s lined up:
17..Bobby Bowry (Thomas Pinault 71’)
11..Dean Morgan (Micky Stockwell 63’)
All things considered, compared to the weather-related contexts of the previous two attempts, my memory of this game is quite vague, but at least I’m fairly certain that this time it wasn’t raining too heavily, or too cold, or snowing, or blowing a storm or any other metrological event that might challenge a football game. This was Parky’s fourth game in charge, and after winning his first two matches on the back of some decent results from George as caretaker, the U’s were pulling away from the relegation zone. Brentford, under Crazy Gang founder member Wally Downes, were solidly mid-table, a few points and places ahead of the U’s, and with no real likelihood of either the play-offs or relegation. This was Johnnie Jackson’s debut for the U’s, signed by Parky initially on a one-month loan from Spurs, literally that day I think – certainly so recently that he isn’t even listed in the match ‘programme’.
I certainly remember the match was a reasonably even game, perhaps possibly (with my Col U blue-tinted spectacles on) the U’s marginally the better team. However, it was Mark McCammon of Brentford who broke the deadlock with 8 minutes to halftime, thinking literally on his feet to chest the ball past McKinney. The jury’s out on whether it was an inspired cross from Mickael Antoine-Curier, or a wayward shot, but McCammon saw his chance and took it well.
The game livened considerably into the second half, with the U’s pushing hard for an equaliser, and Brentford clearly just as keen to get that two-goal insurance buffer. Doogie very nearly equalised with less than 20 minutes to go, beating the goalkeeper Paul Smith, but his effort was brilliantly cleared off the line by Kevin O’Connor. In the last Matches of Yesteryear blog (Southend v U’s) I reflected on one of the more blatant penalties not given – for this game, it’s probably the other side of that coin. In the 84th minute referee Phil Crossley spotted defender Lee Fieldwick handling the ball in the penalty area – I say spotted, but too be fair there didn’t appear too many others who had spotted it. Brentford players surrounded Crossley protesting the decision (Vine I think was booked for his troubles), whilst Joey Keith calmly prepared himself for the spot-kick. A minute or so later, it was 1-1, we were celebrating like maniacs, and that’s pretty much how, for the third time of asking, the match finally finished.
Brentford 1 (Mark McCammon 37’) Colchester United 1 (Joe Keith 84’p)
You can usually tell from the post-match comments what those involved really thought about game-changing moments, and Parky had this to say “Over the 90 minutes we fully deserved to take something out of the game and whether it was a penalty or not we'll take it". Make of that what you will…
It’s worth reflecting briefly on the remarkable career of Peter Gilham. He has been the Brentford stadium matchday announcer since 11th October 1969, and in over 50 years has only missed two matches – their January 2006 FA Cup third round victory over (then) Premier League Sunderland, and the abandoned match against the U’s. Known as Mr Brentford by supporters, Gilham has no intention of retiring, and will move with the Bees to their new stadium next season.
Jon Varney, Brentford’s Chief Executive, stated “It would have been unthinkable for us to leave Griffin Park and Peter Gilham behind. It will be one of the strangest days of all of our lives when we leave this old place but we are only a mile up the road. We are not tearing up our roots and those roots include Peter Gilham – he is Mr Brentford. It’s just not the Brentford way to contemplate leaving people like Peter behind”.
In a football world awash with TV money, obscene salaries, virtually zero loyalty at all levels, and supporters increasingly feeling alienated by and disconnected from the clubs they grew up supporting, it’s things like this that gives you hope for the future – well done Jon Varney, well done Brentford FC and well done Peter Gilham!
Up the U’s