25 May 2020
MY BRENTFORD STORY: JIM CONWAY
Regular purchasers of our matchday programme will have seen the My Brentford Story feature running this season. Contributor Dan Long has spoken to fans about their time supporting The Bees and there have been some great tales. We will be running some of these stories on brentfordfc.com as we await further information on the resumption of football and accessing our historic Griffin Park home again.
I first saw Brentford on Saturday 19 October 1968. It was a Division Four game against Wrexham and my three abiding memories were how green the pitch was, hearing swear words uttered by adults without reproach and my refusal to believe that it was a draw.
I was eight years old and didn’t understand that when Wrexham's second goal was ruled out for offside, it didn't count. I was adamant that we had lost 2-1 and it was my father's way of softening the blow for my first match.
I became a Brentford fan the moment a 21-year-old Allan Mansley scored what was his third goal of the season. Everybody jumped up and down in the stands, the noise was incredible, and I wanted more of that. I wanted to experience more goals and celebrate wildly with the crowd. I was hooked.
Attendance in my early years was dependent upon my father taking me. Unfortunately, he was an alcoholic and many a Saturday, I spent my afternoon dressed up to go to Brentford - complete with red and white bobble hat, scarf and a wooden rattle - watching out the window, hoping he would come back from the pub to take me.
Our next-door neighbours, Mr & Mrs Humphries, were season ticket holders. They would see me waiting in the window as they set off in their car to the match. Whenever one of them couldn’t go, they would kindly invite me to come along instead. This meant that I wouldn’t have to catch the 83 bus and stand behind the goal at the Brook Road end, but rather I was chauffeur driven and had a seat on the halfway line.
In the promotion season of 1971/72, I was allowed to go to Brentford on my own. I used to turn up at 1pm as the gates opened and rush to the tunnel at the Braemar Road side to see the players come out and inspect the pitch.
They were heady days with 6’4” John O’Mara leading the attack and scoring goals for fun. We would sing, “Oh dear what can the matter be, John O’Mara is scoring every Saturdee.” He was my first Brentford hero and one day I plucked up the courage to ask him for an autograph. When I handed him my programme, he asked for a pen but I didn’t have one. It was a schoolboy error, but then again, I was a schoolboy. I remember going bright red as he handed me back an unsigned programme. He did score a hat-trick that day in a 6-0 victory over Hartlepool, so I forgave him.
I look back on the hooliganism of the 1970s and remember one particular trip to Huddersfield in April 1978. We were 1-0 down at half-time, but thanks to a Steve Phillips hat-trick we won 3-1. A few of us were walking across the car park to our coach when we were set upon by a group in Huddersfield colours. We ran the rest of the way to the coach and shouted for the driver to shut the door. He didn’t. Instead, he said we had to wait for some more Brentford fans, even though rocks and stone were raining down on us from all sides. Suddenly, one of the windows shattered, there was glass everywhere. The engine roared into life and we drove around to the front of the stadium, other Brentford fans were waiting there.
We drove back to Crewe Station with the wind whistling through the broken windows before catching a train back to London. Later that night, while watching the TV, my mother asked me why I had put glitter in my hair. I told her not to be so silly, before going upstairs and combing out the glass into the sink. I didn’t want to alarm her, and I also didn’t want to stop going to away games.
My friend Bruce and I went on some stupid road trips, as his mother worked for a fleet department. The craziest trip we did was in 1982, when we took Friday 12 November off work, to deliver a car up in Glasgow. We stayed in university accommodation with a friend of his sister and the following morning returned to Huddersfield with the old car to watch Brentford lose 2-0. It was an 831-mile round trip to see an uninspiring performance.
On another trip, we dropped one car off in Stoke, then travelled to Liverpool to drop off the car we picked up and the following day went to Springfield Park to see us lose 3-2 to Wigan Athletic, despite having a midfield of Stan Bowles, Terry Hurlock and Chris Kamara. Bruce was ridiculed for not wanting mushy peas and gravy on his chips after the game, I just nodded and discovered a taste sensation. We drove our third car of the trip back to Walsall and hitched a lift from a fellow Brentford fan back from there.
One Friday night, we decided to do the four pubs on the four corners of the ground: The Griffin, The Royal Oak, The New Inn and The Princess Royal. When we walked into the Royal Oak, Stan Bowles (pictured above) was sitting in the corner, an ashtray full of cigarette butts, three empty pint glasses sitting in front of him, studying the racing form. We shouted over if he wanted a pint, his reply was, “Better make it a half, I have a game tomorrow!”
I met Andy McCulloch at a sportsman dinner one night with Gavin Hastings being the guest speaker. Andy was sitting on the next table and was surprised that I recognised him. He said he had some great memories of Brentford, it was a lovely club, but it lacked ambition. The lack of ambition comment saddened me but made me realise that anybody can see who is top of the Premier League and decide to support them, but it takes a special kind of person to support their local team, regardless of which division they are in and what style of play they adopt.
The joy of Brentford qualifying for play-offs is matched with the despair of losing in each and every one of them. After the Yeovil game at Wembley in 2013, where we lost 2-1, I went to congratulate some of their fans, as I was always told to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. Unfortunately, they were far from gracious and I do wonder whether they will come back from being relegated from League Two in the season just gone. Was it wrong of me to let a smile pass across my face when I heard the news that they had been relegated?
This contrasted to the experience I had when we lost 5-1 at St James Park in 1993. I attended the game with a Newcastle-supporting friend, who dared me to wear my Brentford shirt into the pub by the ground prior to the game. As I entered, a hush descended, and every pair of eyes were upon me. In order to break the atmosphere, I delivered a life saving line. “Don’t worry, it’s a Brentford shirt, not a Sunderland one!” Everyone burst out laughing, so I quickly bought my first pint and started talking football with the locals.
With Matthew Benham purchasing the club, I have no doubt that we have the best owner in the league, because he is a fan. We are playing beautiful football in the Championship and next season we are going to move into an amazing new stadium. There are always those that complain, and to anybody that says anything negative about the current Brentford set up I would urge you to buy a time machine, transport yourself to St James Park, Exeter on Boxing Day 1975. You won’t need to watch for long to see the difference.
I made the journey down there to stand amongst a crowd of 4,912 and watch the dullest goalless draw of all time. The only Brentford attempt on goal was when a back pass bounced on the rock-hard icy surface, went over the keepers’ head and hit the top of the bar. Enjoy the moment, we have never had it so good.
Jim's story was first published in this season's matchday programme against Millwall on 19 October 2019. To get your Brentford Story online, email Programme Editor Chris Deacon on email@example.com and we'll get back to you.
To catch up on a previous edition of the Matchday Programme, all of the issues from the 2019/20 season so far can be bought online from our supplier Curtis Sport. Click Here.