History of Brentford F.C. (1954–1986)
Brentford Football Club is an English professional football club based in Brentford, Hounslow, London. The club was founded in October 1889, as the local sportsmen's latest attempt to form a permanent football or rugby club in the town. By 1896, Brentford had joined the London League, progressing to the Southern League in 1898 and entering the Football League in 1920.
Brentford's rise from the Third Division South to the First Division had come full circle by 1954, with the club back in the bottom-tier for the first time since 1933. After consistently challenging for promotion to the Second Division in the mid-late 1950s, a further decline set in, which led to relegation to the new Fourth Division in 1962 and the club almost went out of existence in 1967. Brentford yo-yoed between the Third and Fourth Divisions through much of the 1960s and 1970s, before finally re-establishing itself in the Third Division after promotion in 1978.
- 1 Treading water and promotion challenges
- 2 Cost-cutting and bounceback
- 3 Financial crises
- 4 Back from the abyss
- 5 References
Treading water and promotion challenges
Back in the Third Division South (1954–1957)
Relegation to the Third Division South at the end of the 1953–54 season meant that 1954–55 would be Brentford's first in the bottom-tier for 21 years. The £10,000 sale of Jimmy Bloomfield was used to pay off debts and though manager Bill Dodgin Sr. had no budget with which to work, the youth team's increasing productivity under Alf Bew presented the club with a conveyor belt of homegrown talent. During the season, the graduation of forwards Jim Towers, George Francis, Dennis Heath and goalkeeper Gerry Cakebread, allied with the experience of former youths Wally Bragg and George Bristow, would become crucial to future promotion-pushes. After a mid-table finish in 1954–55, Jim Towers' 22 goals in the 1955–56 season fired Brentford to 6th-place and George Francis established himself as Towers' strike partner in 1956–57, scoring 24 goals to secure another top-half finish. It was announced in March 1957 that manager Dodgin would leave the club at the end of the 1956–57 season.
"The Terrible Twins" (1957–1961)
Prior to the beginning of the 1957–58 Third Division South season, former Brentford full back Malky MacDonald was appointed as manager. "The Terrible Twins" strike partnership of Jim Towers and George Francis was in imperious form during the first four seasons of MacDonald's reign, accounting for nearly 200 goals. Towers' 37 during 1958–59 made him the Third Division's top-scorer (a total just two goals away from Jack Holliday's club record), plus the 'Twins' accounted for 51 of the Bees' 78 league goals scored during the season. Manager MacDonald was able to field a settled side in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at differing times being able to draw on goalkeeper Gerry Cakebread, full backs Ken Horne, Tom Wilson, half backs George Bristow, Ian Dargie, Ken Coote, Billy Goundry and supporting forwards Johnny Rainford, Dennis Heath, Len Newcombe, George McLeod and Eric Parsons.
After three consecutive top-six finishes, the rot set in during the 1960–61 season, with the poor form on the field mirrored by the news from the boardroom of debts of £50,000. In a bizarre move, Brentford's first-choice kit had also been changed to amber shirts with a blue 'V' around the neck, which was ultimately a single-season experiment. Strike partners Towers and Francis requested to be placed on the transfer list in February 1961 and John Docherty, who had only played 19 matches for the club, departed for a £17,000 fee in March. Brentford finished the 1960–61 season in 17th-place and stalwarts Bristow, Goundry, Heath, Horne and Parsons were released.
Cost-cutting and bounceback
Relegation to the Fourth Division (1961–1963)
In an effort to lessen Brentford's debts, Jim Towers and George Francis were sold to rivals Queens Park Rangers for £8,000 and the club slimmed the playing staff down to 16, with 6 players playing on a part-time status. The board's decision proved to be a disaster and despite the signings of former England international Johnny Brooks, outside right Micky Block and the return of George Francis, the Bees finished second-from-bottom of the 1961–62 Third Division and were relegated.
Manager Malky MacDonald was given a sizeable war chest by chairman Jack Dunnett for Brentford's first season in the Fourth Division, bringing in wing half Matt Crowe (£5,000) and inside forward Billy McAdams (£10,000). Three defeats in the first five matches of the season saw the chequebook open again, with £17,000 John Dick arriving at Griffin Park to make up a trio of former internationals in the forward line with Billy McAdams and Johnny Brooks. As the Bees' form picked up, £12,000 centre half Mel Scott and £7,000 outside right John Fielding were also added to the ranks. The club climbed into the promotion places in late October 1962, moved into top two in February 1963 and sat at the summit for the first time since the opening day of the season on 29 March 1963. Despite winning just seven of the final 14 matches of the season, Brentford finished 1962–63 as Fourth Division champions. Dick, McAdams and Brooks scored the majority of the team's goals, netting 69 times between them.
Failure to buy promotion from the Third Division (1963–1967)
It was a case of "same old, same old" back in the Third Division, the 1963–64 season only notable for it being Ken Coote's last in a Brentford shirt, the full back retiring after a club record 559 appearances. Brentford's chances of promotion back to the Second Division looked good throughout the first half of the 1964–65 season, with the Bees holding top spot through October 1964, but in January 1965, manager Malky MacDonald dropped the bombshell that he would stand down as manager at the end of the campaign. He was immediately placed on gardening leave and trainer Tommy Cavanagh took over the manager's position. Poor away form would ultimately account for Brentford's 5th-place finish.
With it felt around Griffin Park that Brentford's squad could again challenge for promotion from the Third Division, little transfer activity occurred during the 1965–66 pre-season. By November, the Bees were flirting with the relegation places. Jimmy Bloomfield was sold for £6,500, John Docherty returned to the club and Bobby Ross and John Regan were signed in a £10,000 double-deal from Shrewsbury Town. By the final six weeks of the season, mired in relegation, manager Tommy Cavanagh was sacked and replaced by Billy Gray. He failed to produce the miracle required and Brentford were again relegated to the Fourth Division.
19 January 1967
By January 1967, Brentford had spent £114,000 on transfer fees over the previous five seasons (with only £30,000 recouped from fees received), attendances had dropped by 50% since the beginning of the 1965–66 season and the club was losing £400 a week. It was revealed by chairman Dunnett at Brentford's AGM in December 1966 that the club had lost £20,000 during the previous financial year and that he would be selling his stake in the club. Earlier that month, there had been an approach from neighbours Queens Park Rangers, suggesting that the two clubs share Griffin Park. On 19 January 1967, the news broke that Dunnett and his Queens Park Rangers counterpart Jim Gregory had reached an agreement that Brentford's hated rivals would move into Griffin Park, Rangers' ground Loftus Road would be redeveloped as housing and Brentford, as a club, would cease to exist. It immediately became apparent that the remainder of the Brentford board had not been informed of the situation.
After a tense month of fan protests (led by Supporters' Club chairman Peter Pond-Jones), negotiations and donations amounting to £8,500 (worth £110,000 in 2016), a six-man syndicate headed by former Plymouth Argyle chairman Ron Blindell took over Dunnett's shares on 23 February 1967 and guaranteed a 12-month bridging loan of £104,000. The following day, Blindell, as chairman, took control of the club. Manager Billy Gray followed Dunnett out of Griffin Park and trainer Jimmy Sirrel took over as manager. Brentford's form picked up in the wake of the takeover, finishing the 1966–67 season in 9th position, just two points away from the final promotion place. The Bees also won the London Challenge Cup for the second time in three seasons.
"Brentford Borough" (1967–1968)
The Brentford staff began the 1967–68 season knowing that they were not out of the woods yet, due to the club's £100,000 debt needing to be paid by 30 June 1968. Beginning his first full season as manager, Jimmy Sirrel had just 16 players to pick from and had to supplement the squad with loans, performing a remarkable job, hovering around 6th in the table by November 1967. It was reported at the 1967 AGM that the club was almost trading at break even, but by then Brentford had sunk down the table. £12,000 was spent on forwards Ron Fenton and Allan Mansley in January 1968, but they failed to help arrest the slump.
On 11 March 1968, chairman Ron Blindell announced that plans were afoot to leave Griffin Park and move to Hillingdon's Leas Stadium. It transpired that Queen Park Rangers chairman Jim Gregory had resurrected his interest in Griffin Park and offered £250,000 for the use of the ground, a fee that would wipe out Brentford's £135,000 debt instantly, if the club moved to Hillingdon. The name "Brentford Borough FC" had already been chosen for the new Hillingdon-based club, but once again Brentford was saved at the eleventh hour, with former director Walter Wheatley granting the club a £69,000 interest-free loan, repayable in 12 months. Despite atrocious form in the second half of the 1967–68 season, Brentford had dropped only as far as 14th place.
Back from the abyss
Recovery and promotion (1969–1972)
With Pat Terry replacing the departed Ian Lawther up front, Brentford topped the table on the opening day of the 1968–69 season, before falling back into mid-table. After two seasons of being forced to carry small squads, manager Jimmy Sirrel was able to expand with a number of players signed on free transfers, but the £10,000 sale of John Richardson to help balance the books left Sirrel with just 13 fit players at his disposal by mid-October 1969. Despite having worked wonders to keep Brentford in the Fourth Division promotion hunt, Sirrel departed Brentford for Notts County in November 1969. Player Ron Fenton took caretaker charge, before Frank Blunstone was installed as manager in mid-December. New Zealand international Brian Turner and forward Roger Cross proved to be two of Blunstone's important early signings, but in the end, Brentford missed out on promotion by three points, having lost three of the final seven matches.
Despite the 1970–71 season being chiefly remembered for a run to the fifth round of the FA Cup, it allowed for the establishment of a settled Brentford XI, with Ross, Nelmes, Cross, Gelson, Turner, Renwick and new signing Jackie Graham all making over 40 appearances. The FA Cup run boosted the club's profit on the season to £20,000, which helped pay the final instalment of Ron Blindell's £104,000 loan to club from February 1967. Aided by the goalscoring of John O'Mara, Brentford raced out of the traps early in the 1971–72 season and sat atop the Fourth Division table for much of the period between August 1971 and January 1972. The early-season form was achieved with just 12 players, despite forward Roger Cross having been sold to neighbours Fulham for £30,000. Some of the money was reinvested in outside right Michael Allen, but manager Blunstone elected to prop up his squad with loans. Aside from a blip while top-scorer O'Mara was suspended, Brentford secured promotion back to the Third Division with two matches of the season remaining.
Relegation, consolidation and promotion (1972–1977)
Despite Brentford now showing a £20,000 profit in 1971, compared to a £13,000 loss in 1967, manager Fred Blunstone was again forced to operate on a shoestring budget for the 1972–73 season, Brentford's first in the Third Division since 1965–66. After five matches, Brentford were sitting proud in 2nd position, but in mid-September 1972, the previous season's top-scorer John O'Mara was sold to fellow Third Division club Blackburn Rovers for a club record £50,000 fee. Shortly afterwards, influential captain and the previous season's second-leading scorer Bobby Ross also departed. Instead of investing the money in players which could remount the promotion challenge, the board only permitted manager Blunstone to spend £10,000 on forward Stan Webb and £15,000 on the returning Roger Crpss. Brentford slipped into the lower reaches of mid-table in December 1972 and then into the relegation zone in March 1973. The Bees were relegated on the final day of the season and Frank Blunstone resigned from the manager's position in July 1973.
Under new manager Mike Everitt and his successor John Docherty, Brentford lived in mid-table obscurity in the Fourth Division during the mid-1970s. A poor start to the 1976–77 season led Docherty to resign and he was replaced by Bill Dodgin Jr. After a period of consolidation, Dodgin's signings Pat Kruse, Paul Shrubb, Barry Lloyd, Len Bond, Willie Graham, Barry Tucker and Doug Allder strengthened a developing team which was spearheaded by forwards Steve Phillips, Andrew McCulloch and Gordon Sweetzer. Though Sweetzer was sold for £30,000 late in the 1977–78 season, Brentford kept their heads and secured promotion back to the Third Division with a 4th-place finish. Phillips' 32 goals made him the top scorer in the Football League and his total of 36 for the season was just three away from Jack Holliday's club record.
Bill Dodgin Jr, Fred Callaghan and Frank McLintock all managed Brentford in the Third Division between 1978 and 1986, with three successive top-9 finishes between 1981 and 1983 under Callaghan being the club's best placings. Some notable players played for the club during the much of the period, including Bob Booker, Jim McNichol, Gary Roberts, Francis Joseph and captains Terry Hurlock and Chris Kamara, but none would see success. Brentford reached its first major competitive cup final in the 1984–85 season, facing off against Wigan Athletic in the 1985 Football League Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium. In front of a 34,932 crowd, Brentford lost 3–1, with Robbie Cooke scoring what proved to be a consolation goal.
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