Was it really a year ago that we were at Wembley? Another one of those great days where only the football ruined everything. It seems like only yesterday that I was putting up JPT Final posters around my office in Hong Kong, only five minutes ago that I was plotting up a training course in Banbury just before the final that would allow work to pay for my air fare, allow me to make the most of my time back in England.
But if a single year goes very fast, there is some weird science at work that makes the sum of the years go even faster, as a meeting at Wembley on that April afternoon surely proved. Behind the goal at Wembley with the rest of Brentford supporters, I met Gary Blissett [pictured above] and his entourage from Germany. They seemed to be having a great day out. I said hello to his wife/girlfriend, friends, and a daughter. They seemed amazed at my casual chit-chat using my GCSE German. Whilst in full flow of asking the way to the beach and explaining my father was a petrol pump attendant, an image came back to me of the old Third Division Championship souvenir poster that the club produced. It was a photo montage from that season. You may remember the picture of Deano snogging Bliss as the epoch defining photo, but I also remember a picture of Gary at the Griffin Park promotion celebrations, holding his baby daughter in his arms in a pink coat (the daughter was in the pink coat, not Gary). Well here she was standing next to me, as tall as me. Now didn’t that make me feel old?
Well to be honest, I like many other Bees had been intent on enjoying myself as much as possible in the pub before kick off, because I knew that there was every chance things would go rapidly downhill thereafter. I’d also come a very long way and sat through a boring three-day training course to be there. So I might be romanticising it. I can’t remember if I mentioned it to Bliss directly, it’s all a bit hazy. The point is the girl in the photo in the pink coat, whether it was the girl at Wembley or another daughter, would be in her twenties now. Think about that – winning the title at Peterborough was twenty years ago! In the unforgettable words of English folk rock combo The Fairport Convention. “Who knows where the time goes?”
My memories from that 91/92-season run-in are viewed from the Braemar Road Paddock. I can remember Detzi Kruzinski making a real difference in those last few games, but the belief that we could actually get promoted only seemed to kick in after a tense game watched on Ceefax with just two games to go. If memory serves (which it possibly doesn’t) Stoke looked nailed on for one of the promotion spots but inexplicably lost a game in hand against someone really rubbish like Chester. Watching that game on Ceefax was one of those all time nerve-wracking Teletext games. You don’t really get that anymore, but it seemed that Brentford’s destiny was in their own hands after the demolition of Fulham 4-0 in our last home game.
That game is probably one of the most memorable ones at Griffin Park ever. It may also have been one of those that gave rise to the lazy gripe that Brentford always cock up the organisation of a big game. I won’t comment on that, other than to say my Dad is adamant that he had spoken to the club about being able to pay on the day, but when we got there it was ticket only on the New Road turnstile we tried to get through. Fortunately the guy on the turnstile took our money anyway and let us in, cleverly putting the money in his pocket to stop it getting mixed up with the tickets. But of the game itself, GP was packed to the rafters and Fulham, themselves aiming for a play off spot, had plenty to play for. Brentford destroyed them with four first half goals, including a far post roofer from Marcus Gayle which was my favourite.
And so to Peterborough itself. I got my ticket through my uncle who was friends with Bees midfielder Simon Ratcliffe. In those days I was not loyal enough to have got them by any conventional means I suspect, the Brentford allocation must have been sold out. At least my overriding memory of the journey up to Peterborough was the sheer number of Brentford coaches and cars with red and white. It was incredible.
Our seats for the game were not behind the goal but up in the stand. I can remember the noise the Bees fans were making, and right down the far end, the critical moment when the ball came back off the bar for Bliss to head home. Celebrating the goal, but immediately feeling even more nervous afterwards, and tension all the way up to the final whistle. When it finally went, there was utter pandemonium at the Brentford end, before the news came through that Birmingham had lost at Stockport and the Bees were Champions. “Holder Title Surprise” was the headline in the Sunday paper story that I cut out for my scrapbook
If there is any regret, it is that Peterborough came a bit too early in my Brentford career. I didn’t expect it to be that great all the time, but all the miles I have travelled and the ups and downs since then, have given the significance of that achievement a reverence I could not have anticipated 20 years ago. Or to put it another way, that’s the only time we didn’t fluff it when it really mattered. I think it is also true to say that I’ve made a lot of Brentford friends along the way since then, some of whom are no longer with us. All the highs and lows are much better shared.
While that day is arguably the defining moment in following the Bees for many people, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, increasingly the people we stand next to at Griffin Park were not even born, or were too young to remember that day at Peterborough. Just like Gary Blissett’s daughter – the girl in the pink coat. At least I think it was pink, I’d need to check the photo. My memory is not what it was. I could check the poster, except I can’t remember where I’ve stored it. Perhaps it is still in the loft above my Dad’s petrol station.