Regular Beesotted contributor, Jim Levack, sniffs around the skid marks in the Brentford pit lane and tells us why he feels that, despite not winning on the go-cart track, Romaine Sawyers remains in pole position at Griffin Park.
Brentford’s preparation for the Derby Day clash with a “team from west London” as Peter Gilham so mischievously calls them, was quite unusual. A Whacky Races bonding session at a go-karting track had all the potential to become the modern-day equivalent of the club’s ill-fated trip to Greece ahead of the 1985 Freight Rover Final. The driving experience was, quite sensibly, kept under wraps until the emphatic win over the noisy neighbours.
It was further proof, if any were needed, that Thomas Frank ‘gets’ that most obvious, yet often most undervalued, management skill – understanding people as individuals and their role in the group.
The appointment of Romaine Sawyers as captain was inspired. He is a humble man who leads by example on and off the pitch, as the recent video of him playing pool and darts in the pubs around Griffin Park revealed.
Although he should stick to football, he came across as a quirky, interesting, loyal and firmly rooted bloke who has been brought up in suburbs of Brum by a woman who has clearly encouraged him to be the best person he can be.
His work in the community, always smiling presence and banter, make him a natural choice because he’s respected by his peers. He’s a decent driver too by all accounts, taking third place in the karting challenge to the dismay of his team-mates.
“That’s the weird thing,” said one onlooker at the ‘high-octane’ event: “He comes across as laid back and languid, but when there’s competition, he’s a completely different animal.”
And that may be one reason why he has taken so long to win over some of the Griffin Park crowd, with Sawyers himself also admitting he needed to add work rate and aggression to his game to take the next step.
When we bought him from Walsall, my Saddlers-supporting mates on my then newspaper, the Birmingham Mail, told me he was different class. And there were early glimpses under his protégé Dean Smith.
But Brentford fans are a notoriously fickle bunch and a small but vociferous group constantly chided his attempts at changing games, whining “Oh Sawyer!” (NOTE: The detractors never bother to add the ‘s’) at a misplaced pass while the five good ones went unnoticed.
To my mind, Sawyers is one of the best players I’ve ever seen in a Brentford shirt, capable of flicks, feints and incredible disguised passes that very few others in the Championship would dare try. Because of that, when they don’t come off, it gets noticed.
His through-ball for Brentford’s second goal against ‘that team’ was barely mentioned in the media round-ups or highlights, but the weight, curl and precision of the pass was sublime… and he was slipping, slightly off balance at the time!
Money is always a major draw for players in a short career, but Frank’s comment in the past match press conference was a thinly veiled reference to the lure of the greener grass: “I know the players love to play here and want to develop. We want to stay together and hopefully create something special.”
Dean Smith might have something to say about that, and the lure will be strong for players like Sawyers to follow, but the current plight of Ryan Woods – a footballer you’d have thought would be a shoo-in at most clubs at this level – is a salutary tale.
Which takes me back to the time I was on half way in Braemar Road around a year ago when a cynical old so-and-so shouted “xxxx off Woods… and take that Sawyer with you”. I turned, for once speechless, shook my head and wondered whether it was me.
The reality is, it wasn’t. Sawyers glides around the pitch like a go-kart with a Rolls Royce engine and would be a hard act to follow if he does the rash thing and leaves in the summer.
I’m just hoping he wants to stay to take the chequered flag next time.
For the record, that went to Emiliano Marcondes who, my spy tells me, “had a crazed winning look in his eyes at the wheel”, with second place going to Assistant Head Coach Brian Riemer.
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