Brentford’s first-ever visit to the now-demolished National Hockey Stadium, the then-home of newly-formed Milton Keynes Dons, was back in October 2004, and with events of the previous 12 months and the demise of Wimbledon FC still fresh in the minds, a number of Brentford supporters reportedly considered boycotting the fixture. It took an impoverished plea from manager Martin Allen to persuade them to change their minds,
“What happened in the past is history. I don’t agree at all with what happened and I think it was wrong, but I live for the future and I want to make sure that nothing like that ever happens to our club. That will only happen if we, as a team, support the players, and if that means making the trip then I’d encourage people to do it because it does make a difference. The invitation to AFC Wimbledon (for a pre-season friendly) was my way of showing what I think.”
It was probably a good job that no-one had a crystal ball to see just over 18 months into the future, then!
Milton Keynes Dons 0 v Brentford 0 – Saturday 16th October, 2004
Whatever the level sincerity that was contained in the Bees manager’s message, Allen’s words spurred 1,447 Bees supporters to attend the game, and as well as being treated to a disciplined, resilient, tenacious and professional display to record a fifth consecutive clean sheet in the league, they were also treated to a theatrical show from ex-Premier League referee Paul Danson.
Despite a torrential pre-match downpour and a sodden and slippery playing surface, the prima-donna official made few allowances for the conditions and produced his eighth red card of the campaign in the 34th minute when Andy Myers slid through the water for an attempted tackle and received a second yellow card. The unfortunate Myers was making only his second League start of the season, and just four minutes later, Sam Sodje was forced off with a head injury and the contest became a backs-to-the-wall battle. The ten men ploughed on with a defensive line-up of substitute Jamie Lawrence at right-back, Jay Tabb at left-back and a central pairing of Kevin O’Connor and Michael Turner.
With O’Connor outstanding in his unaccustomed role, and Michael Turner displaying his usual impeccable timing in the tackle, the home side were largely restricted to long-range efforts and, in the dying seconds, Jay Tabb came close to nicking an unlikely winner after racing free on the left.
The afternoon ended with the lion-hearted Bees being given a standing ovation from the sodden travelling fans, although not before the referee had again attempted to pinch the last word when he ludicrously prevented Jay Tabb from drying the ball with a towel before taking a throw-in.
The uncovered seating for the Brentford supporters had been turned into a pre-match swamp courtesy of the monsoon that fell shortly before the game started and the unavoidable soaking prompted Martin Allen to remove his waterproof jacket and walk, shirt-sleeved, to salute the travelling fans in a show of sodden solidarity, explaining his actions afterwards to the press,
“They stood in the rain – so I stood in the rain because it was me who asked them to go to the game. The turn-out was quite amazing. They are like another player for us and to think we took nearly 25% of our home crowd to Milton Keynes is incredible. The fans here are just brilliant. I’ve never known a set of supporters like them.”
Master Manipulator, Sham Showman or a Genuine Brentford legend? Who knows? Martin Allen might always divide opinion, but one thing’s for sure, he sure leaves behind some memories to cherish.