When I was a kid I always used to think that the fittest, strongest, technically most gifted players were the ones who made it to the top.
Like most youngsters I harboured dreams of playing at the top of the game and would go on to play at a decent non-league level.
But a chance encounter at a hotel in Norwich one Saturday morning effectively put an end to any dream I had of ‘making it’.
I was 11 and staying there with my mum and dad when in walked Billy Bingham, the then Everton manager, followed by the likes of Bob Latchford and Mick Buckley.
My dad cornered him and told him how he’d watched him break his leg and effectively end his career in a game for Port Vale at Brentford – this remains uncorroborated – and they settled in for a chat and a cuppa with me listening on.
When my old man told him of my career aspirations, Bingham shook his head and warned me against it. “Do you’re O and A levels son. Unless you’re truly gifted and have the mental strength to make it, it’s a cruel profession’.”
I did my A levels, carried in playing for the joy of seeing and hearing the net ripple and eventually agreed that he was probably right.
Which brings me back to my original point.
As I’ve got older I’ve realised that a huge proportion of football and what makes footballers and their sides successful, is mental strength and character. I didn’t have enough of it and became a journo..
If there were an equation for winning games it would also include skill, mental fortitude and expectation. Have loads of the first two and don’t be stifled by the third and you’ll got a decent shot at glory.
Man for man, Derby’s collection of much vaunted players are a match for most, but as we saw yesterday, mentally and then physically they simply couldn’t handle the expectation.
They were poor when Brentford played them. Edgy, mentally tired and physically jaded and much of that may have been down to the sheer weight of their fan’s expectation.
Two years ago I woke up in he middle of the night in the midst of a nightmare. I’d dreamed that our on loan striker had hit the bar from the spot, when a goal would have sent us up.
Last night I slept soundly and woke wondering if it had all been a wonderful dream, celestial payback for the years of torment.
A 20-minute spell aside in the first half, yesterday’s was a nerveless display. After all, no one expected us to be there in their wildest dreams. Middlesbrough were shoo ins.
The weight of expectation will be heavy on their shoulders, fuelled by an intense crowd who might believe – like the pundits did at the start of the campaign – that Brentford are there only to make up the numbers.
After all they’ve beaten the Bees twice already this season, have the Championship Player of the Year in their ranks and numerical fan advantage.
But the next two games will tell whether the excellent squad assembled by a club with great tradition and supporters, has got what it takes to reach the top of their trade.
If the season ended now, every Brentford fan would be delighted with the highest league finish for more than half a century.
None of us expect anything more than we’ve achieved already, but now we’re 270 minutes from the Premier League you can rest assured of one thing… “tinpot” Brentford will give it a bloody good go.