What a roller coaster year it’s been, but one in which Brentford and their fans (apart from that band who threatened to turn their backs on the club a few months ago -Ed) have remained resilient, pragmatic and, on the whole, level headed about 12 months of significant change.
Those football friends who once shook their heads and online fists at Mark Warburton’s departure and redoubled their disbelief at the appointment of Marinus, have now gone wonderfully quiet. (I’d wager the ‘I want my Brentford back’ brigade would even deny what they plastered all over their Twitter feeds and the Brentford message boards just a handful of months ago. – Ed)
But as we ease into a new year with a manager – sorry head coach – who many felt would always be the perfect fit, it will be interesting to see whether the gradual rise in the club’s fortunes can continue unabated.
With the January transfer window about to metaphorically swing open and the rumour factory cranking into top gear, much will depend on the comings and goings from TW8.
The great thing is that Brentford are still operating below the radar… even my son’s FIFA 16 doesn’t have us that highly rated. Great in the real world, but slightly annoying when you’re taking on a Stoke supporting mate.
But one player raising eyebrows at little old Brentford is Alan Judge, supposedly attracting interest from Bournemouth or Swansea.
His departure would be a big blow for the Bees given the pivotal role he has in the side, that has seen him hit 10 goals and weigh in with almost as many assists already this term.
But until an offer comes in it is pure speculation. That said though it might be worth taking a minute or two to assess the situation.
Judge’s contract is up in 2017 and he would clearly increase his wages with a move to a Premier League or Championship club with more financial clout… but at what price?
He’s clearly a bright bloke, intelligent on and off the field, a family man, modest and a dedicated trainer totally committed to the cause. Add all those factors up, and they all point to one thing… he’s enjoying his football like never before because he’s not thinking about it and that’s when you’re at your best.
A move to the south coast or south Wales might, on the face of it, look like an offer he couldn’t turn down, but with the Euros fast approaching he will need to be absolutely certain he’s doing the right thing.
Judge strikes me as the type of bloke who would sweat blood for his country and that twinned with the quality of his performances so far this campaign mean Martin O’Neil and Roy Keane can’t afford not to take him to France.
But a switch to Swansea – where he would by no means be a shoo in for a first team start every week – could severely hamper his impressive statistics and, more importantly, game time.
He might have a better chance at Bournemouth, but it’s a risk. Eddie Howe would be unlikely to throw a player straight in to what could still develop into a scrap to stay above the bottom three.
At Brentford he has grown and grown to become one of the Championship’s talismanic figures, yet Birmingham’s Demarai Gray appears, inexplicably, to be above him on the Premier League clubs’ shopping lists.
Judge has been given a libero role aided and abetted by Toumani Diagouraga and Ryan Woods this season. He is flourishing, but he may not get that kind of freedom elsewhere.
Of course, it may all be speculation and January will pass uneventfully. If it doesn’t then I hope that Rasmus, Phil and Dean are already lining up another Judgey or Ryan Woods.
For me, the 22-year-old has been one of the best signings of recent years and to watch him is an object lesson for any youngster on the simplicity of the game.
Sure he can mix it up a bit with 30 yard passes like the one that teed up Canos at Reading, but it’s his crisp, efficient link play and constant desire to make himself available for a pass to feet that has made him a stand out player so far.
Watch Woods for 10 minutes and you’ll see a player with great natural technical ability, real hunger and an engine to match.
But what really sets him apart is his willingness to learn. When Shrewsbury let him go he came to Griffin Park with a reputation for being unable to hit a barn door. Since then he has upped his shot ratio, culminating in that stunning opener at the Madejski.
Another highlight from 2015 is the development of players like Philipp Hofmann and Lasse Vibe, who have both worked hard to integrate themselves into the English game.
It’s easy to underestimate Vibe’s contribution but the best way to really appreciate it is to watch him when Brentford lose the ball as he works back to win it back.
Add to that the continuous development of the Bees unsung hero Jake Bidwell, for me one of the most consistent performers of the season so far and – hopefully – one of those players you can see staying at the club long term.
The point I’m trying to make is that after a topsy turvy kind of 2015, Brentford now look like they have the foundations for a successful 2016 and beyond.
But the one thing they don’t have, thanks to all that has gone before, is a massive weight of expectation that so many other Championship clubs suffer from. Brentford fans, like Dean Smith, ask first and foremost for performances and that’s what makes it such a special club.
And that, I hope Alan Judge will see, can be the catalyst to enjoying your football far more than you ever could at a so-called big club.
Whatever happens I’m sure I speak for all the Beesotted crew when I say have a healthy and prosperous new year with loads more entertaining football.
Check out the Beesotted Festive Fifty Top Of The Pops Memories of 2015 special here
And @beesotted for all the 2015 New Years’ Eve Polls