On the day Labour made big gains in the Capital in the ballot boxes, Beesotted contributor Tim Street recalls the historic council elections of 20 year ago – a day in which Labour made a big loss. Which was – in the long term – to Brentford’s gain
Last night’s local government elections were all about Labour gains – particularly in the capital – but 20 years ago this week, it was a Labour loss in one particular London borough which was making headlines.
After two recounts which lasted into the early hours of the following morning, Luke Kirton and the ABeeC party made history when the former was elected as a councillor in his, and Brentford FC’s, home ward – just pushing out the third Labour candidate, Seema Malhotra (now MP for Feltham & Heston).
Formed by frustrated Brentford supporters, the ABeeC party had been born out of necessity. Although campaigning on the wider issues of leisure and recreational facilities in the borough, at the heart of its manifesto was the need for support for a new community stadium for the club. Lionel Road was still the best part of two decades from becoming a reality, and it’s fair to say that the club and its supporters weren’t always welcomed with open arms in local political circles.
Indeed, ABeeC campaigners were met with a somewhat frosty reception at Hounslow Civic Centre by many of the local political bigwigs on election night, and after demanding two recounts, certain local party figures let their displeasure be known when it was confirmed that Kirton had indeed won a place on the council.
It was to Kirton’s credit that the ice soon melted as he threw himself into local issues affecting the community he had grown up in – not just those concerning the football club he supported. Such was the impression he made that there were even rumoured moves to try to get him to run for Labour when ABeeC decided it has run its course. He and his fellow campaigners helped form a much-improved picture of the club in the corridors of the civic centre and those who inhabited it, and no doubt smoothed the path to Lionel Road eventually becoming a reality.
I remember emerging bleary-eyed into Lampton Road in the early hours of the following morning, having covered the election for the Hounslow Chronicle, desperate for some sleep but knowing I wouldn’t – exhilarated by what I had just witnessed. The next issue of the Chronicle stated: “ABeeC, made up of Brentford FC supporters fighting the stadium’s move from the borough, exceeded their wildest expectations by winning a seat in the town’s ward. Jubilant scenes accompanied cheers for the successful candidate Luke Kirton, as the last of the night’s results at 3.30am.”
As the ABeeC website states: “There are two ways of means of judging the success of an election result. The first and most obvious way is through the immediacy of the ballot box – does the candidate attract the support of the voting public? However, there is a subtler means, and that is through the effectiveness of a campaign. By both counts, ABeeC was successful.
“Politicians of all persuasions were forced to sit up and take notice of the effectiveness, and the colour, of the ABeeC Campaign and the support received by the public during the campaign. All of the candidates performed credibly in the elections, in some places polling higher than representatives of the established parties. There was, however, one stunning success when Luke Kirton, standing in the club’s home ward – after all the drama of two recounts – saw his election announced with the same enthusiasm as a late winning goal at Griffin Park.”
Brentford have come a long, long way both on and off the pitch since then, but the contributions of those who took part in the ABeeC campaign should never be forgotten. As brilliantly as Kirton did, he was just one of 14 candidates who ran in various Hounslow wards, all of whom did themselves proud by taking to the streets, campaigning their hearts out and each winning a good number of votes.
Paul Brownscombe, Lionel Girling, John Anderson, Mark Hannah, Phil Marchant, Jon Bishop, Peter Gilham, Joanne Sewell, Sacha Syed, Neil Durman, John Pain, Andrew Wainwright and David Merritt should all justifiably feel proud of themselves too – as should the likes of Paul Stedman, Steve Cowan and a large band of willing volunteers. I feel privileged to know some personally and to have met others either through work or supporting the Bees up and down the country.
I was also lucky enough to interview Kirton a few times – the first a few months after his election to the council, as he settled into his new role. He said: “BIAS (Brentford Independent Association of Supporters) decided to form a pressure group – a political party was never our intention – but circumstances at the club, like being ignored by the local authority, made us decide to stand in the elections. We were under the impression that nobody from the council that it had no interest in Brentford FC.
“We now have someone in place to make sure the council don’t forget about us. My job is to make sure all parties pull together to see that it works for everyone concerned. It was hard work, but we found straight away that the people of Brentford and Hounslow love their football club. Brentford are a community club, and that really matters to them.
“I’ve always lived around here, so a lot of people know me. It was a local boy standing for local council. There is a lot to do, and it certainly eats into your own time, but the upside is it is very rewarding, knowing you are doing something for the good of the community. I hope that at the end of the four-year term, people will say they are glad they voted for me.”
Kirton did indeed step down ahead of the next round of local election four years later, in a bid to “return to normality”, and ABeeC decided against fielding any further candidates as it felt it has achieved it objectives. Lionel Road still remained a pipedream at the time, but Stedman said: “Brentford may be no nearer its ambition of a community stadium, but unlike four years ago, the relationship between the club and the local authority is not hindering progress. In fact, a significant partnership has been formed between the two.”
He added: “Luke has campaigned tirelessly amongst the officials at Hounslow Council and been a constant reminder of the club’s plight. But his time has not been spent just in the council chambers, he has done a lot of inspirational work in the community. His mark of success can be seen through the opinion of many that had Luke stood for re-election, he would finish top of the poll this time rather than slipping into third on a recount.”
So, when you take your seat in the Brentford Community Stadium for tomorrow’s match against Southampton – or hopefully end up dancing on it to the beats of Freed from Desire at the end of the 90 minutes – spare a quick thought for those who helped smooth the path to it becoming a vision two decades ago. There are many proud nights in the history of Brentford FC – and May 2, 2002, sits up there with the best of them.