Beesotted’s Tim Street looks forward to the weekend’s West London clash with European Champions Chelsea… a game that has all Brentford fans’ mouths watering. Can Thomas Frank and the lads pull of yet another Premier League upset at New Griffin Park?
Brentford this weekend host Chelsea at Griffin Park for the first time since that famous FA Cup fourth round tie in January 2013, when the Bees came within seven minutes of sending the Champions of Europe home with their tails between their legs.
Okay, the less said about the two subsequent meetings at Stamford Bridge – the replay plus another fourth-round tie in January 2017, both of which the Bees lost 4-0 – the better.
But that magical January day at Griffin Park was one of the first signs that the Bees were starting to build something special. In the summer of 2011, former Manchester City striker Uwe Rosler was appointed as Bees manager, Nicky Forster’s own dress rehearsal for landing the role permanently having evaporated in another Wembley disappointment, a 1-0 defeat to Carlisle in the JPT final in which fans’ favourites Kevin O’Connor and Marcus Bean were put on the bench.
Rosler was like a breath of fresh air, coining the phrase “pass them to death” during a pre-season win over Stoke. Indeed, O’Connor later said of the German: “Uwe got the ball rolling. We were a bang average League One side, but Uwe changed the mentality. Everything he did was all Premier League standard.”
Rosler led Brentford to their highest league finish since the two failed play-off campaigns under Martin Allen, and the summer of 2012 saw the next piece of the jigsaw fall into place as Bees United accelerated its option to sell to Matthew Benham, and he purchased the controlling shareholding of the club to become its new owner.
In, over the course of the season, came the likes of Tony Craig, Harlee Dean, Jake Bidwell, Adam Forshaw, Stuart Dallas and Marcello Trotta, as the foundations of the side which would finally challenge for promotion took shape.
Ah yes, our old friend Trotta, whose season would end in ignominy when his injury-time penalty in the final-day winner-takes-all clash with Doncaster slammed back off the crossbar, snatching promotion away from the Bees and handing it to the Yorkshire side, who promptly went down the other end and scored.
Before that came one of Trotta’s most memorable moments in a Bees shirt (the number one slot surely being his winner in the crucial clash at promotion rivals Leyton Orient the following season) as he gave the Bees the lead against their West London big brother, slamming home the rebound after Ross Turnbull had parried a shot from Harry Forrester.
Turnbull was the only really unfamiliar face in a Chelsea line up as Rafa Benitez brought a team he meant to do business. Directly in front of Turnbull were England internationals John Terry, Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill and Ryan Bertrand along with Branislav Ivanovic, who would win more than 100 caps for Serbia. Another England star, Frank Lampard, was joined in midfield by Brazilian internationals Ramires and Oscar, and the German-capped Marko Marin, with Spain star Fernando Torres up top. A far cry, I’m sure you’ll agree, from the type of team Chelsea (or indeed, Brentford) would put out in the FA Cup against lower league opposition these days.
Brentford were still some way off being a team that could justifiably take a week off during the international break, but were not afraid to go about their illustrious neighbours playing the sort of football they would soon become famed for. Indeed, one of my favourite memories of the game is Harlee Dean bringing the ball out of defence and selling a dummy to Torres which left the Spaniard stumbling in his wake.
Dean was starting to make a name for himself in that side alongside the experienced head of Craig at the centre of the back four, while Shaleum Logan was an attacking full back who loved to get forward, much in the way we see in Rico Henry today. Lee Hodson was a solid if unspectacular loanee from Watford, brought in mainly as cover but drafted in after the unfortunate Bidwell was sent off against Leyton Orient four days before the Chelsea clash.
Behind them, Simon Moore was building a reputation as a quality keeper with the potential to play at the highest level, and although he moved to newly-promoted top-flight club Cardiff City that summer, his career never really took off as expected – and he had to wait until the 2019-20 season to finally make his Premier League bow, with Sheffield United. Interestingly, Moore only managed to put two Premier League games on his CV, but they were both against Manchester United – now there’s a quiz question!
Jonathan Douglas and Toumani Diagouraga provided the spine of the midfield four, while the guile came through the silky skills of Forrester and Adam Forshaw – three of whom would go on to play vital parts in finally getting the Bees to the Championship and keeping them there. The other, Forrester – the undoubted star of the day against Chelsea – left a slight bad taste in the mouth when he jumped ship for Doncaster just two months after their Griffin Park smash-and-grab raid. Completing the line-up was Trotta and one of the unsung Brentford heroes of recent times, Clayton Donaldson – who made the step up a season earlier than his Bees team-mates by turning down a new contract at the end of the season and joining Birmingham City.
Chelsea clearly weren’t used to such insalubrious surroundings as Griffin Park – who can forget the looks on the faces of Lampard and co as they nervously negotiated the walkway between the Braemer Road forecourt and the changing rooms (imagine seeing their faces once in those dressing rooms!). They were clearly rattled when the Bees showed them little respect on the pitch too, playing at a tempo and with a verve and gusto that Benitez’s men seemingly did not expect.
The visitors’ nerves were evident from the outset, no more so than when Turnbull picked up a backpass from Terry, but Forrester wasted the set piece. Forshaw also went close before the goal which took the roof off Griffin Park, Trotta finishing with aplomb after Turnbull pushed out Forrester’s effort after Lampard lost possession in a dangerous area – this wasn’t in his script, or Chelsea’s.
Nevertheless, the Blues found their way back into the game ten minutes into the second half when Moore, who had had nothing to do until that point, could do little about a superb finish from Oscar. Moore then saved from Juan Mata, who had been thrown on at half time by a desperate Benitez.
It was one of Brentford’s own subs who sent the pendulum swinging back in their favour. Norwich loanee Tom Adeyimi had only been on the pitch for three minutes when he was brought crashing down by Turnbull, and Forrester made no mistake from the spot.
A famous upset looked on the cards, and an increasingly desperate Benitez threw on Demba Ba to try to rescue the game, but it was his strike partner Torres who spared Chelsea’s blushes by curling in their second equaliser seven minutes from time. The looks on the visiting players’ faces as they left the pitch suggests they knew they had been lucky to escape with their scalps intact.
As is often the case, the underdog only got one chance to leave its bite, and Chelsea won the replay on their own more familiar turf at a canter. The Bees were left to concentrate on their promotion campaign, but as we all know, messed it up in the most spectacular of fashions.
Fast forward a few months, and a Brentford side which had been expected to challenge once more but had suffered a somewhat indifferent start to the season were no longer playing the exciting, high-tempo football of that January afternoon and slumped to a third successive defeat – a dire 2-1 loss at Stevenage (eight years ago this week!). The knives were out for Rosler, but after keeping his players in the dressing room at Broadhall Way for the best part of two hours for a full and frank discussion, he led his side to a run of seven league wins from eight, which brought him to the attention of a Wigan side who had recently parted ways with Owen Coyle.
Mark Warburton, who had been overlooked for the job when Rosler was appointed, finally took the reins and the rest was history – that run extending to 19 league games unbeaten and, eventually, to promotion back to the second tier for the first time in 22 years. The Bees were moving up in the world, and eight years on from that sorry afternoon at Stevenage, playing the likes of Chelsea is normal league fixture rather than a once-in-a-generation cup tie. What times we live in.
* I mentioned earlier in this column Marcello Trotta’s famous winner at Leyton Orient in March 2014, which promoted O’s boss Russell Slade to accuse Brentford of “celebrating like we’d won the FA Cup”. And who should pop up again this week but Slade himself, whose Global Sports Data and Technology Group is instigating a possible legal action against the data collection industry in football.
Although Brentford are far from the only club to make use of player performance data these days (I’d be surprised if any club doesn’t, to be honest), it’s probably more of a concern for clubs like ours who have made such a success of it in terms of gaining an edge in player recruitment. It’s a smart play, to be honest, but I also have faith that a smart man such as our owner and his trusted team would have long anticipated such a move and have their own moves in place. After all, GDPR has been around for a few years now, and I don’t imagine those who process data for a living have been ignoring its possible permeations all that time.
I won’t pretend I know much about GDPR laws apart from the fact that they are a serious deal and can mean serious money in terms of fines. I imagine once the dust is settled, this will just lead to more money and power for players and their representatives, and it’ll become commonplace for future contract negotiations to include some sort of data consent clauses. Past use is where it could perhaps become more complicated.