Beesotted’s Tim Street reflects on a busy international break for the Brentford squad, who have jetted off here, there and everywhere! The excellent #coldwarbees montage also sums up the ‘New Brentford’ v ‘Old Brentford’ contrasts perfectly!
The international break got me pondering those Brentford players who have also worn their country’s colours in the past, and how like many things to do with ‘New Brentford’, it now seems routine to see half our squad jetting out to all corners of the globe.
This couldn’t have been further from the case when I first started watching the Bees regularly in the early 1990s. I was too late to latch onto the exotic excitement of John Buttigieg turning out for Malta, and having never seen Andy Sinton in a Bees shirt, I didn’t get the same buzz others may have from seeing him try to add some spark to a pretty awful England side at Euro ’92.
Instead, the first flurry of international-based excitement I remember as a Brentford fan is future Bees boss Nicky Forster being picked for the England U21 side, while banging in the goals in what was then Division Two.
In the days long before social media or the widespread availability of the internet, I remember scouring the back pages of the Ealing Gazette to follow Forster’s progress for his country, and the feeling of immense pride when he bagged a goal for the young lions.
It wouldn’t be long before such things became commonplace, as full international honours for Bees players followed long before the club started its current upward curve. What I didn’t realise was just how long it has been since the club had had any sort of international success to celebrate.
The records show that the first player to be capped while on Brentford’s books was Joe O’Connor, who scored in a 2-0 win for Ireland over Scotland in 1903, before the Bees were even a Football League club. Tommy Shanks, scorer of the first ever goal at Griffin Park, was also capped by the Irish while a Bee.
Then comes a bit of a gap as Brentford established themselves in the Football League, before their remarkable rise through the divisions in the 1930s saw more of the international committee blazers sit up and take notice.
Most noteable among these were Scotsman Dave McCulloch, Welshman Idris Hopkins and Irishman Bill Gorman, who spearheaded Brentford’s rise from the depths of Division Three to the top spots in Division One.
The same era also saw the Bees gain their first England international as Billy Scott, one of a trio of signings from Middlesbrough whose arrival sparked the club’s dramatic ascent, was capped in a 2-1 Home International defeat to Wales in 1936.
Brentford’s second, and, to date, their only other England international, was more of a hometown hero, having been born in Ealing and come through the ranks at the club as an amateur. Scorer of both Brentford’s goals in their 1942 London War Cup win at Wembley, Smith won a solitary England cap while a Bee and 11 ‘unofficial’ wartime ones, in between serving as a rear gunner in the RAF.
As Brentford’s star began to fall in the post-war years, so to did international recognition for their players. One exception was inside forward Seamus D’Arcy, who picked up a handful of Northern Ireland caps as he saw out his career with the Bees in the early 1950s. Around the same time, future England manager Ron Greenwood played in an England B international while a Bee, and Bill Slater was one of a small number of Brentford amateur internationals. Another of them, Terry Robinson, was one of two Bees to be capped by Great Britain.
Then, for years, nothing. All Bees fans had to cling to in terms of international bragging rights came through former players, like Brian Turner playing briefly in the 1982 World Cup for New Zealand or Stewart Houston gaining a solitary Scotland cap. Like the aforementioned Sinton being thrown in at left back by Graham Taylor, or Dean Holdsworth winning an England B cap two years after leaving for Wimbledon.
The 1990s also threw up a few wildcards with players who has less than excelled with Brentford – Gus Hurdle playing for Barbados, Niall Thompson for Canada and Julian Charles for St Vincent anyone? But a sea change was coming, as the likes of Jay Tabb, Kevin O’Connor and Martin Rowlands were capped by Republic of Ireland U21s, as one century turned to the next.
All of a sudden, as the floodgates opened to foreign players and Brentford’s own line-ups took on a more cosmopolitan feel, it no longer felt unusual to see Bees turn out for the likes of Iceland (Hreidarsson, Ingimarsson and Skulason), or the rather more sunny climes of Jamaica (Bean, Burton and Lawrence).
There was one memorable occasion when former Bee Lloyd Owusu played at Griffin Park for Ghana, and I seem to recall the Bees being so desperate to field Bristol City loanee James Wilson in a league game that they devised a special plan to get him back quicker from whichever far-flung foreign outpost he had been representing Wales U21s in.
Then, of course, there’s the Danish contingent who have made Brentford their home in recent years, helping set all sorts of club international records. More Danes (Vibe, Bjelland, Dalsgaard, Norgaard and Jensen) have now represented their country while at the club than any other country.
Henrik Dalsgaard is the most capped, having won 21 of his 25 while a Bee, and in 2018 became the first contracted Brentford player to feature in a World Cup when he represented Denmark in Russia. Norgaard and Jensen both then joined him at the delayed Euro 2020 this summer, both coming on as subs in their semi-final defeat to England.
What a story it would have been had ex-Bee Ollie Watkins, who made and scored on his England debut in the run up to the Euros, made the final cut for the tournament and featured against his former team-mates.
For as proud as I was watching a clutch of current Bees play for their country on the biggest stage, it was nothing to the pride I felt seeing Watkins, having so recently pulled on the red and white stripes, wear the three lions too.
Hopefully it will only be a matter of time before we get to see Brentford’s first current England international in more than 80 years. Now that really will be something to celebrate.