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Brentford contributor Tim Street (@StreetboyTimcaught up with ex Brentford striker Charlie McDonald who is currently managing Barking – Brentford B team’s recent opponents in the semi final of the London Senior Cup

As Brentford’s first teamers blissfully reflected this week on delivering perhaps the club’s greatest result in its history, the club’s next generation of hopefuls were busy making their own little bit of history.

Barking FC’s Mayesbrook Park Stadium is a million miles away from Stamford Bridge, where Brentford’s first team shocked the footballing world by coming from behind to put four goals past the reigning European champions – and World Champions, no less – in a spell-binding display which will hold a special place in the club history books.

But Isthmian League North Division side Barking was the destination for Brentford’s B team three days later, as they secured a second cup final spot of the season. A 4-0 win in East London landed the young Bees a place in the final of the London Senior Cup, a competition they were losing finalists in both in 2019 and 2020.

They have already a secured a place in the Middlesex Senior Cup final (to be played against Barnet next Tuesday), looking to reclaim a trophy they landed in 2019 with a 4-0 final victory over Harrow Borough. To book their place in the London Senior Cup final, however, they had to get past a team marshalled by a Bees legend and former striker. Charlie MacDonald joined the club as a player, at the age of 41, at the start of the season, but sidelined by injury, took over the managerial reins in January after former boss Justin Gardner’s departure.

It was a first managerial posting for the well-travelled frontman, who since dropping out of the pro game seven years ago has done the rounds of non-league with Boreham Wood, St Albans, Greenwich Borough (where he played under former Bees strike partner Gary Alexander), Cray Wanderers, VCD Athletic, Glebe and now Barking. He is still well thought of, however, at a club where he scored 45 goals in 127 games – which surely would have been more if not for injuries. MacDonald scored 18 goals in Brentford’s League Two title-winning season of 2008-09, then proved himself in League One with 17 goals the following season.

Although he only managed 10 the following season, he played in each game of Brentford’s thrilling run to the last 16 of the League Cup, scoring a spot-kick in the famous third round shoot-out slaying of Everton, and was then sadly robbed of a place in the Johnstone Paints Trophy final team at Wembley through injury. The following season was barely a month old before MacDonald had fallen out of favour with new Bees boss Uwe Rosler and was shipped out to MK Dons – scoring against his former club in the Johnstone Paints Trophy a week later. I spoke to MacDonald recently for a project I am working on, and although holding back some of what he spoke about for said project, will share here some of what MacDonald had to say about his time at the club and since.

On winning the title in his debut season with Brentford, MacDonald said: “The expectation was to push for the play-offs rather than going on to win it. We had a disappointing opening day at Bury, and then I made my debut at home to Grimsby (scoring twice). I felt after we beat them, one of the favourites, there was a lot of self-belief within the group. We had a lot of players who had played at a higher level and hungry players coming out of non-league.” MacDonald then missed the closing stages of the season with a shoulder injury, and had to wince when a fan decided to jump on his back during the on-pitch celebrations after the title had been secured.

“It was very frustrating,” he said. “I had scored 17 goals, and six weeks away from the end of the season, I was looking to push on and compete for the golden boot. To be sitting there watching the lads but not being able to play a part and help the boys get over the line was very frustrating. But thankfully they stayed strong, and in the end, we were worthy winners. I had open surgery on the shoulder, and walking round the pitch at the end, I can imagine the elation of the supporters. The fan probably got a bit carried away and didn’t realise I was in a sling, but no harm was done in the end!”

Two legendary games MacDonald was to play in over the next two years were that giant-killing of Everton in 2010, and a 1-0 win at a freezing MK Dons in December 2009, which has gone down in Brentford history as one of the ultimate smash-and-grab raids. The Bees – with Wojciech Szczesny inspirational in goal, and Leon Legge and Pim Balkestein like rocks in front of him – repelled everything the Dons could throw at them for what was pretty much 90 minutes of one-way traffic, before a rare foray up the other end saw MacDonald pop up with a late winner.

Of the Everton win, in which he had missed a penalty in normal time, MacDonald said: “They were special nights under the lights at Griffin Park. Everton had some big players playing and coming off the bench like Fellaini, Piennaar, Arteta, Jagielka and Neville. Missing the penalty in normal time was hard to take, but I thought we matched them, and I remember Myles Weston giving Seamus Coleman a torrid time as well. We were definitely worthy of taking it to penalties, and I had no doubts whatsoever about stepping up again. Even the best players in the world miss penalties, and you can’t let it affect you. Being a striker and having a selfish edge, it’s a free shot from 12 yards, so if you offered me another one, I’d 100 per cent step up and take it. Luckily for me, I managed to stick that one away.”

Of the MK Dons win, he added: “You have to give the boys credit for how we dug in that day, although Szczesny at that time was unbelievable between the sticks. They were doing everything but score, hitting the post and hitting the bar. They had a good side at that point, players like Aaron Wilbraham and Jason Puncheon, they were expecting to beat us. I remember it like it was yesterday, one of the coldest games I’ve been involved in. The ground was rock solid, and to be honest, we were surprised the game was on. In the end, I don’t think it was just my only chance, I think it was our only chance as a team. Luckily, it fell at the right time for me, and I managed to get decent contact on it. At the final whistle we were a little bit embarrassed shaking hands as it was daylight robbery, but the changing room was buzzing, because in football you talk about stats and possession percentages – but the only stat that matters is obviously the scoreline, and we took the three points.”

Of his departure, MacDonald said: “I didn’t want to leave as Brentford was a massive part of my life, probably the best years of my career, but for the sake of my football I had to. It all happened so quickly, a move to Notts County under Martin Allen was more or less done and dusted, which would have been financially better and longer term. But once MK Dons came in for me under Karl Robinson, with the style of football they were playing at the time, it was definitely the right place to go. Playing against Brentford in the cup a few days after making my debut was strange. I managed to escape Marcus Bean and get a header in from a corner to score. For me, the fans were nothing but great for me, so I was never going to celebrate out of respect, and I think they enjoyed the fact the way I carried myself whenever I went back.”

A popular figure in his playing days, MacDonald is an equally welcome face back in TW8 when he returns for the odd commentary stint, when his commitments with Barking allow – and he was full of praise for the part the fans have played in Brentford’s journey to the Premier League. He said: “I do a lot of work for ifollow at Brentford and always say the fans will be sitting watching their team play the likes of Man City and Man United and they deserve it – because they have worked their socks on and off the pitch. I was at the new stadium during covid when it was empty and wondered if it would be able to create the same atmosphere as Griffin Park, the same passion. I did the commentary for the play-off game against Bournemouth – there was only 5,000 fans and I kid you not, I got goosebumps with the noise they were making. You don’t realise how important the fans are as a player until they’re not there. The impact of the stadium being full is fantastic, the fans definitely play their part in what Brentford are doing.”

As for his own managerial ambitions, MacDonald added: “The manager got the sack during my injury rehab, so I’ve got the job for foreseeable future, I’ll just see what happens. I’ve been coaching for six years up to U19s and have to do training structures, so nothing is different apart from dealing with young men rather than kids. I gained that respect with my football background and have the knowledge. I didn’t see it as my future to be honest, but I’ll see how it goes. I’ve only got a few grey hairs at the moment – most managers end up fully grey or with no hair. I’m enjoying it, but it can be frustrating – we’ll see where it goes.”

Tim Street