It was heartening to see so many plaudits deservedly come Brentford’s way following what many have been calling their best-ever result – at least in living memory – on Saturday evening. Beesotted’s Tim Street looks back on a night never to forget.
Thousands of Bees fans looked on in pride – and the watching millions on television cannot have failed to have been impressed either – as Thomas Frank’s men took the game to and clearly rattled the five-time kings of Europe and 19-time English champions. So much so, in fact, that the draw almost felt like a win. What a shame then that in amongst the praise was the odd slice of bitterness and labelling of Brentford as a long ball team (as discussed on the pre West Ham podcast with Martin Allen – click link above).
This only a week after Wolves had accused the Bees of time-wasting during their win at Molinuex (before the men in gold went and did exactly the same themselves against Southampton seven days later). Granted, two of Brentford’s three goals against Liverpool came from lofted crosses into the box (as did Diogo Jota’s, incidentally) but there’s a world of difference between that and long ball football – and we should know! The last few years have seen Brentford widely praised for their new brand of exciting, skilful, attacking football – which has been mouth-watering stuff for fans brought up on a diet of something quite different – and little has changed apart from the Bees having to become a more solid and physical unit out of necessity after joining the toughest league in the world.
Yes, there are times we have had to go more direct or refuse to be bullied, but we learnt the hard way in the Championship that good football on its own is not enough if you have a soft underbelly. Developing a mean streak doesn’t make you 1980s Wimbledon, and all the best teams down the years knew how to mix skill with cast-iron resilience. But I digress – it’s just a galling accusation to throw at a team whose fans remember all too well what ACTUAL long ball football is. I remember many years ago getting into a debate after writing a column in the Hounslow Chronicle criticising Bristol Rovers manager Ian Atkins for naming Brentford among what he saw as traditional long ball teams.
Admittedly, I’d been lucky enough to become a Bees regular at a time when we were spoilt by the exciting football played by David Webb’s classes of 1994/95 and 1996/97, the early Ron Noades teams and Steve Coppell’s side which came oh-so close to glory. It was rightly pointed out that those generations of Bees fans who had come before me had suffered countless years of somewhat less attractive football, and even our title-winning side of 1992 were no strangers to the more direct side of the game. Our keeper in that side was, of course, Graham Benstead – which reminds me of another Brentford rabbit hole I recently fell down, and which relates to the original debate in this column.
A thread on a supporters’ site asked which former Bees player you would like to see in the current squad, and someone suggested Benstead before lamenting the back-pass rule, introduced the summer following that 1992 title win, as being his downfall. Another poster said they found it amazing that British keepers had struggled so much with the new rule before sweeper-keepers like David Raya became en-vogue, which piqued my interest as I’d recently listened to a podcast in which Tony Dorigo blamed the back-pass rule for Leeds United’s disastrous title defence in 1993. I commented that it was no surprise to me as the country’s football culture at the time was still steeped in the twin philosophical horrors of Charles Hughes and Charles Reep – indeed, the national team manager at the time was one of their philosophy’s keenest students.
All of which got me googling Reep, who I’d read about many years before in Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid. I’d totally forgotten that Reep’s first official posting in the game was a part-time advisory role granted by Brentford manager Jackie Gibbons in 1951. In fact, Reep’s theory of getting the ball forward as quickly, and with as few passes, as possible was credited with saving the Bees from certain relegation to Division Three, as they doubled their goals-to-game ratio over a 14-game run in. It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that the Bees developed a reputation for direct football!
But sorry, Liverpool fans, that’s not what undid you on Saturday. That was a brave new Brentford able to play it long or play it short, to be cute or to be clever – and now able to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the land.