The castle crest was used by Brentford from 1975 to 1993.

Promotion was won twice during that period, from the Fourth to Third Division in 1977/78 and from the third to second tier in 1991/92. The other highlight was a run to the sixth round of the FA Cup in 1988/89.

To celebrate the return of the castle crest on our 2022/24 second kit, we’ll be speaking with those who wore it best the first time around.

Next up is Gary Roberts, who starred for the Bees during the 1980s.

Gary Roberts knew he had one last chance to break into professional football.

One bitter British winter as a bricklayer had been one bitter British winter too many. At 21-years-old, time was ticking on for him at an alarming rate.

He was playing non-league football for Wembley, but the part-time nature of the semi-professional game did not provide the conditioning needed to make the step up if, not when, the opportunity arose.

Fortunately, clubs in the Football League were beginning to make their interest known. Once he heard the murmurs, he had to be proactive in his response.

“I took six months off work, trained twice a day and did pre-season with two different clubs to get myself really fit in order to stand out that little bit more,” Gary explains.

“With about six or seven clubs – including Crystal Palace, Southampton and Oxford - interested in me, I was quite confident I was going to get somewhere, but to move, I needed to play well in pre-season. I did, so then it came down to a decision of who to join.

“I needed to go somewhere and play because, at that age, I needed somewhere where I thought I could develop quickly. Brentford manager Fred Callaghan and scout John Griffin showed their faith in me by making the first real concrete bid to Wembley.”

The gameplan had worked a treat. In October 1980, the Bees shelled out £6,000 for his services.

He was gradually integrated into the team after making a significant step up from the Isthmian League First Division to the Third Division and made 19 appearances throughout the remainder of the season.

“Even though I was probably one of the quickest players playing at my level,” he says, “the game was much, much quicker. I found that in the first few weeks, training was quite tough going.” 

He managed three goals, the first of which – his first in professional football – came during a 1-1 west London derby draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage in February 1981.

“I couldn’t believe it!” he continues, unable to hide his boyish excitement. “It was such a whirlwind.

“I came on after about an hour and got booked within two minutes for a little tussle with Les Strong. About eight or nine minutes later, the ball was knocked down from the corner to me on the angle of the 18-yard box and I volleyed it straight back in the far corner.

“I was euphoric as it all happened so quickly. I’ve come across [former Fulham goalkeeper] Jim Stannard quite a few times over the years in non-league football and reminded him of that moment, when he was flailing his arms at thin air!”

During the 1981/82 season, Gary began to flourish under Callaghan’s management and made the left-wing berth his own. Contrary to popular belief, he was not what might be referred to as an inverted winger.

He adds: “I was comfortable with both feet. That was something my dad taught me when I was very young because he was a good player in his day. From the age of two or three, I was kicking the ball with both feet and never really favoured one or the other.

“It helped because I could go inside or outside of full-backs without them really knowing what I was doing.”

Gary Roberts (2)

It was in 1982/83 that Gary really came to the fore, with 17 goals in 55 appearances in all competitions from the flank.

“I was really getting into my stride. I was the highest-scoring winger in the country, without a doubt, at the time. Things were really going well for me at that point; I was moving along and the team were moving along as well. We started to progress and have a little bit more about us.

“Fred wanted to play football but, with the back pass rule, it was very difficult to press high; there was no point as the ‘keeper could do what he liked and they could back pass all day long.

“It was a slightly different game, but we always played with two attacking full-backs and wingers, like myself. I would never say that the midfield, with Terry Hurlock and Chris Kamara, was a defensive midfield - we were always looking to go forward.

“I do think Fred got a little bit disillusioned at times. We had great forward players and maybe sometimes the emphasis was too much on that and not on the defensive side of the game as much as it probably should have been, looking back.”

A promotion challenge looked likely in the opening months of that season, but they were scuppered by the broken leg sustained by Tony Mahoney in the FA Cup second round replay with Swindon in December 1982, which was discussed by Francis Joseph in the Everton programme in August.

Gary admits that, though Mahoney was never sufficiently replaced until the signings of Steve Butler and Robbie Cooke in 1984, he was not the man to step into a more central role in his absence.

“At that point, I would have been more of a run-off man - I wouldn't have been the hold-up forward. My job, most the time, was to either get front post or far post when the other winger had the ball, so for me to play in front-up, man, that wasn't really my game at that time.

“I was far better in the wide positions and coming in from those wide positions, so it would have been difficult for me to partner Joe [Francis Joseph]. We had a great forward, which had everything: Tony’s aerial ability, Joe’s thrust and us on the wings providing the trickery, crosses and goals as well. 

“It slowed our momentum greatly – there’s no getting away from it.”

A ninth-place finish was Brentford’s third top-ten finish in a row. For all the promise they offered – particularly going forward – they never quite had enough to threaten the automatic promotion places.

But why? Gary offers his own suggestion.

“We were probably lacking a real commanding presence in the back four and also probably a little bit more nastiness in the full-back areas. We had good players. I wouldn’t blame them for it, but we didn’t really have a back four that dominated other teams.

“One example was when we played Hull City away and Billy Whitehurst absolutely destroyed our centre-halves and goalkeeper. Those things happened to us. That was probably was the area where we struggled slightly.” 

He moves on to talk about two career highlights: The moment he scored a “pretty special” goal in the Milk Cup second round against Liverpool at Griffin Park in October 1983 and playing in the Freight Rover Trophy final against Wigan at Wembley in June 1985.

Before that, though, Gary sheds light on several potential transfers away from the capital that ultimately failed to materialise.

“Nottingham Forest came in for me when Fred was manager, but he wouldn’t sell me. It was at the time when Forest were looking for a replacement for John Robertson.

“Then, with Bradford, I went up and agreed a deal with them after Brentford had agreed a fee – then Bradford phoned me and said Brentford wanted double the money on Deadline Day! That was a no-go then.

“Bradford had already won the league and they were going up to Division One with a good team and a good management group in Terry Yorath and Trevor Cherry. That would have been a decent little move.

“Just before the Freight Rover Trophy final, I was contacted by Derby. I was in a bit of a dispute with Frank McLintock as he was adamant that he wanted George Torrance as his left-sided player. I love George, but there was no way that he could produce the goals and the stuff for the team that I could.”

Though he did not realise it at the time, the Wembley showpiece – attended by a crowd of almost 40,000 - turned out to be a particularly poignant occasion.

“I sustained an injury playing against Tottenham in that pre-season of 1984/85 where Graham Roberts caught me with a nasty tackle as I put a cross in. Everyone thought it was just ligament damage, but I'd fractured my ankle and got by with cortisone injections and painkillers all year.

“So, when it came to that final, I had my operation booked in for the week after. The worst thing about it was that during that time when I was getting jabs and all that stuff, osteoarthritis had set in. It was great to continue playing - I scored loads of goals again that year - but it just kills you eventually.

“Nowadays it’s limited to three and they would never give you more than that because, though it’s a painkiller, it also destroys the cartilage and ligament around your bone, so it’s self-defeating if you have more than two or three of them. Neither I nor the medical team knew any better otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to it.”

Gary Roberts (3)

Following a period of rehabilitation, Gary returned to action against Chesterfield five months later and all seemed to be rosy again. But he was only able to pull on the red and white stripes twice more.

“I needed jabs in order to start the third game, but during the game it just broke down. I then went to see several expert orthopaedic surgeons and each one of them said the same. It was then a case of what do I do? With that prognosis, I wouldn't have been able to get insured at the end of the season and it would have been difficult for me to go and find another professional club.

“I was in a bit of a predicament because I had a young family as well so I couldn't afford not to be in employment of some sort. So, it was a case of do I take a chance and hope that someone might pay some money for me even though I couldn't get insured? I was given a small settlement from the insurance payment Brentford got after my release, along with some money from the PFA and the league, but it didn’t last long. It was a bad time.”

The saving grace was that the injury was not enough to rule him out football altogether and Gary moved to Barnet in 1986. However, financial rows with manager Barry Fry and chairman Stan Flashman soured his time in North London. “It was probably the worst move I could have made,” he adds. “The way the place was run was ridiculous.”

He left Underhill in 1987 and worked for an insurance company in London while returning to the non-league circuit, before deciding to join the police in June 1988.

“While I was at Brentford, I’d moved to Baldock and had been living there for four years by then. I was approached by the Metropolitan Police and I would have had a nice little job at Imber Court as a PT and played for the police team, but it was too much travel and I was happy where I was.

“So, I joined Hertfordshire and ended up playing for their local team for two years as part of the deal, but also I became captain of the British Police team and the English Police team as well. While I was there, we won the European Police Football Championships for the first time ever up at Bloomfield Road.

“All the lads had semi-pro experience or pro experience, so they were all decent players. We were treated really well and it was the nearest thing to being a pro. We used to go on three or four mini tours a year playing lower league clubs as well. After my two years, I ended up going back into non-league football and still working in the police and eventually took over as manager of Baldock Town.”

It was not just a brief flirtation with management, either.

“I got headhunted to go to St. Albans City after Baldock, had some good success there, getting to the first round of the FA Cup, and then I applied for the job at Cambridge City in 2002 and stayed there for 13 years.

“I got them up to the Conference South and we were one game away from getting into the National League. We got to the first and second round of the FA Cup several times, so we had a good time.

“I came out in 2015 as, a year before, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and I couldn’t commit to the two as she was pretty poorly. I was working 80 hours a week with both jobs, so I had to call it a day. Since then, I haven’t been doing anything other than playing a bit of golf!

“I took early retirement after 26 years in 2014, six months before I packed up the football. Now we’ve moved up to Rutland in the East Midlands.”

Gary has never forgotten his roots, though, and in February 2020, he was inducted into the Brentford Hall of Fame.

“I had no idea it was about to happen when I was called on to the pitch, so I was overjoyed.

“No matter what people say, it's lovely to have some recognition for what you do, whatever job you do.

“It was particularly special as Brentford was my one and only professional club as well. I look back with nothing but fondness.”

This interview first appeared in our Match Programme. Fill the gaps in your collection while stocks last.