To cut a long story short, in early 1952 my mum had just had her third child. At nine-years-old, I was the eldest and around that time, went to stay with my grandparents, who also lived in Hounslow. My grandad was a regular football-goer but I’d never been to a match in my life until one weekend when he offered to take me down to Griffin Park for the first time. That was 68 years ago and the rest is history.
With my grandad, he started, more or less, to go to Brentford around the time the club was formed. Having been born in 1883, I’d imagine he’d actually have been going to Griffin Park ever since it opened in 1904, being a young man of around 21. I can’t actually recall him telling me about those early years but I just know that he used to go every week and after I first accompanied him to a game, I used to stay at their house near Hounslow Southern railway station every weekend and get the train – which was always packed – to games. For the first four seasons, I didn’t miss a single home game and we used to arrive around an hour before kick-off so we could get right behind the goal in Brook Road.
Shortly before my first game, we’d signed Tommy Lawton, who had starred for Everton and Chelsea in the First Division; signing a player of his calibre was the equivalent of Wayne Rooney signing for Derby County earlier this season. His debut - on 15 March 1952 - was the first game I ever saw live and I still remember the day incredibly vividly. The trains had single compartments, with great big slam doors, brass locks and leather straps to open the windows. As you walked along, you could see the scrap metal yards, with all the anti-aircraft guns lined up next to one another, ready to be scrapped. This was just seven years after World War Two ended but, equally, it was so long ago, King George VI had only died a matter of weeks earlier!
We walked along Hamilton Road, where people would park their bikes in front gardens for thruppence a time, and turned the corner into Brook Road, seeing the large black gates and the turnstiles, which read: Men 1s 6d, Boys 9d. There was nothing about women in those days and it wasn’t commonplace to see them at games, if at all, unlike today. I remember going through the turnstiles into a big forecourt, where there were lots of little tea bars, and then up the steps into the Royal Oak stand as it later became known, though they didn’t call it that when I first went. Seeing everything for the first time was quite an experience for me and I was hooked from that day.
Looking back on it, most of the guys in the crowd who were over 25-years-old had fought in World War Two and anybody over 50 had probably fought in World War One, including my grandad, who’d been wounded during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. My uncle, who lived in Wales, came with us that day too and he’d fought through the Second World War as a paratrooper, and, interestingly enough, was one of the first to land in Europe on D-Day. It’s somewhat surreal to think I was watching that game with two war heroes.
In the 1946/47 season - the first full campaign back after the war – Brentford had been relegated from the First Division, but they were still quite a force to be reckoned with in 1952 and I remember them being in the upper half of the table. I always say that I put a curse on them by going because a few seasons later they were relegated again. I was actually at the game against Leicester on 24 April 1954, when we had to win something like 8-0 to stay up and we lost 3-1. I remember going back to school on the Monday, worried that people would take the mickey out of me. When we were promoted to the Championship in 2014, it was virtually 60 years to the day that I’d stood on the terrace as an 11-year-old and watched them get relegated to the Third Division South. Naturally, it was quite poignant for me and I’d probably say I can fully appreciate the success of the past few years having experienced such lows as a youngster.
Later that same year, I was there for the inaugural game under the floodlights - a friendly against Chelsea - and I recall that we were one of the first clubs to install them. However, that was one of the reasons my grandad stopped going a couple of years later, because he couldn’t see the action very well during floodlit games. In the winter, roughly between November and February, they used to kick off at 2.15pm, when all the other league games would kick off a 2pm and when the clocks changed, they’d kick off at 3.15pm and not 3pm. As a result, when you bought the classified newspaper in the evening, Brentford’s result wasn’t in there because the match hadn’t yet finished! There were one of a number of clubs in the country who did that, up until about the 1960s, when it was pushed back to 3pm and I think it was something to do with local factory workers being able to attend.
Another memory I have goes back to an evening game in April 1958, our last game of the season against Brighton in what proved to be the very last season of the old Third Division South. Only one team went up to the Second Division from each of the Third South and Third North and Brentford and Brighton were going for it neck-and-neck, level on points. Brentford’s final game was at home to the Seagulls and we actually beat them 1-0 to go two points clear in the days when the value of a win was two points, not three. It was a brilliant game and I came out with a real feeling of euphoria after the final whistle. The only problem was that Brighton still had another game to play, at home to Watford a couple of nights later. Needless to say, Brighton won it 6-1 and it emerged in later years that that match had been fixed, costing Brentford a deserved promotion.
A few years earlier, I’d actually been signed on by Brentford Juniors, too.. I was quite a useful goalkeeper back in my younger days and I went along for a trial when ex-player Jackie Goodwin was in charge of the Juniors and impressed enough to sign, but unfortunately the training got in the way of my homework when I was at Isleworth Grammar School so I had to pack it in. It’s still nice to know my club signed me, even if I didn’t actually manage to play for the team.
I’m sure a few people will remember when we played Millwall in a Third Division game in November 1965, for a variety of reasons. At half-time, the police found a hand grenade in the back of Chic Brodie’s goal. Fortunately it was a dud, but most of the crowd didn’t know about it until a few hours after the match because, unbelievably, a policeman had picked it up, dropped it in a bucket of sand and walked away with it! Could you imagine that today?! My main memory from that game, however, was when a fan leapt out of the Ealing Road end after full-time, ran up to goalkeeper Alex Stepney – who’d go onto have huge success with Manchester United – and took a swing at him! A big chap dressed in a camel-coloured coat appeared from nowhere and really hit this Brentford fan, laying him straight out in front of my very eyes!
I can’t claim to have been to every match during those 68 years, though. When my wife Sue and I moved out to Chiddingfold, Surrey in 1987, I rarely made it to Griffin Park as I was working all the time and fell out of love with football a little bit. It wasn’t until my children were old enough to come to games with us that we started going regularly again. My daughter Lizzie is still a big supporter of the club and comes to games as often as she can, despite living down in Bournemouth, while my son Will also comes with us now and again. When we walk to the ground, I always share my memories of the old place with them.
Back when Martin Allen was manager, the club organised a Fans vs Players game one Christmas, so I phoned Peter Gilham up and asked if they’d consider Sue for the team. He said he’d asked Martin and then phoned back just a few minutes later to say that it wouldn’t be a problem; Sue was the only woman to play that evening. Martin was doing some broadcasting before the Leicester game last month and we were chatting to him and he still remembered Sue playing in that game, even 15 years down the line! I think the first team won 11-1 but it was all good fun and we’ve still got the video of that.
A couple of my other family members are QPR season ticket holders and my brother-in-law won’t even come and see us now because Brentford are doing so much better! We’re sat down in the Paddock and, after many enjoyable afternoons and evenings there, we’ve had season tickets since 2014. It does get quite lively! Next week, we’re going to the Reservation Centre to sort season tickets for the new ground, though we’re not quite sure where we’re going to sit yet. I suffered a stroke last year, which has left me with a few mobility problems but as long as I’m near the end of a row, I should be fine.
I’ll remember Griffin Park as the first place I ever experienced a professional football match. My grandparents virtually brought me up during the latter stages of the war, because my dad was away fighting so I was fairly close to them and it’s a place where I have so many memories of watching games alongside my grandad. It’s so nice that I’ve been able to take my own son and daughter to experience the same things and watch them get as much out of the quirkiness of the ground as I did as a young boy myself all those years ago.
Fred's story was first published in this season's matchday programme against Leeds United on 11 February 2020. To get your Brentford Story online, email Programme Editor Chris Deacon on [email protected] and we'll get back to you.
To catch up on a previous edition of the Matchday Programme, all of the issues from the 2019/20 season so far can be bought online from our supplier Curtis Sport. Click Here.