Pat Kruse is said to be the scorer of the fastest own goal in history so, naturally, there is only one place to start a conservation with the former Brentford defender.
It came during the last few months of a two-year spell at Fourth Division Torquay United in January 1977. Almost 46 years later, he can still remember how it happened, blow for blow.
“I wish I had a pound for every time I talked about that – I’d be a millionaire!” Kruse says.
“The game was delayed for about an hour because of a frozen pitch, but when it got underway, Cambridge had kick-off and punted it forward. I was playing centre-half and could see their winger and centre-forward running towards me.
“The easy thing would have been to head the ball straight back out again but, at the last second, I thought I’d flick it back to my goalkeeper and we’d have possession.
“Unbeknown to me, I was standing just inside the box and Terry Lee, the goalkeeper, came off the line to come and catch it.
“Then he tried to shout for it, but he had a speech impediment and that’s when his affliction kicked in – he stuttered, but nothing came out at all.
“As far as I knew, he was still in his goal, but when he realised I didn’t hear, he tried to go back, slipped on the ice and as I flicked it back, I could see him lying on the floor as the ball went in. Unfortunately, it wasn’t caught on camera!”
It was a moment of misfortune he has lived with ever since, but in the early stages of his playing career, there were a number of strokes of luck that helped him to establish himself as a professional after humble beginnings.
Kruse joined Leicester as a 16-year-old apprentice in 1970, but was only spotted because scouts from the Foxes, West Ham United and Leeds United had come to watch a team-mate of his at home village club Arlesey Town. Then he joined Torquay, but only as reserve team coach Malcolm Musgrove had remembered him from Leicester.
Brentford manager Bill Dodgin Junior remembered him from there, too, having briefly worked as a youth coach at the club in the early 1970s – and in March 1977, brought him to Griffin Park for a then Club-record £20,000, shortly after Bees striker Gordon Sweetzer had managed to outwit him and score a hattrick.
“I caught a train home because I lived up in Bedfordshire and got a lot of abuse from the Brentford fans as they had scored four goals against me – and I had to get the train back with them!”
Dodgin had not long been at the Club by this time but, as others have referenced in previous Kings of the Castle interviews, it did not take long for players to warm to him.
“I’ll be quite honest, it was so relaxed,” Kruse continues. “Everyone knew everyone and it was the relaxed atmosphere that I loved.
“He’d tell you sometimes that we wouldn’t bother training on the Monday, we were going golfing! A few of us wouldn’t even play, we’d just have a drink and a chat. He got the best out of people by doing that and that’s just the way it worked. Everyone fought for him and did everything they possibly could for the cause.
“We were all different, but we respected each other and worked for each other. If someone made a mistake, you wouldn’t turn to them and ask what the hell they were doing, you’d track back and cover for them without being nasty. I’m a big believer in team spirit.
“The manager knew the different personalities of the players and that you couldn’t talk to everyone the same way to get the best out of them. His motivation was brilliant as he just wanted the best out of you.
“He’d say to me that my timing in the air and my reading of the game was great, but when I got the ball, to give it to someone who could play. You just had to get on with it. We had very skillful players, fast little wingers, so everyone had their own attributes.
“Jackie Graham would talk to you and encourage you throughout and be the one to get the best out of you on the pitch. It was all about pushing forward and closing down and we had the players to go and win the games. He used to tell us to give it to Andy Mac, Stevie Phillips or Dougie Allder who could create and score the goals.
“It was mostly very relaxed but, in pre-season, we did really hard training, like cross country, but to be match fit was totally different. The first game of the season, you’d be running about shattered after all the hard work you’d done.
“I believe that the more games you play, the better you are. Nowadays, people complain about three games in six days, but I think it’s the best thing for you. At Christmas and Easter, we’d be playing on Friday, Saturday and Monday!”
Kruse became a key part of the squad during his five years in West London and never once made an appearance from the bench, starting every one of his 201 appearances for the Bees.
He was part of the 1977/78 Fourth Division winning team. A five-foot print of the players celebrating with the trophy in the showers, gifted to him by former chairman Dan Tana, still adorns his utility room wall.
The best central defensive partnership he forged during his time? “I would say Jim McNichol. He was a brilliant player who was good at everything. He read the game really well and I would say, the majority of the time, I played with him. I gelled with him perfectly.”
But it was everything that he experienced off the pitch that remains at the forefront of his mind.
“I integrated into Brentford really easily and we all got to know the local people as well. I’m so pleased they didn’t have mobile phones to take pictures of you down the pub having a drink back in those days!
“We used to finish training at about half 12 and most would shoot home, but two or three of us would go down to The New Inn. There would be people from Smithfield Market, dustmen and just loads of different people in there. You felt no different to them and felt completely at ease.
“You had to perform on the weekends, though! After the games, I would go into the supporters’ bar and they’d come over, talk to you and offer to buy you a drink - but it could be the opposite if you’d had a bad game!
“The playwright Willis Hall was a director at the time and, as he lived in St. Albans, I used to give him a lift home! We’d stop at a pub on the way and have a cup of tea at his house. It was unbelievable that you could associate with those people. They were so down to Earth.
“To be honest, I ought to write a book about it because, when Rick Wakeman became a director, I got on so well with him, too. He invited us to a concert at Wembley one time and said for us to come backstage afterwards – and we were there with all these top, top people.
“Another time, we played Watford and Elton John was there – he and Rick knew each other and we got invited out with them to a nightclub! A girl came over and asked for them to play the piano – and they got on the piano and sung happy birthday to her!
“They were all just genuine people who accepted you for who you were. I honestly think we had the best time at Brentford in the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Dodgin was sacked in March 1980, which heralded a change of approach at Brentford. Former coach Fred Callaghan succeeded him and, that summer, set about implementing his own methods, which involved an overhaul of the squad.
Kruse survived the cull and remained a regular in the 1980/81 season, but admits the atmosphere changed dramatically – and not for the better.
“It was a sad moment when Bill left. I knew Fred and I got on well with him, and then Ron Harris came in as a player-coach, but they virtually ditched everybody who used to play for Bill,” he adds.
“I was fortunate to stay on for a little while, but they changed the club completely. You almost had the finger pointed at you for going to the pub or doing this and that. Fred knew the players were all Bill’s mates from his own time as coach.
“It was a little bit over the top. We all worked as a team and loved each other, but he brought new people in, they weren’t quite as close and it was never quite the same.”
In 1981/82, Kruse found himself very much out of favour and he made just one appearance during the first half of the season before joining Northampton Town on loan in early 1982. Little did he know, it was the beginning of the end of his professional career.
“They decided they wanted someone else at centre-half, so I knew I had to go somewhere else.
“Northampton wanted to sign me permanently after the loan, but the wages they were offering were ridiculous, particularly as I had to travel all the way up there, so it was just not going to be worthwhile.
“At that point, I knew I had to think about getting a job outside football as I had two or three years left. In the end, I didn’t sign for Northampton and I went part-time at Barnet.”
As Gary Roberts alluded to in his interview, Kruse did not see eye-to-eye with manager Barry Fry, either.
“We played Weymouth or someone like that, came in at half-time and it was 0-0. He was having a go at us so I had to stand up and fight our corner. He had a cup of tea in his hand, smashed it on the floor and walked out of the dressing room from a confrontation with me – and he didn’t come out until the second half. We actually won 2-1.
“About a week later, I knew it was pathetic and left. I moved to local football and that was the end of it.”
Did he regret going part-time?
“I’d say yes. But I hit the stage in life where I needed money coming in and, with no real qualifications, I had no experience with anything else. I virtually did an apprenticeship at 32/33 as a builder and it went on from there.
“I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve met – the chap I worked for died and I inherited the company and carried on.
“I’ve literally just retired and I’m 69 in November. It’s all local people in little villages and so I still pop out and do little bits and pieces, which keeps me active.
“But I need to start saying ‘Let’s shoot off and go on holidays more’ because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Given the luck that brought him into the professional game, there is a definite sadness about how he exited it. But fate brought him to Brentford for five years and, for that, he is more than content.
“I made my Leicester debut against Martin Chivers back in 1971, was captain of the reserves and knocking on the door to a reserve team place, but never really made it in the First Team.
“At Brentford, I was in the First Team, all of the fans were there shouting and I felt as though they liked me. I absolutely loved it. I can’t think of anything better.”
This interview first appeared in our match programme. Fill the gaps in your collection while stocks last.