Part one of our series commemorating 50 years since the thwarted takeover by Queens Park Rangers
Brentford supporters were shocked to find out via the London evening newspapers on 19 January 1967 that Brentford were subject to a takeover bid from their arch-rivals Queens Park Rangers. The news came like a bolt out of the blue to Bees fans, who were stunned. The team had been relegated the previous summer, but there was no indication to the crisis that would engulf the club for the next five weeks.
Over the forthcoming two weeks, the story of the takeover will be explained, and the legacy it has left. Today, we look at the run-up to the news, and the circumstances that precipitated the crisis.
Nottingham MP Jack Dunnett joined the Brentford Board of Directors in the summer of 1961. The Bees were then only 14 years out of the top flight of English football and still considered a big London club. By late 1961 he had become Chairman and majority shareholder. At the season’s end, Brentford, despite signing former England international Johnny Brooks and re-signing George Francis, were relegated, for their first spell in the bottom tier of English football. It was a remarkable fall from grace for a club rubbing shoulders with the elite within living memory.
Dunnett decided that manager Malcolm MacDonald would be given every resource available in order to recapture Brentford’s Third Division status at the first attempt. To do this would cost money, and be well in excess of the Club’s earnings, so using his company as security against a large overdraft, new expensive players were bought.
The Fourth Division Championship was duly won but at a cost - with Brentford’s international forward line of Micky Block, Billy McAdams, John Dick, and Johnny Brooks were purchased for £45,000, an enormous sum in those days and equivalent to more than four times the annual gate receipts at Griffin Park.
The plan initially worked, with Brentford back in the third tier after 12 month’s absence. The summer of 1963, Dunnett decided to revamp Griffin Park, which had lain untouched for just under 30 years. Club offices were built and a bar installed underneath, plus the primitive floodlights removed with four light towers built. All of these improvements are still used today by the Club.
Back in the Third Division, the losses unabated, with further highly-paid individuals signed as Brentford attempted to return to the second tier after nine years. Welsh international Dai Ward arrived from Watford, which meant The Bees could field an entire forward line of ex-home internationals.
Football finances are different today, with Brentford restricted on their yearly losses and the way clubs are funded. Loans into football clubs are now restricted to infrastructure rather than the playing squad. Back then, the overdraft facility ensured that the money spent by Jack Dunnett’s Brentford could be recouped in the future should things go wrong.
And they did. After narrowly missing out on promotion to Division Two in 1965, Brentford were relegated the next season. Referee George McCabe refereed the first league match of the season, a 6-1 home win over Queens Park Rangers in front of 15,000, and that day he would be hard pressed to think that his last football engagement on 28 May 1966 would be a relegated Brentford side beaten 2-0 at home to Gillingham in front of fewer than 4,500 spectators.
With the Club’s demotion back to the Fourth Division in 1966, it was perhaps clear to Dunnett that the big gamble to burn cash in order to reap success had failed. As an ambitious politician, owning a struggling Fourth Division club wasn’t something to boast about.
On Wednesday, we will look at how the plan was first hatched to end Brentford Football Club and hand Queens Park Rangers the keys to Griffin Park.
Don’t miss out on a piece of history: help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the fans saving Brentford by booking tickets now for The Bees’ home match against Rotherham United on 25 February. Prices are just £1 for Juniors, £5 for Young Persons, and £20 for adults all over Griffin Park.