A cheeky winger with an eye for the spectacular, Stephen Hunt joined Brentford in 2001 having risen through the youth ranks at Crystal Palace. The Irishman would become a key cog in the Brentford machine, racking up over a century of appearances for a return of 29 goals. First published in Bees, the Brentford official matchday programme, Stephen sheds light on his four years in West London.
Game in red and white
I remember wearing a baggy jersey which was the fashion at the time. As a young guy I was fearless; I never really had any nerves about what was around the corner, it was just a case of getting out there and playing at 100 miles an hour. Looking back now I was very raw at that stage – blinkered is the word I’d use. I always tracked back though which is why I think Steve Coppell had a lot of faith in me.
Goal for Brentford
My first real memory from my time at the Club is scoring at Bournemouth. We had some injuries ahead of that trip so I was given an opportunity. I remember Steve Coppell on the Friday saying: “Steven, you’re going to win the game for us tomorrow.” I was aware that Steve had faith in me, but I genuinely thought he’d gone cuckoo at that point! He’d targeted their right-back and disabled my defensive duties for the day – I was told to go against the full-back as often as possible and see what I could do. That was indicative of Steve’s faith in me throughout my career – to give me that freedom and say those words to a player who at that point was yet to score a professional goal. In the end I scored two goals, got all excited and two-footed someone right in front of the dugouts. It was my only sending off during a 17-year career.
Time you felt like a professional
On the way into the stadium there was a guy with glasses who would stand and wait for autographs. In fact, when I’ve come back to Griffin Park more recently he’s still been there with his pen and paper! I signed a few autographs during my time at Crystal Palace but it wasn’t until I arrived at Brentford that I felt like a professional footballer. My first year with Brentford was like an apprenticeship; no one was on big money and I quickly got to know the importance of three points – a win bonus at the end of the month could do the world of good!
Manager you played under
Steve Coppell, who would go on to sign me at Reading, was definitely the best manager I played under. He was very detailed in his research –we’d always be fully briefed on the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. He gave me confidence and always believed me. You need someone to give you a pathway into football and he was definitely the guy who did that for me.
We beat Wycombe Wanderers 4-2 in the FA Cup in 2002. Steve Brown – a big central midfielder –always used to take his top off in the tunnel. I remember coming out the dressing room and saying: ‘What are you doing, you idiot?’I was quite cheeky back then –he’d have eaten me alive if he’d wanted to! Moments like that made me realise that I could stick up for myself.
It’s difficult to say because we had different kinds of players. Ibrahima Sonko was an animal when it came to defending – he was like a gladiator. He couldn’t kick it straight at Brentford but he could clear the ball and that made him effective. Paul Evans was very good technically – if I was standing out wide he’d pick me out every time. Gavin Mahon was very controlling and Ivar Ingimarsson came into the team during my first season. Some players with unbelievable ability are unable to make it professionally. There was a striker by the name of Peters who, to this day, hit the ball harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, but failed to make the grade.
Losing to Stoke City in the Play-Off Final was my lowest moment but also my biggest learning curve; it made me realise what could be achieved by remaining focused. There were lots of disappointments en route to that Play-Off Final but lots of highs as well. It was a massive year which benefitted me the following season.
I had a silly haircut for the Play-Off Final; a Mohican from back to front. I don’t regret it – in fact I think it summed up my attitude at the time. There’s no point in being nervous – as a footballer you need to enjoy the occasion and grab the opportunity. I never cared about people’s opinions of me.
Period in TW8
Being injured and not being able to play for Martin Allen was a frustrating time. You needed to be 100 per cent fit to play for Martin because he demanded that you were at full tilt every week. I knew I could do it but I just wasn’t feeling right at the time. I’m not sure Martin believed that I was injured – he tried to ship me out on loan with the hope that I’d rot away but that was never going to happen with me.Being injured is a test of character – I’m sure that Alan Judge feels the same. No one sees the time you put in in the gym - the hours of frustration trying to get back to fitness. The proudest moments of my career came behind closed doors when no one cared who I was – I had to go and do it myself.
Read First, Best, Worst with a different Brentford personality in BEES, the matchday programme, at every home match.