In January 2019 The Bees agreed a deal with Premier League side AFC Bournemouth for the transfer of Chris Mepham, who would depart Griffin Park after the best part of five years with the club.
Joining Brentford as an under-16 player, Chris worked on his game before becoming a part of the newly formed Brentford B in 2016. 42 appearances would follow for the B team over the course of two seasons and he managed to then force his way into the first team on a regular basis.
Having had his grounding in the club’s youth sides, Chris’s development was stepped up as part of the Brentford B model- offering experiences that, according to the defender, helped put him where he is today.
When you look at the fixture schedule of the B team, you’re guaranteed to have fixtures that will catch your eye at least once. Often the team will travel away from home to a foreign country to take on either a first team or a youth side with the aim of exposing the players to a new challenge. And that’s something that Chris says he relished whilst learning his trade.
“I loved touring across Europe with the team and playing against different styles of play,” said the 22-year-old. “One of the hardest games I’ve ever played was against Villarreal away, it was a game where we got battered for large periods, but you can come away learning a lot from those types of experiences.
“The biggest memory for me was beating Manchester United 3-2 at Griffin Park and scoring two of them, especially on my birthday. Beating Man United at any level is incredible and to do it with the B team was definitely special,” said Chris.
The central defender has been able to use those experiences to help force himself into Eddie Howe’s squad at Bournemouth, as well as Ryan Giggs’ Wales side who have earned themselves a place at Euro 2020 next year.
A great deal of hard work has taken Chris to where he is, and there’s no doubt that his experiences with Brentford have helped put him into a strong position moving forwards.
He continued: “Some of the B team games were very similar to what I could come up against in a first team game. Matches against teams like Dundalk and other first teams, such as Stevenage, help prepare you physically as well as tactically.
“The staff were great as well, people such as Chris Haslam, James Purdue and Tom Perryman were pushing me in the gym every day to improve physically as this was an area where I could improve so much to help the step up become easier.”
So, what advice would an international footballer currently plying his trade in the Premier League give to a young player looking to navigate his way through the B team into the first team like Chris did?
“To always work hard and maximise every single member of staff you have available to you. I was always one for staying out and doing extras with Lars (Friis) at the time and I was always pulling him to set up different individual drills for me,” explained the defender.
Of course, the rise of Chris Mepham is something for all concerned with the football club to be proud of. But there are also a number of other players who have been able to use the B team as a tool to develop before taking their opportunity with the first team when it’s presented to them.
Of the current first team squad, Patrik Gunnarsson, Luka Racic, Mads Bech Sorensen and Jan Žambůrek have all been involved with the B team before being officially promoted to the first team. That’s not to mention a number of players who have developed with Brentford B before going on to pastures new or out on loan in senior men’s football.
Jan, who made his first league start against Blackburn Rovers this season, joined Brentford B in the summer of 2018, and he believes the opportunity to be introduced to England and develop his game under Lars Friis and his staff has helped him a great deal, having been promoted to the first team just one year later.
Discussing his time with Brentford B, Jan speaks glowingly of his experiences in readying him for Championship football with The Bees.
“It was a new experience because I came from a big academy, from Slavia Prague, and the B team weren’t playing in a league so it was different and new for me,” said Jan. “I’m very happy that I could be part of it because it gave me a lot of experience at a higher level with a higher intensity.
“We played against opponents from different parts of Europe, for example we went to Portugal, Italy, France and Scotland. We’ve been playing at least one match a month against a different opponent.
Jan says the B team experiences helped him a great deal
“We’re in the training ground with the first team so you get to know the boys. Of course, the intensity is always higher in the first team, but the B team is a very good level, so it wasn’t that hard (to adapt to the first team.)”
Breaking into a first team squad is no doubt down to hard work and attitude, but it can also be down to that bit of luck to give you an opportunity to show what you can do.
After joining Brentford B from FC Copenhagen and impressing, Luka Racic was given the chance to train with the first team as injuries took their toll and opened up an opportunity for the youngster.
On grasping that chance, Luka said: “When I first arrived, I remember I was in the B team for a period and suddenly there was an injury in the first team and then within around four B team sessions I had to step into the first team. A lot of the memories that I’ve had show how close the first team really is to the B team. If you do well, you will get your reward with the first team.”
The central defender also believes that the way that the B team work gave him the best chance to step into the first team and subsequently become officially promoted.
Luka Racic in action at Griffin Park
He continued: “Physically you know that you are ready, so the step isn’t that big. You have to work hard every single day in training because that’s what Neil (MacFarlane) wants, and if you perform well over a period in games and in training then you will get rewarded no matter what.”
With the current Brentford B squad turning out some excellent performances in recent weeks there is reason to be optimistic for the future of a number of the players, and as they look to emulate the individuals who have walked the path before them, it seems they are in a fantastic place to continue their development.