Having been with the Club for half a century, Peter Gilham has seen it all: relegations and promotions, financial troubles and dreams of the Premier League.
As he celebrated his fourth decade in TW8 during the 2008/09 season, Brentford ousted the dark, ominous days they’d recently faced and lifted the League Two trophy.
For this special 50th anniversary issue of History Boys, Peter sat down with Dan Long to recount his memories of the year that Andy Scott led his beloved Bees to a title that, for so many months, looked a distant ambition.
EVERY MAD DOG HAS HIS DAY
I remember the disappointment when Martin Allen left.
He was something of an evangelist; one of those managers who was great for the fans. He was really good at getting people going and it was just such a shame that, having reached the League One Play-Offs two seasons running, we got relegated in 2007.
It was just so sad. We hadn’t, for a few decades, been rising to the heights. We went up in 1991/92, but we’d spent most of our time in the bottom two divisions, so to find ourselves going back down to the basement again was tough.
TAKING THE ROUGH WITH THE SMOOTH
It was a challenging first season under Terry Butcher and Andy Scott.
Andy had terrific knowledge of League Two, and of the Football League in general, but it was tough for Terry and I think he struggled a bit, to be perfectly honest. He came as a highly respected man, with a fantastic England career behind him, but when it came to managing a team in the lower divisions, matchday success came at a premium.
Andy was the one who came through and it was the experience from that first season in League Two that gave him the know-how to achieve promotion. Sometimes you have to experience the bad times to get the good times and that certainly was the case with Andy.
But relegation is relegation. You go down to a lower league and the expectation is that you can bounce back up, but of course it rarely happens. You just always think, ‘We’ve had a bad season but I’m sure we can get over it; we’ve got the players who can be better than that and we are going to bounce straight back up,’ and it doesn’t happen.
The players need time to adjust, to get used to where they are and get to know their environment before they can reap the rewards, which is what happened the following season. It does take time, but relegation is tough for anybody.
THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST
I’ve seen a lot of football – thousands of games, in fact.
I’m very much the optimist; I get over defeats far quicker than most people. The only people who can make any difference when we’ve lost or suffered a relegation are the players and the coaching staff.
I, as a fan, can’t do anything at about it. I can suffer disappointment, but it shouldn’t ruin my life. I can be disappointed, a bad result can ruin my weekend, but what’s the point of ruining my weekend? What has happened has happened. I’ve got to look forward and I think that’s the thing about me – I’m optimistic and very positive.
Therefore, we got relegated and I had to be positive - it’s the way I am. I understand the machinations of football – it happens.
STEADYING THE SHIP
Terry Butcher was an absolute gent.
It was funny, with all the games we played under him at Griffin Park and away from home, it’s the only time I’ve seen opposing players want a manager’s autograph. I saw that on a number of occasions and understood because it was Terry Butcher the England hero with blood on his shirt, but you don’t often see players wanting autographs! As nice a guy as he was, it was Andy who was the guy who had the real experience and Terry was left wanting, unfortunately.
My relationship with Andy has always been really good and it continues to be really good. He was a quality player and very much a club man, so it was good to see him at the helm. He knew the Club inside out, he knew the Football League inside out and that helps him in the job he does today.
It’s thanks to his knowledge of football that he got the position here as chief scout. He then moved on to Watford, where he was appointed sporting director in November, having initially joined the club as UK football recruitment director in 2017. I was just so chuffed for him, as I am for a lot of people I’ve been lucky enough to know in football and at Brentford Football Club. I was really pleased to see him take over the job as manager, and particularly so when he was manager in his own right in 2008/09 having started 2007/08 as assistant.
Nonetheless, Andy was new to being a manager so it was important for him and the Club to use the remainder of the 07/08 season to stabilise following Terry’s departure.
It’s important to get to grips with the reality of relegation quickly and realise it might not result in an instant promotion. We needed to consolidate, which is exactly what we did. That put us in good stead for the following season.
“EVERY PLAYER IS A HERO TO SOMEBODY”
Having read the articles in this series, it’s really good to hear the players felt they were part of a good bunch.
I still keep in touch with some of the players including Marcus Bean and Karleigh Osborne, but it’s good that the players have said that because you can’t always see that.
I keep in touch with as many players from the 2008/09 season as I can, I just think it’s important because they meant something to the Club and were part of our history. When we had the centenary at Griffin Park in 2004, I remember a player coming out of The Hive almost in tears; he said it was just amazing that people still remembered a goal he scored in about 1984/85 and I said to him, “Every player is a hero to somebody.” And they are. Everybody has special memories about a certain player. Some players may have only played two or three games, but, to somebody, they will be very special.
I’d have to say Jordan Rhodes was the most talented player I saw that year. He joined in January and ended up getting injured until the end of the season, but that was the start of him becoming really well known and it was a shame we couldn’t keep him. He was a quality person both on and off the pitch and is an absolute gentleman whenever I meet him. We had some top strikers that year. Charlie MacDonald, bless him, did really well, and Billy Clarke came in as a loanee and scored some crucial goals at the business end of the campaign.
Andy assembled a squad that had good experience from previous seasons. The mix of his newfound experience and the group of players he had prior to that campaign combined well and it ended up with us becoming champions at the end of it.
IT'S NOT ABOUT HOW YOU START…
It was a strange season.
We didn’t start too well, then we picked up, fell away a bit and then it wasn’t until Christmas time that we started to look good again - we basically had a good second half of the season.
As I said, I am always positive; I’m a great believer in enjoying each day as it comes. However, some people tend to think, even when you are in a good position, ‘This weekend we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to get this many points, we’ve got to get this, that and the other’. The Football League is no different to something like the Grand National; forget about the first fence or the 30th fence, it’s what happens at the final fence that’s the important thing.
Forget about the rest of it, it’s what happens at the end. In fairness, it was an odd season with good and bad times in abundance, but, at the end of the day, we were in the right place and when we got to the finishing post, we were well ahead.
“A MAGICAL HOMECOMING”
My standout memory from that season was the homecoming after we won at Darlington in our penultimate game.
I remember being at the Griffin pub - god knows how many fans were waiting for the team to come back. I was in touch with the team, despite having come back from the game with the supporters. I knew exactly where the coach was and it got to something like 11pm – it was a long journey back – and I remember calling people at the pub saying, “They are getting nearer, they are coming down the Great West Road”.
All of the fans poured out and, as the coach pulled into Braemar Road, the coach drove up slowly and the fans approached towards Griffin Park - it was an unbelievable feeling. The players started getting off the coach and some of them were lifted on to people’s shoulders. Incredible, absolutely incredible.
Fans were going up the road and as soon as the doors opened on the coach there were just huge celebrations. Some of the players went back to the Griffin and the pub had special dispensation that evening to remain open later, so it was quite a night! Not from the drinking side of it, but just for the celebrations after what had happened. It’d been ten years since our last promotion and we were back. It was getting on for midnight after the long journey home, but we’d achieved promotion and we’d achieved the title as well. It was just magical, a really magical homecoming.
For the final home fixture, we played Luton in an odd game where we’d won the title and they’d been relegated.
Again, there were great scenes at the full-time whistle. I remember Kevin O’Connor lifting the trophy with Alan Bennett, who’d been captain during the season as well. They jointly lifted the trophy and there were some really emotional scenes after that. It meant so much to me and to everybody else.
During some of our promotion seasons we’d played away from home - at Peterborough in 1991/92 and at Cambridge in 1998/99 - so it was nice to be able to celebrate promotion at Griffin Park.
To have the heat off on that final day, we knew we were simply going to celebrate. There were no pre-match nerves, no wondering if we were going to do it or not. The fact that we knew we’d already got the job done was fantastic.
Sometimes in football, seasons don’t go to plan. You get injuries at the wrong time, you don’t get the players you want to, you get setbacks – all sorts of different reasons. It’s what happens at the end that counts. Getting promotion is a fantastic experience because any season is full of ups and downs. There’s just unbridled emotion the moment you know you’ve got promotion – everything is just magical.