It's been a busy year for Brentford B.
European tours have continued into Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, Italy, Ireland and France. 2019 brought us the first game against Dutch opposition, and a match on the Isle of Man. The squad have also become Middlesex Senior Cup champions for the first time since 1898. All this under the stewardship of first Kevin O’Connor and then Lars Friis.
With Lars moving on in the summer, we sat down with him to talk about the 18/19 season. He spoke to us about taking over, the development of the squad and what’s next for him in the world of football.
How do you think the season has gone, and what did you make of the squad when you first took over in December?
Firstly, I think it’s been a good season overall. From what I remember, there was a bit of a bumpy start, the squad wasn’t fully formed, and they played some tough games. There were some challenges there but afterwards, we came into a good spell of performances and wins.
The way they developed through autumn into the Christmas period was really good. Kevin O’Connor and Allan Steele did a great job in working with the lads before I got the job.
It’s been another year of big fixtures for Brentford B. Playing in Switzerland and Italy, alongside facing Rangers at Ibrox and Bayern Munich in Bavaria. Is it fair to say the schedule has continued to be fantastic?
That’s what we can do with the B Team. We play in big stadiums against good teams and established clubs. I think that’s what we set this up to do, getting games at short notice against Premier League sides. We discussed this last week, it’s been the busiest half-season in B Team history.
The amount of games and getting to the final of two cup tournaments has seen us play an incredible number of matches in the past few months. Playing against top European teams and lower domestic teams in the cup has made for a great mix. It’s been fantastic to be a part of.
Did the cup competition add something to the boys’ experience this season?
I think it’s been better for them to be a part of it because every single time we turn up we need to win. We had to approach the game differently, we had to get the message across to the boys that this was win or you go out.
Then you go to Bayern Munich and you also want to win but nothing happens if you don’t. The cups take you to different places, they make the boys prepare differently and they put the focus on winning. It’s been a good addition to the fixture list.
How do you think the squad has got on as a group this season?
I’ve seen a lot of them since Christmas, and I think they’ve done very well. I think it’s very important that we act like a team, not as 20 individuals. I know we want to develop individuals into the First Team, but they also need to learn to be a part of something. They have dealt with that well.
New faces have come in during the winter, and we have good characters that want to help them. I am happy with how the group dynamics have shaped the squad this season, how we have acted like a team and done everything together.
When we’ve been abroad, the feedback we have had from every single place we visit has been positive. The hotels we stay at, the teams we visit, everyone has praised our boys for their attitude and manners. That’s pleasing because it’s a big part of the way we educate players.
The staff around the team are fantastic. They want to help the players every day and the lads know that if they need anything, the staff are around. If it’s training on the grass, gym work, media, analysis, they are always around. That’s what we need, to be one unit.
Are you pleased to see how many First Team debuts you’ve had this season?
For us, that’s why we are here. We need to bring new guys into the First Team, show them to Thomas, Brian and Kevin and the staff around them. The Robert Rowan debut board is a huge source of pride for us.
If you look at what they have achieved so far in 2019 only, it’s massive. That’s how we want to push everyone, even if they don’t make it on to the board out there, we want them to be successful elsewhere. If we can push them in the right direction then it could be a Brentford debut, a loan move or a permanent place somewhere else.
Robert Rowan’s passing in November was a huge loss to everyone at the Club. How do you feel the team responded?
For all of us, it was an extremely sad period of time. I think the players responded fantastically to it. I won’t say they got over it, because some things you never get over, and Rob really had an impact on all of us. The players and staff knew him very well, and I think every one of them deserves credit for the way they acted in the months following his death.
One of the things that helped us was that we were very busy, and that meant we had to carry on. It doesn’t mean we didn’t think about it, because we did of course and Rob was a massive part of the structure, the setup and the pathway.
The one thing the club will never forget is the link he was between everyone; the B Team to the First Team, the directors to the players. We need to continue doing what we’re doing every day to carry on what he started.
Have you enjoyed being Head Coach of the B Team?
It’s been a weird stay in a good way. My time here started as an individual coach, turned into an assistant coach, and ended as the Head Coach of the B Team. As we just said, I lost a good friend here. It’s been a challenging time, but in a good way with all the jobs.
Being Head Coach of the B Team is a top job, I’m not sure everyone realises how much responsibility you have as the B Team Head Coach at Brentford. The strategy is in place, in line with the First Team, and it’s a really good job.
The staff around me are fantastic, from the media to the people on the gate to the medical department, everyone has been great. The experience here will always be one of my highlights.
The other part of the job is to remember that we go in new directions. We’re aligned with the First Team but also take strides forward in what we do with Brentford B. We are here for a reason, not just another team, it’s part of the overall strategy. The Club needs to continue driving forward with this.
Looking back on the last six months, has there been a highlight that stands out for you?
There are a few. There were, of course, the two cup finals. Night and day; first one lost and the second we won. Filling Griffin Park on a Tuesday night for the boys was great and well deserved.
As an extension to that, at half-time against Leeds when the fans applauded the boys around the field with the trophy. That was a good experience for the players to see it’s not just us that care about the B Team, the fans were proud of them. I meet a lot of fans outside Jersey Road, who come and talk football and tell me how good it was watching the B Team. I’m not sure I realised at first how big this is for the fans.
Then you look at the amount of debuts we have had in the First Team. For us, Thomas can trust that the players are ready to go and play in his team. That’s massive and it means that we are pushing our players in the right direction. It’s about the hunger they have to improve, that’s key. The more we can give them that hunger, to make themselves better and improve for their own sake, that’s our job.
Where do you go from here, what’s next after the summer break?
I look forward to enjoying some time with my family over the summer. I don’t have anything lined up, so it’s not like I’m leaving for another job or a different club. I hope that I’ll be able to get back into it straight away. I won’t take a big break because football is my passion, it’s my life, and developing players to win games is me. Everything inside football is what drives me and so hopefully I’ll be back in the game again as soon as possible.
I have to be honest and say that I hope one day to be back here, that’s my aim. In a few years, to get a role here would be amazing. One of the first things I noticed when I came to the Club, when you enter through the main gate you can feel straight away that it’s a family club. It’s such a friendly club. You sit in the canteen at Jersey Road with quotes and words on the wall, but they’re not just words.
That’s the club, we really walk the walk. Fans might not even know we have them here, but everything in here fits into our outlook. Honesty, integrity and all of those things in here. Everyone here is great people and that’s why we are special. It’s the only way we compete, because we have to be different. We don’t have the money or the facilities like big clubs around England, but we have the personnel and the environment.