11 April 1964. My first game at Griffin Park at the age of 10.
My older brother was an Arsenal fan but when they were playing away, he went to watch Brentford. In a rare show of generosity, he asked if I wanted to go and watch Brentford v Oldham Athletic and so I experienced my first game. I slipped through the junior half turnstile in New Road and made my way through the crowd to the front of the stand and something clicked! This was where I was meant to be! I loved the atmosphere, the banter with older supporters, even the very smoky smell, as smoking was still allowed in those days.
I soon had my first Brentford hero, the wonderful Dai Ward, who scored with an overhead kick directly in front of me and then added a second in the 2-0 win. I wanted to come back. And I did!
I discovered several of my friends at Fielding Junior School in Northfields went to every home match, so I tagged along. The Fielding boys still attend regularly and we’re still best mates: Robert Whale, Jeff Mayes, Martin Barrett, Noel Johnston, Barry Bolt, Rod Richardson, Patrick Mansfield and some mates from Ealing Boys Grammar School including Gary Ruffel, which I attended for a year and a term before calamity struck. My dad, who had been vicar of St John’s Church, West Ealing, moved the family out of London to the depths of the Cotswolds when I was twelve, but the die was cast; I was a Brentford fan for life.
Before I left London, we signed Brian Etheridge from Northampton Town. He’d played through the divisions as Northampton went from Division Four to the old Division One in four seasons but, having made it to the top tier, he was discarded and Brentford picked him up. When getting autographs after his first game he asked a group of small lads how he could get copies of the photo he was signing for us, a cutting from the Middlesex County Times. Being young, impressionable and keen to impress him I said, “I’ll get you one”.
I had no idea how to deliver on this but after school the following Monday I headed for the newspaper’s office in Ealing Broadway. I asked to speak to the photographer, the legend that was George Sands, and he came out and saw a small, unimpressive boy asking if he could let him have a picture of Brian Etheridge. For some reason he believed me and invited me into the dark room (not something that would happen these days). There he showed me how he made prints and ran off two copies of each of three pictures of Brian and after drying them, popped them in two envelopes and said “One for you and one for Brian. Come and see me behind the goal on Saturday so I know they’re getting to him!”
I did exactly that and he was, I think, relieved and delighted that I really was there, and that Brian was going to get his photos. When Brian came out after the game, I handed him the envelope and he looked totally bemused. Clearly, he had forgotten he had asked and that I had agreed to get them! So little faith. Anyway, he got his photos and I still have mine, duly signed by my new favourite player of the time.
The year after I moved to Gloucestershire was the terrible 1967 ‘almost disaster’ when Chairman Jack Dunnett very nearly sold our wonderful club to QPR. These were the days before the internet and social media so very little news seeped through to the distant rural areas of the country. Then a name I still revere cropped up: Ron Blindell. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money now, but just over £100,000 (maybe at least a million pounds in current value) saved Brentford and I hope the great man’s name is used to name something at the new ground, he deserves all the praise he gets.
As does another man I was proud to meet and get to know, Club Secretary Denis Piggott. He lost an eye serving the Navy in the war, but it didn’t affect his abilities and behind the scenes with Peter Pond-Jones (pictured above speaking to a crowd at Griffin Park), he did a huge amount to try and help keep the club alive.
When I left London, I wrote to the club telling them that I was devastated to be missing Brentford games. Denis wrote back, promising to send me all the home programmes and to keep me up to date. I wasn’t sure he meant it, but he did, and I used to live for the brown envelopes containing a programme and a little slip of paper with updates on transfers, news and a few words from Denis. He even got me autographs, particularly from my favourite players Allan Mansley and Ron Fenton.
Every fortnight I would walk up to the village post office and buy a postal order to send back with a letter of thanks. That became my task from the age of twelve through until I was way past twenty. He didn’t know how much that truly meant to me until I got the chance to tell him at his 80th birthday party, which I was invited to at a golf club in Surrey. He was a great man, a great friend and the single reason why, at 65, I’m still a Brentford fan and could never be anything else.
During the next few years I went to live in New Zealand and if I thought getting news of Brentford in the Cotswolds was difficult, out there before the internet it was virtually impossible. I used to go into the Bank of New Zealand building in the Square in Christchurch every Monday morning where they had newspapers from around the world. I would open the Overseas version of the Telegraph and head for the football results from the previous weekend.
Amazingly, even in New Zealand Denis sent me the programmes. He even suggested I write a couple of articles which he handed to the editor Eric White and you can imagine my delight when I opened a couple of the programmes out in NZ to see my articles carried.
Now, I live in Malvern in Worcestershire and get to see the mighty Bees six or seven times a year. In the last few seasons I’ve seen more away games than home with matches up here in the Midlands. My favourites have been Villa Park, St Andrews and Pride Park with my young son Sean, who has just completed an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce in Derby.
Thanks to social media, I have met up with the Fielding boys again and head down to GP three or four times a season. We now go to every final home game before stopping in South Ealing for a curry with our families. After decades of assuming Brentford would always be a small London club hopping between the bottom two leagues, the past five years have been magnificent. I can genuinely dream about seeing the mighty Bees in the Premier League before I die, thanks to Mathew Benham, who deserves so much praise there’s not enough room in the programme for it all.
Favourite players along the way? Dai Ward, Mark Lazarus, Chic Brodie, John Docherty, Brian Etheridge, John O’Mara, Allan Mansley, Roger Cross, Terry Evans, Lloyd Owusu, Nicky Forster, Martin Grainger, Sam Saunders, Alan McCormack (pictured below) and Neal Maupay before he departed.
Thank you to everyone I’ve met along my Brentford journey. To the players, managers and staff who have made me happy for years, to the fans, to the Fielding boys for reassembling regularly on Ealing Road terrace. But thank you mainly to Griffin Park for being my spiritual home. I know we have to move to the new stadium to survive financially and to allow us to move forward, but GP has been my home for 55 years. I love the place.
Steve's story was first published in this season's matchday programme against Stoke City on 21 September 2019. To get your Brentford Story online, email Programme Editor Chris Deacon on firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get back to you.
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