Five years ago, Brentford B collected their first piece of silverware in Odense, Denmark. We spoke to two members of the squad this month and took a look at where the players are plying their trade now.
On 22 January 2017 the Kai Thor Cup was secured with a 3-1 win over Brann Bergen in freezing conditions on the island of Funen.
It was the culmination of a two-week European tour that had started with a feisty game against Bayern’s Under-19s in snowy Munich. From there, the team flew to the home of Superliga side Odense Boldklub to participate in a tournament that also included Hamburg and Lech Poznan.
The opening group game didn’t go as planned.
Winger Bradley Clayton suffered a foot injury that would rule him out of the rest of the competition as The Bees fell to a surprise 1-2 loss to Esbjerg. Despite Zain Westbrooke’s best efforts, an incredible strike from long range, two sloppy moments at the back allowed the West Jutland side to register a shock victory.
Strong words from Head Coach Kevin O’Connor rallied his side into the second match. Brentford were better and showed it on the field. Hamburg fell to goals from Luke Dunn and Justin Shaibu, losing a game they had been favourites to win.
The Germans had a resurgence themselves going into the final group stage game, beating Esbjerg 2-1. The result confirmed Brentford’s place in the showcase game, a Final appearance thanks to their superior goal difference.
Norwegian side Brann had won Group B and so met The Bees on Søndre Boulevard in the Final. Shaibu gave them an early lead, getting on the end of a Henrik Johansson cross to sweep the ball over the line. His effort to get the goal had cost him though, aggravating an old injury that meant Marc Rio was subbed in after only 10 minutes.
Brann had two first-half penalties to get themselves back into the tie. The first was saved by keeper Ellery Balcombe, the England youth international throwing himself to his left and holding on to the shot. The second crept beyond him, Gaute Vetti making no mistake and smashing it into the top corner.
Just before the interval, Johansson scored one for himself. Latching on to the end of a Luka Talbro delivery, the Swede was at the far post to nod the ball back across the keeper and into the net. Talbro, formerly a youngster at the very facility hosting the tournament, then provided his second assist to secure the trophy. Setting the ball back on the edge of the box, Westbrooke drove home a strike from the edge of the box.
Brann did their best to work a way back into the game, but the Brentford back line remained strong. Chris Mepham and Jarvis Edobor both bravely blocked shots on the line as time ticked away. The final chance of the encounter summed up the resolute nature of the second half, Mepham rising to nod clear and Talbro hoofing it down the park only for the referee’s final whistle to sound.
It marked the very first silverware captured by the B Team, watched over by late Technical Director Robert Rowan, who had travelled to Denmark to watch the tournament. Victory, against opposition from different backgrounds and with a squad built of talented new signings and transitioning academy players, represented just one of many checkpoints on route to producing a successful B Team programme.
‘IT WAS A GREAT EXPERIENCE’
“I remember it well,” the team’s captain Westbrooke told us this month, lending us his time between training with League Two Stevenage. “We went on a lot of great tours with the B Team, and this was one of them. It was even better that we managed to win something. It was a great experience and a lot of fun for all of us.”
The central midfielder, now 25 years old, looked back on his opening goal of the tournament – a dipping shot from all of 30 yards that hit the crossbar on its way beyond the keeper.
“I remember that!” he said. “It was freezing cold, and we hadn’t started the game well, so I took it upon myself to do something. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I’ve got some great memories of that period. We had some great talent in that team, we scored some great goals and played some real football.
“Winning the trophy was a highlight for sure, I took a lot of pride in captaining that B Team side and I was glad to be able to win something with the squad we had.
“Playing in the B Team was perfect for me at the time. We played against some of the best academies and some First Teams from all over Europe. It gave me a real knowledge about the differences between men’s football and taught me about the different playing styles we came up against in foreign sides.
“It’s made me able to adapt to a lot of different clubs and managers, which is great. I was happy to be a part of it and I was sad it had to come to an end. I’m pleased the team is doing so well at the moment and I wish the squad the very best in the future.”
‘I LOST THE JOY OF PLAYING FOOTBALL’
Not everyone who comes through youth football, ends up in the professional game. A member of the team who left the game behind is former Danish youth international Lukas Talbro (pictured above, right). He also spoke to us earlier this month, saying: “I found out that I just didn’t like it anymore.”
Talbro played more than 70 games for Brentford B, representing his country at three different youth levels. A year ago, he turned his back on being a professional and joined The Royal Danish Army, where he currently serves as a Private.
“After I left Brentford in 2018, I moved to FC Nordsjaelland. I kind of lost the joy of playing football, it just didn’t appeal to me. So, I joined third division side Dalum IF but found out that I wasn’t enjoying football anymore. I joined the Army and I have served there for a year now. I love it and I feel like I’ve found something I have a true passion for.”
Talbro came through the academy at Odense, so returning to win the Kai Thor Cup was a special experience for him.
“I have some great memories with the squad we had back then. I learned a lot during my two years at the Club, both on and off the pitch. It was a fun tournament, on a pitch I used to train on when I was younger. It was a place where I first realised I could become a football player, so it was great to go back home and win the tournament.
“It was a really tough decision to walk away from football. I had spent my whole life working towards being a footballer. It was my dream but when you start to lose the joy, it just takes out all the fun and energy you have for it. I loved my time at Brentford, I don’t regret anything."
THE SQUAD - WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Just one player from the squad of 16 to win the Kai Thor Cup is still at the club, goalkeeper Ellery Balcombe. Chris Mepham went on to make his senior Bees debut before moving to AFC Bournemouth now in the Sky Bet Championship. Left-back Ilias Chatzitheodoridis also transferred away to Panathinaikos in his native Greece. Zain Westbrooke is on the books at Stevenage and has made over 50 professional appearances in League Two outfit.
Other players now plying their trade around Europe include Raphael Assibey-Mensah, the German midfielder who now plays for SC Freiburg II in the Bundesliga 3. Henrik Johansson plays in Sweden’s second tier with Trelleborgs FF. Striker Justin Shaibu turns out for Hobro Ik in Denmark’s first division. Former Barcelona product Marc Rio is playing for third tier Spanish side VE Vilassar.
Some players have dropped into non-league football after leaving TW8. Bradley Clayton was one of the B Team’s longest serving players when he left, now a forward for Chesham United. Two players now represent Bedfont Sports, goalkeeper Dimi Kyriatzis and winger Luke Dunn. Danny Parish is on the roster at Welling United, while fullback David Titov is at Met Police.
Three players left football to follow different career paths. Jarvis Edobor had a season at Dulwich Hamlet before becoming a trainee Civil Engineer. Lukas Talbro still plays amateur football for Kerteminde BK but is now a Danish Army Private. Midfielder James Ferry spent some time in non-league football but has since given up to focus on a career in teaching.