As Terry Evans racks his brain on a windy afternoon in early October, something clicks and he suddenly draws a comparison, which turns out to be quite apt: the title-winning Brentford squad of 1991/92 traversed a similar path to that of the squad that triumphed in the Play-Offs to reach the Premier League earlier this year.
“We were quite a young side and I think little disappointments that we had before - the FA Cup run in 1989 and the experience of the Play-Offs the year before - just strengthened the team,” he explains.
“As we gained experience, things just kept evolving. It's pretty similar to the present team, though in a higher division; they were nearly-men for a couple of years, missed out in the Play-Offs and then went up last season. If you keep the nucleus of the team together and build up experience, that’s something you can't buy.”
As the tough-tackling six-foot-five captain of The Bees, the irrepressible Terry – who had made an almost unbelievable 163 appearances in all competitions over the previous three campaigns - towered over many of his opponents and was one of the most prominent figures in Phil Holder’s squad.
Having grafted in the lower reaches of the Third Division, he knew that something good was on the horizon.
“I don’t think it was ever spoken about, but we knew we were bubbling as a decent side,” he says. “We knew we were going to be there or thereabouts. We could look after ourselves away - travel is pretty difficult in that division, going up north to play tough, battling sides - but we could hold our own and backed ourselves.
“I don’t remember thinking there was any pressure. I always talk about the environment because it was team-led - the dressing room took care of itself. Phil was very good at what he did tactically and things like that, but you wouldn’t get away with much on the pitch or with making mistakes. Somebody was always on your case - in a nice way! There was a really good team spirit. I always thought that we were a strong side.”
By the time the ‘91/92 season rolled around, Terry and Keith Millen – who recently took over as Carlisle United Manager - had forged an enviable partnership at the back and, in a previous interview with the Club, he detailed how they were best mates off the pitch, too.
Pushed by the slightly younger understudy Jamie Bates, the pair became a formidable force at the heart of the back four, linked by intuition that just continued to blossom.
“You get that real understanding with one another. It’s hard to explain because you just get that sixth sense; you know where he is going to be. Me and Milly were really close, but some days we would be digging each other out on the pitch and then after the game, sit down with an arm around each other, with no hard feelings.
“We wanted the best from people and wouldn’t take anything less, really, so you’d be happy to tell someone if they weren’t pulling their weight. I earned my money on the road, playing up north where I had to front up, lead as the skipper and take on the battle. But I had some great people around me so it made my job easier.”
“I earned my money on the road. I had to front up, lead as the skipper and take on the battle”
If his impressive number of appearances and strong presence in defence wasn’t enough, a return of eight league goals was only bettered by strikers Gary Blissett and Dean Holdsworth in 91/92.
“It was all down to good service,” he laughs. “With my height, I should have been knocking a few in and if the boys put the ball in the air, I’d try and get on the end of it.
“Neil Smillie and the boys taking the corners and set-pieces were brilliant. They stuck the ball in there after Phil had worked out a good set-piece plan and it all just fell into place. I was just lucky they stuck it on a sixpence for me.”
The conversation soon turns to the run-in. “That was our best run of the season,” says Terry, proudly.
To win six games in a row is striking, but to do it at such a crucial point in the season – particularly after a rocky start to the year – and then only concede two goals along the way is quite something.
“It would be nice to say it was all down to a great defence, but the best form of defence is attack,” he says. “Against Fulham, the boys stuck four on them in the first half and it just made life so much easier. I’d like to take all the credit, but you are only as good as the boys around you.
“It was very strange to finish the season like that because we actually got to that mentality that we thought we were unbeatable. It was surprising how confident we were - there weren’t really any nerves. It was a funny old thing. We steamrollered Fulham and were hoping we could play Peterborough the next day! That was the mindset of the boys. It was a real mad vibe around the place.
“On the day of a game, me and Milly usually didn’t get up until about 11 and then we’d go down for the pre-match meal, but when the Peterborough game finally arrived we were up at eight! We were just so excited to get out there and get the job done.”
In the end, Terry had a hand in the goal that saw The Bees crowned champions at London Road. He connected with Brian Statham’s free-kick from just past halfway, saw his header tipped on to the crossbar and back into the path of Blissett, who guided in a simple header from close range, which proved to be the winner.
It’s the memories of a sterling defensive display that stand out for him, though.
“I think they must have had a lot of possession against us but we could have been there all day and I felt confident enough to keep a clean sheet. We were knocking the ball long and it was just coming straight back at us, but that probably helped us because we could defend deep, soak it up, let everything come in and then clear it. It’s crazy that it was that comfortable.
“I never like we were under pressure; I felt confident and relaxed back there. A few years earlier, Steve Perryman had drilled into us to be happy to defend and we were. I have watched the game back and there were a couple of near misses for Peterborough, but at the time you think ‘over my dead body’ – we could have been there for ten hours and they wouldn’t have scored!”.
The Bees had to hold on to the priceless lead for more than an hour – unaware that closest title rivals Birmingham were losing at Stockport and on the way to dropping off top spot at exactly the wrong moment. Sheer jubilation followed.
“We knew if we won we’d get promoted but we had no idea of the Birmingham result. We celebrated that we were up and it wasn’t until we got to the dressing room that we found out we were champions.
“It’s the stuff that you dream about as a kid. I know everyone wants to win the FA Cup, but lifting that trophy as captain was probably the second best thing I could do. It was just brilliant and I think I was on the p*ss for about two weeks afterwards! I loved every minute.”
“Lifting that trophy as captain - it’s the stuff that you dream about as a kid. I was on the p*ss for about two weeks afterwards!”
The 1992/93 campaign, however, was less than positive for both player and Club; injury meant Terry was restricted to just 11 appearances as The Bees suffered immediate relegation back to the third tier. Holder was sacked as a result, with David Webb brought in as his replacement.
That decision sounded the death knell for the defender’s time in red and white.
“I would have stayed at Brentford my whole career,” he continues.
“But I didn’t have much of a choice, to be honest. Webb was just forcing out senior players and I didn’t even get a sniff or a chance to have a run in the team. He got rid of people like me, Smillie and Milly as he just wanted young lads that he could manipulate.
“I had no issues with anyone else, it was a great Club with great people, it was just that Webb wanted to do it his own way - and obviously he didn't do great for the Club in the end. I was extremely sad to leave. In hindsight, he was probably not the right bloke to bring in.”
Martin O’Neill subsequently brought him on loan to Wycombe, before making the move permanent for around £40,000 around two months later. And though injury kept him out of the final few months of the 1993/94 season, Terry’s first season with The Chairboys ended in their promotion via the Third Division Play-Offs.
Terry spent another three years in Buckinghamshire, with his final season as a player ending with a third career promotion, when he captained Kingstonian to the Isthmian Premier title in 1997/98. Shortly after retiring at the age of 33, he returned to Wycombe in a new capacity that paved the way for a career off the pitch that continues to this day.
“It just fell into place, really,” he says. “I always enjoyed the training side of the game and was planning on going down the fitness and personal training avenue. I had a very good physio at Wycombe called Dave Jones and he helped me out with the knee issues I had suffered there as a player.
“He knew that I was interested in that sort of thing and told me to start getting my qualifications as there was a job going in the academy. I knuckled down and qualified after taking a distance learning programme, then worked within the academy until 2004. After that, I went off to run a gym for a couple of years, returned to Wycombe in 2006 as Strength and Conditioning Coach, then I took up a similar role at Wasps two years later. I had always enjoyed my rugby – I played at school and it was always my second sport.
“I later went back into physio with London Welsh and I’m at Ealing Trailfinders now, where I do a bit of everything: diagnosis, assessment, management, treatment - the whole shebang. I go to theatre and watch surgery, too, and I’ve got a good rapport with some very good surgeons.
“I feel so fortunate to have been in pro sport all my life. It’s just great being around the lads and it keeps you young.”
A frequent visitor to TW8, Terry admits it’s still humbling to be remembered at the Club where he made his name, even 28 years after his departure.
“It’s pretty amazing really that I go back there and people still remember me to this day. I suppose I do stand out a bit, which helps! It’s a great Club. There’s a new stadium, but a lot of the old faces remain, which is great to see.”
With his 285 appearances for the Club making him one of the top 20 all-time appearance-makers for Brentford and a 2013 poll placing him as the best-ever captain, Terry Evans’ name is one that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Champers: Terry is presented with a bottle of Barclays champagne for scoring the fastest league goal of the season against Preston North End