London memories

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard (second from left), celebrates his goal against Brentford with team-mate Juan Mata during their English FA Cup fourth round replay match.-AP Chelsea’s Frank Lampard (second from left), celebrates his goal against Brentford with team-mate Juan Mata during their English FA Cup fourth round replay match.

Brentford in all their long history have never won a major official tournament. Their one major success came in Wartime football in 1942, and thus doesn’t count. By Brian Glanville.

On a recent weekend, Kevin Phillips, aged 39, scored in the Championship League for Crystal Palace against Middlesbrough. The following day, a Sunday, at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea beat Brentford of League 1, actually the third division, in an FA Cup fourth round replay, having narrowly and belatedly survived at Griffin Park in a 2-2 draw, largely dominated by Brentford. Two games, which elicited so many memories.

That Chelsea, a team built up regardless of colossal expense — by way of a change, their billionaire Russian oligarch owner Roman Abramovich, was watching them with evident satisfaction — should defeat humble Brentford in a 4-0 fashion should come as scant surprise. This, though, Brentford had a good case for complaining that they had a valid goal which would have put them 1-0 ahead, when the promising ex-Everton Adam Forshaw was tripped by David Luiz as he reached into the box, referee Neil Swabrick was all too quick to blow his whistle. Which meant that though Marcello Trotta, the Brentford striker, turned past John Terry to put the ball in the net, the goal didn’t stand.

Brentford in all their long history have never won a major official tournament. Their one major success came in Wartime football in 1942, and thus doesn’t count. No one mentioned or seemed to remember it when it came to the two games against Chelsea; but I remember it so well.

As a 10-year-old Arsenal supporter, I remember my father taking me to Stamford Bridge to see the Gunners meet Brentford in 1942 in the semifinal of the so-called London War Cup; open to teams from London and the South. Arsenal then, before Wartime military service, saw their team dispersed, had a formidable array of stars including that marvellous all-rounder Denis Compton, best remembered as such an exciting Middlesex and England batsman, but also a greatly effective, accomplished outside-left with a formidable left foot. Denis would spend the latter years of the War in India as a physical training instructor, putting on a lot of weight, but still on his return to England and Arsenal, deadly with that left foot.

But Brentford, with George Wilkins, Ray’s father, at inside-right, held Arsenal to a goalless draw at Chelsea then, even their so-called bogey team beat them 2-1 in the replay at Tottenham. So, to the London War Cup final on a Saturday in May 1942; and again I was lucky enough to be there with my father. Once again Brentford were the underdogs against a Portsmouth team which included six of the players who had won the FA Cup final on that same Wembley pitch in 1939. But Brentford beat them. Never rich, they had come up quickly from the third to the Championship division in the 1930s, making the most of a job-lot of players they had somehow acquired from Middlesbrough.

But it was Brentford’s day, especially that of young outside-left Leslie Smith, who had, at the age of 19, been just in time to win a full England cap against Rumania in Bucharest three years earlier. A local boy from Ealing he’d been recommended to the club by a friend. He had scored only nine goals in the London War League; Dai Hopkins, a lively and elusive Welsh international outside-right, had scored a dozen. But at Wembley that day it was Smith who scored twice against Pompey with his dangerous left-foot and Brentford who would win the Cup 2-0. I remember how, in my enthusiasm, I wrote doggerel about it:

Smith’s foot and the ball have met, He goes crashing though the net,

But Brentford, though still capable of holding Arsenal to a 2-2 draw at Highbury, slipped out of the top division in the first post War season, 1946/7, never yet to return. To add insult to injury, in their last first division game of all at Griffin Park, Arsenal beat them, 1-0 with a goal headed by their Irish international Paddy Sloan. In a further irony, Arsenal would let Sloan go soon afterwards, signing the star of the Brentford team, right-half Archie Macaulay, a Scottish international who had just played in Glasgow for Great Britain against the Rest of Europe, who were crushed 6-1.

At Selhurst Park, I watched that amazing survivor, Kevin Phillips, come on as a substitute and drive home a splendid left-footed goal. Beginning at Watford, as a moderate defender, he suddenly took off when switched to the attack, scoring freely, though a mere five foot seven, for Sunderland, Southampton, Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City and Blackpool; for whom he’d actually played a few weeks earlier against Palace at Selhurst. Winning eight England caps, he had now become the oldest player ever to score for Palace, overtaking Ronnie Rooke, who had scored, aged 38, for the club where his career began.

Yet his most prolific days were at Fulham and Arsenal. Strong in the air, a ferocious left-footed shot, he was already 34 when, to his amazement, Arsenal suddenly bought him for £1000 and two reserve players. They were in dire trouble then in late 1946 but he promptly headed the only goal of a 1-0 win against Charlton, ended the season with another 20 and in 1947/8, when they won the Championship, playing inside-left to centre-forward Reg Lewis, scoring a phenomenal 33 times.

Ironically, his first spell at Palace had been mediocre, but at Fulham he would excel. I still remember a goal scored with his left-foot to the top right-hand corner, in August 1947, against Manchester United from a good thirty yards. He played just once for England in a Wartime international lost to Wales, but his feats at Arsenal, especially at so late an age, were phenomenal. The Gunners have surely never made a better bargain.