History of Brentford F.C. (1889–1954)
Brentford Football Club is an English professional football club based in Brentford, Hounslow, London. The club was founded in October 1889, as the local sportsmen's latest attempt to form a permanent football or rugby club in the town. By 1896, Brentford had joined the London League, progressing to the Southern League in 1898 and entering the Football League in 1920.
Upon the appointment of Harry Curtis as manager in 1926 came the beginning of Brentford's most successful period, with promotions in 1933 and 1935 taking the club into the top-flight of English football for the first and only time in its history. Three consecutive top-six finishes in the First Division established Brentford as one of the top clubs in England, but a decline began in 1938 which led to the club's relegation back to the Third Division South by 1954.
Formation and early seasons
In 1889, the town of Brentford, Middlesex was home to the Brentford Rowing Club and Boston Park Cricket Club. Attempts to form football and rugby clubs in the town fell by the wayside until a new recreation ground was opened on 17 October 1889. Seven days earlier, a meeting had taken place at the Oxford & Cambridge pub near Kew Bridge, during which it had been endeavoured between the rowing and cricket club members to decide how best to use the recreation ground, in the hope of forming a permanent football or rugby club in the town. The rowing club's co-founder Archer Green immediately submitted an application to the Chiswick Local Board for the use of the recreation ground and a meeting with the board was called for 15 October. The result was inconclusive and it was decided that the matter would be discussed again at the board's next meeting, three weeks later. Archer Green and fellow rowing club co-founder John Henry Strachan did not wish to wait and pushed to establish a new club.
On 16 October 1889, the rowing club members again met at the Oxford & Cambridge pub and it was voted that the new club would play association football, be named "Brentford Football Club" and wear salmon, claret and light blue colours, the same as that of the rowing club. J. J. K. Curtis was elected as the club's first-ever captain, with J. Hinton Bailey as vice-captain. Archer Green became secretary, while John Henry Strachan became one of six vice-presidents. The problem of the club's ground was quickly resolved, with president Edwin Underwood promising the use of a field behind the Local Board offices at Clifden House, Brentford.
Cup and friendly matches (1889–1896)
On 26 October 1889, the club staged its first practice match (featuring gentlemen who had paid a 5s annual subscription fee to become members of the club) and on 23 November the club's first competitive match was played versus Kew, which resulted in a 1–1 draw, with T. H. M. Bonell scoring Brentford's goal. From then until the end of the 1889–90 season, friendly matches would be played on most Saturdays. Brentford continued to play friendly matches during the 1890–91 season and entered the West Middlesex Cup, with the club's first ever competitive fixture ending in a 6–0 first round defeat to Southall on 8 November 1890.
The 1892–93 season saw Brentford enter a league for the first time – the West London Alliance – and the club moved to Benn's Field, Little Ealing in October 1892. The team showed excellent form and finished the season top of the division, going undefeated and winning 10 of the 12 matches, but the board decided to against entering for the following season after failing to be awarded a trophy. By now captained by Arthur Charlton (referred to as "probably the club’s first great player"), Brentford won its first competition during the 1894–95 season, defeating 8th Hussars 4–2 in the final of the West Middlesex Cup at Fred Rouse's Field in Southall. It was also during the 1894–95 season that Brentford's original nickname of "The Bs" originated, when friends of amateur forward Joseph Gettins chanted Borough Road College's war-cry "buck up Bs" at a match. The local press interpreted the nickname as "the Bees", which stuck and came to be Brentford's nickname.
Election to the London League (1896–1898)
Brentford continued to play cup and friendly matches until 1896, when the club was elected into the Second Division of the London League. Buoyed by the goalscoring of Oakey Field and playing in front of an average home attendance of 1,500 at Shotter's Field, the Bees finished second behind Bromley to secure promotion to the First Division after losing just one match all season. Brentford had its finest season yet in its short existence in 1897–98, finishing as runners-up in the London League First Division and winning the London Senior Cup and the Middlesex Senior Cup. The only sour note was that the club had still yet to find a permanent home and finished the season having again lost money due to having to play matches on neutral grounds. Brentford would later re-enter the London League for the 1900–01 season and remained until the end of 1903–04, experiencing little success, due to the club's main focus being on the Southern League competition.
Second Division (1898–1901)
Brentford's London League exploits and its establishment as one of the top amateur clubs in London led to the club's election into the Second Division (London section) of the Southern League for the 1898–99 season. Several key players from the previous season departed (including prolific forward Oakey Field and captain Arthur Charlton) and the club moved to Cross Road near South Ealing station, a ground then occupied by local club Brentford Celtic. Despite secretly paying the new amateur signings more than their travelling expenses to induce them to play (an illegal move), Brentford finished fourth in the 12-team division and made its FA Cup debut, being knocked out at the first time of asking by Clapton in the third qualifying round. A mediocre 1899–00 season followed, during the middle of which, the club became a professional outfit.
Everything came right for Brentford in the 1900–01 season. Now playing at Boston Park Cricket Ground and under the charge of secretary/manager William Lewis, the squad was overhauled and Peter Turnbull (supported ably by Roddy McLeod, Ralph McElhaney, Joe Turner and E. Andrews) finished the season as the Southern League's top scorer and fired the Bees to the Second Division title. A 0–0 draw with Swindon Town in the promotion/relegation test match meant the Robins would retain their First Division status, but the Brentford won a place in the top-flight in July 1901 after Gravesend United dropped out of the Southern League.
First Division (1901–1913)
Changes were afoot both on and off the pitch at York Road during the 1901 off-season, with 'The Brentford Football And Sports Club' being registered as a limited liability company and virtually an entirely new team being assembled. Deprived of new captain Bob Stormont for a time due to injury and a suspension for fighting during a match, the Bs finished 1901–02 15th in the 16-team division and were spared relegation after drawing 1–1 with Grays United in a promotion/relegation test match, which Grays forfeited after refusing to play extra time. Throughout the remainder of the 1900s, a lack of financial clout meant that successive managers William Lewis, Dick Molyneux and William Brown were unable to produce better than mid-table finishes in the First Division. Manager Molyneux changed Brentford's colours in 1903 to dark blue and gold stripes, the racing colours of Walter Rothschild, a patron of the club.
Brentford moved to Griffin Park, its first permanent home, in time for the beginning of the 1904–05 season. The Bees reached the FA Cup first round proper for the first time in 1905–06, advancing to the third round before succumbing to Liverpool at Anfield. Despite 18 goals from Geordie Reid, Brentford finished bottom of the First Division in 1908–09, but were spared relegation. Winning the Southern Professional Charity Cup proved to be a scant consolation for secretary-manager Fred Halliday in his first season in charge. In April 1909, hopes about the possibility of the club being elected into the Football League were quashed, when the league's clubs voted down Queens Park Rangers' proposal that the Southern League First Division be merged with the Football League, to create a Third Division. Also in 1909, Brentford's colours were changed to gold shirts with blue sleeves. Manager Fred Halliday lasted in the job until November 1912, when he reverted to his secretarial duties and captain Dusty Rhodes was installed as player-manager. Despite an initial upturn in form, 9 defeats in the final 11 matches of 1912–13 led to Brentford's relegation after an 11-season stay in the First Division.
Back in the Second Division (1913–1915)
Dusty Rhodes was reappointed as player/manager for the 1913–14 Southern League Second Division season and the majority of the professionals from the previous season were sold or released. Despite a shortage of money due to high expenses (which was offset by the club's lowest-ever professional wage bill of £1,630, equivalent to £161,600 in 2020), Brentford managed a 3rd-place finish. The Bees had their travelling subsidy from the Southern League cut for the 1914–15 season, plus the future looked bleak with the prospect of reduced attendances at Griffin Park, due to many of the clubs in the Second Division being located in the Midlands, the North West and Wales.
On 4 August 1914, Britain's declaration of war on Germany threatened to derail the club's pre-season preparations and as the season got underway, the squad was weakened by the departure of players to fight or work in the munitions industry. By March 1915, only Ted Price, Dusty Rhodes and Alec Barclay remained of the XI which began the season. By utilising amateurs and guests, the Bees managed a mid-table finish. In July 1915, the Southern League cancelled its competition for the duration of the First World War.
First World War
Brentford competed in the London Combination during the First World War under secretary-manager Fred Halliday, finishing in the lower reaches of the division during the 1915–16, 1916–17 and 1917–18 seasons. The squad was decimated by the call-up of players for service or war work, though Ted Price, Dusty Rhodes, Henry White, Alf Amos and Patsy Hendren were able to remain and play in the majority of the club's matches. There was a high turnover of personnel, with 42 players being used during the 1915–16 season and 58 during 1917–18. During this period, the club wore dark blue shirts with gold collars.
With the Hundred Days Offensive underway in France as the 1918–19 season kicked off, the sense of optimism that the First World War would soon end rubbed off on the Bs. 26 goals from Henry White, 25 from guest Jack Cock and 14 from Fred Morley saw Brentford win the London Combination title, four points ahead of nearest challengers Arsenal. After the Armistice, the £2-a-week wages (plus expenses) for the professional players meant that Brentford finished the season with a £2,000 profit, which went towards improving Griffin Park and settling debts. Outside left Patsy Hendren represented England in a Victory International versus Wales in October 1919.
Entry into the Football League
Final Southern League season (1919–1920)
Brentford turned down the opportunity to apply for election to the Football League for the 1919–20 season and instead applied for election to the First Division of the Southern League, which was awarded. Playing in its first season at the summit of the Southern League for the first time since 1912–13, secretary-manager Fred Halliday signed almost an entirely new squad, with Patsy Hendren and Ted Price the only survivors from that pre-war season. Henry White left the club in favour of league football with Arsenal and the loss of his goals lead to a 15th-place finish.
Early Football League seasons (1920–1926)
In May 1920, Brentford and 20 other Southern League First Division clubs were elected into the Football League as founder members of the Third Division for the 1920–21 season. The club's colours were changed to white shirts and black shorts. 11 new players were signed and the Bees' first-ever Football League match took place on 28 August 1920 at Exeter City's St James Park, which resulted in a 3–0 defeat. Despite 18 goals from Harry King, a lack of goals from elsewhere in the side led Brentford to a 21st-place finish, but the club were re-elected into the league without going to a poll.
Archie Mitchell took over as player-manager during the 1921 off-season and buoyed by Harry Morris' 17 goals, Brentford finished 9th in 1921–22, but it proved to be a false dawn, with the triple-departure of Alf Amos, Harry Anstiss and George Pither to Millwall in 1922 and Morris' and captain Bertie Rosier's subsequent departures in February 1923 precipitating two mid-table finishes. A dire opening to the 1924–25 season led Mitchell to step down in December 1924, with Fred Halliday assuming the manager's job for the third and final time and being forced to sue for re-election at the end of the season. Halliday remained in charge for 1925–26, which despite an 18th-place finish and a club-record 94 league goals conceded, promised much for the future with the breakthrough of forwards Ernie Watkins, Jack Lane and Alfred Douglas. In 1925, Brentford's white shirts were changed to the traditional red and white stripes.
Building a team (1926–1932)
It was all change at Griffin Park during the 1926 off-season, with former Gillingham boss Harry Curtis being installed as manager. Just 9 members of the previous season's squad were retained, but despite mid-table finishes over the following three seasons, Curtis slowly rebuilt the squad with successful full back acquisitions William Hodge, Alexander Stevenson, half backs Jimmy Bain, Reginald Davies and forwards Bill Berry and Jack Phillips. The 1929–30 Third Division South season provided the foundation for the Bees' future success, with the club's unbeaten home record of 21 wins setting a national record which still stands today. Important future signings were made, including outside right Jackie Foster, centre forward Billy Lane, left back Tom Adamson and a masterstroke, local non-league centre half Joe James, who would go on to become one of the club's greatest midfielders. Though Brentford won a club-record 28 league matches, failure to mirror that form away from Griffin Park denied the club promotion to the Second Division after finishing as runners-up to Plymouth Argyle. Third and fifth-place finishes followed in the 1930–31 and 1931–32 seasons respectively, despite the sales of key forwards Jack Lane and Billy Lane, but a sound investment was made in inside forward George Robson, and the acquisition of England amateur international left half Jackie Burns proved to be a coup.
Promotion to the Second Division and beyond (1932–1935)
Curtis made a string of transfers in 1932 which would put Brentford on a firmly upward trajectory – Jack Holliday, Billy Scott, Ernest Muttitt, new captain Herbert Watson (all from Middlesbrough), Idris Hopkins (Crystal Palace) and an important signing for the future, Albion Rovers' Duncan McKenzie. The Bees romped to the 1932–33 Third Division South title, with Jack Holliday scoring a club-record 39 goals, which included five hat-tricks. The team acquitted themselves well in the Second Division, strengthened with the purchase of forward Charlie Fletcher and later in the season, full back Arthur Bateman. Brentford held the second promotion place throughout February and March 1934, before a late charge by Preston North End saw the Lilywhites pip the Bees to promotion. All but one of the team's 1933–34 goals were scored by the forward line, prompting Curtis to conduct a clearout of his backlines, releasing ageing Tom Adamson, Jimmy Bain, Alexander Stevenson and both first team goalkeepers.
Among Curtis' 1934 off-season signings came goalkeeper James Mathieson and full back George Poyser, plus Jimmy Bain took over as assistant manager. The goals of the 'Big Five' forward line (Scott, Holliday, Muttitt, Fletcher and Hopkins) kept Brentford in the Second Division promotion places throughout the majority of 1934–35 and after topping the table for the third time in the season on 2 March 1935, the Bees would not again relinquish top spot, cruising to the title and promotion to the First Division for the first time in the club's history. Brentford also completed a unique double by winning the London Challenge Cup.
First Division heyday (1935–1939)
After having risen from the third-tier to the first in the space of just three seasons, manager Harry Curtis elected to keep his squad intact for the 1935–36 First Division season. An extension to the New Road terrace increased Griffin Park's capacity to 40,000, which would generate extra income. After 15 matches, Brentford looked certainties to be relegated, but the purchases of half back Dai Richards and forwards David McCulloch and Bobby Reid in mid-season helped complete a remarkable turnaround, with the Bees showing the best form in all four divisions, losing just two of the final 23 matches and finishing in the club's all-time-highest position of 5th.
Brentford again performed above expectations during the 1936–37 and 1937–38 seasons, finishing 6th in each campaign and reaching the FA Cup sixth round for the first time in the latter. The club reached its zenith between October 1937 and February 1938, holding onto top spot in the First Division for 17 consecutive matches. The achievements of the Bees players in the top-flight did not go unnoticed amongst the international selectors, with Duncan McKenzie and Bobby Reid (Scotland) joining previously-capped players David McCulloch (Scotland) and Idris Hopkins and Dai Richards (Wales) in the international ranks. In October 1936, Billy Scott became Brentford's first full England international.
The 1938–39 season was the beginning of the end of Brentford's peak. Time had caught up on stalwarts Scott, Muttitt, Holliday and Bateman and the club's lower status led to the sales of McKenzie, McCulloch, Eastham, Reid and McAloon. Though over £31,000 was banked (equivalent to £1,994,000 in 2020), little over half of it was spent principally on three players – Republic of Ireland international full back Bill Gorman and forwards Les Boulter and Tommy Cheetham. Six wins from 10 games from February through April 1939 pulled Brentford clear of relegation. Late in the season, young homegrown forward Les Smith became the second Brentford player to win a full England cap and Les Boulter scored on his only appearance for Wales.
Second World War
Despite the spectre of war hanging over Griffin Park in August 1939, preparations for the 1939–40 season continued as normal, with Harry Curtis' only significant signing being new captain Tom Manley. The season lasted just three matches before Britain's declaration of war on Germany brought about the suspension of competitive football for the duration of the Second World War.
Brentford competed in the Football League South and the London War League during the war years, with much of the team supplemented by guests and young amateurs, though the core of the pre-war team continued to play in the majority of the club's matches. Guest forwards Douglas Hunt and Eddie Perry led Brentford's forward line throughout much of the war. Brentford's most memorable wartime moment came on 30 May 1942, when two Les Smith goals gave the Bees a 2–0 victory over Portsmouth in the London War Cup final at Wembley Stadium. During 1945–46, the final season of wartime football, Brentford reached the sixth round of the FA Cup for the second time in club history and at the end of the season. Idris Hopkins (Wales), Les Smith (England) and goalkeeper Joe Crozier (Scotland) all won wartime international caps.
Relegation and Harry Curtis' final years (1946–1949)
Brentford's 1946–47 squad, for the first competitive season after the Second World War, was propped up by the ageing core of the 1939–40 pre-war squad, though Jack Holliday, Joe James (both retired), Les Smith, Tommy Cheetham and George Poyser had by then left the club and free-scoring Bob Thomas could not be convinced to remain. The forward line was further weakened by the departures of Fred Durrant, Gerry McAloon (who had only re-signed for the club in December 1945) and George Wilkins during the season. Three new Scottish mid-season signings strengthened the back lines (Archie Macaulay, George Paterson and Malky MacDonald), but the slump failed to be arrested and the Bees crashed out of the First Division.
After narrowly avoiding a second successive relegation in 1947–48, manager Harry Curtis announced that the 1948–49 season would be his last in the job, possibly due to pressure from the Brentford directors to stand down and his excellent relationship with chairman Louis P. Simon had ended after Simon's death in November 1943. Curtis' long-time trainer Bob Kane also elected to retire and was replaced by Jimmy Hogan. Jackie Gibbons was installed as player-manager in February 1949, which brought an end to Curtis' reign of nearly 23 years. Curtis remained at the club until the end of the 1948–49 season in an advisory capacity to Gibbons. The season ended with a poor 18th-place finish, though notably the FA Cup sixth round fixture at home to Leicester City set a new club-record attendance of 38,678.
Financial struggles and another relegation (1949–1954)
Despite consecutive 9th-place finishes in the 1949–50 and 1950–51 seasons and one place lower in 1951–52, secretary-manager Jackie Gibbons had worked wonders with little money with which to buy players. Low-cost acquisitions Ken Coote, George Bristow, Ian Dargie, Billy Dare and Ken Horne would each go on to make over 200 appearances for the club. The team's lack of firepower during Gibbons' three full seasons as manager was exemplified by the fact that full back and part-time forward Fred Monk was one of only three players to finish a season with a goal tally in double figures.
Gibbons resigned on the eve of the 1952–53 season and long-serving assistant Jimmy Bain took over as interim manager. Brentford flirted with the relegation places, before Tommy Lawton was appointed player-manager on 2 January 1953. Lawton guided Brentford to a 17th-place finish, but after just one victory from the opening six matches of the 1953–54 season, he tendered his resignation and transferred to Arsenal two weeks later. Player Fred Monk took caretaker charge, before Bill Dodgin Sr. was appointed on 1 October 1953. By then the damage had already been done and despite the signing of future star Johnny Rainford, Brentford's relegation to the Third Division South was confirmed on the final day of the season after a 3–1 defeat to Leicester City at Griffin Park.
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