Marcus Bean pulls no punches when he addresses the profound impact his move to Brentford had on his career.
“For sure, Brentford definitely saved my career and got my love for the game back,” he affirms in an exclusive chat with BEES.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too dramatic to say that because it really could have been the end of me. I like to think of myself as a strong character but before that, I was at a real low point.”
That low point? The midfielder’s ill-fated spell at Blackpool, in which he made just 23 appearances for the Seasiders over the course of three miserable seasons on the Lancashire coast. Simon Grayson snapped up Bean from boyhood club QPR in January 2006, deployed him on 17 occasions as he guided the relegation-threatened side to Championship safety and all looked rosy as the new season dawned three months later. The reality couldn’t have been much harsher.
He continues: “It started off great. At the time they were in relegation trouble; I came in with a few other signings and I felt that we made a really big impact. I was then offered another two-year contract and I would’ve thought I’d have at least been in the manager’s plans, playing regularly, but, for whatever reason, that didn’t happen.Embed from Getty Images
“The next two years were just terrible and to be honest, I lost my love for the game. I said to myself that I needed to get back to London – Blackpool was four hours away from my family, I was on my own and I wouldn’t like to say I was depressed because I wasn’t diagnosed, but I guess it was the closest you could get to depression without being depressed.
“I think Blackpool was probably my worst time in football. I said to myself in the summer, when I was leaving Blackpool, that if I didn’t get a club in London or closer to my family, I could possibly call it a day, I was that fed up with football. Then obviously Brentford came in.”
Of course, we will revisit his Griffin Park further on but first of all, let’s rewind back to the start of Bean’s extensive professional career, which started back in 2002 with the Bees’ sworn enemies Queens Park Rangers.
The Rs’ academy is not particularly revered in the game and – prior to the breakout of current star Ebere Eze – had produced just three first team players in the last 15 years – Richard Langley, a certain Raheem Sterling and Marcus.
On a warm summer’s afternoon in August 2002, Rangers boss Ian Holloway handed him his debut in the second half of a fiery contest with Wycombe, but just eight minutes later he’d been dismissed.
Marcus admits he “thought that was the end of my career”, but a forgiving Holloway brushed off the misdemeanour. Though he would finish the season with just eight appearances, his talent had conjured an air of promise. In the face of financial turmoil, QPR were promoted from the second division in 2003/04, he was named as the club’s Young Player of the Year and a prominent role seemed a mere formality.
Yet disappointment beckoned and, after playing a bit-part role, he joined League Two Swansea on-loan.
“It was very frustrating,” he says. “I think the gaffer wanted to go forward with more experienced players in the higher league, though I felt I was ready to play.
“That friction ended up with me leaving the club, probably in hindsight prematurely because he didn’t want me to leave, but I felt that I was a young player making my way and that it would be best for my career to go away and try to play regularly somewhere else. I was still young and could’ve learned a lot by staying around, but I have no regrets in my playing career.”Embed from Getty Images
There was a certain déjà vu surrounding the following season – a bit part role at Loftus Road, brightened by another loan at Swansea – who had been promoted to League One in 2005 – before the doomed move to Blackpool in January of 2006.
His hellish two years at Bloomfield Road need no re-introduction, but the stats that accompany it make it difficult not to empathise with the cult hero; from 22 August 2006 to 20 October 2007, Bean made just 24 appearances for both the Seasiders and loan employers Rotherham. By the time he made his Brentford debut on 9 August 2008, a 294-day spell without first team action had elapsed.
Therefore, it goes without saying that when news broke of Andy Scott’s interest, it heralded the start of a new beginning.
“My agent at the time said there was interest from Andy Scott and to be honest, I didn’t even think twice. I was buzzing and they could’ve handed me anything and I would’ve signed it at the time.
“I snapped their hands off because I was back in west London, I was home. Anyone who’s played football will tell you that your best performances come when you are settled in your home life and happy. I was so happy to be back.”
Early performances garnered little attention, and Bean – who was sent off on just his second appearance against Swansea in the Carling Cup – became aware of the elephant in the room – his past spell with arch-rivals QPR.
“I wouldn’t say there was animosity but I felt in my head that I had to play twice as well to get recognition, or that’s how it felt,” he explains. “I didn’t really get much recognition early on, which was to be expected as I’ve experienced the same at other clubs having played for their rivals. You have to win fans over anyway but I think I had to work extra hard at Brentford because there is bad blood between the two clubs. That was another one of my proud moments, the fact that I managed to come over to Brentford and in the end, I’d like the think the fans appreciated me.”
The central midfield partnership between Bean and Kevin O’Connor grew stronger with each passing week and it soon became the fulcrum of Andy Scott’s burgeoning side. An understanding developed between the pair, permitting the one-time Jamaican international licence to roam and record a remarkable career-high tally of nine goals.Embed from Getty Images
He reminisces with proud smile. “I’ve got so much love for Kev – what a great guy. He’s a model professional and made the game easy for you because you know he is a typical 7.5 or 8/10 player every week. You know what you are going to get. You give him the ball, you know you are going to get it back, you know he’s going to track his runner, you know he’s going to put his foot or head in. That goes a long way.
“He’s a player that every manager wants in their team because you can trust him. It was the same when I was playing next to him. He was holding, which allowed me to get forward a lot more and I knew I could get forward because I could trust him to hold the fort; that’s why I managed to score a few goals that season. I was able to break into the box and get further forward and a lot of that goes down to him.
“I’ve been promoted four times and one similarity they all have is that the dressing rooms are amazing – that was no different to any of the others. It was a bunch of really down-to-earth boys – no primadonnas – who worked their socks off for the badge and for each other. We won the league and didn’t have one player in the Team of the Year and I think that was just down to the fact that teams hated playing against us to refused to put any of us in the team! There was a bit of bitterness but we were really good that year and the boys were brilliant.
“I remember the game against Bournemouth away – that was a crazy game. They were a good side and the way we played as a team and personally I felt on that day that I was steaming around everywhere. It was one of those performances that typified us as a side, that never-say-die attitude. No one would’ve given us a chance after going down to 10 men – we defied all the odds that season.”
As the majority of the squad will no doubt concur across the course of the season, despite a magnificent season, the coach journey back to TW8 after sealing the title at Darlington is a blur – at the very best. Equally, the final day win over Luton is quite the opposite. Marcus is no different.
“That was a really special day,” he continues. “I think the fact that we already had the league sewn up and we were at home meant there was a real party atmosphere – it was electric. I remember lifting the trophy, I remember Ben Hamer having a stupid wig on, the characters and there was a real good feeling about the club.Embed from Getty Images
“I remember we played OK, but I remember Adam Newton’s goal and I couldn’t have been happier for him – he was our leader. He set the standard in the dressing room and was a man that liked everybody to keep their standard high – it was just fitting that he scored that day. I remember him pulling his top off and everyone chasing after him. There is no better than celebrating a title win at home and those days can go down in a damp whimper if you don’t win, so to get the win as well was special.”
One of only a handful of the squad to remain in west London for more than a year post-title win, Marcus remained an important member of the squad as the club entered the transition that set them on the path to promotion to the Championship, under Andy Scott’s successor Uwe Rosler. Not only had his career had been resurrected by the club, it had broken new ground and in 2011, he was given the chance to make his international debut, representing Jamaica against Honduras.
“That was an experience, which the best way to put it!” he laughs. “I’ve got some funny stories about that one, but it was something that I was really proud of, my family were equally proud and it was a great moment that was a reward for one, the season we were having at the time and two, I was playing well at the time and I put myself on the map. Rosler didn’t really want me to go and wasn’t too happy because I missed a couple of league games, but it was something I couldn’t turn down.
“When I got there, it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be in a sense of organisation and bits and bobs like that, but it is what it is and it is something special personally. The game was completely different to any I’ve ever played it but it is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”Embed from Getty Images
After helping the Bees to two ninth place League One finishes in three seasons, Rosler called time on Bean’s spell in west London in the summer of 2012. With more than 150 appearances, 15 goals, one League Two winners medal and an international cap to his name, his journey came to a halt.
“I was gutted. I didn’t want to leave but I respected Rosler’s decision and his ideas to take the team forward. I was really gutted to be leaving but the club has kicked on since then which is the great thing. That’s football and you just have to get on with it, really. At times we flirted with the play-offs and missed out on a couple of occasions and I would’ve loved to have got a promotion out of that league with Brentford, which would’ve been even more special but the boys got the job done a few years later.”
It wasn’t too long before there was a reunion. Alan Judge’s penalty had secured promotion against Preston on 18 April 2014 and there was little to play for the in the three games that remained, with eventual champions Wolves leading the charge by six points. Colchester – whom Bean subsequently joined – posed little threat to Brentford’s bid to hit a high note in the final away game of the season as they hovered dangerously above the drop zone.
The threat was minimal, on paper, at least, yet the game didn’t follow the script. This was ‘King’ Kevin O’Connor’s 499th appearance for the club – they had to win, didn’t they? Bean struck first after 29 minutes, before his team-mates added a second, and then a third before the break. Stuart Dallas thundered in to reduce the deficit on the stroke of half-time, but when Brian Wilson added his second with 25 minutes to play, the Bees were left chasing shadows, though the heavy defeat failed to dampen the spirits of the jolly away support.Embed from Getty Images
“That was crazy because we were flirting with relegation for the whole season and I think by winning that game we stayed up. When you win promotion early, I think you take your foot off the pedal and that day we were all fired up knowing that if we won we’d survive. I remember scoring that goal and I didn’t celebrate out of respect to the club but that was a bit of a crazy game because Brentford had such a strong squad at the time, good players and we didn’t expect to be winning that game!”
Thankfully, that could prove to be the final meeting between Bean and the Bees in league football, though the anchor man is far from done in the professional game. He achieved a fourth career promotion last season with Wycombe and continues to offer an experienced option for boss Gareth Ainsworth, who was once a team-mate in the QPR days of the early 2000s.
And though a clear gulf now exists between the Bees and their former League Two rivals, Bean says he can draw clear parallels between the two clubs to this day.
“It’s a great family club run the by the fans and you get that sense of camaraderie, everyone is friendly and the gaffer has built that because from what I hear, the dressing room wasn’t like that before. He came in and he’s really signed players based on their social skills and it shines through in the team. After getting promoted last season, I think this is a big season for us to stabilise, stay in the league and then kick on from there. We’ve probably got one of the smallest budgets and everyone knows that usually success comes down to how much you pay people – whether you like it or not, that’s just the way it is.
“We’ll punch above our weight again as we have done before. There have been so many Bees here it’s like a retirement home for ex-Bees with the likes of me, Sam Saunders, Paul Hayes, Sam Wood, but it is good when you see old faces come back around and you play with them again. We always talk about the old days.
“As clubs I think they are very similar. Wycombe is obviously on a smaller scale but they are very similar and I think that’s why, like Brentford, the young boys always seem to do well because there isn’t that crazy pressure or people reminiscing about the old days and expecting crazy performances and winning this and that – there’s realism there. The players that come in play with freedom and without pressure so they are both really good clubs for developing young players. Over the years I think Brentford have done it well and I think Wycombe have really helped people’s careers too.
Earlier this month, Bean celebrated making his 500th professional appearance in the Chairboys’ 1-0 Checkatrade Trophy win at Northampton – a career milestone he might never have thought possible in the past.
“I’ve said this to a few people, I only dreamed of making one appearance,” the ever-gracious 34-year-old says. “To step on that pitch and to make 500, I feel truly blessed. I do something I love and I know how lucky I am so just to make the 500 is another number but it’s just a pleasure to do what I do and to do it for 16-odd years, it’s great.”
Marcus Bean’s move to Brentford proved to be his making, allowing him to overturn a period of turmoil to develop into the experienced figure he continues to cut on the pitch for Wycombe. Not bad for a former QPR player, eh?
Originally featured in BEES Issue #5 v Reading (29 September 2018)