History Boys | The Key Games

We take a look at some of the key games that shaped Brentford’s 2008/09 title-winning season…

Brentford 4-0 Grimsby – 16 August 2008

Often referenced by our History Boys interviewees throughout this season as the fixture where they first got an inkling of what the squad was capable of achieving, the first competitive run-out at Griffin Park of the 2008/09 season signalled Brentford’s attacking potency and, ultimately, their intentions for that campaign. As Andy Scott re-shaped his squad after taking the reins from Terry Butcher in late 2007, his new-look line-up on the day featured five new faces – Ben Hamer, Alan Bennett, Kevin O’Connor, Craig Pead, Glenn Poole and Nathan Elder had been at the club during the 2007/08 season, with the latter three being permanent members of the squad.

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The Mariners – for whom ex-Bee Matt Heywood started in defence – found it tough all afternoon in west London, with debutant Charlie MacDonald firing home a brilliant first goal for the club less than half an hour in, created thanks to James Wilson’s defence-splitting pass – a strike which proved to be Brentford’s first of the campaign. A goal from Elder and a second for MacDonald had the hosts cruising at the break, before Poole rounded off a successful afternoon on the hour mark, though he was denied another by a superb save by visiting goalkeeper Phil Barnes. Following the opening day defeat to Bury at Gigg Lane, the three points lifted them to eighth position in League Two, though they’d been dumped out of the League Cup by Swansea just four days earlier.

Shrewsbury 1-3 Brentford – 31 January 2009

Many Brentford fans didn’t quite know what to expect when they travelled to Shropshire at the end of January. The tried-and-tested strike partnership of Charlie MacDonald and Nathan Elder had been temporarily broken up after Elder had been given a four-game suspension for an alleged elbow on Mike Edwards in the 1-1 draw with Notts County two weeks earlier, with Ipswich Town youngster Jordan Rhodes brought in on loan as his replacement. The 18-year-old had spent short spells on loan with Oxford in the Conference and Rochdale in League Two, but with just 10 senior games under his belt, the future Scotland international was, at the time, an unknown entity. He lined up in red and white for the first time away at Macclesfield, playing 90 minutes in a 2-0 defeat, but it was the following week at New Meadow where he first made his mark.

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A thumping volley set the tone after just two minutes, before Rhodes capitalised on poor defending to add a second 15 minutes later. And he rounded off his hat-trick by turning home Charlie MacDonald’s cross just before the half-hour mark, putting his temporary employers 3-0 up at the break and becoming the youngest Brentford player to score a treble in the club’s history. After a run of one win in four games, the victory left Andy Scott’s men second in League Two, trailing leaders Wycombe by four points, but with a valuable game in hand.

Accrington Stanley 1-1 Brentford – 10 February 2009

Less than two weeks later, it was league leaders Wycombe who, instead, boasted a game in hand over the Bees. Trips to the Crown Ground often prompt both players and fans alike to refer to the stadium as the coldest in the country and this winter trip north proved as difficult a prospect as ever, though there was added impetus for Brentford, who – with a better goal difference than the Chairboys – had the chance to top the division for the first time by simply avoiding defeat against John Coleman’s side.

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In front of a brave crowd of just over 1,100, Stanley took the lead three minutes after half-time as Jimmy Ryan diverted young Everton loanee John-Paul Kissock’s cross past Ben Hamer. Andy Scott’s men peppered the home goal with shots, but it was only after Charlie MacDonald had spurned several gilt-edged chances that Jordan Rhodes popped up in the dying embers of injury-time, intercepted John Halls’ pass and slotted over the line – his fifth goal in just six games since joining the club. The breakthrough had been made and Brentford were finally League Two leaders.

Brentford 3-3 Wycombe Wanderers – 14 March 2009

By this point, Brentford were beginning to increase the distance between themselves and the chasing pack, though any of the top eight sides remained in contention to triumph at the conclusion of the season. Second-placed Wycombe trailed by seven points heading into a game which was billed as the “Battle of the Top Two” and attended by 10,642 supporters – a level of attendance unheard of in TW8 for many a year. Burgeoning talent Rhodes scored what proved to be his final goal for the Bees with a deflected shot after two minutes, before John Akinde – who would later go on to play twice for Brentford in a 2010 loan spell – levelled the game with 15 minutes on the clock.

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David Hunt then restored the lead with an, admittedly, tame free-kick, before John Mousinho made it an all-Brentford affair when the midfielder – who played 72 times for the club from 2005 to 2008 – levelled with a volley five minutes before the break. Akinde soon gave the Chairboys the lead for the first time, but Peter Taylor’s side were reduced to 10 men after 68 minutes when Tommy Doherty was shown a straight red card for violent conduct after an alleged elbow on Hunt. Late on, though, Aston Villa loanee Sam Williams drilled low to secure a dramatic draw in front of the delighted home crowd. There were less than two months of the season and nine games separating Brentford from the league title.

Bournemouth 0-1 Brentford – 13 April 2009

Heading into this Easter Monday clash at Dean Court, the pressure was beginning to grow on the Bees. They remained top of the league with five games to play, yet four draws and a defeat to play-off chasing Chesterfield had left them without a win since the 1-0 home victory over Barnet on 10 March. Wycombe, though, had played their game in hand and trailed by just two points in second. Bournemouth, who – quite unbelievably, given their current status as an established Premier League side – were fighting for to retain their place in the Football League, dug their heels in and their approach made for an arduous afternoon in the south coast.

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Both Steve Fletcher and Marcus Bean were booked inside the first 20 minutes of a fiery encounter, before Billy Clarke made the vital breakthrough before half-time, when he helped Sam Wood’s shot past Cherries goalkeeper Shwan Jalal. The game’s drama was yet to happen, though. Just minutes after the break, defender Darren Powell – who had been part of the Division Three winning squad 10 years earlier – was sent off after an aggressive altercation with team-mate Karleigh Osborne. That unfortunate incident threatened to derail the push for the title, but as many have alluded to this season, there was an unwavering spirit in the camp; one that held firm to walk away with an invaluable three-point haul against the odds. In addition to that, the Chairboys lost 1-0 away at Exeter, with Matt Gill scoring a second half winner at St James Park.

Dagenham & Redbridge 3-1 Brentford – 21 April 2009

Eight days later and Brentford had the chance to secure promotion in east London. Starting the day on 79 points – four ahead of Exeter, five ahead of Wycombe – a win would have secured a top three finish, at a minimum. Lingering play-off hopes attracted a bumper crowd to Victoria Road during the season’s final midweek round of fixtures, but a ruthless, cutthroat display from John Still’s Daggers, inspired by a future Bees cult hero in Sam Saunders, forced Andy Scott to put any promotion champagne he’d readied on ice. Fixtures between the two sides have numbered less than 10 in history, yet they’ve never produced less than three goals and this occasion was no different.

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With Billy Clarke and Sam Williams leading the line after the ‘striker’s curse’ had ruled out the likes of Charlie MacDonald, Nathan Elder and Jordan Rhodes, Saunders upset the apple cart when he stroked home his fourth goal in four games, before Solomon Taiwo’s expert volley left the travelling support open-mouthed. Saunders – who is a current member of the Colchester squad vying for promotion from the fourth-tier – provided the assist for Mark Arber to head home a third; Damian Spencer – another replacement loan striker – bundled over the line inside the final 10 minutes, but the damage was done and Brentford were forced to wait another week.

Darlington 1-3 Brentford – 25 April 2009

On the penultimate weekend of the season, the intensity of the title race had not yet abated, with each of Brentford, Wycombe, Exeter and Bury all still standing a chance at having their name engraved on the League Two trophy. There was a strong belief in the Bees camp that it would come down to what unfolded on the final day of the season, particularly with Wycombe favourites to overcome Port Vale at Adams Park – a side who had lost a staggering 24 league games – yet what would take place over the next two hours was beyond all expectations held by long-suffering Brentford fans.

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It was they who, despite the 500-mile round-trip, travelled in their thousands to the North East to pack out the away section of the Darlington Arena, and it was they who grimaced as yet another striker was carried off with a severe injury; inside two minutes the Quakers were down to 10 after Alan White viciously elbowed Damian Spencer – who had been aware of altercations between the pair – fracturing his cheekbone. But it was also the Brentford fans who celebrated wildly when Alan Bennett buried a close-range effort on 35 minutes and it was they who were catapulted into dreamland when Billy Clarke’s second-half double gave their troops an unassailable lead. They barely batted an eyelid when Pawel Abbott pulled one back with half-an-hour to play. When the news filtered through that Wycombe had only mustered a 1-1 draw with Port Vale, the champagne was most certainly no longer on ice. A sense of disbelief filled the summer air, but the Bees had achieved what Andy Scott had planned at the outset and after an alcohol-fuelled journey south, it was an achievement that was celebrated, by players, staff and fans alike, long into the night.

Brentford 2-0 Luton – 2 May 2009

With the league title having been wrapped up in the North East the previous Saturday, there was little pressure on Andy Scott’s side as they returned to the capital to round off a brilliant season. Without the requirement to actually win on the day, there’s always the chance that a title-winning side could finish on a bum note, but backed by another capacity crowd, there was a slim chance Brentford would let such an event occur, particularly given the tough times the Griffin Park faithful had been forced to endure over the previous decade. As commemorative t-shirts and flags flooded the packed stands and the pitch was drenched in the impending summer sun, a familiar starting 11 took to the field, but left at half-time level-pegging with already-relegated Luton, who had been docked 30 points at the start of the season for severe breaches of both FA and Football League regulations.

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Karleigh Osborne was introduced at the break, with outgoing winger Glenn Poole brought on in place of Ryan Dickson after 53 minutes and with 17 minutes to play, the two combined perfectly to finally give the Bees the lead; an inswinging free-kick from the right was delivered by Poole and Osborne leapt high above the Hatters defence to power a header beyond goalkeeper Dean Brill. That clearly got the juices flowing and in the final minute of normal time, Adam Newton brought David Hunt’s square ball under control and curled home a sublime left-footed shot from just inside the 18-yard box. Clearly elated with his efforts, the former West Ham full-back removed his shirt, threw it to the ground and raced along the Braemar Road stand, tailed by his enthused team-mates. The full-time whistle prompted a pitch invasion, before the Bees were presented with their first silverware since the Third Division title 10 years earlier; overjoyed fans remained on the pitch for as long as possible to pose for photographs with their heroes. Memories were made on that historic day – Brentford were back from the doldrums.

Originally featured in BEES Issue #22 v Leeds United (22 April 2019)

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