You’re not from New York City you’re from Rotherham

21 years after Brentford’s sole season in the second tier of English football since the 1950s, our first month in the Championship has ended. Adjusting to the change has been a big job for everyone – I still instinctively look to the League 1 results on my phone’s football results app before remembering that we’re not there any more. The days of wandering up to the turnstiles two minutes before kick off other than for glamorous cup ties or make or break end of season games seem to be receding into the past as club membership is needed to get tickets even for relatively humdrum fixtures like our first away game this season at Bournemouth. And of course, the players and management have had to adjust to the demands of a higher division.

My personal impression, having seen us fall a couple of times to League 2 and bounce back relatively quickly is that the difference between Leagues 1 and 2 is not huge. This can be seen in the regularity with which clubs manage to secure promotion in successive seasons from League 2 through to the Championship without dramatically altering their playing style or personnel. Rotherham, our most recent opponents and fellow promoted club last season are a case in point. Both clubs have also made big squad changes since promotion.

Bournemouth, who are starting their second season in the Championship, showed us a couple of weeks ago the quality and consistency needed to do well. I was fortunate to get a ticket due to the Brentford ticket office still having the care for fans that it did in the quieter old days of lower division football – my wife bought me membership for my birthday and the club sold her a ticket for the match even though the tickets were still not on sale to those without substantial numbers of loyalty points. We looked reasonably good at the Goldsands Stadium without looking particularly likely to score. Pritchard, on loan from Spurs, looked very skillful but needed to learn not to play like 7 year old OMB and his friends, attempting a stepover or a Cruyff turn every time he got the ball, but to save the skills for impact – the more measured and experienced head of Smith, doing simple, direct things consistently well was a good change. Nevertheless, a narrow 1-0 defeat didn’t feel like a loss for some reason.

After that, we picked up our first win of the season away at Blackpool (which I missed because we were in Edinburgh for Mrs B’s 40th) and fought back from an early goal down and man down to rescue a draw at home against Birmingham City. That was followed by a narrow 1-0 defeat against another old enemy, Fulham in the Capital One Cup. Altogether, a reasonable start but no more or less.

So, on to the fairly local (for me) game away at Rotherham. Rotherham had beaten us well both home and away last season so I didn’t have particularly high hopes, even if OMB did predict 2-0 before the match.

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- OMB in pensive mood on the way into the ground

Oh me of little faith. OMB’s prediction came true and we won 2-0! The neat, patient passing game which Brentford has built up over the past 3 seasons looked a bit toothless against Bournemouth but came good at Rotherham, who themselves were better than most Brentford fans commenting online have given credit for. They hit the bar twice and were threatening on the attack during the first half as well as drawing some excellent saves from Button in the second half in moves which I was sure they were going to score from. However, whereas Bournemouth played in a similar style to us, but with the nous of a season’s experience to iron out inconsistencies, Rotherham were ultimately unable to deal with Brentford’s midfield and their more direct style played to Harlee Dean’s strength in the air in central defence. Douglas mopped up in front of the defence and linked well with the more attacking midfielders. Dallas has started to deliver on the promise he showed when he was brought to the club. New star signing from Spain, Jota, stood out by being clean shaven and Ginola-tressed. And by being very mobile so that Gray was less isolated up front. From that assured performance I think Jota has the chance of being a very special player for us as he gets more used to the pace and physicality of the English game.

Just as half time was approaching I was discussing with OMB how bad it would be to concede a goal then when a flowing counter-attacking move was finished off with a spectacular strike by Gray leaving the Rotherham keeper with no chance. I normally like the “It’s all your fault” song against opposition keepers but felt it unfair in this case!

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- great views, plenty of legroom, good acoustics, the New York Stadium is a good example of how a modern stadium for a smaller club should be

The second half, with Brentford attacking the goal in front of its supporters, there were a few chances to extend the lead in between dangerous Rotherham attacks which somehow were repelled by heroics from Button. Pritchard was the culprit in one move where he had two or three Bees in the box unmarked and waiting for a square ball when he opted to shoot from an angle and blasted it over. When we play with one up front and can find our midfield pinned back to stop it from supporting Gray it is perhaps unsurprising that Pritchard wasn’t expecting such an abundance of support! Rotherham then conceded that we’d taken their main attackers out of the game and made a couple of substitutions. We brought on Scott Hogan, a new striker from Rochdale who had just recovered from injury in a positive move to play with two strikers but, before he’d had a couple of touches of the ball he fell when unchallenged and immediately signalled to go off, clearly in some pain and anguish. He had a lengthy spell of treatment on the pitch and was stretchered off and I expect it will be quite some time before he returns.

Unfortunately, his injury was greeted by jeers from the home crowd about time-wasting and of being a soft southerner (charitably I assume they didn’t realise he was born in Salford and had played his entire career up to this season at clubs north of Rotherham!). More unfortunate still, this was taken by a significant proportion of the Bees fans as the cue they’d been waiting for to unleash a chant of “Town full of paedos” and “Jimmy Savile is coming for you”. After the horror of the report earlier in the week about the huge child abuse scandal in Rotherham I’d hoped that Bees fans would be dignified enough not to take the easy option and resort to this.

Finally the game restarted and Brentford brought on Proschwitz and Toral to rejig things. Proschwitz, a free transfer from Hull who had cost them £2.5m, looked a bit lumbering and cobwebby when I saw him against Bournemoth but seemed to have improved his fitness in the subsequent fortnight. I’m still not sure whether he is “the answer” to our needs in attack but he held up play reasonably well and was positionally sound. Toral, the third of our Spanish contingent (Tebar stayed on the bench) is on loan from Arsenal and looked lively. Fittingly, the two of them combined for our second goal in the 8 minutes of time added on for Hogan’s injury. I’d need to watch the replay but unlike the fan reports I’ve read online I don’t think Pritchard can be credited with the pass that found Toral at the edge of the box to turn and lay on the easiest of tap ins for Proschwitz. My recollection is that Pritchard was neatly, professionally and annoyingly running down the clock in the corner in front of me while being shepherded by two Rotherham defenders, one of whom managed to get the ball and then passed it behind him in the expectation of there being another defender to clear the ball upfield. Unfortunately for him, Toral was better placed and took full advantage of the gift. But, either way, I’m more than happy that we got the goal!

A sign of how good the game was, as well as his increasing maturity, is that it was the first game where OMB managed to concentrate through the whole thing. I had brought the iPad for him to play on if he had had enough of the football but we were told that he couldn’t use it inside the ground. I can’t think of any good reason for this other than that Manchester United have just banned the use of tablet computers. While the stewarding was perfectly friendly, I also thought it a bit over-officious that after having been searched on the way in, a steward steamed over to tell me I couldn’t drink a can of diet Coke in the ground and escorted me to a kiosk to get a plastic cup. In the sad context of Rotherham’s week it seemed a peculiarly modern irony that minor infractions of mildly arbitrary rules are enforced so zealously.

There is now a two week break for international games before the next league fixture (another novelty!) and this will give a chance for some of the little knocks picked up in a busy August to be healed. We actually have a similar record to the same stage last season in League 1 (although to be fair we did start last season somewhat disappointingly after missing out on promotion). It would be good to get a home win soon but I suspect that our style of play suits counter-attacking away from home better than going out to dominate at home, at least until the team has properly settled into its stride at this level. The first month of the campaign has been encouraging because there is still clearly more to come from the team, particularly from Jota as he acclimatises to English football and from Gray as he continues to make the big leap from playing the Conference last season. Excellent player though Adam Forshaw is, if his irritating transfer to Wigan goes through today it won’t have weakened the side which has done so well so far. If it doesn’t, it is not clear who he would displace in fighting back into the first team. If at the end of last season you’d said to any Bees fan that Forshaw would have a struggle to get in our team this season they’d have looked at you as if you were insane. And that is a measure of how far we have come and hopefully, of where we can go.

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- we did, we did!

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

For some reason, in recent years I’ve enjoyed reading Booker Prize losers more than the winners so I had wavered for a long time over whether to read Eleanor Catton’s 2013 winning novel, The Luminaries. I’d picked up and put down copies in book shops several times, put off partly by its heft (it is apparently the longest ever Booker winner), partly by the spectre of the last New Zealand winner (Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, which is reputed to be nearly unreadable, I’ve not attempted it) and partly by how dreadful I found the last historical novel prize winner I read (Wolf Hall). In the end, spotting it for sale at £2.99 on the Kindle store I felt I could at least avoid the first of these misgivings.

I needn’t have worried. The Luminaries is a great read. It is set in 1865 in the New Zealand gold rush town of Hokitika. It starts as a sort of Victorian murder mystery with a dozen disparate men gathering in the bar of a hotel when an uninvited 13th man, Walter Moody joins them after having just arrived following a disturbing and rough sea trip from Dunedin. In sounding him out, the twelve share the tale of the disappearance of a wealthy young prospector, the death of local loner (and the finding of a large amount of gold in his hut), and the opium overdose of a prostitute all on the same night. Each of the twelve was a witness to part of the story and each felt that somehow they could be implicated criminally even though no crime had yet been alleged. As they share their stories each (apart from two Chinese miners whose English is inadequate for the task) pieces part of the mystery together. The book then goes on to show what each does with this knowledge and goes back to account for the events that led up to the mystery.

The book’s chapters are each headed up with an astrological sign and apparently the structure of the book is driven by the interaction of the zodiac symbols and the phases of the moon. To be honest, this passed me by completely and while it would have taken a lot of skill to effect, seemed rather gratuitous. Much of the intrigue comes from apparent coincidences and unsuspected connections between characters and their histories so I suppose this is not unlike the coincidental motion of the planets and constellations in astrology. However, the plot and characterisation are strong enough not to need a theoretical exoskeleton to tie them together. Perhaps the book wouldn’t have appealed to the Booker judges and critics without it but it felt like an unnecessary layer of pretension.

Read the book and see for yourself – perhaps the fault is mine in reading on a screen as there have been numerous articles recently to the effect that readers may read less deeply in eBooks than they do in paper books.

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

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Last week I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time. It was a birthday present for Mrs B to let us to spend a couple of days at a festival without wading through mud soup as I did at Glastonbury and we did as a family at the sodden Kendal Calling at the beginning of the month (which was my birthday treat).

It was a flying visit, mid afternoon to mid afternoon Monday to Wednesday but we managed to see a lot of different acts in that time, aided by the excellent Fringe app which allowed us to book tickets and have them printed out while we waited for our bag at the carousel at Edinburgh Airport and also to find ad hoc free shows to go to near wherever we happened to be between the ones we had booked (not to mention then showing on a map where the shows actually were). It was certainly a lot more useful than the frankly overwhelming paper festival programme. Continue reading