Money can’t necessarily buy you success. Of course, at Brentford having the sort of finances available to the likes of the teams at the top end of the Premier League is just a pipe dream. Yet it made last night’s results all the more interesting as this most captivating of top flight seasons continued. Despite their mega-millions, Manchester City (at mid-table Liverpool) and Arsenal (hosting relegation candidates Swansea) both lost against opposition they’d have been expected, on paper, to breeze past.
The flip side to this is that when you are operating on a reduced budget, unearthing that game changing player is a truly joyful experience. And this is where Brentford come into the equation. The previous column looked at, amongst other things, the FourFourTwo magazine survey on your club’s ‘cult hero’ over the top four divisions.
It is genuinely a fascinating read (my own contribution aside) with the results, being published on-line now showing clubs A-M. Starting with Accrington Stanley, it has so far gone through Brentford, along with the aforementioned Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City to the point they had, at the time of writing, got as far as Morecambe.
So few of these players are the big money signings making the headlines today but each have their special place amongst the fans. And the reason for mentioing this again was, specifically, the chance to talk a bit more about Brentford. Or, rather, our own nominee – Gary Blissett.
Given the constraints of the Four FourTwo site, somebody like Bliss (not to mention those who ran him close when the question was put out there on Facebook last month) deserved more than the 100-150 words available. So here is the full, unexpurgated version.
Gary Blissett – cult hero
Where do you start when looking for a cult hero? For a team like Brentford, where the trophy cabinet is more an aspiration than anything else, most people outside of TW8 probably know us for the sort of thing that would make TV’s “What happened Next…?” rather than the record books.
Goalkeeper Chic Brodie having his career ended by a runaway dog. Millwall fans throwing a hand grenade onto the pitch (November 1965, for the record). The failed takeover bid by QPR that would have seen Brentford cease to exist and our bitterest rivals move into Griffin Park. Eight play-off defeats out of eight (the least successful of all English teams when reaching football’s ‘final four’).
Then, of course, there was ‘that penalty’ in the final minute of the final game of 2012/13. A winner takes all encounter with promotion rivals Doncaster Rovers.
Only one team could make it to the Championship and, with the scores locked at 0-0, the Bees were awarded a 90th minute spot kick. The subsequent tussle for the ball involving club captain Kevin O’Connor (approaching his 500th game), and Marcello Trotta (on loan from Fulham, of all places) is one as familiar as the Italian’s subsequent effort thudding off the crossbar and, with Bees players prostrate on the ground in despair, our opponents going down the other end where they scored to secure promotion and the title.
That’s how we do things at Griffin Park. Glorious failure being as familiar a taste as the pre-match hot dog. Yet when we do win things, it makes them all the sweeter. Every now and again it happens. And even when we don’t, we still have a lot of fun along the way. Thanks, largely, to those figures you’d label as Cult Heroes.
Big John O’Mara who, in his first season, scored 25 goals in 40 games. Centre back Peter Gelson, who made 471 appearances in a Griffin Park career that stretched from 1960 to 1975. The legendary Jim Towers and George Francis aka The Terrible Twins. Playing together for most of the 1950s, they still remain (respectively) the club’s first and second highest all time goal scorers.
Hard as nails players such as Terry Hurlock, Terry Evans and Martin Grainger.
Long serving players Jamie Bates and Kevin O’Connor.
The skilful wing wizards like Andy Sinton and Neil Smillie.
Those who just seemed to exude personality and had the crowd eating out of their hand – Allan Cockram, Lloyd Owusu and Marcus Gayle (just don’t sing that song near your granny).
Modern day heroes including Jota – the last minute goal being his own personal calling card. Toumani Diagouraga – “Toumani scores, we’re on the pitch” went the Ealing Road. He’d last done it in March 2013 and we had to sit through another 111 games without him troubling the scorers before he was sold to Leeds at the end of January. Less than 40 minutes into his full debut….
Or how about Sam Saunders? The perma-tanned wing wizard (and former tube worker) so beloved of fans that most would allow him to ‘have relations’ with their wives, if the terrace chant is to be believed.
But when it comes down to it, there can be only one winner. The moustachioed legend that is Gary Blissett. aka ‘Bliss’.
79 goals from 223 league appearances (105 from 291 total) in a 6 year career from 1987-1993 don’t even tell half the story. His brace against boyhood heroes Manchester City in the 1988-89 FA Cup fourth round sent Griffin Park into meltdown as the Bees earned a 3-1 passage into the fifth round. There, Bliss repeated the feat as his late pair at Blackburn Rovers helped Brentford to a deserved 2-0 win. Sadly it wasn’t to be in an Anfield quarter final as the Bees bowed out despite giving all-conquering Liverpool (kids, ask your dads) an almighty scare.
His defining goal was probably the final game of the 91/92 season. With the Bees having won the previous five on the spin, including a 4-0 demolition of Fulham, we travelled to Peterborough knowing a win and some good fortune could make the impossible, possible.
Bliss was the man who popped up with a first half header as we then sat through an awful lot of ‘squeaky bum time’ for a famous 1-0 win. With other results going our way, including a shock defeat for a Birmingham City side that Saint & Greavsie had earlier congratulated on TV for winning the League, we snuck up the blind side and became Champions. Sometimes, it happens.
Gary was an ever present the following season as, despite the sale of strike partner Dean Holdsworth, his goals almost kept us in English football’s second tier.
But there was more to Gary than short shorts, a luxuriant ‘tache and goals, goals, goals.
A wannabe goalkeeper, he was the man who donned the gloves during a Championship game with Southend United after injury, and no spare on the bench, meant we got to enjoy that wonderful moment where an outfield player goes between the posts. Bliss promptly ignored every piece of advice being shouted to him by youth ‘keeper Ashley Bayes and kept a clean sheet.
But it was his red card at Craven Cottage after what we will politely call a ‘coming together’ with Fulham ‘keeper Jim Stannard that is a moment as popular with Bees’ fans as that goal at Peterborough. Bliss left the field to a standing ovation in a game that showed us the West London derby meant as much to the players as the supporters.
All the money in the bank can’t buy a player like Bliss. The £60,000 we paid Crewe back in 1987, even now, still seems like the bargain of the century.
Like Marcus Gayle and Allan Cockram, Bliss still visits Griffin Park. Catching up with him briefly in the week, he told me, “ I follow every game and after my beloved City Brentford are of course the team I want to see succeed more than any other team or club in the world.
I am sure MB will have Plan B, C, D and more and will one day be playing at The Ethiad IN THE LEAGUE “
For those amongst us feeling slightly down about things on the pitch this year, these are surely words to put your trust in. If a demi-God such as Bliss believes, then that’s all the inspiration we need .