Paging Les and Gabriel. The amazing connection that goes from Brentford to Manchester City via Preston.

29 Dec

We would appear to be ‘game on’. Brentford host Manchester City this evening, both squads with at least the mandatory minimum of 13 outfield players seemingly available. No last minute crisis riding in to scupper the match as Newcastle United have just succumbed to. No rash of symptoms that were unable to be confirmed given the closure of the test centre – oh Bristol City, has it been a year already? Thoughts and prayers. Instead, we’re all off to Lionel Road to see if the improbable (16/1 is the price on a Brentford win at the time of writing) can become possible. Yet also, we finally get to square a circle that goes from Brentford to City via Preston North End (twice).

Nick Leeson. Martin Lewis (as unlikely a combo as one could imagine). Liam and Noel. Your boys are expected to give one hell of a beating. Manchester City being the only opponents in the division to give genuine concern pre-season and a team that have won their last three away games against promoted sides by an aggregate scoreline of 11-1.

The other 18, on a good day, you’d fancy Brentford could do something. Sure enough, we’ve all been here for the games with the big guns and household names. Liverpool. Chelsea. Arsenal. Everton. All have seen points taken or top drawer performances. Now we are at the next level. It is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. We deserve to be where we are on merit. Now comes the time to test ourselves against the very best.

We’ve already spoken about the challenge of this one and looked back at the Brighton player performance. We already know the relative strength of the squads. There’s nothing further to be gained from overly diving in there. Nothing new that can be said. Instead, we’re now at the point where all that can be done is enjoy the moment of another night game. Of a nothing to lose scenario where that magic feeling of Brentford under the lights can take hold. Sure, we can reminisce about Gary Blissett. About Uwe. About Robert Taylor. Nice though it is, and it is, this all comes down now to what happens when it all kicks off at the somewhat unusual time of 8.15. That’s unbelievable, Jeff (Bezos).

Uwe’s ‘last hurrah’

For me, Clive, mention the name Manchester City and the memory goes off in a different direction to a different couple of names. Neither linked to the Gallaghers or finance. Instead, there’s Jim – who I met through / prior to the arrival of our Harry at NCT class nine years ago. Cripes, that’s flown.  

As staunch and longstanding as they come. Home and away. Season on season. Despite now living in West London, he’s always at pains to point out he’s not a bandwagon jumping fan. As, to be fair, seems to be the case with the vast majority where even in the third tier of English football in the late 90s, support remained huge. His take on the game is both good and bad, for Brentford fans: “You might get a heavily rotated squad as we play arsenal 2 days later. That being said, we’re pretty slick at the moment.”

Then there’s Gabriel Valentine. The chances of whose seeing this are slim to zero. However, back in the 89-90 season, yours truly took his first footsteps into the wide world of work (before promptly stepping away again). There was Mr. Valentine, another displaced City fan whom, along with the rest of the firm I was working for, was eventually worn down with all this talk of Brentford, Brentford, Brentford and came to Griffin Park for a game.

That was March 1990 and the moment of Ashley Bayes making his debut against Preston North End. I can still see it now. Funnily enough, they never came back.

“Dreadful mistake / That stupid goal” – not my words, Susan

Yet prior to this, we’d already been tied together on a footballing journey that lasted less than a week but, for a brief moment, could have seen life heading in a very different direction. Flushed with youthful naivety / blind-optimism, The Bruzon-Valentine partnership took the bold step towards managing a professional football club.

Why not? Preston North End were struggling and had just dispensed with the services of John McGrath. We were 18(ish, in his case) with spare time on our hands.

This was back before it became the popular thing to do based on one’s experience playing Football Manager (the nearest we had back then was the ZX Spectrum equivalent on cassette).

How could anyone fail with a Spectrum squad this strong?

Amazingly, our letter received a reply from chairman Keith Leeming. As did our phone call to Saint and Greavsie who then politely declined our offer to appear on the show. Their loss. The dream was still alive. This was it. The moment was set. And then Preston went for former player Les Chapman. Fair enough, I’d have done the same.

Where we now go full circle is that this is the same Les Chapman who would eventually become Manchester City kit man for 17 (seventeen) years before moving into their media department. Pretty much the dream career path: player, manager, kit guru, media.

Whilst Gabriel won’t be reading or present today, Les may well be at Lionel Road. If he somehow stumbles across this (and let’s be realistic here…) then imagine how life may have turned out had Keith Leeming decided to take a reckless punt on a pair of untried youngsters. Again, let’s be realistic, but one has to dream.

However, who knows what, if any, impact the mere presence of our names may have had on that longer term decision making process? Could we have tipped the dice in Les Chapman’s favour?

It’s a funny old game. As Saint and Greavsie didn’t say to us. Yet the excitement felt when that hand-typed and signed postcard appeared on the doormat is still up there as a moment when life was wide open. When anything, no matter how improbable, felt possible……. 😉

Bring it on. See you there

Keith never did write back to us…

Nick Bruzon

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One Response to “Paging Les and Gabriel. The amazing connection that goes from Brentford to Manchester City via Preston.”

  1. Garry Shrimpton December 29, 2021 at 8:29 am #

    “Bring it on. See you there, and special thanks to Boris for not following the likes of Comrade Drakeford and Kim Jong Sturgeon and closing down our football stadiums, amongst other things, for the sake of political point scoring”.

    Credit where credit’s due right? Nah didn’t think so.

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