Mansley Allen chronicles Brentford's darkest hours as personified by two players
With the exception of this season and a handful of others, following Brentford for thirty years has pretty much been a matter of perpetual struggle. Two seasons in particular stand out: 1983-84, when we just avoided returning to the basement division we’d left in 1978, and 1992-3, our only season out of the lower two divisions since the invention of skiffle.
Even today in happier times the blood still runs cold when recalling players from either of those sides. In fact, if two names in particular are ever spoken at Griffin Park on a matchday, the sky suddenly darkens and a flock of ravens swoop down to settle on the grandstand roof, cawing hysterically.
Fred Callaghan’s team of the early 1980s could always score goals, but were never good defensively. In the autumn of 1983 a downward spiral began, ending with our finishing one place above relegation, and marked by a six-goal thrashing at Southend and several losses by three and four. Seized by panic, Callaghan gave a debut to one Andy Rollings in a defensive formation that would have seemed too madly experimental even to Baron Frankenstein. Within half an hour we were three goals down, with Rollings hapless in a cameo of schoolboy errors. The manager was forced to save the player’s blushes and he was substituted before half-time.
Rollings did not walk to the bench, however, but instead took the longer diagonal route direct to the dressing rooms, his sullen body language indicating that this was the last we would ever see of him, Spectators on that side of the ground bowed their heads as he passed, like bystanders at a funeral procession.
So lonely, so perpetual was Rollings’ walk that I am firmly convinced that he is walking still, thirteen years on. Assuming he has pursued a fairly direct line, it’s probable that he has circled the Earth at least once. In China he may even have bumped into Murray Jones. Where Rollings was an experienced pro in the wrong place on the wrong day, Jones, who brief sojourn in the Far East ended with a transfer to Farnborough Town, was simply a bad player. Quite what manager Phil Holder must have been thinking when he plucked Jones from Grimsby as replacement for Wimbledon-bound Dean Holdsworth at the start of 1992-93 is anybody’s guess. Jones was tall enough to disturb the flight path of the planes passing over Griffin Park on their way to Heathrow, but evidently hadn’t grasped the basics of heading and generally approached the ball with the assurance of a vertigo sufferer on a high wire.
Brentford had just come up to Division One, and seemed to have acclimatised when they reached 10th position at the end of the year. Murray hadn’t scored, however – he was to notch up a grand total of nought in sixteen games – so manager Phil Holder resolved to end the drought by buying Joe Allon, professional Geordie and a mate of Gazza’s, from Chelsea reserves. Allon got the odd goal here and there but clearly reserved most of his energies for the disco on Saturday evening, where he will have been surrounded by familiar faces given that “win, lose, always booze” is reported to have been a favourite catchphrase of Murray’s.
Soon, the whole team played as though nursing throbbing hangovers and it wasn’t long before we were heading back from where we had come. On the last day of the season, needing a point to stay up from a trip to Ashton Gate, Brentford gave the most gutless performance in modern history, crashing 4-1 and thus destroying the work of 30years in less than 35 weeks.
Murray left Farnborough during the 1995-96 season, and his current whereabouts are unknown.
From WSC 122 April 1997. What was happening this month