Another balmy night, another football game. This time I made the short bus trip to see newly promoted League One side Brentford take on established Championship side Bristol City. However before the football could begin there was a little matter of visiting the fabled 4 pubs which enclose Griffin Park. We got through three and decided to save the last for a congratulatory pint after the game and entered the ground through the less than imposing main gate.
At £22 a ticket I had been expecting trumpeters, elephants and the odd go-go dancer to welcome me to Griffin Park, however a program was all I received (after paying another £2) and we set off to find some decent seats in the main grandstand. Both managers seemed to have decided to field fairly strong sides with the only real omissions being players away on international duty. Bristol had brought a fairly large crowd and were in good voice from the off. The first ten minutes saw both teams doing little, like boxers they seemed to be just circling each other and probing for weaknesses, then a Brentford through ball put newly signed striker, Steve Kabba, on his way. He brushed off the attentions of a City centre half like he was a toddler, dummied and took the ball round the keeper with ease only to slice his shot over and wide of the goal in an embarrassing miss. It would prove to be one of the chances of the game and was initially great work.
Brentford were utilising the pace of their front two and allowing City onto them before attempting through balls or balls into the channels. However in the last third there were just too many scuffed passes, crosses and shots and they let off the relatively inexperienced City keeper, Dean Gerken too many times. It may have been the three pints before the match but the half seemed to steam by in no time. Bristol were attempting to build up from the back and midfield but Brentford were doing well to continuously press them all over the park, eventually leading to striker Danny Haynes losing his cool and showing dissent to the ref after a call didn`t go his way. He received a yellow card for his amateur dramatics and would live to regret it.
Brentford were the better team for the first half and when he was needed ex-QPR youth prospect Nikki Bull did well in goal, on his Brentford debut, to keep a sporadic Bristolian attack at bay. But in truth neither team looked particularly hungry to dominate the other, undoubtedly the fact it was the Carling Cup and that the league games would be coming thick and fast over the next fortnight was in many players and on the manager`s minds. In my opinion there are too many unnecessary games, supporters often turn up to see below strength teams who often don`t mind too much about results. The system needs a kick up the arse and if I was Blatter et al the first thing I would do would be to make the FA Cup winner an automatic Champions League spot, that`d put it up 'em and as Corporal Jones so frequently remarked "they don`t like it up 'em"!
The second half kicked off and Bristol were playing well within themselves when, on 50 minutes, Danny Haynes made a late swinging tackle on Brentford`s centre half, Ryan Dickson, on the half way line. It looked worse than it was and slightly harshly Haynes was given his second yellow and given his marching orders much to the delight of the fairly quiet Brentford faithful. Strangely this seemed to galvanise City and had you been asked you wouldn`t have realised that one team was down by a player. Brentford played too centrally and didn`t use their extra man to their advantage by spreading the play wide or by swamping the City defence. From a corner Nikki Bull punched the ball out as far as the 18 yard box, but a City defender crashed into him leaving him helpless to stop the ball when it was looped back in and Nicky Maynard softly headed it in to put the Bees one down.
Maynard had looked useful all night and only a last ditch tackle from Dickson in the first half had prevented him opening his account before this. Bristol went into their shell after the goal, anxious to protect their lead and Brentford suddenly found the drive needed to really pressure the City goal. A nippy, darting run on the left by Sam Saunders saw him sting a full stretch Gerken(!) with a powerful drive and in all fairness it was a magnificent save. Then from a Bees corner Saunders header crashed against the cross bar with Gerken unable to do a thing and looped up only to hit the bar again before bouncing behind, we just knew it wasn`t Brentford`s night after that effort.
With the dying seconds of the game petering out before us, a last final push from Brentford saw them gain a corner, the ball was whipped in and the bodies in the box parted as though Moses himself had been standing in the Ealing Road Terrace. Unfortunately for Bees fans he ironically made the awkward ball fall to centre back Mark Phillips who valiantly tried to manoeuvre his body to shoot but on the tip of his toes a City defender managed to nick it away. Not too bad a game for the neutral(ish) and Brentford probably won`t mind going out too much. They don`t have the biggest squad and will be looking to utilise it to its best in the league, perhaps trying to pick up another promotion on the bounce.
A special mention has to go to Gary Johnson who, quite obviously, shouted at his players to applaud and go and see the City fans after the final whistle, to thank them for their effort. In an age where too many in the footballing world think they are god`s gift it was good to see that some still try hard to instil a moral code and to appreciate those that have helped put you there. Well done Mr Johnson!
Build Up - Game Four: AFC Wimbledon v Salisbury City
Like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes, AFC Wimbledon rose from the empty husk that had become Wimbledon FC. The gutless FA had allowed the original Wimbledon to move 56 miles away to Buckinghamshire where after a few death throes Wimbledon had become McFranchise; MK Dons.
Fans set up AFC and had an open trial for any unattached player to attend in June 2002. They started life in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League and in their first season narrowly missed out on promotion. Their gates regularly exceeded those of the faux Wimbledon who were, at the time, playing in the First Division (now Championship). Nicknamed "the Dons" AFC`s biggest rivalries are with Kingstonian, with whom they share the ground, and Hampton & Richmond.
The Dons hold the record for the longest unbeaten run of any football club, 78 games, between 22nd February 2003 and 4th December 2004 when they lost 2-0 to Cray Wanderers. Unsurprisingly during this time they managed two consecutive promotions and two cup wins. As they continued up the footballing pyramid however they found it harder to be all conquering. The 05/06 season saw them beaten by Fisher in the play-offs and a cup final loss to Kingstonian in the Surrey Senior Cup. The 06/07 season saw AFC again lose in the play-offs and thrown out of the Surrey Senior Cup and FA Trophy due to fielding an ineligible player due to an administrative error.
07/08 saw them finally promoted with a win over Staines in the play-off final and last year won the Conference South title at the first time of asking. This year they will play in the Conference National and so far have one point from a possible six.
Football Conference Conference South Champions: 2008-09
Isthmian League Premier Division Playoff winners: 2007-08
Division One Champions: 2004-05
Combined Counties League Champions: 2003-04
Combined Counties League Premier Challenge Cup Winners: 2003-04
Surrey Senior Cup Winners: 2004-05, Runners-up: 2005-06
Supporters Direct Cup Winners: 2002-03, 2005-06, Runners-up: 2004-05, 2006-07
By train; The closest station is Norbiton however you can also get off at New Malden or Kingston and get the bus or, if you are fit, walk the 20 or so minutes to the ground.
By bus; the 131 from Kingston or Tooting goes within a cats whisker of the ground. You can catch this bus from near Kingston and Norbiton stations too.