When it comes to the FA Cup or indeed most sporting contests, I, like many, often support the underdog. We’re always told it’s a British thing, we like to pick the poor sods that are expected to lose in the hope they will rise against the odds. It’s not always quite as simple as that though, there are a few other considerations, such as budget and on and off pitch attitude to consider (think Crawley last season) but in general I think you know what I am saying.
Unless your team aren’t the underdogs.
This can cause me a few problems as a Brentford supporter during the early FA Cup rounds. On most occasions I ignore it and I just hope to see the Bees through to the third round. Then it’s time to pray for that draw against a giant and our turn to be the little guy. I prefer one that’s beatable. Liverpool will do me this season thank you very much. Bollocks to going to Maine Road or Old Trafford for a tonking.
But it’s not always that simple.
Eleven years ago the Bees lined up against Kingstonian at Griffin Park. It was the period when Ron Noades was self-appointed manager of the team, which sounds even more ridiculous as I write this than it seemed at the time. Brentford were having a run of bad results and looked clueless on the pitch. The other thing was I lived in Kingston. Not only that but I popped down to the friendly Kingsmeadow when I couldn’t get to a Bees away fixture and thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember being very impressed with midfield play-maker Geoff Pitcher. I always thought he’d play at a higher level. Apart form a few games for Brighton, he didn’t.
So I’ll be honest I took the Bees 3-1 defeat and humiliation that day rather well, Noades resigned (as manager at least) and I decided to jump on my hometown team’s bandwagon. I enjoyed away trips to Southend (a 1-0 backs to the wall victory, with shots on target something like 1 to 20) and Bristol City (the league club grabbing a late, late equaliser) before the norm was resumed in the replay. There have been other times when I’ve quite enjoyed seeing a non-league team I know little about playing well at Griffin Park, although not to the point where I remember wanting them to win.
Basingstoke Town then. On the face of it I have no affinity with the town just down the M3 from me. But dig a little deeper into the football team and I have a few, if tenuous, connections. I live the other side of Kingston Bridge nowadays and my local team is Hampton and Richmond Borough, where I enjoy Saturday afternoons when the Bees aren’t calling me. Basingstoke feature two players who spent a few years on Hampton’s books.
Stuart Lake is a midfielder who ran and ran for the Hampton cause. He popped up in the opposition’s penalty area as much as he defended in his home half and he scored a very important goal on the last day of the 2006/7 season which helped drag the Beavers up into the Conference South. I know his dad too, well a little bit.
Shaun McAuley was more of an enigma at Hampton, a bit of a luxury player. Manager Alan Devonshire didn’t seem keen on starting him so he had to make do with mostly substitute appearances. But he offered something different from Devonshire’s effective but basic tactics, he’d find space, run with the ball and beat players, the sort of stuff I always imagined was frowned upon. He scored an important end of season goal too which looked like it would help push Hampton into the Conference. In the end it didn’t but that’s another story.
Then there’s Basingstoke keeper Ashley Bayes, anyone who supports Brentford and is my age or older will remember this goalkeeper with a cold sweat. I still have nightmares about a young Bayes dragging a crossed ball into his home net right in front of me. But he seemed like a nice guy and I always looked out for him after he left Griffin Park during his more successful stays around the lower and non-leagues.
I headed to Griffin Park on Saturday with some mixed feelings then. So far Uwe Rosler has done an okay job as Brentford manager so certainly I didn’t share the thoughts I had prior to the Kingstonian game or worse still during Terry Butcher’s horrendous but thankfully short-lived stay at Griffin Park. I went on strike immediately he was appointed, only crossing my personal picket line once. I am embarrassed in some respects to say I was happy to see Brentford humiliated just to see Butcher removed from the club as soon as possible.
Overall I think I was hoping for an exciting Brentford 3-2 win with messrs Lake and McAuley getting a goal each.
I am sure Basingstoke’s supporters had even higher hopes and of course they showed up at Griffin Park in impressive numbers, probably close to or exceeding their average home attendance. They started strongly, prepared to attack (or ‘hoof it’ as the bloke next to me preferred to describe it). But the first goal came from another excellent Sam Saunders free kick for Brentford. Some call Saunders the David Beckham of the lower leagues. There, I guess I’ve done it now as well.
From then on the pattern of the match seemed to be Basingstoke would work hard and push forward, while Brentford were prepared to bide their time. The danger of this of course is that the momentum starts to change and in truth Basingstoke started looking the most likely to score, especially into the second half. I was pleased to see Lake running ‘Stoke’s’ midfield and much of their attacking options coming from McAuley runs and passes linking midfield and attack.
Did I want to see a Basingstoke equaliser? Well no not really. Did I want to see Brentford score more and humiliate Basingstoke? No I didn’t. They were putting up a fight. I didn’t feel like I could really win with this one. By the end of the game it was only Basingstoke who were carving out chances, although they were more of the half variety. Lake came close with a long-range shot, substitute David Pratt had a strong shot stopped by Bees keeper Richard Lee and there was a scrambled goal-line clearance.
The single goal difference kept a level of interest until the end. I considered that an equaliser wouldn’t be the end of the world and Bees would likely win a replay. But then there was that chance they wouldn’t.
But the final whistle saved any Brentford blushes. No doubt Basingstoke’s supporters left disappointed. I left having not experienced any of the drama I enjoyed at cup games at Hanworth Villa this season. But to be honest I hadn’t really expected to.
I am sure there were plenty of fans that did get something out of the game. Bees fans who were delighted to cling on at the end or annoyed with their team not thrashing the non-leaguers. Basingstoke Town fans proud of their club and reliving the memories of how they almost brought a league club back to the Camrose.
On my way home I felt a bit neutral about the whole affair and wondered if my afternoon wouldn’t have been better served by heading down to Sutton v Kettering. Then I noticed various items of clothing hanging from a tree outside some flats close to West Middlesex hospital. Closer inspection identified the front garden area covered in many more items including a pair of football boots. On this afternoon of personal indecision and wavering, there was a story worth hearing about.
Words & Pictures: Matt Allard, a wandering Bee and (his own words) ‘very part time motocross journalist’.