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We’ve met before – Brentford

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League encounters between Chelsea and Brentford are few and far between, largely due to both clubs occupying different divisions over the years. The golden era for Brentford occurred in the years just before and after World War 2, the Bees often finishing above their more illustrious neighbours in the table.

The first game between the two sides took place on 23rd November 1935, this after Brentford had been promoted as Division 2 champions at the end of the previous campaign. A whopping 56,624 spectators attended the game at Stamford Bridge and it was the visitors who took a shock lead in the 12th minute following a George Robson penalty. Brentford had had a difficult start to life in Division 1, standing third bottom at the start of the game and they gamefully held on to the lead until the 71st minute when Alex Cheyne equalised for Chelsea. Two minutes later Dick Spence completed the comeback when he converted a penalty to give Chelsea the two points and 8th place in the table.

When the two teams met at Griffin Park for the return fixture on 28th March 1936 the fortunes of both clubs had changed somewhat. Brentford had found their feet at last and had risen up the table whereas Chelsea had dropped to 15th. Both teams were on 31 points but Chelsea had an inferior goal average although they had played a game less. They were also in the midst of a poor run of form and still suffering from the fallout following the death of James Thorp, the young Sunderland goalkeeper several weeks earlier. Griffin Park was packed with 34,986 spectators and after making the early running it was the home side who took a 20th minute lead through Dave McCulloch. Dai Hopkins doubled the lead on the hour mark but after Jimmy Argue reduced the arrears in the 85th minute, Brentford had to endure an uncomfortable last few minutes before clinching a victory in a game that marked the final appearance for Chelsea of John Hutcheson. The defeat put Chelsea in 20th place but by the end of the season they had rallied to finish 8th, whereas Brentford achieved a remarkable 5th, one place above Arsenal.

Brentford claimed the bragging rights the following season then they finished 6th, seven places above Chelsea with either side winning the respective home games against each other.

The 1937-38 season saw probably the most interesting of all the league encounters between the two teams. Both had begun their respective campaigns in great form and when they met at Stamford Bridge on 23rd October 1937, Brentford stood top of the table with Chelsea occupying 2nd place, so it was no surprise that 56,810 spectators attended the game. Joe Bambrick gave Chelsea a 7th minute lead but Leslie Smith soon drew Brentford level. On the half hour mark James Argue restored Chelsea’s lead and despite late pressure from the visitors they held on to record a victory that put them top of the league. By the time the two teams met at Griffin Park on 9th March 1938, Chelsea’s season had taken a distinct turn for the worse and they had plummeted down to the bottom half of the table. Brentford, on the other hand were still challenging for the leadership, just three points off top spot. A gate of 20,401 was at Griffin Park and a feisty encounter saw Dai Hopkins put the home side ahead in the 35th minute. The cheers of the home supporters had only just died down when Dick Foss equalised five minutes later. Brentford had a glorious opportunity to win the game in the 85th minute when they were awarded a penalty, but Duncan McKenzie’s spot kick was saved by Vic Woodley in the Chelsea goal. Brentford’s challenge at the top did eventually fade, but they still finished in a creditable 6th place. Chelsea, in keeping with tradition ended up in mid table to mark another disappointing campaign.

During the first season after World War 2 nothing much had changed at Chelsea other than the squad. Large sums had been paid to bring new talent, especially the £11,500 that secured the services of Tommy Lawton from Everton. As had happened in the past it didn’t make much of a difference, the side struggling to make an impact. Brentford, on the other hand, were not the same team that had performed so well in Division 1 before the war, although when the two teams met at Stamford Bridge on 9th November 1946 they were level on points after thirteen games. 50,242 spectators were at the match and it was Chelsea who took the lead on 37 minutes through Tommy Lawton. Brentford battled hard and their efforts were rewarded just after the hour when Dai Hopkins levelled the score. With 12 minutes left, Tommy Walker restored Chelsea’s lead and seconds later James Bain seemed to have ensured a home victory when he added a third. In the dying moments Dai Hopkins scored his second goal of the game but Chelsea won 3-2. When the teams met again at Griffin Park on 15th March 1947, Brentford had fallen into the relegation zone with only Leeds United (Dirty) keeping them off the bottom. With 33,244 in attendance Chelsea strolled to a comfortable 2-0 win thanks to goals by John Paton after 30 minutes and Alex Machin on 67 minutes. At the end of the campaign Brentford lost their place at the top table along with Leeds United (Dirty), Chelsea limping to a disappointing 15th place.

A number of F.A. Cup meetings have taken place between Chelsea and Brentford, the first of these occurring during the 1949-50 season. Brentford were having an average season in Division 2 but drawn at home there was always a chance of them pulling off a shock, especially given how erratic the Chelsea side was. An excellent gate of 38,000 was at Griffin Park on 7th January 1950 and a tight encounter was settled in Chelsea’s favour thanks to a solitary James Bowie goal after 17 minutes. It was the start of a cup run that took Chelsea to a semi-final against Arsenal that they lost after a replay at White Hart Lane, and this after leading 2-0 in the first game.

Reproduced with permission from Paul Waterhouse, Bygone Chelsea 1905-99

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Nick Stroudley

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