Sunday, 28 December 2008

A merry ding-dong on high?

First published in The Grecian, 28 December 2008, Exeter City -v- Brentford

Along with the match against Rochdale at St James’ Park on eight days ago, today’s challenging tussle with Brentford is one of two home games either side of Christmas that have given the Grecians a crucial opportunity to steal a march on a couple of sides who remain among their key promotion rivals.

Promotion rivals. How does that sound, eh? A year ago, Exeter City FC was still rueing a missed opportunity to clinch a Football League place at Wembley back in May ’07, and quite a few of our fans secretly wondered whether we had what it would take to mount a serious challenge again so soon.

Wrong. After bouncing back and triumphing through grit and sheer inspiration in the 2008 play offs, here we are in the top half of League Two with a serious chance of a crack at the next step up. The path so far has not been without its pitfalls and with one or two missed chances bagged and errors avoided City could perhaps be in an even better position than we are. But this Sunday there is a chance to build on a hugely positive start and put some frustrations behind us with a strong and victorious showing.

Brentford, of course, will have similar ideas. They’re a side with a good deal of experience and determination. So even though the Christmas and Boxing Day celebrations are behind us, we should still be in for a real Festive ding-dong. Whether it will take us ‘on high’ or not depends upon Exeter’s determined capabilities and perhaps that little bit of luck which so often makes all the difference in football.

This is one of those matches I would have loved to be present for, but which I am going to miss out on as a live experience because of a regular commitment to be with friends in the Big Smoke at this time of year. In fact I will be on the trail with Leyton Orient, who the Grecians would like to face in League One next term, because they are the favoured team of my host, East End vicar Kevin Scully.

The particular heart connection with this match against Brentford is that the Bees were the first football team I ever saw live, playing at Griffin Park against Notts County during the cold winter of 1967. My companions that day were my late grandfather, Stanley R. Barrow, who introduced me to the game that became one of the loves of my life, and a school mate called Guy Pilkington – who I haven’t heard of since, but in the age of Facebook and Friends Reunited you never quite know…

The Brentford manager back then was the legendary Scottish coach Jimmy Sirrel, who ironically went on to make a name for himself with the black and whites in Nottingham. Very much a football traditionalist, Jimmy passed away recently and his time at the Bees didn’t feature large in the obituaries. But I’m pleased to say that I was there to witness it.

Not, you understand, that I have split loyalties. Yes, I still keep a look out for Brentford’s results, along with a number of other sides for personal reasons (it won’t surprise you that this includes my namesakes AFC Barrow in the Blue Square Premier!), but I have now been following the Grecians for five seasons since coming down to Devon, which means that the red, white and black colours have a distinct “ooh – aah” attached to them for me these days.

Incidentally, the ‘return leg’ of this match against Brentford will be in London on 11 April and I aim to be there. For those who like to make a note of things, there are four pubs at each corner of Griffin Park, which makes pre- and post-match deliberations relatively easy to plan. This afternoon the Grecians need to keep a steady nerve and reserve their celebrations for the pitch, however.

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