Barnes sent us packing, the air went out of my inflatable Bee

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It started in Cairo, 1989. I couldn't find an English paper, but a French magazine told me Brentford had beaten Walsall 1-0 in an FA Cup third- round replay. The last 32. Wow. When? Today. Wow. Who against? I found the previous week's Sunday Express and looked up the pools fixtures - Manchester City at home.

The time difference meant that I could make it. I borrowed the money and brought a ticket with No-beer Air, or something like that. I arrived at Heathrow as sober as a pilgrim, got a cab to the ground and tried to beg my way into the sell-out. The gateman wouldn't have any of it.

The Manchester City fans who had gathered around me piped up: "We've only come from Manchester, this lad's come from Egypt." But I had to see the game. Eventually I found the weak link, jumped over a wall into a toilet and witnessed a surreal 3-1 triumph. Amazing. The last 16.

Somehow, three weeks later, I was running and screaming down the icy roads of Madison, Wisconsin, after reading in USA Today of a 2-0 victory at Blackburn. The last eight, Liverpool at Anfield. Goodbye America and hitch-hiking down to South America, I had to get a ticket for this one.

What a day, for 80 minutes Andy Sinton ran the show for us, but some magic from John Barnes sent us packing and the air went out of my inflatable Bee.

Since then, Second. Division champions, immediate relegation, no cup runs and skint.

That was seven years ago and I thought that was my lot, but it's all beginning to happen again. We've had a bad season, pre-season favourites for promotion and presently 22nd in the table. If you lose in the first round of the cup then it's all over for eight months. Farnborough at home, 1-1 draw and the faith rolls away a little. But the replay is live on Sky and, from pub-comfort, I enjoy a delightful 4-0 walkover, the first away win of the season and some more winter weeks of fantasy.

Next round, Bournemouth away, 10 men for an hour, a heroic 1-0 win and we're in the draw with the real clubs, the ones my mates support. Short straw, another away tie, but this time at Norwich, the team that beat Bayern Munich recently, but who had since lost their way a little. After five minutes at Carrow Road, I knew we had a chance. Norwich won a corner and nobody wanted to take it, we were playing a demoralised team.

Joy of all joys, we win 2-1 and we were better than them. Then comes the draw again and yet another bad tie, Charlton away. Down comes the big freeze and we're in the draw for the fifth round. Liverpool again. Anfield again.

Of course, it all depends, but suddenly, my whole life lifts off and I can deal with the nightmare of the previous season. We had been up there all year, losing out only to money-bags Birmingham after a last, frenetic Saturday. Bad timing, Bees. The runner-up had to enter the play-offs, no automatic promotion this year. Not even a day out at Wembley, beaten on penalties at Griffin Park.

Then, for the first time, I realised that we would never be one of the big boys, we would never win the European Cup. That was a difficult one to accept, I always thought that it was only a matter of time. However, we do retain style, as can be shown by the presence in our team of Dean Martin and Paul Smith. We've also got Nick Forster and Rob Taylor back after injury, a strike force that bears comparison with the 1975 double act of Andy McCulloch and Steve Phillips, names that we still love and remember.

Strange, but I've just remembered a conversation that I had with a shaman friend a few years ago, 1989 to be exact. I was told that Brentford's ground, Griffin Park had been built on a ley-line, the Griffin being a fabulous creature with wings and the body of a lion. There were forces beneath that place, he said, and one day these powers would emerge. He could be right.

I blink into my fantasy, the destiny that only the Griffins know: the last four. Neutral venue. Brentford v Wimbledon. The lowest ever crowd for a semi-final. A spectacular own goal by Vinnie Jones. Last minute penalty for Wimbledon. Brentford old boy, once revered, Dean Holdsworth steps up. Blazes it over the bar. Ha ha. All ley-lines lead to Wembley. Ha ha.