The History of Brentford F.C.

By Vince Cooper

Part One 1889-1914

AFTER 74 years out of the top flight, Brentford  made it back to the big time in 2021 and their form since gives every indication that they might be sticking around. But how, and where, did it all start? Here’s the first part of our history of the club.

In 1889 the Brentford Council (or ‘Local Board as it was called in those days) opened a new recreation ground in the town and it was resolved that a club should be formed to use the ground.

Later that year a meeting was held of the local rowing club at the Oxford and Cambridge Public House close to Kew Bridge and it was decided to start a new football team in order to enjoy sport in the winter and to use the new land. The next decision was; Rugby or Association? Just under a week later a vote was held and the round ball game won the day by eight votes to five.

The colours were to be the same as the rowing club – salmon, claret and light blue, although the salmon was later dropped.

Although discussions to use the new facilities broke down, the football club was formed anyway, initially using a pitch next to the Wesleyan Chapel on what is now Clifden Road. They played their first game there on 11 November 1889 against A Kew 11, resulting in a 1-1 draw. As a portent to the future, the team used the Griffin pub for their changing facilities.

Early supporters came along from Borough Road College to watch one of their fellow students, Joe Gettins, play. It was their cries of ‘Buck up Bs’ that became interpreted as ‘Buck up Bees’ and gave the club the nickname which remains to this day.

In 1892-93 the team moved out of Brentford to a new home location with matches now played at Bens Field, Little Ealing and also changed their colours to yellow, black and blue. But the fans didn’t follow the club out of town. So, with attendances dropping, they moved back and found a new home at Shooters Field.

Before the turn of the century Brentford were already proving successful with wins in Middlesex Junior and Senior Cups and the London Senior Cup beating Ilford in the 1898 final of the latter competition 5-1 after wins against Stanley, Clapton and Casuals in earlier rounds.

In the 1898 Middlesex Senior Cup it was military wins all the way. Brentford overcame the 1st Scots Guards, 2nd Grenadier Guards and 3rd Grenadier Guards to make the final where they beat the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards 3-2 after extra time. It took 121 years for the team to win the cup for the second time when, in 2019, the club’s ‘B’ team beat Harrow Borough 4-0 in the final

On the league front Brentford were elected into the 2nd Division of the London League for 1896-97 and opened their campaign in fine style, beating Fulham 6-1 with the prolific Oakey Field, who scored at least 14 goals that season (in many matches the goalscorers are unknown) grabbing a hat-trick.

That first season finished with the club in the runners-up spot a point behind champions Bromley and both were promoted to the 1st Division.

1897-98 was even more successful. To go alongside the Middlesex and London Senior cup wins The Bees finished runners-up in the London League 1st Division just a point behind Thames Ironworks (who later became West Ham United) and must have considered themselves very unlucky not to take the title.

The cup success led to a huge fixture backlog causing nine matches to be played in April including two London League encounters on the same day. One of these, against Leyton who they had beaten 8-4 earlier in the season, was lost 2-1 and that result cost them the title. They still went into their final match with a chance but a goalless draw with Barking Woodville scuppered a no-doubt tired team’s hopes.

Oakey Field in Sheffield United colours

Oakey Field again proved the goalscoring king, grabbing 26 across all competitions, including six in that win over Leyton. The Hanwell-born Field left in 1898 to join Sheffield United (who he would go on to play for in the 1901 FA Cup final) then later moving to Small Heath before returning to Brentford and finish his career at the club.

Field wasn’t the only prominent player in the team to move on to the Football League. Goalkeeper Harry Pennington would later play for Notts County for a number of years whilst Scottish half-back and Bees skipper Arthur Charlton, described as the club’s ‘first great player’, went on to join Nottingham Forest.

Arthur Charlton. The first Brentford ‘star’

Charlton returned to live in the Brentford area after his time in Nottingham and would go on to become Chairman and Managing Director of the Brentford Soap Company, head of the local Chamber of Commerce and, later in life, Mayor of Brentford & Chiswick.

The successful 1897-98 season led to larger attendances and the landlord at Shooters Field decided to increase the rent. Rather than pay the new amount the team amalgamated with another local side, Brentford Celtic, and moved to Cross Road in South Ealing.

The runners-up position in the London League saw The Bees promoted to the Southern League for the 1898-99 season where they competed in the 2nd Division (London). 

Although they found the going in the new competition a fair bit tougher The Bees still managed to finish 4th in the 12-team league 14 points behind champions Thames Ironworks.

Meanwhile there was trouble brewing off the pitch. The club, nominally amateurs, was found to be paying some players more than just their travelling expenses and, after sanctions by the Middlesex FA including a £10 fine and a one-month suspension for the club as well as longer bans for certain individuals, they made the decision to turn professional during the 1899-1900 season.

Brentford made a decent start to the turn-of-the-century campaign but matters weren’t helped when two of their regular players – soldiers John Bayne and George Turner, were sent to fight in the Boer War.

When they returned to action after the suspension the team suffered a 13-match losing streak and, with debts mounting, it was seriously doubted if the club could continue. But donations from fans helped them to survive and the signings of Ralph McElhaney from East Stirling and goalkeeper Billy Green from Gravesend United among others helped push them up to a final league position of 9th (of 11).

Boston Manor

The 1899-1900 season had seen a return to playing in Brentford with the club using Boston Cricket Club’s ground in York Road (later to become part of the Boston Manor Playing Fields). The club also gave William Lewis, formerly a member of the selection committee, a bigger role as Secretary although the team was still chosen by the committee. As they were also competing in the London League to generate more revenue, the Bees added to the playing staff.

Roddy McLeod in his West Brom days

The captures of experienced Scottish forward Peter Turnbull from Queen’s Park Rangers and fellow Scot Roddy McLeod, a former FA Cup winner with West Brom, from Southampton proved particularly astute with the pair finding the net 28 times between them.

Fired by these goals, and another 11 from Ralph McElhaney, The Bees took the Southern League 2nd Division by storm going through the season unbeaten and winning the title by four points from Grays United.

This gave Brentford a ‘promotion test match’ against Swindon Town where they recorded a goalless draw. Both teams were in the top flight in the next season after Bristol City moved up to the Football League.

The Bees found the going much tougher in the 1st Division in 1901-02 and, despite a large number of new signings, finished the season second from bottom avoiding relegation only because after a 1-1 ‘test match’ draw with Grays United, the Essex club turned down their promotion chance.

Tommy Shanks

Irishman Tommy Shanks took over as the team’s main goalgetter. Shanks would eventually move to Woolwich Arsenal after impressing in an FA Cup match between the teams. At Woolwich he scored 24 times in 30 matches, helping them to promotion to the Football League 1st Division and winning three caps for his country.

That cup match was Brentford’s first time reaching the intermediate round. They saw off Oxford City, Southall and Shepherd’s Bush (in a second replay) to get through to face the South East Londoners. After Shanks’s strike helped them draw the first match they lost 5-0 in the return.

Woolwich sold Shanks back to Brentford in 1904 and he later moved to Leicester Fosse where he also helped the team to promotion.

There is mystery in Tommy Shanks’ later life. In the 1920s he was running a pub in Brightlingsea, Essex with his wife Florence when he walked out on her – and was never seen again. The family tried to contact him via newspaper adverts but nobody knows what became of him.

The 1902-03 campaign saw yet more comings and goings on the playing staff and it proved to be something of a disaster on the pitch with The Bees finishing bottom of the 1st Division having won just five points.

This forced another ‘test match’ to determine who would compete in the following season’s top flight, this time against 2nd Division champs Fulham.

Playing at Shepherd’s Bush FC’s ground at Uxbridge Road, Brentford went a goal down after just three minutes but hit back to lead 4-1 at half-time, eventually running out 7-2 victors with Irishman Joe Connor scoring four times.

Joe Connor

Connor, having moved to Brentford as part of the deal that saw Shanks go to Woolwich Arsenal, played for Ireland in that season’s home internationals, scoring in the 2-0 over Scotland at Celtic Park.

But by the 1903-04 campaign Connor had moved on, joining New Brompton (the team that later became Gillingham) as The Bees continued with their huge turnover of players.

But big changes were afoot. In the summer of 1903 the club appointed their first Manager.

Dick Molyneux

Dick Molyneux had been in charge at Everton where he led the club to the brink of greatness, and also took them across Stanley Park from their original home, Anfield to Goodison Park. But, amid stories of drunkenness he left the club in 1901.

Molyneux brought in more or less a whole new team including a number of Scotsman, with one of them, Tommy Davidson who came from Newcastle United, made captain. He also signed John Jay from Bristol City who would go on to make more Southern League appearances for the team than any other player.

The season started well. The Bees were near the top of the table after five matches and came through early FA Cup qualifying rounds again, this time overcoming Uxbridge, Oxford City and Wycombe Wanderers to reach the Intermediate Round.

They were beaten there by Plymouth Argyle after a replay and fell away in the league to finish 13th of 18. But it was events off the pitch that made the headlines.

In early 1904 with the club needing a goalkeeper Molyneux brought in former triallist John Bishop and paid him to play.

Bishop was a serving soldier with the Scots Guards and therefore an amateur. When he returned late to his barracks after his third match with The Bees he confessed that he had been playing for the club and had been paid. The FA found out what had happened they suspended Director Bill Dodge for two years and Manager Molyneux for the remainder of the season as well as fining the club £25.

William Lewis took temporary charge of the team and they took just one point from his five games at the helm.

The new home

Meanwhile Molyneux and the club had been busy looking for a new home and in the summer of 1904 they took possession of an orchard leased from local brewers Fuller, Smith and Turner.

The lease, for a peppercorn rent, had been negotiated and agreed during 1903 by Molyneux, Estate Agent (and Fulham chairman) Henry Norris and club president Edwin Underwood and it included an option to buy the freehold.

Before they could start work the club had to move the inhabitants of a gypsy camp and then cut down the orchard which was done by local volunteers who were allowed to keep the wood.

Building work started immediately with an 800-capacity stand moved from York Road and the new ground said to be able to hold around 20,000 with the potential to increase to 30,000-40,000.

The name Griffin Park, came from a local pub, The Griffin owned by The Griffin Brewery (Fullers) whose emblem was the bird.

The first match at the new ground was a Western League game against Plymouth Argyle on 1 September 1904. Plymouth took the lead through Fred Buck but, fittingly, it was former hero Tommy Shanks, now back at the club, who scored Brentford’s first goal at their new home four minutes from time to earn a 1-1 draw.

Two days later the new Southern League season started with a home match against West Ham United. Over 7,000 were present at the new ground which ‘The People’ newspaper reported as; ‘A much better enclosure than the old one’ and ‘A model of what industry and energy can do.’

The game itself petered out after an exciting opening period and finished goalless although Brentford had the best chances with most falling to Shanks.

The Bees had to wait until 22 October for their first win at the new ground when they overcame Millwall 2-0 with Fred Hobson getting both goals.

The season was one of consolidation rather than improvement on the pitch, Brentford finishing one place lower than the previous campaign in 14th and again suffering an FA Cup exit at the intermediate stage, this time to Reading.

By this time the team’s kit had changed to the blue and gold of their patron Lord Rothschild and they would stick with variations of these colours until changing to white shirts in 1920 and then to the red and white stripes they still wear today in 1925.


Yet another lower mid-table position followed in 1905-06 although the 1st Round of the FA Cup was reached for the first time and they then went even further.

After a 4th qualifying round win over Wycombe Wanderers, The Bees were drawn at home against a Bristol City team that would go on to finish champions in the 2nd Division of the Football League.

A crowd of 10,000 was at Griffin Park and after skipper George Parsonage won the toss Brentford went straight on the attack. But City, who had been unbeaten for four months heading into the clash, held firm, worked their way into the game and opened the scoring through much-travelled forward Willie Maxwell.

The Bees fought back and were the better team in the second half; after hitting the bar, Former City player Fred Corbett equalised with 20 minutes left then had a ‘goal’ disallowed for offside with the crowd showing their dissatisfaction by ‘booing and yelling at the referee.’ 

But Corbett made amends when grabbing a late winner (although some reports give the goal to Shanks) which was ‘greeted with tremendous applause’ according to The People newspaper.

The win set up a clash with another 2nd Division side with Lincoln City visiting Griffin Park.

It proved much more straight-forward than the 1st Round clash as goals from Parsonage, Tosher Underwood and Corbett again saw The Bees home 3-0.

The 1905-06 team with Fred Corbett bottom row far left

Corbett was reputedly one of the first black footballers to play in the Football League and was Brentford’s first black player, the next being Chris Kamara in 1981. There is some doubt as to Corbett’s skin colour and the main evidence are a number of photographs of the time which are inconclusive.

West Ham United 1901-02 with Fred Corbett front and centre

Born in Mile End in 1881 he was a shipbuilder by trade and started his football career whilst working in the shipyards with Thames Ironworks and West Ham United before joining Bristol Rovers, then moving to Bristol City and back to Rovers before joining Brentford at the start of the 1905-06 season.

He finished his first season as top scorer with 15 goals and went on to spend four years at Griffin Park making almost 100 appearances before rejoining Bristol Rovers then moving to Worcester City, New Brompton, Tranmere Rovers and Croydon Common.

Fred married Kate Taylor during his time in Bristol and the pair, along with their two daughters, moved back to Brentford when his playing days came to an end. When he passed away aged just 43 in 1924 from kidney disease, Corbett’s occupation was given as a ‘rubber tyre maker (journeyman)’.

The last-16 FA Cup draw saw Brentford sent to Anfield to face Liverpool. They put up a brave fight but fell to a 2-0 to the eventual League champions in front of 18,000 fans.

The other major happening during the season was when illness got the better of Dick Molyneux. The boss was forced to stand down after suffering what was described as ‘paralysis’ in January 1906 and was replaced temporarily by trainer Bob Crone for a month before William Brown took over as Secretary/Manager.

Molyneux’s contract was terminated in the summer and he passed away in June 1906 aged 48.

Fred Pentland

The early part of the 1906-07 season was dominated by Tommy Shanks going on strike to force a move away from the club who eventually sold him to Leicester Fosse for £250. His replacement was Fred Pentland signed from Blackburn Rovers.

Another good cup run was the biggest factor of the season in which the club again occupied a mid-table league position.

This time the opening round of the cup brought 2nd Division Glossop to Griffin Park and a crowd of 12,000 saw Tommy Callaghan put the visitors in front. But that man Corbett equalised for the home team before half-time and in the second period it was Brentford on top with Pentland converting a late penalty to send them through.

The draw for the 2nd Round gave Brentford another home tie, this time against 1st Division Middlesbrough and a whopping 22,000 crowd packed Griffin Park for the tie.

During the first half, a barrier at the north end of the ground collapsed forcing hundreds of spectators to spill forward but they quickly returned to their places and play went on with the Bees defence and veteran goalkeeper Charlie Williams playing superbly to hold a Boro’ attack led by Steve Bloomer and Alf Common, who were among six internationals in their line-up, at bay and the teams remained scoreless at the interval.

The second period again saw fans encroach onto the pitch after another barrier fell down. Brentford were again defending stoutly and when they were awarded a free kick, winger Pentland raced away and set up Scotsman Patrick Hagan – later to lose his life aged just 36 during WW1’s Battle of the Somme – to score the decisive goal with, according to a newspaper report; ‘the utmost sangfroid.’

Middlesbrough attacked with gusto in the closing stages but the home defence held firm and in fact, could have doubled their lead when George Parsonage hit the bar late on. But it finished 1-0 sending Brentford through to the last-16 for a second successive year.

Reynolds’s News said of the match’s aftermath; “Never since the formation of the Brentford club has such enthusiasm been exhibited as when the players left the field,” with winning goalscorer Hagan carried shoulder-high back to the dressing room.

And so to the 3rd Round with The Bees being drawn to visit fellow Southern Leaguers Crystal Palace.

The trip to the home of the final in Sydenham attracted a crowd of 35,000 and they saw Brentford, who had amateur Neve Grice in their line-up in place of the injured Fred Pentland, emerge with credit, fighting back for a draw after going a goal behind.

Dick Harker gave Palace the lead after 20 minutes with a snap shot which caught out the initially unsighted Williams in the Brentford goal but Patrick Hagan equalised five minutes before the interval with a 25-yard effort described as; ‘a beauty.’

The second period was hard-fought and even with Brentford comfortably holding their own and no doubt returning to Griffin Park confident having already beaten Palace 2-0 there in a Southern League encounter earlier in the season.

George Parsonage. A ‘ripping player’

Skipper George Parsonage came in for special praise from Daily Mirror reporter F. B. Wilson. “What a ripping player that Parsonage is!” He wrote,: “Cool, calm and always in the right place to half an inch.

“He was the best player on the field and that’s saying something.”

Parsonage was later called up for an England trial match and spent some time as player-manager at Griffin Park before moving on to Football League neighbours Fulham.

In 1909 Fulham agreed to sell him to Chesterfield but, not fancying a move to Derbyshire he demanded a £50 signing-on fee (official rules stated that it should be £10). The Spireites reported him and he was banned ‘sine die’ (for life) by the League. Despite a petition reputedly signed by thousands of fans the ban was kept in place and Parsonage eventually joined Oldham Athletic of the Lancashire Combination.

The replay against Palace took place at Griffin Park four days after the first match in front of 24,000 fans who paid £695 to attend and with the teams knowing that the winners would host holders Everton in the quarter-final.

Like the first encounter the match was evenly balanced and an incident early in the second half when Brentford’s Archie Taylor caught Charlie Wallace on the jaw with a shoulder charge left both teams with 10 men. Wallace went off with a broken jaw whilst Taylor was ordered off by the referee, a rarity in those days.

The Bees defence held out and there were just two minutes remaining when Dick Roberts broke the deadlock and sent Palace through to the last eight.

The team at that time featured two men who would go on to become managers and travel the football world.

Fred Pentland finished a 15-year playing career with five England caps and soon after retiring took up a position coaching the German Olympic team in 1914.

When the Great War broke out Pentland was still in Germany and was sent to the Ruhleben Detention Camp where he stayed for the duration of hostilities, taking part in football matches featuring fellow internationals and detainees Steve Bloomer, Sam Wolstenholme and John Cameron.

After the war he went to coach in France where he worked at Strasbourg and also with the French Olympic team at the 1920 Antwerp games where they were beaten in the semi-final by Czechoslovakia.

Later in 1920 Pentland moved to Spain, taking over at Racing Santander then going to Athletic Bilbao. He would end up having two spells with the Basque club as well as three with Atletico Madrid and one with Real Oviedo, spending a total of 15 years in Spain including a splendid spell at Bilbao between 1930 and 1933 where they won two La Liga titles and captured the Copa del Ray four times.

Fred Pentland honoured at a match between Athletic Bilbao and Chelsea in 1959.

The Wolverhampton-born Pentland returned to England at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and had a short spell managing Barrow before World War Two. He was so revered in Bilbao that he was honoured at a friendly match with Chelsea in 1959.He passed away in 1962 at the age of 78.

Charlie Williams

While Pentland stuck to Europe, goalkeeper Charlie Williams took his coaching talents farther afield.

Williams, born in Kent, played for Woolwich Arsenal, Manchester City, Spurs and Norwich City before moving to Griffin Park where he spent the final three years of his playing career.

Like Pentland, Williams took charge of an Olympic team early in his coaching career. In his case it was Denmark who he led to the Silver medal in the 1908 games in London.

He also worked with Danish club side B 93 and with Olympique Lillois in France before being offered a contract to take charge at Brazilian club Fluminense.

He became the first professional football coach in Brazil and led his team to the Championship of Rio in 1911. 

Williams returned to Brazil in the 1920s and coached Fluminense again, then America FC, Botafogo and Flamengo, winning Rio championships with the first two.

After retiring Williams settled in Brazil and was still there when he passed away in 1952 aged 78.

The 1907-08 season at Griffin Park saw Pentland allowed to move on to Queen’s Park Rangers and the team slip down to 16th place in a league which somewhat bizarrely for the Southern League, featured Bradford Park Avenue who finished 13th and were promoted to the Football League at the end of the campaign.

Financial problems were looming at Griffin Park and an FA Cup first round defeat at the hands of Lancashire Combination side Carlisle United hastened the departure of Secretary/Manager William Brown who resigned in January. George Parsonage took over in a caretaker role until the end of the season but in the summer he left for Fulham.

Fred Halliday was appointed as manager in the summer of 1908 taking over at the height of the club’s financial problems.

Adam Bowman. Sold to Leeds City to ease financial woes

Brentford were forced to sell the previous campaign’s top scorer, Adam Bowman to Leeds City (though he would return a year later before going back to his native Scotland) and Halliday had to build a new team after the majority of the first team refused to accept a pay cut and moved on.

‘Dusty’ Rhodes

Halliday signed Ephraim ‘Dusty’ Rhodes from Sunderland and appointed him as the new captain then after the season started he added Geordie Reid from Bradford Park Avenue who would finish top scorer with 18 goals in 24 games.

Despite Reids’s goals The Bees finished bottom of the Southern League 1st Division although they were spared relegation when it expanded from 21 to 22 teams. 

There was no lengthy cup run to help with the financial woes. After a win over Gainsborough Trinity in the 1st Round, The Bees were ousted by Nottingham Forest in the 2nd.

Some improvement came in the 1909-10 campaign with Brentford back in the their usual mid-table position and a 2nd Round cup exit at the hands of Accrington Stanley although perhaps the bigger news came off the pitch with the appointment of  H. Jason-Saunders as Chairman, a role he would occupy until 1922.

George Reid

For 1910-11, with little money to spend Halliday made few additions and they relied on the prolific Reid once again for their goals with the Scot scoring 21 in 35 matches and being chosen to represent the Southern League against both the Football League and the Scottish League.

The team relied on good form at Griffin Park to again finish in mid-table in the league with the first home defeat of the season coming in the FA Cup 1st Round match against Preston North End with the only goal scored from the penalty spot after just a few minutes play, Tommy Rodway putting the kick away for North End.

Brentford had a spot kick of their own in the second period but Dusty Rhodes shot straight at the keeper and the chance to draw level was spurned.

At the start of the 1911-12 season the club sold full-back Steve Buxton to Oldham Athletic and forward Geordie Reid to Clyde in order to pay off their debts whilst Willis Rippon was signed from Woolwich Arsenal and top-scored with 20 and Patsy Hendren returned to the club from Coventry City.

‘Patsy’ Hendren

Elias ‘Patsy’ Hendren was born in Turnham Green in 1889 and initially signed for Queen’s Park Rangers then played once for The Bees before moving on to Manchester City and Coventry for brief spells.

For Hendren – a left-winger and also a right-handed batsman – cricket came first and he played for the team only when his commitments with Middlesex allowed. He still managed 37 games that season and remained with The Bees for fifteen years making well over 400 appearances for the club.

When the First World War broke out Hendren joined the 1st Sportsman’s Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, was transferred to a munitions factory and then rejoined the Fusiliers.

He was back at Brentford once the war was over but still, the summer game was Hendren’s main sport. Indeed he would miss almost the whole of the 1920-21 season whilst touring Australia and playing in the Ashes.

’Patsy’ enjoying his first love

Hendren played in 51 matches for his country and was still playing test-match cricket at the age of 46 whilst he became a dual-international when picked for an unofficial victor match against Wales at Cardiff in 1919.

For Brentford the 1911-12 season continued their run of nondescript campaigns with a 14th-placed finish. The Bees came through two FA Cup qualifying rounds, ousting the First Battalion King’s Royal Rifles and Southend United before falling to old foes Crystal Palace in a replay at Sydenham.

The Bees made an awful start to the 1912-13 season losing 12 of their first 15 games which resulted in manager Halliday being replaced by Dusty Rhodes who took on the role while still playing. Results improved a little under Rhodes but not enough to avoid the dreaded drop with the club finishing second from bottom and relegated to the 2nd Division for the first time.

The following two seasons saw Brentford finish third, although seven points behind the top two and then dropping down to seventh in the final season before football at the highest level was suspended for the duration of the 1st World War.

When football returned Brentford would be back, and returning to the Southern League’s top flight.