BIAS grew originally from fans’ dismay at the damage wrought on the club during the last season of David Webb’s reign. A group of concerned supporters rallied opposition to Webb; calling themselves the Brentford Independent Association of Supporters, or BIAS for short. A mailing list was established, with membership paid for in stamps. Before too long though the ‘W£bb Out’ campaign was successful, with the chairman leaving the club in the summer of 1998.
Following Webb’s departure some Bees fans started debating the need for an independent fans organisation in the future. Four supporters, John McGlashan, Edmund Paton-Walsh, Russell Owen, and David Merritt took forward the idea of a relaunched BIAS; less a single-issue group than the original anti-Webb incarnation, but completely independent of the club.
In some ways it was ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ with the arrival of Ron Noades at BFC. Although on-field performances improved as money suddenly became available, and encouraging talk was made of working with Hounslow Council to develop a new ground, it was clear that close scrutiny would be needed.
This need for scrutiny gave rise to the Stadium Action Group, which has continued to investigate move made by the club towards a new ground, whilst researching the possibilities independently. We have handed out questionnaires to Brentford fans, spoken to supporters of other clubs about their experiences, and even taken a poll of local residents in Feltham, when moves towards developing the Arenas site were floated.
2001 would be a busy year for BIAS, with Noades’ proposal to sell Griffin Park and ground share at Woking casting a shadow over the whole club. In hindsight this event probably did more to rouse ‘ordinary’ Brentford fans into action than any since 1967. BIAS helped organise the ‘No to Woking’ campaign – raising funds, rallying support from around the world of football, organising a picket of the friendly at Woking, and even preparing a submission for the Football League, who would rule on Noades’ plans.
BIAS committee members were amongst the fans representatives that went to lobby League officials face-to-face. Fortunately all our work paid off, and Noades abandoned his plans following the League’s ruling that the club should not be allowed to move.
Around the same time BIAS committee members were taking action on an idea the seeds of which dated back to the original relaunch in ’98 – the creation of a Supporters’ Trust. Although still a relatively new concept, and at other clubs usually the response to a huge crisis, BIAS had recognised that post-Webb it would be important, above all else, for Brentford fans to start to take control of the direction the club was going in.
An initial public meeting was held in March, and with the response to the idea being favourable the fans behind the original idea worked with government advisory body Supporters Direct, and put together a constitution and prospectus for what would become Bees United. An official launch then came in April 2001, at Hounslow Civic Centre.
The seeds of another momentous occasion in the same venue were also sowed in 2001, as, frustrated by the experience of discussing possible stadium venues with the council, then BIAS chairman Paul Stedman floated the idea of standing candidates in the following year’s local elections.
What would become the A-Bee-C Party was born, and six short (and frantic!) months later we were back in the Civic Centre to witness Luke Kirton’s historic election victory in May 2002. Never before had a candidate standing on behalf of their local football club ever actually won a seat. It said an awful lot for the high regard the club is held in locally, and the tremendous efforts of its fans, that we should be the first to do so.
Luke’s election enabled BIAS to knock a few heads together when it looked like the club’s Planning Application on Griffin Park might not be approved. Although firm in our desire to see any permission for residential redevelopment couched in terms which would tie the club to the local area, we had always been aware of the financial importance to the club of increasing the value of Griffin Park as the club’s major asset.
We had submitted evidence supporting the club’s (unsuccessful) appeal against the council’s Unitary Development Plan designation of the ground as Public Open Space, and once the application was submitted in December 2001 we engaged in consultation with the Borough Planners, and attended planning meetings. Luke was able to arrange meetings, and liaise with local residents in order to resolve concerns that arose.
Another overlapping thread was the identification of Lionel Road as the preferred site for a new stadium. With Bees United now taking the lead on the stadium issue, aided by the Stadium Action Group and following several months of private investigation, the club were able to publicly unveil proposals for the site. This time the reception within local government was much more responsive, and Hounslow Council continue to play an active role in taking these plans forward.
Despite the League’s dismissal of the Woking proposal Noades remained undeterred, and during the 2002-2003 season another ground share, this time at Kingstonian, was floated. Our experience of the Woking saga left us better able to put the arguments against leaving our traditional home, and Bees United were able to suggest ways of breaking even at griffin Park, the impossibility of which was Noades’ stated reason for the relocation. Although a nasty reminder of the perilous position new were in, there was always a feeling that Noades’ taste for the fight was waning, and in the face of our arguments Kingstonian quietly slipped off the agenda.
Of course, while all this was happening the ITV Digital collapse had pulled the financial rug out from under most lower-division clubs, already financially weakened by years of relentless wage inflation. If Brentford were to survive to play in a new stadium at Lionel Road, then in the short-term fund-raising was needed to keep the ship afloat.
Conscious of the difficulty in attracting such donations, BIAS have always tried to inject some fun into the business of fund-raising, and the tone was set with the first Walk to Wycombe in December 2001. There is a long and fine tradition amongst Bees fans of coming up with novel ways of getting to away games, and hiking the 26 or so miles from Griffin Park to Adams Park drummed up a lot of much-needed sponsorship. From bucket collections to bike rides we still campaign to raise the funds needed to support the club in these difficult times, and we’re always open to suggestions!
Of course the ultimate achievement will be to have ridden out this tough period for English football, and emerge stronger on the other side. Who knows, maybe this will even be as a supporter-owned club, playing at a new state of the art stadium at Lionel Road! If it is, then we’d like to think that BIAS will have played no small part in planting the seeds of such success.