Thanks to two goals from Les Smith, whose car broke down on its way to the final, Brentford won the 1942 London War Cup.
By Richard Foster for The Mine of Football
No sooner had Brentford defeated Newcastle United in the quarterfinals of the League Cup than it was all about the club’s first appearance in its 131-year history in a big semifinal. While the trophy cabinet of the Bees is not exactly bursting at the seams, 80 years ago, the club recorded one cup success, including a semifinal win over Tottenham, the club they face this week in the League Cup semifinals.
Brentford was admitted to the Football League in 1920 after spending the early years in the Non-League.
Former referee and Gillingham manager Harry Curtis began his 23-year career at Griffin Park in 1926 as manager and presided over the most prosperous era in the history of the club.
Brentford won all 21 of their home league games in 1929-30, but their poor away record let the club down and the title was won by Plymouth Argyle.
In order to win promotion to the Second Division, Brentford had to wait until 1933. In 1935, for the first time in their history, they ultimately reached the top division. Just when Brentford eventually gained promotion, despite finishing last in the First Division, Tottenham went in the opposite direction and were relegated.
Brentford proved that it deserved its elevated status, finishing fifth as the highest-placed London club in its first season in the First Division, ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea. They finished sixth in the following two seasons and were the only club, apart from Arsenal, to finish in the top six in all three seasons.
While they fell to 18th out of 22 in the 1938-39 season, when World War II interfered, the Bees had just begun their fifth consecutive season in the First Division. As a result, the leagues were reorganized into regional competitions and, including the London War Cup in 1941, numerous cup competitions were established.
The Bees faced Tottenham in the semifinals of the inaugural London War Cup in 1941, who had not been promoted back to the First Division in the five seasons following their relegation in 1935.
They defeated Tottenham 2-0 in a precedent set to give Brentford fans some confidence. Brentford’s rivals in the final at Stamford Bridge were a distinctly non-London club through a mixture of administrative conflicts and wartime expediency.
Reading was included in the competition because the capital did not have enough clubs to create two groups of six.
As it happened, in the final, Reading, of all clubs, won 3-2 to win the inaugural London War Cup.
Brentford managed to reach the second London War Cup final the next season, beating Arsenal in the semifinals – thanks largely to a player from Chelsea.
Clubs were permitted to use “guest players” from other clubs during the war to compensate for calling up their own players for national service.
One such player who played a significant role for Brentford in the semi-finals was Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Scottish international John Jackson. After the first match had ended in a draw, he saved a Cliff Bastin penalty and maintained Brentford’s 2-1 lead in the replay.
In Portsmouth, in the final, Brentford challenged another club not from London. In front of almost 70,000 fans, the final was played at Wembley Stadium, by far the biggest audience for any club during the war up to that point.
Brentford seemed eager to make amends for the previous year, but pre-match plans were interrupted by a notable absentee.
One of their core players was absent as the players prepared to take to the field.
Leslie Smith, who made his debut against Romania in May 1939 for England, was nowhere to be seen as kickoff approached.
Smith was stationed at RAF Hornchurch at the time, where he had befriended reigning British heavyweight boxing champion Len Harvey.
The two had taken it upon themselves to make their own way to the stadium, as he explained in an interview with Dave Lane of the Beesotted Fanzine. Len and I wanted to go by car, but we were in a tight spot when it broke down a couple of miles from Wembley because it was just a short time before kickoff.
So we called and explained the situation to the local police station. They sent a police car and took us past the traffic to Wembley with sirens wailing. I ran into the dressing room when we arrived…