George Sands

This feature is dedicated to a former journalist who wrote his last Brentford match report in 1976, but has never been forgotten. When the Club celebrates 200 years of Brentford, they will look back and name George Sands as the premier local journalist to have covered the club in its history.

He completed an incredible record of reporting on 1,126 consecutive Brentford First Team games for the Middlesex Chronicle from 1953 to his death in 1976, a feat that is unlikely to be surpassed. If it wasn’t for illness during Brentford’s Christmas fixtures with Oldham Athletic around Christmas 1953, that figure would have been nearly 1900.

George William Sands, son of Henry William Sands and Alice Sands (nee Brown) was born in Islington on May 18 1901. He had an elder brother Charles, and two younger sisters Alice and Katherine.

The 1911 census shows that the Sands family were living at 116 Grove Road in Hounslow, with Henry’s profession described as an Apron Maker. He was educated at Grove Road Elementary School (1909 to 1913) and Isleworth County Secondary School (1913 to 1920), where he passed a London University Matriculation with distinction in English, Mathematics, and Chemistry.

After leaving school, he signed up for the Corps of Military Accountants, and after military and technical training in Mill Hill in Christmas 1920, began his service on New Year’s Day 1921, and given army number 7733989. His headmaster, W.J. Kenwood, recommended him for the post, and in his letter to the army, described him as “thoroughly reliable, honest, and truthful in conduct.”

The recent digitisation of military records provides a glimpse into George’s early life, with a letter dated April 8 1921 remarking that he had “very good grasp of the principles of double entry bookkeeping” and recommended him for a pay rise.

Army records also show he was promoted to Writer Lance-Corporal in early 1922, and was posted to Egypt. He embarked from Southampton docks on February 24 1922 on the ship SS Glenforn Castle, his eventual destination Cairo.

George eventually qualified as a Military Accountant on July 28 1924, and was discharged on January 2 1926 after completing five years service. After military service, it was journalism where George would find his calling.

His escape from the army was due to the so-called Geddes Act, which reduced expenditure on armed forces in the 1920s, and George found work at The Egyptian Mail, based in Cairo. He approached the newspaper, and became their sports writer on racing and football.

After four years there, he left Cairo for London but spent four months unemployed, and slept in the Crypt at St Martin’s or Embankment because he was “too proud to go home and let my folks know I was out of work.”

In late 1929, he found work, not in London but Leeds with The Daily Chronicle, but again luck was against George, as the newspaper folded in January 1930. Another nine months of unemployment followed until he found work with the Parks Department at Heston and Isleworth Council.

He helped build Redlees Park, Spring Grove School grounds plus Alexandria School. Nine months later he was transferred to the Treasury Department at Hounslow Town Hall, presumably leaning on his accountancy skills developed in the army.

Brentford’s ascent to the top flight provided a need for Hounslow’s premier newspaper, The Middlesex Chronicle, to emulate the coverage provided by rivals Brentford and Chiswick Times, Middlesex County Times, and Middlesex Independent.

George began writing match reports for the Chronicle part-time in 1935 under his initials – G.W.S. – and reported throughout the Club’s pre-war matches in Division One. This would involve travelling up and down the country to report on Brentford, not least his favourite player, Jack Holliday.

In April 1937, he became Sports Editor of the Middlesex Chronicle, a position he held until his death. The Second World War broke out in September 1939, and with George too old to enlist, he continued to report on the Club’s matches, now contained to regionalised football.

Throughout the seven-year period of temporary competition, George missed only a handful of games in that time. His particular annoyance filing reports during war-time was being the victim of the censors, who would strike out any mention of the weather, despite the game being played up to seven days earlier.

It was at Christmas 1953 that George’s first incredible run of reporting on 723 consecutive Brentford matches came to an end, as he was hospitalised for the home and away games against Oldham Athletic.

Matchday programmes had taken a leap forward with Chelsea’s first post war season offering a magazine format, and Brentford were playing catch up. In 1952, he took over the editorship of the Brentford programme in addition to his job at The Middlesex Chronicle, replacing the staid notes of Secretary-Managers before him, which neither had the time or inclination to dedicate successfully to the role.

His pseudonym was ‘Scanner’, and he began the task of upgrading the programme into an informative journal, giving supporters news on Reserve Team and Junior fixtures, something that his paper did regularly.

This relationship with The Club was to end in May 1957 when Brentford’s Board of Directors would dismiss Bill Dodgin Senior after four years as manager, after finishing mid-table in the Southern Section of Division Three.

This incensed George, and he resigned his programme editorship, cut all official ties with the Club, and travelled separately from the players and officials at considerable inconvenience, although the latter was restored in time.

He also wrote a column despairing at the news, which although stern then, would be considered relatively tame by today’s standards. George would be at a Brentford game, regardless of its location, and by January 1960 had clocked up 80 grounds in either supporting or reporting on The Club.

With 800 games attended in a row, he was presented him with a cake by Brentford Chairman Walter Wheatley, and was mentioned on ITV’s The Big Match to commemorate the event. Four years later, he celebrated his 1,000th consecutive game at home to Newport County on Boxing Day 1973.

It was a feat unparalleled in football at the time, and one entered into the Guinness Book of Records. Eric White, who later took over as programme editor in 1959, wrote in the official centenary history of Brentford published in 1989, describing George “was perhaps a little gruff which basically covered a shyness, but he had a tremendous sense of humour.”

He would be able to turn yet another match into unique prose, in which Brentford fans have recounted in a thread on the Griffin Park Grapevine message board.

Geoff Buckingham recounted George writing that “the Brentford performance was so good that I swear I could see the gasometer in the High Street leaning forward and beaming with delight” after Brentford’s 4-0 defeat of Mansfield Town in October 1963.

Brentford defeated Stockport in an evening game in the late 1960s just a few days after beating Southport, George wrote: “The Bees downed their second port in a few days and a couple of tasty sips they were too.”

Perhaps the quote to top them all was after Brentford’s 7-1 thrashing of Norwich City, in which George remarked in the match report that “Irish international John Gavin, normally a winger – left or right – had a thin time against Dargie.

“It must be said, however, that he kicked off very nicely on eight occasions.”

As Brentford’s Press Officer, Eric White would receive a call every Thursday from George at 7.30am sharp, checking for any news before the Chronicle went to press. His tenure at The Chronicle coincided with that of Ernie Gifford, who served that paper for over 30 years as Sports Editor of The Richmond and Twickenham Times.

They would both be seen waiting for players and officials outside the dressing rooms at Griffin Park, then located at the half way line before the Braemar Road fire in 1983. He stayed single all his life, seemingly married to Brentford, and lived in Hounslow with his sister Katherine.

George’s health started to fail him in 1976, which caused him to miss his first Brentford match since 1953. He died in Balham on December 8 1976.

A charitable fund was set up in his name after this death, with Brentford playing Chelsea in a pre-season friendly on August 1980, with the proceeds going towards the fund, in which Brentford won 3-0.

Today’s local journalism will never see his like again, and in this age of Social Media and reliance of the internet to carry news rather than printed matter, George’s legacy will never be bettered.

(Thank you to Paul Briers in help with this feature, some of which originally featured in Brentford’s home programme with Swindon Town on 26 December, 2013).