All aboard the Brentford Express

When I last attended a Brentford home game on the 11th Feb 2020 v fellow title challengers Leeds Utd, the thought of it being the last time I would watch the team at Griffin Park was so far from my mind, that experience was to happen on the final day of the season versus Barnsley. Tickets had been purchased for all home games bar what turned out to be the last one v Sheff Wed, I can’t even call on a pressing engagement that day why my attendance did not occur, I just picked that out as one to miss on my farewell tour of GP. The train chat after the Leeds game centred around possible promotion, how unimpressive Leeds were and the fun to be had over the last few home games. Somehow since that game Kalvin Phillips has become a England hero at EURO2020, Ben White has secured a £50m transfer to Arsenal and Patrick Bamford scored 17goals in a PL season, their performances that night did not support those occurrences.

As we all know a worldwide pandemic halted our lives in a fashion you can only imagine in films. Football restarted eventually but fans could not attend games, TV and IFollow gave us our fix. The title challenge I hoped for while travelling home in Feb nearly occurred when football resumed, but it fizzled out big time during the last league game at Griffin Park. The team gave the clubs history books a positive narrative for the last ever game when they beat Swansea to reach the PlayOff final. The final though was the typical fare delivered by the club, defeat and promotion denied at the most excruciating time. At that time missing out on the Premier League hurt so much, like when being dumped by your partner life seemed so bleak, the future was painful. Top players were to be lost, no chance for fans to attend matches and back to the battleground of the Championship. The new Brentford Community Stadium was christened by a handful of club admin and press in the stands. When trial events occurred before Christmas I could not attend due to local restrictions, those games didn’t last long as the 3rd lockdown became the countries longest one.
The analysis of the teams performances by all fans were at a level never known before as we could watch all games. Not much else was going on in our lives bar what Netflix box sets we could watch, we could all become a armchair pundit or team performance analyst, social media being our area of venting feelings.
At times I really felt like the play offs would not even be achieved, defeats to Coventry and Derby were among the lowest points in a trying season. Somehow by the end of the campaign, a positive formation was unleashed bringing out performances in players you did not see coming in those roles, Fosu as a 10 or Norgaard playing sweeper seemed strange but over time you thought of course it makes sense with their skill sets. 3rd place was achieved by a sizeable distance, optimism enhanced as limited fans would be allowed for the Playoff matches. I didn’t have a chance to obtain a ticket for the semi 2nd leg but 5 minutes into the game the season was over, 1 nil down on the day and 2 nil on aggregate. Miracles can occur in 90minutes, from the moment Danjuma scored the Bees took control and with the backing of 4000 fans, chipped away with a dominant 3-1 win to book a 2nd successive  Championship Play Off final. No way was the team going to lose again and I was not going to miss it either, my life long pal obtained Club Wembley tickets, after 15 months I was attending a football match. Ultimately It was an amazing day but I think all fans will tell you that winning promotion that way offers so many diverse emotions over the course of it

  • Apprehension when you wake
  • Nerves as the game starts
  • Frustration you cannot help bar cheering
  • Excitement when you score
  • Despair when the opposition attacks
  • Confidence when the opposition goes to 10 men
  • Trepidation when you run down the clock in the corner
  • Joy at full time
  • Trepidation of what’s to come next season

What didn’t help was not everyone could be there and the match was still swarmed in heavy restrictions. I went home after a few boxpark drinks in total shock!

Roll forward Friday 13th August 2021, restrictions have been lifted, but we do live in a society where COVID is around us that being said the match experience of a fan was there to be enjoyed. Half day off work in place the journey from Kent to West London reminded you of the world we now live in, some embracing the protection of face masks and others not, those flaunting the minor requirements to keep all others safe could not dampen my fun afternoon/evening to come. Walking from South Ealing tube station to the old ground to say a final goodbye was a pilgrimage I needed to do, buying the new away shirt for my son was my good deed and the pint of Stella I had at the New Inn on the one of corners of GP was for nostalgia. Sky Sports News on in the background announcing Arsenal would be severely depleted brought up pub conversations could we actually win our first PL game, a match where the new ground would be filled to capacity, it would be nice but the general feeling was it was enough to be there. Upon leaving a pub that would either usually mean the start of a mini pub crawl or short walk to the ground this time was the start of a new journey to the new home ground and a new pub to frequent. A mile walk took me to the Express Tavern, a stones through away from the Community Stadium and the real beginning of the big match atmosphere. Not only was the game our first, it was the first match of the whole season. All eyes were on Brentford, Sky took our story to lead in the tv coverage but when you are a member of the biggest football league in the world it was a showcase for the team, fans and community to shine in every continent around the world. A few pints surrounded by fans of both teams slowly produced a atmosphere where you could not wait to enter the ground, at 7pm I made the slow walk to find my seat and take it all in. Pure delirium was the mood all night but on entering the stadium it was at unprecedented levels, if you was in someone’s way they smiled, just being there was enough. We had waited so long no one was ruining it by being in a grumpy disposition.  I am a football geek and love watching the warmup, Friday was no different. The club did all they could do to turn up the excitement levels a few notches, heavy dance music along with flashing lights and clever video montages prior to the Arsenal players coming out the tunnel was then led in by “Hey Jude” playing. By the time the Brentford players came out the song was in full swing and being there was everything, but now I was greedy and I wanted the win too! As a fan base we have our go to songs but I really did forget the Arsenal fans were there, we out sung and cheered them all night, it was our house warming party. Till Sergi Canos scored, Arsenal were looking the more threatening, I always felt they had a couple of extra gears to kick into and fleetingly showed it. Ultimately they lacked quality to turn periods of pressure into goals or even good chances. Brentford as a defensive unit have improved so much since Pontus Jansson joined in 2019, they contained on Friday what was thrown at them, earning a clean sheet already in the season is a positive for the defence. Due to the magnitude of the occasion the fans were never going to give up singing but we also had times to show respect to a few people, Rob Rowan on the 28th min one of clubs back room hero’s till his death and support one of England’s best young talents after a rollercoaster of a summer when Saka came on in the 2nd half. Every chance as a fan base we had to show ourselves off to the world we took it, end of the day we are a community club who have rose up the divisions by having a plan. Little Woody celebrating after the game with Thomas Frank and the players has captured the hearts of football, this is what Brentford do!

No win was going to be secure unless a second could be scored and probably the best player at the club scored it, Christian Norgaard finishing off a long throw routine. Ivan Toney is a warrior and the ideal man to lead our front line, as a striker he receives so many plaudits but Norgaard is the heartbeat of the team. As good as a CDM in the whole league, he will be more respected by the football community by the end of the season. Arsenal probed like they did at the start of the match but the iron wall defence supported by a sound barrier from the fans meant a first Premier League win was obtained on debut. As the final whistle was sounded and “Hey Jude” blared out via the sound system and stands I knew not to rush to the train station, staying in my seat and cheering on my players was my only option, them performing a lap of honour and saying thank you us fans was the cherry on top.
Waking up Saturday after only a few hours sleep started with a smile which was a permanent fixture across my face all day and barely left even now. Our PL journey will truly begin this weekend away to Palace as last Friday was it’s own special day, the grind begins at Selhurst Park and any doubters to the Brentford project will start picking holes if the performance or result do not match the opening day. We’ve always had doubters mind you, ignoring them is a way of life. Our team beats it own drum and taken us this far already. As a fan base we will bring the noise like Friday 13th to every game as the last year has shown it can all be lost so quickly!