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Brentford fans forced to wait for Griffin Park farewell

Jeremy Inson May 5, 2020
Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Phil Marchant has been a Brentford fan since 1984. He has also been a season ticket holder for more than 20 years and is a member of Brentford Independent Association of Supporters.

May bank holiday weekend had promised so much. Saturday, 2 May was the day Brentford were due to say farewell to Griffin Park, the ground they have called home since coming to an agreement with London brewer Fuller’s in 1904. This fact explains why they are the only English club to have a pub on every corner.

Barnsley would be the visitors for a lunchtime kick-off that could bring Brentford’s 2019/20 campaign to a close. However, with the team in fourth place when the Championship shut down in March, there were genuine hopes the farewell would be an aperitif before the main business of a play-off semi-final.

“I tried not to think about it,” Marchant told The Focus. “It might have done my head in thinking about the possibilities of it being the final game or not. Whether there was another game to come would have been intense emotionally with the potential of reaching a play-off final or losing in a semi-final, which would have been a double whammy.

“In a way, there was no point of contemplating it because it wasn’t happening. I live close to Griffin Park and can see three of the floodlights from my window. I thought about going to the ground but that would have made me sad and rueful about what’s going on so I avoided doing that.”

In the shadows

Brentford have been in the shadows of London’s big guns for most of their existence. Even in the west of the capital they have been considered poor relations to Queen’s Park Rangers and Fulham. Both those teams now find themselves behind Thomas Frank’s Brentford.

The Bees won promotion to the Championship in 2014, a year after they had missed out in what Marchant describes as his worst moment as a fan. That came in their winner-takes-all clash at home to Doncaster Rovers. Brentford had to win to grab the second automatic League One promotion place, while Rovers only needed to draw.

With the score 0-0, Brentford were awarded a penalty in the 94th minute to surely secure their place in the second tier. On-loan Fulham striker Marcello Trotta insisted on taking the kick rather than captain Kevin O’Connor. He hit the bar and then looked on as James Coppinger finished off a counter-attack that gave Doncaster victory and promotion.

Brentford may have achieved promotion a year later, but 2013 was another painful chapter in a history that means the only trophy the club has won, the London War Cup, resides in Chelsea’s well-stocked trophy cabinet.

It means Brentford and its fans are determined they won’t be left to lament missing out on saying goodbye to their 12,763-capacity home.

“We did meet chief executive John Varney about a month ago,” Marchant said. “He couldn’t say too much. We don’t know what will happen this season, when the fans can get back in the ground or when we’ll get into the new stadium.

“John Varney has always said the club wants to give Griffin Park a proper send off. We don’t know what form that will take, but they want to get the fans in to give it a proper send-off.”

Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

New home, new hopes, old routines

In August, Brentford were due to move into their 17,250-capacity Brentford Community Stadium for the start of the 2020-2021 season. Like all sport, that is on hold for now.

Fans can look across the capital to see how moves to new stadia can have an impact on club fortunes. West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur both won farewell matches at their long-term homes but have endured contrasting reactions to their new grounds.

Griffin Park’s traditional charms were many but the lack of modern facilities meant it was overlooked as a neutral facility for women’s and age-group internationals. The last time the FA used the ground was in 2017, when England U17s beat their Northern Ireland counterparts 4-1.

Ready for the Premier League

Brentford Community Stadium has already been named as a venue for the Women’s European Championships, which will now take place in 2022 having been moved back from 2021 to accommodate the men’s Euros.

The new stadium lies along the A4, less than a mile from Griffin Park. Such proximity means fans will be able to follow their usual match-day ritual. Perhaps this will help to keep some of the pubs and cafes in the area in business.

“It is Premier League ready,” Marchant said. “Our team is close to Premier League ready so it depends on how the season turns out. It is very exciting. I have walked past the new stadium so many times.

“It is sad to leave Griffin Park but, when you see the new stadium, you realise we have to move on. When we go there, we’ll think ‘this is great’. It will make us feel even more proud of Brentford – of what we are and what we can become.”

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Jeremy is a London-based journalist specialising in rugby union and Olympic sports. Tokyo 2020 would have been his sixth Olympic Games and would have come soon after Japan 2019, his fourth Rugby World Cup.