Brentford journalist, and Beesotted regular, Jim Levack, looks back at Wednesday night’s excellent win over AFC Bournemouth and asks whether 2021 will be the year The Bees earn their place in the top flight once again. Let’s hope it really is a happy New Year.
Minutes after his side sent an unequivocal statement to the rest of the Championship, Thomas Frank was typically sanguine.
One of his post-match priorities was to pay tribute to the club chef and his team who provide the fuel for the side’s incredible 15-game unbeaten run. A mark of the man.
He spoke of how the players are allowed to enjoy the moment in moderation with a drop of red – “I’m sure Henrik will take a glass” – and how that celebration can last just for that day. Then it’s total focus on the next game.
“He’s a class act isn’t he?” said one media newcomer, the latest in a long line of journalists delighted by Thomas’s open, honest and yes frank assessment of the previous 90 minutes.
It was the latest in a growing line of compliments for the Brentford boss from one of the assembled media after sitting through one of his post-match pressers for the first time.
I’ve been covering Brentford since Frank McLintock was in charge and can honestly say Thomas is right up there in the pantheon of our club’s greats.
It’s been a privilege to know the likes of Chris Hughton, Steve Coppell, Ray Lewington, Dean Smith… all of them dyed-in-the-wool football men who commanded respect. And nice blokes.
But there’s something different about our latest man at the helm. A student of the game with a win rate nudging 50%, he sees and expresses things differently.
He’s something of an anomaly. A scientist analysing the minute details of a game but also a people person who looks his interrogator in the eye as he answers a question. When he does so with humour and the occasional apologetic expletive thrown in, it’s even more refreshing.
Make no mistake, Thomas Frank is a breath of fresh air, but he’s also a product of the ethos and values of a football club that looks at things and sees things differently to some of the Championship’s ‘dinosaur’ clubs.
Backed by a team of talent hunters – and for the record Vitaly Janelt has to be the bargain of this and many other seasons – he is keen to lay the credit at the door of some of the club’s values of solidity, attitude, stability and togetherness.
In other words he’s “just a cog in the machine”. There you go, another quality that Brentford seem to ooze with every action on and off the pitch… humility.
Players like him because he’s fair, honest and open and – as the glass of wine they’re allowed shows – treats them like men and trusts them to act the same way.
There will be bumps in the road ahead. No side can go undefeated from now to the end of the season – can they? – but with an astute manager and support system, we will react in the right way if we do lose.
I’ve been amazed at how we’ve steadily evolved as a team and the players as individuals over the course of this season. The Bournemouth game was a case in point. We’d have been two down inside 15 minutes last season, but we are a year older and wiser now… and it shows.
Thomas has sacrificed an element of cavalier flamboyance for a more steely, functional edge and, if you look at the history books, that’s a mark of all sides that win promotion to the Premier League.
He’s made tweaks here and there and those, underpinned by a “none of our players are leaving in January” statement as resolute as our defence, means there’s stability too.
Everyone knows their job, is allowed to express themselves, is enjoying playing what is ostensibly a simple game and doesn’t want to leave.
At times it’s beautiful to watch as the likes of Jensen, Mbeumo and Canos – who I doubted but has showed how little I know – caress the ball. Twin that with the steel of Pinnock, Rico and Dalsgaard and there’s a foundation in place for something special.
Here’s hoping this will be our year, but whatever it brings it’s worth remembering that we’re nothing without our health and the Brentford ‘family’ friendships rekindled all too briefly for two games. That’s called perspective and we’ve got it by the bucket-load.
As we start another year in the automatic promotion places in the Championship and a League Cup semi-final, here’s hoping 2021 will be restful, relaxing and healthy for all Bees fans.
One thing is certain. Without the incredible efforts of a squad we can all be immensely proud of, 2020 would have been a hell of a lot tougher than it has been.
So thank you Thomas, your players and back room staff from the medical team to the chefs – you’ve kept us believing at a time when keeping faith is so important, and one day we’ll all be back to show our gratitude.