Beesotted’s Jim Levack looks back at an emotional night at Griffin Park and pays his respects to our proud old stadium.
As goodbyes go, it was pretty much perfect. A resounding win with Brentford back to their high tempo best, a glaring injustice righted and the reward of a trip to Wembley.
It was a fairytale script of which any fiction writer pleading with the muse for an epic tale to pen would have been proud.
A former rowing club looking for a winter sport, nomadic beginnings, the building of a stadium on brewery-owned land in the beating heart of its community.
The sub-plot of 116 years spent largely in football’s doldrums at an historic ground with a pub on each corner, grainy black and white photos of massed banks of fans throwing hats in the air, tales of youngsters being passed down over the heads of a surging crowd.
Most of the pre-war supporters who saw the club’s halcyon days have left us, but they were all there, in spirit at least, for the last ever game played to an eerily silent house.
Every Bees fan there ever was back to 1904 returned for this one, willing the side on from beyond the grave. I swear I almost heard their echoes above the occasional roars of the Bees directors.
As the curtain came down, it was Boy’s Own stuff. The football was almost – almost – incidental.
This was the latest iteration of Brentford players making their mark on history, a band of modern-day heroes playing the best football the place has ever witnessed, writing themselves firmly into history.
For the record, Bryan Mbeumo became the last ever Brentford player to score in front of this old footballing relic’s increasingly antiquated terracing and stands.
Take a walk around the ground before it goes and you’ll be seriously underwhelmed. Oh yes there are the pubs, but that aside you could for the most part be walking down any west London street of terraced houses.
You see it’s the people, the camaraderie, the ‘oneness’ that made this place magical. Standing cheek by jowl with people you only know to nod at but with whom you share a burning passion.
I had a cup of tea at a friend’s house almost in the shadow of the floodlights before kick-off, and we relived the great names and moments from Griffin Park’s chequered past.
Francis Joseph, Kamara, Herman, Cadette, Greenwood, Harper, Hill, Hurlock, Bliss, Holdsworth, Gelson, Higgy, Johnny Brooks – surnames are enough – my dad, my friend’s third game, the 9-0 win over Wrexham – the one game my old man missed that season because he took my mum ice skating at Wembley Pool.
To say he was gutted was an understatement. It stuck with me that, and it’s why I strive never to miss a game… because you never quite know what Brentford are capable of. And that is both the joy and despair of the place.
I, like thousands of others each with their own wonderful tales to tell, have trekked here pilgrim-like in all weathers and circumstances. Even hours after the death of my mother when my dad and I tried to “carry on with the routine because it’s what she would have wanted”… even though she never showed the slightest interest in our beloved club.
Into the ground and a wander to where I used to stand in the last iteration of my 50 plus years as a fan. “It’s a pretty uninspiring concrete column by some corrugated iron”, I can almost hear mum say.
Into the ground for the last time and it feels special. I chat to Jeremy Martin, the Tunnel Manager, whose first game in 1969 was against Swansea Town. His last against City – the programme cover design the same for both. The football gods at work?
Seat taken and I have a restricted view of the Swans goal. Bloody typical. But after two quickfire goals, I daren’t move. It might ruin everything. This spiritual place, after all, is a hotbed of weird and wonderful superstitions.
Half time and I take my eldest son on a Facetime tour of the ground. I fear it might be a little dull and over sentimental with no fans there, but with emotion cracking in his voice he assures me “I (expletive) deleted) love that place”. Both my boys have been brought up* well. •brainwashed
I wander back to my seat and am struck by how tired everything looks, like a dear old matriarch who once travelled the world winning hearts but is now nearing her final days with just her memories and her family to keep her warm.
Look deeper and she’ll still be beautiful because that’s in the eye of the beholder and comes with an understanding of what the person – or place – once was and what they’ve seen.
The moments she enjoyed are what shaped her. For this Old Lady the Everton cup win, DJ Campbell against Sunderland, Booker’s haul against Hull, Gary Roberts’ Liverpool goal and the packed touchline against Newport are just part of a rich tapestry.
But as the final whistle blew for the last time and the Brentford faithful’s delirious chants from Braemar Road drifted in the air, there were smiles and a reminder of why this place matters so much. Because of the fans, my second family.
It was almost perfect. Had the passionate hordes outside been on the inside, it would have been.
One last picture and a scan of the four stands and it was time. Time to say goodbye to an extremely Old Lady who will always be in my heart but who has had a damned good innings… with lots of memories along the way.
As I walked back to my car, I could have sworn I felt the soul of the old place swirl into the floodlit sky and float on the wind towards Kew Bridge. Or it might have just been the storyteller in me.
Who knows what the next exciting chapter will look like and what memories still remain to be made in our new home. But one thing’s for certain, one day we’ll all be there together again.