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I’ve been a Brentford fan for nearly 20 years having first started following them when I moved to London after university in 1993. Little did I know then that the season before I started was the club’s high point in over 40 years and that since then, barring a couple of deflating Play-Off Final performances, that’s as near to glory as I’d get. Oh, and two similarly deflating Football League Trophy Finals.

But, of course, it never quite seems to work out and at the start of every season, it is the same thing, blind optimism. However, usually, this blind optimism follows a lacklustre pre-season, the departure of the few recognisably talented players for apparently derisory sums and uninspiring new signings.

There have been exceptions – the two and a bit seasons under Martin Allen were never boring (except, truth be told, some of the flat performances towards the end where a limited set of players and tactics just couldn’t squeeze anything more out), and the 2001-02 season under Steve Coppell was one that will continue to be the basis of years of counterfactual reminiscence (“if only the ref at Peterborough hadn’t disallowed that perfectly good goal off Darren Powell’s bum we’d have gone up automatically and the squad and manager might have taken us on even to the Premiership instead of Reading”). The rest has only been enlivened by the two seasons winning League 2.

The last two seasons have been different. I greeted Uwe Rosler’s arrival at the club at the beginning of last season with optimism as usual. Of course, the club didn’t quite have enough to be able to sustain a promotion challenge to the end of that season. However, instead of it being yet another false dawn, the attractive passing football which was started on last season has been built on. So, we have seen Clayton Donaldson be the first Bees player since Lloyd Owusu more than a decade ago to reach 20 goals in a season and the club be in genuine contention at the top of the division most of the season. He just needs to be kept away from taking penalties.

We have been in the strange situation of being able to feel a little disappointed that we didn’t beat Chelsea at Griffin Park in the FA Cup and of coming back after a run of lacklustre results in the league around the two money-spinning ties against the European Champions. Even more curiously, when the club promised to spend the windfall from those games on strengthening the squad it actually did so by signing Bradley Wright-Philips on loan from Charlton. Of course he hasn’t scored yet, but his signing does show that the days of the likes of Lorenzo Pinamonte are long in the past. Harry Forrester aside, the club has also quietly gone about securing contract extensions for key players and the manager.

With League 1 being tighter than it has been for years and the Bees well-placed, it could well be our season at long last to clinch that promotion to the Championship which has eluded us for so long. More than that, I don’t think that we would immediately struggle to compete if we did go up. Early last season I watched us losing away at Sheffield United and it was no particular shock. They were clearly a bigger and better club and we were valiant underdogs. We had the chance for promotion in our own hands until we failed to take our chances away at Stevenage. A season later, we will be furious at ourselves if we can’t despatch Stevenage away and the trip to Bramall Lane I’ll be making in a couple of weeks will be one I’ll be expecting to result in 3 points to us.

But, for me, what is even more remarkable is that, there is less pressure on us to go up than in any previous season I can remember. At the very least, my expectation during the seasons where we have troubled the top 6 is “if not now, when?” – knowing that the pattern is usually one of play-off failure and the team being dismantled so that there is no chance of a repeat the following season.

Today, I feel that even if somehow we miss out on automatic promotion we are resilient enough and have enough quality to have a chance in the play-offs and that if we lose there, we’ve still got the core of a good young team that could come back next season to do well. This is largely down to the club being, for the first time possibly ever, in stable and serious professional hands off the pitch. The season does not seem like one last reckless throw of the dice in the hope of a windfall with the cold reality of struggling for the bus fare home if we lose but part of a longer term strategy to build a successful Championship club.

Unlike the fantasy of Target 10,000, this time it looks like something we might actually achieve. Even if we don’t, the alternative doesn’t look, like it did for much of this decade, like bankruptcy and non-league football.

Written for Beesotted by AB
Twitter @botzarelli
Read his part Brentford, part scientific blog here.