A very happy new year to Brentford fans everywhere from Beesotted’s Tim Street – whether you’ve joined this amazing journey this year or been around for the whole show. For 2021 was indeed the year that the most unbelievable chapter yet was added to the Brentford story – the year that Premier League football was finally realised, against all odds. I’ve seen it described as Brentford’s best year ever, and unless you were around in the 1930s for the club’s last meteoric rise to the top flight, it would be hard to argue.
I’ve also seen plenty of ‘best Brentford moments of 2021’ being shared on social media, so I thought I’d give a go at penning my own top ten – from some key moments on our way to the promised land to some amazing moments as the Bees – alongside some inevitable poorer performances as they adapt to life at a new level while battling covid absences and injuries to key players – for large parts, defied all expectations.
Brentford 2 Swansea City 0
For me, you can’t look any further for top spot than the match which got Brentford to the promised land in the first place. Four decades of failures on the biggest stage, cup final defeats and play-offs misery all came to a head on an emotional day at Wembley. So many ghosts were laid to rest that day – abject performances under the old twin towers and the new arch in north-west London, not to mention the twin torment at the Millennium Stadium at the turn of the century. Those past failures have weighed heavily on Bees fans for so many years, and having been around for all those big-game disappointments since the early 1990s, I couldn’t let myself believe that this would be our time. Insulating yourself against the inevitable heartache to come was our way of coping. This was new Brentford though, said my friends around me at Wembley, as even at 2-0 up and going into injury time I was screaming and kicking every ball, not able to enjoy the occasion just yet and wondering just how we’d manage to mess this one up. Only when that final whistle went did I accept this was, indeed, a new Brentford, and the past could finally be put behind us. A new era had dawned.
Brentford 2 Arsenal 0
Many people’s choice for top spot, from what I have seen, and it’s easy to see why. Everything fell nicely in Brentford’s favour for their Premier League debut. A Friday night under the lights against a big name team missing a few key players, and who clearly didn’t fancy it as much as the Bees did, in front of a new stadium able to be filled to capacity for the first time. From the roar which greeted the Brentford players as they came out to the optimum decibels of Hey Jude, followed by pretty much non-stop singing throughout, the Gunners were swept away on a tide of emotion as seven decades of hurt came to an end. I still get goosebumps thinking about it, and watching some of the highlights back later, I just love the wide-eyed delight of pundits Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville – former players who have seen pretty much everything in the game – at these new kids of the block and the cracking vibe they had brought with them.
Brentford 3 Liverpool 3
Many Liverpool fans I know had been complimentary both about Brentford’s promotion and fine start to their debut Premier League campaign, but were still predicting a comfortable win for their team. After all, aside from Arsenal, this was the first top flight giant the Bees had come up against, but without all the factors that fell into place so beautifully for that opening day victory. However, the stadium was still rocking, and with the injury problems which brought Brentford’s impressive early-season salvos to a juddering halt still on the horizon, the Bees had a strong starting XI which was causing unsuspecting established top flight teams all sorts of headaches. Although the Bees’ lead in the match was short-lived, it was a magical few minutes between Ethan Pinnock’s opener and Diogo Jota’s equaliser. Both times that Liverpool then took the lead, even the most ardent of Bees fans could be forgiven for thinking we had had our chance. But equalisers from Vitaly Janelt and new hero Yoann Wissa earned a well-deserved share of the spoils and showed that the opening day win wasn’t a flash in the pan – Brentford meant business.
Brentford 0 Chelsea 1
We’ve all been there as Bees fans – patronising pats on the head from Chelsea mates when a heroic cup win saw us grab a little bit of limelight, or who’d come down and lend their support to little old Brentford when they had nothing better to do. Yes, we’d given them an almighty scare in that FA Cup game at Griffin Park under Uwe Rosler, but hammerings in both the replay and the subsequent cup tie under Dean Smith looked to have put the Bees back in their box. Now, however, we’d earned the right to meet our illustrious West London neighbours on a level platform, and despite it ultimately ending in a narrow loss, it was a defeat which felt like a victory. The manner in which Brentford battered the Blues for the last 20 minutes, denied a famous win only by an inspired performance by keeper Edouard Mendy, will live long in the memory and deservedly earned the Bees further plaudits. Chelsea got away with it big time and they knew it. The look on match-winner Ben Chilwell’s face after the game as he described playing at the Brentford Community Stadium as “hell” was similar to that of Lampard and co as they slunk away from Griffin Park eight years previously, knowing they had escaped a scalping by the skin of their teeth.
West Ham 1 Brentford 2
Sandwiched by the Liverpool and Chelsea fixtures, this was a trio of games – played in a three-week period between late September and early October – which truly announced Brentford’s arrival and intentions in the Premier League. But unlike the glorious share of the spoils gained against Liverpool and the heroic defeat against Chelsea, this one ended in three points for the Bees. It was also Brentford’s worst performance of the three and the one they deserved least to win, but to take three points off a team like West Ham on their own patch when you’ve not played that well was an amazing effort by the Bees and an important marker to lay down. Yoann Wissa may have announced his arrival as a super-sub with his late equaliser against Liverpool a week earlier, but coming off the bench again to strike a sublime last-minute winner at the London Stadium will guarantee him cult Bees status whatever else he does in a Brentford shirt.
Brentford 3 Bournemouth 1
A goal down from the first leg of the play-off semi-final and two down on aggregate within five minutes of the second leg, Wembley looked a long way off for the Bees, and that all-too-familiar sinking feeling was starting to take hold. What followed was one of the most famous Brentford comebacks of all, capped by a late winner from Marcus Forss, which typified the resilience and never-say-die spirit of this new Brentford. This one could well have been further up the list if I’d been able to see it, but work commitments meant I couldn’t even watch it on TV – never mind be one of the lucky 4,000 in the stadium – and instead anxiously followed proceedings on Twitter and WhatsApp when I was able to steal glances at my phone. Frustrating as it was to miss out on the match and celebrations that followed it, the rest of that shift sure went by in a flash!
Brentford 2 Watford 1
By the time Brentford hosted old rivals Watford in mid-December, their honeymoon period in the Premier League was well and truly over. A run of just one win in eight games – over an equally out-of-sorts Everton side – had sets nerves a-jangling. A big injury list, including some very key players, had decimated the side which had started the season so solidly, and cracks were starting to appear. More worryingly, two of the defeats in that run had come against teams in the relegation zone – insipid performances handing both Burnley and Norwich their first wins of the season in the space of seven days. There were signs of recovery against Newcastle and Everton before being outclassed by Spurs, and then five days before the visit of Watford, the frustration of conceding a last-gasp equaliser at Leeds and throwing away two points. The Watford game didn’t start well either, and another defeat looked on the cards until another superb late show, like against Chelsea, turned the game on its head – but this time with the result to match it. Pontus Jansson’s first goal for Brentford was always going to be an emotional moment, although VAR did its best to suck that aspect out of it, before Bryan Mbeumo’s cool-as-you-like Ivan Toney-esque winner from the spot in injury time secured a much needed win, and instantly exorcised the ghost of Patrick Bamford’s equally late leveller the previous weekend.
Blackburn 0 Brentford 1
This Friday night game at Ewood Park felt like one of those crucial to Brentford’s promotion prospects, at a time when the Bees were still harbouring hopes of going up automatically. Ivan Toney gave the Bees an early lead from the penalty spot, and from then on it felt like back-to-the-wall-stuff as Brentford ground out a result they desperately needed. There were times when the Bees had been a class apart in the Championship over the previous couple of years – not least a few weeks earlier, when they had hammered Wycombe 7-2. But the sign of a team serious about stepping up a level is being able to also put up the barricades and snatch results from games when that’s all you need and the performance comes second. This felt like one of those games, and I can remember an overwhelming feeling of relief at the final whistle.
Bournemouth again. With the 2020-21 season coming to its final throes and nobody seemingly wanting to nail the second automatic promotion place behind Norwich, Brentford’s own claims were damaged by a run of just one win in seven games following that victory at Blackburn. But Bryan Mbeumo’s late winner at Dean Court was the first of two winning goals in four days for the striker, who all season had struggled, post-covid infection, to recapture the form of his first campaign with the Bees, but was now finishing this one in emphatic style. Four days later he netted the winner against Rotherham too, as Brentford picked up their form just at the right time to end the regular campaign with four straight wins. Ultimately, they just lost out to Watford in the automatic promotion stakes, but the Bees took that late-season form into the play-offs and never looked back. The rest was history.
Brentford 0 Man City 1
Just as against Chelsea in October, this was a defeat against an elite team which almost felt like a victory. Okay, the Bees didn’t come close to beating City like they did Chelsea, but avoiding the sort of battering City had dealt out to Leeds a few weeks earlier in the circumstances they found themselves in was a proud moment for the Bees. Shorn of almost an entire first team through injuries and covid absences, including some very key players, only the most optimistic Bees fan was predicting anything other than a heavy defeat. But fringe players like Dominic Thompson and Matthias Jensen who had looked so out of their depth a few days earlier against Brighton put in the performance of their lives, as a severely depleted Brentford restricted one of the world’s best teams to just a single goal – and not many more chances. I still feel Brentford need to strengthen in January – especially in a season where covid absences are an increasing concern alongside the regular injuries which put the skids on their good start. But the City game at least restored some faith in Brentford’s strength in depth going into the transfer window, and with more of the injured players set to return in the coming weeks, things are looking a bit more positive as we turn into 2022.
So there you have it – ten great moments from Brentford’s best year in living memory. Here’s to plenty more in 2022.