Brentford FC: Leaving Manchester United to support my home team. Now they are in the Premier League

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Like so many 90s kids, I had been sucked into the glamor of the most successful Premier League club of the time. Every night I closed my United curtains and slept under club-themed sheets.

Posters of forward Andy Cole and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel stared at me from the walls. It was a childhood of continuous triumph as my heroes swept through title after title.

Except that I was afraid that I would be asked which team I supported. Having never visited Manchester, let alone seen the interior of Old Trafford, I have been the butt of endless ‘southerners’ jokes and have suffered the most dishonorable of British sporting insults: The Huntsman. glory.

Hardcore fans may reluctantly accept that Saudi or Singaporean fans pick a Premier League side at random, but there is no such sympathy for the English. You pick your local team, or you’re probably a glory hunter.
When the Premier League was a distant dream ... Brentford faced Chester City on November 28, 1998 at Griffin Park.
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The ugly game

So on a cold and wet Saturday in 2004 – January 31 to be precise – I tried to work things out.

With two friends on the lasso, I made the short bus ride to Griffin Park, home of my home team: Brentford FC. With 4,000 fans, we saw the humble Bees claim their first victory in over two months against Port Vale.

Playing in the English third tier, then called Division Two, the game was lousy and the goals rambling. One of the dilapidated stands didn’t even have a roof – and the ones that did offered little protection from the rain anyway.

Choose your seat recklessly and you’d be stuck watching the game behind an old metal beam supporting the century-old stadium.

It must be the “real” football I had heard so much about. And I was addicted. With children’s tickets sometimes costing as little as £ 5 (or $ 7, a fraction of the Premier League’s sky-high prices), I have vowed to return as often as possible.

Brentford fans in the stands ahead of the Championship Playoff semi-final second leg at Brentford Community Stadium against Bournemouth.
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If you had told me, however, that almost 17 years later Brentford would have replaced – and passed – United in my affections, I wouldn’t have believed you. But if you had told me the newly promoted Bees would face Arsenal in the Premier League opener this week, I would have laughed the whole bus ride.

For decades Brentford has been seen as the epitome of a ‘tinplate’ club: no major trophies, no money, no great players and a tiny stadium – but still often half-empty.

The team last played in the English Premier League in the 1946/47 season, after which they rebounded between the second and fourth levels. Mid-table mediocrity and premature cut-outs have become the modus operandi.

Still, there was a lot to like about the club.

Built in 1904, Griffin Park was the only stadium in the country with a pub in each of its four corners. Its atmosphere was passionate yet friendly, and free from the vitriolic chants or fan violence that plagued many of our neighbors.

Instead, Brentford drew in a crowd of long-suffering locals. They reveled in small wins, but most of the time they were content to moan over misplaced passes and crossovers gone awry.

On one occasion, a man below me in the crowd removed the glasses from his face and threw them at the seemingly short-sighted referee in disgust, before casually replacing them with another pair from his pocket.

Despite decades of disappointment, these fans returned every Saturday for the camaraderie, the sense of belonging and, perversely, the collective suffering.

No one was there for the glory. And as I attended more and more games, training my dad, my friends and, many years later, my totally indifferent wife, I learned the most important lesson in football: being mediocre makes you taste. very occasional success all the sweeter.

Brentford goalkeeper David Raya Martin lifts the trophy as they celebrate promotion to the Premier League after winning the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium.
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An unlikely rise

Which brings us to Brentford’s unlikely rise to the world’s most lucrative league.

Needless to say, the money has something to do with it. Once one of the few clubs owned by Football League supporters, Brentford was bought out entirely by gaming mogul Matthew Benham in 2014. But that’s only part of the story.

Rather than injecting endless millions into the club, Benham introduced a smart, data-driven recruiting strategy that is often compared to baseball’s “moneyball”.

The resulting judicious transfer policy sees promising young players torn from European obscurity, cultivated in the fast-paced English game, and then resold for huge profits.

Take Ollie Watkins from Aston Villa, Said Benrahma from West Ham or Neal Maupay from Brighton – each bought by Brentford for relative pocket change and sold to their current clubs for a collective sum of £ 71million ($ 99million ).

As such, Brentford is widely regarded as one of the best managed and financially viable clubs in England. And, as a springboard for unrealized talent, the team enjoys a season or two of the services of those players along the way.

Brentford manager Thomas Frank is thrown into the air following the final success of the team's Championship playoffs against Swansea City.

Under the leadership of Danish coach Thomas Frank – along with his predecessors Dean Smith and Mark Warburton, now from Villa and QPR respectively – a series of young teams have developed an attacking and fluid style of football unrecognizable from that of decades past. .

After successively finishing in the first half of the Second Division championship between 2015 and 2020, Brentford eventually secured a promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs in May, ending a 74-year wait for top-level football. If anyone needed to recall our suffering, this was the first time the Bees have been promoted via a playoff, in any division, in 10 attempts.

Brentford last played in the English top flight in the 1946/47 season.

It’s easy to romanticize this rags-to-riches story, however. After all, the ownership of Benham – as well as the sponsorship of various gambling companies – means that the success was partially funded by an addictive industry.

The club’s emphasis on developing foreign talent through its “B” team, meanwhile, came at the expense of its youth academy, which was closed in 2016.

There’s also a chance that success will destroy what made Brentford special. Maybe Premier League status will make our club like the others, chasing income from TV at the expense of everything else. Or maybe the brand new 17,000-seat stadium, which has yet to see a full crowd due to Covid-19 restrictions, won’t have the charm and atmosphere of Griffin Park.

Vitaly Janelt of Brentford is pictured during the pre-season friendly at Brentford Community Stadium against Valencia.

But by the end of the season, even though we’re relegated to another seven decades in the lower divisions, it will have meant something much more to me than cheering on overpaid stars in a city I’ve never been to.

So, to the fans of the English “Big Six” who are disappointed with their clubs’ overpriced tickets and trying to get into a big budget European Super League, let me tell you this: you might be thinking this t is sacrilege to change allegiance, but it can be done with credibility – pretty much intact.

If you pick a team to reject your tribal loyalties, that might as well be the underdog. You never know, you too might be a Premier League fan again someday.

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