One of the many privileges of being involved with the recent Brentford 125th Anniversary Book was being able to read at first hand all the original press clippings about the club’s incredible rise from the depths of the Third Division to the top of the First in what seemed no more than a twinkling of an eye. The parallels between then and now are eerie, as an enlightened chairman discovered a manager from far out in left field, invested his total trust and faith in him and gave him the support and wherewithal to rebuild his squad from top to bottom, initially bringing in unheralded players from footballing outposts such as Middlesbrough. A reborn and revitalised team then swept all before them and completed their triumphant journey with promotion to the First Division in 1935.
Not content with that incredible achievement, they swept everyone aside and, over the next four seasons, they not only established themselves at the top level of the game but the Bees consistently challenged for the title playing a swaggering brand of attacking football with the team now buoyed by the arrival of a number of top international players who gelled into one of the best teams in the country. There is a marvellous clipping in the book which discusses with total sincerity the possibility of the Bees achieving a First Division Championship and FA Cup double. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as the Second World War came at a time when Brentford were on the verge of greatness, with packed crowds at Griffin Park the rule rather than the exception, but by the time that peace was restored our time had come and gone, the money had run out and the team had grown too old to compete at that rarified level again.
The point to be emphasised is that Brentford have already created the precedent of rising from the third tier of English football to the top, albeit eighty years ago, and why shouldn’t we repeat that feat this year, as we are currently threatening to do? Who knows whether we can maintain our promotion challenge, but here we are, twenty-eight games into the season and we find ourselves in fourth place in the table, after a run of thee consecutive wins, two away from home, and with our previously disbelieving supporters finally beginning to accept that we are for real and that 2015 could actually be the year when history repeats itself.
All will be revealed over the next three months and let me just put things firmly into context by stating that whatever happens from now on this will still go down in history as one of the most amazing, incredible and memorable seasons in the club’s long and august history.
Over the course of the past couple of months there have apparently been some long and detailed talks between the club and the Premier League purely on a “what if” basis regarding the feasibility and suitability of Griffin Park hosting Premier League football should Brentford actually achieve promotion this season. Potential ground shares have also been considered however, despite there being no official announcement, I would guess that the club will decide to remain at Griffin Park if humanly possible should the unthinkable happen.
The last time we reached the pinnacle of the game Griffin Park was able to cram in almost forty thousand spectators, and contemporary photographs show quite clearly how densely packed the spectators were, with children passed down over the heads of other supporters to stand safely at the front of the terraces.
The average attendance throughout our previous spell in the First Division was around twenty-five thousand, which put the club on a par with the majority of its opponents, however given the dictates of health and safety and the fact that the standing accommodation at the ground has been massively reduced, the capacity at Griffin Park is now no more than around twelve thousand, a figure that would be reduced even further if we were forced to become an all-seater stadium, as would be the case in the Premier League.
Griffin Park would comfortably be the smallest stadium ever to host Premier League football with Swindon, Blackpool and Oldham Athletic the previous holders of this unenviable record and Oldham averaged gates of just over twelve thousand in the last two of their three seasons in the Premier League.
The dressing rooms, floodlights, media and hospitality facilities at Griffin Park, whilst benefiting from recent upgrades and refurbishment, are totally in the dark ages compared with the majority of the top level clubs with their sleek and well-appointed new stadia and I am sure that the moguls at the Premier League preface their daily prayers with a special entreaty for the Bees not to darken their doors, at least until our new stadium at Lionel Road becomes a reality.
Personally I feel that our promotion would demonstrate that good football, positive management and careful planning can reap its justified rewards and I think that we would be a total breath of fresh air and revitalise what is so often a dull and predictable division, just as Blackpool did under Ian Holloway when they played an expansive brand of attacking football that embarrassed so many of their so called betters and almost led them to survival on the last day of a momentous season.
If you examine the European football scene there are also precedents that should fill us all with hope and prove that the promised land is no chimera. You need look no further than Sassuolo and Eibar who are both thriving in the top division of their respective leagues despite their lack of resources and infrastructure. Sassuolo are funded by one of Italy’s most prominent industrialists, Giorgio Squinzi who first invested in them in 2002 when they were homeless and semi-professional. Under his direction his team, despite coming from a town of less than forty thousand inhabitants, has risen to Serie A with their success based on a tight knit group of young home grown players.
The Eibar story is even more astonishing. A tiny town in the Basque Country with a stadium holding just over five thousand supporters, they have been brilliantly managed by Gaizka Garitano and been promoted in just two seasons from the third division of Spanish football to La Liga. Despite a playing budget that would be sniffed at by many fourth tier teams in England they have built up a squad of mainly home produced players and developed a close-knit sense of togetherness that has enabled them to defeat technically far better teams.
They have also been assisted by some well selected loanees, such as Jota, who helped earn them promotion last season by scoring eleven goals from midfield. Eibar are the smallest club to reach the top flight and only eight teams in England’s top four divisions had a smaller average attendance than the Spanish side’s 2,901.
Jota is quick to see the parallels between his current and previous club:
There are a lot of similarities with Eibar and Brentford. No one expected Eibar to go up and no one thought Brentford would be this high in the table. But, hopefully, we can maintain our form and repeat what we achieved at Eibar last season. It is not going to be easy to stay in the position we are in but we are capable of fighting for promotion.
So fairy tales can come true, as has been proved recently in both Italy and Spain, and maybe next it will be Brentford who turn dreams into reality.