A View From Afar – 13/2/16

It is always wonderful to hear from a member of the Brentford family who lives far away from Griffin Park and Graham Tyrrell certainly qualifies as he has spent the last twenty years ensconsed in the United States of America.

Distance certainly seems to lend a sense of perspective and detachment and from what he has written below it is quite obvious that Graham is an astute, perceptive and knowledgeable supporter who maintains his love and passion for the club despite the thousands of miles that separate him from TW8.

Here are his memories of being a Brentford supporter for the last thirty years, and given that I found myself marooned in New York for three years in the mid 80s, far away from my beloved Brentford FC, I can quite empathise with the problems Graham also faced in doing his utmost to keep in touch with everything that was going on at the club as I shared the identical frustrations in those pre internet days of trying to work with all manner of obsolete technology that was patently not yet up to the job.

I’ve been a Bees supporter since the mid 80s.

One of my first games was the Freight Rover Trophy final against Wigan – a precursor to three decades of Wembley misery.

I moved to the US permanently in 1994. So that makes it one decade of living and breathing BFC at close hand and two decades of following their ups and downs from afar.

During this time I can safely say my loyalty to the club hasn’t wavered once. But it definitely requires a different type of loyalty compared to that exhibited by the amazing fans who spend serious amounts of time and money going to games home and away every week.

To begin with, following a club like Brentford required creativity and patience. In 1994, the internet barely existed and was certainly not the endless wealth of information it has become today. This meant that the primary sources of any Brentford news were the BBC World Service (on the elusive long wave) and Richmond & Twickenham Times clippings sent by my Mum (arriving about ten days after the games).

Over time the options to stay in touch with the Bees have grown massively. Initially, the internet at least provided live score updates of sorts but that was basically like watching teletext.

Eventually, once the BBC started putting all of their radio content online – I soon realized I could happily listen to BBC Radio London and the wonderful Billy Reeves. At first this entailed lugging my laptop around the house and hoping the wifi wouldn’t cut out just as the panic-inducing words “there’s been a goal at Griffin Park” were announced.

Today, by contrast I can get the whole thing on my phone whilst walking the dogs, cleaning the car, you name it. Then there’s BFC Talk, Beesotted and You Tube highlights providing a great insight into how the team are performing and what the fans are thinking.

The personal emotional roller coaster is much the same. Standing in stunned silence in my dining room after Trotta’s penalty miss unable to comprehend what just happened or showing up to a business meeting with a huge grin after the 4-1 demolition of Fulham last year, being just a couple of examples.

But the back to reality moment is definitely a whole lot quicker when you’re not surrounded by other football fans, let alone fellow Bees supporters.

In recent years, the US, which traditionally resisted the lure of soccer, has really started to embrace the game – at least in my experience living in a big east coast city.

However, the focus is well and truly on the Premier League. NBC has done a great job of promoting not only the matches but the whole narrative and back stories that make following English football so compelling. And a special mention to Michael Davies and Roger Bennett aka The Men in Blazers. Their podcast does an incredible job of taking the typical pub banter of football fans and making it accessible to expats and US fans alike. Even for people not in the US, it’s worth checking out some time (www.meninblazers.com).

Soccer fans in the US are now starting to better understand the English football culture and, for example, the fact that teams can move up and down through the leagues. This makes for an interesting dilemma as people with no connection to the UK and new to the sport essentially get to pick a team. But what happens when lots of Americans follow Fulham because Clint Dempsey plays for them and they then get relegated…

Last season of course elevated the Bees to the second tier and this made explaining which team I support a whole lot easier. “We’re in the league below the Premier League – you know, like Bournemouth were last year and Aston Villa will be next year”.

They’re also occasionally on TV – the Boro play-off games for example. So to me, as an exiled fan, this higher profile and media coverage is just another important element of having Brentford in the Championship (a bit like skipping the first two FA Cup rounds). And for that, a hearty thanks to Matthew Benham and Mark Warburton for getting us there.

As for debate on whether BFC are moving in the right direction this term, I would say, looking at it from distance, they are, given the highly competitive environment.

It’s an oddity in some ways that US sports leagues tend to be almost controlled economies with salary caps and drafts of new talent, whereas English football is capitalism at its finest – with one significant perversion.

The Premier League now pays off the losers who are relegated. As we all know, this means the teams dropping down have a huge financial advantage and can cherry pick players from the competition. Given that environment (and the fact Mr. Benham is wealthy but not an oligarch or a sovereign wealth fund) I feel the Bees are doing very well to compete with the big boys.

As has been stated in your blog, last year the stars aligned. In my mind Warburton deserves a huge portion of credit for this. He clearly has great man-management skills and works well with David Weir to get the best out of players. I think his background in business, as well as football, has given him a unique skill set and perhaps a model for others to follow?

However, in retrospect, it does seem that other teams figured us out after half a season and those with the cash started circling our best players (an issue Warburton would have faced also). A big disappointment is that they have all gone to other Championship clubs – but again that’s the harsh reality.

One thing that I didn’t see too much mention of is the fact that we have (potentially) two big players to come in next season before we ever spend a pound of the incoming transfer funds in Bjelland and Hogan. Admittedly both are unproven in this league and both had ACLs, which can sometimes never truly be recovered from, but let’s hope both guys prove to be great “new signings” next season along with the ever elusive Mr. Macleod.

So here’s hoping for a strong start to next year (in the Championship of course)!

Naturally, the single biggest challenge of being an overseas supporter is not being able see a live game and it’s too bad that I’ll probably never see Jota ply his trade in a Brentford shirt or a Dallas screamer.

I’m really hoping I can make it back for one more game at Griffin Park before it is torn down. And assuming I do, I know the other fans will welcome a guy with a funny Anglo-American accent – because it’s always been a great and friendly club with pubs on the corners.

Plus I’ll be wearing my 1985 Freight Rover Final scarf, so I must be legit!

Thank you Graham for your contribution which I hope that everyone enjoys as much as I did.

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