“Tonight we’re live around the world”. Not my words but those of compere Peter Gilham on Thursday evening as he introduced the latest Brentford fans’ forum at Griffin Park. The event gave supporters their first chance to quiz head coach Marinus Dijkhuizen, co-directors of football Rasmus Ankersen and Phil Giles, Chairman Cliff Crown and Chief Executive Mark Devlin on all matters Bees related. But what did we learn?
Primarily, what a great club Brentford is. This is something those of us who are bit ‘longer in the tooth’ are well aware of but, equally, it’s nice that some things don’t change. No question was off limits as fans were, once again, given the chance to voice their opinions to those whose actions shape so much of our lives as Brentford supporters.
So, to the salient points from almost two hours of Q&A:
The future: Rasmus noted that our short-term aim was to finish better than last season. Whilst still our target, we need to be realistic and look at the injuries. His fellow sporting director Phil Giles added, “We can’t even predict when Maxime is going to be back.”
Injuries: Marinus made the assertion that despite the large number of these, it was primarily down to bad luck rather than, for example, anything specific to the training regime. As he added “They’re all different. If we had five hamstring injuries then, yes”.
Despite the injuries, he backed his stance to leave us short on the bench for the Middlesbrough game (where, of course, we only named six subs, including two goalkeepers). The youths weren’t picked because, “You have to deserve it. At that moment there weren’t youngsters who deserved to sit on the bench”
On the difference between English and Dutch football, Marinus has been surprised, “It is so quick it’s unbelievable”. Indeed, he got one of the biggest laughs of the night with the follow up comment that, “Last Sunday I went to Excelsior – Ajax and it was really boring”.
Stat based recruitment: Rasmus gave a long explanation on the subject. Effectively that it starts (and ends) with football-based decisions around what we need to take the club to the next level.
Whilst it then goes to the stats guys to conduct the next level of search, they filter it down to 3 or 4 names who then become the subject of traditional scouting techniques once more. “When you read the media you get the impression at the training ground its just robots walking around – that’s not the case.”
And talking of new talent, what about Sergi Canos? Whilst clearly a stunning prospect, he’s a player Marinus prefers to ease in to the action. After ten minutes against Leeds, he admitted, “I’m killed, gaffer”. That said, Marinus is looking to give him a couple of weeks to see if he’s ready to be used from the start.
The flipside being the older heads, in particular Jonathan Douglas who was the subject of one glowing supporter tribute. Phil admitted, “He WAS a popular player, as was Moses, as was Andre. I thought we’d replace him and we did, with Josh.” Aswell as singing his praises, Phil added, “ We’ve got a replacement who is ten years younger “
The Lionel Road project sees ongoing progress. The CPO enquiry has been held and, whilst Cliff was happy with how that went, a decision is not expected until the end of the year. All being well, we’ll be on site by March/April of 2016 with the subsequent build taking two years.
He concluded this segment with the aspiration that, “My aim is to play our first competitive match at the start of the 2018/19 season. Hopefully in the Premier league.”
And so to THE key question of the night: “Marinus, will you ever give us a wave?”
Whilst it may require Roy to give him a nudge, the rest of the answer suggested this will indeed by forthcoming, along with a further explanation given for his apparent reticence to do so. “When I’m analysing the game, I don’t hear what you are singing. There are lots of supporters at away games – I’m not used to it. But I know how it works now…”
For me, one of the most telling (and passionate) answers was from Mark Devlin when it was suggested that, perhaps, the club was losing touch with the traditional fanbase. He was at pains to point out this was not the case and, more to the point, genuinely couldn’t even see any evidence of this taking place. He confirmed, “I am committed to the club, the community, the traditions and staying close to the fanbase.”
The example of season ticket prices, regardless of had we reached the Premiership, was cited – this a point that Cliff later reinforced, saying that given all the revenue streams from the Premiership, Matthew Benham certainly wouldn’t be looking to take advantage of the fans that way.
Whilst the club are definitely on the up and not ”The ugly cousins of West London anymore” , the challenge is to try and replicate our family feeling at the new stadium. As Mark observed, “You guys are the heartbeat of the club.”
But it was Rasmus who really nailed it at the end of the night with the blunt but bold statement, “ It is not an option to not be in the Premier League. It has to happen in the next three years…. At the moment there is no Plan B. we’ll be in the Premier League in three years.”
Fighting talk or fantasy? There’s only one place to find out. And it begins again on Saturday at Griffin Park.
Thanks again to all involved for the opportunity to attend and hats off to Brentford FC for their ongoing willingness to engage supporters.