Farewell, Griffin Park. It’s been emotional. It’s been amazing.

29 Jul

Mid-afternoon. For Brentford, the final game at Griffin Park approaches. Little more than four hours away. Sitting here in the pub, the floodlights clearly visible through the window, it’s with the knowledge that when they go out tonight that really will be for the last time. The Bees host (entertain is probably too generous a word given the circumstances of this one) Swansea City, knowing that whomever comes out on top this evening will be afforded the opportunity to take the last spot in next season’s Premier League. With Bournemouth now relegated, somebody needs to keep up the top flight tinpot factor. If for no other reason than to keep our friends at Leeds United on their toes. Can The Bees do it ?

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Tonight the lights go out forever

This evening’s events will determine that one, of course. For now it is time for reflection. For a last reminisce before the curtain finally goes down on our our ‘shitty stadium’. Not my words but those of Brentford head coach , Thomas Frank. And he’s right. Fans love it. A reminder of days gone by in this era of identikit bowls. The likes of Griffin Park are a dying breed in an era of soulless new stadia with no endearing features. Each a carbon copy of the last. Wayne Rooney’s Derby County. Middlesbrough. Leicester City. Southampton. Arsenal. Wrap around bowls with none of the character that so infused their former homes. Even Millwall 2 is a shadow of it’s former self. All the character and intimidation of Cold Blow Lane sucked out of it and lost in a sea of breeze blocks. Nothing remaining beyond that toe-curling goal music. Let’s not even start on West Ham. A ‘proper club’ (not my words…) now squatting in the Olympic stadium. That’s worked well.

We love Griffin Park. Visitors love it. A chance to experience football how it used to be. Terraces. Over flowing toilets. Cramped seats. And…? Who cares? We’ve got a pub in every corner. We can still stand, or sit, right on top of the pitch. We can hug our heroes at full time. Exchange a thumbs up with the manager. Pose for a selfie. Act like human beings and the family that we are. Or, at least, were until Covid-19 came and took all that way somewhat prematurely.

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Cramped surrounding make for a unique bond between players and fans

The last Brentford game together, Sheffield Wednesday on 7th March. A 5-0 thrashing administered by a Bees team with our tails up and the goals flying in. Fans there because they wanted to watch the game rather than participate in the last rites and awful occasion that would have been Barnsley. Leaving at full time, there was half an inkling in the back of the mind that things may soon be up. Certainly looking at the news coming in from around Europe. Sure enough, they were. Now, games played out in front of the directors and our fan banners. Supporter confined to barracks or the, finally, re-opened pubs.

But whilst we may have missed out there are, at least, more than enough memories of better times. And worse. What’s yours? I honestly can’t choose.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to GP by the BBC to participate in their piece about Brentford that went out on the London evening news yesterday where, amongst other things, the question of favourite moment was asked. Cripes – where do you even start? 

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Tuesday afternoon. My final photo of Griffin Park

Bob Booker and his hat-trick against Hull? Newport County 6-0. DJ Campbell in the FA Cup. Gary Blissett doing his thing when boyhood club Manchester City came to town. Alan Judge’s penalty against Preston. The 4-0 v Fulham in the build up to promotion back in 91/92. Jota in the last minute. Jota tearing Jake Bidwell a new one v QPR. Jota returning – even better than before. ‘That  penalty’…..? (hey, there may be masochists amongst us).

Then there’s the off pitch stuff. Just the fact that is as normal to see players walking down the street to a game as it fellow supporters. Something evidenced in the post-Preston promotion party where fans and first team celebrated arm in arm. There was King Kev at the bar of The Griffin, waiting his turn to be served. There’s was no chance he was going to buy a pint that day. Never have I been happier to put my hand in my pocket. 

Regardless of status, if you want in then you have to run the gauntlet of Braemar Road. Everybody from Greg Dyke to Delia Smith. Ant and Dec to Jack Whitehall. Lee Dixon spent a period holding court outside The Griff whilst its not uncommon to see the cream of Britpop chatting football out front (assuming, of course, that like me you place The Bluetones and Hard-Fi in that bracket).

Not that it is a gauntlet. We’re all so familiar with each other that it is as exciting to spot Jumper Man as it is Natalie Sawyer. There’s more of a thrill from seeing Kitman Bob than Ian Moose. The environs of Griffin Park are like some sort of neutral zone. Leave all celebrity hang ups at the door – we’re all friends and your power to appear in heat magazine won’t work here. 

Players and staff. Celebs and fans. Nobody is better than anybody else. It’s all about the football and the fun. The communal feel that only Griffin Park can engender. Neal Maupay popping out for a post match curry? Why not. Only at Griffin Park could you do that. An injured Sergi Canos on the forecourt at half time chatting to fans? Well, yes.  

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Maupay visits Albany Spice for a post-match curry. Only at Griffin Park

I’ve made friends for life at Griffin Park. Some who are, sadly, no longer with us. Genuineiy, I’ll have a tear in my eye tonight about one in particular. His passing has been recent and I wish to high heaven he could have been here but sometimes life is just shit. Serves up a kick in the nuts that is one hundred times worse than any missed penalty kick. Thinking of you, J.

Others, who I’d do anything for. People with whom there is no finer moment spent than in building up the big match excitement pre game. Drowning our sorrows (or celebrating) together afterwards. The football family is an odd one. People thrown together by chance and only one thing in common – mutual love of a football club. A not very good one for most if my life. But they are my club. I’ve stuck with them for nigh on 40 years. The odd highlight something to be cherished. The usual abject failure something to be shared together.

Then it all changed. 10 years on the up. Yet still being played out at Griffin Park. We should have moved on ages ago but delays, property battles, protests and land grabs have all put it on the back foot. Now, though, the time has come. Last knockings really are here. We’ve 90 minutes left (not accounting for possible extra time and penalties) yet I still feel blessed. My own son has had the chance to experience and absorb everything Griffin Park has to offer and so much more. Everything from new kit photo shoot through mascot, reading out the teams and just being able to talk to the players with that dead pan innocence that only a child has.

Yet if there was one Griffin Park moment, then on a personal note it is one which sums up everything about our club. Why is it so special and why I can only hope they are able to bottle what we have and keep it going at Lionel Road.  I’m talking not about Thomas Frank (whom I could write a book on) but Dean Smith. He always made me and my son feel so welcome whenever we spoke. One such instance occurred at the Junior Bees Christmas party – itself another Griffin Park ‘thing’ where the great and the not so good rubbed shoulders without a care in the world –  in December 2017. Harry (then just 4) approached Dean. Plucking up the courage and overcoming his shyness, he asked about his former favourite player, now at Birmingham City. “Why has Harlee Dean joined the naughty team?

Having inspired a shy youngster to talk, how do you then avoid breaking his heart or exposing him to the ‘evils’ of agents, wage hikes and Harry Redknapp? Dean Smith knew. He crouched down to eye level, gave it a moment’s thought and then said: “Well, Harlee’s headed the ball so many times that he doesn’t really know what he‘s doing any more”.   

I’m going to miss this place like you wouldn’t believe. We all are. Tonight really is the end. Here’s to it being the next step in an amazing journey.

sun over Griffin Park GP

Tonight sees the sun go down on Griffin Park for the last time.

Nick Bruzon

4 Responses to “Farewell, Griffin Park. It’s been emotional. It’s been amazing.”

  1. Gerard July 29, 2020 at 3:46 pm #

    When my sons asked me in 2014 what team they should support, I was stumped. I’d played football for years, but never followed a team. Being in Teddington, I knew I didn’t want them supporting one of the “big” clubs – so soulless and corporate, sending ambivalent messages to young fans.

    I have friends who have been Bees fans going back 30 years, and they always talked about the club like a marriage; highs and lows, but with an enduring fondness and unshakable commitment. Embedded (literally) in a local community, with an owner who has loved the club since childhood rather than treating it as a convenient pathway into a social strata.

    Our first game at Griffin Park was 23rd August 2014, against Birmingham. I barely remember the game itself, but watching my sons’ reactions will stay with me forever. The passion from Ealing Rd (and even the barely-restrained dads in the family stand,) being so close to the players, the late equaliser by Moses, Pete’s exhortations to the crowd. They were hooked, and so was I. We’ve enjoyed the champagne years in the Championship, but the lean years are written into every mouldering brick of Griffin Park, and the faces of the old blokes whose seats have probably moulded to them over the decades.

    I’ll miss GP, but we’re all excited about the future. Change is hard, but necessary – it’ll never be the same, but that’s good. Come on you Bees.

  2. Spanish Bee July 29, 2020 at 3:50 pm #

    One of your very best Nick, thanks so much.

  3. ROY BOLTER July 29, 2020 at 5:27 pm #

    Great piece Nick…Now come on you Beesssssssss

    • Jim Pellatt July 30, 2020 at 10:18 am #

      Your article encapsulates it all. I first went to Griffin Park in 1956 with my father who had followed the Bees up to the old 1st Division and back down again. By then we had moved to Ramsgate in Kent so no Football League football. It was a moment of wonder for me, and I was hooked. The Bees were my team and always would be, something I have passed on to my son. After decades of the bottom two divisions and ridicule at school when asked “who do you support?” “Brentwood?”, I have to pinch myself to believe what has been achieved in the last few years. Having been personally involved in running the finances of a semi-pro non-league football club, I like to think my judgement is decent. I am delighted to say that every time I have doubted the owner’s decision making at Brentford, I have ben wrong, wrong, wrong. Mark Warburton, selling top players, poor starts to the season, And to top it all off, the club has retained it’s individual DNA, and close relationship with supporters. What a club, and whatever happens at Wembley, what a future.

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