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Natalie Sawyer: From Moss Rose and Meadow Lane to Anfield and the Emirates

6 Jun

Brentford FC. The club where anything can happen.. and usually does. We are now just over a week into our Premier League status and, being honest, I’m still finding it somewhat hard to believe. Not because of our bus stop in Hounslow status or the sneering from outside TW8 but as much because of everything that has gone before. But it’s true. It’s happening. Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United et al will be amongst the visitors next season. Get used to it.

Part of the reason I love this club so much is the lack of any pretension, anywhere. Hearing Marcus Gayle talk about our spirit and our approach during ‘The Warm Up’ on Friday night was spot on. If you, somehow, haven’t seen it as yet then it is well, well worth a watch. If for no other reason than it is yet another chance to relive that incredible afternoon at Wembley moments.

For me, Brentford is a place where the great and the good can rub shoulders. Complete neutral ground. The close quarters of Griffin Park meant one was as likely to see Sergi Canos in the street as Jumper man. There’s Jack Whitehall in the pub sharing a drink with our chairman. Delia Smith walking down Braemar Road. Err, is that Peter Andre sitting in New Road? Apparently it was. Where if you see the owner, and ask a question, you get as honest an answer as you can. Thank for the kit reveal, Mr B (we’re going back a few season now but…). Where everybody knows everybody’s name and is happy to get involved.

Nowhere more is this seen than with Natalie Sawyer. To those outside of TW8, one of the most recognisable faces on our TV screens during her time at Sky and now holding court on talkSPORT Radio Breakfast. To those at Brentford, she is just another fan. Albeit about as passionate as they come. Likewise, one of Mark Burridge’s longstanding and regular guests during his i-follow commentary alongside Marcus and Mick. Ah, who could forget Sheffield United away? You know, ‘that’ game. Keith Stroud….

Natalie is the face of talkSPORT weekend breakfast

The reason for this long winded intro is that, unlike Cameron Diaz, Natalie is as regular and knowledgable a Brentford fan as any of us. So when she has something to share it is well, well worth a read. And, my word, today we are in for a treat. 

Hot off the heels of Kitman Bob’s exclusive look behind the Brentford curtain, Natalie has very kindly taken the time to share her thoughts. What we had initially hoped may be a few words has, instead, turned into something that is as much ‘cathartic’ as anything else. Not just about the week leading up to Wembley and the game itself, but everything that has gone before.

HUGE thanks to Natalie for taking the time to share just what this means to her..…  

From Moss Rose and Meadow Lane to Anfield and the Emirates

It’s the week after the week of all weeks for Brentford fans but it still doesn’t feel real. “Little ol Brentford” are heading to the Premier League for the very first time. So, in the next year we will face the champions Manchester City, Champions League winners Chelsea and FA Cup holders Leicester to name just 3 sides. I haven’t even computed the historical giants of Liverpool and Manchester United as well! How is this happening??? Do other side’s fans go through this same doubt???

Let’s rewind…I was there for Crewe, I was there for Stoke and also for Yeovil. So, I’ve suffered like many Bees fans. I’ve headed to those finals full of optimism, only for it to be extinguished. I’d like to think ordinarily I am a positive person, most of the time. I try to live the glass half full life but when it comes to Brentford, and the playoffs, I’ve simply learnt to be pessimistic and then hopefully be pleasantly surprised. (I just didn’t think it would take this long!!) 

After every playoff defeat, us fans have all rallied to believe it will happen for us one day, that the next time the footballing gods would be on our side. But, truthfully having been scarred 9 times, as we have, I had partly resigned myself to never winning the playoffs. So this surreal feeling I am having about us being in the Premier League after that Wembley final, I think is pretty fair.  

It’s funny to think the season didn’t start off the best way. 1 win in our first 4 league games had a few fans twitching I’m sure. But not long after we went on that incredible 21 game unbeaten run in the Championship, one time taking us to the top of the league. We were living the dream (little did I know more was to come!). The fun bus didn’t look like it was going to an end, such was the high that we were on. But, in typical Brentford-style we were brought back down to earth with those 3 straight losses, frustratingly with one of those at the hands of QPR (who I’d forgotten were in the league, such was their lowly position! ☺) We dusted ourselves off and went again and although our hopes of automatic promotion fell away, our end to the season was strong and convincing, But, that didn’t mean I didn’t have my fears and nerves and I had that little negative devil sat on my shoulder saying “its Brentford innit” as I feared the approaching playoffs. 

We all know what happened in the first leg against Bournemouth, so I’ll cut to the second. My family were lucky to have got tickets and a few days before the game, I was having sleepless nights. Waking at silly o’clock and having those whirling thoughts of losing. I knew I’d be devastated to lose to Bournemouth in that semi-final as felt we were simply the better team, for all their Premier League experience. But there it was gnawing away at me, our playoff curse and it played on my mind constantly. 

I had to be up early the Saturday morning, so I could be at talkSPORT for 5am. My alarm as usual was set for 330am, but as normal I rarely am woken by it as I always have that fear of sleeping in. This time it wasn’t sleeping in that woke me, constantly, but the impending game with Bournemouth and knowing we were already a goal down in the tie! 

I know I’m very lucky to combine my passion for sport with my job but sometimes it can be wretched. More about that later. After my shift I raced back home as fast as I could and joined my family to make our way to the stadium. It was simply amazing to be among so many fans and feel that excitement in the ground that had been missing for so long. Seeing the players and Thomas do their lap of honour before the game got me ready to be the 12th man as instructed by the team. With Hey Jude being belted out around the ground prior to kick off, it certainly warmed me up for it but the anxiety of a must-win game played on my mind. 

Pre match from Thomas.

There are certain moments in the match, I will confess I didn’t see in real time. Arnaut Danjuma’s goal I didn’t see as I looked away as he broke, and even Ivan Toney’s penalty I missed as I can’t watch any penalty being taken. That doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate like mad once it’s been scored. But my nerves cannot take it, cannot watch it. And just before the ball is struck and you can hear a pin drop, I often squeeze my eyes shut and even have my fingers in my ears, such is the fear that goes through me.

Being sat in the stands with my family, I kept my mask on and it’s the first time ever I felt I could scream and shout at a game whilst feeling anonymous. I’m not normally one to do that at a game, other than every now and then when a chant chorus’ round the ground. But this day felt like no other. I’d been told to make it hostile and I was going to do my bit. 

And so did every other fan in the stadium. The atmosphere was incredible from the 4000 or so fans that were there. And it certainly whetted the appetite for when we can all be back together in what we know now will be a sold-out Community stadium every match day.  

So much of that second leg is a blur now but it was a performance worthy of the win. Agent Mepham did his bit, followed by Janelt’s thunderous shot and Forss’ quick thinking for the third, but of course what does stand out is the ridiculous antics of Asmir Begovic. I’ll never understand how an experienced, seasoned pro could have resorted to such bizarreness. We can laugh at it now because we won but it’s still a head scratching 90 minutes that I wont forget whenever I see or hear his name! 

Begovic – the nicest picture of his antics

When the referee Jarred Gillett blew the whistle, it was some feeling to know we were back at Wembley for a second successive season, hoping to right the wrongs, but guess who was back?? – that devil!!!! Thankfully, I was able to put that pest to one side for the night as we enjoyed a few drinks at One over the Ait, with a number of the commercial department from Brentford, who happened to be there as well. The feeling was one of excitement as attention turned to the following weekends’ final. If I could just tame that devil so I could enjoy the build-up. 

Not. A. Chance. That devil is annoying. I could go hours without thinking about the final, only for, out of nowhere, that nervous feeling you get in your gut would emerge and I would have severe pangs of fear. I didn’t want to comprehend a 10th playoff loss but that’s more often what I thought than thinking we’d win. Scarred, you see. 

Most of my family were pretty calm about it all, the other half (Captain fantastic, Mr D) kept telling me it was in the bag but I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to jinx the game. On paper I thought we were better than Swansea, on paper we deserved to win, not just for the last 8 months but also for our missed opportunity last season. But no game is ever won on paper, nor because you deserve it. And also those footballing gods just didn’t like to answer our prayers. So, I had the fear. A constant fear. 

Remember I said my job is great as it combines my passion but that it can be wretched too. Well, here’s why? When you’re constantly asked to talk about the biggest game in football, the richest game in football, the playoff curse, the what happens to the squad if you don’t go up, you are just constantly on edge. Talking about it positively could jinx us, talking about it negatively could jinx us. I felt like I couldn’t win! But I also couldn’t not talk about it as it was part of my job so the only way I could handle it was to try and be measured for fear I would be the reason for the curse continuing. 

I even feared requesting the Sunday off work because I’d be the jinx, but I justified it by saying I was doing that to cover all eventualities. There was no way I would want to work if we lost knowing we’d be dissecting where it all went wrong, whilst also hearing the celebrations of Swansea and yet if we’d won, I knew I needed to party!!

So, waking up as I did on that Saturday morning, I went to work as normal but I’m not entirely sure I remember what we talked about, so much was my mind on Wembley. But I got through the three hours chatting about some final in Porto whilst also occasionally having to talk about the Championship final. Former Swansea midfielder Leon Britton joined us at one point and he was confident his side could win the game. Believe me that is something I didn’t need to hear. That didn’t help the tension. 

Thankfully at 9am, we were done and there was little time for pleasantries with my colleagues at the end of the show, as once again I had to rush home to get ready for the biggest game in our history in which a select few of us could play our part, under the arch. I remember arriving at Waterloo station and as I was going up on the escalator, I spotted something on one of the steps. A sticker. A Brentford sticker. I took it to be a sign. I’m on the up escalator, the Bees are going up? I was hesitant to post it but decided to share the positivity on Facebook, thinking it might give more and more of us a nice little omen of confidence. I didn’t share the news that on the train back I spotted one magpie!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Going to the game with my dad and my brother, we had to get to the ground early as I was asked to appear on talkSPORT again in their live show from Box Park. En route to it we bumped into a few of my former colleagues from Sky Sports, all who believed it was our year. They clearly had not been given the script. No jinxing please!! Once at Box park, it was amazing to see so many Bees fans already inside, sampling the local beverages and soaking up the atmosphere. There was such a positive vibe that it did momentarily ease my fears. The few drinks that followed afterwards also helped! But, it’s amazing how quickly that can change when the nerves kick in!!! And that’s exactly what happened at kick off. 

Once again, the Brentford fans were brilliant. It felt electric in the stadium as our east stand did what we could to roar the team on. I wasn’t sure I could take 90 minutes with my emotions all over the place but as we know it didn’t take long for us to be jumping up from our seats as Bryan Mbeumo was brought down by Freddie Woodman for a penalty, and Ivan gave us the early lead. Obviously, I didn’t see the penalty, but I roared all the same with everyone else when the ball clearly had gone into the net. Ten minutes later, it all felt like a dream as it was 2-nil. Bryan instrumental in our break as Swansea tried to level, Mads Roerslev making an incredible run to get himself into the mix and Emi Marcondes with the finish that got us all thinking could this be our year? The momentum was very much with us and not long after Ivan’s volley could have sealed it. If only it had gone in. How did it not? It’s those gods again!!! 

It did all feel comfortable it has to be said. But, they always say a 2-0 lead is never safe and knowing we had another half to come, my nerves were still all over the place. I kept jostling my feet, my knees kept shaking and even with Swansea’s Jay Fulton sent off just after the hour mark, I still didn’t feel job done. Because, well, you know why; That devil was there on my shoulder again saying “it’s Brentford innit”. 

Swansea didn’t have a single shot on target in the game, but I wasn’t thinking that whilst it was going on. I was thinking, even in added on time, this is agony. So, when the whistle went, I sprang out of my seat, jumped around in ecstasy. Had we really just won? Had we really just won a playoff? Are we really in the Premier League? That moment of being in Wembley still feels unreal. Turning to my 82-year-old dad, his eyes were wet and red. He is an emotional person any way, but he’s never cried at football. Never. But here he was with his emotions for all to see and the best thing I could do was pull him in for a hug. He couldn’t believe what he’d seen, and he couldn’t believe our club were going to be one of the top 20 teams in England. Not just that but our global reach had just grown epic proportions. Next to join in our huddle was my brother and I am forever grateful that that whole moment was captured on video so that we can relive it over and over again as it’s the most special footballing moment for us. 

I was lucky after the game to be invited to the Brentford celebrations at the stadium. It was wonderful to experience, to see the joy on everyone knowing they had just achieved what for so long felt impossible. A little over 10 years ago Brentford were in League Two facing Barnet, Macclesfield, Aldershot, Notts County, Chester, Darlington, Dagenham & Redbridge – not one of them are in the Football League anymore. 

That could have been us had it not been for Bees United and Matthew Benham. There will never be enough words to say a big thanks to those important game changers for the club. But, going from those days at Moss Rose and Meadow Lane to Anfield and the Emirates is still incomprehensible. We’ve lived in a bubble of hope for so long and although we will fondly refer to us as “a bus stop in Hounslow” and there will be some that think it’s wrong a club like ours should be in the Premier League (Really Terry Christian?!), we are going to have to get used to it as we can no longer say “it’s Brentford innit”, instead it’s “we are Premier League, say we are Premier League.” 

Kitman Bob, he writes what he wants. A week before destiny.

3 Jun

Brentford are in the Premier League. Repeat. Brentford ARE in the Premier League. If the Bournemouth play-off semi-final was immense, Saturday at Wembley against Swansea was next level. I’m still smiling now. Then, when it couldn’t get any better, it did. The chance to share the build up from inside the Bees camp arrived, courtesy of none other than the legend that is Big Bob Oteng. 

Our club Kitman and all-round Bees’ hero has collected his thoughts from the end of that epic encounter with The Cherries right through the build-up to Swansea and the final whistle at Wembley. A sneak-peak behind the curtain of just what went on and just why we won. But written in his own quite wonderful words.

Over to you Bob. A week before destiny. In his words…. and pictures.

Saturday.

It’s 4:55 PM and we’ve just won 3-1 in a game that had everything a football fan could wish for. As long as you’re on the winning side that is!!

The players have done the usual applauding of the fans in every section of the ground and I follow behind after making sure the old footballs were present and correct in certain sections. I’m greeted with the obligatory ‘Big Bob’ song !

As I enter the dressing room there seems to be different vibe and I mean a totally different vibe to a dressing room that has just won a football match. Brian Mbeumo give us a little speech prompted by Thomas who then brings the room to a silence, says one more and then retreats to his office. As I head back to the kitroom it’s the first time in these play offs I allow myself to start thinking of lions on the new shirt !!!

Monday

I arrive at the training ground early Monday morning, 6.40am. Thomas is already there which in itself isn’t unusual but there are a number of other coaches also present. Something big must be happening !! 

During the weekend Wembley emailed requesting how I would like the dressing room to look. I put in my request and they reply “is that all” as I can see  we are in the East as we were last season. Also during the weekend I’ve had countless DM messages from fans requesting to know what colour keep we will be playing in. This continued throughout the week until the reveal on Friday. As the team finishing the season in the highest position, we get choice of kit colours.

What I had done previously on the Saturday evening was to ask all the Brentford players what they wanted to play in. Each one of them just said RED & WHITE. David wanted his favourite amarilla.  It was such an air of confidence when they all said it.  I more than anyone knew about that red/white supposed curse on teams at Wembley. Last season I pushed for blue, now I just felt it could be time for the curse to be  broken and banished to history by the BEES.

Tuesday

Thomas had already told the players that he wants to build up to Saturday to be like an ordinary week. For the last two days nobody had really discussed what happened on Saturday because we were all there, we all witnessed it and there was a quiet air of confidence at Jersey Road.  

On a Tuesday before a Saturday game is when I start to prep the match kit for the weekend but this was no ordinary game. I had to apply NHS badges to each playing shirt,  to show gratitude for such a wonderful service that has served us all through such difficult times and not just during the last 18 months. Also new sleeve patches showing PLAY-OFFS.

As I prepped all the outfield players kits I started asking myself which one will get us to the promised land? Even a last-minute David Raya header would be welcome. They all will, as that’s what good teams do. The nerves are now building !!!

Wednesday

WELL EARNED DAY OFF FOR THE  PLAYERS !! However, I had to be in as new tracksuits and polo shirts are being delivered for the big day,  ( no white suits )…

Thursday

Today was quite relaxed for me. I’d prepped all the kit Tuesday / Wednesday and now I was waiting for the final squad to be confirmed or any additions from Saturday. 

I walked over to pitch 2 with a hint of curiosity and I have to say the boys looked absolutely on fire. Not sure whoever we are facing are going to be able to contain them for 90min.  Bernardo was walking the boys through some new set pieces For me Saturday couldn’t come soon enough.

Brian Riemer confirmed the squad was as per Saturday. As we chatted in his office, he asked me what I think will happen, (déjà vu took me back to the same question last August. I said then we will win, but when I say it now I truly believed it. All based on the previous Saturday).  I did my final checks and left Jersey Road with such a nervous feeling inside of me. Two more sleeps !!

Friday

Friday was a late report. 2pm for 3pm start.  Thomas had gone round to every member of Jersey Road staff requesting that they be on the training pitch for 3:45pm precisely. At 3:40 all the staff slowly ambled from the pavilion across to  pitch 2. Training was still going on ( patterns of play) – looked very nice these patterns !! 

Training over ran. Brian, Thomas and Kev drilling down certain instructions to the squad.  Once it finished, Thomas called over all the staff to join him with the players. We all formed a massive circle – it was actually the circumference of the centre circle. Thomas stood in between Pontus and Christian and delivered a speech that would have got me ready to play tomorrow. Two VIP coaches arrive at 4pm, we have a light snack and everything is loaded and we depart for the Hotel (dinner 7pm).

I keep my routine the same. Ring home and speak to the family. My little man is excited,  he actually predicts that Vitaly would score, (his favourite player). Myself Manu and Bernardo have usual Friday away night Spanish ritual (sobre la mesa). To discuss the next day and life over the table. We started it Friday night before Preston away.

SATURDAY THE DAY !!

Especially on away games I like to get up by 7am and go for a walk before breakfast. On my walk I passed a bar called The Hive. I also have lots of thoughts  about my friend Rob Rowan, I’m not really one for superstition but 95% of me thinks today is going to be our day !! 

The usual bus ride to the stadium is replaced by myself Peter G, Sladey, Joe N, Lorna walking the 500 yards to the entrance to the stadium. We pass the Hive then, as if my magic, we are met by big Shaun. Big Shaun is the main security tunnel steward at Lionel road, now I’m convinced todays the day.

We arrive at the stadium 10:45am We walk round which seems to be underground beneath 90,000 seats. So many people in suits all directing us in the right direction. If it’s your first time at Wembley you can be in awe. There were so many white sky OB trucks, it looked like a flock of flamingos at a watering hole.

The dressing room looks magnificent. It feels different to the last year. I set the players up in a totally different formation. Pontus likes to sit in the corner of any dressing room but this is going to be hard to achieve as it’s shaped like a horseshoe. 

There are two dressing rooms with a smaller one for the staff. I take 10 minutes to have a look around and have a look outside. I begin my favourite part of my working day (apart from a win at the end) ! By 12:30pm I’m happy and everything is done. 12:45 Mike the Swansea kit man pops in to have a catch up. We both have a laugh about not going to each other’s respective stadiums next season.

The players arrive at 1:15pm.  I sit in the corner of the staff dressing room playing word search on my phone,  Reidy wants a change of socks, then it back to word search. I’ve done 5 levels on my word search game and then it’s time for the warm up. The dressing room looks the same as it does on every away game. Sliders everywhere. Emiliano’s sliders always in the centre of the room. I’m sure it’s a thing with him. 

The nerves are kicking in now and I try and find work to kill the time. The boys come in, do their rituals pads on shirts on then it’s huddle time.  Christian delivers an emotional speech and again I wish I was going out to play.

The first 45 minutes for me are the best in 25 years. I can remember it all which is very rare for me. At half time the boys are really calm. Thomas is calm. All the messages are delivered in a calm way and I know that today is our day. I’m so confident I didn’t emerge for the second half until the 92nd or 93rd minute. Those last two minutes went really quickly but at the final whistle I went over to Mike and wished him commiserations. I run onto the pitch to join the huddle and just started jumping around. I don’t remember much after, hence I’ve watched the game back in full twice and the celebrations countless at times on social media. Also all the pictures will be sent at some point.

This day and this season I will never forget both personally and professionally. It has sunk in for me because I always knew the at one point during my time with  Brentford we  would reach the promised land, and I am so grateful and privileged that I was a small cog in the wheel of this wonderful bus stop in Hounslow about to join the premier league express !!

Bob Oteng

It wasn’t a dream. It isn’t (quite) a soap opera.

31 May

The morning after the morning after the night before. For a moment, I had to double check that Bobby Ewing hadn’t just walked out of our shower. No. We’re good. Instead, the closest we had was Kitman Bob and the players showering Instantgram with the most amazing post match pictures. Celebration, you say? The only Dallas nightmare Brentford have to worry about will be the chance to cross swords with Stuart at Leeds United once more. Southampton rather than Southfork the destination to plug in to the satnav. Supporters and staff clearly taking Thomas Frank’s post match directive not to think about Premier League and let’s just get drunk to heart. I think we’re now on Monday. It’s been long and hazy. It’s been immense. The realisation of what next season promises is only now sinking in. For Swansea City, a visit from newly promoted Blackpool (congratulations). For the Bees, it’ll be Leeds United, Wolves, Manchester United and all those other household names now having to park up at a bus stop in Hounslow.

Kitman Bob 1 Bobby Ewing 0

Never has it been a more exciting time to be a Brentford fan. The post-Preston spirit that saw supporters and players partying in the street and drinking together outside The Griffin as we celebrated reaching the Championship back in 2014 replicated, in part, up at Lionel Road. We’ve all seen the pictures on Kew Bridge (those not able to be present). Have all , I am sure, read the stories of the cup being brought in to the Express Tavern and other surrounding locales. West London has been buzzing. On fire. A powder keg of excitement that keep blowing up again and again. The local news donated by stories of the Bees.

Yesterday’s post match mood continuing with more time spent in the pub because, well, why wouldn’t you? We’ve only gone and made it into the Premier League. Besides, Thomas said we could.

Help was needed by Sunday evening

The phone hasn’t stopped going off. RSI from answering all the messages another thing to add to the list of unexpected top flight consequences that range from Brentford now being in the Panini sticker book to moving up a level on FIFA 22. Mixing it with Manchester United on screen aswell as on pitch. I’ve had more TV appearances than Billy Grant (ok, now we’re just being silly but apologies for those who caught the ITV News on Friday or Sunday). Most exciting of all for some, our League One and Championship rivalry with Wolves finally restored. 

Of all the big names, understandably, being bandied around that’s one in particular I am looking forward to. For those few years it felt as though we were joined at the hip. Slugging it out toe to toe and point for point in League One. The pair of us knocking the psychological stuffing out of Leyton Orient until we celebrated like we’d won the FA Cup. Bakary Sako’s Swarovski encrusted boots something we can now look back on and laugh at, in the nicest sense.

Both teams making it up together and then giving it our best in the Championship until the Molineux outfit hit the accelerator and have carved out their own new level of incredible form. A lot of friends were made along the way and that’s going to be a very special game.

Bakary Sako’s boots – this actually happened.

We all have our reasons of knowing which ones we’re looking forward to. For me, Leeds United for family reasons (Hi, Julian – you know who WILL be there with us) as much as on pitch ones. Dallas. Maupay. Maupay. Pontus. The memories are strong there. You can chuck Manchester United in to the mix aswell. Primarily, because of the 18 months I spent working in the city. For every ‘away’ trip to Bury or Rochdale was the opportunity of a midweek visit to Old Trafford, offered up as a result of having United supporting colleagues with spare Season Tickets.

Watching neutral football in such an arena is never quite the same and, from a personal note, there was still more passion watching Brentford playing up the road in Accrington. Bitter cold. Dire performance. But my team. Now, we’ll be able to face the Red Devils and use the vocal cords for real. Many of those I worked with then still in the North-West, still in touch and now people who it will be even more incredible to catch up with.

Come on Leeds. It WAS a penalty

I guess the next big date for the diary will be June 16th. That’s when the fixtures are published . The first games due to take place the weekend of August 14th. Between now and then, there’ll be plenty to look forward to. A kit launch. Perhaps a couple of very special guest contributors on these pages (the door is always open) if I can just tie up the footballing equivalent of Neighbours ‘Udagawa deal’.  A lot of squeaky bum time as transfer rumours will no doubt swirl around the club. Thankfully, the possibility of losing David, Rico, Josh, Ivan, Sergi, Ethan and all those other names linked with top flight clubs had we not made it has perhaps receded a bit. Here’s hoping. Certainly, Ivan’s post match speech gave huge encouragement that he will be going nowhere. A Premier League striker and part of the best dressing room he has ever experienced.

It is that team spirit and bond that has got us to where we are. Has brought us back from the cliff of that most devastating of blows this time last season. Missing out on the top flight at an empty Wembley. Fulham, of all clubs, taking the final spot in the Premier League and then tamely surrendering it. That’s their problem, of course. Now the opportunity is Brentford’s. The next few months are going to be the amongst the most exciting on record. The build up incredible. The thought of hearing Peter Gilham’s voice the first time we walk out at Lionel Road, one which like the Wolves fixture, I am looking forward to as much as anything else.

You couldn’t make it up. It’s the stuff of soap operas. But it’s true. It’s happening. Brentford are now in the top, top division. And its going to be soon.

Stuart Dallas – scorer of my favourite ever Bees goal (pre-Marcondes)

Nick Bruzon

The time is now. One More Game….

29 May

Here…. We…. Go….. Saturday morning. The day has come. Brentford face Swansea City in the play-off final at Wembley. The prize, indescribable. The anticipation, immense. Gone are the nerves that have so preceded our previous nine bites at this particular promotion cherry. Now, there is only optimism. Now, there is only the knowledge that if our team do what we all know they are capable of then the top flight awaits. Turn up. Win game. Get promoted. Oh, it sounds so simple. In theory.

Can Ivan fire us to glory? 31 goals in the regular season is immense

Let’s start with the elephant in the room, our record. We all know Brentford have been in the play-offs nine times before, as recently as last season’s Championship final. We all know that Brentford have lost in the play-offs nine times before. Only Preston North End match that and even they won at the tenth attempt.

And?  For me, Clive, it is an utter irrelevance. History counts for naff all. It is a run that stretches back to 1990/91 and Tranmere Rovers. That’s over thirty years. A huge swathe of our fans wouldn’t even have been alive as Kevin Godfrey squared things up in the first leg before the Bees set off on that epic run of statistical anti-form. It happened and it has happened since. Thing is, we were a different club then. An outfit that needed to sell to survive. Had no budget. No genuine hope of going up, despite the best endeavours of everyone on the pitch and in the stands. Every few years the balance of playing staff would fit and we’d make a decent run at the top six or beyond. Then, we’d inevitably be forced into selling our one star player and the rebuilding process for another stab a few years later would begin again. 

Chuck in a few cruel hands from fate – finishing second yet still being forced into this mini lottery against Huddersfield in 94/95, where the penalties still haunt as though it were yesterday – and you could forgive supporters for being wary.

That was then. This is now. Where once we had Gus Hurdle, now we have Henrik Dalsgaard.  Instead of seeing goal machine Nicky Forster being sold, we now have Ivan Toney banging them in for fun. It could be anyone  – like for like the current team would undoubtedly beat any of those that have gone before were it somehow possible to throw them together. Gus and Nicky only mentioned as much because they were two of my favourites from an era that ended with the complete no-show against Crewe Alexandra. Watch the highlights again should you possess the masochistic vibe of wanting to see just how awful we were that day.

So yes, looking back at what ultimately boils down to intermittent games in a three decade stretch, one can imagine Roy Castle and Norris lining up to explain to an excited studio audience of boy scouts and school kids what has happened previously. How bad it may look on paper. Thing is, records are there to be broken. Good or bad. The performances of David McGhee and Robert Taylor 25 years ago will have no bearing on what Vitaly Janelt and Sergi Canos do today. The fans may remember and rightly so. If anything, it will only make any triumph even sweeter. 

Sergi has been immense this season

Watching the ITV News last night one of the Brentford segments included a piece with Thomas Frank. The question regarding an apparent ‘curse’ of red and white striped team’s losing in the final was put to him. His answer was that, less than 24 hours before the final, he didn’t even know what colour we were playing in. Oh, and that he had no thoughts to any omens.

Good man. True or not, the attention should not be on the colour of our shirts but purely on getting over the line. His attitude and focus were spot on last weekend against Bournemouth. More of the same this afternoon would do very nicely, thank you.

For the record, we will be in red and white this afternoon. Excellent news. Just like the curse of the Millennium Stadium South dressing room, broken in the 2002 final by Stoke City against, err…, all this stuff counts for nothing in the grand scheme (manager of the month curse aside, which I will defend to the grave).

Past record, past colours, past players. Use them for motivation but nothing else. There is no other parallel between the past and what will happen today. That will boil down to nothing more than Brentford v Swansea City. Who wins a one off game off football. Whose fans can do the most to help lift their team. Who holds their nerve and stays strong over the entire 90 minutes.

Kit colour has been confirmed

Look at last Saturday. It was a masterclass in discipline, in courage and in playing football. Playing the occasion. Despite going two goals down on aggregate within five minutes of kick off, Brentford were immense. Our fans were incredible. Bournemouth falling apart like Leeds United on a promotion push. Yet even the Elland Raod outfit got it right in the end and if we play anywhere near the levels last weekend, we’ll do the same.

Billy Reeves was in ebullient form on social media yesterday. Along with the GPG, sharing a photo of what has since been confirmed legitimate and titled “AFCB Frustration Hole”.  Asmir Begović lashing out after full time to vent his fury. If ever a sign was needed that Brentford had done a job when it counted then here it was. More of the same today would be very nice, thank you.

Oh, Asmir…

Obviously I’m going to call a Brentford win. I’m genuinely confident although not arrogantly so. As we’ve been saying all week, Swansea City aren’t going to hand it to us and will be as determined as we are. This will be hard fought and we’ll need to be at our best. Thing is, if we are then the memories of Crewe, Huddersfield, Stoke, Tranmere, Yeovil and all the others could be laid to rest. Finally. What Thomas says and does will be key. Obviously.

Sitting here with a very early breakfast, I just want to get going. Glory awaits. Can Brentford take it?  Roll on 3pm when we find out. The team have been incredible this season.  Imagine that moment on 90 minutes if the result has gone our way…. Think back to Saturday and recall how sweet that was. How absolutely ecstatic the moment felt. An orgasmic denouement that wouldn’t even have been bettered had Mrs Browns Boys and The England supporters band been exiled to the Falkland Islands. Then take it ten times better.

That’s what we’re playing for. That’s what awaits.  ENJOY. See you there.

ONE. MORE. GAME.

Nick Bruzon

Ticket and travel update ahead of Saturday.

26 May

Wednesday. The midweek eye of the storm in the build up to Brentford – Swansea City on Saturday. The euphoria of the weekend and the stunning obliteration of Bournemouth now replaced with the knowledge that we are 90 minutes from the Premier League. That said, for those of us needing that additional fix of emotion ‘official’ were doing everything possible to help us OD with an alternate take of the 3-1 drubbing now being shared. For others, there was the question of whether ballot tickets would be awarded to their children or if any of us would even be able to go following the latest Corona confusion impacting the London Borough of Hounslow.

The good news is that despite the scare felt by many, clarification has finally been given with govt advice now being updated to say that there are no local lockdowns and no travel restrictions in place. Leader of Hounslow council and Bees fan Steve Curran no doubt happy to see this threat binned, making a statement to highlight the futility of such a proposal aswell as lambasting what he sees as a, frankly, shambolic response. “For one of London’s most connected boroughs – with Heathrow on its doorstep, the M4 and A4 running through it, the Piccadilly Line, the main line from Waterloo, plus the North Circular via Kew Bridge – to try and limit travel within its borders is not only impossible, it’s a ridiculous idea.

Anyway, it means we can all go to the game on Saturday. Those of us with tickets, that is. What it means for the longer term BIAS petition to increase capacity remains to be seen. Despite the signatories blitzing this one, the inclusion of Hounslow on a list of 8 local ‘hotpsots’ suggests that, through no fault of theirs or the football community, any significant stepping up of supporter numbers would now seem unlikely. Coincidence? Convenience? Or a right and proper outcome following the latest news? 

It doesn’t really matter what we think. I can’t see it happening now. Sadly. Despite over 10,000 names added in little over two days,I can’t imagine any politician will want the broader outcry that will inevitably come with being seen to proactively empower an additional 5000 to travel from Brentford, given its location in the vast borough of Hounslow. Look positive and be grateful for what you have, no doubt, being their expectation of us.

In a way, to even have 4000 present will be a boost compared to last year. Rattling around an empty Wembley about as soul destroying as it gets. What should have been the ultimate experience for the players reduced to an echoy nothingness. Instead, this time around they will have the memory of our previous play-off campaign to draw on aswell as some actual noise from the Brentford faithful. 

My word, if it was loud on Saturday, then it will need to be double that this time around. Watching the highlights, the whole game replay, the aforementioned video and any other excuse to reinject the atmosphere directly into my veins  (metaphorically speaking) what continues to blow me away is just how noisy this was. Wow. Just wow !!!  And that was with Lionel Road less than a quarter full. What a lift it must have been. We’re going to have to be double, triple that on Saturday. Bottle the memory and bring it with you along with the extra strong mints and strepsils. Thomas, pack your runners and do another pre kick-off lap (or 200 metres, perhaps). That, alone, responsible for giving us an even bigger lift at the crucial time. And, like magic pants, lucky shorts or not shaving, a potential pre-match ritual that may now have to be set in stone.

Pack those runners for Wembley, Thomas.

On a personal note, and thank you so much to everybody asking, our Harry won’t be going whilst I don’t know whether Woody was successful. Brentford official have confirmed on the website that  the 50 pairs of tickets for junior supporters have now been allocated and all winners contacted. Congratulations. Genuinely. I’m not a fool and, like anybody, would love the opportunity for my family to be there. Equally, there are so many of us missing out in equally unfair circumstances that are the fault nobody connected to the club. Likewise, I am sure, on the Swansea City side. That’s the harsh reality of life at the moment.

I just wish there was a Plan B to let some extra supporters in but, barring a petition based miracle, it looks like this is it. Sadly, not even doing Plan A better would seem to be an option available to us this time around. Then again, look what happened when we tried that before. Unless somebody is able to use Mark Warburton’s abacus for dishing out the tickets then this is it.  Instead, it is now on all of us fortunate enough to be present to make our voices heard for one more game. To give the team support like never before but as much, to help win it for those watching back home, in the pubs and wherever they can find screen.

One more game. It sounds so simple on paper. 

One more game…..

Nick Bruzon

A good news, bad news sort of day. Thieves, tickets and a lot of love.

25 May

So here we are. The build up to Saturday’s play off final between Brentford and Swansea City has well and truly begun. Our paltry ticket allocation (the same for both clubs) is now flying off the shelves to those fans with sufficient TAPS. The petition started by BIAS to have the attendance increased to 20,000 is gathering momentum (with Gemma Teale getting it as far as the BBC last night). As of this morning, the count was approaching 9000 signatures and there is still time to get this signed. Will publish a further link at the bottom. Closer to home, my faith in the goodwill of people has gone through both the roof and the floor. The love coming in for Woody and his family, following the words penned by his mum on Sunday morning, has seen emotions all over the place. On the flip side, thieves have targeted the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street at the weekend using the distraction of the post Bournemouth spirit to steal a squad signed  Bees shirt being raffled to raise money for a Hounslow food bank.

First up, tickets. We all know the scoop by now. Both Brentford and Swansea City will have less fans in on Saturday than they did for their respective semi finals. A stadium three or four times the size holding a fraction of supporters, despite the fact everybody was quite happy to double the capacity at the drop of a hat when there was the lure of a Champions League final at the same stadium on the same day dangled under the nose.Hmmm. 

BIAS have done sterling work in galvanising supporters with both Brentford and Swansea official also making their opinions very publicly known. We ALL want this to be the occasion it most definitely could and whilst the 8000 official fans (I’m not counting superfluous corporates etc) will do a wondrous job in building the atmosphere, imagine it with double that? There IS still hope. 

Today will be crucial to keep the momentum going. If you haven’t signed it as yet then please do. Please pass it on toy our football loving friends. Your families. Anybody you think would want this to happen / who has access to the internet. The link is at the bottom of this column.

On a personal note it was a real good news, bad news sort of Monday. As much through having been coming to Griffin Park (now LR) since 1979, I’m over the TAP threshold so got my ticket. I will be at Wembley with my friends but I won’t be with there with my family. Our Harry, who lives and breathes the club, misses out. Mrs B will be left behind, too. 

There are thousands of us in the same boat. Thousands of deserving fans with Season Tickets who, ordinarily, would be guaranteed a ticket to the game. Instead, we’ve all been torn apart. I haven’t missed a match with H in I don’t know how long. He’s gutted. I’m gutted. We’re gutted. He loves the club (especially Sergi) and his life revolves around it. From reading the teams pre kick off to being a mascot. From having the players in our house at Halloween to modelling the kit for the launch photos. Something which, even as recently as this weekend, I was given a wonderful reminder of when bumping into a fellow ‘model’ outside The Griff who also shared this photo. Thank you.

He’s still only 7(seven) yet thinks that’s ‘just’ how football works. That Brentford make this sort of stuff happen all the time if supporters want to get involved. The possibility of not going to a game when others can is one that hadn’t even crossed the mind. Until now.

The old ‘eagle distraction trick’ a tool up the sleeve of every decent photographer

Again, we all know this isn’t the club’s fault. We’ve been served up a dog’s dinner of a deal. We have SO MANY deserving fans who, like Harry, will miss out. I’m not after special treatment but simply giving my version of a personal story that I know is impacting so many of us. There will be many, many more similar. Many, many more who should be there and can’t . Who will be devastated about missing this. Who will be crammed in to pubs or front rooms trying to make the best of the situation. Many, many who like us will be sitting anxiously by the phone today. Please, get signing. Get your voice heard.

Look at Woody. The  positive reaction and love coming back on social media as a reply to the piece about him was nothing short of life affirming. Thank you. He won’t be there as it stands but If anybody needs to be it is him. If anybody gets the chance to lead out the team (should Corona somehow allow it) it is him. Here’s hoping he gets the first of the phone calls saying a ballot place has been awarded. Pretty sure everybody has read this one but, if not, then you can find that here…. Please do enjoy.

Harry – no eagle needed these days – and Woody at the weekend.

On the downside, local pub The Magpie and Crown have seen their own charity efforts hit by thieves late on Saturday night. A signed shirt being raffled to raise money for a Hounslow food bank was stolen. With everyone understandably distracted by the emotion of what had gone before, an opportunist(s) have pinched this off the wall behind the bar and it has gone walkies.

To date, the item has not been returned but if anyone has any information as to where it is, please get in touch with Scott Illman at the Magpie on the High Street. If you have it and have woken up with drunken regret, just pop it back through the letterbox or post it back – no questions asked. Hundreds of tickets had been sold to raise money for a cause that shouldn’t even require funds raised. Perhaps whomever took it was drunk and didn’t realise what it was for (he says being optimistic) but there can be no doubt now. Keep your eyes open on the auction sites, too. To date, this hasn’t been spotted online.

Finally, we have a referee for Saturday. Premier League Chris Kavanagh has been parachuted in to take charge of the final Championship game of the season. His record this season suggests yellow cards could be in the offing. Has a tense affair just go tenser? Roll on Saturday when we can find out. All being well, with 20,000 fans there.

That petiton link is HERE HERE HERE. Please sign it.

One more game…..

Nick Bruzon

Ticket details announced. #farce. But there IS another way you might get in….

24 May

Monday morning and still grinning like a lunatic. Voice still sounding like the squeaky teenager from The Simpsons. Brentford having delivered the ultimate high in turning a round a two goal deficit against Bournemouth to reach this Saturday’s play off final at Wembley. A day where what happened pre kick-off, post game and off-field was as incredible as what happened on the pitch. You can read about it here if you want. Likewise, huge thanks for all the kind comments. Especially regarding the second column about Woody making his way back to a game. Yet special though it all was, and it was amazing, it has been and gone. Now, Swansea City await in North London.

The Monday after the weekend before

Like us, the Swans are one win away from the Premier League. For Steve Cooper, this most coveted of prizes. Amongst other things, a chance to avenge last season’s semi-final defeat to the Bees. For us….. well, we all know the scoop. We all know the history. We all know what happened last time out in the final. Not to mention the eight attempts prior to that one. Tickets go on sale this lunchtime and if the enormity of the task at hand is now the immediate focus, the fact that we will have less than 4,000 supporters present in a 90,000 stadium has, understandably, got everyone’s back up. Also, I have no doubt, for Swansea who will also be operating under the same, crazed restrictions.

That this game, and the other divisional finals, will be played out in front of just 10,000 seems utter madness. The FA Cup final had 20,000 last week. Likewise, with the authorities prepared to sell us up the river and shift the final elsewhere at the 11th hour to accommodate a relocated  Champions’ League final with a similar sized crowd part of the deal. So don’t give us this “It’ not a test event” gumph. Then we’ve got the Euro’s next month where larger crowds will be in attendance. There is no logical reason to have a crowd reduction this coming weekend. No practical reason why extra supporters can’t be allowed in. Nobody is naive enough to think that a full house is anywhere near feasible given what’s going on at present but, equally, a paltry 10,000 makes no sense in the broader landscape. 

We all know the arguments. We all know the situation. We all know that the bun fight for entry will see thousands of regular season ticket holders disappointed. At any other time, they’d be guaranteed entry. Not now. Not even close to a chance. The club have taken the least bad option available to them an, in line with the Customer Charter, gone for a TAP based threshold once more. Its all they could do. The full details are on the website, along with a hard hitting statement lambasting the situation:

We at the Club feel it is unjust that only one week ago, more than 20,000 fans were admitted to The FA Cup Final and advanced discussions were taking place for Wembley to host the Champions League final with a similar number of fans attending. We find it incredulous and unjustifiable just two weeks later, the Championship Play-Off Final will be restricted to just half of that number.

We’re fighting for an extra 750 but, if you want to go, there MAY be another way. BIAS have leapt into action and set up an online change.org petition to have capacity increased. You can see that and sign it here. Supporters DO have a voice. Whether it will be listened to at such short notice is another question but if you don’t ask you don’t get. At the very least, it will help further highlight this ludicrous situation and the contempt football fans are, once again, being held in. Besides, with Boris prepared to jump on to any bandwagon to potentially enhance his image amidst the debacle of the covid crisis, perhaps its not a as futile a gesture as the cynical may suspect. So sign it. Please. HERE. Share it. Pass it to your mates. Send it to other fans. Should any Swansea supporters be reading, this impacts you as much as us.

Saturday will be incredible. Wembley will be rocking. 4,000 supporters took the roof off Lionel Road. Double that, with fans from both clubs, will be next level. But imagine with double even that? There’s no reason not to. One of football’s greatest, most anticipated, weekends deserves as many supporters there as possible. There’s NO genuine reason why this can’t be possible.

See you there. I hope…

Nick Bruzon   

Cometh the hour, cometh the fans.

21 May

Friday morning. Silly o’clock and I can’t sleep. This is now. Imagine then? Come 11.30am on Saturday morning there are likely to be cheers from some quarters and a mini meltdown from others. Brentford will be an hour away from starting the play-off semi final with Bournemouth, a goal down after the first leg but just 90 minutes away from a final game shoot out with Barnsley or Swansea City. The team will have been named and, with it, we’ll all know the decision from Thomas Frank as to his tactical approach. More of the same or welcome Rico and Henrik back in to the fold? Shake it around in the attacking zone and take the chance to perhaps start Emiliano or Bryan? Whatever happens he will be lauded by some and moaned at by others. That’s football. We’ve been seeing it all season. We all have our favourites. The difference being that for what feels like the first time in a month or two we actually have the ability to make some genuinely exciting decisions as to who starts.

From some respects, it doesn’t even matter. On their day, everybody in our squad has the ability to be a game changer. To be a matchwinner. Whomever Thomas begins with, this is all going to boil down to individual fortitude. To holding their nerve on the occasion. To how we start this one. Thomas has promised we are going to go for it from the off. An obvious strategy or a double bluff to try and force Jonathan Woodgate’s tactical hand? Again, it doesn’t really matter when a goal comes  – first minute or beyond – as long as we score first. Do that and everything is all square. Concede and we’ve got to get two just to bring party back. Again, something we can do on our day but a position I think we’d all prefer to avoid.

I was talking to a source close to the club last night and they nailed it quite succinctly. This is as all about how clinical we can be. As we all know, when this team is on fire the goals fly in. Ivan’s record speaks for itself but don’t forget the likes of Marcus Forss, Sergi Canos and Bryan Mbeumo also weighing in. We need to create the chances, obviously, but take them and this one could be out of sight.

Ivan Toney – his record speaks for itself

We had one penalty shout-ish and the one clear chance last week. That was it. As much a tactical feet finding of a game where Bournemouth came out flying, our own defence kept them out and one slip up saw us caught by a lightning fast break. The 2,000 fans present creating an apparent ‘electrical’ atmosphere. That wasn’t the vibe I got watching from home on TV but, then again, it could have just been the fault of the Sky cameras. 

It doesn’t really matter, to be fair. That was then and this is now. All the post-mortems in the world won’t change a thing. The result is the result. The performance has gone. It all comes down to what happens on Saturday lunchtime. We will have 4000 supporters present (14000 if Mark Warburton is counting) and as key to anything will be how loud they are. On a normal day this game would have easily been a sell out within minutes. Instead, access has been granted to those lucky enough to have cleared the TAP limit or won the ballot. Their reward a chance to see Ivan Toney in the flesh. His last game at Lionel Road as a Championship player. A chance to get inside our new home, perhaps for the first time. To be there when the boys have the opportunity to make history. 

With that opportunity comes the knowledge that they are doing it on behalf of all the fans. We’re fortunate enough beyond belief to be going but, my word, need to make up for that by generating an atmosphere. Peter Gilham will no doubt be egging us on from the off. Expect one of his famous renditions of ‘Hey, Jude’ at some point. 

Yet as much as the players hitting the ground running and going for it from the off, equally the onus will be on the supporters. Never more so than before will home advantage be that. An actual advantage. One sided support with the ability to get on the Bournemouth backs. To remind the ref and the linos the rules of the game. To sing songs. Make noise. Call for fouls. Raise the roof. For Angry Dad, Harry Potter and the rest of us to make those voices heard. Griffin Park was an incredible place when the crowd got going. Saturday sees our first real chance to try and do the same. There’ll be numbers behind us and a huge prize at stake. The importance of the supporters cannot be underestimated. The players talk about what a difference the fans can make. This could be the ultimate example.

The role of, and bond with, the supporters was always HUGE at Griffin Park

Wear your lucky shirt and magic pants. Bring your goal sweets and, please, extra strong mints. The difference that luckiest of omens could make cannot be put into words. Most importantly, bring your voices and make yourself heard. Obviously, that bit doesn’t need saying. I know the atmosphere is going to be immense. The desire to get promoted. The will to win. The excitement of being in our new home will all guarantee that. We all know the reward for victory and will all be shouting us on. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to a good old-fashioned, “Push Up Brentford” within the first two minutes. It’s been a long time coming. 

Yet perhaps, as exciting, will be hearing Peter ready to self-combust as he preps for kick off. Let alone should anything positive happen over the course of the game. That scream of “Brennnnnnttttttttt-fooorrrrdddddddd”  blasting over and around the ground. Every goal scored being sponsored by Siracusa, It’s a little Italian restaurant. At Brentford Lock. 

It’s the sort of game and day you can talk up for hours. Of course, we will. Rightly so. It’s part of what makes football. If nothing else, even just being able to meet for a pre-match pint is a novelty and ritual I am very much looking to. Yet nothing that goes before will change what happens when referee Jarred Gillett (who also took charge of our home game with Bournemouth this season) starts proceedings. The excitement is palpable and the anticipation up there with the possible cancellation of Mrs. Brown’s Boys.  Yes, its on Thomas. Yes. its on the players, But its also on us.

Cometh the hour, cometh the fans….

SEE. YOU. THERE !!!!

Thomas, Peter and the fans. All with a role to play. All hoping to be back at Carrow Road next season.

Nick Bruzon 

Three games. Two weeks. One winner….

16 May

Congratulations Leicester City. Their 1-0 win in yesterday’s FA Cup final over Chelsea as much a victory for the fans in the stands and those back home as it was for the Foxes. With Brentford next up in enjoying supporters present (albeit of the ‘home’ variety only) for Monday evening’s play-off first leg at Bournemouth, one can only help this cautious return is one which can now escalate. The difference between an empty stadium and a ground not even a quarter full was palpable. The noise a cacophony with cheers and boos greeting every blast of the referee’s whistle. No more than when VAR once again proved itself to be as a big a passion killer as Mrs Brown smooching with Donald Trump whilst being serenaded by the England Supporter’s ‘band’. At least, if you wee a Chelsea fan. The jubilation that came from the Leicester end as the late equaliser was chalked off for the most marginal of offsides, the loudest noise off the afternoon. At least, until the cup was raised. If ever there was something for Brentford to try and emulate then there it was . The chance to enjoy the sweetest of triumphs in front of our supporters. Wembley sounding like the loudest place on earth despite the enforced emptiness of most seats. Not that anybody was sitting down.

Passion killer – VAR in ‘human’ form

That’s all a long way off, of course. First things first, Thomas Frank has to mastermind his way past Bournemouth. Brentford go into the mini tournament as 6/4 favourites with the bookmakers, followed by The Cherries, Barnsley and then Swansea City at 4/1. Scratch all of that. This is about as even as they come. This is as much to do with nerves and remaining calm as it is footballing ability and current form. Monday evening is going to be huge but I can’t wait. Genuinely excited. Of course, there is also a level of trepidation but after all that has come before us this season, we now have a chance to take those final steps towards the Premier League.

This time last campaign we were about as down as it is possible to get in footballing terms. The ultimate prize dropped on the line. Brentford had missed out on automatic and then went into the semi with a Swansea City team who had edged past Nottingham Forest to finish sixth in that most well documented and exciting of fashions. They had their tails up and won the first game by a single goal. Rico Henry saw red and, whilst Keith Stroud’s decision was eventually over turned before the return fixture, the evening felt like yet another step down that well trodden path signposted, ‘It’s Brentford, innit?’. The fortitude shown in the return fixture was immense. Unfortunately the final turned out to be a victory for Cheatrovic and some industrial challenges over a team who just ran out of steam and had no way through until it was too little, too late.

Keith Stroud…..not for the first time, Brentford suffered his thing in the play-offs

Hindsight it a wonderful thing, of course. Things haven’t exactly been a bed of roses for Fulham since going up. They’ve played out the campaign in an empty, three-sided ground and returned directly to the Championship. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. We can’t tell what we would or wouldn’t have done but the important thing at this juncture is to take all of that and learn from it. The vast majority of this squad went through it all together. Hurt together. Kicked on again this season together. The primary addition to the group being Ivan Toney. A player in whom the way to goal is as instinctive as anybody with a three figure IQ reaching for the remote control whenever Mrs Brown’s Boys comes on TV.

All good in, theory.  Football doesn’t work like that. Just ask Chelsea. Cliche alert : this boils down to who wants it most. We know what we can do on our day. Insatiable going forward, Impenetrable at the back. We also know we can have our ‘Coventry away’ moments. That, as much as the form of Watford and Norwich City, the reason we are now facing a tenth stab at the play-offs. Finishing third for a second successive season is wonderful but now is the time to back it up with a genuine reward rather than good wishes from the footballing community. 

The other three teams fighting it out are going to feel equally deserving and will be 110% committed to winning this thing at any cost. Just turning up, expecting to win and being seen as the ‘nice guys’ won’t cut it. Thomas Frank is going to have to give the mother of all team talks on Monday. And Saturday. He has the talent at his disposal, that’s for sure. 

Yet, yet, yet. I still can’t but help feel properly excited by all of this. That’s not right. It’s the play-offs. We all know our record. It’s terrible – in terms of sheer horror, one to rank alongside the 2000 version of ‘The Great Escape’ that had the temerity to reach number 26 in the hit parade. We should be quaking but, instead, I’m buzzing with anticipation. An air of calm currently very much the vibe in our house. Table INSIDE the pub booked for Monday evening and as much the prospect of seeing old friends from a social distance a cause for additional excitement as is the game at hand. 

It really exists. People really bought it…

We are three games away from playing in the top flight next season for the first time in just about everybody’s living memory. Even our Methuselah on the mic, Peter Gilham. Three games away from hosting teams like Leicester City and Chelsea as well as those other names we are all so familiar with. Most importantly, we get the chance to see an actual live game of football again. Judging by the cup final yesterday, that in itself is a prize worth fighting for. A trip to Wembley something to be savoured. Something to be enjoyed. Something that, unlike previous attempts, won’t be something to fear. IF we can get past Bournemouth first. 

Cripes, the noise that came out of 21,000 yesterday was a thing of beauty to behold. A reminder of why football is nothing without fans. Here’s hoping there is more to come in the coming two weeks. For Brentford….

Imagine experiencing this….. What an aspiration.

Nick Bruzon

Who wants it most? Who will hold their nerve?

21 Apr

So, play-offs it is. Hopefully. Not a typo. A 1-1 draw for Brentford with Cardiff City last night, combined with Watford picking up an absolutely crucial win at Norwich City, means the gap to second place in The Championship is now ten points with four games to play. Maths keeps that dream alive but, realistically, it is now time to regroup and rediscover our goal scoring form before a tenth bite at the end of season cherry. An unbeaten run now stretching to eight games with only five goals against (and two of those came in the second half switch off at Derby back in mid-March) suggests all is not as rotten in the Garden of Eden as many would have you believe. However, the inability to turn wins into draws over the course of the season – only Millwall have more than our 15 – is putting paid to any aspiration of going up via the direct route. That is, of course, assuming there is no last minute wobble combined with a surge from 7th (seventh) placed Reading. As we’ve been saying all year, this one is going to run until game 46. If nothing else, just look at what happened to Nottingham Forest last season when Swansea City stole up the blind side to beat them in a photo finish on the line. A seemingly unassailable position falling apart at the death.

As for the Cardiff game, Brentford began with the same starting XI for the third successive game. Ivan Toney and Marcus Forss at one end ; Christian Norgaard alongside Pontus and Ethan at the other. Again, we started brightly and built the pressure. Again there were chances. Again, we couldn’t convert. Marcus with the two clearest opportunities and both of which hindsight will suggest could have been taken differently. The second in particular crying out for Bryan Mbeumo to tap into the net from close range. Instead, the young Finn twisting his body to stretch for the ball and only managing to guide it over. Ivan Toney also came close after intercepting a slack backpass but Alex Smithies in goal for the Bluebirds pulled off a smart save to deny the Championship’s leading goalscorer a chance to add to his haul.

The Bees come close

0-0 as the players went in for their cup of tea and orange quarters. They emerged in much the same vein as they had ended the opening period. On top and pushing. Brentford being Brentford its never easy. Ethan Pinnock adjudged to have handled in the box just prior to the hour and Kieffer Moore making no mistake from the spot. A well placed penalty giving our visitors the lead. 

It didn’t last long, thankfully. The impressive Tariqe Fosu shooting from distance for Smithies to allow it straight through his hands just four minutes later. Get in. 1-1. The pressure continued. Chances followed with Sergi Canos coming closest. His own attempt to emulate Fosu moving wickedly through the air with ‘goal’ written all over it, only to be denied by the ball cannoning off the chest of Smithies. The ‘keeper with hands nowhere near it but thankful to see it bounce clear. Close but no cigar. Despite dominating possession (don’t even start…) further goals proved as hard to come by as positive support for the European Super League. Our own hopes of going up in second place dissolving as quickly as the fledgling cash machine.

Positives? Look, I am a glass half full type. No apologies for that. What’s the point otherwise? Life is tough enough without heaping further misery or negativity on oneself. On our day we are on fire and, for now, we are keeping things super tight at the back. The play-offs themselves are all about not losing and we’re very, very good at that aspect. The only thing that counts is getting over the line. 

At the moment we’re not playing as well as we are used to – no question. The key absences and enforced restructure playing a huge part in that although as was proven against Preston this set up can still find the net. Indeed, last night could have seen more goals had we found the rub of the green. I can’t cry over that but I will take comfort from the fact that this advance towards the play-offs is the opposite of last time out.

Then, we were always playing catch up on automatic. Impossibly so. We had a wonderful run of form, building game after game, to put us in contention before it dissolved in the final two defeats against Stoke City and Barnsley. The chance of automatic in our hands at the death only to see it surrendered in such tepid form after that wonderful late surge to even put ourselves in with a chance. Our hopes built up into a wonderful fairy tale ending to life at Griffin Park before being so cruelly denied. There was an almost resigned inevitability about what would come next and, of course, whilst we got one over Swansea City in the semis, the final at the W place was as frustrating as the end to the regular campaign. 

This time around we are the hard team to beat. Brentford have only lost 7(seven) games all season. Nobody has a better record on that front. The wins may not always come but get the ball to Ivan and the goals flow. Get Josh and Rico back (one can dream) and our attacking edge goes up tenfold.

So, for me, there are two choices. Petulant stropping, gnashing of teeth and wailing. Shouting ‘Frank Out’ and blaming him for all our perceived woes. Cursing the campaign as a disaster and writing our team off as though it was already dead and buried. 

Or… back our boys for the last 7(seven) games. Making sure that we first get over the play-off line and then see where we ago from there. Try telling Derby County or Birmingham City that football life is bad. Our situation is ten times better than their plight. I’ve no doubt Wayne Rooney and Harlee Dean would trade positions with us in a heartbeat if such a thing were possible. I’ll keep on backing our team and our head coach for promotion until that chance is gone. For now, it remains very much on even if it will require us going through that dreaded end of season lottery. 

Yes, it IS frustrating. I was convinced automatic was in our hands. It still could be but we are now relying on Watford failing to pick up a single win against Millwall or Swansea City. Likewise, us winning four games in a row (including that penultimate game with the Hornets). Much as I am an optimist I am also a realist. Football is full of surprises, that’s for sure, but one of this magnitude at this late stage would seem unlikely. The again, pressure does strange things. A win for the Bees at Bournemouth on Saturday lunchtime combined with Millwall beating Watford makes it interesting. Both results are possible although the broader sequence of fixtures still make it unlikely. There’s no way Watford will drop that many points. For us to win all four will also need something huge.

Last night saw two ‘must win’ games. For us and for Norwich City. Neither happened and clearly the Canaries don’t want win the title. Farke out. Or should that be Farke off? In all seriousness, they’ve been great. Watford have been on fire in recent months. Both are going up. The only question being who wins the league, who gets the second automatic slot and then who wins at the W place. That’s all that counts now. That’s all we should be focussing on. For Brentford, automatic relies on maths. Promotion relies on us pulling together and getting over the line at the tenth attempt. 

I can already see Ivan walking up to the penalty spot in the 89th minute…. 

Is it coming to this once more….? (The place rather than the hats)

Nick Bruzon