Griffin Park was the home of Championship side Brentford for 116 years. During that time, the West Londoners have been on an interesting journey, which has included their highest ever finish of 5th in the First Division in 1936, finishing as Champions of the 2nd Division in 1935, Third Division Champions in 1933 and 1992 and Fourth Division Champions in 1963, 1999 and 2009.
Brentford, also known by their nickname ‘The Bees’ have also reached the FA Cup quarter finals on four separate occasions.
Griffin Park has been the one constant amongst it all. Players, managers and owners and chairmen’s have all been and gone, but the old ground has always remained as the spot where West Londoners young and old have flocked to every other Saturday and the odd weeknight to support the Bees.Embed from Getty Images
In 2020 though, amongst the surreal backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brentford FC are moving home to the modernised Brentford Community Stadium (BCS) on Lionel Road, little more than half a mile away from where generations of Brentford supporters have stood, sung and clapped their team through good times and bad. But how will the match day experience for both Bees fans and away supporters at the new stadium differ from that of Griffin Park?
To supporters of any given football club, a home ground is more than just a football ground. It’s a meeting place, somewhere to let your emotions out, a playground of memories, a thousand times habit, often even a resting place for dreams. It’s understandable for supporters to feel disappointment or despair at the thought of that place being demolished, built on and gradually forgotten. Arguably, even more so for Brentford fans with their rise back through the divisions in recent years and unique traditionalism of their long-standing home.
Griffin Park could be described as the definition of an old-school, traditional English football ground, with a claim to fame in that there is a pub on all four of the ground’s corners.Embed from Getty Images
That will not be possible to replicate at the BCS, as the stadium is located in between railway lines and the M4 motorway. Many football fans, not just in West London but around the country, would keenly anticipate their side’s visit to Griffin Park, with its mixture of old-school charm and tight knit atmosphere endearing it to football fans young and old. Brentford’s own manager, Thomas Frank, has described the old place as somewhere that “smells of football”.
Brentford Football Club have been keen to remind supporters and those who hope to visit the new stadium as an away fan of the benefits the Community Stadium will bring. The Bees claim that it will allow growth of their fanbase and provide the potential to enable the club to be ready when the breakthrough to the Premier League they have been aiming for in recent years, is made. They were ever so close to becoming the 50th team to play in the Premier League since the top flight’s 1992 inception, but a 2-1 defeat to West London rivals Fulham under the Wembley arch means that 2nd tier football will be on show for the new stadium’s inaugural season. This can be seen as both a positive and a negative, as whilst fans will naturally disappointed with the Premier League clashes not being there to welcome in the new era, it would be fitting for the new stadium to be the venue for the promotion party with the Bees faithful there to savour it, in the event that Thomas Frank’s side make it over the line.
In terms of convenience, the club also claim to be more accommodating. The nearest tube station to Griffin Park, simply called Brentford, is 400 metres from the old ground. In contrast, the BCS is located just 100m from Kew Bridge Station. 300 cycle spaces are also included, encouraging supporters to use a more active and environmentally friendly way of getting to the game. Disabled supporters also have reason to smile about the move, with 150 wheelchair spaces being provided in the club’s new home.
The landlords of the pubs around Griffin Park can be optimistic of their businesses continuing to operate, with the associations that fans have built up over years of attending games combined with the relatively short distance to the new stadium providing hope for them. Add the fact that Rugby Union club London Irish will also be playing their home games at the BCS and there is every reason for local business owners to be optimistic once life continues to slowly return to normal.
Apprehension is understandable. Often, English clubs have been accused of selling their history for a soulless, overly commercial new ground. Brentford insist they are taking a different route however, with celebrated chairman Matthew Benham claiming the Community Stadium will be “different to the majority of new stadiums, small enough to create a fantastic atmosphere yet big enough to enable the continued growth of our supporter base and offers a fantastic matchday experience.” If this is to ring true, then Bees fans could have a lot to look forward to.Embed from Getty Images
A strong argument could also be made however, that Brentford supporters will have an important role to play when they are allowed to take in games at the BCS. The Ealing Road terrace, with its familiar sights, smells, steps and barriers may be gone, but those who congregated on it every other Saturday and the occasional Tuesday have the chance to take the songs, chants, shouts and their colours to the new ground and make it just as loud and passionate as its predecessor. Perhaps even more so, given how much football supporters all over the country will be grateful to be able to watch their clubs in the flesh once more during the uncertain backdrop of post-coronavirus football.
If Benham’s words ring true and the local businesses that depended largely on Griffin Park can continue to thrive, then hopefully the matchday experience will be similar, but with a few modern twists as Brentford look to start a new chapter and fire themselves over the line in to the Premier League in the not-too-distant future.