EFL Championship: Brentford’s moment of emptiness

Ask most football fans about Brentford and they’ll tell you “that’s the ground with a pub on each corner, isn’t it?” Unless they know their stuff, their knowledge won’t stretch much further.

The Bees’ rise to fame on the field has fallen under the radar of even the most outspoken pundits. It’s a family club largely ignored or derided as “tinpot”. A flash in the pan.

This season, despite the west London side’s concerted and technically fuelled charge for the Premier League, awareness levels haven’t been much different.

Apart, that is, from the fact most people know they’re leaving their home of 116 years for a new purpose-built stadium less than a mile up the road by Kew Bridge.

So as the curtain came down on the final league game with Barnsley, a scattering of fans gathered outside the rickety old stadium as expectation grew in the west London streets of tidy terraced houses that surround the club’s beloved Griffin Park.

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It was in the Bees’ hands at the weekend. Defeat at Stoke ruined that. The Brentford faithful have a saying “It’s Brentford innit?” in response to calamities like that and the last-day penalty debacle against Doncaster.

The previous game, Stoke away, was hardly on that level. But with the faint light of automatic promotion flickering with a 1-0 defeat, the old ground’s farewell was either a glass half empty or half full moment depending on your outlook.

The fairy tale might have a few twists to go, but they’re a special breed of fans at Brentford, always seeing the best. Brought up on a diet of disappointment, lower-tier football, nearly moments but always pride. The final game was just another to add to the list.

But needing a favour from arch rivals QPR, automatic promotion always looked a big shout… until Rangers led and ultimately drew at The Hawthorns.

Only now do Brentford have a team worthy of the Premier League but Barnsley, needing a win to secure Championship survival, hadn’t read the script and a 90thminute winner consigned Brentford to the play-offs.

It’s always, always the hope that kills you and the Bees faithful – mainly loud and proud directors inside the ground – got that and some when Josh Dasilva curled home a 73rd-minute equaliser. With the Baggies drawing, another goal would propel this friendly club into the big time.

They pressed and pressed, the expletives growing louder and louder as chances went begging. Otherwise silence.

And silence combined with a massive last 20 minutes make strange bedfellows.

Empty stadiums are like a cathedral without worshippers where we see the chemistry of a side stripped bare. Brentford’s is positive, humble and supportive like the club itself, but the mask slipped when Rico Henry on the break let the ball squirm beneath his boot.

A cry of animal anguish, this is the pressure of football at the elite level that the fans rarely see… or hear.

The press benches, with a scattering of distanced hacks, featured the local reporters whose impartiality waned as the game slipped by as promotion fell from the home side’s grasp.

The prize is great at either end of the Championship and as minutes ticked away, the game grew frenetic, almost desperate. Two passes, foul, a run, foul, the visiting keeper hoofing the ball over the stand – a sight once common here in Division Four days, but now replaced by silken football.

When Barnsley’s noisy keeper Jack Walton somehow turned Bryan Mbeumo’s point-blank thunderbolt onto the post in the first half, the omens didn’t look good. When Ollie Watkins side-footed wide from close range late on, spurning the chance of his 24th goal of the campaign, the writing was on the wall. Tariqe Fosu slipping as he prepared to fire into a gaping goal was mere confirmation of the Bees fans’ darkest fears.

Clarke Odour’s 90th-minute winner was met with a corner flag pile-on from the entire squad and management. A Barnsley side that had been in the bottom three from September had pulled off the great escape with almost the last kick of the season. That’s why we love football.

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The game’s stark emotional contrasts were laid bare at the final whistle, as the hosts’ talismanic Said Benrahma – destined for a £30m Premier league move whatever happens – lay prostrate on the turf.

Yards away, the Tykes understandably raucous celebrations, amplified by the eerie silence of the old stadium, will always be a painful last league game memory for the Brentford fans watching at home.

But by the next morning this unusual breed of proud, humble and self-deprecating football fans will have consoled themselves with the time-honoured mantra. They may not have been able to be at the game, but they’ll still say: “never mind, it’s Brentford innit?”

EFL Championship: Brentford’s moment of emptiness
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