Today marks the start of a new era for Brentford Football Club, with the first competitive match at their brand new home – the Brentford Community Stadium. Moving from their home of over 100 years, Griffin Park, the club had a needed a new home for some time to match their lofty ambitions of reaching the Premier League. The new stadium will also see the return to the capital for London Irish rugby club, having played at the Madejski Stadium in Reading for 20 years.
My wife had bought me a scratch map in March – not listing the countries you’ve visited but which of the 92 English football league grounds you’ve visited. I’ll expand more upon this, as one of the great challenges for Sports Tourist’s in a separate post.
The reason I bring this up was that this map was bought for the 2019-2020 season and listed Brentford’s Griffin Park. I didn’t receive said map until March 2020 – when the country was deep in lockdown, football was to be restarted behind closed doors and Brentford were due to move to a new stadium at the end of the season.
So I vowed that even if i was unable to set foot inside the ground, I would at least see Griffin Park up close before it was demolished for housing.
The next opportunity I had to travel to Brentford was actually the 4th August 2020 – the date of the biggest match in Brentford’s history. For they were to play in the richest game in World football that evening, the EFL Championship play-off Final against local rivals, Fulham at Wembley Stadium. A win would take them to the Premier League for the first time and into the top division for the first time since 1947.
Lying just off the M4, it took me just over an hour to reach west London from my home. I’d read parking was tight in the local area but I managed to stumble across free parking at Gunnersbury Park.
From here it was a 20 minute walk through the park and the residential area that Griffin Park sits within before I stumbled across the first of the famous four pubs. For an away game at Brentford has long been known to have a watering hole in each corner of the ground – The New Inn, The Brook, The Griffin and The Princess Royal.
Walking between each of the pubs, I realised grounds like this are becoming few and far between. Narrow residential streets with gardens backing onto the stands, turnstiles being the next door neighbours of residents. Yes I understand the need for clubs moving to bigger, modern stadia but it is a real shame these intimate grounds are now becoming a thing of the past.
I was expecting a certain buzz around the area with their local club due to play in their biggest ever match. To be fair it was about 11:30 in the morning but I barely saw a soul, apart from a handful of fans decked out in their colours taking photos outside the Braemar Road gate. Unfortunately the unique looking club shop was also closed so I was unable to collect my obligatory pin badge.
I then travelled the mile or so past looming tower blocks and Kew Bridge rail station to see the new Brentford Community Stadium. Building work was ungoing and it did look close to completion, it was of course a step up from Brentford’s home in terms of design – I just hope however it doesn’t become another soulless shell that most modern stadia have become.
I will return once the new stadium is open, whether it is to see a Brentford Championship match (unfortunately Brentford lost the play-off final) or a London Irish rugby match – so for now I will withhold my judgement.
What a shame I didn’t get to experience Griffin Park in its glory, walking the perimeter I could just feel what a buzz there would have beeen around the streets (and pubs) on match day.