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200-20200722_102525Tonight Brentford FC play Fulham at Wembley for a place in the Premier League along with an annual revenue stream of over £100 million. They last won promotion to the top flight 85 years ago in 1935 before crashing out shortly after WW2, never to return. Founded in 1889, Brentford does not have an illustrious record; it is not a glamour club. So this will be the most important match in its long history.

But this is the second highly significant event this past week for this old West London club.

Last Wednesday, 29 July, Brentford FC played its final match at its old home, Griffin Park, versus Swansea. It was the play-off semi-final which the Bees won 3-1. Bryan Mbuemo scored Brentford’s third goal in the 46th minute making him the last of the club’s players to score at the venerable old stadium. The first was nearly 106 years previously: Tommy Shanks on 1 September 1904 against Plymouth Argyle.

The tragedy in all of this is, of course, that owing to lockdown, Brentford fans were denied their intention of giving Griffin Park a final, proper goodbye.

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29 July 2020. Griffin Park floodlights ablaze for the last time.

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29 July 2020. Brentford fans cheer their heroes from Griffin Park.

But let’s rewind to the beginning. In 1904 the then peripatetic football club was offered a long lease on a piece of land owned by the Griffin Brewery. Hence Griffin Park; hence the Griffin pub, one of the four on each corner of the ground, Brentford’s unique claim to fame.

The club then was not yet professional. Nor did it belong to any national league. Its colours were still salmon, claret and light blue after Brentford Rowing Club from which it had emerged in 1889 as a means of Winter exercise. It switched to the racing colours of local patrons, the Rothschild family – gold and dark blue – between 1909 and 1920 and then white shirts and black shorts when finally it joined the Football League as a founding club in the new Third Division. Eventually, the club adopted red and white striped shirts in 1925, still its colours to this day.

Brentford FC team 1918-19

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Harry Curtis

The following year, the legendary Harry Curtis was appointed Brentford’s manager, a post he held for the next 23 years. Through his astute transfer dealings and patient team building the club was promoted to the 2nd Division in 1932, then the First Division in 1935. 6th place finishes in both 1937 and 1938 were the high water marks of Brentford’s league achievements as a club.

That all came to an end after the war when the ageing survivors of an already largely retired or dispersed squad were relegated in 1947.

Despite this, 38,678 spectators crammed Griffin Park for a 6th Round FA Cup fixture versus Leicester in 1949, a club attendance record. This compares with the old ground’s 12,500 capacity in the modern era. Brentford’s new home at the Community Stadium up the road will hold up to 17,250.

 

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Brentford v Arsenal at Griffin Park, Sept 1938. Image: Brentford FC.

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Huge crowds. Sheffield United match in 1935. Image: Brentford FC.

The Bees slipped down to the Third Division in 1953, then the Fourth in 1961. It bobbled around virtually anonymously in the lower divisions for decades. Its nadir came in January 1967 when the club actually went bust. Queens Park Rangers were set to take over Griffin Park while Brentford faced extinction. Luckily, the fans got wind of these secret dealings and came to the rescue with a fund-raising campaign. QPR, under its swashbuckling chairman Jim Gregory, had another go a year later, this time the plan was for Brentford to move to Hillingdon. This attempt too luckily was thwarted. For the Brentford fan, a worse outrage could not be imagined.

Brentford’s fans rode to the rescue again very recently when Bees United, led by businessman Matthew Benham, took over ownership of the club in 2006. The gambling industry magnate subsequently took a controlling share in 2012 and has shepherded the club to the verge of the Premier League for the second time under three outstanding managers: Martin Allen, Mark Warburton and incumbent Thomas Frank.

Whatever happens tonight, Brentford FC is a club going places, belying – it can’t be denied – its under-achieving past. But it’s a past that remains the DNA of a London football club; a past indelibly marked by its beloved old home; a past dominated by this now old and worn-out early 20C football ground, soon to be demolished. It will be missed and never forgotten: farewell Griffin Park!

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22 February 2020. Bees players take on Blackburn Rovers.

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Griffin Park. Braemar Road entrance.

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Under construction. Brentford Community Stadium rising up, 2018.

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