LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Brentford

Bees buzzing at a new hive with Premier status

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Back in the top flight after 74 years, Brentford have achieved near miracles thanks to savvy ownership, data-based planning and teamwork. Danish coach Thomas Frank had worked for nearly two decades in youth development before his first senior post at Brøndby, then move to west London in 2016. 

His vital contribution to Brentford’s success is only part of the story. The 2021 Championship play-off win over Swansea capped a memorable decade under the pioneering ownership of lifelong fan, Matthew Benham. Building a new ground, the Brentford Community Stadium, half a mile east of the Bees’ old home at Griffin Park,  Benham has shown how a supporters’ trust can transform a club for the good and still reach the very top of the game. And, so far, stay there.

It was back in 2006, with Brentford in the fourth tier, that Bees United began to acquire shares and set off on a journey that has led to the Premier League.

Nearly 20 years after its plans were published and £71 million later, Brentford’s new home, of course, remained empty for the 2020-21 campaign, as new signing Ivan Toney set a Championship goalscoring record during the regular season.

The move to Kew Bridge from nearby Griffin Park, where the club shop and famous four corner pubs remain, represented a return to where the club was founded in 1889.

Brentford’s previously most successful era was under long-serving manager Harry Curtis either side of the war. In the mid 1930s, the Bees managed three consecutive top-six finishes in the First Division, with Jack Holliday bagging a goal every other game. Alongside him, Billy Scott, Leslie Smith and Dai Hopkins created and scored enough goals to earn international caps.

The first season after the war, 1946-47, was Brentford’s last in the top flight. The Bees have remained in the lower ranks despite a number of household names involved on and off the pitch. The club’s chairman since 2006 has been ex-BBC Director General Greg Dyke, a life-long Brentford man, who witnessed the club raise the League Two (fourth tier) trophy for the third time in 2009.

In 2012, fan group Bees United sold their shareholding in the club to savvy supporter-investor Matthew Benham. That June, the club bought a site in nearby Lionel Road with a view to building its new stadium.

Back in the second tier for the first time since 1993, the Bees came close to a place in the Premier League in 2015. The manager who had got them that far, Mark Warburton, was already aware of his imminent departure as Brentford’s remarkable 2014-15 campaign drew to a climax with a semi-final play-off defeat to Middlesbrough.

Eventually settling on Dean Smith as manager, Brentford trod water until Dane Thomas Frank replaced him in October 2018. What followed for the former assistant coach was a disastrous two months of defeats but owner Matthew Benham wisely kept faith with Frank as he switched to a 3-4-3 formation, then 4-3-3 as Brentford climbed the Championship table to a play-off place.

As Covid-hit 2019-20 stretched into the summer, promotion came even closer. With strike pair Ollie Watkins and Algerian international Saïd Benrahma in sublime form, the Bees seemed nailed on for automatic entry to the Premier League, their new stadium ready to be unveiled. It wasn’t to be. Losing at Stoke then, incredibly, at home to Barnsley in stoppage time, Brentford tripped at the finish line. 

Beating Swansea in the play-off semi-final, an emotional last first-team game at Griffin Park, the Bees duly faced local rivals Fulham at Wembley. After a tense, goalless 90 minutes, Brentford’s otherwise stellar keeper David Raya was caught out with a surprise free-kick in extra time. In the frantic finale, Fulham doubled their lead, Brentford grabbed a late consolation, but it wasn’t enough. 

On the plus side, the Brentford Community Stadium opened for a pre-season friendly before the 2020-21 campaign, albeit during various degrees of Covid restrictions.

Selling Watkins and Benrahma for £60 million, the Bees snapped up Ivan Toney for a tenth of that sum from Peterborough. His expert penalty and 32nd league goal of the campaign in the play-off final against Swansea helped send Brentford up to the Premier League, and earn the club a historic pay day and promotion. 

What followed was perhaps even more impressive. Unphased by the step up to the Premier League, Toney scored goals for fun, while Christian Eriksen was obviously enjoying his return to match action after his dramatic collapse when playing for Denmark at the Euros the previous summer. The player he came on for in a Brentford shirt in 2022, Mathias Jensen, was the one who had to take the pitch as Eriksen was being rushed to hospital in Copenhagen eight months earlier.

While Eriksen headed for Old Trafford, Toney took off as a striker of true class in 2022-23, confirmed with an England call-up. Behind the scenes, however, Toney had been betting on games left, right and centre, and duly received an eight-month ban. 

Among the popular Thomas Frank’s many tasks as he prepared for the 2023-24 campaign was to arrange his forward line without Toney. Among the options was young German international Kevin Schade and David Beckham’s son, Romeo, both summer arrivals.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Brentford bade farewell to Griffin Park, their quaint home since 1904, with a play-off win over Swansea on July 29, 2020. By September 1, the Bees were playing a pre-season friendly at their new home half a mile east. For the time being, the famous four corner pubs of the old ground remain in place. 

Just across from Kew Bridge, the Brentford Community Stadium is just that, a campus for communal use consisting of a football ground, more than 900 flats and a public square yet to be fully configured. 

The ground consists of 17,250 multi-coloured seats, the stands simply designated as North, South, East and West. Noisier home fans gather in the West Stand, where safe standing is planned, older ones in the nearby sectors of the South Stand. 

Visiting supporters are allocated eight adjoining sectors of the East and North Stands, lower E115-E117, upper E215-E218 and N120. The best seats, categorised Band A+ in the ticket-pricing hierarchy, are in the sun-catching North Stand. 

Until 2023, the stadium was groundshared with London Irish rugby club, who moved here after 20 years in Reading. The club then lost its professional licence before the 2023-24 season.

GETTING here

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Brentford rail is the nearest station, about 30mins from Waterloo or Clapham Junction (single £4.40, day return £7.50, Travelcard £7.70). There are four trains an hour, but the service is only hourly on Sundays. From the station, turn left from platform 1, and first left again down Windmill Road, then first right down Clifden Road to the end. Allow 5-10mins. The first of the four pubs, the Griffin, will be on your right. 

The new stadium is right by Kew Bridge Station, 30mins from London Waterloo (single £5.50, every 30mins), a pedestrian underpass leading to Lionel Road alongside the ground. The nearest Tube is Gunnersbury, 15mins direct from Piccadilly. It might be best jumping on a 110, 237 or 267 bus from Chiswick High Road two stops to Brentford Fountain Leisure Centre than negotiate the Chiswick flyover on foot. 

The sat nav code for the Brentford Community Stadium is TW8 0RU. The stadium offers parking at Lionel Primary School (£15, TW8 9QT) and at Chiswick Park business park (£12, W4 5XU), each 20mins walk away.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Only My Bees Members (£45, £20 3-17s, £10 under-2s, £30 Bees Overseas) can purchase tickets for Premier League games. Tickets are sold online and in person from the stadium box office (Mon-Tue & Fri 10am-5.30pm, Thur 10am-7pm, match days from 2.5hrs before kick-off or from 10am on Mon-Tue & Fri). 

Matches are categorised as premium A (top London clubs plus Fulham, two Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Newcastle) and B, the rest. For Category A games, the first ticket window is for My Bees Members with the highest loyalty points (TAPs), given 50% availability of all tickets, with 100 available at the box office. Then come two sales windows for My Bees Members with fewer loyalty points. For every game, 50 pairs of tickets are made available by ballot to under-18s, and 100 by ballot to Bees Overseas, ie fans based abroad.

For Category B games, all My Bees Members have access to purchase, although high-risk fixtures may require 40+ loyalty points. Again, 100 will be available to My Bees Members at the box office.

For all enquiries, contact tickets@brentfordfc.com or call 0333 005 8521 (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, this number may not be accessible from outside the UK).

The stadium is divided into premium seats by the dugout (£65, £55 reduced), band A+ (best seats in the North Stand, £50, £40 reduced, £10 under-18s), band A (North and South Stands, £40, £30, £10 under-18s) and band B (£40, £30 reduced, £10 juniors) behind the goals in the East and West Stands. For premium A games, prices rise £5 in most categories.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

In December 2021, Brentford lost the club’s last link with Griffin Park, when the old-school Bees Store on Braemar Road, a little white house filled with red-and-white goodies, closed its doors for the last time. The Brentford Superstore (Mon-Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 10am-4pm, match days from 9am) now operates on the Lionel Road South side of the stadium.

Laudably, the club releases new kits on a two-year cycle so as not to have fans reach deep into their wallets every season. The traditional red stripes on white in 2023-24 fade to the black of the shorts. Away choice is light blue with dark-blue cuffs, third kit a bee-wing concept of black, green and lilac that perhaps should have stayed on the drawing board.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

No, there’s not a pub on every corner as there still is at nearby Griffin Park, but there are plenty of drinking options on either riverbank of Kew Bridge. South, nearest Kew Gardens, are two quality gastropubs with gardens, the Greyhound and The Cricketers, which has a large outdoor screen set up for TV sport. 

On the stadium side of the Thames, you find two Fuller’s pubs, both right on the waterfront, the more traditional Bell & Crown and the funkier One Over The Ait, in a former Victorian warehouse. In between the two, The Steam Packet, named after the ships that once plied diplomatic mail down the Thames, provides upscale gastro cuisine, best enjoyed on the upper terrace.

The most down-to-earth and convenient choice, however, close to Kew Bridge Station, the CAMRA-decorated Express Tavern fills a former coaching inn with satisfied chatter. Ten cask ales, 15 kegs and five ciders showcase independent brewers and producers, the food (burgers, BBQ ribs, pulled pork) is notch-above stuff, there’s TV sport and a garden.

Over at Griffin Park, there’s no football stadium any more, but still four pubs. Fans still drink at the lovely old Griffin at the corner of Brook and Braemar Roads, as friendly as could be, with a serious darts team and a little beer garden at the back. 

Down Braemar Road to the end, and you’ll find most Bees memorabilia in the Princess Royal, also a Fuller’s pub, with rare black-and-white archive photos of the club’s history. Look out for the team line-ups of the New Brentford School, Ham Boys’ Team 1910-11 and Brentford as Fourth Division Champions in 1963. There’s also photographic evidence of a vociferous supporters’ meeting from 1967, old pictures of Brentford itself, including the ferry, and a Brentford-red pool table.

Round again, to the corner of Ealing and New Roads, and the traditional New Inn is an Irish pub, HQ of the West London branch of the Celtic supporters’ club, no less, where horse racing and GAA are given equal attention. Rooms are available upstairs. Finally, the former (and formerly basic) Royal Oak, dating back to 1787, was given an overhaul and rebrand in 2019 as The Brook, now offering craft ales, fine wines and quality food.

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