Tuesday 15th August 2017 ko 19.45
BRENTFORD 2 (Watkins 56 Maupay 77)
BRISTOL CITY 2 (Brownhill 5 Reid 90)
Att 9,811 (1,650 away)
There aren’t many grounds like this left. Grounds tucked away in amongst the houses in the communities they represent with only the floodlights to beckon you in from afield. Grounds built to tessellate with the footprint of the land available, and grounds that positively ooze with history and tradition.
I like tradition, and these are the grounds I grew up visiting, so when Robyn, my girlfriend’s team were scheduled here I felt immediately drawn back here. Part of it was to enjoy Griffin Park once more, part was to show Robyn how watching your team used to be and part was to allow an exiled Robin to cheer for her team.
Brentford are on the move, not far, to a revised-down 17,250 capacity ground on Lionel Road just north of Kew Bridge Station with an anticipated moving-in date around winter 2019. The ground will still be able to to be viewed from the M4, the club will still be able to sell advertising space on the stand’s roof (you’re on the flight path in and out of Heathrow here), and the club unlike say West Ham will still be able to claim they’re right in the centre of their hinterland.
A cynic, or a traditionalist will no doubt point to the fact that the new stadium’s capacity will only be around 5,000 more than Griffin Park, but as much as I love the old style ground, this game showed why it’s outmoded for today’s football. I always did like the double-deck stand for away fans, the low roof makes the fans on the terrace below sound like the Roker Roar! But it’s cramped, and there’s only room for 1,650 away fans. How can they accommodate the fans of Aston Villa or Sunderland?
I loved the fact that you enter and exit straight from the street, but the simple acts of using the toilet and buying a tea at half time aren’t straightforward (it involves two queues) and you notice just how little space there is when you compare Griffin Park, to say Ashton Gate. You could even legislate to allow safe standing and Brentford’s spiritual home still wouldn’t be suitable for England’s second tier; the footprint is just too small.
But let’s enjoy it while it’s still there, and this was an excellent game to watch. Bristol City were fast out of the traps and Josh Brownhill’s strike gave the visitors an early lead. But then Brentford seemed to work their visitors out, and after 15 minutes it was one-way traffic with Josh McEachran and Romaine Sawyers pulling all the strings in midfield and it was only the brilliance of Frank Fielding in the City goal that kept the Bees at bay.
But however inspired the defence, there’s only so much they can handle. Ollie Watkins got goal-side of Eros Pisano to head home the equaliser then Marlon Pack’s missed tackle allowed Neal Maupay to fire home to give Brentford a lead they completely deserved.
Nine times out of ten that would have led to a typical home win. City threw on two impact players, Callum O’Dowda and Freddy Hinds to try and turn the tide but oddly it was Josh McEachran, or rather his injury that gave City their lifeline. The time it took to treat, then carry him off produced 8 minutes of stoppage time, and with less than 30 seconds of that time left there was Bobby Reid to stab home from the melee that was the 6-yard box to give the visitors a point they simply didn’t deserve. It must have felt like a defeat to a team that had contrived to lose 3-4 at home to Nottingham Forest the previous Saturday.
I waited for a few minutes at the end of the game. It was mainly to allow the crowds to clear, and it was remarkable how quickly they did. But as I finally took my leave, I lingered slightly, and enjoyed Griffin Park one final time. Because for all its imperfections and unsuitability they don’t make grounds like this any more. And football loses something every time a place like this disappears.
Dedicated to the memory of Barry Neighbour, groundhopper and Brentford fan.