Sjoerd Mossou, journalist and columnist at the AD, has been visiting Brentford in West London several times a season for almost twenty years. The corona pandemic has made that all a lot more difficult. Not only did Griffin Park's farewell fall to pieces, but the new stadium also had to be played without an audience for a long time.
Stadiums in England are now completely full again for as long as it takes. We attending Brentford vs Watford, where the Bees won 2-1 in a buzzing stadium. Mossou was finally there and immediately found some old acquaintances.
Sjoerd, is it what, that new Brentford Community Stadium?
"It's all brand new, of course, and it's definitely not Griffin Park, but it was unbelievable in every way. I was really looking forward to it, to be honest. I've been to Griffin Park dozens of times, I was really worried that the new stadium was going to be a letdown. But it was really great. Even that 'Hey Jude' before kick-off, the unofficial club song, immediately sounded phenomenal. My friend Dan, a huge loyal supporter, looked overjoyed at the West Stand. I was immediately sold again.”
Griffin Park was famous for its four pubs, one on each corner. The new stadium can't match that, can it?
"I was perhaps most surprised by that: the 'support act' around the stadium is still great. Because the new stadium is roughly a kilometre south, it is close to Kew Bridge, the bridge to the fairly genteel Kew neighbourhood. The catering industry around Kew Bridge is already great, but on match days it's a party. You have a few beautiful riverside pubs, including The Bell & Crown and One over the Ait (see photos). Also close to the stadium is The Express Tavern, a Grade II listed pub in a beautiful grand building, right at the T-junction. It's very busy there when Brentford is playing but they have a nice beer garden, and you can also go to the top floor.”
But the old Griffin, the most famous pub at the old stadium, isn't bankrupt, is it?
"Absolutely not. Of those four pubs, three remain, including The Griffin. Good thing, too. The stadium itself has disappeared, it is now a construction site. That hurts to see, but on match days many supporters still go to the old pubs. That's one of the great things about the move: Brentford still plays in the district itself, close to the old stadium. The location of the new stadium often referred to as 'Lionel Road', could not be better.”
Is the new stadium also special in itself?
“The location is the most special. It's almost unbelievable that it fits exactly on this patch of land, sandwiched between the M4 motorway, a railway line and the buildings on the south side of Brentford. When you walk towards it, you can't imagine at first that a stadium would fit into this urban setting. From the inside, I immediately liked it: due to the asymmetrical construction, it has quite a character of its own for a new stadium. You are close to the field, the stadium is compact and the acoustics are top notch. Owner Matthew Benham, who has been a supporter since childhood, deliberately did not want to make the stadium too big: 18,000 is just right for a club the size of Brentford. Partly because of this, there are almost only 'real' supporters. There are also few, if any, expansion options, so this is what it is.”
Are there no critical points? That's almost impossible, isn't it?
"Yes, I don't like the colour of the seats. It should have just been in the club colours. And before the kick-off you got a light show, I don't like that much either. But with the first sounds of 'Hey Jude', everything was fine again. You can tell from everything that the club is on the rise: the supporters really are floating in the clouds through the Premier League. It's very nice to be part of.”
But has the club kept some of its character in the new place?
“Yes, I think so. It is truly exquisite and very carefully done. It still feels very familiar, it really is an old London 'community club'. Brentford will never be a really fancy club, but the crowd is usually very civilised, middle class, and not very rough. In terms of location, Brentford has improved by one star, as it were, the area around the stadium is popular and therefore expensive. That may make it a little less popular than before, but the experience on match day is no less."
Any special or useful tips?
“A small exhibition about Griffin Park has been set up in the London Museum of Water & Steam. It's nice to see. The club shop is a bit crazy: a bit behind the stadium, practically under the M4. Don't miss out on a pub crawl in the area of Kew Bridge and Strand on the Green, because all pubs have something, including The Steam Packet is very good. And right in front of Hammond's Butcher is a really good burger stand for a quick bite. The burgers are made of excellent organic meat. That might take some getting used to, but oh well. Not everything used to be better."