If you want to visit Griffin Park, you’d better be quick. Brentford’s home, built way back in 1904, is due to be demolished at the end of this season, at which point the club will make the short hop to a swanky new stadium at Kew Bridge.
It’s undeniably sad to see old grounds like this one being slowly wiped off the football map. It’s one of those grounds that has somehow been crammed into the middle of a residential area, and it’s so well hidden by houses on all four sides that you could easily miss that a stadium is even there until you’re suddenly confronted by the turnstiles. You can practically taste the nostalgia as you walk along those narrow streets. There’s a rare homeliness to it; dare I say even a friendliness. And, to add to it all, there’s a pub on all four corners of the ground (although how those will survive as going concerns once the stadium is gone must surely be a worry).
Were it up to me, there would be more grounds like this one and fewer like Tottenham’s gaudy, space-age mega-blob. But that’s probably why it’s not up to me. After all, it’s very easy to see why Brentford need to make this move. While the team currently sits impressively in third place in the Championship, the football world has left places like this behind, and if they’re serious about taking the obvious next step, then they desperately need to modernise. To figure that out, all you need to do is spend five minutes attempting to watch a football match in the place. There are pillars in the way, bits of the ground that are closed off, and seating that is cramped to the point of being genuinely physically painful. It’s the only stadium in the Championship that still has usable terracing, and given the massive discomfort involved in sitting in the stand, standing certainly holds a big appeal.
That said, I did notice one innovation here that leaves many far newer arenas in the shade: hand gel dispensers above the urinals. Seriously, what an absolute game-changer. As a long-term grumbler about the state of football ground toilets and the fact that it’s often virtually impossible to actually wash your hands after using them, I found that brilliantly simple idea hugely welcome.
Just like the afternoon’s other FA Cup fixtures, the match itself kicked off at an unorthodox 3.01pm, with one minute set aside as part of a mental health initiative. Once proceedings got underway, there was little on show to demonstrate how on earth the hosts had managed to get themselves into the Championship’s top three. Stoke City, on the other hand, gave an impressively solid account of why they were sitting 21st in the same division. Both sides huffed, puffed, and sclaffed misplaced passes all over the place, and it was at times difficult to watch (although that might have just been because of the seats).
Presumably Brentford can do much better than this, but with the ground only half full (despite tickets going for £15 a pop) and the home fans largely silent, I didn’t get the impression that Griffin Park has been The Place To Be in the season so far. That’s a bit of a pity, because I can imagine that, full and with a noisy crowd, this place would have all the elements required for a bloody good atmosphere.
Thankfully, there was one moment of magic, two minutes before the break. From a free-kick way out on the left-wing, Brentford midfielder Emiliano Marcondes scored a genuine worldie, curling the ball over the defence, over the Stoke ‘keeper, and into the opposite top corner. It was greeted by three sides of the ground leaping up in what felt as much like surprise as celebration.
Beyond that, neither goalie was troubled much, and it was to be a subdued end to my first (and almost certainly last) experience of this West London ground. Still, I’m looking forward to checking out the new stadium when it opens. By then, Brentford might even be a Premier League club. But they’ll need to play a lot better than this if they are.
Brentford 1 Stoke City 0
FA Cup Third Round
Saturday 4 January 2020