15 June 2020
MY BRENTFORD STORY: MARC BYRNE
Regular purchasers of our matchday programme will have seen the My Brentford Story feature running this season. Contributor Dan Long has spoken to fans about their time supporting The Bees and there have been some great tales. We will be running some of these stories on brentfordfc.com as we await further information on the resumption of football and accessing our historic Griffin Park home again. This is Marc's story.
It all started with my great-grandfather, who was a dustman for Brentford and Chiswick more than a century ago. Unfortunately, he died before I could quiz him further, but thankfully, my grandad used to relay stories of how his dad remembered when the club moved to Griffin Park in 1904.
The site was an orchard in its previous life and to facilitate the club’s arrival, the orchard had to be cut down, so my great-grandad remembered turning up in his dustcart and loading up wood to use for log burners for the winter.
He used to regularly go down after that, but when the first matches were played, the ground wasn’t quite complete, and the players had to go and change in the nearby swimming baths. If he wasn’t at the football, sometimes he was around the area at the same time and his trusty dustcart helped young lads get a leg over into the ground so they could save a few bob on getting in!
One of my grandad’s most vivid memories of his time as a fan was that he especially had to request leave from the army so that he could get back for the London War Cup Final against Portsmouth in 1942. He managed to make it, thankfully, and he did tell me a few years later that he had the chance to buy Leslie Smith, who scored the two goals, a pint of ale in the Duke of York in Chiswick a couple of years after the war.
Then the story comes around to me, I suppose. My first game was in 1979 and it was quite an unusual one. Brentford played Hull City and I remember it was a cold December day, where we won 7-2 and Bob Booker scored a hat-trick. It was a great introduction to football because after that I thought this was the team to follow. Obviously, that set me up for about 30 years of disappointment after that but at the time it was an auspicious start and an introduction to Griffin Park.
I used to go throughout the early 80s - the Stan Bowles, Terry Hurlock, Chris Kamara, Fred Callaghan era. We were always a stylish team that always found ways, through injuries and things like that, to never fulfil that promise. It looked as though we were always destined to be a Third Division side, to be honest.
I lived on the Chiswick/Hammersmith border and I used to travel by 237 bus. I always used to tell my mum that I was going with my mates, because I knew she wouldn’t let a nine-year-old travel to a football match on his own! I never did, though, because my mates weren’t Brentford fans - they supported other London clubs like QPR and West Ham - so I always used to travel on my own.
I always used to get to the game early, about one o’clock and I remember that a Bees player once got on the bus at Kew Bridge with me! At the time, we had ‘gasping’ Gary Roberts the flying winger who scored the quickest ever hat-trick for Brentford in a Freight Rover Semi, where we won 6-0. I was literally sitting next to him but as an awestruck 12-year-old, I couldn’t say a word. Quite why he caught the bus that day, I don’t know, but it shows you how far football has come; I just don’t think in today’s world, you’d see Saïd Benrahma getting on the 237 bus with you!
But you’d also quite often see a player in one of the local pubs. Whether it was Stan Bowles in the bookies or the New Inn - which I believe was his regular haunt - or even more recently, you’d often see Andy Feeley or Gary Blissett in the Waterman’s Arms or the Brentford Tandoori after a game. How times have changed.
In those days, we had the dugouts in the Braemar Road Stand and I always stood in exactly the same place behind them. There were always the same friendly faces there and I must’ve stood with them for a good 15 years. I didn’t know their names, but we had a common purpose. One of them was an old boy who wore a flat cap. He’d obviously been going for years because he always talked about the glory years of the late 1930s. That was Brentford: a cold winter’s day and that smell of pipe smoke.
There was the odd highlight, like the Freight Rover Final against Wigan in 1985. That was a great day out, with a fantastic goal from Robbie Cooke, even though we lost and it was just the start of a long, miserable run at Wembley.
You flick forward after the years of misery and there were a few more highlights, like going up to Anfield for the 1989 FA Cup Quarter-Final with an inflatable plastic Bee, which stank to high heaven. I’ve still got it today, but it doesn’t inflate anymore. Just as well, as they looked awful. If you haven’t ever seen one, it’s probably best, but they were the ‘in’ thing back in those days.
Receiving a standing ovation, despite losing 4-0 to probably one of the best Liverpool teams of all time, was one of those things that stuck in the memory. I was there for the round before that against Blackburn and it was the first time I’d ever been north of Watford. The train stopped at Crewe and my one abiding memory of that was Brentford fans chasing train spotters up and down the platform to amuse themselves.
There was the 1992 promotion at Peterborough, which was another fantastic day out. That was offset by the misery of the next year when we all travelled up to Bristol City for the last game of the season, capitulated and came back down. It was a fleeting moment of glory.
After that I carried on going and the next generation came along - my son James. His first match was in 2006 and he was born in 2004, so he was barely two years old. Despite his mum’s protests, I was determined to take him early, but I think he spent most of the game trying to find an imaginary mouse under his seat. We lost 1-0 to Port Vale and it was an absolutely dire game, so it was probably just as well.
He started becoming a regular and now we are both season ticket holders in New Road. We will be in the new stadium as well, just to complete our journey as fans, if you like.
James plays for the Brentford performance squad as a goalkeeper; I think it’s every Dad’s dream to see their lad play in their team’s colours. It’s almost a circular journey from my great-grandfather helping to clear the orchard out over a century ago to seeing my lad run out. Who knows? One day he might run out in the new stadium. That’s what Brentford is, that community club where you get that generation after generation of support. It draws people in and doesn’t let them go.
My company, McGee, used to have four corporate tickets at Griffin Park. I was a season ticket holder but because they had those tickets, they had one event each year where the corporate sponsors could meet the players and the coaches. I remember a couple of years ago I went down and Thomas Frank was then the Assistant Coach. I had a long conversation with him about football and the cultural differences and I just remember him saying to me – we’d literally just signed Benrahma – to give him a season-and-a-half and he’d be one of the most sought-after players in the Championship. Very prophetic words.
What was obvious from that chat with Thomas and the players was just how much Brentford have moved forward as a club in terms of professionalism and the ability to cast the net wide and sign the quality of players that we do today.
I’ll tell you what, for me, one of the memories that typified Brentford was when we played Chelsea in the FA Cup in 2013 and drew 2-2 with them. I was with my son in New Road and Harry Forrester had just converted a penalty to put us 2-1 up against a star-studded Chelsea side. The fact that Fernando Torres got the equaliser after that didn’t really matter, but I just remember standing there, looking out and it was just perfect.
The gasworks in the background, the Ealing Road full. It doesn’t sound, aesthetically, very beautiful but for that moment it was perfect. After so many years as a supporter, standing next to my son, beating one of the best sides in the Premier League. That’s how I’ll remember Griffin Park, in that moment.
It’s going to be a long, emotional farewell but I think my son, even though he’s only 15, gets it and knows what a wrench it will be for us older fans to leave. He’s only ever really known success at Brentford; what Matthew Benham has given us. Older fans who remember the time when the ground was sparsely populated, with an average attendance of about 4,500. It will be sad to leave the old lady, it really will, but I think most of us understand why we’ve got to move. We just hope the new stadium will retain the same character and flavour.
We are so near, that’s the key. This new ground is still in the heart of the community, hell, you can even walk to the pubs if you are missing them and still stroll to the game afterwards! It’s uniquely us: a bit west London, a bit Middlesex, but a little bit different from the other London clubs. I think we’ll still keep that uniqueness because, ultimately, we’ve got a fan in charge, who also gets it. Having a guy like that at the helm makes a hell of a difference.
Marc's story was first published in this season's matchday programme against Fulham on 14 December 2019. To get your Brentford Story online, email Programme Editor Chris Deacon on firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get back to you.
To catch up on a previous edition of the Matchday Programme, all of the issues from the 2019/20 season so far can be bought online from our supplier Curtis Sport. Click Here.