Like so many ’90s children, I’d been sucked in by the glamor of the period’s most profitable Premier League membership. Each evening, I closed my United curtains and slept beneath club-themed bedsheets.
Posters of striker Andy Cole and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel seemed down at me from the partitions. It was a childhood of steady triumph as my heroes swept to title after title.
Except I dreaded being requested which staff I supported. Having by no means visited Manchester, not to mention seen the within Old Trafford, I used to be the punchline to limitless “southerner” jokes and subjected to that almost all dishonorable of British sporting insults: glory hunter.
The ugly sport
So, on a chilly, moist Saturday in 2004 — January 31, to be exact — I attempted to put issues proper.
Playing out in England’s third tier, then known as Division Two, the sport was ugly and the objectives scrappy. One of the dilapidated stands did not also have a roof — and those who did supplied little safety from the rain anyway.
Choose your seat unwisely, and you would be caught watching the sport from behind an previous metallic beam holding up the century-old stadium.
This have to be the “actual” soccer I’d heard a lot about. And I used to be hooked. With children’ tickets typically costing as little as £5 (or $7, a fraction of the Premier League’s extortionate costs), I vowed to return as usually as I might.
If you’d advised me, nonetheless, that just about 17 years later Brentford would have changed — and surpassed — United in my affections, I would not have believed you. But in the event you’d advised me that the newly promoted Bees could be dealing with Arsenal in this week’s Premier League opener, I might have laughed the complete bus experience house.
For a long time, Brentford was seen as the epitome of a “tinpot” membership: no main trophies, no cash, no big-name gamers and a tiny — but, nonetheless usually half-empty — stadium.
The staff final performed in England’s high division in the 1946/47 season, after which they bounced between the second and fourth tiers. Mid-table mediocrity and untimely cup eliminations grew to become the modus operandi.
Yet, there was a lot to love about the membership.
Built in 1904, Griffin Park was the solely stadium in the nation with a pub on every of its 4 corners. Its ambiance was impassioned however pleasant, and free from the vitriolic chants or fan violence plaguing lots of our neighbors.
Instead, Brentford attracted a good-natured crowd of long-suffering locals. They reveled in small victories, however largely simply groaned at misplaced passes and crosses gone awry.
On one event, a person beneath me in the crowd pulled the spectacles from his face and threw them in direction of the seemingly myopic referee in disgust, earlier than nonchalantly changing them with one other pair from his pocket.
Despite a long time of disappointment, these followers returned every Saturday for the camaraderie, the sense of belonging and, perversely, the collective struggling.
No one was right here for the glory. And as I attended increasingly more video games, dragging my dad, pals and, a few years later, my totally detached spouse alongside for firm, I realized the most necessary lesson in soccer: Being mediocre makes the very occasional style of success all the sweeter.
An unlikely rise
Which brings us to Brentford’s unlikely ascent to the world’s most profitable league.
Needless to say, cash has a bit of one thing to do with it. Once amongst the few supporter-owned golf equipment in the Football League, Brentford was absolutely purchased out by playing magnate Matthew Benham in 2014. But that is solely a part of the story.
Rather than pumping limitless thousands and thousands into the membership, Benham launched a sensible, data-driven recruitment technique that’s usually in contrast to baseball’s “moneyball.”
The resultingly shrewd switch coverage sees promising younger gamers plucked from European obscurity, cultivated in the fast-paced English sport after which bought on for large revenue.
Take Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins, West Ham’s Saïd Benrahma or Brighton’s Neal Maupay — every purchased by Brentford for relative pocket change and bought to their present golf equipment for a collective £71 million ($99 million).
As such, Brentford is extensively thought-about to be amongst the best-run and most financially sustainable golf equipment in England. And, as a stepping-stone for unrealized expertise, the staff enjoys a season or two of those gamers’ providers alongside the manner.
Under the administration of Danish coach Thomas Frank — in addition to his predecessors Dean Smith and Mark Warburton, now of Villa and QPR respectively — a collection of younger squads have developed an attacking, free-flowing model of soccer unrecognizable from that of a long time previous.
After successive top-half finishes in the second-tier Championship between 2015 and 2020, Brentford lastly secured promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs in May, ending a 74-year look forward to top-flight soccer. If anybody wanted reminding of our struggling, it was the Bees’ first time being promoted by way of a playoff, in any division, in 10 makes an attempt.
It is, nonetheless, straightforward to romanticize this rags-to-riches story. After all, Benham’s possession — in addition to sponsorship from numerous playing corporations — implies that success has been partially bankrolled by an business rife with habit.
The membership’s deal with growing abroad expertise via its “B” staff, in the meantime, has come at the expense of its youth academy, which was shuttered in 2016.
There can also be an opportunity that success will destroy what made Brentford particular. Perhaps Premier League standing will make our membership similar to every other, chasing TV income at the expense of all else. Or maybe the shiny new 17,000-seat stadium, but to see a full crowd due to Covid-19 restrictions, will lack the appeal and ambiance of Griffin Park.
But come the finish of the season, even when we’re consigned to one other seven a long time in the decrease divisions, it’ll have meant one thing way more to me than cheering on overpaid stars in a metropolis I’ve by no means been to.
So, to followers of England’s “Big Six” who’re disillusioned with their golf equipment’ overpriced tickets and makes an attempt to break free right into a big-money European Super League, let me let you know this: You might imagine it is sacrilege to swap allegiances, however it may be finished with credibility — nearly — intact.
If you are going to decide a staff to throw your tribalist loyalties behind, it’d as nicely be the underdog. You by no means know, you too may find yourself being a Premier League fan once more sooner or later.