I was fortunate enough to have 18 years of “conventional” education but I’ll never stop learning. And at the moment, one of the most enjoyable things in life is carrying on my “football education.” Going to new places, new stadiums and watching new teams. Learning more about the places in this country and fitting them together like a giant jigsaw. And every ground, every game seems to have something that you’ve never seen before.
The latest “lesson” was at Brentford’s Griffin Park, one of the ever-dwindling list of London grounds I’d never been too. Remaining now are Arsenal (I have a ticket for the Montpellier match next week), Chelsea, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Millwall and AFC Wimbledon - and I’m sure they’ll all be experienced before the end of the season, if not the calendar year.
Griffin Park is, like Southend United the other week, a ground whose best years are a long way behind it but a place that is genuinely enjoyable to watch football in because it oozes such charm and character. The ground is shoehorned between terraced streets in this leafy corner of south-west London, the only thing betraying its presence being the four spiny floodlight pylons sprouting out into the landscape at each corner.
And each corner, famously, has its own pub too - the land was once owned by Fuller’s Brewery, who produce the very fine London Pride and its many variants, and so there’s no shortage of watering holes. I managed to walk past them all as I wandered around, lost and a little confused, 40 minutes before kick-off trying to find the way in to the stand I wanted.The turnstiles play nip and tuck with the houses on narrow suburban streets and you’d be a little hard pressed to locate them if not for the crowds.
I ended up in the Bill Axbey Stand, a single-tiered, all-seater stand along one side which looks like a giant old shed with open sides and cramped rows of red seats. It took me another ten minutes to find a clear vantage point of both goals because of the rather obstructive supporting pillars. But, for me, I’d rather sit slightly crumpled with not quite enough leg room in a place like this, with pride and character, than with a load of plastic fans in yet another homogenous new over-sized ground.
It clear that, even though they’re not setting the world alight in League One, Brentford have outgrown this place and It was good to see in the programme that chairman Greg Dyke was outlining plans for a new 20,000 capacity ground at nearby Lionel Road. It shows ambition but I do feel 20,000 may be a little too big given the crowd at this one was 6,763 off the back of a bring-a-friend promotion.
But I hesitate to question Dyke’s judgement because I genuinely have reason to like the guy. Talking of education, Dyke presented me with my degree at the University of York in his role as Chancellor and with a warm smile, shake of the hand and pat on the back, set me on my way in the world. He was exceedingly likable and funny in his speeches at the graduation ceremony that day and took a keen interest in me and my journalistic hopes on the couple of occasions I met/interviewed him at the annual Roses sports tournament with Lancaster.
There was an excellent following of 350 fans supporting Carlisle. I hear they have a large following of exiles in London and even their own supporters‘ group but the ones I came across on the train had clearly done the 620-mile trek from Cumbria. I admire that.
Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t their day as things went to form and Brentford, the higher-placed side, prevailed 2-1. While never likely to scale the peaks of entertainment of Charlton the other night, this was a very enjoyable game and the correct outcome.
The match took a long while to settle into any kind of pattern or rhythm - it was scrappy, the passing from both sets of players was unreliable and there was little to get you out of the seat. But from the malaise came an opening goal for Brentford - the visitors dallied in clearing a Harry Forester corner and skipper Jonathan Douglas fired in a low shot that ricocheted through a packed six yard box and into the net.
Carlisle, who might have hoped to have started the season better than they have, were prompt in equalising. Brentford were themselves sloppy this time and Kallum Higginbotham found himself advancing towards goal. He squared to Joe Garner to provide an excellent finish.
It was as though the game had switched up four gears at once and both teams were reaching for the jugular. Brentford’s midfield weren’t afraid to run directly at their opponents, while Clayton Donaldson up front was outstanding at holding the ball up and hassling defenders. The folks around me grew increasingly frustrated at official Andy Davies and the linesmen, and often with good cause.
In the dressing rooms at the break, Uwe Rosler would have reiterated that this game as there for Brentford to win and the first 20 minutes of the second period were a spell of domination to rival any you’ll see. A succession of corners finally roused the Ealing Road Terrace into song and when Paul Hayes was on the end of one to slam home Donaldson’s knock-down, it was nothing less than deserved.
It could have been thrown away, however, and the impression of referee Davies wasn’t improved when he awarded a penalty close to the end. Tony Craig jumped up with David Symington and the official seemed to give the spot-kick suspiciously quickly. Anyway, it mattered not because Garner was denied by Simon Moore and Brentford’s good run went on.
Next Match: Could be tomorrow night’s FA Cup replay between AFC Wimbledon and York City, or could be somewhere my end on Saturday.