When I think about telling Americans how to watch soccer in England — and especially when I think about bringing Americans to games here — it’s honestly places like Brentford that I think about.
Never heard of Brentford? Join the masses — outside of England, that is. They currently play in the second-tier Championship, they only got there a couple of years ago, and they haven’t been in the top league since just after World War II.
But from my perspective, none of this matters. What matters to me is that they’ve been playing in the same place since 1904, and today it’s a 12,500-seat stadium shoehorned into a West London neighborhood – so much so that if if someone in the top row at Griffin Park were to pitch a pie over their shoulder, it would easily be snapped up by a dog in the back garden of a house.
But, as is so often the case, Griffin Park will be replaced in 2017. So I cannot recommend enough that if you are going to England to watch soccer, get to a game at Brentford.
You take the train out from Central London and walk about 10 minutes through a regular old neighborhood: houses, shops and so on. You’d have no sense that you’re approaching a football ground until you come around a corner and there it is.
This shot of the ticket queue shows how truly tucked into the neighborhood this place is:
Here’s a shot of the back of the stand we sat in:
And this one is actually from walking out, but again shows the scene well:
The thing that Griffin Park is famous for is that it’s the only ground in all of England — and that’s saying something — that has a pub on each corner of the ground! Here’s the Griffin:
And here’s the New Inn, which dates to at least 1853 and has rooms available, apparently!
Inside, Griffin Park feels just as cozy and close. The away fans — in this case, Brighton and Hove Albion, off to our right — were practically face to face with the rest of us, and at quiet moments a person in one ground could be heard in the other, leading to some entertaining back-and-forth.
You might notice that the lower section there is actually terraces; those are almost completely gone from the English game, but somehow Brentford still has them — perhaps because they’ve been so far down the leagues all these years.
A few more shots from inside the ground:
Look how close we were to the pitch!
This game was the first time that I had showed up at the game with American friends, My friend Kelly took her two boys, Michael and Tommy, to Paris and London for the holidays, and she asked me to set them up with a game. I confess that I tried for Spurs and Chelsea (Michael’s team), but good luck getting four seats to those clubs on Boxing Day!
They got into the spirit, though, picking up scarves at the team store, clapping at the right times, and enjoying the … shall we say, constructive criticism of the referees. The boys play the game, as well, so they knew what they were watching.
They did have their first encounter with stadium food, including a sausage roll. Not sure what Micheal thinks of his sausage roll here:
Maybe it was the name; this brand takes some getting used to.
So I can help people plan trips, get tickets, learn some terms and know about the different leagues and cups, but I can’t make the games entertaining. In this case, it was a 0-0 draw, though with some nice goalkeeping, at least. The official highlights:
And here’s another video, apparently from the club, which is perhaps a bit over the top — but I haven’t felt the kind of family vibe I got at Brentford from any other place I’ve been to.
I don’t know how all this will change when they build their new stadium, which seems like it’s finally going to happen. Most clubs build generic, plain new stadiums, but my hope is that Brentford will do it right, keep it in the community, and keep it feeling close and familiar like Griffin Park.