If you’re looking for some proper old-fashioned English soccer in London, look no farther than Brentford FC — but go soon.
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 few 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 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 2020. So I cannot recommend enough that if you are going to England to watch soccer, get to a game at Brentford before the end of the 2019-20 season.
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.
They got into the spirit, 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.
Maybe it was the name; this brand takes some getting used to.
I can help people plan English soccer trips and get tickets, and teach them about all 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 many other places I’ve been to.
I don’t know how all this will change when they build their new stadium. 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.