Result: Brentford 5-1 Eastleigh (FA Cup Third Round)
Venue: Griffin Park (Saturday 7th January 2017, 3pm)
Att: 7,537 (1,428 away)
As my ‘ticking off grounds that may not be long for this world’ quest continues, the FA Cup draw is always something that throws up a good chance to tick another one off. Last season saw me squeeze the Boleyn Ground in shortly before its closure and this year saw the draw award Brentford a home-tie at their Griffin Park home. Being the FA Cup, it also gives a bit of a cut-price ticket opportunity which is always welcome and a trip back down to London for the second time in two years for the Third Round looked on the cards.
As such, I purchased my tickets ahead of the Manchester Central game on New Year’s Eve and I was all set for my first new ground in a month. I did play it somewhat risky, though, and hope that Brentford’s twitter was correct in saying tickets would be available up until kick-off. It all seemed good and so I set off for London Euston on the morning of the first Saturday of 2017.
My arrival was delayed slightly by, seemingly, nothing, but this wasn’t anything too severe and I was soon entering the underground world. The usual cattle-market feel was in full flow and I was pleased to get in and out of the ticket hall in fairly quick time, before heading for the first of my trains, which would see my change at Green Park before a swift change over to the Heathrow-bound line for South Ealing. Easy.
Well, it would have been had I not decided to go to the wrong platform at both stations and, therefore, miss a connection at each. Clever. Anyway, this was only a minor set-back and I was soon headed towards Brentford. The combined journey on the tube only lasted for around a half-hour (if you take out my own poor directional decisions) and I was soon disembarking onto a damp South Ealing station at just before 1.30pm. Happily, the estimated walk time was fairly miscalculated and I arrived at the ticket office in Braemar Road just 15 minutes later. Ticket secure, it was off to the pubs!
Griffin Park was famed – up until a couple of years ago for being the only ground to have four pubs surrounding it: one on each corner. Alas, the Royal Oak has since shut its doors, leaving the Princess Royal, the New Inn and the Griffin to keep fans watered. With programme (£3.50) also safely stowed away, it was off to the first of the trinity: The Princess Royal. Unfortunately this was packed, as were the others according to overheard conversations, and I had a 20-minute wait for a pint. By the time my Fuller’s Frontier had arrived, the body heat in there had made me resemble a long-distance runner in the sweaty stakes.
I had the idea to do the three pubs pre-game, but with the bar clock stating the time at 2.15pm, I decided to let the New Inn be and just head for the Griffin. I did have to down the decent pint of plastic-glassed Frontier to give me some extra time for the next, before heading over to the Griffin. The Princess Royal and the Griffin were both traditional-style pubs (which are always welcome here) and pints for £4.00 and £4.20 (Stowford) weren’t too shabby either. Interestingly, the Griffin’s Southern Comfort bottle was playing host to a Red Bull Leipzig sticker, for some reason. After seeing the reassuring United result on TV, I then had the “inner me” moment. “Do the New Inn” it exclaimed. I’m easily swayed…
So, after getting rid of two pints within 15 minutes, I was off to complete the lessened challenge. The New Inn was emptying out as I arrived, as the time was now at almost twenty-five to three. This didn’t stop me ordering a Coors in here though, though the Irish barmaid’s understanding of my accent almost delayed things! Luckily, the guy next to me translated and everything ended well!
Coors downed and now feeling fairly well aeriated, I headed off back round and past the first of the three stops, finding myself at the Ealing Road terracing turnstile shortly afterwards. Ticket scan successful, I was inside whereupon I was, as standard, subject to a bag search. What isn’t quite as standard though, was the steward then exclaiming in a…different put on accent “What you got in da baaaag?!”. As it was, there was nothing of note and I made my way up to the terrace and into Griffin Park for real.
Dating from 1904, Griffin Park is a lovely ground; well, to me anyway! It still has its terrace intact (for now, at least) and an old-style all-seater stand down the far side. The more modern Main Stand sits on the opposite touch-line, with the best stand in the ground housing the visiting Spitfires today. The two-tiered mixed terracing/seating stand sits behind the far end goal to the full terrace. It was certainly worth the trip. Anyway, enough about the ground for now, here’s a bit about Brentford FC….
Brentford Football Club was formed in 1889 and have played at Griffin Park since 1904 after brief spells at five grounds prior to finding their permanent home. The club was formed by members of the Brentford Rowing Club as their winter sport, beating off competition from rugby union. After the levelling of the former Fuller’s brewery orchard, Griffin Park was erected in time for the 1904 season.
Their early years saw a fair amount of success. They began life in the West London Alliance – which was won in 1893 – and allied this success with numerous cup wins, beginning with the 1894-’95 West Middlesex before this was added to in the form of the Middlesex Senior Cup & London Senior Cup double in 1897-’98. Brentford moved into the Southern League around the turn of the century, winning the Division 2 title in 1901. They rounded off the decade with a win in the 1909 Southern Professional Charity Cup.
After winning the 1911 Ealing Hospital Cup, season 1918-’19 saw the club lift the London Combination before they went on to found the Third Division of the Football League in 1920. After just one season, the division was regionalised with Brentford, somewhat unsurprisingly, placed in the Southern section. This began a period of strength for the club, as they went on to win promotion to the Second Division in 1933 as Champions of the South section and just two years later, they were in the top-flight after winning the Division 2 title. Their final silverware before wartime hostilities broke out once more was the club’s first London Challenge Cup, won in 1935.
During WWII, Brentford competed in the London War Cup, which they lifted in 1942. However, the end of the war saw an immediate downturn in fortune for the club on-field, as they were immediately relegated back to the second tier. This set the club into something of a downturn and they found themselves back in the Third Division by 1954 and the bottom rung of the ladder, the Fourth Division, eight years later.
They did soon bounce back, however, winning promotion in 1963, but this just set a yo-yo existence into motion, with the club going between the Third and Fourth divisions on three different occasions, with ’72 & ’78 seeing another two promotions. The club did, however, win a further two London Challenge Cups during this period (’65 & ’67). After defeat in the Football League Trophy in 1985 at Wembley, the club reached the FA Cup quarter-final in 1989, but were vanquished by the reigning English champions, Liverpool.
After 45 years, Brentford were eventually promoted back to the second tier in 1992 as Third Division champions, with the Second Division becoming the First with the creation of the Premiership. Alas, it mattered little to Brentford, who were immediately relegated to the “new” Second Division. After a near-miss in the 1997 play-offs, the club were then relegated to Division 3 the following year, but did only spend a year there before winning the division in 1999.
2002 & 2005 saw more play-off anguish, as the club missed out on a place in Division 1 (latterly the Championship)to Stoke City and then to Sheffield Wednesday respectively. After another failed play-off campaign the next year, the club again suffered a major drop-off, as in ’98 and were relegated to League 2. However, after a two-year stay, the Bees won the division and returned to League 1. 2011 saw defeat in the Football League Trophy Final for a second time and 2013 saw yet more play-off misfortune, this time at the hands of Yeovil Town.
However, the club eventually succeeded in 2014, bypassing the play-offs and winning automatic promotion to the Championship and a return to the second tier for the first time in 21 years. Their first season back at this level was a success and Brentford reached the play-offs but, as you could probably guess, they were defeated in the semis by eventual winners Middlesbrough. Last season saw the club attain a 9th placed finish.
The game was soon underway, with all the action being crammed into the first 45. It took just eight minutes for the deadlock to be broken, a trip in the area giving the home side the perfect chance to get rid of any doubts of being unable to break down the non-league side. Yoann Barbet, after a considerable wait, did the rest with Eastleigh’s dismay being confounded by the injury to Gavin Hoyte in the lead up to the penalty, seeing him forced off.
It was soon two, as Bees wideman Tom Field netted his first professional goal. After some good build up play down the right, a fine ball in found the head of Field who powered the ball beyond Graham Stack, who’d just returned from a spell with Kerala in the Indian Premier League. Ooh, the hipster. 2-0.
To their credit, Eastleigh’s heads didn’t drop and they decided to take the attack to their hosts, as they now had to of course. But, they were caught by a swift breakaway from one of their own corners, which saw the influential Romaine Sawyers find Josh McEachran who, in turn, squared the ball to Lasse Vibe who curled a drive with the outside of his foot beyond the helpless Stack. 3-0 and game over, you felt.
It was all Brentford for the first quarter of the game and Vibe went close to adding a fourth but a low ball from Sawyers just evaded him, before Eastleigh grabbed a goal back on the half-hour. Following a decent spell of pressure that had seen the home fans try to get their side to find their ruthlessness again, the Spitfires forced a corner. The resulting delivery saw Daniel Bentley in the Bees goal blocked off somewhat and Ayo Obileye slotted the rebound in. There wasn’t enough for a foul in this one for me, though the next corner – which saw Eastleigh hit the post direct from the set-piece – was definitely a foul on the stopper.
Eastleigh continued to sense their time was now and continued to pile forward, with James Constable leading the line. But, they were soon to see their hopes snuffed out once more as McEachran, who looked a class act during the game, played a sublime through ball that Field ran onto before confidently placing his shot through Stack and into the back of the net.
There was still time for a sixth goal and this was the best of the bunch. Those that left early for food/amenity breaks would have been somewhat disappointed to have missed it! Again, McEachran was instrumental in creating the chance playing the ball forward for a lay-off to Sawyers who fired a stinging daisy-cutter into the bottom corner with the besieged Stack rooted to the spot. 5-1, though I did mutter to myself that that would be it for goals today. It happens so often!
Half-time arrived soon afterwards and I headed down to the concourse area and the refreshment bar. I had to feel for the guys and girls on duty here, as it must feel like you are being bared down upon by the masses as the crowds approach from above into a compact area. The last pie went just before me and thus I had to make do with a burger (a rarity for me), with the only other options a hot dog or the abomination known as a Cheese & Onion pasty. Only crisps are ok with this combination. Or toast. Or sandwich…YOU GET THE POINT!!!
The second half was the expected anti-climax. In fact, I was more interested by the exotic fly-overs by aircraft on final to Heathrow because, yes, I am that interesting and cool. The game became almost a glorified training session for the Bees, with the odd chance for Sawyers and Josh Clarke going awry. Eastleigh had their odd moment too, with ex-Sunderland man Mikael Mandrom seeing his effort kept out well by Bentley before denying Jai Reason’s attempted lob. The big moment in the half, for the home fans anyway, was the return of Spaniard Jota from his loan at Eibar. he looked good during his time on the field. Anyway, full-time arrived after one added minute, 5-1. An added note for the Eastleigh fans, who kept up a good noise and atmosphere throughout the game. Good stuff.
I quickly made my exit from Griffin Park and made my way along the road and back to South Ealing, just in time for the train back. Unfortunately, I gave up my spacious train at Green Park for my connection, only to find the Victoria Line had been suspended and thus had to find an alternative route. As luck would have it, I’d already explored this possibility and headed back for a train to Russell Square. But, oh my God was it packed! As in ‘people jammed in the doors’ packed. Don’t get on, there’s another in five minutes for f*cks sake!
I was relieved to see Russell Square and be able to head over towards Euston in fresh air and without anyone up in my face. I had until seven until my train back to Manchester and so had time for a quick one in the great Doric Arch. A Veltins in here did the trick of relieving the stresses of the underground and the remainder of the first half of Preston-Arsenal kept me, somewhat, entertained until it was time to pop over to the station.
A thoroughly incident-free journey home followed, bar a mouse scurrying into the small WH Smith’s at Manchester Piccadilly and a guy getting escorted out of Oxford Road by the police, as kids debated what would happen to him in his drunken state. Ah, it’s good to be back. Next up…who knows. Probably somewhere easier on the ol’ wallet, but Brentford & Griffin Park is great. It’ll be sad to see it go…
Value For Money: 8