Brentford FC haven’t been in such a position of strength since the 1940s. Following five successive seasons in the Championship, with a lowest finishing position of 11th place, they are a club looking upwards.
Furthermore, the 2019-20 season will be their last at Griffin Park, the 12,763-capacity stadium in Hounslow, before their move to the modern Brentford Community Stadium at the start of next season.
Having played their football at Griffin Park since 1904, the move will represent further change for a club that has evolved dramatically since supporter Matthew Benham became an investor in 2009.
Gary Levine, a Brentford supporter who manages the online fan-clothing store TW8 Casuals, certainly agrees the new ground is an important part of taking the club to the next level.
“I feel that even though it will be a shame to leave Griffin Park after 116 years, to stay in line with the way football is going we had no choice,” he said.
“There is a huge commercial gain to be had with moving to the new stadium and with around 17,500 capacity it would be a great time to gain promotion.”
Brentford’s latest promotion bid got off to a bit of a slow start with a home defeat to Birmingham City, but Levine seems confident Thomas Frank and his young squad can build on the progress made in the second half of last season.
“I feel if we are able to keep hold of players we have currently then we have a good chance as any of the so called bigger clubs to gain promotion to the Premier League,” he said.
“Even if we do lose some of the big players we have, us fans have faith in Benham and the scouts that if we lose one player another great unknown player will come in to replace them.”
Mr Benham, who is often characterised as a stats-obsessive, has turned Brentford into one of the most progressive and forward-thinking club in the Football League.
Their squad is made up of young players, picked up for relatively cheap from clubs across Europe, but their lack of relative financial clout has prevented them from retaining a squad capable of a sustained automatic promotion bid.
Ezri Konsa, Neal Maupay, James Tarkowski, Jota, Chris Mepham and John Egan are all now Premier League players, having been identified by Brentford’s recruitment team. Players such as Ollie Watkins and Julian Jeanvier will hope to be latest young talents to enhance their reputation in west London.
The new stadium, and the associated increased revenues that should come along as a result, will go some way to altering their reputation as a selling club.
The Brentford Community Stadium not only has a larger capacity of 17,250, but will also be rented out by Premiership Rugby Union club London Irish.
While the fans may have remained supportive of Mr Benham, the media haven’t been wholehearted in backing the club’s decisions.
Benham’s methods came in for particular criticism when Mark Warburton left as manager, despite leading the club to promotion from League One and then a 5th place Championship finish, at the end of the 2014-15 season.
Warburton and Benham had key differences in how they wanted to approach transfers, with Benham looking to implement mathematical modelling and statistics to supplement traditional scouting.
Warburton’s replacement, Marinus Dijkhuizen, lasted just nine matches but his permanent replacement Dean Smith led the club to three consecutive top ten finishes before leaving to guide Aston Villa to the Premier League last season.
During this period, Brentford scrapped their academy and replaced it with Brentford B in an attempt to compete with clubs of greater financial means.
Going into the new season, Mr Levine appears optimistic but also makes it clear that saying goodbye to the old ground will be difficult.
“The general feeling among the fans is that Griffin Park will be missed massively as it’s been home for 116 years and there aren’t many stadiums around like it any more,” he said.
Asked what he will miss most, Mr Levine was certain.
He said: “I will miss there being a pub on every corner of the ground most. There is no other club in the country that has this and its iconic. It’s loved by home and away fans alike.”
Feature image credit: Kelly Hopkins.