Griffin Park: Brentford's 116-year-old home set for a muted farewell

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Griffin Park has been Brentford's home since 1904

The final game at the old stadium was supposed to take place on May 2, but the suspension of sport in mid-March put paid to any hopes of the emotional farewell that had been touted for so many years, with fans unable to return to sporting events once football restarted on June 20.

Brentford fan Hugh Westbrook, like many others, had been reluctantly preparing himself for that last goodbye. Here, he details the wrench of moving to a new stadium at Lionel Road without having said a proper farewell...

Since June last year, one date has been dominant in the minds of Brentford fans - May 2, 2020, the last scheduled league game at Griffin Park.

Griffin Park has been Brentford's home since 1904
Image: Griffin Park has been Brentford's home since 1904

But as that date finally ticked around, Bees fans were faced with the reality that the final game at our beloved stadium had already been played, and we were denied the chance for that final matchday farewell.

Of course, amid the coronavirus-driven tragedies around the globe, not getting the chance to say goodbye to a football ground does not compare to the difficulties that countless others have endured. However, for those of us who have been going for many years, being denied that final farewell will be a disappointment that will never truly heal.

The ground has changed over the years, but the fundamentals have remained in place - the almost claustrophobic tightness inside, the narrow streets outside, the pub on every corner. Many opposition fans have described Griffin Park as their favourite throwback away trip, and have been keen to visit this season to make the most of their last chance.

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I have been going to Griffin Park since 1975. It is to my lasting shame that I can't actually remember my first match. But over the subsequent 45 years I have enjoyed and endured the roller coaster typical of all long-standing fans.

Two lows stand out above the others - the play-off penalty shoot-out defeat to Huddersfield in 1995, and the last-minute penalty debacle in 2013, which famously saw us lose out on promotion to Doncaster.

The highs of course were the promotions - beating Preston the year after Doncaster to finally reach the Championship, and a couple of promotions from the bottom division during our least successful periods.

Then there was 1992, and ironically another May 2, etched firmly in the mind of all supporters. That day we played away to Peterborough and won to clinch promotion to the second tier of English football for the first time in my lifetime. After the game, fans and players returned to Griffin Park to celebrate together.

Brentford's Ollie Watkins (second right) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game against Preston

It was a reminder of the great spirit at the club, the family feel, which I know about personally as four generations of my family have been fans. But it was also special because it was a Griffin Park day which was utterly unforgettable even though no match was staged there that day.

And that might be the way end up saying goodbye to the ground. In an online Q&A with fans in April, chief executive Jon Varney acknowledged that there may not be another game to see, but recognised that something must be organised, saying: "It's our strong intention to make sure that everyone has the chance to say goodbye."

At best it seems that there will be some kind of final visit, albeit not the one that any of us wanted.

If I had to describe what the perfect final game would be, it would be a sunny day, with a young and talented team playing superb football, winning comfortably and walking off to a great reception in front of a capacity crowd. That happened.

On March 7, that was the scenario which played out when Brentford beat Sheffield Wednesday 5-0. At the time, it was in my mind that I might never go back, so I drank it all in. Just in case. But it still wasn't a proper farewell, the kind of farewell which fans of all other teams who have moved grounds have been able to experience.

And so when football does finally return to normal, when fans are back in grounds and we are in our shiny new stadium, don't forget that for all of us, it will always be tinged with regret that we started to embrace the new without ever being able to properly say farewell to the old.

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