Brentford 1 Leicester City 1
Saturday 18 March 2023
Ground 88 of 92. Brentford’s departure from Griffin Park had coincided with top flight football for the first time since 1947, and ticking off this one therefore became far trickier than it might otherwise have been. Luckily our friend Gerry (who I last saw at Goodison Park twelve months ago) had come up with a pair of tickets. All we needed to do was arrive reasonably early and find him in the Express Tavern beforehand.
You can read about Brentford’s time at Griffin Park here.
Their new home at Lionel Road might not feature pubs on every corner, but – not unlike Millwall – is triangulated by railway tracks. Two are freight spurs that combine to run onwards towards Willesden; the Hounslow Loop Line forms a southern boundary. This dates from 1850 and has stations at Brentford, Kew Bridge (next to the stadium) and Chiswick. It leaves Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Waterloo to Reading line at Barnes, crosses the Thames twice and rejoins near Feltham.
Another branch once connected Southall with Brentford Dock. The Great Western and Brentford Railway Company wanted to link Thames barge traffic – at that time comprising ten per cent of Britain’s trade – with GWR mainline routes. They started work in 1859, building a long-lost passenger station where present-day Augustus Close crosses Brent Way. Brentford Town goods yard lay at its half way stage; the line east of here survives, and is still occasionally used for freight.
The Dock Line route incorporates yet more Brunel infrastructure at Hanwell. Windmill Lane Bridge – known popularly as Three Bridges – was finished in 1859 and allows railway, Grand Union Canal and the Brentford-Greenford road to cross one another. Strictly there are only two bridges there but the railway, whose cutting runs beneath both, necessitates a false one that helps reinforce its deep embankments against the weight of both canal and road.
Lionel Road’s restrictive site demanded equally brave engineering. Those three railways – and the inflexible space within them – provided substantial challenges for Brentford fan and activist, Matt Dolman. I’m still not sure how he did it.
You can read the story here:
Things started well enough as spring sunshine bathed the early-morning M6. I picked up John in Cannock, making good time until High Wycombe when heavy rain began falling from leaden skies. Traffic then ground to a painful go-slow that lasted all the way to Chiswick, and when my dashboard started indicating alternator problems we were already negotiating busy roads around Brentford’s prosaically-named Gtech Community Stadium. Engine maintenance would have to wait until after the game.
Renting someone’s drive seemed sensible, given this weekend’s rail strike and the post-match closure of Gunnersbury tube. Tenner through the letterbox, no questions asked; old-fashioned cash in hand still opens many doors. Our hostess probably had second thoughts when she stumbled on a bare-chested Northerner getting changed outside her kitchen window, but in my defence the weather had turned unexpectedly warm and I thought she was out.
The warning light persisted (somehow they always do). That little battery icon flickered on and off all along Hanger Lane, vanished thanks to some serious thrashing back up the M40 but irritatingly reappeared just past Norton Canes services. It was permanently lit from Stoke onwards; roadworks near St Helens finally finished things off, all my electrics died in quick succession and I ended up trudging dolefully along a freezing cold hard shoulder just outside Shevington.
Car parts are outrageously expensive nowadays, and – adding insult to injury – I got fined £90 for driving through Acton’s leafy lanes without paying the ultra low emission charge. Well-publicised, apparently. Not in Lancashire, Mr Khan. But it had still been a great day out.
The Community Stadium is Wimbledon writ large. London grounds nowadays feel more hemmed in than ever, but by different things; flats, retail outlets, hotels. This one has many features long typical of the capital’s neighbourhood clubs. Station, flat-roofed pubs and the M4’s nearby flyover all felt comfortingly metropolitan, while if flowers are your thing Kew Royal Botanic Gardens lie just a half-mile distant.
Our seats – accessed via what looked like an office block, through flimsy airport-style turnstiles I might once have considered jumping over – were in the main stand. Size and spaciousness here contrast tight angles and low roofs elsewhere. They reflect this site’s cramped nature. One corner of each end tapers sharply to accommodate Dolman’s tricky brief; residential blocks (complete with watching residents) crowd tightly behind.
Flesh and wine
Lonnie Donegan lived at Augustus Close – near Brentford Dock – during the Eighties. His old Brewery Tap local still does well. It’s some way from here, however, and in any event we needed to meet Gerry. The Express was an old-school Tardis-like boozer enlarged out back by various tents, extensions and lean-tos. I bought locally-brewed bitter from what looked like someone’s garden shed as half of Leicester milled loudly about.
My sausage and bacon barm at Stafford Services felt ages ago now (I love those Greasy Joe counters that many motorway places still have. The servers are friendly and let you build adventurous Scooby Snacks from fried food). Luckily a pop-up barbecue was doing brisk business out front; their extortionately-priced burgers proved ideal on-the-hoof food.
We guzzled down hasty concourse pints and took stock of the opening stages. Eighth-placed Brentford looked lively, with Ivan Toney in particular tormenting Leicester’s fragile defence. Bryan Mbeumo headed just wide before Mathias Jensen scored their deserved opener. His deflected low shot followed a short corner, and at least five home players appeared – to my traditional eyes at least – blatantly offside.
Leicester surprised everybody in the ground (and possibly themselves) by equalising soon after half time. Ashley Barnes dinked home Boubakary Soumare’s neat pass following trickery out wide from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, and they grew steadily more confident as the home team ran out of ideas. Brentford sub Shandon Baptiste didn’t help by picking up two yellow cards inside three minutes, either.
Teams and goals
Brentford: Raya, Hickey, Pinnock, Mee, Henry, Damsgaard (Dasilva 61), Norgaard, Jensen (Baptiste 75), Mbuemo (Jansson 94), Toney, Wissa (Schade 61). Unused subs: M Jorgensen, Ghoddos, Onyeka, Strakosha, Stevens.
Leicester: Iversen, Ricardo Pereira, Amartey, Souttar, Castagne, Ndidi (Soumare 74), Dewsbury-Hall, Tete (Praet 66), Maddison (Inheacho 90), Barnes, Daka (Vardy 66). Unused subs: Ward, Mendy, Thomas, Brunt, Marcal-Madivadua.
Goals: Brentford: Jensen 32. Leicester: Barnes 52.