Anyone that has spoken to me about ‘groundhopping’ over the past year will have heard my regular line of “I really want to visit Griffin Park” – the home of Brentford FC. I’ve talked about going on so many occasions, but I’ve always ended up elsewhere. From the pictures I had seen of Griffin Park, and on the few times I have driven past it on entering London via the M4, I’ve always thought it looked like a great traditional ground. However, I have to admit it was not the ground that had made me so keen to visit the West London club. The real reason I wanted to visit was the pubs. To be more specific, Brentford has the brilliant novelty of having a pub on every corner of the ground. I dreamed of completing “the Brentford 4”.
(WARNING: I may mention our trip to Wembley the next day to watch Swansea win the League Cup on several occasions throughout this blog. Why? Because I like to remind myself of it.)
I’m not sure if you are aware, but Swansea City recently played a cup final at Wembley (I may have also written about it here). With Swansea at Wembley on the Sunday, the idea of having a whole weekend in the ‘Big Smoke’ was pitched to me, originally by Gibbo. Gibbo suggested going to Dagenham and Redbridge and I was all for this – until I saw that Brentford were playing Walsall at home that weekend. We were also spending Saturday night at our mate’s house in Hammersmith, so it was only a short distance away to Brentford. I was sold. Our Wembley Weekend away with Swansea City would begin on the Saturday at Brentford’s Griffin Park – finally.
I departed Manchester on the 8 o’clock Virgin train to London, met up with Tom at Euston Station and headed over to Hammersmith. By midday we were at South Ealing station, about a 10-15 minute walk away from Griffin Park. Initially, we had no idea where we were going so the Google maps app came out to direct us down the road to the ground. After struggling to cross the busy A4 road, we eventually made it safely across and found ourselves in a residential area with the floodlights of Griffin Park above us. More excitingly, the first pub was in sight.
Pub 1 of the Brentford 4: Thw New Inn
So, my pub challenge was underway and I could not believe I was so excited about doing something as simple as visiting 4 pubs – I was buzzing. The New Inn was a good start to the day, although it was rather quiet with the day still young. The pub was mainly housing the travelling Walsall fans as we made our early afternoon visit and I soon learned that the New Inn was the pub of choice for the away support. The pub itself was very nice inside with one lounge bar and another smaller bar area with an adjoining room that resembled a dining area. We had one pint in the New Inn whilst we watch the League Cup final buildup on Football Focus (I wonder who won that cup final in the end?) before setting off towards pub number 2. A good start and a good standard set for the other 3 pubs to challenge for “pub of the day” award.
We had another errand to run en route to the next pub. Lost Boyos regulars Medwyn and Caroline Williams had owned their first house together on 18 New Road, directly in between the New Inn and our second pub of the day, and I had promised to go and check on the old place. All looked good!
Pub 2 of the Brentford 4: The Royal Oak
We walked into the Royal Oak to find a much barer pub and a bar far less homely than the Royal Oak. In fact, when we entered the one room there only appeared to be a plain wooden bar with a 2-3 drink taps on it, plain white walls and a man in the corner reading a paper by himself. My original negative impression of the place wasn’t helped by the use of plastic glasses, even though the pub was slightly cheaper than the previous pub. However, the barmaids seemed very friendly and on hearing a couple of excitable voices in the next round, we decided to go around to the otherside of the pub. The other room had a bit more going on with a few more tables and a TV showing the day’s early kickoff between Fulham and Stoke. There was not much going on in the footy and instead we got chatting to the group at the bar: the two barmaids, two younger Walsall fans and an older Walsall fan plus two Brentford locals. After telling them about the Wembley weekend and the Lost Boyos blog, it turned out the Saddlers fans were also completing a lap of the four pubs and the two local lads informed us that they regularly get fans coming in the pub to complete the feat. Our two new Brentford friends, Alan and Alex, also told us that the Guardian newspaper had even made a visit to the pub recently for an article about the lower league clubs around London and interviewed the two of them. “The Guardian newspaper. Your blog. We’re getting famous!” I’m not quite sure we should be compared to a national newspaper, but your time was appreciated lads and it was nice to meet you. The three Walsall fans had gone off ahead of us to the next pub and also the third of their day. We finished our drinks in the Royal Oak and said our goodbyes to Alan and Alex and went in pursuit of the Saddlers ahead of us.
Pub 3 of the Brentford 4: The Griffin
The Griffin was the pub we were looking forward to visiting the most, as it seemed to be the one people dubbed the best of the 4. On walking towards the pub, the pub was instantly recognisable as the pub used in the Elijah Wood film Green Street. The film sees a wrongfully expelled Harvard journalism student (Wood) travel over to England and through a whole series of events ends up joining West Ham’s notorious ‘Green Street’ firm. The film is rather awful, but good cockney fun nonetheless. The pub’s interior was also very recognisable as the base of Elijah’s firm, although the bar area was a lot smaller than it looked in the film. Unlike the other two pubs, the Griffin was full and after getting our pints, we found ourselves a standing spot at the back of the room next to the two Walsall lads, Mike and Dave, who we had met in the previous pub. “Isn’t this the pub from Green Street?” they asked as we got over them. When I replied in the affirmative, I did notice that there was nothing to commemorate the fact that a fairly successful film had been filmed there.
Mike and Dave departed for pub 4 and we got chatting to a few Brentford fans, who were all very friendly, before heading to the upstairs bar to see Nick Bruzon. On the train down to London, a Swans fan on Twitter had directed me to an article of Nick’s about his pub crawl around Brentford one football-less Saturday (which can be read here) and having spotted his Twitter handle (@NickBruzon) at the end of the article, I decided to tweet Nick to say I was going to be in his neck of the woods for the Bees game today. Nick, who also writes the ‘Last Word’ column in Brentford’s official matchday programme, suggested that I should join him for a drink in the Griffin, a proposition I kindly accepted. We wandered through the beer garden, where there was also a barbeque on the go, and headed up the steps to the smaller upstairs bar area. No sign of Nick, but when I flashed my #lostboyos t-shirt a little bit, he soon spotted us and came and joined us. Nick mentioned that the ‘pub challenge’ was a great draw for fans to visit Griffin Park, as he went on to tell us about Brentford’s plans to move to a new ground in the coming seasons. We chatted about today’s game against Walsall and Swansea’s cup final the next day, before saying goodbye and heading to pub 4. Nice guy and he even suggested that Lost Boyos would get a mention in his column in the matchday programme next week. Nice one!
Pub 4 of the Brentford 4: The Princess Royal
We arrived at pub 4 and we were almost over the finish line on our ‘Brentford pub challenge’. En route to the pub, we had passed the main entrance to Griffin Park itself, so we knew we only had a 60 second walk from our last drink to the game itself. After posing for my photo outside my fourth pub of the day, we headed into the busy Princess Royal. Although, it was busy in there, I did not get the same good vibe from this pub as I had from the previous pub. The bar area was probably the biggest of the four and there was also a couple of pool tables at the back. We decided that we did not want to spend too much longer in the Princess Royal and headed towards the turnstiles, patting ourselves on the back for completing the Brentford 4 on the way.
I know the question on everyone’ lips now: Lost Boyos, what was your favourite of the four pubs? Well, here we go – as decided by myself and Tom: At number 4: The Princess Royal – can’t explain why but we just never really took a liking to the place; at number 3: The Royal Oak – although the people in there were great, it fell behind in the facilities department; at Number 2: the first pub of the day, The New Inn – a great pub to start the day’s drinking; and the winner of the Brentford 4 pub challenge is……..The Griffin! Elijah Wood’s London pub of choice. Congratulations to the Griffin on this prestigious award. You’ve earned it!
Pub-hopping now finished, it was now all about the football and Griffin Park as we paid our £21 to get through the turnstiles and stand on the Ealing Road Stand. Griffin Park has been the home of Brentford since 1904. The name of the ground comes from the Fullers Brewery that used to reside in the area – the main logo of the brewery was a griffin. Quite fitting that a ground named after a brewey is famous for the pubs surrounding it these days. The ground is also very near Heathrow airport and one of the ground’s stands is used as advertising for the planes flying just overhead; at the moment the Bill Axbey Stand is emblazoned with the words ‘Qatar Airways’. As mentioned in my chat with Nick earlier in the day, Brentford are planning to leave Griffin Park in the next few seasons for a 20,000 seater stadium, which at the moment is titled the Brentford Community Stadium, on Lionel Road. Personally, I think it would be a massive shame if the Bees were to flee their Griffin Park hive as the ground is compact and a proper traditional, individual ground. And do I need to say more than it has a pub on every corner! (have I mentioned that yet?)
We had a prematch pint (Carlsberg) and a Chicken Balti (a quite disappointing Pukka Pie) from the refreshment stand on the narrow open air concourse, before heading to our place on the standing terrace behind the goal. The Ealing Road Stand was an open terrace as recent as 2007 and used to house the visiting fans, but was given to the home fans shortly after a roof was placed on the stand. To our right was the Bill Axeby stand, a single tiered, seating stand named after a long time fan who supported the club for 89 years, before sadly passing away in 2007. To our left was a similar stand with a sloping roof called the Bees United Stand but easily my favourite looking stand was the Brook Road Stand behind the goal opposite us. The stand was a unique, small, double-tiered stand with seating in the upper section and a standing terrace underneath containing the away fans; apparently the stand is known by Bees fans as the ‘Wendy House’. It was an, yet great looking stand.
I’ve said it many times this season, but of all the leagues I’ve watched live and on TV this year, I’ve enjoyed watching League One games the most. The League One race for promotion looks set to be one of the most compelling races this season and Brentford are very much a part of this. Brentford are now managed by ex-Manchester City cult hero and East Germany striker Uwe Rosler; in a nice moment for myself, the first game of football I ever saw live, a 3-3 draw at Maine Road between Man City and Newcastle, featured Rosler playing and scoring.
The game kicked off and I was hoping for another League One thriller. I was also hoping for an exciting game to distract me from the weather, as it was absolutely freezing at Griffin Park today. It was never to come. Undoubtedly, Brentford had the better of the first half, although Jonathan Douglas did have to clear the ball off the line for Brentford in the opening exchanges. As a Swansea fan, it was nice to see Febian Brandy lining up for Walsall; Brandy had played on loan at Swansea from Manchester United and was average at best, but he did memorably score a last minute winner against Oldham on his debut.
There was no real hardwork for either goalie in the first half. Brentford did have a few chances to trouble the Walsall goal, but failed to capitalise. However, I should add that the Walsall defence was excellent and made a whole host of tackles and blocks to protect their goal, most notably from Paul Downing who cleared a Marcello Trotta (on loan from Fulham) effort off the line. Humorously, the Bees fans repeatedly referred to the Fulham loanee as ‘Del Boy’ in ode to the British public’s favourite wheeler dealer, Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter of Only Fools and Horses fame.
Half time and the Saddlers would be the happier team.
Walsall had a good chance to go ahead in the early stages of the second half, but as James Baxendale accelerated through on goal, Bees’ keeper Simon Moore did well to come out quickly and close down Baxendale’s effort.
As the second half went on, Brentford started to get back on the front foot, largely thanks to Forshaw in the middle of the pitch pulling the strings. However, it was the Brentford skipper, Jonathan Douglas, who impressed me the most throughout the game with the captain popping up everywhere on the pitch to make tackles, intercept the ball and to generally keep the Bees buzzing.
There was a late call for a penalty as Walsall’s right back Ben George, making his senior debut and playing the whole 90 minutes, appeared to bring down ‘Del Boy’ in the box, but the referee turned the appeal away. Brentford were never to break down the Walsall defence and the game finished 0-0. Not a classic by any means. Rather dire in all honesty.
Following the game, Tom and I had arranged to meet two of our old uni mates, Jon and Rob. Rob had texted me asking what my favourite pub of the ‘Brentford 4’ was and that him and Jon would meet us there. I texted back “The Griffin”, but on second thought I told him to meet us at the New Inn, as it was practically next door to Brentford train station. We exited Griffin Park and within minutes we were sitting in the New Inn with a pint in front of us with Rob and Jon. We had a couple of pints and decided it was time to join the big Swansea party in the centre of London.
The Brentford v Walsall game was a massive let down, but it did not spoil the day. I had a great day at Griffin Park and its surrounding pubs and I’m glad to say that I’ve completed the pub circuit of TW8. I think it’s a real shame that the club are planning on leaving Griffin Park in the coming years, but it is understandable if the club want to generate more revenue over the coming years, especially when the Bees are seeing similar sized clubs to themselves, like Swansea and Hull, climbing the leagues on money generated from new facilities. It’d be great if the club could somehow mimic the character of Griffin Park in the new ground and perhaps even build a pub on every corner to replicate that alluring novelty.
I’m hoping that I get to visit Griffin Park again before it’s door are closed. Great ground and a superb start to what was to be one of the best weekends ever. (Swansea won the cup the next day just in case you are wondering why it was one of the best weekends ever).
Highlights: a pub at every corner of the ground! three of the pubs were great with the Griffin being the highlight, ground easy to get to, traditional, compact ground with plenty of character, I love a good standing terrace, good performance from Jonathan Douglas.
Low Points: The Princess Royal let the four down, pies were nothing special, quite expensive prices in the ground, thought £21 was quite expensive to stand on a standing terrace, poor game.