An American travels to see Championship playoff between Brentford and Middlesbrough

After a 30 or so minute train ride from London Waterloo, I reached the London neighborhood of Brentford about an hour-and-a-half before kickoff. Like Barnet (who coincidentally also have the nickname of “The Bees”), it was not immediately apparent that there was a major soccer match occurring with millions on the line as the neighborhood of Brentford is a strictly residential neighborhood and the walk from Brentford train station to Griffin Park was just a procession of small townhouse after small townhouse. Griffin Park is sandwiched in between these residential streets and the only things that are not houses in the immediate vicinity of the stadium are the four pubs that surround the ground. After picking up my ticket from the ticket office I decided to wait around the entrance as the Middlesbrough fans were waiting for their team’s coach to pull in. As the coach pulled in and the players filed out of the bus and into the changing room the fans cheered them on and shouted words of encouragement like “let’s do this”. To be honest, the Middlesbrough players did not really pay attention to this as they were almost all listening to music on their iPods and had a cool look of determination on their face. The Brentford fans gathered outside the stadium were very calm, collected but not very cool. There was a lot of nervous pacing and quiet conversations amongst themselves about the match were taking place around me. There was no singing, no chanting it was almost like a funeral procession.

I then made my way to my seat and truly began to realize how unique Griffin Park was. I mentioned the terraces at both ends (although in the away end the upper tier is all seated), but there were many other nuances that made Griffin Park. Because Griffin Park was built in 1903 and has not really been upgraded since, it has a sort of Fenway Park effect. The seats are extremely cramped and I found my knees basically on the seat in front of me. Also, there are many poles obstructing views (but fortunately I was OK) in both stands. Because Griffin Park is very close to Heathrow Airport, Brentford decided to cash in by selling advertising space on the areas above the stands. So any time a plane flies into Heathrow they are greeted with the advertisement “Big Bets for High Flyers” from the betting agency Matchbook. There were also some banners hung up at the back of the opposite stand that said “Jakarta Bees” and “Danish Bees.” How a small West London club like Brentford has a fan club in Jakarta, Indonesia is very strange but also kind of an illustration as to how soccer is a global game enhanced by this global media age. The scoreboards were so small I could barely make out the letters on them and did not have the space to write out the full word “Middlesbrough” and instead had to shorten it to “M’boro.”

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