Stories and pictures of the beautiful game.
Brentford FC vs. Shrewsbury Town 0:0
October 2, 2012 | attendance: 4,384 | pictures
Football in England is a benchmark for many fans: English teams and their highly skilled players usually perform well internationally, and there seem to be many big, fancy stadiums to discover. My experience at several grounds in London over the last few years was mostly disappointing, though. The organized chants that roar loudly and endlessly through many German stadiums are totally amiss in England – instead fans sing short spontaneous burst at best. You also won’t find familiar elements like flags, banners, choreographies or Ultras. As a consequence of the Hillsborough catastrophe, clubs were required to turn their stadiums into all-seaters, and most of them took that as an opportunity to cater to a different, more solvent audience that is happy to pay high fees for a football experience they don’t need to contribute much to.
But I refuse to give up my quest to find passion somewhere, and was particularly hopeful to explore Brentford FC of League 1 at Griffin Park. With a capacity of 12,763 the ground is not very big, but it is one of the remaining English stadiums with terracing where people are still allowed to stand (behind the goals). Could that make a difference?
The ground is located in the north- eastern outskirts of London, close enough to Heathrow airport so the roof is used for advertising directed at airborne passengers. While the neighborhood is not particularly fancy, its brick row houses give it a cozy down to earth character. Griffin Park is embedded in this residential area, and is famous for having a pub at every corner.
On the long run, Brentford FC want to become a sustainable competitive Championship Football Club, and build its fan base. The club realizes how big of a challenge that is given the density of professional teams in London, and is taking one step at a time. At the moment, the focus is improving infrastructure like their marketing activities or medical department. Brentford FC also just opened a football academy to nurture promising talented players.
Team manager Uwe Rösler is supposed to help the club achieve its goals. The German’s record as a player is very impressive: his goals for 1. FC Magdeburg in the late 1980s earned him 6 caps in the GDR national team. After the reunification he played for Dresden and Nürnberg before moving on to the most memorable stage in his playing career: Manchester City. Between 1994 and 1998, long before the club got its Middle Eastern cash infusion, he wore the light blue jersey over 150 times, scored regularly, and still has a place in the hearts of the club’s fans.
In the 1998/99 season, Rösler returned to Germany, played Champions League with Kaiserslautern, and was promised more Champions League when he was one of many renowned players to be hired by second league club Tennis Borussia Berlin. The club was backed by a big investor at the time (Göttinger Gruppe) whose ambitious plans turned to ash when they suddenly went bankrupt. TeBe went belly-up as well, lost their license and have not recovered since (they currently play in the insignificance of 6th league).
As we sit down after the game, Rösler remembers his time at TeBe as “not a very positive stage of my career – at the end of the season we were all unemployed. And we had only just arrived in Berlin.” He speaks very fondly of Berlin as a city, though, and would not mind returning at some point.
Rösler moved on to Southhampton, had a short stint at Unterhaching and finally went to Norwegian side Lillestrom SK where his life would take a decisive turn: during a game he suddenly could not breathe. It turned out to be a tennis-ball-sized tumor in his chest that needed to be removed immediately to save his life. Rösler never lost his passion and dedication for football and started preparations for his coaching career while still in recovery. Lillestrom was the first of three Norwegian teams he successfully coached before Brentford contracted him in 2011.
I ask him how fan culture in England has changed since his days at Manchester City and he promptly says: “back then it was exactly like it is at Brentford today where our fans on the terraces create an emotional, almost intimidating atmosphere”. When prompted about other clubs, he acknowledges how the audience has changed – there is no judgment in his words but you can tell he is not a fan. He remembers how back at City, “every player had his own song. We met regularly with fans and were closer to them, whereas today players are shoved off the pitch under guard.”
During today’s mid-week game, Brentford were taking on Shrewsbury town. Last year, about 5,000 Shrewsbury fans invaded the Emirates when their team played Arsenal in the League Cup, creating most of the atmosphere that day.
Today only about 150 took the trip as the occasion was a lot less glamorous. And as the rain kept pouring down, a typical English match unfolded: both teams played with a high degree of physical effort, but unfortunately scoring opportunities were rare. Brentford was a bit more active but was flagged offside too many times while Shrewsbury created most of its danger from counter attacks. That mostly happened in the second half which – according to Uwe Rösler – was “too open too early”, and Brentford were lucky when Shrewsbury only hit the crossbar and were refused a penalty after an obvious handball.
The game was more intense in the second half, and so was the atmosphere: in the first half you could mostly hear Shrewsbury’s supporters, but now the home crowd woke up as well. However, overall the experience was unfortunately similar to most of my previous London visits. While people in the stands were – as Uwe Rösler mentioned – indeed much livelier than in your standard all-seater, there wasn’t much singing aside from your usual short bursts or individual rants.
So if even a stadium with terracing won’t produce the atmosphere I am looking for, maybe my quest to find passion in London (or English) stadiums had the wrong focus all along. It does not seem right to desperately look for organized singing and choreographies when there isn’t much of an Ultra culture (left) in the country. Rather than trying so hard to find what I am used to at home, I should appreciate what is possible in the given framework. In that light, today was certainly a success, most of all seeing how English fans were able to stand, move and jump rather than being squeezed into their allocated seats.
Brentford’s investor already purchased land for a new stadium – let’s hope they will be able to build it with some terraces as well. If the club wants differentiate from other teams in London and attract new fans that would certainly be a place to start.
Check out my facebook page for a full gallery of the match: www.facebook.com/GroundhoppingEtc