Image above: Brentford player wearing the club’s special commemorative blue shirt
Tuesday’s match (4 August 2020) between Brentford and Fulham in the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final will be “the biggest night in their 131 year history”.
The match at Wembley, played to an empty stadium but watched by millions worldwide, will decide whether or not they go up to the Premiership.
“It will be elation or despair” lifelong fan Simon Randall told The Chiswick Calendar. “There’s no in between. It’s just unreal”.
The players will be wearing a special commemorative blue shirt to mark the end of their 116 years at Griffin Park stadium, before moving into their new stadium this autumn, another huge milestone in the club’s history.
Simon, who runs Headliners Comedy Club in Chiswick in normal times, has been supporting the Bees for 50 years.
Images above: Matthew Benham; Simon Randall
Matthew Benham has “transformed the club”
“When we played QPR in January it was 50 years and one day since my first match” he said. “90% of the time it’s been fairly mediocre, with the odd crumb, but when Matthew Benham took over he just transformed everything”.
Matthew Benham took over ownership of the side in 2012, after bailing them out of a £500k financial hole. Since then he has invested almost £100m in the club. A physicist, who went to Oxford University, he started his working life in the Finance industry, rising to the position of Vice President of the Bank of America in the late 1990’s. He then moved into the sports betting world, working initially for sports betting bookmaker Premier Bet, then setting up his own company, SmartOdds. In 2011, he also became the owner of the betting exchange website Matchbook.
He relies on the analysis of statistics, key performance indicators and algorithms to make his decisions, some of which have left fans scratching their heads, such as when he sacked former Brentford manager Mark Warburton, along with his assistant manager and sporting director after the club was promoted to the Championship in 2015. But Brentford fans have learned to trust him.
“He has backed his own judgement with plenty of cash” says Simon. “We keep losing our best players to the transfer market but then even better players comes along”.
Brentford finished mid-table in the 2018/19 Championship season. For Matthew Benham to pull this off would be the equivalent of Brian Clough leading Nottingham Forest to win the European Cup, says Simon, it would be perhaps the greatest achievement in football of the past thirty years.
The possibility of Brentford being in the Premiership when they start playing at their new ground on the A205 (nominally still Chiswick High Rd in a sat nav) is “unreal” says Simon. It’s a spectacularly high stakes game. The winner goes up to the Premiership, which is immediately worth £150 million, even if they’re relegated more or less straight away; worth maybe £500 million if they manage to stay there for five years. The loser “stays in the same division and is as badly off as if they’d finished 20th” says Simon.
“My real nightmare would be if it went to penalties. I’ve had to develop coping strategies. The last few games we blew two opportunities to go straight up, so I am slightly innoculated. It doesn’t seem real, so it would be ridiculous if we did it. It’s hilarious that we could be playing Man United, Liverpool and Tottenham next season.
“Most of my life people have asked me who I support and I say ‘Brenftord’ and then they say ‘ok, that’s you’re local club, but who do you really support? But we’ve been playing really attractive football recently”.
He will be watching the match at home on TV, as of course no one is allowed into Wembley except a select few, and he has quite a few people who want to watch the match with him.
“It’s funny because eveyone wants to watch it with someone who actually cares” he says. “Everyone around the world can appreciate what a huge deal it is. Its the biggest game there has ever been for Brentford.
“Wouldn’t it be great to start the new season in the new stadium in the premiership?! Yet right now it’s looking more likely that we might be in the Premiership this autumn than it is that I will open Headliners. I never thought I’d hear myself say that!
Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See also: News about Brentford Stadium