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Griffin Park
Brentford v  Preston North End
League One
Friday, April 18th, 2013, 3pm

  Paul Willott
(Preston North End fan)

During the formative part of the season, once the early pace setters had been established in the division, this had stood out as a fixture that could well be a promotion decider and hence was “ring-fenced” in the diary and held in much anticipation. The anticipation then grew during the early months of 2014 as the end of season shakedown approached and with Preston carrying great away form, we sensed a day of destiny.

However, in the month of March, too many dropped points meant the significance of the game was slightly reduced and on the morning of the fixture it was more a case of whether we could delay the almost inevitable automatic promotion of the hosts rather than stop it, and the play-offs were in reality once again going to be the fayre on offer for Preston supporters.

Nevertheless, the match promised to be a good one on paper, and for a Kent based supporter such as myself, London based fixtures offer both a reasonable lie-in and the prospect of a few beers and today was no exception as I arranged to meet a Croydon based old school-friend of mine for the day.

Griffin Park itself is a modest old ground that to be fair is past its sell-by date, but it does have that lovely flavour of older grounds being situated in old established residential street, an eclectic mix of stands that have been tweaked over time, and a classic set of old fashioned floodlight pylons.

I travelled by train from Strood via St Pancras, Victoria Line to Vauxhall and then back on the overground service originating from Waterloo for Brentford station where I met my friend.  On reaching the ground we decided to sample a few beers in the “Princess Royal” pub where although busy we were served pretty promptly each time. I was equally intrigued to notice the big sceen inside the bar was broadcasting German Bundesliga TV, which is not something I’ve found in too many pubs and bars in the UK on match day. For the record, Hannover 96 were cruising to a 3 – 1 win away at Eintracht Frankfurt, for those who may have the slightest interest!!!

We then popped down to the ground to collect our tickets and then we moved onto “The Griffin” pub, which had become largely the preserve of Preston fans. The fact the automatic promotion was now in all but mathematical terms out of reach had clearly not deterred hordes from travelling down to the capital in good voice, and many were dressed in suits and bowler hats, as today had apparently been designated the “gentry” day. Once a season, in honour of the nickname bestowed upon the fans by our one time manager Alan Ball Snr, there is a “gentry” day where supporters are encouraged to dress for the part. One observation I would make about “The Griffin” pub is that the toilets are clearly not suited to heavy use ; waders would have barely been satisfactory and it was quite grim which is a shame as it detracts from what is otherwise a grand pub with excellent service.

As 3pm approached we headed out to join the queue of expectant Preston fans looking to get into the away stand which was clearly a sell out.  I would suggest anyone going to Brentford as an away fan to make sure they have eaten plenty before getting to Griffin Park if a large away turnout is expected as the small concourse area simply couldn’t cope and it was a bit of a crush.

On the plus side though, the atmosphere was crackling on the little terrace ; we had standing tickets for the “lower deck” of the rather odd little double decker stand which is similar to the little Symphony stand at Bradford’s Valley Parade, except here only the upper deck is seated.

View From The Away End

View From The Lower Tier Of
                  The Away End

The match itself was an anti-climax. Preston huffed and puffed but seemed laboured whilst Brentford themselves produced little better. The moment the decided the match happened right in front of us when a soft penalty decision went in favour of the Bees, which was duly converted. The second half continued in a footballing sense exactly the same, whereas gradually the home support started to find their voice, a voice that had been lacking in the first half most probably due to those “nearly there” nerves of fans daring to hope of promotion. The atmosphere was certainly better than the football on this particular Good Friday.

As the second half progressed, a sudden burst of cheering and a flare set off in the Ealing Road Terrace had people checking their mobile phones, and a goal for Crawley at the expense of Leyton Orient meant that indeed automatic promotion could be secured for the home side. However, when a second penalty was awarded some 10 minutes before the end of the match, the same player who had converted the earlier spot-kick contrived to blaze this opportunity over the bar which would be an apt summing of the quality for the afternoon.

In truth I don’t think either set of fans cared ; the Bees were on course for automatic promotion back to the second tier for the first time since 1993, and after several seasons of little cheer and decline, most Preston fans would have been delighted with being in a play-off berth for most of the season had it been offered back in august. The final whistle sparked a jubilant and good natured pitch invasion that the stewards wisely made no attempt to stop, and an overwhelming number of Preston fans stayed to applaud the celebrating Bees fans enjoying their moment.

Once the crowd thinned sufficiently in the away stand, we departed and headed back for “The Griffin” only to find it was strictly home fans only being enforced by police as well as security. We had a quiet conference, and as we were both minus any colours, using my fake but well practised London accent we gained entry and got served. The home fans didn’t mind in the least, and we happily reviewed the season with them over a few beers before wishing them luck next season and receiving their good wishes for the inevitable play-offs.

Sadly, the thought of using the toilets again in the Griffin pub, led us to leave there and move to another nearby pub the “Royal Oak” which although not the most salubrious public house at least had half decent toilet facilities.  After some more drinks, we headed our separate ways home.

Will I ever chance upon Griffin Park again? I fear not, as plans for the new stadium nearby are apparently gathering momentum.  If that is the case, then at least the club are staying local and it may also allow London Welsh RFU to return “home” from their temporary lodgings at Oxford. Time will tell. Preston North End will not be visiting Griffin Park next season in the league, that’s the one certainty due to yet another play-off disappointment.

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