It took a long time coming but was so stunningly sweet when it arrived. At the tenth time of asking, Brentford competed in end-of-season play-offs that would gain them promotion if they triumphed, only they never did. History showed the Bees constantly to be the runt of of the Football League’s more talented litter, often thereabouts but never actually the last men standing come the competitions’ climaxes.
Until a balmy Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium, that is. Then and there. having finished third in the Championship and once again facing ignominy before sweeping aside Bournemouth, they demolished a tough if limited Swansea side to demonstrate that history really is bunk.
That’s more or less what Henry Ford said early in the last century, adding, ‘It’s tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.’ You can say that again, Henry!
Brentford’s head coach, Thomas Frank, possibly deciding to get retaliation in first in case that prized place in the Premier League might still be just out of reach, made a half-lap of honour prior to kick-off. The Brentford faithful – around 5,800 of a 11,689 crowd – loved that.
Before the match; photograph Liz Vercoe
Even more, they relished all the preliminaries, the bursts of flame belching skywards and the lusty singing of the national anthems conducted in the shadow of a giant effigy of the trophy up for grabs. The atmosphere positively crackled. How different to ten months ago, when Fulham had convincingly won 2-1 in the Covid-delayed final.
‘Everything old is new again,’ said my mate Charlie, wisely if hoarsely.
Viewed retrospectively, the game was won in the first twenty minutes. After ten, Sergi Canós left the Swansea defence flat-footed with a penetrating pass to Bryan Mbuemo, only for goalkeeper Freddie Woodman to race from his line to upend the Bee. Referee Chris Kavanagh had no hesitation in awarding a penalty, which Ivan Toney stroked into Woodman’s right-hand corner for his thirty-third goal of the season.
Swansea looked decidedly grumpy at this turn of events, but even grumpier after ten more minutes when a breakaway saw Mads Roerslev Rasmussen welcome a Mbuemo pass and feed the on-the-run Emiliano Marcondes, whose crisp shot inside Woodman’s near post might have been parried by the keeper but wasn’t.
Toney hit the crossbar shortly after this and there were signs that a drubbing might turn into a rout, but Swansea hung on, producing attractive football to test the opposing defence yet allowing it to fizzle out near goal. Chances for the Swans were as rare as Brentford play-offs victories, said Charlie, somewhat unkindly.
The red and white army continued to march forward until the break and an opportunity for Swansea to regroup, which indeed they did. Their defence tightened, striker Andrė Ayew once more became the pest he’d been in each of the two sides’ league season draws and Brentford’s possession statistic took a dive.
But with twenty-five minutes still to play, fate – no friend to the Bees in the history we don’t talk about – took a hand, Matthias Jensen being clattered clumsily by midfielder Jay Fulton. Once again referee Kavanagh reached for the pocket where he keeps his naughty-boy cards, but this time producing a red one from the pack.
Two goals up and the opposition reduced to ten men! ‘Is anyone else having an out of body experience?’ tweeted one ecstatic fan.
A shot from the marauding Ethan Pinnock looked goal-bound before it struck his skipper, Pontus Jansson, and spun into touch – not much of a 28th birthday present for Pinnock – and the Bees continued to dominate. And although in football terms Brentford’s second-half performance failed to reach the standard of the first, by then nobody much cared.
Substitutes Marcus Forss replaced Canos and Saman Ghoddos, Winston Reid and Mads Bidstrup also brought fresh legs into the action, although Bidstrup’s appearance was so fleeting that the sound of the final whistle almost served as his entrance music.
‘There’s only one Matthew Benham,’ chanted the crowd, possibly mindful of the owner’s considerable financial commitment to the club and the £170million that’s now coming its way.
‘If you love Brentford, stand up’, instructed the choir behind the goal at the Brentford end, and mostly everyone did.
Head coach Thomas Frank being ‘bumped’ after the match; photograph Liz Vercoe
‘I’m relieved, happy and proud,’ said coach Frank before being ‘bumped’ high into the air three times by his jubilant players, as well he might be after achieving the club’s return to football’s top flight after seventy-four years.
What a difference a year makes, I mused again as the post-match delight spilled from the pitch into the stands.
‘Ten months,’ corrected Charlie. ‘And we’re going up.’
Images above: Emiliano Marcondes with Mathias Jensen with the cup; celebrations after the match; photographs Liz Vercoe
Brentford: Raya, Dalsgaard, Jannsen, Pinnock, Rasmussen, Jensen, Jannelt, Canόs, Marcondes, Toney, Mbeumo. Substitutes: Daniels, Norgaard, Fosu-Henry, Forss, Ghoddos, Goode, Reid, Stevens, Bidstrup.
Swansea City: Woodman, Naughton, Cabango, Guéhi, Grimes, Roberts, Fulton, Hourihane, Bidwell, Ahew, Lowe. Substitutes: Hamer, Bennett, Manning, K Smith, Dhanda, Whittaker, Cullen, Latibeaudiere, Freeman.