The date was set and the script was written.
When the referee blows the final whistle of the Brentford-Barnsley game at around 2.20pm on May 2, 2020, Griffin Park stadium would roar like never before, irrespective of the result.
The stands would shake, the chairs would tremble. The deep booming screams of 11,000-odd people would reverberate around the pitch. A final bellow before the eternal silence.
Then the decibels would drop to a zero. Once the last person exits the stadium, the gates of Griffin Park would close with a creaky noise. It would mark the end of an era. And the beginning of another as the Bees move to their new stadium for the next season.
But there was a twist in this tale. Brentford never hosted Barnsley for the final gameweek on May 2. In fact, the last game Brentford played in front of fans was on March 7 when they defeated Sheffield Wednesday 5-0 in a ruthless one-sided match.
When the supporters left the stadium that day with a satisfying smile, they did not know that it could well be the last competitive game they watched at Griffin Park.
Subsequent days saw a national lockdown that forced all sporting activities in the country to cease abruptly. And when they started again after a three-month lull, the fans were kept off the grounds. An anti-climax for thousands of fans of Brentford footbal club.
Griffin Park has been the Bees’ home for 116 years. Each time the team wore red and white stripes and walked into the stadium, a warmth spread around its stands.
It may not be the Wembley or the Old Trafford, but Griffin Park is home to memories of many generations of football supporters in West London. People have fallen in love here, made lifelong friends, had fights, heartbreaks, and above all, they have experienced the beauty of football.
And Brentford have always valued its family culture, even when capitalisation crept into the roots of English football. And as the Bees move their home from Braemar Road to Lionel Road, approximately 3.5 miles away, it is bound to ache.
The club’s matchday announcer Peter Gilham, who is often regarded as Mr Brentford for giving his heart and soul to the Bees, said each game of the 2019-20 season was emotional for all who are part of the club. “But there’s also excitement of moving to a new stadium,” Gilham said.
“Griffin Park is very special to everyone who has lost friends and family there. A lot of people may think we should remain at Griffin Park. But I hope everybody embraces it the way I have.”
James Smith, who has been supporting the club for nearly five decades, said the transition would be difficult.
“I started going to Griffin Park as a child with my relatives, and have been going alone or with my friends since 1975,” Smith said.
His last game at Griffin Park was the victory against Sheffield Wednesday.
“When I was a kid, I had a bad dream that I was at Griffin Park and it was the last game. I was crying and it was like a nightmare. After I woke up I realised it wasn’t the last. But years later, it turns out I was at the last game and I didn’t know.”
He believes the lockdown may have spared him the misery of knowing he is attending the last game.
“I walked out of there happy after the Sheffield Wednesday game. So in a way, it’s good. For me it was like a mercy. I didn’t have to do that final walk knowing I would not go back there.”
But for John Bowling, a relatively new season ticket holder of the club, moving to a new stadium is exciting. “I’ve already bought my season ticket along with the same people I sit with at Griffin Park. It won’t be the same, but sadly the old ground is past its best,” he said.
But he knows Griffin Park is a second home for people who have been following Brentford for many years.
Brenford manager Thomas Frank encourages supporters to remember all the highs from the past.
“It was the big farewell season. We were all looking forward to that final game and have a proper farewell. But we know for all the fans it’s not the last thing they remember. They remember their highs. [It could be a match] Twenty years ago, when there were only around 4,000 fans and when they won that famous game. It was a February night under the floodlights and rain pouring down and they won 1-0. I think they have a lot of memories in their mind and that is the most important thing,” Frank said.
The Dane is glad his team could display one of their best performances in their last game at the stadium in front of fans.
“A lot of fans were lucky enough to be there for [the games against] Sheffield Wednesday. The good thing is that we won 5-0.”
But there are still hopefuls who think the fans will get a final glimpse of their favourite club at Griffin Park if the nation manages to tame the deadly virus in time. Brentford defender Henrik Dalsgaard believes some fans would be able to attend the match before the season concludes.
“It would be the best way to say goodbye,” Dalsgaard said.
“It’s very emotional for the staff around here and the fans. But I haven’t given up completely on the fact that we might have a few fans by the end of the season. They have started doing it in Denmark. We are only a few weeks behind [here in the UK]. So we may have some fans at the end of the season. It’s up to us to extend the season as long as we can.”
Whether the Bees get to gather at their sanctum sanctorum one last time, or not, Griffin Park will always remain in the hearts of each Brentford supporter. And when 75 family homes come up on this land a few years down the line, it will only be fitting for a ground that has valued family more than anything.