It has been the longest of seasons. One which felt like it might never end. It has also been an unusually emotional campaign for Brentford: as well as missing out on automatic promotion by just two points, they also had to bid farewell to an empty Griffin Park after 116 years in the stadium.
Still, at 7.45pm on Tuesday evening it will be all over: one of Fulham or Brentford will take their place in the 2020/21 Premier League season.
It is arguably the biggest game in Brentford’s 130 year history – and not just because Brentford could bank £160 million across three years in additional revenue if they win. The Bees have never played in the Premier league before, and they haven’t been in England’s top division since 1947.
What better way to say goodbye to Griffin Park and usher in a new era at the Brentford Community Stadium than to gain promotion?
Considering all this, manager Thomas Frank came across as astonishingly calm during his last press conference before the playoff final. The only admission to any creeping nerves was a coy reference to the single glass of red wine he’ll have before bed.
Beyond that, Frank seemed optimistic and philosophical about his team’s chances.
“We have everything to win, we have nothing to lose. We are in the Championship now, we will still be in the Championship if we lose. So we can only win something. I think it is important to know that,” Frank told the Sports Gazette.
Brentford failed to win either of their two final league matches, costing them an automatic promotion spot. Frank explained how he wants to use that experience to his team’s advantage in the final.
“We now have an experience that we can use that could be extremely beneficial. It could be the thing that helps us in the final.
“It’s all about, when you play a final or a decisive game, focus on your job or your task as a player. Focus on what you can do something about and not all the other bits, that’s what we’ve talked a lot about.”
As for Fulham, Frank remained wary of their experience perhaps telling at Wembley but expects his team to match whatever comes their way.
“We’re playing against a relegated Premier League side and this is not a mind game, this is just a fact, they are a bigger club than us. They got relegated last year, they got the parachute money, they have the experience from the playoff final two years ago.
“They have more experience in their squad to play a game like this than us but through 48 games we are toe-to-toe again. We ended on the same points, the only difference was the goal difference and yes, we beat them twice, and that can give us some confidence, but we know we play a final and it’s a different story. We need to go in confident but humble.”
Speaking to the Sports Gazette in the same press conference, Danish defender Henrik Dalsgaard shared his manager’s optimism, making it clear that his teammates are more than prepared for the game.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be ready,” Dalsgaard said defiantly. “It definitely won’t be because of a lack of energy. If it’s a final, anything can happen, we’re playing a very very good side. But we are gonna do absolutely everything we can to go out and grab this.”
The 31-year-old fullback explained his emotions leading into the fixture.
“I try not to think of the consequences if we lose the game, but just what we can achieve if we actually win the game. This is what we’ve been dreaming about. Basically since I came here this has been the dream. So just go out, leave nothing behind and we’ll have no regrets,” he said.
Dalsgaard was also calm when asked about the the fitness of Fulham top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian missed both semi-final legs against Cardiff with a hamstring injury, but is reportedly fit for the final.
“No, we don’t care. That’s none of our concern. We worry about ourselves. If Mitrovic is not playing then they have another good player who’s playing instead. Obviously he’s a threat, but we don’t worry about that, we try and focus on ourselves. If we do our thing right, then I’m sure we’ll be alright.”