|Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-finals, second leg: Brentford v Swansea (agg 0-1)|
|Date: Wednesday, 29 July Kick-off: 19:45 BST Coverage: Live text on BBC Sport website from 19:15 BST, commentary on BBC Radio London and BBC Radio Wales|
The turnstiles at Griffin Park have already rattled for a final time. The Ealing Road terrace, usually a swelling mass of bodies on match days, stands empty.
However, the ground, Brentford’s home since 1904, will host one final game on Wednesday night before the west London club move into a new stadium this summer.
Griffin Park could have a send-off to remember, with the Bees hosting Swansea City in the second leg of their Championship play-off semi-final, aiming to overturn a first-leg deficit.
Yet it will be a curtain call like no other, as no fans will be allowed to attend because of social distancing regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Modern football is almost military precision’
Brentford had a chance to give their old home the ultimate farewell last week, but the Bees had their hopes of automatic promotion to the Premier League ended by visiting Barnsley’s injury-time winner.
Victory in the last game of the regular campaign would have seen Brentford end their 73-year exile from England’s top flight.
Instead, they were forced to settle for third place and a spot in the play-offs. The Bees trail the Swans 1-0 following Sunday’s first leg in south Wales.
Billy Grant, a fan for 40 years and co-editor of the Beesotted podcast, says it is “horrible” to be missing out on the final game at Griffin Park.
“The fact is there are bigger things going on in the world at the moment and everyone has got to be safe,” he told BBC Sport.
“We totally understand that. But I can’t put it into words how frustrating it really is to not be there.”
Griffin Park is one of the few old-school grounds left in English football, hemmed in by housing and retaining terracing – a rarity in the Championship in the days of all-seater stadia since the dawn of the Premier League era.
Clubs usually have three seasons to remove terracing following promotion to the second tier, but the Bees were given dispensation by the authorities with their move to the Brentford Community Stadium on the horizon.
“The great thing is, when the game comes you and your mates will all be standing together,” Grant added.
“It is a really social thing. The problem with modern football is it is almost military precision.
“You have got your seat and if anyone else wants to come they can’t sit next to you or near you.”
‘It feels like a home’
Supporting a club is about the here and now, but also the memories created along the way.
Griffin Park has only hosted five full seasons of top-flight football in its 116-year history, with all but one of those coming before World War Two.
Most of Brentford’s existence since then has been in the third and fourth tiers.
Grant and fellow supporter Ian Westbrook, who attended his first game in 1971, recall both the high points and the heartbreak of trips to Griffin Park.
On the other hand, both men point to a penalty shoot-out defeat by Huddersfield in the play-offs in 1995 and the dramatic finale to the 2012-13 campaign, when the Bees missed out on automatic promotion after missing a stoppage-time penalty against Doncaster.
“I sit in a group of about 10 people for every game,” Westbrook said. “It is all about sharing the experience.
“It’s the whole thing; seeing certain people, friends you meet after the game, the routine and the familiarity.
“I have watched games on all four sides of the ground. It feels like a home really.”
Unable to experience Griffin Park’s atmosphere one last time, Grant will watch the encounter against Swansea with friends in a nearby pub.
“The whole pub will be singing like we’re in the stadium but we’re gutted we can’t be there in the stadium to give them that extra push,” he said.
Pubs ‘on a football supporter’s bucket list’
A compact ground brimming with atmosphere despite its capacity being under 13,000, Griffin Park is also famous for a non-footballing reason.
It is the only ground in the English league system to have a pub on every corner, something Brentford will not be able to replicate at their new stadium, which is squeezed in between railway lines and the M4.
Gerhard Peleschka, the landlord of The Griffin, on the south-west corner of the current ground, is optimistic his business’ trade will not suffer following the club’s move to Lionel Road, little over half a mile away.
“I think the amount of people will be very similar because people are creatures of habit,” the Austria-born Brentford fan said.
“Since Brentford have been in the Championship we get the same away supporters coming back time after time because they are so happy to come in here.”
Peleschka still expects to be busy before matches, with regulars dropping in for a drink before a short walk to Kew Bridge, but being quieter post-match will allow his pub to serve food to customers – something which has not been previously possible because of the numbers at the bar.
Add in the fact Premiership rugby union club London Irish will share the stadium with the Bees, and he is upbeat about his pub’s future.
“The new stadium will be 17,500 capacity,” he added. “There will be 5,000 more people coming and they will all want to eat and drink. Some avenues close down but another revenue stream opens up.
“Brentford is famous for the four pubs on the corner. Lots of people will still come and do it next season. It is on a football supporter’s bucket list.”
‘I don’t want to go down Braemar Road and see the ground not being there’
Brentford’s reasons for the move are the usual given by clubs who upsize – the need for a larger capacity, more hospitality areas and facilities to increase non-matchday revenue in order to make the club sustainable.
The Bees still hope to host an event for fans at Griffin Park, depending on the government guidelines on gatherings and how they can be managed.
Parts of the old ground may be added to the new, with a proposal to convert old turnstiles on the Braemar Road and New Road stands into bar units for the new stadium.
With planning permission for over 70 town houses on the site, Griffin Park will resemble what has become of Arsenal’s old home Highbury, with a communal garden space where the pitch once lay.
“I am just hoping the club lets everyone go back once more just to walk around the ground,” Westbrook said.
“Once the season is over and we’ve maybe made that final visit, I can’t go to Braemar Road any more.
“I don’t want to go down there and see the ground not being there.”
Councillor Steve Curran, leader of Hounslow Council, is a resident on Braemar Road and says the area will still have history.
“I am sure fans will still come to say ‘This was where Griffin Park used to be’,” he said.
“When I come out of the house during the day you often you see fans coming to take pictures of the ground and have a look around.
“It will be sad but the new development is absolutely fantastic.”
An analytical approach
With a low playing budget, the fact Brentford are in contention for promotion to the top flight is a remarkable achievement in itself.
Owner Matthew Benham introduced an analytical-based approach off the field, overseen by two co-directors of football, to make the most of their meagre resources in comparison to the Championship’s more established clubs.
Revenue from players sales, including those of Neal Maupay to Brighton (£20m), Ezri Konsa to Aston Villa (£12m) and Chris Mepham to Bournemouth (£12m), has allowed the Bees to reinvest and punch above their weight.
If they do not go up through the play-offs, Premier League clubs will be circling to pick off forwards Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins – who have scored 57 goals between them this season.
“Our owner has this model in which we are much cleverer in targeting the right type of people to come to our club,” Grant said.
“He doesn’t want to go and start throwing money around like your bigger teams, hoping they’ll make the right decisions and go up. Some clubs are in a perilous state financially.
“Fans have got confidence in the fact the club knows how to do it.”
The last time supporters saw a home match in the flesh, they witnessed a 5-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday in March.
Head coach Thomas Frank is hopeful of creating one final hurrah against Swansea.
“My players will leave everything out there,” the 46-year-old Dane said.
“We will do everything we can to make it one last magical moment at Griffin Park that can stay with the fans forever.”