My dad first took me to watch Brentford in December 1966, a month before my third birthday. We played Guildford City and I must’ve been an absolute nightmare!
Much like many of the other stories I’ve been reading in the programme this season, our story goes back quite a long way.
My great-grandfather came back from the First World War shell-shocked and injured. He was a Brentford supporter before and would go again after the war, but because he was ill, my grandmother used to go with him, so she started supporting Brentford. I’ve got all of her old badges. She took my dad and then he took me initially, and then later my sister too.
As youngsters, we had season tickets in Block C of Braemar Road. We sat behind the directors’ box and regularly saw keyboardist Rick Wakeman at matches. There were a couple of men called Reg and Bill who sat on our row, as well as ventriloquist Ray Allen and comedy actor Cardew Robinson. I even remember Elton John coming down with Watford once! Peter Gilham and Big B Radio provided the soundtrack. Dad took me to away games too: Wimbledon at Plough Lane, Reading at Elm Park, Aldershot, Colchester United – very happy times!
I think I was about 13 when I started working as a programme seller at Griffin Park. I used to work in the huts either side of the entrance to the bar in Braemar Road. A couple of years later, my sister joined, and we used to do the away end, which was Ealing Road in those days. We had a little hut and used to sell programmes to the away supporters, which was quite a laugh. Millwall were never a problem, but Plymouth were always aggressive! It’s a long train journey up so I imagine they had plenty of time for a drink before they arrived.
When I was 15, dad started the Junior Bees with a man named John, who is still alive today. I’m still in touch with his son, so the three original Junior Bees are still in touch and it’s great to see what it’s turned into. We'd meet once a month in the centre circle. Jackie Graham was our patron and players would come along to the meetings and speak to us kids. I’ve found the attendance book now, so I’ve got the names of everybody who turned up. Dad took us to do the Wembley Stadium tour and we gave them a Brentford shirt. He could get tickets for England games, and would drive us all in a minibus to watch our heroes.
Though Steve Phillips was one of my favourite players, I loved Bob Booker. He was so patient with me - I had so many pictures taken with him! Even when he came back to Griffin Park a couple of seasons ago to sign Greville Waterman’s book, I was there! I typed his name into eBay once and somebody was selling his suit that he wore for Brighton’s play-off final at Wembley Stadium, but I didn’t want the suit, what I wanted was his training top with his initials on. They got him to sign it for me before posting it!
I took my kids to watch Brighton play at Coventry once when he was assistant manager, just to see how he was doing, not that I’m a stalker or anything! It was so good to see that he’d gone on to managing. I can’t even remember the result, but we had a good time. It was nice for the kids to tick off ground as well.
For a long time, visits to Brentford became less frequent. Due to their dad being a Tottenham supporter, my kids also grew up as Spurs fans. They were seduced by the Premier League and I started to go to games as well in the Hoddle and Waddle days. I later remarried and came back to west London, but my second husband didn’t like football at all, though he did like the pub on each corner! That was the weird thing that got him going because he could do a circuit of the ground and maybe go back to the first one.
That marriage ended three years ago but I pulled myself up from that and just, on a whim, bought a ticket for the Oxford game last season. The football was diabolical, but I bumped into all my old friends and it was just amazing. The songs were the same and the minute I walked through the gates, it really felt like I was home. I sat with the people I grew up on the terraces with 40-odd years ago, Peter Gilham was still doing the announcements - Griffin Park is my personal time capsule, the memories, the songs, my heroes - it was all there.
Bad memories weren’t usually made at Griffin Park, but things like Lincoln City away, standing on an open terrace in the pouring rain, opening the door at the services and having the wind slam it shut in your face were pretty rough. Being there in all weathers to witness some not-very-good football. At the same time, that was all part of it. Peter Gilham used to play a lot of Mike Oldfield on Big B Radio in those days and Dad made me jump around and dance at half-time to combat the cold!
I absolutely love my club, I can’t help it. Just to have seen how things have changed since I first started going is amazing. The stuff that is going on with little Woody Stokes is just incredible. I run cycling lessons for kids with Downs Syndrome, it’s not an easy condition to work around sometimes, but it’s just amazing what the club is doing.
And now, seeing our players play for their countries. Back in the day we had Danis Salman playing for England Youth and that was it, that was our international commitment. But look now and every time there’s a break, we’ve got so many players out. Henrik Dalsgaard scores for Denmark and it’s like being his mum! You feel so proud! It’s the same every time Neal Maupay scores for Brighton.
I was right behind the goal for the Luton game recently and seeing the keeper’s face – the poor man! You could hear what he was screaming at his defence. If my son comes, we always stand but otherwise I’ll try and get a ticket near my mates because my sister is a season ticket holder and has been for ages. So I try and get in that part of New Road but if not, I’m happy to stand on my own as that’s how it always used to be.
At first, I was absolutely devastated about leaving, especially since I’d gone back and nothing had changed, apart from the fact I wasn’t getting drunk with my mates anymore, we were eating Werther’s Originals instead. I was gutted we were going to lose all of that. But now, if I get to the match early enough, I’ll walk along to the new stadium and it just looks amazing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a season ticket there. I’m going to be a foster carer imminently, so I’ll need a child’s season ticket as well. I can’t guarantee who the child will be, but I can guarantee that whichever child I’m fostering at the time will be able to watch Brentford play football.
I think the club is doing enough to make sure we transfer the atmosphere; every time I go to a game, I get the survey through by email after and it asks what they could improve and I always say keeping that Griffin Park atmosphere. I just hope I’ll be able to buy a part of the ground if it’s auctioned off.
As they say, you can take the (old) girl out of Brentford, but you can't take Brentford out of the girl. Matches at Griffin Park are better than any therapy, I'll miss it.
Caroline's story was first published in this season's matchday programme against Stoke City on 4 January 2020. To get your Brentford Story online, email Programme Editor Chris Deacon on [email protected] and we'll get back to you.
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