Welcome to my 2018 Christmas message.
The calendar year of 2018 has certainly had its ups and downs, and whilst the last couple of months have been particularly hard, I still see huge potential and reasons to be optimistic.
We ended last season in tenth place, enabling us to record our fourth consecutive top ten finish in the Championship since being promoted in 2014. We should never forget where we have come from and, put into that context, we have achieved a great deal in the last 12 months.
The second half of last season saw many of our young players adjust to the rigours of the league, and most notably, perhaps, the emergence of Chris Mepham as a regular in our First Team, and in the Welsh team too. In the summer, we celebrated our first ever player representation at a World Cup, when Henrik Dalsgaard played every game for Denmark. Further underlining the success of our recruitment policy was the fact that in the second international break this season, we had 13 players away on international duty, seven of whom are in our B Team.
2018/19 has, so far, been deeply frustrating because, after making an excellent start, we have fallen away and slipped from second to 18th in the league. We have had more than our fair share of injuries and, of course, we have had some change with the departure of Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly to Aston Villa. However, Thomas Frank has been with us for two years now and has been an integral part of the coaching set up. The recent addition of Brian Reimer and the elevation of Kevin O’Connor to the First Team coaching staff will, I am sure, bear fruit and I was encouraged by our improvement defensively during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bolton.
It’s fair to say we have suffered from some individual mistakes and not taken as many chances as we would have liked. However, I am confident we will move up the table in the second half of the season. We have a very young side who are learning all the time. I have no doubt our future remains bright in what many people say is the toughest league in the world. We are still punching above our weight and, whilst expectations were greatly enhanced by our impressive start to the season, the Championship remains a really tough league to get out of.
Our big challenge as we head in to Christmas and the start of 2019 is to make ourselves more resilient, stronger in defence, and to capitalise on the fact that we are still amongst the league leaders in creating chances and the eighth highest goal scorers. All bar two of our losses this season have been by the odd goal - a testament to the fine margins between victory and defeat. Draws at Leeds, Villa and Stoke and a narrow defeat at Norwich are good examples of that!
You, the fans, continue to play a vital role in our achievements - an average crowd of more than 10,000 at Griffin Park and the huge number of supporters that follow the team to away matches is greatly appreciated by the players and coaching staff. We need to ensure that we continue to create the special atmosphere that a big Brentford home crowd gives – and use it to our advantage.
The year has seen us make excellent progress with the plans for our new stadium at Lionel Road. I know that the majority of you have watched with great interest as the stands have risen from the ground and I am pleased to report that we are currently on schedule to complete the build by April 2020, although there is a long way to go.
However, as I write this, even I can’t quite believe the stadium should be complete in under 18 months. Only last week I was delighted to be able to confirm that we had finally signed a deal with London Irish to play rugby at our new stadium, just the first of many examples where the new stadium will deliver additional revenue to the Club to enable it to become more sustainable and to help us bridge the enormous gap that currently exists between our revenues and those of many of our rivals.
We said goodbye, and thank you, to our CEO Mark Devlin a few days ago but it is worth saying again that Mark leaves us in great shape to confront the next phase in our development. We have already begun our search for a replacement and, in the interim, I will be leading the club, which is a huge challenge but one I relish. I will do everything I can to ensure it is in rude health when I hand over the reins to the new CEO.
The sudden and tragic death of Rob Rowan cast a shadow over the last few weeks of the year. Rob achieved so much in his short life and had made a huge impression at Brentford since his arrival in 2014. His impact was chiefly felt in the creation and development of the B Team, and more recently in his role as Technical Director. He was in charge of recruitment at the Club, but he was involved in so much more. He will be sorely missed on both a personal and professional level. The memorial service earlier this month was a reminder to us all of the importance of family and friends, even or perhaps especially, for those of us involved in a business that can be all consuming.
So much of what we have achieved has been made possible by the vision and financial input provided by our owner Matthew Benham, without whom none of this could have been possible. Matthew prefers to be in the background but I know fans will want me to take this opportunity to thank him for everything that he has done, and continues to do, for this great club.
Finally, I would like to thank our fans for their continuing support, our players and coaching staff, and all of the people behind the scenes who work tirelessly to help drive us forward.
I am extremely grateful to the Board and to the team at Griffin Park, for all their efforts and dedication to helping us make so much progress this year. Their support has once again been outstanding and I believe that together we can look forward to an exciting time ahead. We won’t always get it right but we will always try our best and strive to improve what we do and how we do it.
May I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and healthy New Year.