When you walk through the front door of our offices at Great West Road, you are met with a huge sign that reads ‘we create our own history’. This sign got me thinking as I sat to write this message to look back on 2021.
We certainly did create history this year and with it some memories that will live with me for the rest of my life.
I’ll remember welcoming fans back into the Brentford Community Stadium for the Play-Off Semi-Final against AFC Bournemouth and the noise they made despite the reduced capacity that afternoon. As Thomas Frank said after the game, four thousand fans felt like 20,000 and they set the tone for what was a great result. From that very special day, the new stadium felt like home.
I’ll remember the celebrations at Wembley on 29 May as we clinched promotion to the Premier League. Many of us have suffered over the years and through the long run of Play-Off disappointments but there is no doubt that all of that suffering made those celebrations even sweeter.
And I’ll also remember Friday 13 August as we raised the curtain on the opening day of the Premier League season. For many fans, that was their first visit to the new stadium. A lot of emotion came pouring out from the stands especially given that COVID-19 robbed us of our final farewell at Griffin Park. That night in some ways was the climax to years of hard work from many – promotion, the new stadium, an introduction to the global stage - but it also marked the start of the next part of our journey. It was a perfect night and I was so proud of everyone who was part of it.
We know that not everything has been perfect this year and we are very grateful for your patience and understanding. There have been ups and downs as we have transitioned to the Brentford Community Stadium but everything has been done with the best intentions. We want to listen and if we don’t always get it right, we will do our best to fix it. We try to make good decisions each and every day through our work. Rolling over our first team kit for another season was one example of that. The feedback from the fanbase on that and also on other issues is always welcome, either through our dialogue with BIAS, Bees United and other supporter groups or simply from the conversations we have on a daily basis. Safe standing is one specific issue which we asked for fan feedback on and there will be more about that in the weeks ahead.
We also had to gear up significantly for our first year in the Premier League. Lots of new responsibilities for the staff, some new recruits behind the scenes and huge demands for tickets from Bees fans old and new. We have had to do so much in such a short period of time. With all of that, and the ongoing challenges the pandemic has presented, I want to pay tribute and give credit to all of the staff at the club based at Jersey Road, the stadium, the Trust or at the offices at Great West Road. Thank you to you all.
On the subject of COVID-19, I can only sympathise with the fans attending our matches who have co-operated with all of the new protocols that have been mandated by the Government. NHS COVID Passes, self-declarations, lateral flow tests – I know it is more complicated that it used to be but I was hugely encouraged by the fans’ attitude ahead of our recent Chelsea match. This was the first game where the new rules were in place and it all went well. My one ask would be for fans to continue to get to the ground as early as possible to help ensure we keep the queues down and get everyone into the game ahead of kick-off.
I have said many times, that our ambition in the Premier League is not only to survive, but to thrive. Thomas, the staff and all of the players continue to impress with their application, performances and results but we know how fierce this competition is. We have huge respect for the clubs we compete with each week and look forward to the second half of the season. We will give it everything we have got.
The direction, guidance and drive from our Board must also be applauded. I want to put on record my thanks to our Chair, Cliff Crown and all of our directors who have supported me and the staff throughout the year. I, like many Brentford fans, also want to recognise Matthew Benham’s immense contribution to the club. Another person who I’d like to single out is Rasmus Ankersen who steps down at the end of the year. Rasmus has been a joy to work with. He’s been a big part of our recent successes and I will miss working with him. Good luck Rasmus – I know the Bees will always be special to you and you will always be welcome at the Brentford Community Stadium.
At Brentford, we talk a lot about the future. We talk about innovation, the next generation of players and fans and about pushing forward. But it is important at this time of year to look back , and specifically to reflect on those who we have lost. In 2021, Peter Gelson, Robbie Cooke and Keith Loring all sadly passed away. Each one of them made huge contributions to our Club and we miss them all. I want to send my love to their families and friends this Christmas. And to all of our fans who have lost someone that they cared about in 2021, we also send our condolences.
The new year will bring new challenges on and off the field - the Premier League and FA Cup campaigns, our ongoing work to develop the B Team and our women’s football programme, the inspired work of our Trust throughout the local communities, playing an active role in tackling some of the big issues facing the football industry, dealing with whatever the pandemic throws at us next, working with our commercial partners, making the Brentford Community Stadium the best it can be and ensuring we provide a safe and welcoming environment for all our staff and supporters.
With that, I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy your New Year celebrations and let’s make some more great memories in 2022.