As we approach the end of 2021, after a few months when life seemed to be returning to a new normal, we find the country once again in the grip of another wave of COVID-19. I want to start this message by passing on my heartfelt condolences to all those fans whose families and friends have lost loved ones and been affected by this awful disease.
Despite the continuing restrictions of the pandemic, it seems likely that in years to come, 2021 will be remembered by all Brentford fans as the year in which we returned to the top division in English football, believed by most to be the best league in the world, for the first time in 74 years. Even as recently as ten years ago, this would have seemed unimaginable. However, in the intervening period, as we quickly established ourselves as a competitive Championship club, and as the structure was built, on and off the field, it was clear that it was an achievable ambition. And so it has proved.
We started the year, as we finished 2020, playing in empty stadiums and taking every precaution possible to protect the players and support staff from infection. Our new stadium remained a fan-free zone other than operations staff and the Board until the very last dramatic home game of the season when over 4,000 fans were able to join us. Despite this, and absences through injury to key players, we stayed in contention for an automatic promotion place right up to the closing stages. Having achieved notoriety for our inability to achieve promotion from our nine previous Play-Off appearances, including the heartbreak of the prior season, we found ourselves facing Bournemouth in the semi-final. The presence of home fans, even in limited numbers, in the stadiums reminded us all of what we, and football in general, had been missing, and it would be difficult to outdo the drama of the home Second Leg game, with an early set back, a sending off, and a winner from Marcus Forss as full time approached. In truth, the final at Wembley was much less tense, with Ivan Toney, in now familiar terms calmly putting another flawless penalty away before Mads Roerslev combined with Emiliano Marcondes for the second and decisive goal. We had finally broken our play off hoodoo, and promotion to the Premier League was secured. What a sense of relief and what unbridled joy!
In the absence of fans, and in the euphoria of gaining promotion, it would be easy to overlook the success the Club also enjoyed in the Carabao Cup, reaching the Semi-Finals for the first time in our history, and doing so by beating four Premier League teams on the way. Perhaps, we could hold our own now we were up there ourselves.
Our first Premier League match could not have started any better. Our first game, indeed the first fixture of the new season, in our new stadium, in front of a capacity crowd for the first time and a global TV audience, and against Arsenal, one of the great names in English football. And our first victory. A truly memorable occasion. Since then, we have had several more outstanding performances, including an extraordinary 3-3 draw with Liverpool, a last-minute win away to West Ham, and a narrow but very closely fought defeat at home to Chelsea.
The squad has been largely that of the side that gained promotion but with the key additions of Kris Ajer, a record signing from Celtic, Frank Onyeka, Matthias Jorgensen (Zanka), Myles Peart-Harris, Yoane Wissa and Álvaro Fernández, a young goalkeeper on loan from Spanish club, Huesca. In fact, everything we have achieved so far has been in spite of injuries which have seen Álvaro step into David Raya’s place in goal, and Charlie Goode, who, having played in League 2 before joining us, and missing most of our Championship season, is now playing in Kris’ position in the Premier League. Shandon Baptiste, another player who missed much of last year, is now also establishing himself in the top flight. As I write this message, a couple of games short of the mid-point in the season, Brentford are in mid table with 20 points, and with players returning from injury, we look forward to the New Year with optimism of doing more than merely surviving at this level.
The general consensus regarding the new stadium is that, notwithstanding a few initial teething problems, it is a superb venue and the atmosphere created by the home fans is everything we hoped for when planning the move from Griffin Park. Promotion and our new modern surroundings have helped gain the attention not only of the media but also new sponsors and partners and I’d like to thank our commercial team behind the scenes for their tireless work throughout the very difficult last twelve months. The revenue thus attracted will only help build and sustain the Club which has been so dependent to date on our owner Matthew Benham, without whom none of this would have been possible. I’m sure I am speaking for all of you in once again thanking him for everything he has done for Brentford FC.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you, our fans, all for your continuing support, and to our players and coaching staff who continue to work under very difficult circumstances. I am also extremely grateful to our board, augmented and strengthened this year by two new members, Deji Davies and Preeti Shetty, for the help they provide me in laying the groundwork for the future of the club, on and off the pitch. It would also be remiss of me not to thank Jon Varney for the fantastic leadership he has provided during these trying times and to wish Rasmus Ankersen all the best in the future - his contribution to our success over the last six years has been immense.
Thankfully, despite the threat of yet another wave of infections, it seems likely that we will be able to spend Christmas with our families and friends this year. May I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, and perhaps more importantly, a healthy New Year.