Silence Of The Fans – Can Griffin Park Become a Cauldron Once Again?
With the football fixtures released and fans getting excited about making some noise on the terraces this forthcoming season, Beesotted contributor Alex Cole (@alexrcole) asks the question – can Griffin Park a cauldron of noise with more regularity? What would it take to get the house rocking week in and week out?
It’s hard to admit it but the atmosphere at Griffin Park isn’t the cacophony of noise one would expect week in and week out. It can be fairly quiet at times and, with the club attracting new fans who may not know the songs or ‘terrace etiquette’, it could get worse unless we do something about it.
It’s a fact – Griffin Park is noticeably quieter than ten years ago. And that’s even though we’ve got an increase of over 100% in attendances since back then. During the last season, with little to play for, tumbleweed has been seen occasionally blowing through New Road. Some may say it has to be expected with the team languishing in mid-table for most of the season. But that never stopped us in the past.
Of course there have been brilliant exceptions in the last ten month or so. Newcastle at home was great. Eastleigh at home in the cup was electric too – the day of Jota’s return.
The question remains – why can’t we do it on a cold Tuesday night against Burton? Or can we?
There is also an argument that there is has been a decrease in the quality of the chanting on the terraces over the past few years. Whilst there are some chants that really work and everyone can get behind them easily as they exist in one form or another and are often derivative of chants of other teams these days. There also seems to be – in general – a distinct lack of humour in the chanting that used to be prevalent at Brentford.
That’s not to take anything away from the people currently starting the majority of the singing. I just think we need more people joining in the songs and getting more creative with the writing.
Aside from some great off-the-cuff songs like ‘Bees up Fulham down’ our singing tends to be pretty formulaic. Standard fare like; “Please don’t take me home”, “Easy, easy, easy’” and “You’re not singing anymore” can be heard on terraces up and down the country every Saturday. The questions is … how many songs in our current repertoire can we honestly say are original Brentford chants?
Maintaining a vibrant atmosphere as we grow and move ground is clearly a vital factor in attracting new fans but it is also something that appeals to long suffering Bees. As Brentford grows, an inevitable influx of tourists and neutral fans who don’t know the songs could very well exacerbate the placid vocal situation.
As a result, Brentford’s mission now becomes critical as the club tried to create a vibe on the terrace that will get fans excited. Other than on the pitch success, what’s more attractive than attacking football and a quality atmosphere?
More importantly than simply attracting ‘quality’ new fans to fill the stadium (‘quality’ means fans who want to buy into Brentford in the long term as opposed to the tourist types who come and go) and bring in some much needed income, lively support is proven to influence the outcome of matches. Studies show that teams have an advantage of up to 63% playing at home – with the most widely accepted explanation for the advantage being ‘Crowd factors’ showing what a difference a decent atmosphere could make.
The problem isn’t just a Brentford one however. It’s even more noticed in the Premiership. More and more grounds are packed full of expectant fans more interested in spectating than participating. The Football Supporters Federation (FSF) has even acknowledged that conversations they have taken place with the Premier League who have indicated that they would like to increase the ‘quality’ of the fans at Premier League games – acknowledging that the atmosphere at many matches needs to be improved.
The Premier League acknowledge that broadcasters have indicated that poor atmospheres at matches does not reflect well on the game when broadcast on TV. A three quarters full stadium with a vibrant atmosphere looks and sounds better on television than a quiet full stadium.
Various overseas fans I’ve spoken to who fly over to watch football in the UK say the reason that they come over here is to experience the famous English football atmosphere. The then go on to say that they are sometimes disappointed with the atmosphere when comparing it to the atmosphere some German league matches and games other countries. The fact is these fans are still expectant of an atmosphere from a bygone era in British football – much like Russian Hooligans who go to France to fight England casuals and instead end up beating up drunk old men and kids who have no interest in fighting.
The likes of Fulham and Leicester (AND LEICESTER) have have had to introduce clappers, drums, gin bars etc, in an attempt to coax some sort of noise out of a inactive, semi-dormant home crowd. We are certainly not at *emergency level -FULHAM* just yet. But we need to act.
Anyone that’s been following Brentford FC for the last 25+ years will tell you that the atmosphere at Griffin Park used to be rocking – and that was with far fewer fans in attendance. Brentford had a reputation for having an intimidating group of hardcore fans in a crowd of 4 or 5,000 who were crammed in either side of the away end, the old New Road stand (Hate Corner) and Braemar Road (The Paddock).
Now we average 10k+ a game in the Championship and the atmosphere doesn’t seem to reflect a 100% increase in attendance. Looking back with nostalgia hides some of the nasty truths which existed in the game at that time. Although we want the same passion, the challenge is upping the intensity without manufacturing it.
Looking in more detail at the current Griffin Park set up – songs broadly originate behind the goal in Ealing Road – started by a small group of younger fans (in the main) – and then occasionally creep around to the Braemar Road and occasionally the New Road.
Having stood in Ealing Road a lot in the last few years, I admit that the noise can sound fairly loud. But in reality, the sound never travels well from behind the goal and dissipates way before it gets to the away end. I’ve heard fans say that “The atmosphere was better when all the singers were together” suggesting that since the away fans moved back to Brook Road, not all the ‘active vocal’ fans are now together.
I’ve read about clubs like Spurs, building their new ground in such a way that encourages singing and creates better acoustics than your average identikit stadium.
Regardless of the stadium acoustics and distribution of more active fans around Griffin Park, it’s clear that the fans also lack confidence and positivity at times. Years of disappointment makes us Bees more pessimistic than most. Even as we approach our fourth year in the second tier – with no real chance of relegation in any of the three seasons – we often expect the worst.
A sharp intake of breath from fans around around the ground can be heard when our centre backs play the ball around the defence, regarless of their notable technical abilities. Desperate calls from the crowd urge the team revert to more conservative hoof-ball tactics to preserve slim leads, when calmness and support would almost certainly be more effective.
It can be frustrating as we know from some stand out games last season that we have the potential to be exceptional – Villa (home), Newcastle (home), Reading (away), Forest (away) and Fulham (away) to name just a few. Our good away support could perhaps offer answers as to why we can be outstanding on our day. Burton, Newcastle, QPR, Villa, Brighton – a few personal highlights.
So how can we improve? Do we look at fan groups from other clubs, like ‘The 1882 Collective at Spurs, a group that used to randomly turn up to support the youth team in big numbers?
Should Brentford look at the Homesdale Fanatics at Crystal Palace and how they have transformed the Selhurst Park atmosphere, taking inspiration from other ‘Ultras’ becoming arguably the best support in the premiership?
How about Huddersfield’s North Stand Loyals? Young Terriers fans took it upon themselves to mobilise and create a section behind the goal which is – love it or hate it – lively throughout the game win or lose. They crowdfund to raise cash to create European ultra-style displays behind the goal for matches. Hitting back at criticism of splitting up singers within the stadium, they said
“Our critics say we have spoiled the atmosphere by moving everyone behind the goal but our response is there never was a good atmosphere at the John Smith’s Stadium, barring one or two special games a season.”
Can Brentford take inspiration from Dulwich Hamlet, the non league side, with their liberal values, inclusiveness and original chants.
Apparently “It’s about fighting fascism and homophobia while eating bratwurst and knocking back the craft beer.” Having known fans who go to Dulwich Hamlet, apparently there is plenty of craft beer on sale throughout the match … but as for the bratwurst .. not sure about that.
One thing is clear, togetherness breeds confidence which could create more originality and attract like minded fans.
Organising supporters groups or grouping singers together (as they have done at Huddersfield) might not sit well with many Bees fans. But the issue needs to be addressed and it’s proving an undeniable success elsewhere.
Should the club support initiatives to improve the support with the success of the club intrinsically linked to home advantage? If they do, perhaps giving the young fans a bit of a free reign to do what they feel will work whilst the club focuses on championing safe standing at Lionel Road and unreserved seating. Now that would be a good place to start and we can then leave the vuvuzelas and the happy clappers to Fulham.