En route to this game my mouth was arid, hands beset with a steady tremor. The usual fears regarding quality coffee were present, of course. But this was something entirely new: my ticket was in the Brook Road Stand (the away end) and thus, for an afternoon, I was supporting a northern football club.
How on earth would I fit in? Would my first squeak of southern cheek be met with a hefty beating?
I practised accents in the week leading up to the game with mixed success. Aye up, duck. Ya reyt? Giz a chip butteh n chips n grayveh.
Sure, it sounds faultless now, but at the time, I can assure you, it was decidedly mediocre.
Griffin Park’s most famous feature, or features, are its four pubs, one on each corner of the ground. Great. Fantastic. Very little on the coffee front, though.
I’ve since written a letter to the chairman of the club to lobby for one of the pubs to be converted into an independent artisanal cafe. Already I can see, in years to come, how this will be considered the catalyst of a football culture revolution. I started scouting locations for my inevitable statue but the ground is tightly packed into its surroundings.
But anyway, as a northerner for the day, luxury was supposed to be sneered at. The very word artisanal was to be laughed at because it had anal in it.
After alighting at Brentford station, I followed the meandering crowds under the guiding hand of floodlight pylons peering over rooftops.
If a retro revival ever comes to stadium redevelopment, I sincerely hope that floodlight pylons are ahead of bags of bananas, electrified fences and pockets of the National Front on the list of must haves. Much like Nessun Dorma, they evoke a deep stirring of belonging, and that football is about to happen.
The Brentford fans around the ground were incredibly amiable, like a collection of uncles and favourite teachers, no doubt smelling of tweed, aged wine and fine cigars. I couldn’t quite get close enough to confirm. Even the younger fans were at it. In a group of teenage boys, one lad spoke of how he used to support Arsenal and he wasn’t even laughed at.
On Brook Road South, an enterprising family has opened up their front garden as a game day food stop, selling burgers and hot dogs and whatnot. This sight sent me spiralling even further into a utopian working class football community ideal; until I realised that this family were home owners on a leafy street in west London and were, in all likelihood, a Duke and Duchess.
The Brook Road Stand lower tier, where I was stood, is a terrace that offers the worst views of Griffin Park. Its featureless concrete beneath a seated upper tier had all the feel and charm of a bunker. This only hastened my fear of northern exposure à la Dickie Attenborough and Gordon Jackson in the good luck scene from The Great Escape.
I felt a pie might help me fit in, but I was still feeling the after effects of gorging on a bar of fairtrade dark baking chocolate in the early hours. Dad phoned to say he’d beaten my press-ups in a minute record and I promptly fell to pieces.
The game itself was fairly even for the most part. Only a Scott Hogan goal for Brentford was the difference at the break.
A friendly Preston fan who seemed to know everyone left on the half time whistle saying he had a plane to catch. He smiled at me at he passed, tapping lightly at my shoulder. The urban legend was true – all northerns, all of them, are nice. I was safe, my fears had been greatly misplaced. In a frenzied excitement I asked him if he knew of any artisanal coffee places around, but he just giggled and said anal.
Harlee Dean made it two on 74 minutes. Bish bash bosh 13 minutes later it was 5-0.
I got a passable Caffe Nero from Clapham Junction on the way home and stretched out my chest in anticipation for an evening of press-ups.