Nobody wants Brentford to disappear from the top flight

BRENTFORD FOOTBALL CLUB have become a neutral’s favourite over the past couple of years and they have also been called one of the best-run clubs in Britain. They have provided an alternative to corporate football, although they do have generous ownership in the form of professional gambler Matthew Benham, who has injected over £ 100 million into the club. Benham, an advocate of Moneyball-style data analysis to build teams and identify talent, also owns Danish side FC Midtjylland.

Brentford, once something of a forgotten little London club, are now seen as progressive, extremely likeable and decent. They have a foppish looking Danish manager, Thomas Frank, who seems to embody the laid-back and approachable style of his compatriots, and they have become rather good at discovering talent and making a decent profit from selling players. On top of that, they have a new stadium that will hopefully ensure the rise of Brentford will continue into the future.

Brentford started the 2021-22 season as the 50th club to play in the Premier League. They opened the campaign with a 2-0 victory against hapless Arsenal and were unbeaten in their first four away games. They enjoyed exciting games against Liverpool (3-3) and West Ham and it all seem to be achieved with a smile on their faces. Since then, their form has evaporated and they’ve lost six in the last seven Premier League games. They could still survive comfortably as there are some very average teams beneath them, but the smiles are not quite as beaming.

Staying in the Premier League is a tough task for any promoted club, but Brentford seemed to have come so far in a relatively short space of time and a life of transition may be catching up on them. Week-in, week-out, they are up against Premier-hardened teams with experience of scrapping away at the foot of the table. It’s a big challenge, just look how teams like Fulham, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich and Watford have fared after coming up.

Let’s not forget, though, the top flight has been graced by the Bees before, completing four seasons before world war two and one afterwards, in 1946-47. The post-war boom saw average crowds of 26,000 at homely and much-loved Griffin (a pub on every corner) Park.

That’s all history now and the gap between the Premier and Championship is widening. Brentford are clearly trying to build something they hope will be sustainable and they moved into the Brentford Community Stadium in September 2020. Avoiding the drop is vital if they are to become part of the establishment and benefit from the substantial financial advantages the Premier and its lucrative broadcasting deal provides. 

The club’s financial statements for 2020-21, their promotion-winning season, have just been released and it is easy to see how the economics of football can be transformed by an extended run in the Premier League. As an example, Fulham when they were promoted in 2018, earned £ 38.3 million but in the Premier (a relegation year), their income totalled £ 137.7 million. Likewise, Norwich’s revenues when they were relegated in 2020 from the top tier were £ 119.4 million, but in 2020-21, they dropped to £ 57 million. Although parachute payments help to cushion the blow of relegation, the sudden change in financial status can be crippling.

Brentford’s turnover in 2020-21 was £ 15.3 million, an increase of 10% but way below what they can generate in the Premier and far lower than most of their Championship rivals. Given their matchday income was next to nothing, this was attributable to media revenue of £ 10.7 million and £ 4.5 million from commercial activity. Brentford made a pre-tax loss of £ 8.5 million, a reasonable deficit given what normally goes on in the Championship, a division renowned for excessive spending as clubs gamble on trying to reach the promised land. Brentford’s wage bill went up from £ 26 million to £ 41 million in 2020-21, but a big slice of that included promotion bonuses. This amounted to a wage-to-income ratio of 270%.

Nevertheless, Brentford have only made a profit once in the past decade and they are very dependent on player trading. In 2020-21, for example, they made £ 44.3 million in profits on outgoing transfers, notably in selling Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa for £ 28 million and Säid Benrahma to West Ham for £ 21.7 million. At the same time, they picked up 24 year-old Ivan Toney from Peterborough for a mere £ 5 million and he had netted 33 goals by the end of the campaign. He has scored six of Brentford’s 26 league goals this season.

Goals have been hard to come by in recent weeks and Brentford’s fortunes have taken a downturn. If other strugglers bolster their ranks in the January transfer window – Newcastle surely will for one – then the Bees might find themselves sucked into a relegation battle. Thomas Frank, who may be under more pressure than he was in August, has just signed a new contract that will keep him at Brentford until 2024-25, so his employer clearly has faith in him.

Nobody really wants to see their Premier League life fizzle-out after one season. If nothing else, we need the likes of Brentford to prove there’s room for all kinds of football institution in the modern game. Otherwise, what are we left with, a dozen top-heavy giants bashing each other around the head with their 24 carat gold maces?

North London clash is still the capital’s biggest derby

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR play host to Arsenal on January 16, a clash of two teams still trying to find their most comfortable place in the third decade of the 21st century. Both made hard work of their FA Cup third round ties, Spurs sneaking through against Morecambe by 3-1, but Arsenal were knocked out by Championship side Nottingham Forest. For Arsenal, it means their last chance of silverware will be the Carabao Cup, but for Spurs, the FA Cup may be their sole hope of a major prize if they fail to turnaround their semi-final against Chelsea in the same competition.

Spurs versus Arsenal is, arguably, the top London derby. It’s not the closest meeting as Chelsea and Fulham are just 1.6 miles apart and West Ham and Leyton Orient, who are unlikely to meet in league competition, have 1.7 miles between them. Tottenham’s new stadium is 4.1 miles from the only marginally less impressive Emirates. But there’s real venom in clashes between the two North London teams, regardless of how they are faring.

At the moment, both teams are performing reasonably well, probably better than envisaged last summer. Arsenal, after a grim first couple of weeks, found some rhythm and seem to have some talented young players – Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, for example – who could form the backbone of the Gunners’ team for a few years to come. Being absent from European competition may have helped them, but they certainly look better than they have for a while. 

Trophy haul of the North London duo

LeagueFA CupFL CupEurope

Nevertheless, it should be noted that for all Arsenal’s progress, they still struggle to beat any of the top teams such as Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Of their six defeats, five have been at the hands of these teams, the only other defeat was at Brentford on the opening weekend of 2021-22. They did beat Spurs 3-1 at the Emirates.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are beginning a new era under Antonio Conte. Spurs have not been beaten in the league under the Italian, but five of his eight games have been at home. Like Arsenal, their record against the top clubs is patchy, although they did score a victory against Manchester City in the season’s first round of matches.

Spurs went into the season under Nuno Espirito Santo, who they hired from Wolves. The appointment didn’t work, unfortunately. They also endured a summer in which their star striker, Harry Kane, was being courted by Manchester City. Kane was persuaded to stay, but Spurs may now regret hanging onto him as the optimal time to sell might have been before 2021-22. Kane has had a mixed campaign and has scored just four Premier League goals. There are now renewed rumours about Kane’s future and it won’t be a surprise if he leaves Tottenham in the summer. They might not get the fee they could have commanded in July 2021.

Kane is considered to be “one of us” by the Spurs loyalists and he’s as close as the club comes to having a local lad in their line-up. Kane is from Walthamstow, which is closer to the Tottenham stadium than Arsenal’s ground. Spurs’ current first choice XI includes players from France, Brazil, South Korea, Denmark, Wales, Argentina and Welwyn Garden City. While some might claim this is a symptom of the modern game’s globalisation, it is often forgotten that the Tottenham double winners of 1961 included only three players who came from London. Similarly, Arsenal’s double side of 1971 only had Charlie George who could be considered “local”. And way back in time, the Preston North End league champions and cup winners had two Preston-born men in their line-up, along with a third from nearby Fulwood.

These examples go someway to diffusing the argument that the current model of elite football has driven any feeling of genuine local rivalry out of the game. Can teams comprising hired guns from all corners of the globe feel the same way as home-grown players who live within a goal-kick’s distance from the stadium?

Recent past meetings

2021-22   31
2020-2120 21
2019-2021 22
2018-1911 42
2017-1810 20
2016-1720 11

What makes local derbies special is not necessarily the players, it is the fans. It matters to them to beat their local rivals and at grounds like the Emirates, songs like “stand up if you hate Tottenham”, seem to be more important than ever before. It does seem to define the fans love for their own club as much as their “hatred” of the opposition.

The fact is, Arsenal need Tottenham more than they will ever care to admit, and vice versa. Local rivalry is a cause for motivation, it keeps clubs “on their toes” and acts as a form of competition outside the normal terms of engagement.  Would Tottenham have built such a statement arena if Arsenal had not constructed the Emirates? Is it not a case of keeping up with the Jones’?

Fans rarely forgive players who defect from one side of North London to the other. Sol Campbell’s transfer is a case in point, Spurs fans will now spit on the floor at the mere mention of his name. Only seven others have played for both clubs, including legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings, William Gallas (also Chelsea) and Emmanuel Adebayor.

For the past five seasons, Tottenham have finished above Arsenal, but since the Premier League was formed, Arsenal have been on top in 22 years to Spurs’ seven. Chelsea, whose rise pushed Arsenal off their London leadership perch, have finished ahead of both clubs 14 times, including the past three years.

Tottenham have won both league meetings with Arsenal at their stadium, but they have an awful record at the Emirates. There’s plenty at stake in the 2021-22 clash as places are still up for grabs in the race for a Champions League spot. Arsenal are currently in fourth position, four places above Tottenham. One thing is certain, whatever the outcome, the game will be dissected afterwards and the outlook for both sides will be closely examined. Both desperately need a good result, so there will be shortage of passion and that’s why Tottenham versus Arsenal is an attraction for the neutral.