If one man has the right to choose the definitive “Favourite Match” it’s author Tom Dickinson. For every time you’ve stood on a cold terrace in December, or damp stand in May, this man has done it thrice over. To find out how, or perhaps more likely why, visit www.92pies.co.uk or www.twitter.com/92pies.
Continuing our latest series then, Tom has chosen Brentford v Luton from 2009. Here’s why.
Looking at the favourite matches picked by the esteemed messrs Mott and Buckett it’s hard to argue with their choices. Those Champions League ties involving United and Liverpool epitomise what makes football the most exciting spectator sport in the world. Late drama, comebacks, cracking goals, world-class performers reaching career-highs and fans revelling in the glory. Tremendous stuff!
Which makes it slightly contradictory that for my favourite game I’ve chosen a poor-quality and irrelevant League Two match between two teams I don’t care about. But hear me out....
During the 2008/2009 season I had made a slightly odd life-choice to spend the year attempting to watch a game at all 92 English League clubs, writing about my experiences in my book ’92 Pies’ (PLUG ALERT – Out now!).
I had many trials and tribulations over the year, travelling as far as Plymouth and Carlisle in my dodgy old Peugeot 206. It had been a wonderful yet testing experience watching that much, often shoddy, live football. For months I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it, particularly after driving for over 4 hours to reach Crewe on a Tuesday evening in February only for the game to be called off at the last minute. Devastating.
Anyway, the end of the season was nearly here, and it was at Brentford v Luton, my 91st match, when I realised for the first time that I was going to complete my challenge.
Brentford had already won League Two with a game to spare, and would be presented with the trophy in front of their own fans today. West London was braced for a day of glorious celebration. The contrast couldn’t be any greater with Luton; relegated a few weeks earlier with their 30-point deduction proving too difficult to come back from.
It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon, the last day of the Football League calendar, top versus bottom, Champions v Relegated. It was a match of zero-importance but maximum excitement.
Griffin Park is a beautiful old ground absolutely oozing character; popping up as if from nowhere in a nice residential area. Indeed I had heard the legend of a pub on every corner of the stadium, so obviously it was my responsibility, nay, duty to check them all out.
The atmosphere was building up tremendously; the crowd of red and white shirts was growing by the minute. I don’t think I had ever seen a group of football fans more relaxed and content.
I can honestly say that everything about watching the Bees was an absolute pleasure. True, it was a very good day to see them, but out of the 92 grounds I went to that season I can’t think of a place with a more comfortable atmosphere than today’s at Griffin Park. The mixture of the edgier earthier football fan with the families, lone football nerds and drunken neutrals (like me and my pal John) was seamless.
Everything about the club was family friendly, but not in a sanitised 21st Century football club MK-Dons type of way. There were even 1950s-style rattles going off throughout the match, the noise (perhaps just in my mind) resembling a bee. More than 10,000 people were in today to see the 11th biggest club in London, a fantastic advertisement for the Football League.
The game itself was extremely forgettable. Half-time came and John and I realised that we hadn’t really been watching it; instead soaking up the atmosphere, the songs, and the funny company. The substitutes were signing autographs and posing for photos when they were warming up. It was a day for celebration.
The players were showboating, getting around the beleaguered looking Luton back four with some head tennis. “That’s why we’re champions! That’s why we’re champions!” sang the crowd, right on cue. People were barely watching the game, but rather waiting for the glory of the final whistle. There was an almighty cheer however when Brentford took the lead in the 73rd minute through their centre-back Karleigh Osborne.
The terrace was completely rammed. We were right next to the base of the floodlight, so we could actually sit on this big concrete base amongst the supporters packed around us and still see the action well. Full-time was approaching, but there was one last bit of magic when in the 89th minute Adam Newton scored an absolute peach; a curling shot from outside the box. It was the final nail in the coffin of Luton’s season of misery and Brentford’s season of joy.
The ref had re-started the game, but as soon as the clock hit the 90th minute the fans began the pitch invasion.
It was fantastic! John and I sprinted onto the pitch with the other hundreds and hundreds of Brentford fans. The feeling was one of slightly naughty childish glee, running around celebrating, but also one of tremendous football ecstasy (despite neither of us actually being Bees fans of course). “Championeees championeeesss! Ole Ole Ole!”
Eventually a curved archway-shaped champions podium emerged, and as a suited gent from the FA handed over the League Two title to manager Andy Scott, the fireworks went off, and red and white streamers exploded into the air.
All the right boxes were being ticked now. Shower of confetti? Check. Players wearing silly red afro wigs? Check. Champagne poured over the staff’s heads? Check. Players walking around the pitch with their kids on their shoulders, mingling with the fans? Check.
John began chatting to a player who could have been the star man or could have been a reserve team member, as is our lack of knowledge of the Brentford team. But it didn’t matter, for during this final pitch invasion, these men were stars.
As the Luton fans were watching the celebrations come to an end, I caught the eyes of some looking forlorn and desperate at their last sight of the Football League. The contrast of the two seasons, Brentford’s and Luton’s, show why football is the best sport in the world. How can two such different emotions be caused by the same game?
With silver streamers in my hair and some stolen Griffin Park grass in my pocket I was in a state of slightly drunken wonder as we exited the ground and went into the fourth and final pub.
On a personal note I had one game left to complete the 92 in one season, up at Bolton, my own club, a week later. I suppose my car could have broken down on the way to the ground or I could have caught leprosy and been placed under house arrest, but failing either of these happening I was going to complete my challenge.
So there you go. I could have chosen the best win for my own team I have seen (Chelsea 1-2 Bolton or England 5-1 Germany), the best actual game I have ever seen (Huddersfield 3-4 Port Vale) or the best team performance I’ve ever seen (Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid) but no. My favourite game is the happiest that football has ever made me feel, at a small ground in West London with a pub on every corner.