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  • by Yann Tear

Brentford fans ready for glorious leap into the unknown as once-distant fantasy becomes real life

Even now, it seems barely believable. The team have been preparing us for the possibility in the last couple of years. Now, in just 48 hours it will become reality. Brentford will be a Premier League team.

For the younger supporters who may only have caught the tail end of the Griffin Park years, reaching the top flight must not have felt so fanciful. A rich owner/fan with a plan. A new 17,250-seat stadium on the horizon. A steady drip of talented Danes infusing a mix which used to comprise chiefly of no-nonsense British players, who knew their place.

Of course it was just going to be a question of time until the top flight was reached.

Those fans of older stock - and not so long ago, they appeared to make up the majority of the fan base - will have a very different feeling come kick-off time against Arsenal on Friday night. It will feel surreal enough for them to believe they are in a parallel universe.

"We know there's a massive mountain to climb. We know it's going to be a massive task," boss Thomas Frank has said on the eve of this great chapter in the Bees' history. Many of the fans who will be there for that seminal moment will feel they have already climbed it.

Having had the pleasure of covering the club's fortunes since the late 80s, there was always something which set the Bees apart from most other clubs in the capital, and it was not all to do with quaint charm.

There was also a feeling that we were witnessing a sorry drift towards no discernable destination.

There seemed no obvious pathway to rise up the pyramid, given the club's finances, and an ageing fanbase suggested finding a younger generation of cradle-to-grave supporters might be much harder than before, given the presence of rival local clubs higher up the food chain.

At most clubs, you might see dads dropping off their teenaged sons to watch games. At Griffin Park, it seemed to be the other way around. 'Don't be late home for tea, dad.'

Fulham were similar until Mohamed Al Fayed revived the ailing Cottagers to lift them from the lowest of bases (and divisions) and the flimsiest of crowds. But their history was still more glamorous - their highlights far more recent. Haynes, Moore, Marsh, Best, Mullery. An FA Cup final and all that.

When the Egyptian took over by the Thames, the idea of a single super-rich benefactor completely turning the fortunes of a club around seemed novel. More than that, it did not seem remotely likely that anyone would be rushing to emulate the ex-Harrods owner by igniting a fire in the less fashionable corner of west London occupied by the Bees.

As one fan put it this week, referencing the bucket-collection days of 13-14 years ago: 'The limit of our ambition was thinking we might get in League One.'

Coach Kevin O'Connor, who along with stadium announcer Peter Gilham are arguably the most permanent of the fixtures and fittings at the heart of the club, recalls that the training ground canteen used to double as a gym and the kit man had to be the chef too, limited though he was when it came to culinary expertise.

"You have to experience those times to appreciate what you have now," he said.

And what they have now is something else. Matthew Benham has seen to that. With far less fanfare. With far less personal publicity than Al Fayed. But this week will, in truth be all down to his incredible vision, financial clout, and determination to create a very different Brentford from the one we knew not so long ago.

The Moneyball model adapted for growth has been phenomenally successful. In recent seasons it is hard to recall any real duds among the players recruited - players brought in after painstaking research into their numbers, getting down to the minutiae of their fitness, passing ability, efficiency in tracking back.

Handsome profits have been turned on players who played their part and were moved on without hesitation or undue sentiment. Foundation-building at the base camp before the final assault on Everest.

In the cold light of day, it is entirely logical that this progress should have come to this. And yet, of course, football clubs are not mere businesses and still require the very human qualities of togetherness and collective emotional investment to succeed. In that sense, the club has not been found wanting.

There will be plenty of neutral goodwill towards the Bees this year - it is a great story, after all - and their neighbours will look on with envy. After 74 years, Brentford will be in the top flight. Claiming previously unheard of riches from the TV money which should help with the transition. It is going to be a hell of a ride. Yet, for many of the older fans, it already has been.


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