Mel Collins Bids Farewell to Griffin Park After 67 Years
Lots of great memories for superfan but he welcomes stadium move
Brentford FC fans said goodbye to Griffin Park stadium on a high after 116 years of history at the home ground last week, but it was still a bitter-sweet moment as crowds were unable to take their seats in the stalls for one last time.
The Bees played their last match at the historic ground, beating Swansea 3-1 earning a spot in the Championship Play-Off final at Wembley in which sadly they were defeated by Fulham.
Frustratingly for fans such as Mel Collins, he had to listen to the Swansea game on the radio in his garden rather than feel the atmosphere in the stadium, due to the continued coronavirus restrictions on sports matches.
Mel has been supporting Brentford FC from the sidelines for 67 years from the first ever match he attended aged eight.
Sitting in his garden – a nifty seven-minute walk from Griffin Park – with the radio on, Mel was able to listen out to Brentford fans also gathered in the pubs to hear reaction to the game.
“There were plenty of folk around, it was one of the reasons I went in the garden to… listen to the oohs and aahs,” he said.
“I shouted when it was a goal about 10 seconds before the folk down the road at the pub. There is no alternative to the real thing I would argue till the cows come home.”
Mel, who serves as a Brentford councillor, is registered blind and began watching local games from February 4, 1953, when pitch-side commentary for people with visual impairments was in its early years of introduction.
Councillor Collins said the added accessibility at Brentford was the first London club to do so “by a long way”, although it was first instigated by Plymouth Argyle F.C.
Mel remembers going to the game with his dad, where Aston Villa lost 2-1, learning about the game and what was going on on the pitch.
“I was so into it in the first game and the rest is history,” Mel said.
“What I remember was the vast crowd.”
Over the years Mel’s memories of the team range from attending Christmas matches at Griffin Park to travelling to Anfield to play Liverpool in the 1989 quarter final, losing 4-0.
“But the lasting memory of that is also going to be the sad one, the winners went on to play the semi-final in the Hillsborough disaster,” Mel reflected.
“It was always sad to look back on that cup run.”
In later years Mel’s “biggest thrill” was leading the team out onto the pitch at the Braemer Road ground for his 60th anniversary of being a Bees fan.
He added, “So many wonderful memories of Griffin Park and Brentford, home and away, I have been all over the country with the Bees including the Millennium and Wembley.”
The club is now looking forward to taking up its residency at the Brentford Community Stadium which is expected to host the club’s next competitive game on home soil.
The construction of the nearly 17,500-capacity ground was set back by coronavirus in April with club bosses confirming work was being paused due to the pandemic, and the completion date was not possible to “reliably forecast”.
It had previously been expected to have the move completed in July 2020.
The new Lionel Road-based stadium, which will also be the home of London Irish rugby club, will sit near Kew Bridge Station and is part of a wider project to regenerate the area with nearly 1,000 new homes and plans for new cafes, restaurants and public spaces.
The joint venture is being delivered with Brentford FC and property developers Willmott Dixon and EcoWorld.
The club has also described the move as one of the most “significant and exciting developments in the history of Brentford Football Club,” in being able to create a sustainable future for the club.
The ground will also be Premier League-compliant as the club sets its sights for promotion to the top tier in English football. It is also designed to be at UEFA-level as it will host matches including the quarter final of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2021.
The grounds will also become the new home for Brentford FC Community Sports Trust.
On the move and redevelopment, Mel added: “I think for the area it can’t do anything else other than be a good thing.”
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
August 7, 2020