The shirts were off at the “bus stop in Hounslow”, swinging round the heads of the Brentford supporters who could not believe their eyes. “Top of the league,” they sang in the moments after their side’s opening goal of the Premier League campaign, and the first of their great Premier League adventure.
The annals of Brentford’s history will record the name Sergio Canos as the goalscorer, but as the ball hit the back of Bernd Leno’s net it felt more like an achievement for an entire club rather than a single player. For the fans, too, who could rightly claim to have played a part in this night that many of them thought would never come.
Not since 1947 have Brentford played a match in the top flight, and never before had their new Brentford Community Stadium been packed to the brim. Friday night under the lights, a full house, the opening night of the season: domestic football was back in its rightful form.
There was not even a mask in sight which, depending on your view, was either reckless given the global situation or a refreshing step back towards normality. Either way, it made this feel like a proper Premier League game again, and no one can claim that to be a bad thing.
For Brentford’s supporters the night started long before a ball had been kicked. A video message from Thomas Frank was played after the warm-up, with the head coach demanding the most vocal support possible. As the teams came out, he whipped his arms on the touchline, calling for even more noise from the stands.
The small pocket of Arsenal fans, the first away supporters since the start of the pandemic, did their best to make it a contest off the pitch. “You’ve only come to see the Arsenal,” they sang, before Canos knocked the air out of their lungs. The response from the Brentford supporters was one that might become rather familiar for the “big six” clubs. “One-nil to the Super League.”
As well as the banter in the stands, there were also moments of sincerity and poignancy. Both teams took the knee before kick-off, aside from Brentford’s Ivan Toney as expected, and they were roundly applauded as they did so. In the 28th minute, the stadium rose as one to salute Robert Rowan, Brentford’s former technical director who died, age 28, in 2018. His wife, Suzanne, was in the ground.
There was more applause, of a different sort, to follow in the second half, when Bukayo Saka made his way onto the pitch. Saka, who was racially abused after missing a penalty for England in the final of the European Championship, can expect a similar reception at every stadium this season.
For a little while, the giddiness turned to nerviness as Arsenal pushed forward. But then came Brentford’s second, nodded home by Christian Norgaard, and the party atmosphere was dialled up another notch. Welcome to the Premier League, Brentford. And welcome back to football supporters across the country.