As Marcello Trotta stepped up to the penalty spot in the 94th minute of Brentford’s 46th league game of the season against Doncaster, it was a heart-in-mouth moment for Bees fans.
Dubbed the £4million penalty kick – referring to the income Brentford would receive if they got promoted from League One to the Championship – it’s unbelievable that a whole year of hard work and graft was to end up relying on this one season-defining kick.
London MCs So Solid Crew infamously rapped about 21 seconds to go. It was in fact 18 seconds that cruelly defined Brentford’s season. Those 18 seconds not only caused heartbreak… but would also make the team and fans stronger.
Those 18 seconds did an incredible job of unifying players and supporters as they went into the play-off semi-final against Swindon feeling ‘we can do this together’. Those 18 seconds defined Brentford’s So Solid Crew.
If one was to trivialise the season, one could say that the players may as well not have bothered to train so hard over those nine months. That the fans could have done away with spending thousands of pounds travelling near and far to god-forsaken places like Hartlepool, Carlisle and Crewe. That the team needn’t have bothered battling against the likes of Sheffield United, Portsmouth and Swindon.
Everyone could have just turned up to Griffin Park at 4.40pm on Saturday, April 27. The referee places the ball on the penalty spot. Trotta steps up to take the kick. The referee blows his whistle saying ‘one kick decides all. Score – Brentford promoted. Miss – Doncaster promoted”. Simple.
But football doesn’t quite work like that.
Brentford fans were gutted when that penalty cannoned back off the crossbar. Not only because they saw automatic promotion cruelly snatched away from them in an instant… but because they knew what was to come. The dreaded play-offs.
Any logical thinker would say – so what’s the problem? Brentford finished in the highest play-off spot (third). They play decent football. They came within a whisker of knocking Chelsea out of the FA Cup and have invaluable cup-tie experience. They also seem to have a knack of fighting to the death scoring late, late goals.
Again, it’s not quite as simple as that. For Brentford fans, there are a couple of facts that continually haunts us. Played five Wembley and Cardiff finals – lost five Wembley and Cardiff finals. Played six play-offs – lost six play-offs. Unlucky five morphs into unlucky six. We were even the first team to lose in the lucky changing room at Cardiff.
The thought of pinning our whole season on one final game at Wembley has been too much for some Brentford fans to bear. Going into our seventh play-off campaign, the inability to eradicate the history of defeat after defeat has turned some fans into pessimistic miserable wrecks.
But this time, there is something different in the air. You can feel it. In the past, Brentford would have built up a decent side and then the club would stumble on near-promotion with no real game plan. The last time we were promoted to the second tier, we sold our top scorer Dean Holdsworth then thought we would be able to hold our own in a higher division by signing inadequate replacements.
This time, we have been building towards this moment. The employment of an incredibly shrewd, analytical, fan-centric manager in Uwe Rosler. The development of a first-class academy to nurture young talent. The assembly of a squad of quality players coached for playing football in a higher league. The building of a new stadium, due for opening in a few years time.
This time, we didn’t stumble towards the winning post. We carefully orchestrated our way to it. And Trotta may not have fired Brentford to glory in the 94th minute of the 46th game of the 2012/13 League One season. But that doesn’t matter. The Brentford team have shown over the 48 league matches so far that they are fighters and they are winners. They never give up. That penalty kick wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning.
And on Sunday, when the team walks out onto that Wembley turf with their success-starved 12th man on the terraces going absolutely ballistic… ready to face Yeovil in the play-off final… the belief is strong that the ‘New Brentford’ will finally put all those old skeletons to rest.
And this time, it will be Lucky Number Seven for Brentford’s So Solid Crew.
Billy the Bee writes for Beesotted fanzine. Check out www.beesotted.co.uk for more left-field news and views on Brentford FC.