I Was There

Published on March 19th, 2020 | by Hansen Bangala

A Riversider for the day

“It’s okay, my mate will be there so you won’t be the only black lad.”

She says it with a smile. If I’m honest, I was more surprised she has another black friend, but I brush off a questionable joke with a shake of the head and accept the invitation to my first Championship away day – Brentford hosting Blackburn Rovers.

Daisy lives in London but is a die-hard Rovers fan, tattoo of the badge and all. Blackburn are based in Lancashire, and with only five London teams in England’s 2nd tier, there are only so many games she can go and watch in the capital, and this was one of them.

I said no initially for three reasons. Firstly, it’s Blackburn; couldn’t name a player if you put a gun to my head. A team I have no ties to in any way, and I don’t think I’ve ever watched them play on TV before. Secondly, its Blackburn… I’ve never seen or heard about any trouble from them, but still… Thirdly, I don’t succumb to peer pressure. Except this time, I did.

When we arrived, the atmosphere was already quite hostile, and winding up the Brentford fans seemed to be the main item on the agenda for the away contingent.

Stunning volley

Adam Armstrong gave Rovers the lead against the run of play after 10 minutes and added his third in as many games from the penalty spot shortly after the restart to put Rovers in control in west London.

But a stunning 25-yard volley from Ollie Watkins reduced the deficit for the hosts in the 62nd minute, before Said Benrahma tucked away a spot-kick of his own to earn the home team a deserved share of the spoils.

I was pleased to see a good game with lots of goals, and after calling the Blackburn players by their first names all game, I felt obliged to clap them off as if I too was a Riversider.

Scenes

As for Griffin Park itself, no seating arrangement like at the Emirates or the occasional snoozefest once the game loses its intensity. This was constant, and my voice really couldn’t hack it, with more shouting, screaming and swearing than I’d ever done.

The terrace we were on was directly behind Brentford keeper for the second half, and we did not give him a moment’s peace. I also used this opportunity to practise my football chants. “It’s all gone quiet over there” at 2-0 up was started by me.

The home fans weren’t just letting this happen, of course, and were doing their best to quieten us down. After Benrhama had equalised, a local lad ran the length of the pitch from the stands to come to the away end to give us a piece of his mind.

I felt at home, one of the lads. I got laughs out of people with my slightly odd (and if you ask me effective) but imaginative way of trying to get into the Brentford players heads. “He doesn’t want it” “Let them come and get it”.

With the match done, it was time for a drink. I lost my friends in the wave of supporters flooding out but, nonetheless, I found the pub they had headed to and caught up with them there.

Post-match

Man of the match – Ollie Watkins: A constant thorn in Rovers’ side as he scrapped and fought for chances all game. After Brentford sold Neal Maupay to Brighton in the summer, Watkins was entrusted to play up top, coming in from the wing to be a fully-fledged striker.

The frontman bagged goal number 21 of the campaign in sensational style at Griffin Park and rightly changed the course of the game with his venomous second-half strike; probably his sole meaningful contribution but what a contribution…

The managers

Brentford’s Thomas Frank: “I’m annoyed we didn’t win but immensely proud of the boys for their attitude, the way they stayed together, kept going and worked hard to the end.

“In the end, Blackburn looked so tired and that is a huge credit to our team. We have big togetherness even after going behind in the first half when we really should have been in front.”

Blackburn’s Tony Mowbray: “For the majority of the game we managed them pretty well and we know what talented individuals they’ve got and how they can build pressure.

“We got to the point where the crowd were about to turn on them after a few misplaced passes and then a bit of magic from their centre forward changes things.”

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