How 'Circumstances' explains Brentford's Premier League push
Background image: Andy Scott, CC BY-SA 4.0
Twice in his career as the drummer and lyricist for the Canadian rock band Rush, Neil Peart wrote about the symbiotic relationship between consistency and change. In Tom Sawyer, he kept it simple, noting that “changes aren’t permanent but change is”.
Although he didn’t intend it as such, his earlier passage in Circumstances more clearly reflects the magic of promotion and relegation and why the European Super League was such a horrendous idea.
All the same we take our chances
Laughed at by time
Tricked by circumstances
The more that things change
The more they stay the same
If you’re a Rush fan, you know I omitted the preceding French translation of the final two lines to avoid confusion. Je suis désolé si ça a offensé.
What I’m saying is we struggle to understand time. Relentlessly striving to improve, to change for the better, we nonetheless expect the world around us to remain unaltered. In a reverse-engineered sense, that might be why English football aficionados speak so often in terms of the Premier League, as though 1992/93 was the beginning of time.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the new version of the top flight came as a shock to the system for many who believed the big clubs were attempting to consolidate their power and claim a larger slice of the pie, the health of the pyramid that supported them be damned. Critics weren’t wrong then, nor when the Prem recently separated itself even further from the rest of the Football League. We grew accustomed to those changes, however, and soon acted as if the new reality had always been the way things were done. Mostly, it had. The rich get richer and all that.
The European Super League was another attempt in the same vein, expected to cause a brief uproar then be accepted as the norm. Instead, it proved to be the back-breaking straw for the proverbial camel even though it only denied smaller clubs entry into the pinnacle of European football rather than the English top flight. This time it was the billionaires laughed at by time and tricked by circumstances.
American sport long ago closed its competitions to protect owners’ investments and assure success on the business side even if it couldn’t guarantee it on the field. That is why, over the years, only seven European football clubs have managed to breach Forbes’ list of 50 wealthiest teams. Basketball’s New York Knickerbockers haven’t won a title since 1973, again, before time began if you're a Premier League fan. Nevertheless, the Knicks rank third on the 2020 Forbes list whereas recent European powers such as Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid are nowhere to be seen.
Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal do make the list, however. The likes of the Glazers, Sheikh Mansour, Roman Abramovich and Stan Kroenke didn't manage that by viewing their football holdings as chips at a gambling table. Come August, though, they may be joined by a chairman who does.
Brentford is one victory at Wembley away from entering the Premier League after an absolutely thrilling fightback against Bournemouth in which they went down 2-0 on aggregate early in the home leg. With the Cherries now owning a two-goal advantage, Thomas Frank’s side needed to score three to push on. They did and, while spoiling Bournemouth’s opportunity to make history, set up the chance to make their own as the latest Premier League debutantes.
Brentford chairman Matthew Benham made his fortune gambling on football. After testing his analytics-based ownership theories at FC Midtjylland, he purchased the Bees. If a bookmaker should sponsor any football club, you would think it’s Brentford. Instead, the Londoners shill electric and gas company Utilita. More power to them.
A chairman completely invested in his club’s success on the pitch may seem like a new concept to those who’ve forgotten a world before the Premier League. It used to be the norm, however.
Although that isn’t to say the geezers who once ran clubs were degenerate gamblers [no offense, Mr Benham]. Rather they poured their money and souls into their sides, living and dying by them. In other words, Benham is the type of throwback owner those who protested the ESL wish to see in charge of their club.
Swansea City’s more ‘tradiitonal’ corporate cabal, fronted by American Jason Levein, still have a say in preventing that. The Swans hope to return to the top flight following a two-year absence. They face Brentford at Wembley on Saturday.
While his holdings are more diverse, Levein isn’t all that different from Benham. He made his fortune in sport, first as a player agent before becoming CEO of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, then managing general partner of MLS side DC United and Australian basketball club Brisbane Bullets. That diversity allows him to hedge his bets, which is where the comparison ends. Benham is all-in on Brentford and that’s what English football fans want from ownership.