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16 August 2021

The Monday Briefing: Wanna be startin' somethin'

The Monday Briefing: Wanna be startin somethin

A few months back, I wrote a blog in praise of Brentford FC, and their deservedly gaining promotion to the Premier League. Entitled ‘Can’t buy me love’, it described the sustainable structure of the club, their emphasis on exhaustively analytical recruitment, and how they create a welcoming and encouraging environment for everyone involved in their project. Having looked into some of the lessons which can be learned from their approach, I have tried to instill some of that culture at the College.

I was fortunate enough to be present at their first game of the season on Friday evening, in amongst a raucous home support in the West Stand. It was a jubilant occasion for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a wonderful experience to be part of a capacity stadium crowd again. The last two seasons have been marred by Covid restrictions, and the familiar sense of collective enjoyment of a spectacle such as this was incredibly welcome. One could not avoid feeling buoyed by it. It was also Brentford’s first taste of top flight football in over 70 years, and the vast majority of the fans’ first chance to share the experience in an impressively well designed new arena, which heightened emotions further. Lastly, the performance of the team, proactive, intelligent and confident in securing a 2-0 win over Arsenal, was really quite inspiring.

Beyond the result and the team performance, three wonderful moments will stick in my mind from the evening, all of which showing the power of football to go above and beyond what happens on the pitch, as well as the incredibly strong sense of community which exists within Brentford FC. 

At the 28 minute mark, spontaneous applause rang around the stadium, not because the home side had taken the lead five minutes earlier, but rather to acknowledge the contribution of Robert Rowan, former Technical Director of the club, who oversaw much of the development of Brentford’s B unique team setup. Sadly, he died of a fatal cardiomyopathy episode in November 2018, aged just 28. All three substitutes who came onto the pitch were products of this system, and he was fundamental to much of the structural development at the club.

Soon into the second half, when Bukayo Saka, 19, was introduced by Arsenal, again, the fans stood and applauded. Saka’s penalty was saved in the European Championship Final this summer, leading to Italy’s victory and prompting an unforgivable torrent of racist abuse over social media for the talented teenager. The Brentford fans were keen to show their support for him in a special moment rarely seen. I read a comment by someone online which really summed up the importance of taking a stand: ‘It isn't enough to not be racist, you have to be anti-racist and show it.’

Following the win, when the players, led by manager Thomas Frank, thanked the fans during a victory lap, I saw the Brentford boss rush over to celebrate with one in particular, followed by midfielders Christian Norgaard and Vitaly Janelt. It was young fan Woody, who has a rather special connection with the Bees. Seeing such an unmistakable and unbridled joy shared between players and fans was incredibly heartwarming.

The club fully recognises that getting to where they are now has been a journey involving the hard work of many individuals, and there is a strong reluctance to forget their separate impacts, as well as in ensuring that identity is reaffirmed as strongly as possible. I don’t think it could have been possible for Brentford to have enjoyed an introduction to the Premier League any less perfectly. There is much to be said for winning, but more to be said for winning the right way - and there is no doubt that this was achieved on Friday evening. I’m sure they have attracted many admirers, given that the game was the first of the season to be broadcast live.

Setting such impeccable standards is what will be in the forefront of my mind with our new ‘season’, the academic year, on the horizon and approaching rapidly. Much of the ‘behind the scenes’ work is being carried out now: reviewing and updating policies, both academic and compliance based, in readiness for the new College year; discussing next steps through consultations for students, new and more familiar, who have received GCSE or A Level results and want to know what the College can offer them moving forward; ensuring that strong links remain in place with departing students and parents who we will sadly no longer be working with as closely so that harmonious and productive relationships remain. An Ealing Independent College alumnus will always retain a special status with us.

Along with this, the College development plan, which began to take shape following a lengthy staff consultation in June, will be refined, edited and launched so that we can hit the ground running with it come September. We made such tremendous progress last year, and in such challenging circumstances, that I’m optimistic we can push to levels never before experienced within the confines of the Ealing Independent College - much like Brentford FC - with more emphasis on staff wellbeing and development, more encouragement of student voice, and more investment in ensuring that we create a fulfilling experience here for everyone connected. That plan has to start somewhere, and there is no better time to do so than now.

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