It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
As others have said, football is an important part of our national psyche and it is a regular fixture of the week for many people. My husband and two close friends are season-ticket holders of different football clubs, so I know what football means to fans. However, I was particularly struck by the stories about some of Brentford Football Club’s fans. Woody is a young Brentford fan with Down’s syndrome. When football was taken away from him in March, he struggled, to the extent that his hair started to fall out. Huge credit must go to the Brentford players, in particular Woody’s favourite, Ollie Watkins, who left Brentford for Aston Villa earlier in the year but still took the time to go and visit Woody after he left the club, to see how he was doing.
The directors of Brentford have been playing their part in keeping the family of fans going, by making calls to some of the older fans in particular to check in for a chat and to see if they need any help. Marcus Gayle, a former player who is now a club ambassador, popped in to see a fan, Anthony Talbot, to take him a new shirt and brighten up his day, after he heard that Anthony was missing his football to the extent that his health was suffering. The football community at Brentford have also got together to help raise money for Jamie Powell, who is a lifelong Brentford fan with a rare cancer, so that he can go to Boston for life-saving treatment.
The club narrowly avoided going into administration in 2002 and was then taken over by a supporter-led trust. When I was a Brentford ward councillor on Hounslow Borough Council, I saw at first hand the amazing community response and effort to keep the club base in Brentford, and I persuaded my colleagues on the council to loan the fans the half a million pounds that they needed at that time, which has since been paid back. We realised how much the club meant to the borough and to our community.
The 18-year relationship that I have had with the club at the end of my road has taught me that we cannot and should not forget that clubs such as Brentford thrive because they are at the heart of their community. I am talking about the generations who watch games every Saturday, the new fans who move to the area, the countless hours of work done by the club and the local community, the support for the businesses that survive and thrive and the jobs that they create, because of the fans, home and away, who come for matches. Football is a real power for good in our society, and at times like this it is something that we should support and bring back to our stadiums as soon as we can.
We have important points from the operations team at Brentford. They have been working with the safety advisory group at Brentford to ensure that the new stadium can be safe, and they need to be respected by Government and work hand in hand with Government to ensure that fans can come back to matches as soon as possible.