Barely a Premier League week goes by without a London derby – the capital is home to eight top-flight clubs, after all.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham may command the headlines but this season has unearthed new Premier League rivalries.
A few meanders up the River Thames from Buckingham Palace, local bitterness is simmering – and when Brentford host Fulham on Monday (20:00 GMT), there will be more than bragging rights at stake.
“They are very much equals now,” says Jonathan Burchill, author of Brentford history book A Pub On Each Corner: Stats and Facts from Griffin Park. “And this rivalry is growing.
“They are the local side we have played most often in recent years – and it helps that we have generally had the upper hand.”
Before 2014, the sides had never met above the third tier of English football.
As Jamie Reid, co-commentator with Gentleman Jim for Fulham Football Club TV puts it: “A lot of our fans have never seen this as the most direct rivalry.”
There were flashpoints though, notably Brentford defender Jamie Bates being questioned by the police after Fulham striker Gordon Davies was carried off on a stretcher during a 1988 game.
Fulham’s spell in the Premier League in the 2000s kept the sides apart but, as Brentford ascended, Fulham became a yo-yo club and their pathways merged.
“They had the glory years,” said Burchill. “Brentford fans would call them ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ and they had the plastic clappers, the Michael Jackson statue. All the bits that make you cringe.
“But they were in a different league to us. The whole mindset of us as a top tier team did not exist then.”
In 2014-15, both sides were in the Championship. Recently relegated Fulham finished 17th while Brentford made the play-offs and did the double over their neighbours.
Bees fans enjoyed the success, creating a ‘Bees Up, Fulham Down’ song to the tune of Knees Up, Mother Brown that’s still sung lustily at games.
The Cottagers, used to rubbing shoulders with Chelsea in the Premier League, have been forced to take Brentford seriously.
“The rivalry has certainly intensified,” says Reid. “You could pick out Chelsea games from across the years but with Brentford it’s not been the same level.
“However, when you see both teams doing well, you do end up wanting to out-do them.”
A promotion showdown
In 2019-20, Fulham’s game with Brentford was scheduled for Friday, 13 March but instead became the first casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rescheduled for June, the Bees once again completed the double over the Cottagers and looked favourites for promotion.
However, when the two sides contested the play-off final six weeks later at an empty Wembley, it was the streetwise Fulham who went up in extra time.
“In hindsight, we weren’t ready,” says Burchill. “Imagine if, after all that time outside the top division, fans were not able to go to places like Liverpool and Manchester United and then we ended up relegated?
“When we beat Swansea [the following season] in the play-off final, it was a totally different feeling.”
Brentford’s promotion corresponded with another Fulham relegation but now they are both in the race for European qualification at the top of the Premier League.
In the background, the battle between Ivan Toney and Aleksandar Mitrovic offers an intriguing subplot.
During Brentford’s promotion season, Toney beat the longstanding record for most goals scored in a Championship season only for Mitrovic to shatter it with his 43 last year.
At Craven Cottage this season, both netted in an enthralling game, with Mitrovic scoring Fulham’s late winner.
“There’s no particular love lost between those two,” says Burchill.
For Reid and Fulham, there is no contest: “Mitrovic is the greatest. Toney is a good player with a great penalty record and can score different goals. But as good as he is, he’s no Mitrovic.”
This season, Toney’s 14 goals leads Mitrovic by three, but the Brentford striker is awaiting an FA verdict after admitting gambling-related charges.
Local rivalry and sustained success on the pitch may see more west Londoners shun the bright lights of Chelsea in favour of their smaller neighbours.
Improved facilities also help.
Monday’s fixture is the first derby in front of fans at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium while Fulham’s imposing new Riverside stand will take Craven Cottage’s capacity to the brink of 30,000 when it fully opens this summer.
“They really are befitting of a Premier League club,” says Reid. “The ground needed to move on and now it looks wonderful.
“Both Brentford and Fulham try to be really open, fair and inclusive. You want the vast majority of the next generation in south-west London to be wearing their shirts rather than anyone else’s.”
Brentford have progressed a lot from their origins but as the derby grows, it should be remembered that in 1904, it was actually Fulham’s owners who helped the Bees get off the ground.
“Fulham chairman Henry Norris helped Brentford buy a leasehold on a five-acre orchard from local brewer Fuller, Smith and Turner,” explains Burchill.
“They were sharing with the cricket club down the road but this enabled them to get Griffin Park.”
It could be distinctly less neighbourly come 20:00 on Monday.