Over the last 15 years, Brentford fans have seen it all.
Relegation, several promotions, several more promotion heartbreaks, a revolution, a new stadium to replace one of England’s most iconic, and – for the first time in their history – Premier League football.
Sergi Canos hasn’t quite experienced all of these things with the Bees, but he’s seen a fair few of them and even wore shirts adorned with their old, clunky crest. Besides a six month spell at Norwich in 2016, he is the current squad’s longest-serving player alongside Rico Henry.
“I came on loan, so I don’t know if that counts!” Canos jokes. “I do, it’s part of my life and my football career. I think that year on loan was one of the most important ones in my career.”
Canos is present at the Gtech Community Stadium for Brentford’s unveiling of their Heart of West London partnership, teaming up with several leading heart foundations to raise awareness about cardiac health.
The winger is one of few remaining Brentford players to have worked under technical director Robert Rowan, who tragically lost his life after suffering a cardiomyopathy episode in his sleep. The club’s new initiative is in part in memory of him.
“When I [first] came, Rob was here. He was a big part of Brentford and he still is a big part of Brentford because thanks to him we have these initiatives. We have these things that can show people that this actually helps. He was a big part of Brentford, he was a big part of what we are now,” Canos says solemnly.
At the age of 28, Rowan’s death shocked Brentford to their core. In a release accompanying their new initiative, Brentford revealed that roughly 12 people under the age of 35 in the UK die every week due to undiagnosed cardiac conditions.
“That’s why it was shocking the rates today I know now because I didn’t know that many young people was involved in this,” Canos, who learnt how to perform CPR at the unveiling as part of the initiative, says in disbelief.
“If someone collapsed and we have no medical team around us, then it’s [on] us. We need to make sure everyone is good and everyone knows what to do if something like that happens.”
Rowan was – and still is – seen as an important figure in Brentford’s modern history. He embodied the club’s principles and values, oversaw a period that would eventually help the club reach the Premier League in the seasons following his passing.
“Everything has changed,” Sergi says. “Everything in the training ground, in the mentality of training, in training, in games, how we approach games, how we want to attack and how we want to win in the Premier League.
“It’s amazing because when I came on loan, I was a young boy and there was a little bit of transition in the club. We were in the training ground and there was not much of a way, a straight line. So now we’re doing really good and the mentality is one of the best things that this club has.”
Brentford aren’t quite yet an established Premier League club, but even after the high-profile exit of Christian Eriksen in the summer, very few tipped them to be relegated, to fall victim to ‘second season syndrome’.
They even have a player breaking into a competitive England squad ahead of the World Cup. Ivan Toney was called into Gareth Southgate’s setup for their September internationals, though did not win his maiden cap in either of their matches last month.
“We all love Ivan,” Canos calmly states. “We were a bit sad that he didn’t come on but they had two tough games and are preparing for the World Cup, so the fact Ivan has been there in the last squad it’s amazing. It’s all positive. We as a club don’t want to look at the negatives. We are happy for Ivan, we hoped he would play some minutes, but he’s going to come back and will play many games for England. There’s no worry about that.”
Closer to home, Canos has seen teammate, friend and compatriot David Raya break into the Spain squad. He looks a safe bet to be part of La Roja’s World Cup party.
Raya and Canos hold a distinction of never playing professionally in their home country, only in England. But if the former is being picked for such a high-profile national team, then that must mean Luis Enrique has been watching Brentford matches to get a glimpse at their Spanish contingent.
“Definitely,” Canos says with a smile. “Now Brentford is in the top flight, you know? Everyone watches Brentford now. We feel privileged to have the ability to show the world who we are. Luis Enrique, of course he is watching because David is there and that gives me confidence to be [in the squad], you know, maybe…but now I’m just thinking about getting back in the [Brentford] squad, enjoy training and score some goals.”
Canos has three Premier League goals to his name so far in his career having played much of last season at wing-back, and he shot to fame when he fired home Brentford’s first top-flight goal in 74 years in their 2-0 win against Arsenal. It was a moment that came in front of the Sky Sports cameras on opening night, broadcast around the globe on the return of fans to stadiums.
“Before my family used to go walking [around London] and it was fine. Now it’s still fine but you get more people. My family likes it because they love me being uncomfortable!” Canos laughs.
“But it’s nice when people know you. The other day, I was in the small Sainsbury’s [close to the stadium] and someone came up with his two kids and he was just so happy to see me more than the kids! He told me, ‘thanks for doing this to Brentford, thanks for lifting this place up’, and that made me so happy because he said not only the football, but it’s about the community. We are as one. That made me so happy that someone in the street recognises you and tells you this.”
And at the end of the day, that’s what Canos thinks football is all about – improving lives.
“The identity is everything,” he says. “What we show as a club, it’s what we try to show to the world, to the supporters, to everyone that comes to Brentford. They must feel the identity and the energy that we have and that’s great. Everyone’s different, every club is different, everyone here is very happy that the club has this identity and this energy, the initiatives [like the Heart of West London] we have in place [are] because they make you a better person. The squad and the group we have is unbelievable. We are all friends and we show it every weekend I think.”
You can read more about Brentford’s Heart of West London partnership here