“Thomas Frank?” At first I thought you were angry

Ben Mee - Ben Mee exclusive interview in his electric Porsche in the parking lot at Brentford's training ground: 'Thomas Frank?  At first I thought you were crazy' - The Telegraph/Paul Grover

Ben Mee – Ben Mee exclusive interview in his electric Porsche in the parking lot at Brentford’s training ground: ‘Thomas Frank? At first I thought you were crazy’ – The Telegraph/Paul Grover

Brentford’s smart yet unassuming educational space sits between the roaring M4 and an idyllic National Trust property. The silver Porsche in the parking lot actually belongs to central defender Ben Mee, who was signed to cover last summer, who started one of the all-bar league games. Not an unusual brand for a Premier League player, but Mee’s model is electric.

Former Burnley captain rejects all assumptions about vain top players. Its eco-friendly wheels are one of the few sustainable tweaks it makes. “I try to reuse everything, buy less clothes, avoid plastic bottles as much as I can,” he says, speaking ahead of the launch of Green Football Weekend, a campaign that encourages fans to take action against climate change.

“I’m not perfect in any way, I don’t want to appear that way. I am not an environmental fighter or a totally eco-friendly person. I like to go on vacation But I try to mitigate and improve it in other ways.

Brentford seems like a natural fit given their own environmental credentials, including a commitment to keep their home kit for two seasons instead of the regular season. Meemobile is well served with charging points at their headquarters, and Mee has stabilized the average person’s emissions for a year, making their transfer “carbon neutral”.

In contrast, Nottingham Forest took a 20-minute flight to Blackpool earlier this month. “I don’t think short trips like this are great,” Mee says. Brentford, like any other club in the top leagues, often fly for the furthest away games, but the club’s use of air travel is under internal debate.

‘I am very frank if it is unfair’

Mee is such a rare thing that she is a footballer who is happy to even talk about topics beyond the game. Mee denounced this in a post-match interview when a plane flew over Etihad Stadium in June 2020, one month after the murder of George Floyd, following a banner that read “White lives matter Burnley.”

“It was off the headlines. If there is an injustice and there is something that I really disagree with, I am quite frank. For me it was just something that needed to be said. I was the captain at the time and I felt like it was my responsibility.”

It’s not just societal issues that Mee raises her voice. Her daughter, Olive, was born 16 weeks premature in 2020, and Mee spoke candidly about the traumatic beginning of her life when she and her husband had to take turns visiting their incubated baby during Covid restrictions.

“He’s great,” says Mee, two years later. “He’s fit and healthy. We couldn’t be happier. I get emotional thinking about that time, where he is now, that’s great. I dropped him off at nursery this morning.” What is the often challenging parent tactic for quitting: “Leave and run, don’t look back!”

Again, he could easily have kept quiet here, why would he talk? “As a professional football player, he reaches more people. I got a lot of heartfelt messages from men, quite touching and it encouraged me to talk more. Talking about it helped me too, helped me process. Talking about it was like therapy.

“I thought Thomas Frank was a little angry at first”

Thomas Frank awaits the start of the English FA Cup football match between Brentford and West Ham United at Gtech Community Stadium in London on Saturday 7 January 2023.  - AP/David Cliff

Thomas Frank awaits the start of the English FA Cup football match between Brentford and West Ham United at Gtech Community Stadium in London on Saturday 7 January 2023. – AP/David Cliff

On the field, things have rarely been better. At Burnley you mostly feel freed after an 11-year tour of duty under Sean Dyche. “It was a bit stale playing the same way for a few years. There were disappointments around the club and the team, the fans were a bit too. This season seems to have revived them.”

Mee also seems refreshed, but initially taken aback by Thomas Frank’s approach. “At first I thought the manager was a little angry, when we first started playing big teams he really wanted to win games.

“Push, push and push, even though we’re drawing, we’re making positive changes. You don’t see that from a manager, especially someone who’s only been in the Premier League for a year. Refreshing.”

Frank wants Brentford to go into his opponent’s penalty area for corner kicks, which led to several goals, including a terrific volley against the Wolves.

But his best work is on defense, as seen in Brentford’s 3-1 win over Liverpool. As the match was goalless, Darwin Nunez rolled goalkeeper David Raya and briefly held the entire goal, but Mee came to block the shot.

There is an art to such late interventions. “You have to get the timing right so he doesn’t see you too soon. I was watching David pass by and thinking that if I got there too soon he would either quickly smash it or pull it away from me.

“I saw a still [photograph], he has all the target he needs to aim at and if he sees me there he can make a tap. But he doesn’t see me, I timed it right and got there just as he brought his foot back to shoot.”

33-year-old Mee’s motivation is to give her children as many chances as possible to see her play. He and Olive have a five-year-old son, Jaxon, who is just starting to enjoy his football experience. If Brentford maintain their current form, they could be following their dad in Europe next season. This will need serious balancing.

To learn more about the Green Football Weekend visit www.greenfootballweekend.com

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