LONDON • Brentford and Fulham will slug it out for a place in the Premier League today when they clash in the Championship play-off final worth an estimated £170 million (S$306 million) to the winners.
The rewards for promotion mean the Wembley showdown is often called the richest match in world football.
After 73 years outside the English top flight, unfashionable Brentford are within touching distance of an unexpected berth among the elite. In contrast, Fulham are hoping for a return to the Premier League after last season's relegation.
It is Brentford's story that has captured the imagination of neutrals. After spending 59 out of 60 seasons in the third or fourth tiers before reaching the Championship in 2014, the Bees have risen well above their traditional status thanks to innovative owner Matthew Benham.
He has introduced an analytics-influenced approach overseen by two directors of football, ensuring the club make the most of their meagre resources.
It has proved a successful formula as Brentford unearthed gems such as Neal Maupay, Ezri Konsa, Chris Mepham and Jota before selling them for significant profits.
Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo are the latest stars off the production line.
The trio took Brentford to the brink of automatic promotion last month before successive defeats against Stoke and Barnsley forced them to settle for third place.
A 3-1 win over Swansea in the play-off semi-final second leg overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit and emphasised the quality nurtured by Brentford boss Thomas Frank.
Brentford beat Fulham 1-0 and 2-0 earlier this season and their captain Pontus Jansson knows what it would mean to get that third win.
"It's quite obvious, for the club it means everything," he said. "This is what we're fighting for as a club for a lot of years, especially this year.
"We know the financial thing of playing in the Premier League, it's one of the biggest fees, if not the biggest, in the world."
Fulham would love to spoil the fairy tale, but their hopes would be damaged if Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic is unable to return from a hamstring injury. The Championship's top scorer with 26 goals this season missed both legs of their 3-2 aggregate play-off semi-final victory over Cardiff.
"I'm hopeful - he was close to playing the second leg," Fulham manager Scott Parker said.
"We'll just do everything we can to try to have him ready."
FULHAM V BRENTFORD
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