For 11 years, Ben Mee was the lynchpin in a mean Burnley backline.
In his seven Premier League seasons with the Clarets, he grew a reputation as one of the division’s more consistent centre-backs. You knew what you were getting. You didn’t want to play against Burnley. You didn’t want to go to Turf Moor. Mee was a big part of that sentiment.
Burnley bit off a little more than they could chew last term, and were relegated back to the Championship on the final day of the season.
“Leaving Burnley was tough after a long time being there. 11 years is a good amount of time in a football career,” he first says to 90min as part of a sit-down for Green Football Weekend.
“It was a nice challenge for me to move away from there as well. Obviously it didn’t end on a great note with being relegated, but I think the club was changing, ready for a change, and they’ve moved on and done well this season in the Championship. That’s great.”
Now under the stewardship of Vincent Kompany, Burnley look shoo-ins to return to the top flight as second-tier champions. Mee’s love for the club is still evident in the way he talks about them, carefully choosing his words of affirmation.
But Mee is also focused on the future. He recently admitted that the chance to join Brentford on a two-year deal as opposed to other offers of just 12 months gave him and his family assurances they needed. Having played almost exclusively in the north in his career, it also gave him the chance to experience a new city, a new community.
Planet League’s Rich Holmes & Sustainable Clarets’ Cat Jebson join Shebahn Aherne to have football’s climate conversation ahead of Green Football Weekend. If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!
“Coming into a club like this, I’ve settled in really well. A new challenge for me. I feel a bit revitalised by the challenges that I’ve faced. I’ve been enjoying playing in a different system under a new manager with new players at a new club,” he continues, clearly stressing his delight at working and living in ‘new’ environments.
Mee played for a decade under Sean Dyche, a charismatic and uniting figure, one who was essentially the voice of Burnley up until his surprise sacking in 2022.
His current head coach is of a similar mould in Thomas Frank, and Mee – who transitioned into a part-time coaching role for Burnley at the end of last season – prefers that charming and at times bewitching style of management.
“I think it’s important they’re the heart and soul of the club,” he says adamantly. “They’re the leaders, people you see every day in and around the training ground. Staff and players look up to them.
“They’ve got a big job to lead the group. It’s an important job, it takes a special person to be able to do that, and I think the two managers I’ve worked under for a long time – Sean Dyche and now Thomas – do fantastic jobs. They’re very different in their approaches, but equally good at doing their job.”
Dyche memorably led Burnley to a surprise seventh-placed finish at the end of the 2017/18 season, securing qualification to the Europa League.
Such a similar dream has been floated in Brentford circles in recent weeks following a superb run of form that has seen them take seven points from a possible nine against Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool.
But Mee refuses to be drawn on making European qualification a target for the Bees. He won’t even try and pick similarities between this Brentford cohort and that iconic Burnley side.
“I think there’s plenty of qualities in this Brentford side. We’re on a good run at the minute, we’ve shown our quality against the bigger teams. I think the way the league is now there’s an opportunity for a team like Brentford to finish high up, but the focus is the near future, upcoming games, and then you get a sense of where you’re going to be in the next month or so,” he says with seriousness rather than wonder.
“We’ve got some big games [coming up], had a good [result] against Bournemouth last time out. After playing well against big teams, it was important to go against a team lower down as well. That was an important victory.”
This club-wide desire to play down a European dream stems from Frank’s insistence on being ‘confident but humble’, a want to be ‘impressed rather than surprised’.
Within Brentford’s walls, they know how good they are. They know what they can achieve. It’s harder to see their progress and vision from the outside sometimes, which is why some are surprised at their recent rise up the table.
“One thing that’s surprised me most is the squad depth we have,” Mee admits. “The players coming in and out of the team. It’s only a lot of the lads’ second season in the Premier League, and how comfortable they are playing and doing well, taking it in their stride. They had a good season last year. Hopefully we can finish higher this season and carry on the way we’re going.
“I don’t think anything that I’ve learned here I didn’t know before, but I know more about it. It’s been great. The way a formation sets up, plays, to be involved in it helps for sure. Obviously from the outside, you do see it and learn about it in football, but being involved in it has certainly helped me, I’ve adapted to it and am enjoying it.”
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