Football

A day to cherish in the history of Brighton & Hove Albion

The American Express Community Stadium in all its splendour. (©PAphotos)
The American Express Community Stadium in all its splendour. (©PAphotos).

As far as sporting narratives go, Brighton's is one that any neutral fan would love to jump on the bandwagon of, and embrace what they have done in taking up residence at their new home.

The club has had to clear more than its fair share of hurdles in finding a home ground, in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

The stadium that Brighton used to call home, the Goldstone Ground, was sold in 1997 by a board that had walked into more financial trouble than they could handle.

Many football fans will complain about the way their club is run, but not many can compare to the treachery Brighton fans still feel over their side's treatment during this period.

The Seagulls made the forced move to Gillingham, which was a 75-mile trek for fans, and the next step towards redeveloping a home ground was not much better; moving to former zoo-turned-athletics track Withdean Stadium, where the club endured almost 12 years in a temporary football stadium that held just over 8,000 seats.

Withdean was never meant to be a football ground for a club of Brighton's calibre, and that was reflected in the fans' attendance.

While die-hard fans will always make the trip to watch their team, to Brighton, Gillingham or a temporary stadium, football fans in the area felt the matches weren't worth paying the money for – particularly when you could hardly see the players or create a proper football atmosphere.

The process of building Brighton's new stadium has not gone without problems, with permission to build in the area taking considerable time, and opposition from residents forcing a judicial review and an extra two years of the club holding onto a bare piece of land.

But when 2009 rolled around, it seemed time that Brighton got a little luck on their side. In-coming manager Gus Poyet seemed to put into place a snowball effect, with property developer and gambler Tony Bloom putting big money into the Albion once more, and Dick Knight making his exit as chairman for Bloom to put his stamp on the club.

Promotion into the npower Championship at the end of last season – a feat which Brighton achieved with many points in hand – sealed the club's redemption.

The opening of their new stadium on Saturday, in a friendly match against Poyet's old club Tottenham, was the culmination of over 15 years hard work by the club to not only see the light at the end of the tunnel, but to run out of it into a place they called home.

One may have thought that the match would have been characteristically uneventful, as most sporting moments are with so much build up behind them. But those pundits would be wrong.

As 17,000 packed into the brand spanking new stadium - facilities are still being tested before an extra 5,500 seats become available - with a host of fans standing out the front holding 'need a ticket' signs, Brighton opened the scoring within 11 minutes, with a brilliant pass from star signing Craig Mackail-Smith who made Ashley Barnes' strike all too easy.

Goals from Younes Kaboul and Vedran Corluka in the first half put Tottenham up 2-1, and while a goal from Newcastle's on loan striker Kazenga LuaLua gave Brighton hope of defeating their Barclays Premier League rivals, Jake Livermore sealed the win for Spurs at 3-2.

But despite the loss, spirits were at an all time high for Seagulls fans. The stadium that they now call home has many of the simple things that most football fans come to expect when they head to home games every two weeks or so, such as the legends immortalised on the sidewalks, walls and members sections of the ground. Brighton fans now have that luxury too.

Seagulls circling the ground on a beautiful 25 degree day was a touch that made the experience all the more special, giving a sense that the club has a greater destiny to look forward to.

But Albion fans aren't the only ones who were full of pride on Saturday. For any neutral football fan, or sports fan for that matter, the ground represented a comeback from obscurity for a club that might soon start to believe that they can make it into the top tier for the first time since 1983.

I know I'll be keeping a close eye on Brighton's progress this season, and it only took one match for me to catch the Albion fever.

Topics:
Football
Championship
Brighton & Hove Albion

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