Like some peripatetic seagull, I have now seen Brighton & Hove Albion play home games at four locations: at the Goldstone Ground, which was a dump whatever the romantics pretend; at Priestfield, which wasn’t a move which overly excited the good folk of Gillingham; at Withdean, which was the footballing equivalent of putting your arm in a sock and now, at that non-sequitur of a name, the American Express Community Stadium.
It’s just opposite Sussex University, where Brighton still train. Sharing facilities with a bunch of students and their shrines to Noel Fielding can’t do the footballers too much good in the long term, although the enticing prospect of watching Ashley Barnes learning how to head a ball gives the students yet another excuse for bunking off those pesky lectures. There’s a brand new training ground afoot, apparently, but since the local council finally seem to realise what an asset a football club should be, it surely won’t take as long as the new stadium.
As clubs go, they’re admirably media-friendly. And it shouldn’t be forgotten they were the only Championship club to openly defy the Football League and allow journalists in during the nonsense dispute at the beginning of the season. They do hackparking at the University. Everyone, but everyone, is niceness itself. The car park man tells me how much he loves The Sunday Times. Whether he said the same to the man from The Daily Star I cannot say.
The ground itself isn’t especially car friendly, but they’ll get less taliban about sustainability as time passes. Falmer station is part of the complex and there are park’n’ride schemes wherever you, but when I leave almost two hours after the final whistle they’re still queuing. Perched on a hill – I couldn’t see the sea though – the ground itself is vandal-proof from the outside. Inside, there’s a lot of capacity-reducing wasted space, but the contours are delicious.
The hackfood isn’t up to much – a lukewarm fish pie – but the media room is huge and people from Brighton actually offer to escort me to my seat. The press box is a touch exposed – there be wind and there be rain – but it’s not cramped and, praise be, the wi-fi works a treat.
Brighton’s game against Newcastle has its moments. In fact it‘s full of moments. It’s an evening kick-off so that means tight deadlines, that surge of adrenaline when the scoreline is tight and my hands turning scarlet in the cold. Great. That’s what we’re here for.
The atmosphere is sizzling, Newcastle’s full-strength team are dominant, but they’re lightweight in attack. Brighton are all swords-of-a-thousand-men spirit, but they lack a certain amount of class and patience.
In the end, Brighton sneak it late on when Mike Williamson (if he’s a Premier League centre-half, I’m Teller of Penn & Teller) deflects Will Buckley’s drive past Tim Krul. Cue pandemonium, cue me writing more than one introduction for the on-the-whistle deadline, cue Newcastle going out.
Afterwards, they do the post-mach press in another huge room. It’s all a bit Nebraska in terms of spaciousness. Excellent. Alan Pardew is his usual sanguine self. I know a lot of people don’t like him, I know an unauthorised biography might be interesting reading and I’m not sure taking his team to Tenerife in the week before this game was a terrific idea, but I do like him, his football and his attitude. And he can spot a player like few others. He can’t fathom how they lost. Neither can I, but they hardly created a chance and they missed Demba Ba terribly.
Brighton’s Gustavo Poyet is honest enough to admit his team were a tad lucky. I like his approach too and his honesty in being delighted that Ba was helping Senegal fluff their lines in the African Cup Of Nations rather than testing Adam El-Abd’s mettle. But, hey, they’re through and after what Brighton have been through, who’d begrudge them that?
It’s cold and dark afterwards, but the bars at the ground are still open, I can hear singing from Falmer station’s northbound platform and so there’s a sense of light and warmth here. It’s so late that I’m not home in time for Borgen, but I don’t mind.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
DMG TV 2010
Beneath the annoying cheeky Cockneyisms there lurked a romantic poet, who sketched characters with the sharp eye of a British Damon Runyon. And his best song, Really Glad You Came, isn’t even here.