End of Albion's distress

After many frustrating years, Albion set their sights, and indeed their hearts, on the prospect of building a new stadium at Falmer. There was local opposition, a plethora of planning obstacles to be looked into, but, in the end, permission was granted and the result has been a highly modern new stadium named as the American Express Community ground, which has a decent capacity of 22,000. By Brian Glanville.

After 14 long and bitter years of exile, Brighton and Hove Albion at long last have their own proper stadium. Probably, as it transpires, the best they have ever had, though it took many years before it acquired the historic memories of the ground in Hove where Albion, alias the Seagulls, played from 1901 till their controversial, even scandalous, eviction in 1997, making room for that all too familiar current times' giant superstore.

Cast out of the Goldstone Ground, the best Brighton could do in the next two seasons was to take refuge far away in Kent at Gillingham whose ground they shared to the huge inconvenience of their fans, who had to travel all the way to South Coast Sussex.

The name of Archer, the then chairman who effected the sale of Goldstone Ground, has been execrated by the Seagulls supporters even though there is still an air of some mystery over how and why the stadium was sold. There was, however, never any doubt of the deal in the mind of an infuriated Steve Coppell, a famous right midfielder for Manchester United and England, when I visited him at the Withdean ground where he managed Albion for a season (2002-03).

Yes, Withdean, the best that a beleaguered Albion could do for many frustrating years. An athletics stadium with a notional capacity of just 8000, though the average attendance there was a mere 6000.

A few years ago, however, Albion set their sights, and indeed their hearts, on the prospect of building a new stadium at Falmer, outside Brighton and close to Brighton University. There was local opposition, a plethora of planning obstacles to be looked into, but, in the end, permission was granted and the result has been a highly modern new stadium named as the American Express Community ground. It has a decent capacity of 22,000 and, fortuitously, the opening coincided with Albion's promotion to the so called Championship, alias the old Second Division.

I was there to see their match against Doncaster Rovers, attended by an exuberant 20,000. It was a joyful and vibrant, not to say cacophonous occasion. A vast array of flags and white were waved, reflecting the blue and white stripes of the long been Albion colours. Dancing girls gyrated on the pitch. The game ended in a somewhat fortuitous 2-1 victory for Brighton. There were ecstatic choruses of the old anthem “Sussex by the Sea”. Truth to tell, the victory was famous only in an historical context. They were a goal behind, seven minutes into the second half, and looking desperately to penetrate a massed Doncaster defence when Lewis Dunk, the Brighton born 6ft 4in centre back, ploughed crudely into the Doncaster scorer and lone striker, Billy Sharp, and sent him off the field on a stretcher. Dunk got away with merely a yellow card when many present thought it merited a red.

That nullified any counter-attacking aspirations Doncaster might have had, but it took Albion all the way into very late injury time to score that odd goal victory. In fact, both goals were scored by second-half substitutes.

Among the more dramatic events of the game was the sending-off of Brighton's Uruguayan manager Gus Poyet to the stands. Yes, of all exotic a Uruguayan! In his playing days, Gus had been an uncompromising midfielder for his country, coming to London to play for Spurs and Chelsea. He had erupted when a yellow card was given to the attacker, quite correctly, for diving, when Gus thought it should have been a penalty. Afterwards, he was completely unrepentant, even if it was the second time that month that he had been expelled. Then he said, “I've no intention of changing”.

What I can, I fear, be sure of is that Brighton are unlikely ever to get to the heights, albeit accompanied by the depths, of what happened in 1983 when they all but beat the mighty Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley, only to be relegated to Division 2! Only an astounding save by goalkeeper Gary Bailey to a shot by Brighton's Scottish attacker Gordon Smith close to full time saved United, with the score at 2-2. Brighton were confident of winning the replay, especially as their dominant centre back, the hefty Foster, would be fit to return. Alas, they were thrashed 4-0.

Smith? He went on to become the Chairman of Scotland's FA.