Having been without a stadium for 10 years, the prospect of another season in English football’s third tier is no great affront to Brighton and Hove Albion’s pride, who have spent a decade fighting bankruptcy, the secretary of state and attempting to gain planning permission to finally find a new ground.
After Albion’s previous home; the Goldstone Ground was closed in 1997 the club spent two years ground sharing with Gillingham, before moving temporarily into the Withdean Athletics Stadium in Brighton.
However, manager Micky Adams, in his second spell in charge of the Seagulls, just wants to concentrate on the league; saying that his players “have to go out, perform and believe in what they’re doing”. After the attention the team received after felling Manchester City on penalties in the League Cup, it remains to be seen whether this giant-killing was a sign of things to come, or a blip in the barometer, as the club currently lie 14th in League 1, having gone five games since a league win, and four since a clean sheet.
Early promise shown by veteran striker Nicky Forster and partner Glenn Murray, who have notched up five and four goals respectively has been complemented by Adams’ skill in the transfer market. The former Leicester manager brought in David Livermore, who helped Hull to promotion last season, and Adam Virgo from Celtic, both on free transfers. Adams has also brought in 23 year old midfielder Joe Anyinsah on loan from Preston, who scored against Manchester City.
Brighton initially enjoyed good form in the league, collecting victories against Crewe and Barnet in their opening matches, but have stuttered since and failed to pick up points against teams they should be stepping over in their promotion attempt. Ask even the most rose-tinted fan, and it is apparent that even the “magic of the cup” and a premiership scalp is scant consolation for a lack of form in the league.
The proposed move into Falmer stadium, a 23,000 capacity stadium, which has been in the pipeline for so long, seems distant even now. Club chairman Dick Knight has marched on Downing Street with fans; imploring then deputy Prime-Minister John Prescott that the club “have the love, the passion, now let us consummate it with a stadium.” Bizarre words they may be, but Knight’s desperation for a new home for his club is understandable. Mick Adams (in his first stint as manager), Steve Coppell and Martin Perry all cited the lack of a permanent home or visible solution to the club’s problems as key reasons why they stepped down.
The site at Falmer, which was chosen from a possible 16, is located adjacent to Brighton University Campus and has the advantage of good links by rail and road. In 2002 fans attempted to get the go ahead for the new stadium by presenting a petition containing 61,452 signatures to the Brighton Council Leader. Despite widespread backing from ex manager Steve Coppell, Norman Cook and pundit Des Lynam, progress has been slow, and supporters have formed The Seagulls Party; “born out of frustration and anger over the political process that has thwarted the delivery of a Community Stadium for Sussex.”
The protracted relocation procedure has affected commercial revenue, as the Withdean Stadium holds barely 8000 supporters and the cost of renting it has mounted up. With so much off-pitch turmoil at Brighton this season, it looks as if the club will be unable to lift itself out of mid-table mediocrity and achieve promotion, but some home games against premiership opposition and more televised matches could aid The Seagulls in their plight for not only second tier football, but a permanent home.