On the way home last night, a few stops from Brighton, my train was invaded by a bunch of good-natured fans of Brighton and Hove Albion, our local football team, also known as the Seagulls. The fans, who were heading for an evening match at the Withdean stadium, had reason to be good-natured: they stood last night on the threshold of promotion to the Championship, the second-tier of English football. A few hours later, after a see-sawing 4-3 victory against Dagenham & Redbridge, they sealed promotion, and look set to follow that by clinching the League Two title.
But that’s not all: they will play next season not in their current Withdean stadium home, but in the £93 million, brand-new, out-of-town American Express Community Stadium at Falmer, situated on the A27 bypass, adjacent to Sussex and Brighton Universities. Now such a move generally leaves football fans with mixed feelings at best. Sure, a new stadium’s nice, but it means leaving behind history and tradition, and exchanging something with character for something possibly more souless.
I knew that Brighton fans were strongly in favour of the move, but I was still a bit surprised to hear the following snippet of conversation from the two fans sitting opposite me:
Fan 1: [Musing] Do you know… this will be the last evening game we ever go to at the Withdean.
Fan 2: [Emphatically] Good!
That might seem a strange reaction – until you read a little of Brighton and Hove’s recent history.
From their formation in 1902, the club played at the Goldstone Ground, opposite Hove Park.
Unfortunately, the then board sold that to developers in 1995, and after the club’s eviction in 1997, the site was transformed into this.
After two years in exile, the Seagulls were able to return to Brighton, as tenants at the council owned Withdean stadium. I think that perhaps the best that could be said of this was that it wasn’t 73 miles away.
It was an athletics stadium, complete with running track, had mostly temporary stands, and was even declared to be the third worst football ground in Britain by the Observer (interestingly enough, their previous temporary Priestfield home came in at number one).
And now they’re movin to this:
I’ve seen it several times as it’s being built, while taking the dog to nearby Stanmere park, and it looks absolutely stunning, both in its architecture and its location. I can’t wait to visit it once it opens.
I can see why the fans are so happy to be moving. I think they deserve it.