Falmer in sight as Seagulls take flight
Life has been tough for Brighton & Hove Albion over the past fifteen years.
Their presence in the Football League under the stewardship of Gus Poyet may be stable today, but the club have endured a difficult recent period both on and off the pitch.
It started horrifically. Relegated from the old second division in the 1995/96 season, Brighton racked up consecutive 23rd place finishes in the fourth tier to narrowly avoid the dreaded drop out of the Football League.
Eventually things picked up and the arrival of the ‘Noughties’ heralded a new dawn as they gained back-to-back promotions, firstly back to the second division in 2000/01 before emulating that achievement the following season. However, their stay was brief and the club flailed around hopelessly between divisions before finally settling down in what is now League One.
Life on the pitch was ultimately an uphill battle – mirrored by their fate off it.
After the board decided to sell the Goldstone Ground in Hove, Brighton & Hove Albion were officially rendered homeless. Two years from 1997 to 1999 were spent awkwardly ground-sharing with Gillingham – some 70 miles away – before the club finally settled down in Brighton at their new transitory home.
Ever since then, the Withdean Stadium has acted as Brighton’s home ground, ridiculed by the many who make the trip down to the south coast every season. For good reason perhaps – its predominant usage was for athletics, as demonstrated by the existing track around the pitch. Prior to that, it was a zoo.
Consolidation; survival; the battle for success against all the odds. Brighton have strived for all three of these over their decade and a half of frustration. Managers have come and gone during this time, citing the club’s lack of permanent ground as a substantial reason for their departure.
Brighton & Hove Albion will be saying goodbye to the Withdean Stadium this year. This season’s final farewell opens the door to the club’s brand new stadium based in Falmer, a site which was first identified by the club in 1998.
It has been a long time coming. The length of the process to finally approve the club’s move to their desired home is simply astounding, involving everybody along the way from celebrity fans Norman Cook and Des Lynam to politician John Prescott.
The new stadium will hold 22,500 supporters, a far cry from the strained 8,850 capacity Withdean. A sponsor for the ground has also been secured in banking giants American Express, providing the club with much-needed financial support. And it’s only taken 14 seasons to get here.
Finally, Brighton & Hove Albion have a promising future to look forward to, soon to be enacted on their long-awaited Falmer oasis.
In Gus Poyet, they have one of League One’s brightest managers. Poyet moved to the Seagulls last season after finding his coaching feet at Swindon Town, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur. A popular figure around the city, Poyet represents a fresh stride forward for the club and is already showing promising signs in the transfer market this summer.
The experienced Matt Sparrow has already been snapped up from Championship side Scunthorpe United, while the club have also made last season’s Plymouth Argyle loanee Ashley Barnes their own. Poyet has plucked the young Argentine pairing of Augustin Battipiedi and Cristian Baz from Argentinian third division side Comunicaciones, showing that risks will be taken in the club’s hunt for success next season.
This troubled south coast club and its fans are finally ready to reap the rewards from countless years of struggle and frustration, with progression now a real possibility over the next decade.
Promotion to the Championship may be a lofty aim for the Seagulls this season, but to rule it out completely would be foolish.
Ambition and intent are clearly present and have been for some time. But with plans finally implemented, Brighton & Hove Albion and their bright prospects finally have a permanent home.
Written by: Joe Brewin