NOBODY SAID IT WOULD BE EASY!
Our first match in the Championship at our brand new and magnificent American Express Community Stadium saw Doncaster nearly spoil the party. It was Doncaster Rovers who were our opponents for the very last game at the Goldstone Ground 14 years ago (we won 1–0, maintaining our struggle to stay in the Football League).
For 83 minutes it seemed we were doomed to disappointment. EVERYTHING WAS GOING WRONG. Our talismanic striker who we thought would pierce the Rovers defence, Kazenga LuaLua, was yellow-carded for diving. Ref Eddie Ilderton was already unpopular for several questionable decisions. This one incensed manager Gus Poyet, causing him to let rip at the fourth official. Perhaps he understood Portuguese because Mr Ilderton was summoned and Gus was sent off the pitch and had to retreat to the stands.
We had missed several chances and Doncaster, through Billy Sharp, had scored in the 39th minute. And so it was with only seven minutes plus stoppage time left our Seagulls were facing defeat.
The 19,000 Albion fans (the attendance was 20,219) were looking for consolation. Yes, the stadium was magnificent. The club had come up trumps by providing 19,000 blue and white flags. The atmosphere was great, the noisy support unbelievable. We were in our new home and playing Championship football. But somebody got the script wrong. WE WERE LOSING 1-0.
At half-time Gus had taken off LuaLua and brought on Craig Noone. “Nooney” was making a difference but we still couldn’t get that elusive first Albion goal. With just 15 minutes remaining, the Brighton manager played his ace. On came new boy Will Buckley replacing Matt Sparrow. Brighton were dominating but great chances to equalise came and went as Craig Mackail-Smith and Noone just failed.
Finally we got the breakthrough. Rovers headed the ball clear but only to Buckley. He shot first-time from outside the area, beating the keeper’s despairing dive low inside his left-hand post. Cue the flags and songs. The stadium came alive. The impetus was well and truly with the Albion now but Rovers fought hard to keep us out. Time was almost up. The fourth official showed six minutes stoppage time.
Then Rovers’ James Hayter went down injured. He stayed down, causing much Seagull fan displeasure. He was stretchered off. The fourth official revised his stoppage time to a minimum of seven minutes and it was game on again. Surely time was up when Noone slipped a lovely ball through to Buckley. With amazing coolness he took the ball on and curled the perfect shot into the right corner. WE HAD WON 2-1.
Gus hasn’t lost his magic substitutions touch and we have a new legend in two-goal Will Buckley. Hopefully this won’t just be his 15 minutes of fame.
So the football and the result were great and will be remembered by the crowd lucky enough to be there. This was so different from Withdean and recent years. I’m not sure I can explain this change. With this stadium, this team, and this support Brighton & Hove Albion have entered a new era. Instantly we have joined the big league of football clubs.
Chairman Tony Bloom deserves the last word: “We know Albion fans are amongst the best in the country and the atmosphere generated at the Amex was staggering... the noise which greeted the team and continued throughout the game was better than I ever imagined it could be.
“I hope we maintain the excitement and that kind of atmosphere for every game.”
The fans certainly did their bit and literally ate all the pies. Almost 10,000 of them were sold (I only admit to one) and the Harveys sunk nearly left the stadium dry.
Read more in the Express on Friday, including Ray’s views on Albion’s Carling Cup tie with Gillingham on Tuesday night.
Here are Ray’s words on the stadium’s ‘official opening fixture’ against Tottenham, that should have appeared online last week.
PREMIER LEAGUE giants Tottenham Hotspur came to Brighton & Hove Albion’s new Amex stadium on Saturday for the official opening fixture.
It was the second “ramp-up” event before the Championship campaign starts this Saturday. The attendance was restricted to 17,000 with an unimpressive number of Spurs fans in the “away” South Stand.
For most it was as much about the stadium as the football. The first thing to remember is that of the 17,500 season ticket holders, perhaps two-thirds hadn’t ever sampled the dubious delights of Withdean.
The “awe factor” was obvious. Many, including the core die-hard Seagull fans, strolled around marvelling at the building, the facilities, the roof, and the magnificent West Stand.
The new Albion home crowd will be different from the hardy band in waterproofs that braved Withdean. I’m not suggesting that this as a bad thing.
Happily our new Amex Community Stadium is family friendly. It is comfortable (padded seats everywhere) with all the conveniences.
Again, happily there is a large percentage of ladies. Our new stadium is a pleasant place to go. It will take a few games before the choristers in the North Stand succeed in getting others to sing along.
Once the newcomers in the massive West Stand learn the words, the fine acoustics should give us some awesome noisy Seagull support.
Having mentioned singing, I must report that Martin Toal, “England’s Winning Tenor” (the England team has not conceded a goal on the six occasions he has sung the national anthem!), was great. We should get him along for every game. The Nessun Dorma (None shall sleep) aria got us going; Abide with Me brought out the tissues, and Sussex-by-the-Sea left us tingling.
The pre-match festivities included the Farnborough Concert Band and a parade of former Albion players and managers. It is always good to see legend Peter Ward.
It was good to see Gary Hart – but “Oh Gary” shorts and sandals were a bit TOO casual. It was good to see some of the old managers, like Mark McGhee, Mike Bailey, Chris Catlin, and Barry Lloyd. Clearly no hard feelings by those sacked.
There was a tremendous reception for those responsible for the stadium – construction director Derek Chapman, CEO and project director Martin Perry, life-president Dick Knight, and the man who found the money chairman Tony Bloom.
We had a minutes silence in memory of Albion fans who passed away since the Goldstone Ground in 1997. The Archdeacon of Chichester, the venerable Douglas McKittrick (left), a loyal Albion supporter, led the prayers. After Abide with Me and Sussex-by-the-Sea it was onto the football.
I should say the big screens helped here by giving us the words AND they do now have clocks. (plus, buy a ticket, get the time of the first goal and you win a prize).
As I said football was only part of the occasion. However, it was serious stuff at 3pm when Gus Poyet’s Seagulls kicked off against Harry Rednapp’s Tottenham Hotspurs.
We were by far the better team – for the first 42 minutes. We scored TWO tremendous goals. Their THREE were rubbish. I would have been very disappointed about the defeat IF it mattered. This was a strong Premiership side. Friedel, Corluka, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Van der Vaart, Jenas, Bale, and Pavlyuchenko all started.
We were 1-0 up when Jermain Defoe came on after 32 minutes. Albion were passing the ball around, frustrating Spurs when, after a great build-up our new striker Craig Mackail-Smith squared a cross for Ashley Barnes to slot home. On 42 minutes I was thinking about a Stadium Pie (Piglet’s Pantry of Sussex) when our defence lost concentration, allowing Kaboul to stab a Gareth Bale ball in from close range. On 44 minutes it got worse when a Vedran Corluka ball across goal hit a post and went in. Unfair, but the pie was good.
Kazenga LuaLua continues to be a revelation. In the first-half he unleashed a couple of shots that Brad Freidel could only parry. We were unlucky not to score on the follow-ups. But it was LuaLua who equalised for us (2 -2) on 62 minutes. He cut in from the left and unleashed a trademark shot which beat sub keeper Gomes’s dive. This was followed by a trademark somersault.
I won’t dwell on the third Spurs goal. Our sub-keeper Peter Brezovan (who might not be playing for a little while) needs more work on his ball control. His pass out to our full-back went straight to Livermore who gratefully passed it back into the net.
Craig Noone came on for Barnes and came close to making it 3-3 but Albion weren’t able to get the draw that they deserved in what had been an entertaining game.
Poyet was proud of his team’s performance, apart from the defensive errors. Harry Rednapp was impressed and said: “Brighton were definitely the better team in the first-half… they deserved a draw without a doubt.
“There is no reason why they shouldn’t be playing in the Premier league within a few years.”
Amen to that Harry, but why wait a few years?!
And so now onto the real thing. It is back to the Amex for the first league game against Doncaster Rovers.
We wait to see Poyet’s first XI and look forward to a three-point start.