SATURDAY saw the first goal scored at our new stadium. And we saw the first win. Gary (Oh Gary) Hart glanced home a headed goal in the 70th minute in the Sussex Senior Cup Final against Eastbourne Borough.
It ended as a 2-0 win for the Albion Development side with a second goal from Steve Cook towards the end.
Gary, who was released by the club at the end of last season, skippered the young Seagulls side in what for him was a fitting farewell. And how about this for a statistic – back in 1999 he scored the first ever goal at Withdean.
But for most fans the day was all about the stadium. We came to see and test out the Amex Stadium.
It is FAN-TAS-TIC!
This was a ‘ramp-up’ event so numbers were deliberately kept low. I think there were more than 7,000 there which would have been a full house at Withdean BUT represents less than a third of capacity at Falmer.
Brighton fans wandered around in a state of shock and awe.
In April we were in our plastic bucket seats with big blue bags keeping the rain off. Three months later we are in the most modern stadium sitting on padded seats (and yes they are kind on the derriere) under cover.
I sat in “my” seat and the view was great. The pitch was great. It had poured with rain for much of the day but the surface didn’t cut up at all.
The pitch is large, just what Poyet wants for his style of football which includes fast wingers.
I’m happy to report that Kazenga LuaLua has at last signed on a six-month loan deal, which could become a permanent move in January.
First thing put to the test was transport to the ground. This was a tale of two halves. Our Ringmer-Lewes-Falmer bus didn’t turn up!
Thirty minutes later the next bus driver reported door-shutting problems. The return journey was fine. I gather the train travellers managed OK and the Park-and-Ride went well.
Next tested was the hi-tech entry system. To be honest I was worried.
I knew my seat had been secured but my Albion Smartcard, which magically held the details (including the Tottenham and Gillingham games too), hadn’t arrived by Friday.
I could see myself at the back of a long queue at the ticket office. But thank you Royal Mail as it dropped through the letter box just before lunch on the Saturday. And it worked. The scanner agreed I’d paid and I was allowed into the stadium for the first time since its completion.
The whole experience was a bit like going to an away game. Everything was new and strange. The main concourse under the West Stand is huge.
The big TVs are great. Walking up the stairs into the arena felt a little like Wembley.
Ok, it’s not so big – but it is ours!
Next it was the food and drink test. I have to say initially it was a fail. The queues were so long we wouldn’t have seen the start. It was try again just before half-time. The queues were still there but it was worth waiting for. The “locally sourced home-made” steak and ale pie was very good, certainly nine out of ten.
The Harvey’s best was as it should be – best. I have to wait to test their Albion Ale because the main supporters’ bar (Dick’s Bar – I kid you not) isn’t open yet. So the jury remains out on the catering due to slowness, but this was the first trial run. Hopefully service will improve with training, use of the cash-loaded smartcards and all outlets opening up.
The first big plus was the acoustics. It was and will be great. Just a few hearty Northstanders’ singing could be heard all-around the stadium. I can’t wait to hear 22,500 in there. At Withdean I rarely heard the PA announcements. No such problems at the Amex.
The two massive screens at each end were very good. Just in case you have been taking advantage of the facilities they tell you the score, the scorers and the substitutions. Actually some of the biggest cheers of the afternoon were when the cameraman picked out in close-up Dick Knight (Life President), Tony Bloom (Chairman) and Martin Perry (CEO).
The West Stand is magnificent. From there it is clear that at least another 7,000 seats can be added. The four corners look unfinished with the spaces. The East Stand clearly needs another tier.
If things go well, as I am now predicting, it shouldn’t be long before more blue and white seats appear.
Just one thing: there wasn’t a clock. I think we need to see the elapsed time of a game. I was surprised Albion’s second goal came in the 83rd minute. Time had flown by. This is a minor moan and must be a fairly simple software problem?
The catering queues need solving but I am looking forward to the Tottenham opening game proper on August 31. I’ll get there early, buses permitting.
Gus wasn’t there. He was probably signing up even more players. Perhaps I can tell you next week.
SPORTS ED: Ray sent his column in overnight on Sunday, just a few hours before CEO Martin Perry spoke to Neil Pringle on the BBC Sussex Breakfast Show. Mr Perry acknowledged that not enough kiosks were open, but said they would all be open for the Spurs game, adding that “queue-busters” would be in place to ensure everybody got served as quickly as possible.
He also revealed that the club had only been “handed” the screens the day before the game, following the handover of the stadium from the developers at the end of May. He said that was the reason why software hadn’t been put in place in time for a stadium clock, but a clock would also be in place for the Tottenham game.