THE dream is about to come true. For Albion fans, football at their own stadium is about to commence after something of a nightmare covering 13 years. A Brighton team (Albion’s development squad, AKA the reserves) will run out at the spanking brand new £93million American Express Community Stadium at Falmer. The Sussex Senior Cup Final takes place tomorrow (Saturday) and Seagulls, in blue and white, will play Eastbourne Borough. I can tell you about the game next week. The fantastic fact is that football starts at the new Seagulls’ stadium!
I’m not sure if I’m sitting in my own seat or if I’ll be able to try my first pint of Harvey’s Albion Ale (Nb. I will be travelling by bus!) along with an Albion pie. You can expect a detailed gastronomic report and marks out of ten in due course.
Last week we hailed the acquisition of Craig Mackail-Smith. There are two storylines about his coming to us against the odds.
Firstly the positive: it was Poyet’s personal influence convincing Craig that the new stadium, the club’s ambition, Poyet’s style of play and his being a big cog in the Seagulls’ side was a heady and promising mix.
The other story sees Mackail-Smith going to the Foxes on generous terms and travelling to Leicester to talk to the manager, a well known Swede. Sven’s opening question: “So how many goals did you score for Peterborough last season?” That was enough for Craig. Poyet won. He came to us, saying it’s not all about money! No phones were hacked in obtaining this story.
So Mackail-Smith joins us for reasons other than financial. I find this refreshing at a time when money is king in the top echelons of the game. Football has taken a wrong turn at Premiership level. When a midfielder wants his contract renegotiated upwards by £30,000, per week, to an obscene amount then something is fundamentally wrong.
Ultimately we, Mr Average Fan, will pay. We are indeed fortunate that our Seagulls club has a football loving manager and a shrewd Chairman watching the purse strings.
Albion are into their pre-season friendlies. In the first at Burgess Hill Poyet put out two different XIs. In the first 45 minutes he played trialist Curtis Osano and new boys Will Buckley and Roland Bergkamp. The second-half team included Will Hoskins and Mackail-Smith. The Seagulls won 3-0 with goals from Ashley Barnes, Craig Noone and Hoskins. Noone converted the penalty that he had “won” whilst Hoskins’s goal was a great 30-yarder.
The friendlies continue with games against Horsham and Whitehawk before the Seagulls fly off to Portugal for a tournament.
The Albion players’ wait to get onto the perfect green pitch at the Amex ended on Wednesday with an afternoon session. Poyet said: “It is going to be like a school trip. They are all excited.”
Gus also said that he expects to have new players joining the club in the next week. “I’d say two signings probably. We are speaking to many people and working very hard.”
We know he still has a wish list: pace; striker; midfielder; central defender; (my top tips – Owen Garvan, Palace midfielder; Paul Anderson, Forest winger).
There was good news as defender Inigo Calderon signed an extended contract until at least 2013. Calderon was one of our stars last season, scoring eight goals from his right-back position.
He said about walking out at the Amex for the first time: “The anticipation for the stadium that is everywhere in the city is also with the players. It’s important we make it a fortress, like Withdean… it’s going to be different… we are almost there.”
Meanwhile back at the new stadium the club are hosting tours for various batches of fans and season ticket holders. Everybody is impressed and looking forward to the real thing.
Many fans have spent time working out the best way to travel to the stadium. Park & Ride schemes are in place and access from the Falmer station has been improved ready for the large numbers that can come by rail.
The club has teamed up with Seagull Travel and created a network of coach routes for match days. There will be more than 100 pick-up points in Sussex, some extending to the Kent and Hampshire borders. Seats are pre-booked and more than 900 season ticket holders have already signed up. There are also several independent club-subsidised coach operators travelling to the Amex.
An indicator of the growing anticipation and excitement for football at the new stadium came when I visited the Seagulls’ online ticket site. Sussex Senior Cup; Tottenham; Gillingham (Carling Cup) – SOLD OUT. But not to panic, I’ve got my tickets!