Harty on historic scenes at the Amex and local non-league crownds

HISTORIC scenes at the Amex on Tuesday night with the largest Albion home league crowd for more than 30 years watching a thrilling encounter with Cardiff City, which only lacked that all important winning goal for the Albion.

Three games, no goals. A blunt statistic, but does it really paint the whole picture?

In my opinion, no. I didn’t go to Hull, but I understand the Albion were unfortunate not to come away from Humberside with all three points. And the same might be said for Tuesday night, although the Bluebirds, sorry Red Dragons, were not without their chances themselves.

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It leaves this Saturday’s visit of Barnsley as the next opportunity for Albion to open their winning account, which, for the record, I think they will do, 3-0.

Whether or not the Amex record crowd of 25,518 will be broken four days later is up for debate. How many of the Albion faithful will be making the trip down to Cardiff to watch Sussex in the t20 finals days is an interesting one. Although, in their defence, the Albion are bending over backwards to accommodate supporters of both sports by opening the concourse bars early so Sussex’s 11am semi-final against Yorkshire will be beamed back live to the Amex.

The crowd issue does seem to have a knock-on effect right across the county. Take, for example, Worthing on Tuesday night and their first Ryman League Division 1 South home fixture against fellow Sussex side Three Bridges.

With the Albion enjoying an Amex all-time high, 10 or so miles away, the Rebels attracted a very disappointing gate of 131. And I’m sure it was much of the same around the other non-league grounds on the same night.

Should our local clubs actively think about shying away from taking on Albion home games head-to-head?

With more than 23,000 local people enjoying a live football fix over at the Amex every other week, should local non-league teams try to entice those block of Albion season ticket holders to their home games when the Seagulls are playing away?

Gate money and bar revenue are the life blood for a large number of our non-league teams, if not all of them. An extra 30 to 40 through the gate might be the difference between famine or feast?

The flip side is even more frightening. Gary Croydon told me last season that he estimated that Burgess Hill lost 50 regular supporters to the Albion when matches clashed – over the course of a season, how much did that cost the Hillians?

No doubt the critics will pipe up and say that all the local Sussex clubs had the chance to take advantage and build a fan base during the years when the Albion were in the doldrums. But that’s easier said than done. Without a permanent ground, the Albion were still one of the most successful clubs in domestic football outside the top flight.

Locally, someone, somewhere, needs to find a solution, and quick.

Otherwise, while the Amex is proving to be one of the greatest icons in the history of Sussex sport, with the club having the 10th highest number of season ticket holders in the country, could it also prove to be the catalyst for a number of smaller local non-league clubs folding?