After I had left the bus on a cool Good Friday morning in a not so busy North Street I noticed my Dad standing on the other side of the road slowly pacing to and forth looking down the street with an anxious countenance. Troubled by this I hurriedly, and probably recklessly, made my way across the road. Calling to him in a slightly impatient way I waved him towards the Wetherspoons door. We were meeting for breakfast before my journey to the West Midlands. My impatience, which has been inwardly chastised on many occasion, was my worry and frustration at seeing him cut a frail and isolated figure. Dad’s aren’t supposed to appear to have such vulnerabilities for they are a reflection of our own future disposition- and Brighton & Hove Albion’s run to the top flight of English football is serving as a reminder of my own longevity.
Breakfast at Wetherspoons is something of a ritual for us both. As we sat waiting for the culinary delights of the back kitchen Dad asked me where the Albion were playing. I told him once and then again later in the exchange. The same for the kick off time. “Will you be listening on the radio ?”, I asked with a glow of warmth, knowing that he would be, which somehow made me feel he would be there in a spiritual way. He confirmed this, of course, as the radio is his main form of company. “If they win today do they go through ?” he then asked with interest. I knew what he meant and met the question where it was at explaining that we might have to wait a little longer.
My Dad has never been much of a sports person. He did take me to my first match at The Goldstone in 1977 but never again. That later duty fell to my older brother who was even more reticent. I had a cheeky gob which sometimes caused him embarrassment, although others, especially grown ups, thought it quite amusing. For this reason I never got to see the Albion in a league match until 1979. The first home victory of that season against Bolton Wanderers. Some folk reading this may remember that match well.
Football is everything, even though, where life death and taxes are concerned, it is nothing. For those of us who have been its slave for years it plants so many navigational posts in our past history. A memory of what we were doing at any one time is often the outside casing to an away win at Port Vale or a dull draw at home to Brentford. “I remember it was raining and I stood on the uncovered terracing”. Why do you remember so many details of that forgettable occasion ? You remember it because you were with friends, you were bonding in your tribal togetherness moulded in adversity. You also remember it because it was the week you split up with your girlfriend….
………Leaving Wolverhampton station I was reminded of my journey there in 2014. The circumstances, dear reader, you will identify as a threat to your current feelings. It was Hyppia’s last match in charge. The Albion played pretty well but couldn’t hold on to their lead. At the end of the game Albion fans were seen to turn on themselves. That depressing memory wasn’t fuelling the best of stage entrances to this great town so I headed to the pub. I say headed to the pub as if there was a regular watering hole that had a welcoming space reserved. This was not the case in Lichfield Street where the Britannia Hotel had a sign in size 36 Times New Roman exclaiming ‘Home Fans Only’. It’s unusual for me to want to drink before an away match so, most indignantly, I took this affront as an opportunity to find another ‘home’ pub and sit down and talk to home fans as a mocking swipe to the absurdity of the ban.
Across the road, the Moon Under Water provided such an opportunity. There was no ‘home only’ sign but the sparsity of Albion fans in such a large venue suggested that some may have, like the team’s season, slipped in under the radar. I stood at the bar in a spare part role with a pint of cider. Next to me a small group of Wanderers fans were in conversation. “I don’t know why they don’t allow away fans- we should just all get on” said one. “Quite right”, I said. “I don’t understand why a person, in full colours, shouldn’t be able to enjoy a pint with the opposition hoards without the need to go incognito. It’s not as if we’re fucking Millwall…………”
…………………. As you potter behind St Peter’s church and down beside the university complex Molineux appears in its newest form. It is a stadium that would grace any upstairs league. I remember the old ground, my first visit being 1991, with its cavernous ends and old school appeal. The goal ends are equally grand now-especially the two tier Stan Cullis stand that, despite awesome and imposing in appearance, has a slightly polarising effect- especially as the atmosphere comes from the other end. There are plans to expand the ground although I wonder how necessary they are at this time. The powers that be appear to be in agreement as the focus of investment has now shifted to more immediate things……….
……….Albion fans were situated in the lower half of the Steve Bull Stand with blue and white apparel stretching from one corner flag to another. Many were well oiled, the later kick off time forming the catalyst. They had cause to be. Only two weeks prior natural fears, although historically unfounded, had abounded concerning the inevitable choke. Albion have not entered a new year in the top three during the last forty years in which they have failed to gain promotion. Although Huddersfield Town had beaten Preston North End with a penalty deep in injury time there was no sense of pending collapse. Everyone was in celebratory mood and, certainly for me, there was a feeling that three points was well within our eager grasp. This feeling was probably grounded in the knowledge that even a point would be fine. Any air of anxiety had evaporated a few days prior. Newcastle United, whom many had alluded to as an irrelevance in our ultimate quest, have been the subject of a change in focus as to who the real rival was. The ‘P’ word, the Voldemort of recent weeks for those who’s every move is now cast in superstition and ritual, was now the ‘C’ word. ‘We’re going to win the league’ was now cautiously sung in different sections- although tentatively.
The match got under way under the full glare of the cameras from Sky. It is most satisfying that they may not be there to record live that moment of promotion which may occur during intoxicated celebrations in the bowels of the AMEX on Monday. It could, of course, happen next Friday- in which case Murdoch will retrieve his pound of flesh. No-one seemed conscious that we were live like in the old days. Such intrusions are part of the weekly experience now. We cared even less.
For the first twenty minutes Wolverhampton looked far more comfortable than the fella standing next to me who realised just how much he’d had to drink. Folk were crammed into my section at more than one to a seat. I didn’t mind as it gave a feeling of the old terraces- something that promotion upstairs will not afford us. Albion defended in numbers and created better chances, Hemed striking the bar from a familiar Albion counter as well as heading narrowly over from a precision free kick. Solly March shot narrowly wide from a pre-planned corner arrangement and , despite Wanderers having regular forays into the final third, it all felt very comfortable.
A breakthrough was needed, and it came. David Stockdale’s long clearance downfield was met by a missed header from Hemed and a stand off from Kortney Hause that allowed the Little Magician in. Easily moving inside the chasing Hause and aided by the positional uncertainty of Danny Batth, Knockeart unleashed a precision drive from the edge of the box that squeezed inside Lonergan’s post. The travelling hoards erupted and Knockeart came running over as eager stewards rose from their perches. Sometimes I feel that the excitement of the crowd is sanitised too much by over anxious patrolling these days. However, given the squeeze where I was, as well as the encroachment in the aisles, the Black Country stewards seemed quite relaxed. As the half time whistle blew many made the journey downstairs to have a good old sing on the concourse. We were allowed to smoke in a more open area at the back of the stand. This is an ‘arrangement’ that happens at Villa Park also. I’m not sure of its legalities and, given our current position, it may be less necessary than usual, but it certainly it has a feel of more freedom in football’s orchestrated experience of today.
Wolves did their best to bring the game to Albion in the second half, Cody forcing a reflex save from Stockers close in when he would have hoped to do better. Another decent save from Marshall came a while later. The away quarter, again, seemed untroubled. There has always been a feeling in the Hughton days that going behind or being pegged back is not a chore. The main problem that Albion fans had at Molineux was the fusion of singing. With a large contingent spread along the pitch side the lead vocals can be a bit spread-eagled to many parts although ‘We’re on our way’ needs no conductor. Everyone joins in.
Much of the second half had a tepid feel to it, but in the 82nd minute the points were sealed. Another counter attack saw Murray and Knockeart leading a retreating Wolves defence. Murray headed the ball onto Knockeart who cut inside and unleashed a shot under the hapless Longeran. Murray looked a little miffed not to get the return pass but the reality was that gap on Knockeart had been closed too sharply. Two goals to the Frenchman, three points to the Albion, and a fourth visit to the Championship play offs almost certainly avoided.
The final whistle was greeted with triumphant choruses from the Albion faithful. As the gentle April rain set in on a grey Midlands evening, and the light began to fade, a sea of blue and white spilled out on to Molineux Street as happy folk made their way back to their chosen mode of transport. I slowly walked back towards the town intent on oiling myself for a packed and naturally acquired Seagull Special on the way home. Largely well behaved folk sang songs of now and yesteryear on 1745 to London Euston. The underground was a cacophony of ecstatic sound. As much as there were no singing careers in their infancy here the infectious joy could be felt. Even the assigned Transport Police officers seemed little bothered.
In a quiet moment later my thoughts turned again to my father. I wondered whether he had taken as much from the radio commentary as I had from the match itself. Probably not. He’d mentioned the Albion quite a bit recently as he takes The Argus and has Radio Sussex as a background accompaniment to his endless ground hog days. I felt a little sadness that, despite my efforts to see and speak to him regularly, he may be on the fringes of this most special of seasons. At 86, going to the AMEX is beyond him. I resolved to try and bring the experience to him more although I’m not quite sure how I could enact this.
It also occurred to me that when Albion were last promoted in 1979 my Dad was the same age as I am now. Whatever intoxicants Friday has left in me were repelled by this sudden sobering realism.
Life is too short, seasons like this are rare, enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Your first FA Cup Final, well the first one you remember, which year was it ? I’d be interested to know, especially if you are, say, over 30. Below is a link to the Wiki directory, it may help.
So we’ve established that you were 7 years old. If you weren’t, a huge number of people were, or at least within months either side. You may remember that May afternoon, the 12.00 Grandstand theme, the teams on the coaches, the long build up, and the magical game itself….
As regards the first final we remember, and the age we were, I accidentally realised this likely nugget of irrelevance on a drunken night out with some friends many years ago, and it seems to be endorsed by people I’ve asked ever since. So what of it ? And why just people over the approximate 30 ? Well, it is an appropriate foreword for my own personal views on the Cup itself, and its dreadful decline in the nation’s psyche in last two decades.
Now when I speak of decline, some may have arguments against. The television coverage of the tournament is pretty much unprecedented these days, a number of matches will be screened on every weekend it is played. Every goal will be shown on whatever channel owns the rights. Whichever organisation holds those rights will champion the viewing figures as an endorsing evaluation of their decision-but for me this is a hollow crown. It’s a bit like saying that because you have single item on the menu, and your restaurant is making a profit, then people love your food. But if you are the only outlet for miles around, and people are hungry, they will come. Folk watch the matches because they want to see football, or their teams playing, it doesn’t mean that they have any more than a passing interest in nourishing qualities of the event itself-it’s football.
There was a time when ‘the FA Cup’ was devoid of the limpet like prefix of the word ‘only’ and Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa, home or away, wouldn’t have been an easy draw for a lower league side. Identifying the reasons for its shift in importance is not a difficult task though, as they follow a simple, and inevitable, sequence of events.
Beyond English silverware lays the higher goal of European glory. 25 years ago the tournament structure was somewhat different to the one we see now. The European Cup, the fore-runner to the Champions League, was the senior trophy. The bizarre scenario here is that only champions of any given international league could enter the former, but eventually teams as low as fourth could enter the latter. The Cup-Winners Cup was the second most prestigious tournament, the winners of the respective national titles entering.
The UEFA Cup, although third in ranking, was still an important fixture too, mainly for teams who had finished near the top of their respective leagues- their achievement not going unrecognised. As winning the title of champions in most European nations was beyond many a side come the last vestiges of the winter, the Cup Winners Cup remained a noble goal. And naturally, because it was senior to the UEFA Cup, it contained huge clubs within. During the 80s winners included Barcelona (twice), Juventus, Dynamo Kiev and Ajax. By the late nineties, and the expansion of the Champions League to include extra teams from the more successful leagues, it was deemed surplus to requirements as the bigger clubs were entering the Champions League, and that remained their season long goal.
So from the later 1990’s, having once qualified automatically for the Cup Winners Cup, victory for the FA Cup winners meant entry to the now second ranked, and increasingly less important UEFA Cup, if they weren’t already there, and if they hadn’t found their way into the Champions League. In that case it would be the runners-up. Effectively the rewards had been lost and all that was left was the honour the title of winners bestowed. Yet the erosion of the FA Cup had already started a few years beforehand. But this is perhaps a mildly supporting and academic footnote to the most pressing reason for its decline. Money.
Whether we like it or not, a football club is a business. And where the money is, so the club will try to be.
Domestically in England a major change had began in 1992 with the carving up of the leagues within the Football Association. The First Division broke away to form the Premier League and thus controlled it’s own television rights. Within 5 years the sales had doubled in price and rocketed to the point that the rights from sale for the three seasons from 2013 realised over one billion pounds a year. Survival became the ultimate goal for many of its participants, relegation causing a potentially disastrous drop in revenue. In the FA Cup receipts would primarily come from the gate, as TV payments and prize money are linked to the quantum of rights fees received from The FA’s broadcast partners for the competition, and this has not grown much over the seasons. In 2015, winning the FA Cup will land a club an approximate total TV and prize-money of just over £3 million pounds. Cardiff City, who landed bottom of the Premier League in 2013/14, received £67.3 million pounds for their endeavours before gate receipts. Hull City, FA Cup runners-up of 2014, are believed to have scooped around £6 million pounds including gate receipts.
So, in the lust of new money, and the commercial attraction of higher bounties and wage demands, tradition has given way to hard faced economic reality. Rupert Murdoch knew we wanted football, and we got it. Consequently, the chase for the Champions League, and the desperate need for Premier League survival meant priorities changed. Even for the Championship sides (Second Divison-please) chasing promotion, with the play-off system making the season’s hopes last longer, is even more of a priority. The romance of the FA Cup seems confined to earlier rounds, and the ‘smaller clubs’ (such a demeaning but appropriate phrase) seem the only ones who still believe in its magic.
It could be expected that a rebellion may have ensued, and clubs would fined for playing weakened sides, yet a recent online survey showed that more than half of football watching folk are against any such fines. We could hope that the media would have tried to rekindle an appetite within the general football fraternity, that expressed incredulity at the chipping away of a public institution would be rife, but most people support bigger teams, and Rupert Murdoch owns a lot of the media coverage….
The fact remains that the gate has shut, and the cash cow has bolted. Younger generations of football fans no nothing of the glory of the FA Cup being born into a different era. So it seems that those of us with long memories of the days when a ‘giant-killing’ really was that, and the Cup draw was greeted with excitement and not indifference, are becoming less and less in number.
The FA Cup was once about the football in its purest sense, it was a beautiful leveller. A lower league team would have the opportunity to be drawn against a club with some of the best players in the land. And those individuals would be on the park too, because defeat was unthinkable. I hauntingly remember Malcolm Allison’s shame in 1980 as Manchester City were beaten in the mud of The Shay by Fourth Division Halifax Town-after he had claimed victory was simply a matter of turning up. Former Albion players Joe Corrigan and Michael Robinson were in the City team that day…
Being a Brighton & Hove Albion fan I have witnessed both sides of the coin. Non-League sides accounted for us on one or two occasions in the 70s and 90s, once with Brian Clough as manager, and then there was the fourth round victory over league champions. My abiding memory of victory was at The Goldstone in the fourth round of January 1984, when the League Champions, Liverpool, arrived with a full strength team and were despatched 2-0. Ten of that side started the European Cup Final in Rome that year, the other a substitute. They certainly didn’t see that loss as a minor irritation, and this meant that our victory was real, not a small fillip to the season..
It seems, that whilst the structure still remains in place and the lower leagues meet the mighty, the substance and emotion of the FA Cup has mostly departed. What was once part of the national fabric, a compulsive indulgence, is now an often inconvenient sideshow.
Whenever I rally in support of the tournament, I do get support. But tellingly, that support tends to come from people of a certain age. And it will get less over time. So for now, whenever the day comes around, I am left with the videos of yesteryear-and those wonderful memories of crowding round the radio on a Monday lunchtime to see who next lay in store for our magical journey.
Well, I saw the first match on the television and have listened to the others on the radio. Today was the turn of one of those dodgy foreign streams.
Now, I appreciate that had I been a Leeds United supporter, you know that English football giant that won a trophy as recently as 1997 (FA Youth Cup) I may have got to this place a lot earlier. But the media dinosaurs are clearly as old as me and don’t regard a number of clubs like the Albion as worthy of wider viewing than the obligatory text on the BBC online pages. Even after today’s events the BBC had Derby County v Leeds United as their top Championship listing. 1975 it is then.
But I’m going to dare leapfrog to this afternoon in 2015. After the usual dash home from my presently failing job, with my prospects as bright as through ball to a Bolton Wanderers forward, I chose to settle in and watch the flaky pictures.
After trying a number of recommended links from my helpful friends on NSC, and getting the obligatory pack of fags ready to steady the journey, I circumvented the annoying ads and try to make out the score line on the watery screen.
Now, I may wear specs, and good ones they are. But despite taking them off, and putting them on again, the strip at the bottom of the screen appeared to remain unaltered. It was about the 30th minute and I had decided that my homage to this honorary method of watching the Albion would mean that it would be the first purveyor of the match situation. However, Ipswich Town 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 2 warranted a visit to other pages to confirm the score. NSC was full of jumping little yellow men, and the BBC seemed to also, but begrudgingly, endorse this bewildering sight. As incredulous that folk may be at my disbelief, it must be understood that the real men in yellow appeared to be playing an open and attacking brand of football. Remember, I attended over 30 matches last season. Surely, if this score line was to be believed, Rohan Ince would be on by now and Chris O’Grady would be looking forlornly down the pitch with only the opposition keeper to natter with for company.
No, today, as the pictures stabilised, I had the joy of sporting treat. A free flowing Albion, connected and spiriting like a team who had been playing together for years- and with talent showing its fullest. It was a delightful match, a great spectacle for the neutral. Even after Town had equalised Albion failed to revert back to old ways. Had they done so the third goal would not have come. And this is the point. My old Physics teaching always told me that Application + Ability = Success. Today underlined this. I haven’t felt as encouraged as this by an Albion away performance for a while. A number of us thought that the Seagulls were afforded a kindly August fixture list, but the win today suggests that this summer’s re-grouping, and subsequent squad additions (plus those who haven’t left) has turned ‘I Wish’ in to ‘What if’. A change of four letters, the same amount I would have thrown at the screen had we undeservedly lost.
It’s strange how the emotional involvement of a game renders the awful clarity of the pictures irrelevant. Except when it buffers at the most defining of moments, which thankfully it didn’t today. Emotional today was, with the victims of the Shoreham air crash being remembered through the black arm bands, and Stockers specially crafted gloves. This would have certainly given added drive to our players, and honour was most certainly brought through their efforts.
If this season continues as it has started it will make not being at the matches harder to bear. That said, the rituals and enjoyment of other media are beginning to take hold. The radio samples the atmosphere of the game in much exactitude, the text of BBC pages brings more heart stopping moments than the match itself, and the fuzzy frames of the online streams take me back to a bygone age. Anyway, if I turned up at a match now I’d probably jinx the whole season.
Can this present optimism be maintained ? Only next May will tell ‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully’ And a very misty mirror it was online today….
Up the Albion.
Every emotion possible ran through my veins this Saturday afternoon. As I made the short trek home from a rotten morning at work, and saw a few Albion shirted individuals stewing in the afternoon sun, I pondered on the multi-tasking of the hours ahead.
I have a facility to watch the Test Match online. And the longer form of the game of Cricket is my preferred suitor. England were batting, and up against it, although I had chosen not to look at the score since lunch. As soon as I got in the screen of the PC took me to The Oval and a score that reflected a second innings effort that was unlikely to come close to saving the match. Still England has The Ashes in hand, regardless.
I had decided that I would watch the Test Match, but listen to the Albion commentary through the headphones via the digi radio. I noticed that, online, the BBC had began to feature the text updates of all the other Championship matches, but not ours. I couldn’t understand why. Perhaps the cuts are already beginning their bite. That wasn’t the reason.
It would be unfitting to continue without further exploring this reason, although few will be without knowledge. At twenty past one a Hawker Hunter jet, performing for the Shoreham Air Show, had crashed into the A27 a road that runs near the event. There was talk of major disruption, inevitably, but this is irrelevant when the considerations of such horror settle upon our emotions. I knew such a road would be very busy at the time, and that bad news would soon follow. It has.
There are believed to be a number of folk who have lost their lives, including, whilst talking of all things Albion, a young man who was involved in the fundraisers for the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund- a wonderful charity set up in the memory of an Albion fan who lost his life during the 9/11 attacks in New York. Like Robert himself, this young man has had his life ended in tragic and unforeseen circumstances. It has since transpired, from a club statement, that an employee at the training facility has also died. This life just seems so unfair at times. I also understood that coaches taking Albion fans to the match had not missed the accident by much. This greatly disturbed me at the time as the quickening of feelings about a tragedy is facilitated by a connection, however tenuous. It’s easy to become immune to the constant stream of bad news that the proliferation of media sends through every avenue of technology. Not today. RIP to all those who have lost their lives. And deepest sympathies to anyone connected in any way to them, as well as warm wishes to those who must have suffered through injury or shock.
The match started at quarter past three, and the Test Match was winning the battle of the sports. At least it would be for the last time this summer. I guess that the lure of an Ashes Test Match will always usurp all else. Despite England’s struggles, the newly appeared text commentary was enough. A puncturing of the dismal resignation to the demise of England’s finest occurred at about ten to four. An azure blue block of excitable appeal appeared in text line of the match commentary. GOAL! read the top left hand corner. It was for the Albion.
Text commentary on the BBC pages is a way of submitting yourself to a voluntary form of punishment that merely ups the cardiac rate. At least on the radio one can sense the build up, the crowd noise offering an almost visual representation of events on the pitch. The commentary on Radio Sussex is a good representation if comments in North Stand Chat post match are anything to go by. As the second half started I decided it would be best to go wholesale with the tranny, as things would start to feel tenser. Especially as Albion were struggling to finish off what will ultimately prove to be weaker opposition this year. The closer the end of the match gets the harder it becomes to listen to because, despite the pleasant view from my window, it doesn’t offer a view of the action. My mind is trying to create the image being portrayed by the voices through the little black piece of magic, and it’s always one of fear that all will turn sour, however much those voices suggest otherwise.
I listened to the radio for most of the second half, absorbing the animation of the crowd, and feeling sweet content as an Albion player made good use of the ball. Chances came and went and slowly tension rose within me. Into the final stages and my intense concentration on every word, every AMEX noise, is at its peak.
So as the mind keeps it’s imaginative ponderings, and the eyes watch the clock, we enter the last ten minutes- still 1-0. The ‘As It Stands’ table has us in second, and the other matches have finished. Ipswich Town away is first v second, for now- although not being there is something I have long since resigned myself to. Can we hold on ?
The blood pressure rises as the anonymous voices talk of Blackburn Rovers venturing the edge of our defensive compound. The cross rises in, the heart rises to the mouth, the ball rises to the top of the netting- the netting on top of the goal. You didn’t think they’d equalised did you ? Now you know what it’s like……
As the scoreboard is no longer disturbed, the final whistle brings the ritual of the usual restrained punch of the air- 1-0 to the Albion. Actually I haven’t developed any rituals for this new method of following the Albion. Perhaps the back end of the broadcast for this Tuesday’s match at Walsall (I’m at work for most of it) could provide a new pattern of obsessive behaviour. Although I tend to pop in and catch it at my old Dad’s. He loves a bit of the Albion too- although he is not so besotted in quite the same way as me……
Back in January 1979 the FA Cup was in its most primitive forms. There were no such things as penalties to end a replay. So basically you replayed until such a time as there was a result. There was no ten day gap to the replay either; a couple would do if necessary. If the fans pelted you with snowballs then so be it (as in the match described below), oh, and you played your best available team…
That month produced a classic. It also produced my favourite and everlasting memory concerning the greatest medium of media communication.
The Third Round tie between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday went to four replays. Third Division Wednesday already had both the previous rounds go to replays, and combined this encounter with a successful promotion run that season. Arsenal themselves eventually won the tournament. I was ten years old and falling in love with game- and my little orange radio (Pictured).
Of the four evening matches that took place, I was snuggled up under the covers for at least two. Like most youngsters, I would be in bed before nine on a school night. I don’t remember the commentators, the sculptures of the night, but Peter Jones and Bryon Butler are among the most likely candidates.
Listening to the broadcasts was a tricky business around extra-time. My parents would come to bed very early, about nine thirty. So a half past seven kick off would be edging towards the exciting last stages. The radio would be intimately stuck to my ear, at low volume, so as to ensure that not the slightest sound would emanate from my room, no need to look in or disturb me, unless Mum needed a towel from the emersion heater locker. But I remember no such disruptions to this event.
It was dark and cold outside, as any January would render it. But my abiding memory is of beautiful warmth; a feeling that those people present in the wooden box and coming through this tiny piece of technology were there for me, and me alone. It made this child feel quite special. My love for sport has endured, and these memories of my association through the wireless are as strong as any I have experienced watching live. Truly wonderful.
It was in searching for the best avenue of following this afternoon’s victory at Fulham that these memories came flooding back. As reported in my previous entry, being at the live event is a rare option this year. So resourcefulness is a must. Or is it. There were no dodgy streams available today, and following text on BBC or NSC just doesn’t cut it.
I can’t seem to adjust to the idea of listening to radio online, except when necessary. I think for folk of my generation and older this may be true of many. However, the advancement to digital radio is something I have nothing but praise for. The clear and crisp sound is music, or speech, to the ear. But we must remember that the commentators are the fuel of the fire.
For the second half I tuned in to BBC Radio Sussex, or Southern Counties, or Radio Brighton, as some of you will remember.
One thing that occurred to me was how as, unlike in 1979, my brain was trying to create the scene of play. Whether it is because my natural imagination as a child was that much more natural and stronger, I don’t know. I do believe that it may be because those responsible for painting the landscape of the game were so much more able in a time when that was the main avenue of presentation. These days the sporting experience is far more visual.
Noticeably, I was listening out for the noise of the crowd upon each pattern of play. There were nearly 4,000 Albion fans at the match, but the position of commentary, and the 15,000 Fulham fans, ensured that a loud and sudden rise in crowd noise inevitably meant that the home side were pushing forward. That was ahead of the commentary, and seemed to be the case for much of the second half. As the crowd noise rose when the lines of the Albion’s penalty area were crossed I would experience even more tension than I would have done if I’d been able to see it. If you were at the game and felt full of angst, then spare a thought for those of us at home.
The description and lead up to the winning goal, through Hemed’s penalty, felt like a bit of a damp squib. Possibly because I was just relieved that Fulham weren’t attacking, possibly because the move itself didn’t warrant the height of a commentator’s enthusiastic engagement. There didn’t appear to be a gripping lead up to the strike, and I was convinced it would be saved anyway. As the news of the ball hitting the net seeped through, rapid movements of my fist twixt air and knees continued for a good fifteen seconds. My partner was dozing nearby, and I had the headphones on. Not a sound left my mouth.
I’ve loved radio for so long, even made a few broadcasts for local Internet radio and a London FM station myself. But I feel that this year’s Albion adventure will take me into my new Golden Age of Wireless. I’m looking forward to more of it- and shredded nerves in equal quantity.
— Brighton Lines (@IanInSussex) May 2, 2015
When writing of Albion’s first match of the season, back in August, I suggested that ‘It was once said that football fans should enjoy the optimism of a new season until the first whistle blows, because it’s downhill from there’. In the 40th minute of that opening day this tongue-in-cheek quip took on a frightening edge of prophecy.
This season, the first in which I have managed to attend every home game, as well as an indiscriminate clutch of away ones, has spent much of its time on life support. In a match at The Riverside, in which a case for footballing euthanasia was made from the start, the switch was finally moved to ‘off’.
The players from both sides had already issued last rights and fond farewell’s before the kick-off, as the match itself had all the air of a quiet wake. One would vainly hoped that the pre-paid buffet laid on at the food kiosks for the Seagulls travelling slaves would have offered a small token of comfort for the stomach, if not the purist footballing senses. However, the offering was tailored to reflect the season- bland, hurriedly cooked, and presented in a way that showed contempt for its intended recipient. Yes, it was free, but a part of me still wanted a refund for this act of false culinary hope that had attached itself to this pointless trip.
The day began at my 3am alarm call. Twenty minutes later, my brain, having barely slept, let alone woken up, was thrown into confusion as I walked across The Steine and up towards Churchill Square. Was I coming home or going out ? Groups of intoxicated, but well natured clubbers were heading home after their respective nights out. Taxis patiently lined up in East Street like dutiful and bonded servants, catching the last stragglers so the town centre could close itself to quiet for the pre-dawn chorus. As I walked bleary eyed through the door of a convenience store, to pick up a pie for my grumbling stomach, the chap behind the counter caught sight of a sturdy bag I had containing a pillow for the short coach journey to the other end of the country. Serving me with a wry smile it dawned on me that he may have supposed I had been thrown out after a domestic argument. I could have explained myself to him, but thought better to leave him with his happily gossiping mind-I wouldn’t want his job at that time of day.
The Conway Street Costa Express was waiting for me as I meandered through the throbbing streets of urban Hove, the sleeping hoards behind the Victorian architecture unaware of my final act of duty for the local sporting flagship. The welcoming committee at the starting line consisting of the evergreen Liz and a small group of loyal folk resigned to their fawning devotion. I had hoped for a double seat, and got it. The most important comfort of the outing secured, the coach made its way to the frozen wastelands. The day had started.
I usually take three batteries for my smartphone for journeys north of Birmingham, normally travelling by train. Yesterday was no exception. Much time is spent reading Twitter, Facebook and NSC. The early kick-off meant I could enjoy the Test Match coming home as well. A friend had his local Internet yesteryear radio show on at 10 too. Although I forgot that we would already be on Teesside by then. I couldn’t adjust myself easily to the knowledge that I would be walking along the industrial banks of that famous old river before midday. But I was, and did.
The Riverside Stadium opened in 1995. One of the earlier post-Taylor developments. Whilst it has staged international matches, and has a lot of atmosphere, I still prefer Ayresome Park-which, as you can guess, is now a housing estate. The 90s developments are the football grounds of yesteryear for younger football fans, and I can see why. Having visited The New Den a couple of times in the last twelve months or so I am loathed to pine too much, or be critical. The ‘Boro fans are a very animated and proper footballing bunch. They make the place a good visit.
The short coming of being taken straight to the ground means that time is limited to have a look around the area and visit a few watering holes. Middlesbrough is a town with a rich working class fabric, built around the chemical industry. The one thing I enjoy about away days is the chance to explore this, so yesterday, with its early kick off, denied me this chance.
A crowd of 33,381, much of whom had been originally drawn in anticipation of Middlesbrough claiming automatic promotion, had last week not produced a calamitous result at Fulham, were somewhat subdued. So the match was effectively a dead rubber, Middlesbrough already guaranteed a play-off tie with the home match being second up, Albion now safe. All the indications were of a tie in which Albion just wanted to get things over and done with, and Middlesbrough would rather have not been playing at all. And this is exactly how things played out.
The travelling Albion fans seemed a little sleepy at first, with an early kick-off and long travel giving less opportunity to oil the spirits. On the pitch there was far less inspiration as players vainly tried to motivate themselves in to believing that the occasion had consequence. The first half brought a tedious to and froing of possession, Albion perhaps shading the encounter, if ever any accolades could be awarded. At this point such a lifeless description can normally be punctured by talk of a single account of individual brilliance, but for the life of me I can think of none. However, given the self-deprecating and infectious humour of the Albion fans that travel, a hysterical ray of light can be thrown on this afternoon of north-eastern meteorological subfusc, so reflected at every juncture.
As the match limped its way to a goalless conclusion, an Albion wag started a communal hymn that told the home hordes ‘’We’re Brighton & Hove Albion-we score once a month’’. Cue much laughter-even from the most expressionless supporters. Given that this was the only match in May, the inevitable follow up ditty held that we were ‘Going to score in a minute.’ Shortly afterwards Chris O’Grady spurned a six yard opportunity to oblige. Why change things now ? Choruses of ‘Ring a Fire’ with the addendum ‘’We had a shot’’ soon rang round the East Stand Upper, the early afternoon gloom lifted, even the sun came out.
Just as funny, nay fecking hilarious, was the chant “Let’s pretend we scored a goal”, followed by “1-0, to the Albion”. The home fans looked confused, failing to understand the eternal gallows humour of us hardy souls. As the score became 2-0, and we began to re-write the teams goal difference for them, it occurred to me that the song’s author had scored more goals than some of our strikers had done in months. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this season it’s that you create your own day out…
As the players, a little tentatively at first, made there way over to acknowledge us at the final whistle, and we made our way back to our respective modes of transport, I pondered on a season that had began with a whimper, progressed with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and ended with a silent fart. Perhaps we have become too used to scenes of triumph over tribulation, for I often experienced campaigns like this in the distant days of yesteryear.
Boarding the coach and tuning in to Test Match Special introduced a compelling England fight back- with the prospect of a 2-0 series win in the West Indies ahead of this summer’s Ashes encounter. This was soon placed in the balance as an average Windies attack reduced our second innings total to 39-5. Just like the old days too.
So as the winter sows, the summer may also reap.
Keep the faith. We are those who have been through much tribulation.
‘Our fans deserved that performance and result-could hear you in the dressing room before the game….’ (David Stockdale via Twitter)
They bounced, they danced, they punched the air, and auld acquaintance was suspended, as Albion fans celebrated a pre-New Years Eve party at Craven Cottage this Monday evening. This was one of the best atmospheres I have ever experienced at an Albion away match, and I should know-I’ve been to a few.
If ever I could say that the supporters of our beloved club had won the team a victory, or certainly made a major contribution towards it, this was it. And as I made my way back through the happy throngs of Bishop’s Park, once the match was over, the crowds were still in good voice, even though the footballing Christmas had come a few days late.
In a case of Albion old and new, I had spent the previous night in Birmingham having seen Aston Villa and Sunderland play out a scoreless draw which wasn’t so much ended as euthanized. An evening on Broad Street with a friend sampling the best of the Brummie curry scene, and a few more shandys, being followed the next afternoon with a beautiful cultural wanderlust through Leamington Spa and Warwick- before the sub-conscious strains of Sussex-By-the-Sea called me south to the smoke.
I’d arrived with a fine cut of time at Putney station, no Albion fans on or joining the train from Waterloo. It had been an unusual weekend of perfect transport function (I’ll write this for wistful memory in future) and I arrived with about half an hour left to kick off.
Craven Cottage is always a pleasant trip. The walk up the High Street affords all the amenities that the forgetful East Stand Upper devotee has left behind, and the bridge over the Thames gives an awe inspiring view down the river that I never find myself tiring of. It was as I left the bridge for the dark and crowded walkways of the park that the noise of the creatively named Putney End Stand first met my eager lobes.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding senior appointments at the club, foremost the managerial vacancy, as well as the small matter of being second from bottom in the Championship, a convenient sponge of amnesia had gently joined the Christmas spirit that had lingered amongst the Albion faithful. The unity, and infectiously effervescent singing coming from the stand, had me muttering historical Albion ditties under my breath as I approached the turnstiles. How a first win at Fulham in 21 years would complete a splendid festive season.
Arriving to a rousing reception, the Albion amplified their ear sockets and played to its tune. On a cold night in SW6 the best approach is to play at pace, and both teams played an open passing game for the first period of play that was Championship football as it should be, even if the clearer chances weren’t forthcoming. Certainly, in playing Danny Holla and Rohan Ince in the holding role, Albion looked accomplished and unthreatened in midfield. Whilst they hadn’t bombarded the home goal in quite the way they would have hoped, the only heart stopping first-half moment for us was Kostas Stafylidis pass across the Albion penalty area that Hugo Rodallega’s sliding legs failed to attach themselves to. And quite rightly so. A 1-0 deficit at half time would have been an injustice. So half time brought no goals, and increasingly well oiled, or simply caught in the spirit, Albion’s travelling band were to find a higher octave as the second half started.
During the break I went behind the stand to join the Pint (or Bovril) seeking queues. A sneaky fag was soon the goal as I had seen another successful attempt. At Villa Park, a blind eye is turned to such activity behind the North Stand in an open-air enclosure, probably because so many do it. Two consecutive days of such nostalgic endeavour were denied to me by other memories. Officious stewards and the historic attentiveness of the Metropolitan Police, once regarded as the second most hard line detractors of the football fan (ironically behind the West Midlands bobbies), were enough to put me off. After chatting with an old friend I went back to the stand, moving higher up on this occasion, and daring to move closer to the biggest concentration of our infectious singing hordes.
Ageing Albion stalwarts will note the redevelopment of the Putney End Stand, with it’s roof and corrugated iron structure-not too dissimilar to that of the South Stand of Harlequins RFC just down the road. Most Albion fans will know what a racket that a few stamping feet can make and, when suitably care-free, how much fun bouncing up and down to simple and rudderless melodies can be. If anyone had forgotten last night, they soon remembered. And people of all ages joined in good voice.
Optimism, and doubtless another rousing team talk from the much, and unfairly maligned, Nathan Jones saw Albion starting once again with purpose. And having threatened enough to fuel the travelling fans confidence, the breakthrough came when Elliott Bennett went down under Stafylides challenge in the 60th minute. The penalty was calmly put away by Adrian Colunga.
By the 70th minute there seemed to be a growing, if unspoken, anxiety amongst the Albion fans. As Fulham pressed, and David Stockdale once again proved his worth, the big digital scoreboard above the Hammersmith End wasn’t adding the minutes on quickly enough. A second goal was needed, and if we could just see that true, our night would be complete.
Having replaced Craig Mackail-Smith with Solly March in the 74th minute, I wondered if Nathan Jones was sending the team defensive too early. It seemed that by bringing on Chris O’Grady a few minutes later this was balanced up. O’Grady won most clearances in the air, and was pivotal to the move that won the game.
In the 87th minute that moment came, with O’Grady and Teixeira teaming up for Solly March to steal in and neatly tuck home the winner. The iron structure erupted and our joy was complete.
After 5 minutes of injury time, scraping the barrel of stoppages, it was all over. The fourth league win of the season. Whatever misgivings people may have about the prospect of Nathan Jones as full-time manager, it is for certain that he has the team playing for him. The unbridled joy on his face as the team walked across us to the tunnel at the end, acknowledging our efforts, was plain for all to see.
As I left the stadium, and crossed Putney Bridge, the sight of London at night seemed ever more endearing. The lights were brighter, the night seemed clearer, the temperature seemed warmer, and Christmas was made happier. The Albion had delivered a perfect present, and so had the supporters. Whatever the worries over the direction of the club are, the one thing that can help the team over the line is unity and passion. Tonight was a little unfair on Fulham really, they weren’t just playing 11 men, there was a 3,000 strong choir in the away end that they had to contend with too.
Sky Bet Video
December 20th, the last weekend shop before Christmas. Time to pick up the fading list, head towards Churchill Square, and gather the remaining unticked items for the festive jamboree. Well, perhaps not. You see, any self respecting football fan should gather enough team points throughout the year, preferably by mid-June, to ensure victory in the argument over the handler of such an important task. Once the victory is certain he then lifts his eyes heavenward, and takes a look at the fixture list in prayerful hope that the pre-Chrismas match is away, affordable, and at a suitable distance to ensure that no surplus tasks are left over upon return. 2014 brought great salvation, and out of gratitude I attended the local carol service on Sunday evening…
So Wolverhampton it was, the first visit in 23 years, the last being the relegation season of 1991/92. That visit came in circumstances of parallel equation. The Albion had been beaten in the previous season’s play-offs and found themselves in the bottom three of the table. Then, like now, I believed the team were too strong to go down. On that occasion I was wrong.
Nowadays, being a cultured, or boring, man of middle age (delete as appropriate) my early arrival in the place of occasion is normally calculated with the intention to visit a place of interest as opposed to the pub. This was certainly a task of swift ease in Norwich, less so Wolverhampton. This is not to say this black country city has little to offer the day-tripper, it is merely that this cold December afternoon was trying to persuade me that the warmth of a nearby pub, and the coldness of pint in hand, was a far more welcoming option than exploring yet another religious monolith. Having left work for a couple of weeks the previous night, I understood this sentiment. Feeling this uncontrollable pull I made a beeline towards The Goose in Lichfield Street.
Choosing ‘The Goose’, this being a large and popular pub with home fans, was always going to be of an advantage. I couldn’t remember the way to the ground and a game of ‘follow the scarf’ was going to be a safe bet. So after a brief visit to the splendid, and conveniently situated, Wolverhampton Art Gallery across the road, I settled in for a pint and a cosy hours big screen television. Leaving at quarter past two, I stalked the nearest scarfers and headed over the hillcrest and down toward the ground.
Throughout the surprisingly short walk, and as the famous old ground came in to view, my mind wandered across the last twenty years of the Albion’s history and the four venues we have called our home. I pondered over the thoughts that the Wanderers fans themselves may have been having as they saw the high rise goal ends of the ground for the first time that afternoon. A very central and iconic venue which holds so much history for the club and the individual. A place that has always been home, a journey that so many will have known as their fabric. Once they were smallest head in the crowd, now they were old stalwarts. Certainly the ground has changed and adapted to the requirements of modern football, but it’s still Molineux. You can still see whereabouts you once stood, and perhaps even sit there, and the good tradition, albeit it in an slightly different form, endures.
The away end at Molineux is no longer an end. It is a centrally placed lower tier section close to the half way line. Good value at £27 a pop, considering the prices some clubs are inclined to charge. And considering the recent turmoil that successive bad results have caused for the Albion faithful, the section seemed pretty full. As kick-off approached Albion voices began to sing in the most tuneful notes the pre-Christmas watering would allow, and the unison of purpose, namely a result, seemed to evaporate any leftover angst and anger after the pitiful display the satellite nation saw the previous Friday. Feeling a little nervous, I settled in to watch the match.
The Albion certainly fuelled confidence throughout the first half. For the most part I had no sense of the need to scrap to extract something from the game. Their football was as slick as ability allowed, and Wolves rarely seemed to progress beyond the second gear. Then, in the tenth minute, Darren Bent headed home a pinpoint cross from Inigo Calderon, who had been getting so far forward he probably thought he should have brought his passport, and the Albion faithful began to celebrate after having first taken a double check that this was actually happening. “We’re Brighton & Hove Albion, our striker is Bent” came the chant of year. Any potential homophobes emasculated by the eternal Albion wit, the home crowd became very subdued.
The rest of the first half offered little meaningful action until the last five minutes or so when the home side began to press. It was at this point a determined David Stockdale came to our aid with a couple of decent saves. I honestly believe that despite his shaky start to his Albion career, Stockdale is showing signs of coming good. Hopefully the competition provided by young Christian Walton will only steel the million pound man’s resolve.
And so to half time. These fifteen minutes in December can traditionally be seen as a Bovril moment, the drink that many of us may purchase at a football match and at no other time in our lives. Perhaps it was my over-dressed attire, but there seemed no need on this occasion, the weather being pretty mild. The kiosks under the stand were pretty full though, and as the match re-started, people seemed pretty content as they made their way back to their seats, or rather, standing positions.
Next the second half, and more particularly the 50th and 58th minute. I’ve never seen a penalty given and reversed at a football match, not that I can remember. However the referee, Darren Bond, was convinced enough by the fall of Nouha Dicko as he apparently made contact with David Stockdale when clean through from a rotten backpass by Joe Bennett. In the stand, only having a leg-side view of the incident, my concern was for the pending red card that Stockdale was likely to receive. A lot of time seemed to be taken over nothing in particular, and consulting his linesman, in front of the fullest home end, Bond reversed his decision and booked Dicko for diving. Respect. “This is our afternoon” I nervously thought.
The big ‘However’, that commonly used word in the team’s fortunes of recent times, seemed to fall eight minutes later when Bruno, like a man possessed, went for a reckless two footed challenge on Kevin McDonald. “That’s a red” I muttered, the man in the next seat agreed-I think most of us knew that the Ref had no choice. Gardner replaced March, and Albion faced more than half an hour with ten men. The collective spirit of optimism seemed to dim and flicker.
As the match rustled through its autumn, defensive as they were, Albion looked like holding on. It seemed if anyone had been watching for the first time this year they may have wondered where the torment had come from. Wolves had their opportunities, as expected, and Stockdale and his defence continued their determined prowess. However (!), despite the renewed confidence, the equaliser came in the 88th minute, from Batth, after a scrappy goalmouth frenzy from a corner. A Wolves defender had finally taken on the job that their, now four-fold, striking line had failed at. The nervous seven minutes that the clock afforded rendered only two results now likely, namely the ones that had formed almost 85% of our season’s stats, but Albion held on to secure the point.
Once the final whistle went the Albion fans showed their approval of the team efforts, and they of ours. The atmosphere had been very different to that of the previous week, but most folk were probably aware that, despite the much improved performance, changes still needed to be made in the management set-up. The road to relegation is often littered with respectable performances. A small group of fans lifted a banner, later featured on television broadcasts, that called for Sami Hyppia’s dismissal. This caused the expected division in the retreating crowd. Opinions differ, but for me it was a case of right sentiment, wrong place. It was a shame to see the atmosphere turn a little sour.
Though as I write this the management debate has moved to a new phase. Sami has resigned. Thankfully the Christmas holidays are here and more time can be afforded searching online for the latest news and speculations. Then there is the January transfer window.
I’m surprised us Albion fans ever have time to work these days.
‘Up in the morning early,
Start at the break of day;
March till the evening shadows
Tell us it’s time to stay.
We’re always moving on, my boys,
So take the time from me,
And sing this song as we march along,
Of Sussex by the Sea.’
Sussex folk ‘won’t be druv’ (driven). So don’t mess with us……..
I’d love to be able to claim that I was Sussex born and bred. But I can’t. I was actually born in Surrey, whisked across the border with Hampshire for six weeks, and only after that stolen into the glorious northern forests of the splendid Sussex County. At the age of two I was then brought to Brighton for permanent lodgings.
I meet very few people in this life who don’t’ choose to tie their existence with some kind of outward identity. This can take many forms, perhaps their family or their town of residence (or origin). One of the most common tribal forms of identity is a sports team, most commonly football. This is probably at it strongest when, for people like myself, that is tied with their hometown, and in the case of Brighton & Hove Albion, their home county too.
Philosophers and psychiatrists have doubtless dissected the need for identity for centuries, and I’m not one to debate such matters. A sense of belonging obviously brings security and stability, even if only within our psychology. Most of us are doubtless aware of this, but for the most part choose to indulge it. As esoterically aware as I like to think I am, I definitely fall into that category.
So what of Sussex? This place of magnetic loyalty, this place of beautiful downland landscape, rolling forests, and stony seashores. Well, It’s only natural that the first place we learn to explore as we grow up is the immediate surroundings.
As a youngster, after he had been to visit home to check on the welfare of my mother, my very kindly Godfather used to often pick me up from school and take me on a ride throughout the countryside. I used to live for those days. As a family we never owned a car, so certain parts of rural Sussex were sadly off limit.
It was at this time that I became fascinated by the departure that the countryside offered from the urban sprawl. I used to live for these days out, and even as an adult, although totally in control of when I come and go, I still do.
Much of Sussex (South Saxon) was once covered in dense forest. As a result of agricultural encroachment over the centuries this has been eroded, although some dense areas still exist, particularly in the North of the county. St Leonard’s Forest, just south of Horsham, is a wonderful place to get lost in during May, the time of sweeping bluebells. This once happened to me, and rather than finding myself worried I just enjoyed the experience. Perhaps that’s because there was plenty of daylight left… There are some useful rambling trails and the location often offers a totally secluded experience of splendid isolation (Unless a Dear comes rampaging across your path, as once happened to me, leaving me in temporary shock). I once recorded the birdsong in this forest. I wish I still had the audio, it was something to behold.
To the other wandering extreme, the hills of the South Downs are a place to be at sunrise. To stand on Ditchling Beacon, or on the South Downs Way above The Ouse, with it’s misty aura, is a sight to behold at sunrise. Catching the right sort of weather for this experience renders planning pointless, I have managed to do it once this summer, ironically on a planned event, and it was more than worth it.
It seems to be a most English pastime to be disparaging of your own pastures, something I have found myself doing about parts of England myself, In recent times I have tried to curtail this habit, this self-effacing cultural habit, because such damning and sweeping assessments are often blind and frankly incorrect. There is much to be thankful for when it comes to living upon these shores.
However, Sussex, the very mention of the county, brings a chest puffing session of pride. It’s my county and I care much for it. Especially the quirky fusion of abstract culture that the town of Brighton (and Hove) affords my character.
So what provoked me to write this short piece of unadulterated praise, apart from the traditional mucky Bank Holiday weather that renders meaningful pursuit…meaningless?
Well, it’s back to the tribal Football thing.
As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes attend away matches involving Brighton & Hove Albion. It’s a chance for a day out. At Birmingham City, a week or so ago, I heard the Albion fans singing the strains of Sussex By The Sea. However, instead of using the sanitised football version, they were attempting to sing some of the original verses in encouragement to others to do the same. In the greater scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter, but my pride was re-kindled upon hearing the verses of that splendid tune sung in their proper form.
The tune itself always raises the hairs of the neck, not just for me, for many folks when it gets played at the AMEX. The only frustration is that many make no effort to learn the words. Hopefully this will change now. For Brighton and for Sussex. Does it really matter in the ultimate scheme of things? No. But for the endless want of identity, it goes a long way to fuel that tremendous sense of belonging to these wonderful pastures. Give it a go.
|Sussex – Rudyard Kipling(1902)|
|GOD gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Belovèd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
And see that it is good.So one shall Baltic pines content,
As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
Before Levuka’s Trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea!No tender-hearted garden crowns,
No bosomed woods adorn
Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs,
But gnarled and writhen thorn—
Bare slopes where chasing shadows skim,
And, through the gaps revealed,
Belt upon belt, the wooded, dim,
Blue goodness of the Weald.
Clean of officious fence or hedge,
Here leaps ashore the full Sou’west
We have no waters to delight
Here through the strong and shadeless days
Though all the rest were all my share,
I will go out against the sun
I will go north about the shaws
So to the land our hearts we give
God gives all men all earth to love,
It was once said that football fans should enjoy the optimism of a new season until the first whistle blows, because it’s downhill from there. Certainly this is true of many a supporter who’s team regularly tread the boards of the lower divisions, in search an illusive season of magic, that breaks them in to the upper echelons.
There were many years that war torn stoics who follow our beloved club were familiar with such territory and feelings. Not so lately. The Seagulls have established themselves as a credible Championship club with realistic ambitions for the bigger stage. The journey from The Goldstone, via an exile to Gillingham that would have made St John wince, and then the days in The Withdean, have tested the mettle of the most loyal of our bunch. But they remain, and have been joined by many a thousand more since.
For me, like many, football is a religious experience accompanied by rituals and observances. Many of which I’m probably not even conscious of. I always work on the morning of a home game, vary my journey to Falmer twixt bus and train, and then observe the painful queue procedure to obtain my beloved pie-heavy beads of sweat gaining greater intensity as the waiting delicacies reduce in number faster than the bodies in the waiting line.
Today we saw a home game on the opening day, the date not clashing with Pride. The weather was most suited, and the line of people waiting at Brighton Station were in good voice, even if most of them, at the time of my arrival, appeared to be Tykes auditioning for a choral walk-on to accompany the Brighouse and Rastrick band. Or was it the Shillingbury Blowers? As England overturned the Indian batsman at Old Trafford, a little bit of the Land of the Raj exported itself to the Southern Railways route, as sardines awaiting the tin would have been consoled in the knowledge that the twenty past two from Brighton afforded even less place.
The old place (did I call it that?) bathed in warm sunshine is as ever a sight to behold. My pride in our home often leads to a slight puffing of the chest as I realise that some visitors will be arriving for the first time. The windswept terraces of The Goldstone never gave credence to thoughts of our new utopia, as I couldn’t see the planners allowing us any small space in borough. I still have to pinch myself every time I walk up the slow incline towards the hallowed turf.
This year I’ve moved to the centre of the East Stand Upper, that sleepy dorm twinned with the Pavilion at Sussex County Cricket Club. Where some season ticket holders who say goodbye to each other in May use meaningful expression, as for many it could be the last farewell. The travel supplement should really be an optional addition in this section of the stadium; many folk already have their passes. As I took to my padded rest, and observed my ageing companions, I realised how many of them had been following the club so much longer than me. And as I sat, an affable grandfatherly figure, with a steadying stick, gave me a welcoming smile from the seat next door. As much as I jest, these hardened followers have many a story to tell, truly loyal fans. And when it’s 3-0 to the opposition on a dark day in December, I’m sure reminiscent monologues of the season Bobby Smith tore up the Fourth Division will help me through the pain. I’m pleased I made the move.
And so to the match itself, that brief distraction from the fixation of social anthropology.
I normally leave others to dissect and analyse the text, sub-text, and eventual outcome of the Albion’s matches. North Stand Chat has many a shrewd commentator. But for what its worth, my usual counsel of reserving judgement at this stage of proceedings was found wanting. The team started playing a game of chess, a strict zonal system against a team as thin in new talent as they were. Admittedly the keep-ball possessional game of defensive football appeared to have given way to a desire to make proper use of the opponents half, but all too often the players seemed uncertain and indecisive in their roles. Certainly, Inigo Calderon, rightly beloved of us all, lacked the pace to perform his wingback mandate, and this was a symbolism of what those of us who are familiar with the players from recent seasons thought may have been a group of poor selections.
As the half went on I began to think that the new signings Aaron Hughes, David Stockdale and Chris O’Grady would be reasonable additions. Hughes looked accomplished in his defending, Stockdale, with little to do, looked confident, Chris O’Grady initially lacked the first touch, but would be more involved if he was playing alongside a second striker. That is unlikely.
Wednesday’s opening, and winning goal, came from a fine strike at range from Giles Coke. Some thought it was a cross, but I beg to differ. He knew where the opportunity lay-and took it. It separated the teams at the break.
An immediate recovery was rendered harder shortly after the re-start when Andrew Crofts scored a straight red card for a high tackle on Sam Hutchinson inside the home half. There didn’t seem to be a large amount of dispute, but in fairness to the Albion, the ten men did seem more in tune than the eleven. The sight of Craig Mickail-Smith joining O’Grady, in an orthodox front two, smacked of a positive substitution. As a long term prospect it seems worth a gamble- as long as it doesn’t mean a return to hoof-ball. The Albion attacked more freely, with Will Buckley’s earlier arrival being the catalyst, but despite the greater forays, and O’Grady forcing and excellent save from Kieran Westwood, The Owls were wise to most of our schemes.
And thus our first endeavours of the 2014/15 season ended in a 1-0 defeat.
As I left my seat in 95th minute, with very little push and shove required in the empty avenues around me, I realised how my expectations for this season have been lowered, and that the expected new signings may not give encouragement to counter this. Not being prone to saturated sheets, my bed had already been wet, and I worried that I may need to add a canoe to the wardrobe if things don’t begin to move forward. Still it’s early days, and having missed out on a chicken pie, as I wanted to take my seat in time for the second half, I put my emotional imbalance down to this painful disappointment.
As the subdued attendees left, and having failed in those two previous queuing attempts to land my first pie of the season, I was distracted by an empty kiosk, and a host of waiting delicacies, lining up in the heated slides like a group of Miss World wannabees. Every cloud has a covering pastry.
Being once of life’s greatest spectators, and having read too much Alan Bennett, for me attending Albion games is a glorious social indulgence. Results often feel peripheral, so I pretend. As I made my way to the Sussex University bus stop my thoughts turned to next weeks annual pilgrimage to Birmingham, the reading time that the train journey affords, and the annual alternative sport where I try to find my way out of the Bullring in less than an hour. Theseus had the right idea.
Football is back, and nothing has changed. Oh, the joy of humble routine.