|[Blog] Interesting Start to the New Season|
Written by Kitman on Monday, 8th Aug 2011 14:24
Not the fact that we won away on the first day by a comfortable margin but with ease as well. Like everyone I look forward to the start of the season and try my utmost not to get too carried away with pre season friendlies and first day results.
However, there is always something special about the first fixture in the league - even though win, lose or draw it may have no real significance on the outcome of the entire season.
This season, I knew that seeing the Town away in Bristol wouldn’t be possible for me due to work, family, and, in line with many others these days, money. I had resigned myself to watching the results take shape on Soccer Saturday or just keep a watchful eye on the latest scores wherever I would be.
My MD called me a few days ago right out of the blue to tell me that I had been "drawn out of the hat" for two tickets for the first game at the Amex this Saturday. No I’m not Suffolk-based these days and being just a touch over 20 miles from Brighton makes it an easy location to get to.
My firm has spunked some of their profits on executive seats for Brighton & HA this season - no real surprise with the MD being a mad Seagulls fan since the year dot.
“What’s the package?” says I. “Two seats on a mezzanine floor in the new West Stand giving you an unhindered view of the pitch and space to stand up in the area behind without any problem,” came the basis of the deal. Hospitality lounge but no free beer or nosh laid on.
Hmmm. Seemed very temping, their first game in their new gaff. Bound to be a bit of an occasion. Be finished work that morning by noon. “Why not? says I, “Thanks very much."
So, my first game was set up to go as a neutral to watch two of our rivals in the division and not to follow the Town. The doubt about this did nag me all week, but it was a corporate freebie which would probably be rude to refuse. My pal who took the other ticket also offered to do the driving, so it had to be a done deal. Curiosity had got the better of me.
The Amex is out on a limb. After 14 years of trying and wrangling to get a new ground when the site came up I reckon the Albion powers that be would have taken a plot anywhere, in Brighton or anywhere near. As it happens the location is a good way towards the town of Lewes and right in the thick of the university areas. Apart from this, it really is a super location.
Getting there is a bit messy. If you drive, forget trying to park right close to the ground. It looks like you will need to park some distance away. There is a car park but I think it may be reserved for mainly Brighton fans and my contact who went there for their friendly against Spurs had to wait an hour and a half to get out.
The really practical way in and out is on the bus or the train. Falmer station is the stop for the ground. A bus will drop you on the A27 opposite. Don’t cross the road there though, it's a motorway standard dual carriageway. There’s a subway which takes you to Falmer station. There’s stairways to the Amex from there.
Walking up the slope to the Amex is quite an experience. It's new, modern, different and innovative in appearance. Not huge by its peer group new grounds with a 22,000 capacity but they won’t exactly have to demolish scores of terraced houses round about to extend it. I don’t think they will even need to alter the structure to install more seats. An insider told me they can extend the capacity to 30,000 whenever they like.
Our tickets were the computer based efforts that you hang round your neck like a security pass. Ours had a cord colour of pink. Others with similar passes under the same system had different colours. This was the code for the area of the stand your ticket let you in to. Good idea I thought.
Pity they didn’t train the staff on this trick. Getting in the ground and to the right place turned out to be a bit of a farce. After so much to-ing and fro-ing Carry On comedy-style we did eventually reach our lounge, a floor below the seating area.
Well-staffed bar, area for luckier corporate guests getting stuck into an organised slap-up nosh and wall-to-wall TVs all over where the faithful can watch endless re runs of the recent League One campaign whereas the others had the live League Two match on.
The wage bill for staff there would worry me if I was an accountant. Certainly, they are not short of bodies as ushers, stewards, waitresses and waiters, managers, bouncers, you name it.
My MD was not wrong about the seats. I was midway up in the West Stand towards the away section with a completely unhindered view if the pitch. I looked at the sparse number of Donny fans who had made the effort thinking: “That will be us before we know it, we’ll fill that section, no problem."
The sponsor American Express, certainly have their name plastered all over the place. You can’t be anywhere in the ground without seeing huge great lettering emblazoned on every spare area. Don’t blame them. With a cost of £105 million for the gaff, I reckon they’ve got the right!
Full house for Seagulls fans. Yes and they were making a LOT of noise. Hats off to the architects and stadium designers. The sound resonance around the stadium is exceptional. For a small ground the noise was quite literally deafening!
Even the tiny away section can make themselves heard. Superb Tannoy quality with the commentator whipping up the crowd into an absolute frenzy all added to the sense of occasion. This, together with the issue to everyone there in the Brighton section with a white or blue flag stuffed in the seat made the pre match minutes absolutely surreal. I thought, “How are the players going to react to this, from a scabby athletics ground to a state of the art stadium with about three times the punters in making this kind of din?” Would they freeze and cock this up?
It was all set up for Donny to pee on their parade big time. Naturally, being neutral, and thinking of Town recent purchase attempts I was all eyes on James Coppinger and Billy Sharp. Great to see Richard Naylor in the away team, playing his first game.
It was soon clear given the ability of the first two, they would have slotted effortlessly into our side hence the early bids to get them on board. Craig Mackail-Smith and Kazenga Lua-Lua were the ones to watch for the home side.
None of these players disappointed on the day. Coppinger firing in superb crosses regularly and accurately, Lua-Lua extremely busy and a complete handful, only let himself down with a blatant dive in the box which earned him a booking. Sharp was clearly Brighton’s main threat in front of goal.
Mackail-Smith put in a lot of effort, made great runs but failed to make much impact on goal. Naylor looked like he’d been in Donny’s defence for ever. I wonder why we did let him go when we did?
One main talking point was Gus Poyet getting sent off to the stand. He was having a complete hissy fit at the ref over tackles missed. Dunno what the standard of League One refs is but perhaps he’s got a lot to get used to with the ones that ref our division. No sign on Mauricio Taricco though. He would have been around somewhere I reckon. I was hoping he would come on as sub. It seemed a good day for dreams generally.
Almost like an unfolding script, a slightly nervous, slightly hesitant Brighton managed to concede before half-time. A result of indecisive play and backing off attackers. A somewhat speculative effort by Sharp managed to trickle its way past a defender and the keeper who in turn managed to get tangled up with each other. The ball gently rolled onto the near post and then trickled over the line into the net.
At this point you just couldn’t take it away from Donny. A tough, gritty, workmanlike side from South Yorks the better team so far and likely to completely party poop. Half-time, I was smiling anyway. Our boys were a goal to the good.
Credit to B&HA, they were a different side in the second half. The Poyet effect did something in the changing room, hairdryer treatment or whatever. Suddenly the home side were playing with confidence, style and purpose and stayed in the opposition’s faces. This was all sadly lacking in the first half.
Their equaliser came late in the second half with the winner in something like the 94th minute both very well taken and scored by super sub Will Buckley, who took them both superbly.
Donny lost a couple to injury (including Sharp) but the game was never a ‘dirty’ affair. You can imagine the noise and cacophony that ensued when the final whistle blew. Well done the Seagulls. They will be a force this season if they perform like this at home. I think they’ll give us a game when we play them. I am intrigued by our home fixture with them on October 1st .
Meanwhile barring cup parings, we will be down there on 25th February next year. I can recommend it as a good day out. For those with a bit of wedge, it will be a good jolly for a full weekend away. Occasionally referred to as ‘London by the Sea’ there’s usually something doing in the city and no shortage of pubs, bars and restaurants.
Finally, handed back the seat passes to the boss this morning and thanked him for a thoroughly good, interesting, afternoon out. “No bother,” says he.“You’re a Brighton fan now then, are you?” he said expectantly. Can’t print the reply but read between the lines and please note that “off” formed part of the two-word response.
I don’t suppose that answer will get me a free pass into the Amex on 25th February 2012 but I have no intentions of going as an away fan in the home area. I don’t know about you guys but that sort of thing to me must be like being dead and ending up in hell.
An interesting start to my season. I still wish I’d made the effort to get to Bristol though...
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