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Brighton's Fight Part 1

By: Todd Bontoft
Date: 04/08/2000

Despite the setback of North East Lincolnshire Council turning down the proposals for a new stadium at Great Coates, a cursory glance at TEF's petition shows that many genuine fans sympathise with our predicament. Many empathise having experienced their own tale of woe.

The good news is that, in what appears to be the darkest of hours, with perseverance there is hope.

Fans from Cambridge, Ivano's Dundee, Bournemouth, Shamrock Rovers, Portsmouth and many more clubs all have tales to tell. Ultimately, the fan base, and their electoral clout has made most councils sit up, take notice and help their resident club to new or improved homes.

From a distance the common theme seems to be that it's the football clubs, such as ours, at the grass roots of the professional game that struggle to develop and rebuild. You would have thought that the financial difficulties of smaller clubs in scraping together enough to invest in better facilities would be enough of a hurdle.

I am sure that richer clubs do have difficulties. But, subjectively, the odds appear more heavily stacked against the minnows. Without a decent ground it more or less rules out any chance at all of progression up the leagues and can threaten survival.

One club, whose long-suffering supporters have kindly expressed support to Grimsby Town, is Brighton and Hove Albion's. Their story is far from over, some parts are uncannily familiar to our own, but moreover it is testament to the dedication they have for their club.

Formed in 1901 Brighton and Hove Albion is a club with a long and proud history. During the late 1970s and early 1980, it played in the higher echelons of the old First Division and lost in the 1983 FA Cup Final in a replay to Manchester United.

After those halcyon days, the club struggled following an unpopular boardroom take-over by two directors Bill Archer and Greg Stanley in 1993.To make matters worse just two years later they decided to sell the Goldstone Ground, now a retail park, leaving the club without a home of its own.

For several years the club and its loyal army of supporters were forced into playing 'home' matches at Gillingham, Kent, 75 miles away. While fans wrestled for a change of ownership and the team playing at Gillingham, Brighton was almost relegated from the football league and suffered severe financial problems.

In September 1997 a deal was struck and a new board of directors were installed. Among their commitments were to get the club back to Brighton as soon as possible and longer-term build a new permanent home.

Searching, with the assistance of the council, the club finally settled on a temporary relocation at the Withdean Stadium.

Fans enthusiastically supported a return, adopting innovative plans for park and ride schemes, public transport travel vouchers and other measures ensuring the new temporary home obtained planning permission. They formed a campaign, Bring Home the Albion, to persuade councillors of the merits of their case.

The Government saw no reason to call in the planning application and the Albion return to Brighton and Hove for the 1999/2000 season, after two years in exile.

However, Withdean is only a short-term solution: unsuitable for the requirements of a modern stadium; a capacity just above the minimum of 6,000 required by the Football League; and a severe handicap to the club's ability to market itself and generate revenue.

A hunt for a permanent location was on.

The article continues in Part 2.

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