Brighton & Hove Albion soaring to new heights
It’s fair to say that Brighton & Hove Albion have come a long way in the space of a couple of years; from playing at their ramshackle temporary home at Withdean to hosting games at the state-of-the-art American Express Community Stadium.
From a fan’s perspective, the stadium is definitely a sight to savour and does not simply imitate many of the other modern grounds which have popped up around the country.
It sits in the heart of the South Downs, offering superb views inside for spectators, with every seat being cushioned for added comfort.
There are two big screens at either end of the ground, offering replays for every goal and meaningful shot, whilst highlights are provided from matches involving the club’s development squad and women’s team.
A recent statistic shows that Albion have the highest average attendance in the Football League with 25,495; an astonishing fact considering the club were playing in front of around 6,000 people just a couple of seasons ago.
The club is now in its second season playing Championship football at the Amex, following a five year spell in League One; and achieved a respectable tenth-place finish in 2011/12, narrowly missing out on the play-offs.
Gus Poyet has helped to transform the club and introduced a brand of slick, passing football which even Albion stalwart and first-team coach, Charlie Oatway did not think was possible.
The side is once again aiming for a top-six finish and Poyet has made a number of shrewd signings in the summer transfer window; bringing in the likes of Andrea Orlandi from Swansea, Tomasz Kuszczak as a free agent and Wayne Bridge on a season-long loan deal from Manchester City.
After winning five of their opening seven league games and storming to the Championship summit, the Seagulls form has stuttered, with only three victories in their following thirteen matches.
As a season ticket holder, it has been infuriating to watch the side play some lovely football, only to lack the cutting edge to finish teams off; as many sides have now cottoned onto Albion’s free-flowing style of play and often put ten men behind the ball to secure a result.
But like Poyet, I feel the results will pick up if the side continues to keep faith in their system; and a play-off place is still very much a realistic ambition.
Meanwhile, off the pitch, the club has also just been granted permission to build a new £29 million training ground in Lancing, roughly ten miles west of the Amex.
The site could be open by the end of next year and will provide a base for the first team, development squad, academy and community sides; possibly creating up to 300 jobs, whilst injecting £3 million into the local economy, according to The Argus.
The new training ground also has more long-term implications, especially with the Elite Player Performance Plan being introduced at the start of this season.
Albion recently confirmed they would be granted category two status in the Premier League’s new plans for youth development in this country; but with the new facilities, there is the potential to move up to category one.
This would allow the club to recruit some of the most promising young players in the country and compete with the big London teams.
After years of anguish, the Seagulls could be flying high for many years to come.
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