I normally blog about law. For a change, I’m blogging about football. And more specifically about my club. Brighton and Hove Albion
. We’re by far the greatest team the world has
ever seen etc. Let’s see how it goes,
bear with it.....
It was twenty and more years
ago. The walk down the Old Shoreham
Road to the Goldstone Ground
. In short sleeves in the spring,
huddled against the cold in the winter.
A scarf on whatever the climate.
Past that pub on the Sackville Road cross-roads (but never in it). Skirting the West Stand with only one
destination in mind. The North
Stand. Turn right, push through the big
iron turnstile with blue flaking paint.
Ticket to the turnstile operator behind the mesh grille. The unmistakeable and satisfying clank of the
turnstile as you pushed it. And you were
in. Away from the worries of the world,
whatever they might be, where for 90 or so minutes nothing else could get into
Through the turnstile. The stench of the men’s toilets at the foot
of the North Stand steps – nothing more than a brick shack with a huge metal
trough attached to the wall. Jog up the
steps. Turn right. Pass the first entrance to the stand, turn
left into the second entrance, the splendour of the pitch in front of you, down
a few steps, duck under the barrier and now you were really in. Into the pen towards the top of the North
Stand, behind the goal, just to the left.
We’re the north stand, we’re the north stand, we’re the north stand
Brighton boys. Murmuring an hour before
kick-off, volume building in that hour and rocking at 3 o’clock.
The smell of cigarette
smoke. Jostling on the terrace steps to get
your place. A tribal place. Definitely an edge to the atmosphere, it
never would go “off” but it sometimes felt like it just might. A strange mix of the safe and friendly but
ever so slightly edgy. I was young, not
one of the stand’s “top boys” (and I don’t mean that in a hooligan sense), I was there to observe and enjoy rather than as one of the master of ceremonies. This was a place miles away from village
boredom, from school monotony, from ‘A’ Level stress, from anywhere.
What a place this was. The surge on the terrace when a goal went in
that dragged you along like a rough sea.
You could end up yards away from where you had been standing. And if you were unlucky, end up painfully pinned
against one of the terrace bars while the hoards surged around you. The added magic of a night match, the
floodlights only adding to the atmospherics.
Maybe even a few seagulls circling above for posterity, their spiritual
home as well as your own.
Enjoying that we were the North
Stand. Affectionately mocking the quiet
West Stand (can you hear the West Stand sing), encouraging the altar-boy
sounding family South Stand (South Stand South Stand give us a song), never
quite sure what to make of the stalwarts who stood on the uncovered terrace
that was the crumbling East Stand where grass could sometimes be seen between
the cracks in the steps. And loving it
when one of our heroes applauded our efforts, we used to imagine that
they’d like to be in there with us.
A clear pecking order even within
the North Stand – I never stood right at the top, it would have been
discourteous do so, that was where the leaders stood. You would never start a song, which was the
job of the mighty Krispies
(he still exists apparently). You would never contradict a view you heard
that you disagreed with. But despite
that, you belonged.
Some great days and nights and
memories. Kurt Nogan scoring a late winner in front of the North at a night match, the first game I took my
girlfriend to sometime in the early
nineties (she is now my wife which is somewhat amazing considering that I
thought that was a good early date).
Losing four-nil to table-topping Sheffield Wednesday and managing to
chant for most of the second half “We’re going to win the League”. Almost beating Liverpool in a cup replay
until Rush and MacMahon turned on the style.
Dean Wilkins (brother of Ray for non-Albion readers) scoring a last
minute free kick against Ipswich to take us into the play-offs. Beating Millwall in the play-off semis. “Bravely” taunting Leeds fans one lovely
sunny day only for the North Stand to scarper back down the Old Shoreham Road
once the Leeds support took our invites literally and invaded the pitch,
seemingly intent of invasion of our stand (I have never seen a stadium empty so
quickly). Thrashing Luton (then a top
flight team) in the cup. Heroes like Digweed,
Keeley, Nelson, Bremner, Chapman, Curbishley, Byrne, Small and of course
Crumplin. And what seemed like every
week celebrating Brighton-based celebrities who would be paraded on the pitch –
Sir Des of Lynam, Chris Eubank and most surreally Detective Inspector Burnside
(Burnside Burnside give us a wave), or at least the actor who played him.
90 enjoyable minutes, even if the
football was not always so. Because those minutes were so far removed from the mundanity of normal life – which for me at this
time was school or being home during student holidays (something the more
seasoned North Stand congregation would enjoy recognising with the intra-stand
banter of “It’s back to school tomorrow”).
Fast forward to 2011 since when
we (the Albion) have one of the best stadiums in England. The Amex
(or the American Express Community
Stadium to give it its full sponsored title).
Padded seats, video screens for replays, good views from everywhere, no
surges after a goal, the toilets don’t stink, people don’t smoke, you can buy
edible food, we have fan zone on the video screens before the game, Sky Sports in
the bars - the edge to the terrace atmosphere has gone but there is still a
great atmosphere, it’s just different.
It’s a safe environment where I’m happy to take my Dad and young
And our stadium really is
amazing. I’ve visited Elland Road and
Anfield in the last few weeks and I’d take our stadium ahead of those two
British landmark stadiums any day of the week (although I will add as a footnote
that I find the evocative traditional terraced street atmosphere around Anfield
something very special to behold, walking through the Shankly gates an almost
privileged experience given the history they represent. And most importantly of all, seeing the Hillsborough Memorial, a rightful and painful reminder of English football’s most tragic day
which, as a result of the Taylor Report
, led to the all-seater stadia that
allow us to now enjoy football in a safe
environment. A basic right that ‘The 96’ who so awfully lost their lives
that day, were
so very wrongly denied).
I wouldn’t swap the Amex for the
old Goldstone. That was then and this is
now. But occasionally, just occasionally,
I miss the pungent atmosphere of a rocking terrace as a goal goes in, the
gallows humour as a result goes awry. Rose-tinted spectacles? Maybe.
But that’s what memories are made of.
Above my desk at home I have a wonderful framed photograph of the North Stand
taken by that most brilliant photographer of football stadia, Stuart Clark
. His photos bring memories to life. And a good long look at that photograph
brings those memories very much alive for me.
If you got this far you must be a
Brighton fan. Or someone who is very tolerant
of a lawyer’s musings on a subject he is not qualified to write about. Thank you for reading this far. And if you are going to any match today,
whoever you support, enjoy, and remember what a beautiful game this is.