Today I raised the Albion flag above Brighton Town Hall to show our support for the team in their push for promotion to the Premier League.
My column in today’s Brighton and Hove Independent:
In a season where clinging on to one goal leads has seemed the norm, the Albion’s five goal thrashing of Fulham on Friday and 4-0 win over QPR this week were a welcome celebration of just how well the club has done this season. A record breaking unbeaten run, with long stretches at the top of the table. Now, with three games to go, Albion are locked in a tight race for automatic promotion and at the very least have secured a place in the playoffs.
Ninety years before our two towns became a city, they were joined under one sporting banner at the Goldstone Ground as Brighton and Hove Albion. My grandfather took up his place in the sea of flat caps on the East Terrace in the Thirties, a place he occupied for sixty years. I occupy an equivalent vantage point today at the Amex. Some of my earliest memories are from Albion players renting our spare room not far from the ground.
I’m ancient enough to remember the last, and only time, the Albion gained promotion to the top flight in 1979, and the long trip to Newcastle where it was secured. The First Division, as it was then, bore little resemblance to what the Premier League is now, a global sports arena where hundreds of millions change hands in transfer fees and TV contracts for a worldwide audience.
It is big business, and I’ve shared the frustration when fixtures have been changed for Sky coverage. But the club is much more than that, backing charities, tackling racism and homophobia, and winning awards for the work it does through Albion In The Community. The club motto this season is “together”, and it does bring people of all backgrounds and different politics together as a football family, who mourn the loss of their own as we saw after the Shoreham air crash, or the tragic death of a Dennis Caesar at Falmer station last week.
Promotion to the Premier League could bring hundreds of millions of pounds into the club, the city and the local economy, reaping the rewards of the vision, investment and commitment of Dick Knight, Martin Perry, Paul Barber and of course Tony Bloom. We had a taster of that with the Rugby World Cup last year.
Beyond that, as recently promoted Leicester have shown, the prospect of European competition is not the preserve of the big clubs like Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United. No one thought Leicester or Bournemouth could hold their own against the bigger clubs, but they have proved the doubters wrong. With a fantastic stadium, global but locally-based sponsor, and state of the art facilities at Lancing, the Albion have the resources to do the same.
The boost for jobs, tourism and business from putting the city on a national and international sporting stage will be immense. As Leader of the Council that is something I’d very much like to see. But as a lifelong fan what matters most is the dream of promotion, and the glory of top flight football here in Sussex by the sea.