How Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club and its fans united to build a stadium
by Paul Hodson & Stephen North
Stripe Publishing, £15.99
Reviewed by Drew Whitworth
From WSC 302 April 2012
We Want Falmer! is a sequel to the authors' earlier Build a Bonfire, from 1997. Their first book is a collection of testimonies from Brighton & Hove Albion players, staff and fans, recounting the fight to depose chairman Bill Archer and save the club from relegation to the Conference. At the time, Brighton were 91st in the League and playing at Gillingham to crowds under 2,000. They now sit in the upper half of the Championship and crowds at the new American Express Community Stadium (Amex) have averaged over 20,000.
This book is the story of that transition, the literal rebuilding of the club from the wasteland left by the anti-Archer hostilities. Like Build a Bonfire, this book is told through the words of around 40 people who were directly involved in the events. The authors act as editors, gathering interviews and conducting the many voices into a narrative. They neither interpret nor cast judgment. We Want Falmer!, like its predecessor, is the better for it.
This is not a football book, as such. The off-pitch struggle against Archer, as recounted in Build a Bonfire, took place alongside a dramatic on-pitch tale of coming back from a near-impossible position and a nail-biting last-day escape. The 12 seasons Brighton spent at the temporary (and inadequate) Withdean stadium, on the other hand, were a highly successful period, in which the club won three divisional championships and a fourth promotion through the play-offs. Yet readers will learn little about these events. The only player interviewed, Kerry Mayo, who spent 15 years at the club, is included mainly because he is a supporter and native of the city.
Rather than being a tale of only parochial interest, We Want Falmer! is instead a guidebook for the effective assertion of democratic power by a group of people united in one cause: to see a wrong put right. This should give the book the wider appeal that often proves so elusive in football literature. As Paul Hayward, the Telegraph's chief sports writer and Seagulls fan, puts it in his introduction: "The Amex memorialises a refusal to surrender to bureaucracy, cynicism and low ambition."
Fans who delivered Valentines to John Prescott's constituency office in Hull on a wet day in February, stood for office in local elections under the Seagulls Party banner and gave evidence at the endless public enquiry are as much a part of the eventual rising of the Amex as are club personalities such as chairmen Dick Knight and Tony Bloom.
As one contributor says of the relative roles they played: "Dick Knight crossed it, Tony Bloom knocked it in." But the fans were there running through the box and distracting the last defenders. This book proves that the owners and fans of a club can – and must – work together to achieve success.
I admit I cried when I first entered the Amex. According to the testimony in this book, I was not the only one. Sometimes the people win.