Grand designs

Chris Webb explains why the best laid plans of Brighton haven't worked out

An emotionally charged 1-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers on July 28, 1997, marked the end of an era for Brighton & Hove Albion FC. It was to be the last ever game played at the Goldstone Ground, the Seagulls’ home for over a century. Now it’s six years on and we re­main without a permanent stadium, leaving many fans such as myself angry and frustrated as the club continue to pay the price for their lack of stability.

Brighton have just lost manager Steve Coppell to Read­ing. We have failed to hold on to Cop­pell and his predecessors Peter Taylor and Micky Adams largely because of the club’s lack of a permanent stadium. The Albion are temporarily playing their home games at Withdean, a makeshift athletics stadium in Hove with a capacity of just 7,000.

While we’re enjoying far better for­tunes on the field than six years ago, with no permanent home the future of Bright­on remains desperately uncertain. The club want to build a new 22,000-capacity state-of-the-art stadium in Falmer, four miles outside Brighton on an eight-acre agricultural site. However, delayed pro­posals, protesting residents and now a government-led public inquiry have meant that a single brick is yet to be laid. It is ridiculous that a city the size of Brighton and indeed a county the size of Sussex re­mains without a decent stadium, all the more so when you consider the many other cities around the country that have numerous sporting arenas.

Developments have been im­peded by arguments regarding the suit­ability of Falmer. First, the location crosses district boundaries, with part of the land lying in a neighbouring authority’s district which strongly opposed the new stadium.

Second, the site crosses unitary boundaries and so co-operation was required and compromises had to be reached with the universities of both Sussex and Brighton. To these issues is added the fact that there is an adjacent designated area of Out­standing Natural Beauty.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition to the Falmer site has used these factors to delay the club’s plans when­ever possible. The main argument seems to be based on environmental grounds, but the location is effectively no-man’s land and if the new stadium is not built there then it is very probable that some sort of commercial development will fill the void.

There is never going to be a completely ideal site for a new stadium, particularly in a congested urban area. Instead the most suitable location must be selected from those that exist and Falmer is certainly that. It’s big enough, it’s council owned and therefore available, it has few neighbours to disturb and has excellent transport links, with a railway station, the Bright­on bypass and the A27 all nearby. Further­­more, the club’s shut­tle-bus sys­tem, previously used with great suc­cess at the Withdean, will help restrict the extra traffic in the area on match days.

A new stadium will be a great asset to the city, offering significant economic and employment benefits for the area as well as the club. Brighton have a massive fan base but continue to lose much needed revenue from gate receipts with each Saturday that passes. I’m sure that I am just one of the many Brighton fans that would love to watch the club play on a more regular basis but have been unable to do so due to the limited capacity at Withdean.

The fate of the club lies in the hands of the government, with the second phase of the public inquiry now underway. I just hope that common sense prevails and Brighton, the city by the sea, is allowed to build a sta­­­dium that it can be proud of once again.

From WSC 202 December 2003. What was happening this month