Tuesday was a very special day for me dear readers. My first visit to Falmer, or The American Express Community Stadium as it is widely known. It was an important event indeed…
The sun shining over The Amex
You may not know this about me sweeties, but I am a born and bred Brightonian. Not only that, but from my humble beginnings I grew up practically in the shadow of the old Brighton & Hove Albion football stadium - The Goldstone (our family home was 2 mins away from said ground). One of my earliest memories is me, under the table by the window in our front room, watching police on horseback ‘helping’ rioting Millwall fans off the pavement of my road. Football is, indeed, in my blood, and my first football love was (and always will be) The Seagulls.
The Seagulls had a mighty fine stadium in the Goldstone until 1997, when it was sold off and became a ‘retail park’. Another anecdote from the young life of Dr Sparkles can be revealed here… I was a bit of a rebel in my teen years, believe it or not. An ex-boyfriend and I broke into the ground after its closure and acquired some of the wooden seating as a bittersweet memento. It was a sad moment, standing there on the pitch and knowing that The Goldstone would soon be no more, having served The Seagulls since 1901.
From 1997 – 1999 Brighton ground shared with the (not-close-at-all) Gillingham FC. Then they were allocated a temporary ground at Withdean Stadium, which remained home for The Seagulls until this August. The Withdean was an interesting ground at the very least (having been an athletics venue in its first incarnation) and was only able to seat 8,850 fans at its capacity. This was not good enough for Brighton and after many delays a new ground was authorised to be built at Falmer, on the outskirts of Brighton (very close to the two universities that I studied at during my long uni career). The Amex Stadium was handed over to Brighton & Hove Albion on May 31st 2011 and the first game that The Seagulls played was on 6th August against Doncaster Rovers, where Brighton won 2-1 thanks to 2 goals from new signing Will Buckley (an interesting factoid is that The Seagulls also played Doncaster Rovers in the last match at The Goldstone. Meeting them again in their first game at the new ground made that match even more special and rounded off a turbulent time in the clubs history)
I was unable to attend that first game, but Poolboy and I were lucky enough to get tickets to the subsequent game at The Amex – against old ground-share buddies Gillingham in The Carling Cup. I was incredibly excited about the prospect of seeing The Seagulls new home it all of its glory.
Our day started with a bus ride sweeties. Imagine me, DrSparkles, on a bus? I have not ridden on a bus since that unfortunate experience in 1999 and never thought that I would have to do that again. But with scant parking at The Amex and Poolboy insisting that we travel as ‘normal people’, there was little I could do but go along with what he said.
The bus ride was full of Albion supporters and the mood was high. This ‘park and ride’ business is a good one it would seem... We arrived at The Amex in good time, as the sun started to sit low in the sky. I started to feel excited darlings, and wouldn’t you? This was a new era for me and something that I had been looking forward to for a long time.
Heading to The Amex
The first thing I needed to do, sweeties, was check out the stadium from the inside. A stickler for cleanliness and good provisions I was happy to note that The Amex did not disappoint. The East Stand has some impressive art on the walls (ranging from old shirts, pictures of legendary players, motivational slogans and artwork from local children) and a well-stocked refreshments area – complete with several kinds of beer, varieties of wine and snacks.
Art of The Amex
Poolboy and I grabbed our refreshments and headed to our seats. Pitchside, on the halfway line. It was a good view of the amazing stadium…
First things first. The quality of the food. I had a hotdog and Poolboy purchased a steak and ale pie. One was far superior to the other…
Branded BHAFC boxes? Nice…
Unfortunately I did not have a seminal cheesy-hotdog-in-Watford moment when eating my Amex Stadium hotdog. It was okay, probably better than the Upton Park offering, but nothing close to the hotdog perfection encountered on that rainy day outside Vicarage Road last season. The pie, on the other hand, was nothing less than glorious. I know what I’ll be eating on my return…
Sat in our seats, seeing all the happy fans faces and taking in the warm summer air, I was in my element. I couldn’t stop grinning as we waited for kick-off. The Amex comes into its own as far as modernity goes – there are two huge screens (one above the away end and the other above the legendary North Stand) on which there are montages of previous players/games/successes playing in order to warm up the crowds. Not just that, but there is a camera crew and an announcer there to further excite. The camera man used ‘Albion Vision’ to show the fans waiting for the game, watching the Seagulls and The Gills warm up, and much fun was had by the crowd as they looked up and saw that they were being featured on the big screen…
The crowd awaits
Brighton and Hove Albion also have 2 other unique occurences before the matches. The first is the entrance of Gully, the BHAFC mascot. I was astounded by the popularity of Gully with adults, as several mature BHAFC fans crowded around to get their photos taken with him. Not just one for the kids! He knew a fellow star when he saw one though, as he posed and waved as he walked past us…
The second treat in store for us was Gully’s Girls – Brighton and Hove Albion’s very own cheerleading squad (follow them on twitter @GullysGirls
). Their dancing was enthusiastic and they looked like they were having a lot of fun (unlike the wife/girlfriend of the man sat next to Poolboy, who got a swift smack and a ‘don’t look at them!’ shouted at him as the girls walked round shaking their pompoms and smiling at the crowd during halftime. Oh dear). With their confidence, athleticism, foxiness and team spirit, not to mention the fact that they represent many different types of women and not just the media ‘ideal’, they are great role models for the young female seagulls out there.
Gully's Girls in action.
And so the game began, with great excitement. It was not the most riveting of all games, and the refereeing was scrappy to say the least (Payne came on after half time and should have been sent straight off for a nasty two-footed tackle on The Seagulls Romain Vincelot. This resulted in a nearly-scrap where goalkeeper Ankergren ran up the pitch to settle the score, resulting in a yellow for both him and Payne), but an interesting move by Buckley in front of the North Stand allowed Albion a penalty, which Barnes slotted nicely home to ensure a second home win for the home side. Final score? 1-0 to The Seagulls
All in all it was a fine introduction to my home team’s new place, and as the sun set over The Amex I knew in my heart that Poolboy and I would return and see a lot more games in this new, shiny stadium.