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Tatort to Withdean

Submitted by on December 6, 2010 – 11:26 amOne Comment

what a difference...

By Ed in Germany

On Wednesday night, a team will take to the field at Gigg Lane who has seen its fans fucked over by an owner, taken part in many pitch invasions, experienced the odd last minute escape, have plans ahead to build a new ground and have lived through the experience of playing matches well away from the location they are named after.

“Ah FCUM” I hear you say. No it’s the opposition, Brighton and Hove Albion. But before we get into the details, I’m going to have take you back a little in time…

The other week, I got the opportunity to attend a talk in Münster, Germany as part of the Tatort Stadion campaign. Tatort Stadion is a series of football related events, organised as I understand it by the German Football Fan organisation B.A.F.F.

This particular event, being in Münster, was organised by one of the local Ultra groups from Preußen Münster, The Deviants. Anyway my turning up came about after a couple of mates from the Sankt Pauli Mafia invited me along. The event in question was a talk with Gerd Dembowski. I’d heard of Dembowski because of his work with BAFF and the odd appearance he’s made on tele with his slightly crust punk appearance.

Much to my delight, part way through his talk, he mentioned fan work in England and cited both our own FC United and AFC Wimbledon as examples. However he went on to talk about his own adopted side in England, Brighton and Hove Albion. His story was almost entirely new to me.

Being “relatively” young still, Brighton and Hove Albion says “no ground”, “that Skint Records sponsor back when football was cool and pop stars were pretending they liked the game” and “that shirt and short combo where the stripes went right through and made the players looked like Tesco bags when United played them in about 93”. Quite a lot of words in terms of associations I’m sure you will agree, but nothing really around their own fight against the authorities.

You see, as Gerd Dembowski revealed, Brighton and Hove Albion (or B&H as I’m now going to refer to them as, as I can’t be bothered typing all of that every time) have been rebels too. The abuse of their club was just as snide as what happened at United. The Board at the time had announced that the Goldstone Ground would be sold off, but that a new stadium would be built on another site. So far, so good.

However unlike in today’s modern technology-infused climate, where we can follow El Presidente’s progress at council meetings fighting for our new ground over twitter, Brighton fans were kept in the dark over discussions. In fact what was then reported in the paper a few days after the announcement that the ground had been sold, was that the council had rejected the plans for the new stadium a whole two weeks before! In other words the board were deliberately making the club homeless.

Further bad news was to follow, when it was discovered that the board had also removed a “no profit “ clause from the club’s constitution, meaning that if the club were to be wound up (a likely possibility with the club in freefall), the board would receive any money left over.

At this point the rebellion began. On the final day of the season the fans invaded the pitch, tearing down the goalposts and forcing the match to be abandoned. At this point you might ask how this hurt a board already seemingly intent on running the club into the ground. The answer was attention seeking(!). Suddenly what was happening at Brighton became a big news story, gaining a great deal of coverage and a lot of solidarity from other fans. Critically, the Goldstone ground was allowed to be used for one more season.

Now in the bottom rung of the professional league pyramid (all this rebranding and renumbering of leagues has hurt my brain! You know the one I mean anyway, just above the Conference…we are still calling it the Conference right?) and a season on from the terrible news, further protests occurred as relegation and near certain collapse was being stared in the face.

A mass walkout during a match against Hereford United was then followed up by a boycott (see we are not the only ones who love them!) against Mansfield with only around 800 fans turning up. A Fans United day was held where fans from clubs all over the country joined up with B&H for a match. Further campaigning occurred throughout the season, with FA HQ getting a “visit”, and one fan eventually getting arrested, whilst carrying out almost MEC style late night phonecalls to Bill Archer.

And then it came to the penultimate game of the season. A must win match and the last ever game at the Goldstone. The board had been removed, replaced by new chairman Dick Knight. This meant the previous board of Archer, Stanley and Belotti’s attempts at not only raiding the biscuit tin, but selling the tin off and keeping the biscuits for themselves had been foiled. Brighton ran out winners (later holding out against Hereford to achieve league status), a stuttering pitch invasion where a few hundred fans went on too early forcing them to sheepishly make their way back to the side of the pitch, was followed by the flood barriers opening.

A mass invasion, then accompanied by a stripping of the ground of souvenirs marked the triumphant but tear-filled end to a ground and fans campaigning. What better way to describe that day, than a poem written at the time by B&H PA Announcer and Poet in Residence, Attila the Stockbroker…

As bulldozers close in upon our old, beloved home
and those who stand to profit rub their hands
so we gather here together in sad, angry disbelief
and for one last time our voices fill the stands.
This is no happy parting, but a battle-scarred farewell
though victory hopes are mingled with the tears
And I, like you, will stand here as the final whistle blows
with memories which echo down the years…..

The Chelsea fans threw pennies. Old ones. Sharpened. I was eight.
A target in the South Stand with my dad
And he got rather battered as he held me close and tight
and confirmed my view that Chelsea fans were mad!
And there, on those old wooden seats, I learned to love the game.
The sights and sounds exploded in my head.
My dad was proud to have a son with football in his blood -
but two short years later, he was dead.

Eleven. I went on my own. (My friends liked chess and stuff.)
‘Now don’t go in the North Stand!’ said my mum.
But soon I did. Kit Napier’s corner curled into the net.
Oh god. The Bournemouth Boot Boys! Better run….
Then Villa in the big crunch game. A thirty thousand crowd.
Bald Lochhead scored, but we still won the day.
Then up, and straight back down again. Brian Powney, brave and squat.
T.Rex, DMs and scarf on wrist, OK?

And then the world was wonderful. Punk rock and Peter Ward!
And sidekick ‘Spider’ Mellor, tall and lean.
The legendary Walsall game. Promotion. Riding high.
Southampton-Spurs: that stitch-up was obscene.
The final glorious victory. Division One at last!
Arsenal, first game, midst fevered expectation.
Those Highbury gods tore us to shreds; we learned the lesson well.
Steve Foster was our soul and inspiration!

Man City came, and Gerry Ryan waltzed through them to score
And mighty Man United bit the dust.
Notts Forest, and that Williams screamer nearly broke the net.
The Norwich quarter-final: win or bust!
And after Wembley, Liverpool were toppled one last time.
The final curtain on those happy days.
And then the years of gradual, inexorable decline -
sadly for some, the parting of the ways.

But we stayed true, as glory days turned into donkeys’ years.
Young, Trusson, Tiltman, Farrington. Ee-aw!
A Wilkins free-kick nearly brought us hope. ‘Twas not to be.
The rot was deep and spreading to the core.
We found our voice and Lloyd was gone. Hooray! But worse to come.
Though just how awful we were yet to know.
Dissent turned to rebellion and then to open war
as on the terrace weeds began to grow.
The Goldstone sold behind our backs! Enraged, we rose as one
against a stony northern businessman.

We drew a line, and said: ENOUGH! And as the nation watched
the final battle for our club began.
We fought him to a standstill. Fans United. All for one.
A nation’s colours joined: a glorious sight.
And, finally, the stubborn, stony Archer moved his ground
and made way for our own collective Knight.
The battle’s only just begun, but we have won the war.
Our club, though torn asunder, will survive.
And I salute each one of you who stood up and said NO!
And fought to keep the Albion alive.

And one day, when our new home’s built, and we are storming back
A bunch of happy fans without a care
We’ll look back on our darkest hour and raise our glasses high
and say with satisfaction: we were there.

But first we have to face today. The hardest day of all.
Don’t worry if you can’t hold back the tears!
We must look to the future, in dignity and peace
as well as mourn our home of ninety years.
For me the Goldstone has an extra special memory
of the football soulmate I so briefly had.
He christened me John Charles and taught me to love the game.
This one’s for Bill. A poet. And my dad.

And what of the years afterwards? Well B&H found no local solution to the problem of a missing ground. Instead they were forced to find temporary home in Gillingham! Gillingham, for all you northern readers, is an hour and a half’s drive from Brighton (the equivalent of Birmingham to Manchester on a good day).

It all makes the tram to Bury seem like a doddle! Understandably, Brighton fans didn’t want to stick around and so pressure was put on the local authorities for a move home. At first, this seemingly fell on deaf ears and so the fans threatened to form their own political party (politics in football? Who’dve thought it!) and run in the local elections. In 1999, whilst most of us were concerning ourselves with trebles, the pressure paid and B&H returned to their current home, the glorified athletics track known as The Withdean Stadium.

Whilst it might be easier to reach than Gillingham, it is as a football ground hardly ideal either and is often voted the worst ground in professional football. With the need to find a new ground, not to mention put a stopper on worringly spiralling debts, the fans acted once more, this time releasing a record (we’ll surely forgive them the excruciating tune it’s based on). Amazingly it reached number 17 in the charts and got airplay on Radio 1!

The fight however was not over. Acceptance of the planned new ground was not as high as with TAL in Newton Heath (something we should be eternally grateful for is the welcoming nature of our neighbours to be), and a long hard slog through two public enquiries was required to finally make the way clear for the construction of a new stadium in Falmer. Next season, a full 14 years after their old home was turned into a Toys R Us, the ground will be ready. With a capacity of 22k, who knows, if we play them again the police might allow us an allocation of more than 845!

The offending song that made number 17 in the charts can be listened to here http://www.myspace.com/seagullsska

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