Monday 11 July 2011

Home At Last!

Me and my three footballing pals went along to the Amex Stadium tonight for what was called a "familiarisation evening". My first real close up look at Albion's new home. We arrived at 6.30pm, got our tickets from the impressive new mega store (the portacabin shop at Withdean now a fading memory) and joined the queue in eager anticipation of what we were about to witness. At last 7.00pm arrived and the turnstiles opened. Now we are about to embark on a journey for the very first time to the West Stand Upper tier, be prepared because this is no easy task.

After several flights of stairs (I counted at least seven) we finally arrive at our destination and get to see what all the fuss is about. We head for daylight through the Block C entrance and there it is before our very eyes. It's truly magnificent, it's brilliant, it's stunning and it's certainly worth the oxygen sapping walk up all those blooming stairs. This is a wonderfully designed stadium, it's impressive in all it's glory and most importantly of has padded seats! We go to Row L and I find seat 80, my seat, my very own blue seat. Even better, I am sitting next to a white seat that nestles under the Seagulls wing in the upper tier. Yep, I'm next to the big white Seagull, it's unbelievable. I take a photo. 

The view from my seat is just brilliant
I take lots and lots of photos.

Four Stay Dry In The Amex
We meet more familiar faces and friends from the Withdean that are sitting close by and then introduce ourselves to Adrian and his family, new neighbours in Row M, just behind us. We then notice something above our heads, what is this strange thing? Could it be? Nah, surely not. Yes, it really's a roof! Throw away the poncho's boys, there will be no more getting drenched on a Saturday afternoon from this moment on.

The next bit of exploration takes us back down the steps to sample the delights of the Amex refreshments. Just when you think it can't get any better you suddenly see the magic words...Harvey's Real Ale. Okay, now I think I've died and gone to heaven. The pies are eaten and 'meat' with our approval, we take in the magnificent panoramic view from the West Stand Upper concourse and Martin Perry strolls over for a chat. We thank him for our new home, tell him how impressed we are and get given some good advice regarding the challenging stairway. The trick is to use the right hand side stairway rather than the left, as apparently this has fewer stairs. Now I didn't know that. We thank Martin, finish our pints and then  it's off to see if we can find Paul's brick. Back down the shorter stairway to the ground level (goodness me, it is a long way down) and we approach the front reception area of the stadium. Click, click, even more photos are taken.

The Amex Reception Area
I go inside the reception and meet the gorgeous, beautiful, charming and delightful Camilla behind the desk. I think I'm in love. Hmm, now I see what the 1901 club get for their money. I turn to leave and there it is, on the wall behind me, the most exciting player ever to wear the Blue & White stripes, he's shot he's scored, it's the legend that is Peter Ward. Time for another photo opportunity I think. Click...

Me and Wardy
We make our way outside to find lots of bricks (and I mean lots). These are the engraved heritage stones that Albion fans have paid to have laid outside the main entrance. We start on the journey to find Paul's brick. 20 minutes later, we find it. It's there on the ground right in front of us, Paul's actual brick. "Paul Mitchell, Living The Dream".

Paul's heritage stone - finally found it's home
The evening's journey is almost over as we leave the Amex and the sun sets over Brighton & Hove Albion's magnificent new home. We feel proud to have been a small part of it's history.

We will never forget the 10 year struggle to get a new ground of our own...that last ever game at the Goldstone, the demonstrations, the battles with those that opposed us and those that nearly ruined us, the half time pitch invasions, the chants, the songs, the poems, the Fans Reunited day, the demolition of a football ground leaving the club homeless, the two year exile to Gillingham, the move back to Sussex by the Sea to a roofless athletics stadium at Withdean (gone but not forgotten), the postcards and flowers to politicians and the long and expensive court battle to win the right to build a stadium at Falmer.

We owe huge thanks to the dedication and determination of former chairman Dick Knight (always a hero), the unbelievable generosity of a true Brighton fan in Tony Bloom who has made the move to a new stadium possible, the hard work of Martin Perry and the board of Directors, the players and managers whose desire to win brought them back to back championships and finally a League One title in the one year it was really needed.

However, the most important contribution was the passion of the Brighton fans and many other ordinary football fans up and down the country who helped the Albion and it's supporters through it's darkest days, the fans who were not prepared to see this club die, the survival of Brighton & Hove Albion was everything to them. Their reward for such belief, passion, belonging and commitment was to be seen right in front of our very own eyes tonight...the stunning American Express Community Stadium, our new home. So here we are after all those years, home at last.

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