By Kevin Anderson
Many clubs, one sport. Many routes, one goal.
My own midweek route, just a day after Borough’s Bank Holiday thriller, took me to the Amex to watch Albion take on Southampton. The one goal was worth waiting for – but more of that later.
Brighton’s home ground is not actually a frequent destination for me. The prices are pretty high and the hassle and crush of a teeming Falmer Station is generally no fun. And anyway, do my own loyalties not lie elsewhere?
To us non-leaguers, local football is life-blood. “Find Your Tribe”, as CBBC’s recent ad campaign has been exhorting our kids, and it’s a rather good message. At the Saffrons, the Oval or the Lane, you are with like-minded folk. We are tediously full of opinions about Borough’s best ever goal, advice about the best route to Tooting and Mitcham, anecdotes about Smarty and Bakes. We have deep roots and long memories. I can’t see a Chris Winterton in goal without remembering a Dave or a Derek Winterton. I can’t visit the Saffrons without a quiet nod of thanks to Taffy and Sid.
But my Tuesday night trip set me thinking: is there a divide between Albion and the Non-League clubs – and should there be?
The Amex itself is a thing of wonder. Folded into the Downs, it’s an aesthetic masterpiece as well as a superbly equipped sporting venue. Borough were part of its history, kicking off the very first competitive match there in 2012 at the Senior Cup Final. And on a warm evening, with a mottled summer sky framed above the stadium, it still made a great setting.
The Amex is a smooth operation, with plenty of hi-tech including the big screens and the enhanced sound-surround of a thrilling Sussex by the Sea – could we borrow that soundtrack, by the way, for Priory Lane? Some of the spectators are recent converts who treat the occasion like a trip to the theatre, and might be a bit lost in the homely surroundings of the Lane or the Saffs.
The segregation is a shame, in a way, but inevitable. I bumped into a colleague – Dave from BBC Nottingham – who was ground-hopping his way to a personal record: the Amex was his final piece of the 92 Club jigsaw. He had been tickled pink that at Brighton Station, a regiment of police officers had rigorously divided the opposing supporters – only for them all to pile cheerfully into the same four-car train to Falmer!
And then there is the pricing. Top tickets for last month’s Man United visit were £65 – but Borough season-ticket holders were watching the Woking game for between £5 and £8. Add in some relatively pricey refreshments and a match programme – which had far less content than the Borough alternative – and it is no cheap day out. And yet hundreds of Eastbourne-based Albion supporters board the train every week, or fortnight, and fair play to them. The product is great and Tuesday’s football – even with squad changes for this Carabao Cup tie – was still classy and in some phases really exciting. That goal, since you ask, didn’t arrive until two minutes from time: with penalties looming, Saints manager Mark Hughes introduced two aces from the bench in Nathan Redmond and Charlie Austin, who created respectively a sublime centre and an unstoppable header to win the match.
But it all left me thinking. Can we all do more, to co-exist and to benefit one another? We could surely revisit the idea of a price concession at the Lane for Albion season-ticket holders – especially for occasions like Non-League Day.
We can share commercial expertise. We should be advertising each other’s fixtures, instead of pretending that the others do not exist. There is so much to gain. We should be allies – and not adversaries.