FAN'S EYE VIEW No 214 Brighton and Hove Albion

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The Independent Online
I know you're tempted not to read this in case it's another whining Brighton fan, but I promise not to rant on and on about Bill Archer or groundshares at Gillingham. I know compassion fatigue has set in.

Next weekend Brighton and Hove Albion bid farewell to the Goldstone Ground after nearly 100 years. Time to put aside the mess of the present and get nostalgic about the past.

Leaving a ground is a strange time. Try explaining the emotion you feel to a non-football person and you come across as, well, pretty stupid. The Goldstone is crumbling, but we'll still miss its quirks and treasure its memories. The way the east terrace shrinks from over 100 steps to just one as it runs the length of the pitch. The west stand that stops three-quarters of the way up the other side.

People are swapping their favourite stories. Remember the rainy Saturday we put five past Charlton in the first half alone? The epic Cup wins over Liverpool in the 80s, and the run to Wembley in 1983? Or Peter Ward's England Under-21 game - a hat-trick against Norway on his home turf?

And, more recently, reaching the 1991 play-offs with a last-minute winner against Ipswich, and then putting four past Millwall in 20 glorious minutes to go on to Wembley.

Someone asked me if I recalled the middle-aged woman who used to stand by the floodlight tower in the north-east corner, clutching a teddy bear decked in blue and white and screaming non-stop for 90 minutes. I don't - it was 25 years ago and I'm too young - but the way such images and sounds can stay with people for years speaks volumes about the special meaning a ground has for them.

Even this troubled and still unresolved season has given us another moment to cherish: 8 February 1997, Fans United. Supporters from clubs all over Europe came to the Goldstone and saw Brighton win 5-0: a day for football as a community, a day for the power and passion of fans against the perils that threaten the cash-strapped lower divisions. The sight of scarves and flags from over 50 clubs held aloft together was unforgettable. It summed up the feeling of family that a club and its ground can engender.

Like many others, I've grown to care about Brighton more than ever these past two years. The way the supporters have pulled together has been staggering and, when I stand in my usual terrace spot for the final time, it will be hard not to shed a tear.

Next season I could be one of hundreds, not thousands. Next season it could be Stalybridge Celtic and Rushden & Diamonds. Next season "home" could be more than 100 miles from the Goldstone, but I'll still go.

It's fitting that, in our last season there, the Goldstone is the fortress it used to be. Since Steve Gritt became manager we're unbeaten at home, with 10 wins and two draws.

After the pitch invasion last April, which, at the time, we feared was our last Goldstone game, fans prised pieces of turf and carried them home. I put mine in my parents' front garden, but it withered and died.

A metaphor for the club? It so nearly has been, but now I don't think so. The players care, the fans care and, if we've proved anything during this year of strife, it is that our football club won't wither and die.

Next Saturday I'll take a trowel and carry off a decent wedge of Goldstone grass. This time I'll replant it with care and look after it properly, so that it grows and prospers. Now, Mr Archer, wouldn't that be a fitting metaphor for the Albion's future?

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