Paul Newman: Green experiment begins to bloom at Brighton's new home
The Football League Column
Sometimes there is no justice.
On Saturday Brighton, playing their first competitive match in their new £100m home, fielded a team that included Craig Mackail-Smith, a £2.5m recruit from Peterborough who could eventually cost them £3.25m. Doncaster Rovers, who played much the better football for the first hour, also included their major summer signing, Tommy Spurr, a £200,000 purchase from Sheffield Wednesday.
No prizes for guessing which team left the Amex Community Stadium with their two leading scorers from last season on crutches, bringing to nine the number of first-team players on their injury list. Sean O'Driscoll, Doncaster's manager, was less concerned by his team's 2-1 defeat than by the ankle and knee injuries respectively which saw Billy Sharp and James Hayter leave the field on stretchers.
Money alone cannot bring you success – witness O'Driscoll's magnificent feat in taking Doncaster into the Championship three years ago and keeping them there since – but it sure helps. With his team trailing 1-0, Gus Poyet, the Brighton manager, summoned Will Buckley, another of his recent signings, from the bench. The £1m midfielder from Watford scored twice to end a perfect first day back in the Championship.
Only the most curmudgeonly – as well as some Crystal Palace supporters – would begrudge Brighton fans their current happiness. After leaving the Goldstone Ground in 1997, the Seagulls spent two years commuting 75 miles to ground-share with Gillingham before returning to Brighton to rent the Withdean Stadium, an athletics arena with as much atmosphere as the moon.
The Amex Stadium is a total contrast to what had been home for the last 12 years. Many modern grounds are so characterless they can make your local B&Q store feel like Harrods in comparison, but Brighton's new home, four miles from the city centre, is a fine addition to the football circuit. The 22,500-capacity stadium – they hope to install another 8,000 seats by the start of next season – feels bright and airy thanks to its blue, translucent, curved roofs, but still generates a resounding atmosphere. When Buckley scored the winning goal in the eighth minute of injury time, Poyet said he could never recall Brighton fans making as much noise.
Fittingly for a city with the country's only Green MP, Brighton encourage fans to arrive at the ground in environmentally friendly style. There is secure bicycle parking for those wishing to use new cycle paths from Brighton and Lewes, as well as subsidised bus and rail travel. Falmer train station is just yards from the stadium. No public car parking is available, although supporters can takes buses to the ground from three park-and-ride sites.
The new stadium was made possible by the generosity of the Brighton chairman, Tony Bloom, whose fortune derives from the sale of a betting website he set up as well as his property and finance interests, not to mention his winnings as a poker player. In his last major tournament, the Aussie Millions in Melbourne in January, Bloom won A$975,000 (about £620,000) as runner-up.
It is hard to believe that Bloom the gambler (in poker he is nicknamed The Lizard as he never shows any sign of pressure) would have put so many chips on the table in backing his team, but Brighton are in his blood. His grandfather was a vice-chairman of the club and his uncle has been involved for more than 20 years. Saturday's mascots were Jessie Bloom (aged nine), Katie Bloom (seven) and Sammy Bloom (five).
As for Doncaster, their manager might find some consolation in the weekend's events. Sharp's injury could just divert the interest of the many clubs willing to pay big money for O'Driscoll's most valuable asset.
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