Seagulls raise cry for stadium at Labour conference march

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The Independent Football

But yesterday, it was down to the Brighton seafront for roughly 6,000 people attached to the Seagulls, including the current squad and manager Mark McGhee, as well as ex-managers Steve Coppell and Micky Adams.

The reason the throng piled into Brighton was to make one more, peaceful plea to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is in the city for the Labour Party's annual conference. It is in his hands to grant their wish to build a new permanent home in the Sussex village of Falmer.

For six years Albion, who lost that famous "and Smith must score" 1983 FA Cup final after a replay against Manchester United, have been tenants at the Withdean, a municipal athletics stadium that holds just under 7,000 fans, the vast majority of whom sit exposed to the elements.

On a sunny day it makes up in beauty what it loses in atmosphere, with woods behind one of the temporary stands, but the club still lose 50 per cent of their gate on match-day costs. "Basically, the finances are incredibly precarious," says a spokesman for the club, which boast DJ Norman Cook as a director.

The club's struggle for a new home dates back almost a decade when their previous ground, Goldstone, was sold off in 1995 and two years later they had played their last game there.

Two more difficult ground-sharing years followed at Gillingham's Priestfield, a 140-mile round trip, before they were finally able to set up shop in their own county again.

But with Prescott due to give a final decision by 31 October at the very latest - trick or treat indeed for Albion - behind the deep-seated belief that he will give the go-ahead there is fear as well. "Everyone wants the stadium with one or two exceptions," noted Coppell, the current Reading manager, who was in charge of Albion for 2002-03.

One of those "exceptions" to what would be a mostly privately funded, 22,500 c-pacity stadium, possibly to be built by 2008, is Lewes District Council.

Its case is that the public inquiry into the Falmer plans in 2003 found against a new stadium for several reasons, such as "noise nuisance" and "considerable traffic" being brought to a part of the South Downs.

But possibly swayed by the regeneration the project could bring to the area, Prescott decided to reopen the inquiry and has been impressed by support for the side lying 17th in the Championship, saying yesterday: "I know many people in the city want a new stadium and they'll be demonstrating in their usual good manner."

However, if permission is not granted, Albion's future looks bleak as the Withdean lease runs out in two years. If they have no home by then, Albion will fear going to the wall, not the lake.