Seagulls spread the survival net

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The Independent Online
As any football fan knows, an ability to look on the bright side of life can prove very useful, and so it is that even after 18 months of bitter dispute between the board and supporters of Brighton and Hove Albion, the turmoil at the south-coast club can still offer occasional cause for celebration.

The persistence and ingenuity of the fans has been inspirational throughout the Seagulls' long slide to the foot of the Third Division, and the latest example of what good organisation can achieve may well be the most impressive to date.

Fans United, a unique gathering of supporters from throughout Britain and beyond, will take place before tomorrow's game against Hartlepool United at the Goldstone Ground and provide, according to the organisers, "a show of unity against those who believe they can walk into football, strip its assets and walk away without a thought for the consequences".

The open invitation to all football fans asks those who attend to "wear their own club's colours with pride, and walk alongside followers of their rivals in friendship". At 2.15pm there will be a symbolic reclamation of the Goldstone Ground, sold for redevelopment even though no firm plans exist for a new stadium, when all those present are asked to link arms around the ground.

The principal targets of the demonstration will be Bill Archer, the Brighton chairman, who took over the club with a personal investment of pounds 56.25, and David Bellotti, his chief executive, but the organisers stress that what is happening at Brighton today could be repeated at many other clubs tomorrow.

Indeed, it was a 15-year-old Plymouth supporter, Richard Vaughan, who came up with the idea of Fans United, in a contribution to an Albion site on the Internet. "It makes me sick what is happening to your club," he wrote. "Loads of fans from different clubs should turn up at Brighton (with their shirts on) and join in. We're all behind you 100 per cent."

The Internet played a vital role in Fans United. "It wouldn't have happened without it," Warren Chrismas, one of the organisers, said, "because we wouldn't have realised how much support we have in Britain and from around the world." The Campaign Guestbook, which teccies can find via http://homepages.enterprise.net/gjc/campaign, has received supportive messages from fans of 83 of the League's other 91 clubs, as well as from Europe, the United States and Asia.

"We haven't got a clue how many people will come," Chrismas said, "but my estimate is that we will double the gate to about nine or ten thousand. A lot of fans have good memories of coming down for away games. It's a great town to come to and people are realising that they would miss it."

Browsing through the many pages of e-mails sent to the Guestbook is an uplifting experience. "I'm a Tottenham fan living in Edinburgh," one reads, "and I'll be there with a Celtic boy as well."

There are promises of attendance from Pie Munchers and Tigers, Bees and Hornets, many of whom will miss their own sides' games to spend an afternoon cheering for Brighton instead.

Whatever the quality of the action on the pitch, anyone who visits the Goldstone Ground tomorrow can be sure of a unique atmosphere on the terraces. As the organisers point out, "never before have fans united in such a way to show their dissatisfaction at the way the game is being run. Stop ripping us off and start listening. We have a right to be heard".

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