I’m not ‘against modern football’. I watch a great deal more non-league than I do anything higher up the pyramid, but that comes with the task of supporting a non-league side. My upbringing through football has been in that environment, and I’m more comfortable with it, that’s just the way things have panned out for me.
That being said, I’m not adverse to a bit of football in the higher echelons of our beautiful game. My tagline claims that I’m ‘conquering the world’ (albeit at a steady pace), and that must surely mean I’ll have to entertain the larger stadia of the world with my presence every now and again. New Year’s Day 2016 provided me with an ideal opportunity as the English pyramid seemed to like the idea of playing on a Saturday, and so the majority of fixtures were scheduled to play on the second day of this new year. Good, lovely. Where to go though?
As you’ve probably attained from the title, the seaside resort of Brighton was to be my destination, a place in which I hope to be living and studying come September. A quick peruse of the fixture list on the Monday showed a 3pm kick-off, and with Notts County fan James in tow for the day, we headed across the South Coast and towards the American Express Community Stadium (or the AMEX from here as I can’t be done typing that 27 times).
Might I start by saying, what a beauty of a stadium. It’s not a soulless bowl that seem to be cropping up everywhere (I’m looking at you Reading), but it still has the look of a modern spaceship.
With tickets in hand allowing us to watch the game from the West Stand upper (a reasonable £24 for U21’s in truth), we climbed the stairs towards our seat, and Nottingham born James told anybody listening that he doesn’t like exercise. He didn’t enjoy the 2,744* stairs that we had to climb (* – that number may be a slight exaggeration, I lost count at 1,696).
Inside the ground, it’s a different game. In the West Stand, we were sheltered under a roof that looked like it stretched for miles, and I’d somehow plucked for the best seats in the ground arguably. Situated right at the top of the stand, we were afforded an incredible view of the action, and could witness a really drab atmosphere from a safe distance. Brighton fans were notably quiet until the end, and the travelling Wolves support were nursing hangovers from the night before.
Both stands behind the goal are smaller, with education rooms and so forth seeming to form the upper tiers of these areas. I think I would have far preferred GCSE Maths had I been able to watch the football at the same time in fairness. Along both touchlines, the West and East stands are similar, and are generally reminiscent of many modern grounds.
Carl Ikeme made a few comfortable enough saves to keep the Black Country side in front, including a flying save to tip a header over the bar in the dying seconds when it looked destined for the top corner. Brighton’s right-back Bruno ultimately came closest for the home side, as the Spaniard, who was excellent throughout and was rightly awarded man of the match, crashed a thunderous effort back off the crossbar.
I’ll give you a couple of James’ tweets to outline the situation simply;
What followed was arguably the biggest load of nonsense I’ve ever been through on the trains in this country. Having left Brighton on time, we raced through the Sussex countryside until we reached Worthing, and were halted due to an incident between Arundel and Horsham. No matter, we’d be ten minutes late, I certainly wasn’t in a hurry to get home. Unfortunately, our train was quickly cancelled and we were suddenly stranded in Worthing.
James was almost in tears by this point, so it was time to conjure plan B. The next train rolled into the station, and suddenly the entirety of Worthing, most of Lancing and anybody who fancied a jolly were climbing aboard this train, with the intention of changing at Littlehampton and going from there. All it would take would be a change at Littlehampton, then a change at Fratton to get us back to Southampton. Easy to get back to New Milton and Weymouth, surely? Wrong.
Having de-trained at Littlehampton, we were quickly advised that a train wasn’t coming to take us to Fratton, and that we’d instead have to get a coach across to Barnham, and then get to Fratton from there. I turned to my left to see James remove his cap and wipe the sweat from his brow. I was tempted to sedate him and carry him home before his emotions turned to rage.
45 minutes in the cold and wet at Littlehampton did little to lighten his mood, and my repeated comments outlining my plan to get home before June only added to his annoyance. The half hour’s coach journey to Barnham helped, and we soon rolled into the station, much to the excitement of an elderly lady at the front. Personally, there’s places in this world that get me more excited than Barnham, but that’s a subjective matter.
James didn’t say a great deal from there on in, he had a snooze on the train back to Fratton before threatening to punch out one of the timetables realising our connection back to Southampton was also delayed. He wasn’t enjoying himself.
Overall, I can’t fault the day. The game itself was poor, but it was spent in good company in what is a cracking ground. I do really like the place. What a way to start 2016, here’s to another 362 days of silliness. Happy new year everybody.