Just before half time, a powerful shot fizzes along the wet turf. The keeper is unable to stop it. The ball nestles in the bottom corner and the away fans go wild. Well, it looks like they do. I can’t quite tell as the Southern Rail WiFi is a bit flakey, and besides, I’ve got the sound turned off. Everton were 1-0 up against Millwall but eventually lost the game 3-2. Their opening goal, however, was the only one I saw on Saturday while I was on the train back from my chosen game between Brighton & Hove Albion and West Brom.
It may seem slightly like a wasted journey, three hours on a train plus an hour being herded onto the platform after the game, for a match with no goals that would eventually be settled in the Black Country in a week and a half. It was, however, my 100th ground and a rare chance to bask in the glory of being an away fan at a Premier League Stadium.
Competition: FA Cup Fourth Round
Ground: Amex Community Stadium
Attendance: 27, 001
Refreshments: £3.60 (two teas)
Dogs spotted: None (plenty of seagulls though)
Who are ya, Brighton & Hove Albion?
Brighton, or the Seagulls as they are known, were founded in 1901. They played their early football in the Southern League. In 1920 they were elected into the Football League and joined Division Three. They remained in the Division for 38 years when they were finally promoted to the Second Division. The Seagulls survived three seasons in the Second Division but were then relegated twice in two years, finding themselves in the new Fourth Division.
Brighton recovered in the 1970s under the guidance of Brian Clough and then Alan Mullery. The latter took them all the way to the First Division in 1979. They were relegated in 1983 but reached the FA Cup Final that season where they drew 2-2 with Manchester United before losing the replay 4-0.
The 1990s were tough for the Seagulls as they gradually slipped down the divisions. Financial struggles also meant they had to sell their home at the Goldstone Ground. In 1997 they avoided relegation from the Football League on the last day of the season (on goals scored) following a 1-1 draw with Hereford United, my local league club at the time who then went down.
The new Millennium brought much happier times for the Seagulls. They moved quickly up the leagues again and secured the necessary funding for a new stadium in Falmer. In 2011, now in the Championship, the club moved into their new stadium. In 2017 they secured their return to to the top division in English football and their first visit to the bountiful realms of the Premier League.
Ground 100: The Amex Community Stadium
The Amex Stadium lives up to its ‘community’ name. It’s modern, well designed, and family friendly without falling too far into the modern football trap of being like a theatre. Falmer Station is on the same complex as the stadium and is easily reached by train from Lewes or Brighton. On the way out, the queues going back to Brighton were considerably longer than the ones going back to Brighton, so I’d recommend that route. Lewes is just over an hour from London Victoria. There is also a park and ride to the ground.
The atmosphere outside the ground was all very friendly around the plentiful food and drink options. The away end is pretty much the farthest part of the ground from the station but there is plenty of room to walk around without getting stuck in any crowds. Inside the ground, the visiting Baggies fans had the whole of the southern end and were in fine voice. The home fans seemed quieter but in truth, it was hard to hear much above the chants of ‘proper Albion, proper Albion’.
The Amex looks a lot bigger than it actually is due to the design. The capacity is around 30,000 and it was mostly full for this Fourth Round FA Cup tie. The atmosphere remained good for the majority of the game despite the lack of goals, thanks to the larger away ticket allocation that you get for cup matches.
Brighton must also be one of few clubs to have actual live wild mascots. A squabble (correct collective noun) of seagulls circled the away end at half time. I’m not sure if they are trained to focus on the away fans or if visitors just tend to have more food on them. Either way, they were causing a few visitors from the Midlands to increase the security level around their half-time sustenance.
Youthful Baggies hold Seagulls and earn a replay
Surprisingly, this was the first meeting between the two Albions, or any Albions for that matter, in FA Cup history even though both have played in the competition for well over a hundred years. It’s the visitors, though that hold the superior record in the competition. The Baggies have won the cup five times, in 1888, 1892, 1931, 1954 and 1968. They have also been runners-up on five occasions in 1886, 1887, 1895, 1912 and 1935. Brighton, on the other hand, have only made it to two quarter-finals aside from the final they lost in 1983.
West Brom also went into the game as perhaps the form side of the two. Brighton had lost their last two league games and only won once in their last five. The Baggies had won twice in the same period but they’d only lost once. They sat in fourth place in the Championship while Brighton occupied 13th in the Premier League. The home side boasted the more settled side despite having a few regulars warming the bench. They were the brighter side in the first half against a young West Brom lineup with nine changes from their last league game.
The Seagulls had most of the possession in the first half and their tactics were spot on as they doubled up on West Brom’s inexperienced fullbacks in the wide areas. The Baggies’ young keeper, Bond, was called into action on several occasions to keep the scores level. West Brom expended plenty of energy but struggled to find much fluency going forward. Towards the end of the half, they began to solve their issues down the flanks.
The Championship promotion chasers looked a lot more settled in the second half as the game began to open up. Leko had lots of opportunities to get forward for the visitors who were also dealing with Brighton’s press a lot more competently. The Seagulls still had the better of the opportunities despite West Brom’s improvement. Dale Stephens shot that hit the outside of the post was the closest they came and there were a couple of penalty shouts referred to VAR.
The Baggies had a late flurry, a penalty shout of their own and a chance to win it. The impressive Tosin Adarabioyo’s header hit the bar late on. It’s always a little bit of a disappointment when a cup game finishes all square and isn’t settled on the day but West Brom’s young side, with four academy players, earned the chance to take the Fourth Round back to the Hawthorns. Both Albions will now be in the draw for the next round.