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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Seagulls to build their new nest
By James Clarke
BBC News, Sussex

The planned stadium at Falmer
The club submitted its planning application for Falmer in 2001
The decision to let Brighton and Hove Albion build a new stadium at Falmer looks set to bring an eight-year battle to an end - much to the delight of fans.

But many football fans would wonder how an apparently well-run Championship club could come to be homeless for nearly a decade.

Most Seagulls followers feel just as much disbelief - with some still refusing to even drive past the shopping complex which now stands on the site of the Goldstone Ground, the club's former home.

Home games are now watched by about 7,000 people, but the club and fans have stressed for a long time that many thousands more would come if there was room for them in the stadium.

In disarray

They point to the fact that nearly 30,000 Brighton fans watched the team clinch promotion in the play-off final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in 2004 and say many of those would love to come to games week-in, week-out.

The Goldstone Ground
The Goldstone Ground is now the site of a shopping centre

Brighton's spell as footballing nomads began when the Goldstone Ground closed in 1997, after 96 years of hosting matches.

The ground's closure was first revealed in 1995 and fans were furious with then-chairman Bill Archer for selling the ground without finding a permanent replacement.

A move to ground-share with Portsmouth was rumoured, to the disgust of fans who would have faced a 100-mile round trip to home games.

Brighton were in disarray on the pitch too, which did not help the mood - being relegated into Division Three in 1996, just 13 years after reaching the FA Cup final.

A pitch invasion led to the abandonment of what was scheduled to be the last game at the Goldstone, bringing the issue national attention.

Concerted effort

The stadium was given a year's stay of execution but 1996-97 was to prove Brighton's last season at the Goldstone.

It was marked by a concerted effort to raise sympathy and awareness of the club's plight across the country.

Withdean Stadium
Withdean is an athletics stadium with no seats behind one goal

A match against Mansfield was boycotted by all but 1,933 fans - most games had been attracting about 10,000, while in the 1980s top division football had brought crowds of more than 30,000.

In February 1997 fans called on supporters from every league club to join them for what they called "Fans United" day at a game against Hartlepool.

Thousands answered the call and a full house saw Brighton - adrift at the bottom of the entire league - win 5-0 and start a remarkable comeback which would end with the side maintaining its league status on the final day of the season.

But the Goldstone did close - its final game being a 1-0 win over Doncaster.

Lodgers in Kent

The following two seasons saw Brighton playing home games in Gillingham, 75 miles away in Kent.

The unpopular Bill Archer was replaced as chairman by Dick Knight who set about finding the club a home back in Brighton.

Fans at the Goldstone Ground, picture supplied by Brighton and Hove Albion FC
Fans filled the Goldstone Ground in the club's 70s and 80s heyday

In 1999 the Albion returned to Brighton, securing a deal to play at the Withdean Stadium, a small athletics ground in the city.

It has remained the club's borrowed home ever since, with temporary seating and a limited capacity of just 7,000.

In 2001 the club submitted a planning application for a new stadium in the Falmer area of the city, close to the University of Sussex.

Upturn in fortunes

The scheme was backed by the city council but some locals objected, as did environmentalists concerned that part of the planned site is in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty.

But the fans who did so much to raise awareness of the club's plight before it left the Goldstone have carried on their high-profile campaigning.

Two years running they have held a peaceful protest march during the Labour Party conference at the Brighton Centre, and a host of imaginative publicity stunts have included delivering John Prescott a giant postcard and inviting opposition fans to throw sponges at celebrity fan Des Lynam.

Brighton fans at the play-off final
Brighton took nearly 30,000 fans to the play-off final in Cardiff

An upturn in fortunes on the pitch has seen Brighton move up two divisions in their time at the Withdean, but this has only brought the inadequacy of the temporary home into sharper focus.

Low crowds and general uncertainty over the club's future without a real home has seen a succession of talented managers leave the club in recent years, despite its run of success.

Among those to resign since the closure of the Goldstone Ground are Micky Adams, Peter Taylor and Steve Coppell, who tellingly all now manage clubs with big new stadia.

Brighton fans will be hoping John Prescott's decision to let the club make its new home at Falmer will herald a move towards big club status for the Seagulls - or at least let some more of them see a few games.




SEE ALSO:

28 Oct 05 |  Southern Counties

28 Oct 05 |  Southern Counties

26 Sep 05 |  Southern Counties

01 Feb 05 |  Southern Counties

27 Jul 04 |  Southern Counties

18 Feb 03 |  England


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