Following family footsteps down to Falmer

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By Phil Dennett

GRANDFATHER Dennett ploughed a muscular furrow at left back for Albion on little more than a ploughed field in a brief career in the formative and primitive Southern League days.

Having at last got a ticket for the new Amex stadium I could not help remembering him as just over 100 years later the ball glided below over immaculate turf at Albion’s small but beautifully formed home at Falmer.

He and plenty of other Albion players of that rough and ready era might have looked a better player on such a wonderfully smooth surface, and would no doubt have been inspired by the urging of a 19,000 sell-crowd in the match against Hull.

I wondered too how class acts like Bobby Smith, Mark Lawrenson, Peter Ward, and the late but potentially great young Barry Rees might have relished all this.

Despite my family connection with Albion I fell in love first with dashing Manchester United and Duncan Edwards as a kid of six when I thought everyone played in black and white in a snow storm but it was really just the dodgy Fifties television.

But the tug of your local team is magnetic and by my teens was yelling at a sometimes packed Goldstone.

A shirt worn on Saturday evening by someone about my age reminded me of grandfather’s post-army crack at the Albion. The shirt proudly read: “The original Seagulls since 1901”- my relative joined soon after the start.

It will take the Amex another century to conjure up the historic aura of the Goldstone, but practically-speaking I don’t hanker after the old place - just perhaps the chatty stroll across Hove Park.

My big worry was that the new ground might have the same problem I find whenever I visit Old Trafford- magnificent but often with a disappointingly cool atmosphere.

The first roar rebounding around the neat stadium as Albion launched an attack laid that fear to rest, the structure of the ground acting as a giant amplifier.

What could have been “We all live in a Brighton submarine” in Beatles era was rehashed for the 21st century and the roar of fans was strong on the few occasions Albion sprang to life up front.

Acoustically and visually the stadium is truly impressive; not a decibel wasted, it looks sleek as a liner and the view from my West Stand seat was an unobstructed panorama. Being squeezed and shoved in a 30,000 crowd on the banks of the Goldstone in a downpour suddenly seemed less rose-tinted.

The football? It was in all honestly mostly as dull a game as a 0-0 score might suggest. By the time the second half had started the child in front of me had resorted to a colouring book.

Albion commendably try to play to feet, but they were too often feet of clay on Saturday. On this showing they lacked pace and too often had a poor first touch.

Albion’s ‘keeper Casper Ankergren was their man of the match and several fine saves saved them from defeat by the much tidier Hull. Ironically an older fan had said on the train: “He’s a bit slow. Bring back Eric Gill, mind you that’s going back to 1958”.

At least the fans around me were realistic: “Let’s be honest,” one said to unhappy mates moaning, “A year ago we’d have taken a draw against Hull”.

Albion and their beautiful ground look capable of going places my grandfather never dreamed of, but perhaps not quite yet.