One week ago, I purchased two tickets for Brighton’s home game with Burnley. From that day, I received a string of emails, previewing the game, making special offers and updating me on events at the club. On the morning of the match, I received a letter from Oscar Garcia, Brighton’s new head coach. Now I have ghost-written enough letters and articles to know that Garcia didn’t pen this, but I was, nevertheless, impressed by this letter.
This string of messages from Brighton wasn’t just another example of irritating mass marketing, it also underlined the ambition of the club and showed that they are doing something right. In “his” letter, Garcia , who joined Brighton after the controversial and confusing dismissal of Gus Poyet, said: “The club has already enjoyed record season-ticket sales for this season – and we want to boost those numbers even higher.”
To help facilitate this, Brighton have reached an agreement with local transport providers to offer a subsidised travel zone, which includes a park-and-ride scheme, buses and trains. It’s a big effort to encourage people to the American Express Community Stadium, which is sandwiched between two universities in nearby Falmer. There were 26,007 people at the Brighton v Burnley game on August 24, just below the 2012-13 average.
Getting into the Amex wasn’t easy. The rain reminded us that the football season was well underway but hastened our entry into the wrong section. Our tickets didn’t work in the auto entry readers and so we were escorted in and then out of the ground and into the right section of the South Stand after convincing the steward we were not Burnley fans – we just happened to be two people who hadn’t read their tickets.
The stadium was impressive, although the high roof and low gradient of the seating meant the rain made our seats uninhabitable. Never mind, though, for the end was sparsely populated and meant we could move to dry territory, and also gain a closer look at the Burnley supporters.
Like all travelling fans, they fervently and mistakenly believe they make more noise than the home supporters, although Burnley’s defiant band had a very limited repertoire. Brighton had made the press with their “zero tolerance” of homophobic chants – a reference to the thriving gay community in the seaside town – and although there were one or two attempts to provoke the home support, Burnley’s fans were more concerned with conventional abuse of Brighton’s “south side boys”, whoever they may be. At the same time, the Seagulls (it does sound a little like “seig heil” to the untrained ear) couldn’t resist some good old fashioned “regionalism” – “Does your whippet know you’re here?”.
Brighton were eager to get their first home win of the season. They had lost their first two games of the campaign, at Leeds and at home to Derby, but picked up a 1-0 win at Birmingham. They were also surprisingly beaten at home in the Capital One Cup by Newport.
Burnley, who were unbeaten prior to the game, started well, but Brighton took the lead after 28 minutes. Leonardo Ulloa, who impressed me all afternoon, took advantage of slack defending from Burnley and went on a run down the left. He sent a low cross into the area and Andrew Crofts scored with a low drive.
The main talking point of the half came in the closing minute, Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton bringing down Will Buckley. While the Amex anticipated a red card, the referee opted for a caution, but Heaton’s time would come.
In the 57th minute, he received his marching orders after handling the ball twice outside his area. Now reduced to 10 men, Burnley were even less threatening. Brighton’s tails were up and in he 73rd minute, Buckley cross from the right and Ulloa rose to head home. A classic centre-forward’s goal.
Burnley were disappointing considering they were in good form before their trip to the South Coast. Certainly, I expected more from a team coached by “the ginger Mourinho”, the Burnley fans’ nickname for Sean Dyche. The final score was 2-0 and if Ulloa maintains his early season form, Brighton should be good enough to stage a promotion challenge and maybe improve on last season’s play-off defeat. The Amex is a Premier League standard ground, after all.
One negative point, though. As good as the Amex is, the infrastructure supporting it is decidedly second-rate. Falmer station is not sufficiently equipped to deal with a 26,000 football crowd. Should Brighton win promotion at some point, and that’s surely a possibility, you can foresee problems. For the time being, I shall be keeping an eye on Ulloa….