Clive has fun...at the football
PUBLISHED: 13:35 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:56 20 February 2013
Clive Agran transfers his lifelong allegiance from Spurs to the Seagulls
Unlike players, coaches, managers, physiotherapists and hot-dog salesmen, fans cant switch football clubs in search of greater success, more money or to find a team whose away strip colours flatter their complexion. Basically, were stuck with whatever reckless choice we made in those formative years when the undue influence of family and friends locked us into a lifetime of frustration and disappointment supporting a team destined to avoid glory.
Back in the dubbin days of inside forwards, wing halves and unadventurous fullbacks, I chose Spurs because I lived but a threepenny bus ride from White Hart Lane and my older brother threatened to destroy my Meccano set and melt down my Robinsons golly badge if I didnt.
Although my sporting life would perhaps have been both more thrilling and fulfilled if I had chosen, say, Manchester United, at least I avoided the agony of Accrington Stanley and the pain of Portsmouth.
A season ticket holder for more than 20 years, I was a devoted, loyal and active Spurs fan. Moving to East Sussex in 1993 inevitably affected how often I went to games the four in 93-94 dwindled to zero in 96-97 and without my inspirational presence, the team struggled.
Watching matches on TV is no substitute for the real thing and I missed the spectacularly uncomfortable seats, incessant stream of obscenities and queuing for the toilet at half-time of 80s football. As the years passed and my fondness for all things Sussex soared higher than Peter Crouch at the far post, I began to wonder whether I could support a more local side. For reasons almost religious, I could never countenance following a team wearing red. Blue and white striped Brighton and Hove Albion were the obvious choice and Steve, a good friend and their greatest fan, began nagging me to accompany him to games, but the lack of a proper stadium and lower league status put me off.
Then Gustav Poyet, formerly of Spurs of course, took over as manager and good things began to happen. Brighton were promoted to the Championship and moved into a brand new, purpose-built stadium. After a year of consolidation, this season they might even mount a serious challenge to win promotion to the Premiership.
And so here I am at the Swan Inn at Fulmer looking for Steve and Albions second greatest fan, Jason, before the first home game of the season against Cardiff. The two are engaged in a heated discussion as I sit down in the sunshine to join them for a pre-match pint. Theyre not arguing over team selection or the quality of the close-season signings but which way round the stadium they should walk to take up their seats in the north stand. Football fans are notoriously superstitious and last season, apparently, clockwise was working well until they experimented with anti-clockwise before the West Ham game and lost. Neither is willing to accept responsibility for that decision but they agree to kick this season off going clockwise.
The conversation moves on to the less contentious subject of the Olympics. They were brilliant, says Steve, but taekwondo is no substitute for the real thing. We finished 10th last season but after such a huge investment in the ground and players, theres enormous pressure to deliver and we must at least make the playoffs. A 1-0 away defeat to Hull wasnt the best of starts.
Inside the magnificent ground, the atmosphere is a cross between the Nuremberg Rally and Last Night of the Proms. Its loud, feverish, dramatic and electrifying. To the tune of Hey Jude we all sing, Na, Na, Na, Nanananah, Nanananah Brigh-ton. All that is except a desultory bunch of Cardiff supporters tucked away in the south-east corner of the ground. With foreign owners taking over their club, theyve already had to put up with seeing their strip switched from blue to red and their bluebird emblem knocked off its perch by a dragon. And now, as with all away supporters at the Amex this season, theyve been moved from behind the goal.
Steve proudly points out the new upper tier thats been added to the east stand over the summer. Its increased the grounds capacity so that tonights attendance of over 25,000 is a record for the Amex and Brightons biggest home game for 27 years.
Between two rows of gyrating cheerleaders, the team runs onto the pitch to the amended words of an old classic. Good old Sussex by the sea, Good old Sussex by the sea, Oh were going up and well win the cup for Sussex by the sea. If they do go up, presumably next season theyll sing staying up.
Despite the best efforts of 2.5m Craig Mackail-Smith, Brighton fail to score in the first half. At the other end, new signing Wayne Bridge from Manchester City helps the defence keep a clean sheet. Steve remains optimistic. We didnt lose a match at home last season when it was 0-0 at half time. Not only that but 70 per cent of our goals were scored up this end, which is the goal Brighton will attack in the second half.
Disappointingly, no goals are scored in the second half either and the biggest cheer of the night is reserved for when Cardiffs spectacularly unpopular Craig Bellamy is substituted. Although I cheer, clap and sing along, I dont get to my feet for Stand up if you hate Palace. Whereas I could conceivably switch to hating Palace more than Arsenal, Im not sure I could love Brighton more than Spurs.