Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Amex: First impressions

I promised myself I would not go.

My first match at The Amex should have been the Doncaster Rovers game. Or at least the Spurs friendly.

But no. My dad, you see, is football mad. He couldn't wait. He humoured me enough when I was younger, letting me open a Christmas present a few hours early each year when I couldn't sleep. Even after the now infamous (in my family anyway) time I picked the Gordan The Gopher and proceeded to squeak for five hours straight. I owed him this.

So, unable to wait until the Albion's very own Christmas morning, my dad got tickets for the Eastbourne Borough clash.

And off we went. In the rain. It was as if the footballing gods wanted Brighton fans to get one more Sussex-based soaking. Just for old times sake.

Our group was one person light. My mum - an Aston Villa fan rather than a Seagull - opted to 'reluctantly' pass on the experience. Still, my dad got her a programme. And they say romance is dead.

The walk to the ground was everything I hoped it would be. Well, apart from wet. Very wet. Maybe the prospect of the first match was just proving to be that little bit too arousing for dear old Mother Nature. Whatever the reason - and I like to think it was the 'Bad boy football club stomping all over a field treat them mean keep them keen effect' greasing up the Mrs MN's undercarriage - whatever the reason, it was soaking. Dripping.

A visit to the half-stocked club shop was a tense affair. Someone walked in the out door and, for just a second, it looked like The Amex would have its first case of football violence (see: crap merchandise rage). But no. The offender made a quick exit (through the wrong door) and the angry masses turned their attentions back to buying the new away strip.

The food was nice. True, it took half an hour to get it, but this was, after all, a ramp up event. Teething problems were to be expected. Unless of course you happened to be the miserable git behind me in the queue (no, not you dad) who acted as if Tony Bloom has pissed on his gran after digging her up and dressing her half-rotted corpse in a Palace kit. With Murray on the back. Some people, I couldn't help but feel, suited Withdean.

The ground had no clock. The toilets had no soap. And the match had no atmosphere.

But - and here is the important bit - did anyone really care? Honestly. I didn't. And if you did, well, you probably shouldn't have gone to a match held the the sole reason of ironing out all the big match creases.

That said, I am still a bit underwhelmed by the lay-out of the stadium. A bigger stand behind the goal would have been nice. And less random bits of grey space. I know the club has left room to expand but I can't help feeling away fans visiting The Amex will leave with a far less amorous opinion of it than the Brighton faithful - happy as we all are just to have a home. With a roof.

The acoustics were excellent and, had the visiting Boro fans not left their singing voices at home in all the excitement, the 1,500 fans huddled in the South Stand could have given a real glimpse of what the massed ranks of Leeds United, West Ham et al will sound like.

The views were good. I moved seat a few times in the East Stand and at no point did the view disappoint.

One slight concern was that the disabled section seems to have been put in the corner next to the away fans. It would have been nice if, like the City of Manchester Stadium (or whatever someone paid a squillion pounds to call it) each block had a number of disabled seats incorporated in it. Fans are fans whether they are in a wheelchair or not and it would be nice if there was less segregation along able-bodied or non able-bodied grounds in a new stadium.

The swiping in system worked well - particularly as almost every person who walked through it looked like they had never had to negotiate a tube barrier.

Post match I had a little sniff round the ground, mainly to find my old man's heritage stone. About 100 people had the same idea, leading to quite a comical sight of dozens of people walking backwards step by slow step facing the floor trying to spot their name.

I eventually found my dad's. He loved it. And I also found this little treasure. The GDC Stone. God bless those lovable rogues of the GDC and may real ale rain down on them for all eternity. Apart from Piers. He prefers lager. Or cider. Or, if the mood takes him, mint flavoured snuff from Sheffield.

On the approach to the stones there is a sort of Walk of Heroes thing with a few pictures of famous players from yesteryear. The inclusion of Guy Butters, Paul Rogers and a couple of others seemed a little confusing, although not as controversial as the twice his actual size image of Leon Knight will no doubt prove to be.

All in all, not the best new ground I have ever been to. Hull City's KC Stadium edges it from our new offering.

But, most importantly, it is OUR new ground. And it will be deafening when full up.

It may feel a little alien to begin with and I dare say the first few visits will seem like away games. Soon though, The Amex will have some special memories to send it racing headlong into our hearts. And when that happens, all the years of suffering will make those memories seem all the more special.

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