Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
The liveliest party resort on the south coast, Brighton is a football-focused city with a huge fan base. And the main club, Brighton & Hove Albion, are now established in the Premier League, 25 years after near oblivion and homeless purgatory.
The Amex, Brighton’s long-awaited stadium by the university complex in Falmer, attracts something close to its 30,000 capacity every home game. In 2017, it saw unprecedented scenes as Albion supporters swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate promotion – only a year after narrowly missing out in the play-offs.
Opened in 2011, the Amex replaced the inappropriate Withdean Stadium, appropriately named Palookaville by famed local DJ Fatboy Slim for a launch party there. A modest athletics ground, the Withdean was the decade-long ‘interim’ solution to the mismanaged closure of the club’s beloved Goldstone Ground.
The Goldstone stood in Hove, the adjoining seaside town merged with Brighton in 1997.
Now a bland expanse of chain outlets by Hove Park, the Goldstone was Brighton’s home for most of their history. The cup run of 1982-83 that led to last-minute heartbreak at Wembley, the four short years in the top flight, the second-half strike against Doncaster that helped keep Brighton in the Football League and the subsequent pitch invasion, they all happened here.
The invasion of 1997 was part celebration, part protest, the Goldstone and its history having been dismantled thanks to a chancer owner who had his millions in DIY.
The man who rescued the club from near oblivion was Hove-based advertising mogul Dick Knight. His crusade to rescue his beloved Brighton took many twists and turns before the Seagulls again faced Doncaster for the first league match at the Amex. Today fans congregrate in Dick’s Bar, named in honour of the club’s Life President made an Honorary Freeman of the city in 2013.
Taking over from Knight, locally born Tony Bloom, one of the world’s top poker players, raised the £93 million needed to build the ground.
The same day as the new stadium’s curtain-raising friendly with Tottenham, boyhood fan Dick unveiled a memorial in Hove Park, dedicated to the Goldstone that had once stood opposite.
It was there that Hove FC first played in 1901. Brighton & Hove Albion had been created that same year, following the collapse of Brighton United in 1900. Brighton’s first club, United had joined the Southern League in 1898 but invested too heavily in players such as Welsh international Maurice Parry.
Folding the following year, United paved the way for Brighton & Hove Rangers, renamed Albion in 1901 after a meeting at today’s Seven Stars gastropub in Ship Street.
Brighton & Hove Albion moved in to groundshare the Goldstone with Hove FC, who moved out to Hove Rec 1904. Sole Goldstone tenants Albion went from Southern League to Football League in 1920, second division in 1958 and first in 1979.
Hove FC, meanwhile, played in the Sussex County League before becoming Hove United in 1950 – for one season in the Metropolitan & District League.
In more recent times, Whitehawk FC came from the Sussex County League in 2010 to put in a creditable challenge for a place in the fifth-flight National League in 2016. On the way, the Hawks of East Brighton, between the Downs and the Marina, have attracted a crowd of noisy Ultras and gained nationwide fame with an FA Cup run in December 2015. Though now back down in the lower rung of the Isthmian League, the club maintains a demonstrable anti-racist and anti-homophobic approach, part of a growing European movement.
Lewes FC played in the fifth-flight Conference in 2008-09 and reached the first round of the FA Cup the season before. Currently in the same Isthmian League, the community-owned Rooks made the news when they converted a row of beach huts as executive boxes at their quaint Dripping Pan ground close to Lewes station.
Back at the Amex, almost equidistant between Brighton and Lewes, Brighton’s main rivals are Crystal Palace. Partly born of a dispute between managers Terry Venables and Alan Mullery and a bitter two-replay cup tie in 1976, the fixture continues to boil over. A first ever Premier League meeting between the two ended in a 0-0 draw but was followed by an unsurprisingly controversial FA Cup tie. A late winner by former Palace star Glenn Murray almost triggered a first-ever use of video assistant referee (VAR) technology – but the goal stood.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Each named after a famous Brightonian, Brighton & Hove buses cover the city. A single ticket is £2.70, short hop £1.90, a citySAVER day pass (not valid on night buses) £5.20, all sold on board.
The stadium is by Falmer station north-east of town, though local buses will be less busy than trains on match days.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Brighton is party city. Weekends see the seafront and historic centre packed with revellers, year-round.
Some three-dozen pubs belong to the Laine group, including the 140-year-old seafront Fortune of War and equally venerable, tiled Victory on Duke Street. Dating back to 1779, on Marlborough Place near the Pavilion, The King & Queen houses the largest sports bar in Brighton and sponsors the local Aussie rules team.
The Bright Helm, on the main drag down to the seafront, is the nearest Wetherspoon pub to the beach. Opposite, Molly Malone’s is sport-focused, with 4am closing at weekends.
The nearby Evening Star is where renowned local beer Dark Star was first brewed. It is also served in bohemian The Prince Albert, its façade of iconic rock and rollers brightening the gloom by the railway arches adjoining the station. Punk generation football nuts should go no further.
Amid the bohemian boutiques of North Laine, honest-to-goodness The Heart & Hand is a tiled masterpiece, showing football during tournament summers but mainly playing classic 45s on its vinyl jukebox and giving Bailey the pub cat the run of the place.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the ground and around town
Popular weekend destination Brighton is packed with hotels – many operate a two-night minimum booking policy. Regency Square and the streets between the seafront and St James’ Street are lined with hotels.
Visit Brighton offers a booking service. There are no hotels near the stadium. To stay close to Brighton station, the ibis is right outside, while behind the station complex, Jurys Inn is a reliable choice – and it now has another branch on the seafront.
The historic Old Ship Hotel is another quality option overlooking the sea. The nearby Harbour Hotel fills an 1850s building with a spa, bar and 79 trendy guest rooms. Just behind the seafront, the Travelodge on West Street provides a budget option.
Guesthouses, hostels and cheap chains surround Regency Square. The Beach Hotel, a jewellery shop in the Regency era, is typical of what’s on offer.