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Last week Pete and myself visited the site for the new Community Stadium at Falmer, the new home of Brighton and Hove Albion. This wasn't just a jolly. Our reason for attending was to look at the feasibility and prices for use of the stadium facilities by Fresh Egg and its clientele for future seminars, training courses and conferences and maybe what rates were going on corporate seating too. What really impressed us was the attention to detail, the thought process behind the design and the way the whole thing is being managed by the Buckingham Group.
The stadium has been the brainchild of Chief Executive Martin Perry for fifteen years, since the dark days of the Albion's stewardship under Bill Archer and David Belloti, who nearly succeeded in taking the club from the old second division to the Conference League in three years! Quite a feat, and a fate narrowly avoided by a single point on the last day of the season (1-1 draw away to Hereford United, that sent them down to the Conference instead of the Albion).
Fortunately for the club, the ownership was finally wrestled away from these clowns, but not until they had sold the old Goldstone ground for next to nothing.
Several years passed, with long suffering fans travelling to Gillingham's Priestfield stadium in an unlikely ground sharing arrangement. This was taking its toll on both the club and the supporters, until the Brighton council agreed to let the club return to its current temporary accommodation - the Withdean Stadium in Brighton. Although this is not much more than a running track with temporary scaffold stands, it is far more preferable than the 150 mile round trip to Gillingham!
So a new stadium was needed, and surely this would be fairly straightforward - you only had to look at the 'Stadium of Light', or 'The Emirates' for example. But it was never going to be simple for the Albion.
On 28 October 2005, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced that the application for Falmer had been successful, much to the joy and relief of all the fans. However, Lewes District Council contested John Prescott's decision to approve planning permission for Falmer forcing a judicial review. This was based on a minor error in Prescott's original approval which neglected to mention that some car parking for the stadium is in the Lewes district as opposed to the Brighton & Hove unitary authority. This caused further delay. Once the judicial review ruled in favour of the stadium, Lewes District Council said that they would not launch further appeals.
But that is all history, as the building of this amazing arena is well underway, with expected completion date at the end of May 2011, ready for new season in August of that year.
The new east stand (capacity 12,000) is currently being constructed, and will be the home of the new corporate facility known as the '1901 Club', named after the year of the club's formation. There are a couple of well stocked bars here where it will be possible to mingle and chat to like-minded individuals and generally 'press the flesh'.
Seating is available alongside special spaces created for wheelchair positions - this is crucial as it means the end to alienation for disabled supporters. The stand has lifts, tons of lifts - in fact more lifts than Ann Robinson's face. No longer will the wheelchair support have to endure the discomfort of being herded into a separate area exposed to the elements.
Oh and there's definitely not going to be a grass roof, which we're mildly disappointed about - but the stadium is already looking amazing and could genuinely grace the premier league.
Thanks to Pete, who wrote the fantastic background to Brighton Albion's move to the new Community Stadium