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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Seagulls proving a hit on and off the pitch

By Johnny Phillips | Football | Published:

It was nourishing for the soul to spend time in Brighton this week in the lead up to Wolves’ visit in the Premier League tomorrow afternoon.

Brighton and Hove Albion's Neal Maupay (right) celebrates

Brighton & Hove Albion have been supporting the Shop Small campaign led by the club’s stadium sponsor, Amex. Supporters are being encouraged to use local independent stores this weekend instead of the larger commercial retail outlets.

There couldn’t be a better city to trumpet the cause of local independents. Brighton has long thrived and stood out as a city by doing things its own way, with a bustling community of independent stores.

A visit to this particular part of the south coast is always an enjoyable one, and visiting fans regularly make a weekend of a trip down here.

Striker Neal Maupay and midfielder Pascal Gross gave up an afternoon to visit the seafront coffee shop, Lazy Fin.

The pair were engaging company, chatting about life on the south coast.

Maupay is a fascinating individual. The Frenchman can be seen preparing for games by reading a book in the dressing room.

It is hardly a sedate environment to immerse yourself in literature, with music usually blasting out at considerable decibels, but Maupay says it helps him zone out from any external distractions. For what it is worth, he is currently reading Roger Federer’s autobiography.

Manager Graham Potter is at the start of a project on the south coast. He has changed the playing style completely since taking over from Chris Hughton.

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Brighton and Hove Albion's Neal Maupay celebrates

The Seagulls are usually a great watch and it will be interesting to see how well they get on against Wolves. Like Nuno’s side, they play three at the back. Adam Webster has been particularly impressive in a defensive three, stepping up a level well since his summer move from Bristol City. This column is being penned before their fixture at Arsenal but regardless of that outcome, Potter’s side have perhaps not earned the points their football deserves.

Maupay, who netted the winning goal against Arsenal on Thursday night, is another of the new recruits, having arrived from Brentford, and he has quickly grasped the important role the club plays in the community.

Shop Small is just one of many worthwhile initiatives the club engage in over a season, with regular beach cleans and school visits marked on the calendar.

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The football club has come through some real hardships to get where it is and it is great to see the community seeing the benefit of that.

Like Wolves, they have a fanbase thankful for their place in the Premier League. It is little more than two decades since the Seagulls were left homeless and penniless, but those who lived through it will never forget.

When the club’s former owner Bill Archer sold the Goldstone Ground to a property developer with no new home to move in to, fans were rightly angered and upset.

On 26 April, 1997, the Goldstone Ground closed its doors for the final time. Soon after, an ugly retail park went up where once stood a much-loved football ground.

A ground share with Gillingham was agreed and supporters spent two seasons making a 140-mile round trip to see their team play ‘home’ matches.

It was deeply unsatisfactory, but at least the club was in good hands now. Lifelong supporter Dick Knight and his consortium came to the rescue and brought Brighton back to the city.

The Withdean Stadium is an athletics venue, but between 1999 and 2011 it played host to Brighton’s home games. In fact, they rarely played their first game of a season at home because the temporary seating was never installed in time, having always been used at golf’s Open Championship a couple of weeks before each season kicked off.

Martin Perry, Brighton’s executive director and part of the Knight consortium, once told me how they had to make do and mend down the years with some enterprising thinking. “When we left the Goldstone Ground we literally had nothing,” he said. “We didn’t even know then where we were going to play the next August.

A GV / General View of the pitch at The Amex Stadium home of Brighton and Hove Albion with American Express branding along the touchline. (AMA)

“After Gillingham, we came back to Brighton and I remember having to bring the printer in on a match day to Withdean and we used to print the tickets. But the printing machine was really temperamental, so we had to use a hairdryer to try and warm it up.”

Now Perry can look out across the magnificent Amex Stadium at the foot of the South Downs and enjoy the club’s place in the Premier League.

Albion In The Community (AITC), the club’s charitable foundation, reaches far and wide and has become a valuable institution, particularly now the team is in the Premier League.

A revealing report, commissioned by Brighton & Hove Albion, by experts at Marshal Regen Ltd and the University of Chichester has shown AITC’s work across Sussex is having a positive impact on the local community worth more than £28million a year.

AITC invests around £3million a year delivering its 60 local projects. The charity uses the popularity of football to engage more than 43,000 people in its work each year, focusing largely on getting people active, helping people lead healthier lives, and raising aspirations and academic achievement.

Estimates of its impact are based on calculating the knock-on effect of AITC’s work, and the £28million annual figure represents the minimum impact, given that many of the benefits created by AITC are long-term and may only become fully apparent many years later.

Brighton & Hove Albion’s rise from the ashes has certainly been one of football’s happier tales.

Johnny Phillips

By Johnny Phillips

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit, giving his thoughts on football across the country

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