Why Andy Naylor Is (Mostly) Wrong

Good ratings at the Argus this week as Andy Naylor’s latest piece of clickbait went viral. To be fair to Andy it has also spawned plenty of debate among Albion fans in various other media such as North Stand Chat, Twitter and Facebook. He’s clearly touched a nerve. But does he have a point?

The article can be condensed in to three points, always handy when you’re discussing football. Firstly that to help the team get over the promotion finish line the crowd needs to play its part. Indeed to be the twelfth man. We need to turn up and we need to crank up the noise. I don’t really think anyone is disputing that this would be a good thing. Being at a packed, noisy Amex as we’ve seen for both home playoff games (and indeed all the Palace games) or the Arsenal cup games is far more exciting as a fan than a half dead midweek fixture such as Wigan last season. If it gives us a boost, imagine what it does for the players. His central point is correct, if obvious. But how do you get people to read something that is patently correct and obvious? If you’re Andy then you stab them in the back.

You do so firstly by inferring that Brighton fans are turning their back on the team, just as we’re looking like we have a shot of automatic promotion. Andy labours over the attendance at the Reading game. His second point, and one that goes on for far too long without justification, is that the attendance for that game was “poor” and that pointing it out on Twitter just led to “excuses”. Extraordinarily he compares it unfavourably with the Sheffield Wednesday game and our away turn out against MK Dons without realising these games were a massive factor in the turnout.

The Reading game was Category A – that’s the most expensive. Compared to that the Sheffield Wednesday game had a ticket deal, where many seats in the areas that were deserted against Reading were on sale for just ten pounds. Meanwhile, MK, as we know, priced their away tickets amazingly at twelve pounds for adults and kids for a quid. Seven thousand Albion fans lapped up this offer creating our biggest away day for years. Cheap tickets, Saturday 3pm kick off and a one off event created by both factors and clever marketing. Then you had Reading. Full price, rearranged twice, virtually zero opposition fans to generate atmosphere and a week after the dullest game the Amex has seen all season. If you have a limited budget, or a family or work life that dictates you pick and choose your games, which would you pick? The Reading game attendance wasn’t poor, it was higher than most of our rivals have mustered all season despite less than three hundred away fans and ticket pricing bordering on the insane.

Andy finally twists the knife in a bit further by stating that

“The best example of home support is the most painful of all for an Albion fan, Palace at Selhurst Park.”

Great to see this myth propagated by supposedly one of our own, one whose job means he visits Selhurst once in a blue moon. No Andy, a few black clad teenagers with a drum, a bog-roll display and goal music isn’t atmosphere. It’s a drum and some bog-roll.

That statement, of course, is cynically intended to get the article read and responded to on social media, and since I’m still responding he clearly had a great day at the office. It is, however, insulting to many other football fans, not only of Brighton and should be beneath a proper journalist.

Are Palace really better than the incredible numbers who turn up to Plymouth or Pompey, two teams who nearly died, in League Two? Has anyone watched Leicester this season? Their atmosphere is incredible, showing what can be done with the much derided clackers (no, please don’t resurrect them Paul). Are Palace louder than Stoke, Spurs or West Ham? Not for me. And how many did they have roaring them to Championship success? Fourteen, fifteen, nineteen thousand max. You can argue what you like about the noise coming from bigger clubs but to state that Palace are the best example of home support in the country is laughable. Argus ratings one, reality nil.

Recently I was on The Albion Roar and we discussed timings of games that have been rearranged by Sky to death. One of my points was that, in this day and age, you are on very thin ground when mocking attendance figures. You risk thumbing your nose at fans for not paying sixty or seventy quid for a ticket, or not being able to travel the length of the country on a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday night. You risk deriding people for missing five o’clock kick offs as there are in the Europa league or suddenly not being able to go to a game that has been rearranged twice, as with Reading. It is not the fans who we should be having a pop at, it’s the system and the game, one that is in danger of eating itself.

So yes, Andy, we do need the fans to turn up and make some noise. But in this day and age, what’s needed for that isn’t just a successful team. It’s reasonably and consistently priced tickets and Saturday 3pm kick offs. Maybe someone with a journalistic platform could turn their attention to campaigning for both?

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Reading At Home 15/16 – Scrappy

 

After ‘nothing’ comes ‘scrappy’, which is better. Last night we were scrappy in two senses of the word. At times we were careless and wasteful with the ball, giving ourselves too much to chase back. When we did chase it back then we were scrappy like that hard little kid at school who used to pick on the rugby team, scrappy like Scrappy Doo. Physical but carelessly so, driven out of ambition. But “nothing” and “scrappy” have given us four points out of six, which is promotion form, and sent us second in the table, which is a promotion spot. Things are starting to get really exciting for The Albion.

As ever, though, we need to start at the beginning. Inevitably, for me, that means a pub. The pub means temptation, I’m no good with temptation. I greatly admire my friend who has stuck to his traditional winter vow of temperance and greeted me with a lime and soda in front of him, and that’s the route I should have gone down, but seeing a pump with “Palmers” on it is all it takes for me to weaken. I had a pint. Part of me justified it with the thought  that it would see off the boredom of another game like the previous week’s and that it would see off the cold. An Easterly was up and it was bitter, even (or especially) in The Roost of the West Upper.

The crew were mostly back assembled. Steve had returned with his son and Mark with one of his. The Cheese Eating Poker School returned and therefore so did correct score betting. We were quorate. In fact, so many takers are there for correct score betting, that people are now picking scores that favour the opposition out of the hat. Four nil was not written down. That’s never going to happen again, right? I picked 1-1 and swapped it (willingly) with the 0-0 drawn behind me. I had the feeling this was going to be another tight one.

On the face of it, Reading had nothing to play for. Buried away in mid table, their season ended by Palace (spits) on Friday night, they have finally stopped following us around and settled for obscurity. There are almost no seasons when Brighton have had the luxury of having nothing to play for in March, but whenever we have we have cruised through the rest of the season. It would be only decent of Reading to do the same.

We’d certainly picked a side to tire them out, so that they could look like they were having a real rest even if their foot was off the gas. A large and slow back two were faced with Wilson and Baldock, Hemed relegated to the bench. Elsewhere Kayal was back. Surely this would be enough for a side in lower mid table, sporting the most outrageously awful away kit and “cheered” on by less than three hundred fans?

In the first half it was, though Reading firstly confused our fans by electing to have us kick northwards in the first half, and secondly had the first decent chance. The two players I had picked out as a danger, Kermorgant and Vydra combined to set up Robson-Kanu who sot the wrong side of the post. After that they were mostly quiet though as the Albion began to take control. Knockaert fired in to the side netting, a rare opportunity for the increasingly mercurial Frenchman. Kayal had a free kick saved before we should have taken the lead when the menacing Baldock set up Stephens who burst in to the area with lovely control before seeing Al Habsi make a reflex save.

All that was forgotten on twenty five minutes as we scored yet another classic Amex team goal. Quick on the break Murphy took a little flicked lay off at pace and laid it off to Baldock who ran at their defence. Wilson supplied the option on the outside and was found with a perfect pass which he converted with his left foot. A less-than-full Amex went duly bananas.

As we continued to dominate a sudden panic went up in our resident bookie who realised he’d given 2-0 to us to two people – both of the under sixteens present in fact. What would be paid out if we scored again? Luckily that was the end of the excitement.

For most of the rest of the game we embarked upon a mission to give the ball away and try to win it back again, sometimes by fair means and sometimes by foul, which was annoying because the ref couldn’t tell one from the other. When he did get it right the concept of “advantage” was generously borrowed from the Six Nations, but not the concept of “advantage over”, so that Reading got another pot shot having hit the post after an infringement. Stephens was lucky to stay on the pitch. Bong and Lua Lua resumed their left wing partnership and Rosenior moved across to bolster the midfield. Squeaky bum time came and went and, somehow, we kept our one goal lead.

It was a lead we deserved in the first half but held increasingly frantically in the second. Meanwhile Hull were losing at Forest. They pulled one back but could not go ahead and, as we finally relaxed over post match pints, we knew we were second.

Such a statistic deserved one more drink in the Star. I could have stayed all night as tales of football gave way to exotic and dangerous travels past but then they kicked us out.

We’re in danger of being in control of our own destiny again. However scrappily.

 

 

Leeds At Home 15/16 – Easy, Easy!

Ah, Leeds. Welcome at The Amex any time. In the naughty years gone by, the seventies, eighties and early nineties a visit from Leeds was about as welcome as one from your mental Auntie Vi with a crowbar in one hand and a gattling gun in the other, but not now. They come in numbers, boosting Mr Barber’s revenue (pretty much what it’s all about now if you believe that Argus interview about Sky), they provide a decent atmosphere, there are always goals and they never win. So it was last night.

It was a fitting way to celebrate my last alcohol for a month and a half. Hobbling, with DOMS coursing through my legs after a PB at the Brighton Half I mentally made a note that this game would provide my last beer before the big one in April. I headed first to The Swan where there was a gathering of the old school, home and away crowd I’ve known for years. I wasn’t the only one to have run the day before and, where the talk would previously have been of pubs, train times and away stewards it was all of times, pacing and training. At least for a bit. Then we got started on a game preview and we wondered aloud when the last time we had a penalty at home was. We concluded it was Ulloa’s effort that had cleared the North Stand and damaged several satellites. “Wonder when we’ll get another one?” we collectively asked.

I headed to the ground to meet the Cheese Eating Poker School, who had arrived with one of the anti-Sky banners being handed out by Leeds fans. I gently pointed out that we had the only seats in the entire ground that were behind the cameras. Such a banner would have been as much use as Sol Bamba. I supposed it could be rolled up and used as a telescope but instead it was gently abandoned.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with its sentiment. I can’t stand Monday Night Football, an invention from the States that was purely to increase advertising revenue over there. Attending a game on a Monday is wrong, as is having to write this in half an hour before work with a hangover. So what follows may be brief. But inconveniencing fans, many who would already have booked train travel or a weekend stay to our City is way more wrong. Brighton / Leeds games have always had a good atmosphere since we moved in to our new home. Credit to the Leeds fans who did turn up and kept singing despite what was occurring on the pitch, but there were less of them than in previous years and some significant gaps on our side of the fence too. Monday football sucks balls.

Gathered in the roost we made the now traditional draw for the quids in correct half time score. I believe eight of us now had a piece of the action, necessitating some fairly creative and outrageous scores to be included. I got 2-0 Leeds. Nobody, though, got 4-0. I mean, when have we ever been four up at half time (a game against Barnet at Withdean is the Tim Carder answer by the way)?

It didn’t start promisingly. The singing battle from the stands was excellent but much on the field was being concentrated in midfield. In hindsight this is where Leeds excel. They have a nice midfield. A decent, Liam Bridcutt at sweeper-ish, type of midfield. Luckily for us they can’t defend and they can’t attack, so when they had an early penalty shout denied that was it for the half in terms of their threat.

We’d been snuffed out in midfield but suddenly we were in front out of nothing. Rosenior went on the overlap down the left, cut in to the box through two players and was hauled down. We had our first home penalty since the Ulloa affront. This one was nearly as bad. If any of my under nines had taken a kick like it I’d have made a mental note that they were off penalties for a month. Tomer Hemed chipped it, very gently, right down the middle. But let’s be generous and say that he saw Silvestri move as the Leeds keeper generously dived out of the way for us to take a 1-0 lead.

Worse – much worse – was to come for Leeds. Bamba, who had a nightmare, gave the ball away to Baldock thirty five yards out from their goal with all their players out of position. Baldock seized the gift like a six year old at a birthday party and exchanged passes with Stephens to go in to the box, where his attempt at a finish took a massive deflection off Liam Cooper and in. 2-0. Fatty Evans was about to burst.

Last season we beat them 2-0 and it was the easiest home game of a difficult season. Though we are at a different end this season we haven’t had many games where we’ve cruised to a win, Brentford excepted. At this point the game was actually safe, given that Leeds’ attack had the accuracy and potency of a blind man hurling ping pong balls in a gale. We didn’t yet know this though as they failed to get out of their half. And, while they had succeeded in keeping Knockaert quiet this only left room for Murphy to attack on the other flank and Baldock and Hemed to torture their ponderous back four.

Next Murphy went clean through but Silvestri produced an excellent save. But then a long ball over the top was only half cleared and it fell to Hemed on the edge of the box. If anyone will have appreciated the Leeds defence parting like the Red Sea it would be him. A simple, low shot and it was 3-0. Now there was real tension among the Cheese Eating Poker School and Other Assembled Guests. 3-0 was one of the held tickets but we didn’t look done yet. Gallows humour took over the Leeds fans. The North Stand went in to shock. How Evans didn’t have a heart attack I’ll never know.

The inevitable fourth came from a corner. Leeds switched off and Dunk climbed highest of all to head home. Bedlam up in the roost. More puce-ness on the touchline. Poor old Leeds. Dragged down here on a Monday night to watch that. The half ended with us stroking the ball around like Barcelona and the whole thing was very neatly summed up by Steve. “I’m not sure how to deal with being this comfortable – I’m at a Brighton game and I’ve got a resting heart rate of 60.” All round the ground similar thoughts were being aired. No one had a winning ticket. Half time scores went in to a roll-over.

I had a sneaking suspicion that, while Evans would have been demolishing the away changing room, many tea cups and several Piglets Pies, Hughton would already be closing the game down. Don’t get booked or injured or do anything silly seemed to be the mantra. Leeds had much more territory in the second half, but so useless were they with it that the first save from Stockdale was celebrated like a goal by their fans. We still nearly added another one, Skalak on as a sub going clean through but rounding the keeper the wrong way and finishing with an exaggerated dive as he was robbed. But that was it as a contest. “4-0, and you still don’t sing” taunted the Leeds. Sorry, lads. Mentally we were already on the bus home.

4-0 it finished. Such wins deserve to be celebrated with a pint or two and so we did. This morning I am facing a month and a half of sobriety. What a way to go out.