Brentford at Home – Prawn Sandwich 

When we’re talking Modern Football there’s nothing that quite vexes me like corporate hospitality. Those two words go along with “the football” as well as “new iPhone” goes with “bath full of lemonade”. And yet it doesn’t. These days it is what keeps many clubs going if we’re honest. The Albion have just posted the sort of corporate finance figures that show that, while David Burke did go, Tony will never get rid of Paul Barber. Having been a harsh critic on these pages you have to tip your hat to that sort of financial performance. It may even mean we can get some new players, because the squad depth was badly exposed again yesterday, but without the revenues from the lounges the rest of us would be watching worse football still. Or no football.

So what exactly was my dilemma? I belong on a terrace wearing Adidas trainers. And some other stuff, obviously, otherwise I’d be freezing and get arrested. But the trainers are the thing. I literally cannot remember the last time I have been to a game and not worn them. Perhaps a mid week game when I had to come straight from work. I’m not sure. However, in the 1901 Club they are verboten. There is a collar and shoes dress code. When I was younger I made it a rule to avoid night clubs that had similar dress codes for the fairly obvious reason that they were rubbish, overpriced lager palaces with terrible music and erection sections. But not quite all the time. When certain friends wanted to go then I did because being with my friends was more important than my musical and drinking prejudices. This is how I found myself in the 1901 yesterday, and before that dressing in a shirt and shoes for the football. Because a very good friend had free lounge passes. Free is my favourite price. And my very good friend shares a love of football, music, food, drinking and banter. A reminder that sometimes it’s good to break your own rules.

It was coincidental that The Boy was missing his first Saturday home game of the season, due to a birthday party on the other side of Sussex. So we had a boys day, a jolly boys outing, a day on the sauce. If you are looking for an insightful and factual account of the game I would stop right now. The painful irony is that yesterday I had the best view I have ever had of a football match and yet I can barely remember most of it. An opportunity wasted. Literally.

We started with the best of intentions. We were back to mine after the game for curry and wine with our wives and so we thought we’d take it easily. That, frankly, lasted until we got to The Cyclist and my friend had drained his Cruzcampo almost before we’d sat down. And, if you can’t beat them, join them. The night before we had played badminton together and my friend had said his dad was meeting us at the ground. “You’ll like my dad. He likes drinking.” Before I could even meet Dad however Dick’s Bar had worked its magic and drawn us in, as if it were one of Brighton’s more interesting and bohemian pubs rather than a strip lit bar at a football ground. Two down we met my friend’s dad and his mate and went to the lounge. Now we were four.

Four is the ideal number for drinking in rounds. I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted here. Two can and do drink in rounds of course but it’s not a proper round. It’s two friends at a pub. With three of you there is a tricky decision to be made as to if you stop at three pints or move on to a much more dangerous six. But with four of you a pleasant afternoon can be whiled away over beers without getting either too wasted or staying too sober. Only, of course, we’d already had a couple.

So what can I say about that ultimate evil necessity The Lounge? Well, it was very nice. You can see instantly why people do it. No queues. A proper knife and fork for your pie. Alan Mullery lurking silverly in the background. Glass glasses. BRANDED glasses. As I imagined the bulk of my friends battling in on a train bantering with the large away support, or struggling through traffic on their coach, I was sat with a proper pint in a proper glass round a table that wasn’t unlike the ones you get at dinners at smart hotels. When I went to get my round in the young girl behind the bar looked distraught when I ordered two Harveys. “I’m terribly sorry” she sighed “but do you mind them in Guinness glasses as we’re out of Harvey’s ones?” She looked like she was about to sob. I resisted the temptation to yell “ACTUALLY YES, I DO MIND. WHAT HAS THIS PLACE COME TO? NO BRANDED GLASSES? BRING ME PAUL BARBER SO I CAN DICTATE AN IMMEDIATE EMAIL TO HIS FACE!” Instead I just said “that will be fine”. And smiled at her. The poor love seemingly had no idea that I can usually spend over 10 minutes queuing only to find no beer or pie at all.

Just as the lounge is lovely so are the seats. An amazing view, right behind the managers. The seats even wider. Even more padded. And that’s where it gets a bit hazy. Brentford seemed to have more of the ball. We seemed to have the better chances. They scored from their only chance of the first half via a massive deflection. We squandered a couple of good ones, Calde shooting straight at the keeper when through on the angle. Brentford played the sort of high line that a decent striker combined with a linesman who knows the rules should be exposing over and over. We had neither.

And here’s why I love football. Whether you are in the best seats in the house in your best shirt or behind the goal in your trainers and other stuff you will have an opinion on the game. That opinion will be strong whether you are a member of a Temperance Society or, frankly, quite pissed. Mine, and my friend’s dad was that we had generally been the better side and had been unlucky. My friend’s (and Mark who I normally sit with agrees with this) was that we were poor. Very poor. I’m offering both sides because, honestly, when it comes down to it, yesterday was a day out on the piss more than it was a sporting occasion. And there’s nothing “modern football” about that, it’s what I did for years.


Ipswich At Home – Another Bad Day at the Office

I was thinking what to call this report and I thought ‘bad day at the office’ had it covered. I also had the nasty suspicion I would have used it before this season so I did a quick search and guess what? I had used it for Ipswich away. That report had been garnered from a mixture of listening to the radio, reading reports , talking to friends and watching the highlights so, to be fair, it was a bit of a punt (yes that was deliberately spelled with a P, we’re not on to talking about Johnny Williams yet). Yet I watched all the game yesterday and it seemed an apt enough description. But given it applies to both Ipswich games perhaps there’s a bit more to it. I shall return to this at the end.

Where to start with this game? Unbridled optimism, that’s where. We came in to it on the back of two 2-0 wins. The Boy has recently started playing football. He broke his leg when he was three in a trampoline accident. It zapped his confidence, making him think everything would hurt and has left him with an unusual running style. I have never been able to teach him football and yet the coaches at his club have shown a remarkable improvement in him in only three weeks. They are miracle workers. They are also Brighton fans. So are a few of the dads. The feeling at Saturday morning’s training was that we were in for another win. So while they might be miracle workers don’t ask them for the lottery numbers.

On Twitter everyone seemed confident. There hadn’t been a doom and gloom thread on NSC for seemingly ages. On the train over it emerged that lovely Billy Davies was being smashed by his old club in the Brian Clough derby. There was a chance a win in the afternoon would put us in the playoff places. Plus I had my lucky hat with me. The hat that mesmerised QPRs millionaires in to a team that couldn’t shoot for toffee. Game on.

Also, there’s nothing like beer to raise your confidence levels. Different things need different beer levels I find. I am an excellent pool player after two pints. After three my darts skillz are at their peak (I’ll never quite forget that reverse 120 checkout with pike at the Three Jolly Botchers the second the last of the third pint of Old Grunter hit the spot). Five pints is necessary for me to talk sense and about eight is sufficient for talking to a girl or strangers which is why I spent most of my twenties single and friendless.

Two pints is ideal to give you confidence that Brighton will win a football match and so I took my seat knowing, just knowing, we were about to smash the Tractor Boys. Sure, after the first pint I had predicted a 1-0 loss but now I was at optimum. Oh dear.

Ipswich are big and organised, the sort of side we often struggle against. Each deficiency in our game was mercilessly exposed. I will now conduct my match report in the form of going through how our players were exposed (or not in just a couple of cases). PIG’s distribution was again terrible, two of his kicks could easily have set up another Ipswich goal. He was also at fault for their goal, showing a Brezovan-esque lack of wanting to come and claim a corner. Lingard was a powder puff, constantly knocked off the ball and panicking when clean through on goal because he could hear a defender somewhere. The real Rohan Ince was off helping Chuck Norris save the world so he sent along his twin brother Simon who spent the afternoon giving the ball away. Ulloa was constantly offside, either mistiming runs or making ones which were too good for the rest of the team. JFC was average. Again. Bruno played some sublime passes but also picked up another silly booking. Ipswich’s second goal came from an area that any decent right back would have dealt with.

Positives? Upson and Greer were mostly solid (but shame about the first goal). Andrews showed why he had replaced Stephens. But if you could pick out a MOM (and it was hard) it would have been Stephen Ward who looked untroubled at left back and regularly set Lingard away to get knocked over. Ipswich? You have to say they took their goals well and they rarely looked in trouble.

*spits feathers*

Afterwards I went down to the West Lower bar for the traditional putting the world to rights over beer. “It was Garcia’s fault” said friend one (though you could substitute the names Poyet and McGhee in his analysis after almost any defeat under those managers). Maybe today he had a point? Certainly for someone who is ‘obsessed by attacking football’ we don’t do a lot of it. I theorised that perhaps we don’t have players who are quite good enough to carry out the instructions of a manager who has spent more or less all his career around Barcelona and Johan Cruyff. This is Brighton not Brazil. Someone else said the same thing had been suggested of Roy Keane’s managerial career. What is certain is that, just when we seem to be on a run that will finally make a difference we blow it. We are inconsistent, frustrating and, at home, too defensive. Eighth place looks a certainty.

As I walked back to Falmer station after an entertaining conversation that had at least cheered me up another thought occurred. Ipswich had done the double on us and done it comfortably. Perhaps Mick McCarthy had our number. After all, if I was an Ipswich blogger I would have described the game as a good day at the office.