The Nineties, Bellotti and The Premier League

Twenty five years ago the nineties started. Well, take six months anyway. A wave of Nineties nostalgia has been upon the media, social and otherwise, at least on Channel Four but then they have a relaunched TV series and an accompanying CD to flog. But that’s not the point. For people of my generation I suspect that stating this silver anniversary out loud strikes a mixture of fear, pride and nostalgia in to them. Twenty five years since Spike Island. Twenty five years since Platt’s goal, Let’s All Have A Disco, Gazza’s tears and the bloody Germans. Twenty five years since Millwall fans took over my local.

Last night I wallowed in the Channel Four retrospective. Partly, of course, this is simply down to my age. I suspect the majority of people over thirty five probably fondly remember the time when they were in their twenties the most. The Nineties almost exactly coincided with my twenties. It was a messy, messy decade and true to the cliché there’s a lot of it I don’t remember, including entire Albion matches, home and away.

But that excess and hedonism needed a soundtrack and visuals and the Nineties produced it in spades. Here’s a gang of E-d up Manchester lads fusing the dance music that we were just starting to get, with the indie that was blowing away the Eighties ingrained pomposity. Their opening acts were DJs who wrote fanzines about football, clothes and gear. Here’s a gang of UK and German producers pushing that dance music to its limits, speeding it up or setting it to funky riffs and drunken breakbeats. When you got home you could put on the sublime, stripped back treatment of soul and hip hop being dealt out by crews in Bristol. Here come the bastard swaggering offspring of The Stone Roses to do battle with the laddy Mockney Art School boys. And the whole thing was set to halved, pickled cows, Tango Man and journalists who had the sorts of weekends we did and then wrote about it in Mixmag or Loaded.

In many ways the Nineties are also the ideal decade for this treatment, thanks to technology and where the planet is currently. If you reprised the Sixties in 1985 then you would have needed to convince the Oxbridge educated old boys that ran the only four television channels that showing grainy black and white footage of a couple of bands, accompanied by a soundtrack that may well be a Mono recorded 78, would make a good hour of television. Who the hell would watch that instead of Poirot? There’d be angry letters to Points of View and no mistake. Yes, Channel Four was in existence but it was three years old and no one watched it.

Yet, last night, there was high quality footage of Oasis and Tricky, CD quality sound of Underworld, Tracy Emin’s bed and that bird from L7 getting her muff out as if it was yesterday. Forty somethings the country over took to their Twitter, Facebook and (ahem) blogs to reminisce. And if you didn’t like it there were at least a hundred other channels you could choose from. And that, sadly, is one of the more unfortunate consequences of the decade, a consequence that still hangs over our football club.

Yes, the Nineties spawned a couple of monsters. Satellite or cable television arrived and with it came The Premier League. At first I rather liked this, I’m not ashamed to admit. We couldn’t afford Sky. Not at the start of the decade when I was flitting between my parents’ house as they concluded a messy divorce and my mates’ sofas, nor the middle when I was in a shared flat, nor at the end when I had just moved in with my girlfriend. And this meant the only way to see the big games that were now routinely on television was to go to the pub on a Sunday afternoon and extend that sybaritic weekend for one more day. Beer was still relatively cheap in Brighton’s back street pubs and none had yet been turned in to a Gastropub, let alone all of them. A new football watching routine was born.

This was just as well because it seemed, in the middle of the decade, that this would be the only football that fans of Brighton and Hove Albion would soon get to see. The club was dying, or rather, it was being killed by the unholy triumvirate of Stanley, Archer and Bellotti. The gory years were upon us. Suddenly the trips to football that had been such a laugh at the start of the decade were now taken up with football that was so terrible that you couldn’t help but notice no matter how off your face you were, Protests, pitch invasions, bonfire-building anger and bannings. As a series of my friends were excluded and, as your average Albion match became as much fun as being one of those people on The Word who would do anything to get on TV, I retreated further in to those night clubs, barely to emerge. Others did not. They led the fight from the front. Tragically, two of them passed on before any of the wreckers. Then, last week, David Bellotti passed away. He was seventy two.

His death was marked in only a few places. A glowing tribute from Lib Dem Voice and a fairly blunt, and far less complimentary, retrospective from many Albion fans on NSC and Twitter and in this admirably honest obit on We Are Brighton. Other than that, the passing of the man who had helped to try to ruin my favourite decade on this planet went largely unmarked. I hope it was worth the hassle David.

I left a fairly blunt message on that NSC thread. I don’t believe in reinventing someone just because they’ve carked it. Yet, as with Thatcher, I felt a lot less like celebrating than I thought I would. Perhaps the passage of time has healed, who knows. However, I think it is more to do with where we are now as a club. Had Bellotti died while we were still mired in Withdean, planning battles and League Two I probably would have organised the celebration drinkies and bonfire myself. But the truth is that the threat the club faces these days is not from the Three Amigos. We are back, playing second tier football in a wonderful stadium, a stadium that, if nowhere near as full as our official attendance claims, still attracts around twenty thousand fans for each game. At The Goldstone – at least pre Fans United – it was less than ten. We have, in short, moved on.

No the threat is from that other Nineties Monster the Premier League. Never has it looked more like a closed shop. The television money sloshing around, and the parachute payments that result from it, mean that clubs like ours become more disadvantaged with every week. When QPR are merrily signing players despite a £65 million “exceptional payment” you can tell no one’s taking FFP seriously, and why would you when you can earn upwards of £75 million for a season in the Prem? The awfulness of last season is still fresh in the mind and yet it will be even harder for us to compete next season. This may seem like I am regurgitating lines straight from Paul Barber but you only need to look at the financial analysis surrounding your average Premier League team to realise just how ingrained in the second tier we are becoming. Meanwhile, Palace, Southampton and even bloody Bournemouth are gorging themselves at the top table.

Thanks Nineties.

Leeds – Textbook

One thing I have attempted to do in this blog is put a light hearted spin on events at the Amex. Doing so this time may be difficult. It was a textbook night at the football, and, as such, not funny at all. It was good though.

The last two home games against Leeds have been excellent for the neutral. Two high scoring draws where the atmosphere has cracked and fizzled round the Amex. However, in both I felt we were unlucky not to win. This time round the atmosphere was a little less on edge, the game a little less open. And we won. To be fair that’s how I’d prefer it.

Everything went right in the Brighton But Only At Home camp. I got out of work on time and caught trains that weren’t delayed. I had a pie and a pint or two in Dick’s in which the main discussion was how much of a coach Oscar Garcia is, how we are benefitting from the wisdom of a man who is essentially a football nerd.

Then the only thing to slightly go wrong happened in that I lost Scoffers, unfortunate given he’s a six foot tall bloke. Blame the rather erratic 3G coverage in the WSU. While I was wandering I did bump in to another old friend, and one who can talk for England. I never successfully extracted myself.

So to the action on the pitch. This was a demonstration of exactly the coaching nerdiness we had just discussed. Despite, at times, giving away silly passes we still retained 61% of possession. When the ball was lost it was generally recovered within Oscar’s target time. The two centre backs had Ross McCormack in their pockets. Ince roamed and ravaged like a colossus. “Our own Ya Ya Touré” the bloke next to me remarked, and he was right.

I can’t honestly remember Leeds having a good chance, though being an amateur blogger, rather than a pro journalist, by this point a fair amount of ale had been taken. Still, I don’t think there was enough beer in the whole stadium to miss our general level of comfort.

What was missing was a goal (again) and Oscar said as much afterwards. Enter Kazenga. Immediately the threat level upped and we went from comfortable to cutting edge. After 64 minutes a typical bit of Kaz trickery found Ulloa on the penalty spot and he finished with a cheeky, and joyous flick of the outside of the right foot. Later the friend who can talk for England would claim it was a shank. He was laughed out of town. It was an incredible finish in a game where Ulloa’s first touch, up to then, had been lacking.

Not lacking in any way was Solly March who gave another brave and tireless performance, and Calde who did the same, still sprinting forward in the 90th minute to will the ball back and keep it in the corner. PIG dominated the penalty area on the rare occasions when the centre backs didn’t. Ward was again solid though his crossing radar was off.

But the night was the Ince and Kazenga show. The beating heart of our engine room and the most dangerous impact player we’ve ever had. As Leeds triple teamed KLL we brought on another pacey winger in the form of Buckley to make them reconsider. Textbook coaching.

Afterwards many of us stopped for a beer and a gloat in the West Lower. It seems beating Leeds is still very satisfying indeed. It just doesn’t produce particularly entertaining writing.

Half Term Report

Back at the start of the season I did a preview both here and on Amex North Stand and reading it back it just goes to show why bookies will always make a profit and The Championship will always be an impossibly league to predict.

We are now exactly half way through the season and it’s time to take stock of where we are and look at how the second half of the season will pan out. Many of you will now have seen every team in this division though, of course, given the blog name I have only seen the ones that came to the Amex and then I missed Millwall and Blackburn thanks to a holiday and the Aztec Two Step respectively.

Watching a team once in this division is, however, absolutely no guide to how they will appear in the table or what their real quality is. From what we’ve seen you would say that Barnsley are world beaters and Burnley are bottom mid table fodder. In fact, at the half way point Barnsley sit bottom and Burnley third. Bolton and Wigan are underperforming compared to my prediction and we’ve beaten both. Derby, having beaten us in our opening home game thanks to some interesting refereeing from a certain Mr D’Urso , then got rid of long term manager Nigel Clough, to the anger of one of the Derby fans on my twitter timeline. They brought in the Wally with the Brolly and guess what? He’s turned these perennial also rans in to world beaters, going on a winning run that sees them second behind Leicester. Talking of Leicester they head the table by a clear four points, yet again they looked distinctly average down here falling victim to our best performance of the season so far. Perhaps we should thank them for starting Dean Hammond who looked as useful as Andy Kennedy in an Ugly Centre Back competition.

Still (and I quote, and yes I’m showing off) my prediction for our own team looks bang on track. I said “top ten – possibly the playoffs if everything goes to plan”. At the half way point we sit eighth, level on points with sixth place Ipswich, whose goal difference is just +2 better than us.

So who have been the star performers who have helped us achieve what is an excellent first half of the season given the Poyet induced uncertainty of the summer?

Star Pupils

Rohan Ince – Number one teachers pet is Rohan Ince, who has been giving teacher his metaphorical apple by smashing away opposition midfielders in the style of Patrick Viera meets Chuck Norris. If Ince plays we get a result, simple as. Surely this is a case to play him every game then? I would say not. In fact I would say Oscar has handled him perfectly, making sure this lad who is still young and developing is given exactly the right amount of game time to make his big impact whenever he does play. Talking of which…

Oscar Garcia – What a great half season from our coach. How lucky we are. Let’s look at what he’s had to do. Adapt to English football and the basket case / lottery that is the Championship. Take on someone else’s squad and later than many of his rivals. Battle the worst injury crisis I can remember at the club. Subtly change the football philosophy at the club. Win over the fans. Bring in decent new faces. By and large he’s done all of it. Yes there’s room for improvement. We could have attacked Barnsley more and not tried to walk it in on a pudding at Charlton, but we are pretty much exactly where I expected and it has been done with a mix of flair and quiet understatedness.

Ashley Barnes – Still Barnes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea yet I’m giving him an A- and putting him in with the swots. For large portions of the season he’s had to play up front on his own with no Ulloa. He’s been kicked, punched and had his shirt ripped constantly by centre backs who know referees go against him and that he has a temper. At no point has he retaliated, He’s held the ball up, got on with his job and scored 6 goals, equal top with Ulloa, including the goal of the season so far at Bournemouth.

Matt Upson – Mr Consistency and the best centre back in the league. Thanks Matt.

Bruno – OLD BRUNO IS BACK! That cocky swagger man, marauding down the wing one minute and winning a tackle he had no right to the next. Halfway through this first half I would have replaced him with Calde and yet his two performaces against Leicester and Huddersfield have been the best I’ve ever seen from a Brighton full back. OK maybe Bridge had a couple better last season overall but there is no doubt that when Bruno’s on form every person in the ground notices him.

Paul Barber – Fair play to the CEO. I certainly didn’t agree with the way the Poyet situation was handled either PR wise or in the length of time it took to get sorted but the Poyet monkey is now off our backs and, it would seen, inexpensively. Meanwhile Mr Barber has overseen a PR revolution, the fans are kept properly informed by him and Tony Bloom and people who take the time to write are replied to in full. The pricing of the Reading cup game is also spot on. If there’s one frustration remaining it’s tendency to talk about FFP when many around us still don’t seem to be taking it seriously, but it’s just the talk that’s frustrating. We will have a viable and sustainable club who may just be *gags* PL Ready *barfs*

Could do better

Keith Andrews – Wasn’t convinced when we signed him, haven’t been since. We win when Ince plays and we don’t when Andrews does.

Kemy Agustein – Injured for much of the season so will be better to judge him when he’s fully fit. But Kemy – what’s with this wearing a snood and gloves when it’s 10 degrees?

The training pitch / The German Doctor – Too many injuries this season. Unexplained.

Referees – Haven’t had a good one yet, as per.

Reading Football Club – There is no way I thought we’d be above them at this stage. Keep Up Nige.