Sussex Double Header – Episode 2

Football League Division 2 – Brighton & Hove Albion FC v Watford FC
Saturday, 29th December 2012, 5.20pm (live on some rubbish TV station)
American Express Community Stadium
Distance 5 miles from Lewes FC, Attendance 26727
Collected by Corporate Paul – once a crimped Goth Paul – at Lewes station I was treated to a few hours away from hoi polloi whilst his five year old son interrogated me.
“Who do you support?” Watford. “Who do you want to win tonight?” Watford. “Who would you want to win if Liverpool were playing Spain?” I wouldn’t watch it. “But if you did?” I wouldn’t. “But if you saw it by accident?” I don’t make mistakes that bad. “Have you ever seen Watford beat Brighton?” Yes, often. They’re quite similar in standard. “Watford are a bit medium.” They’re very inconsistent. “You’ve got a bit of a girl’s name. Who are you supporting tonight?”…
Rushing through the rain and crowds we steered a course for the warmth of the Gold Mezzanine lounge, for an even warmer drink before heading for the comfy padded seats. The crowd of both colours were in fine voice as Sussex By The Sea blared forth (it’s popular in these parts), and the teams set about respectfolly handshaking the people they were about to kick.
IMG-20121229-00095bThe action started with a couple of offsides against Brighton’s Watford fan, Craig Mackail-Smith, and Watford centre back Fitz Hall heading over when unmarked. In all three incidents this seemed to be setting out the frustrating story of the half with most plaudits about me going to the more level-headed players on the pitch; keepers Manuel Almunia and Tomasz Kuszczak. Going in goalless was a fair reflection despite Brighton having the best 2-3 chances of the forty-five but, surrounded by Seagulls it was a fairly uncomfortable for me. Not because the home side were better but because Watford started the game – for the second time this season – by struggling to break the zonal Brighton defence, and in their inconsistent manner they didn’t click straight away. Worst of all I could see the five year old out the corner of my eye sizing up his prey (me).
Back in the lounge, most fans – whilst sharing Christmas anecdotes with well wishers – had stopped muttering disapprovingly of the ref and were queuing in orderly fashion for drinks and the best football pies I’ve had in years. Although it seemed sad that (however orderly) one needed to queue twice – once for food, once for drinks – even sadder was one beer-fuelled chap who demonstrated rather less decorum. Though the majority were very welcoming, I wondered what he would say if he over heard which team I supported.
121229 SDH2 Div2 BHA v Watford (63)bAs we took our seats again I wondered why I wasn’t free to view football openly with friends at every game. Why must I sit quietly whilst my team is playing? What can’t we stand side by side like the line-ups on the scoreboard? Why is it better I am a contented neutral from another country, than a contented fan from another satellite town? Why can’t we have mixed standing (or seating) like at The Dripping Pan? What changes in supporters’ expectations and reactions the higher up the pyramid they go? It certainly isn’t a passion for the game…
On the way out afterwards one moaner stated disapprovingly “They played a far superior version of OUR football”. I’d like to have pointed out that no team has a divine right to football and explained – just as I had to Paul earlier – that Watford have developed a knack of looking skilfully inconsistent for much of games prior to destroying the opposition in deadly short spells. The second half was scripted just so.
121229 SDH2 Div2 BHA v Watford (64)bTen minutes in, Deeney with the aid of a small deflection smashed the ball through Kuszczak. Below, my people responded by asking our neighbours up the M1 if they were watching (on the TV channel which was probably droning on unimaginatively about numerous loanees). Shortly a stupidly unnecessary challenge in the box gave Brighton something to celebrate, Vydra’s long range shot deflected Paul Parkeresque over the flailing Kuszczak, then almost straight from the kick-off the ball went from end (ours) to end (theirs) with deadly accuracy.
121229 SDH2 Div2 BHA v Watford (60)bAs Vydra ran from the halfway line over-taking three defenders it was all I could do to curtail celebrating. Watford had won, and in parts looked unbelievably good. Like the game earlier in the day, the south coast side with a bird’s name went behind and didn’t have a chance of getting even. The quick-fire subtime had begun, the scoreboard was advertising 15% off the best football pies ever, and the streaming out Brighton fans were fewer in number than those celebrating in the away end.
Turning to my neighbour – who’d established my leanings fairly early on – I pointed out that in the grand scheme of things this game probably meant little. Deep down I still see us both in the same division next season. He agreed and we went our separate ways.
As we sat for an eternity in (former) Goth Paul’s corporte car, in the painfully bad at emptying Amex corporate car park, I felt relieved that the new ground and little bit of success have clearly not gone to the heads of many Brighton fans, and even more relieved the drunk in the lounge wasn’t near us in the stand. Instead I thought of how pleasant it had been – despite the five year old inquisition – sitting with friends at football, and how nice it was to have an agreeable objective discussion with an opposition supporter, rather than some of the blinkered majority I encounter near the summit of our beautiful game. I wondered where I could get Piglet Pies at home, and pondered why Chelsea were in such managerial disarray whilst two of their former players seemed far more organised, and why it is that under Malkay Watford went for the early onslaught whist Zola’s team toys with its prey before killing them off. Most of all I thought about how much I love festive football.

121229 SDH2 Div2 BHA v Watford (71)b

Whatever the complaints of the “footballing elite” the problem with Christmas football is not the need for a break for our modern wrapped-in-cotton wool game, it’s not being able to share more of it with friends.

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