Brighton vs Atletico Madrid: A New View from the West Stand

Today I saw probably the best football match I’ve ever seen in my life.  To put that into perspective, I’ve only seen about four and one of those was Cobblers v Hereford (Away) in 1991.  None of those matches happened in the pale sunshine of a not-hot-but–beautiful-blue-sky kind of a Sunday in August in the South Downs.  I’d never normally go to watch Brighton; I generally prefer following football on Twitter – mostly because there are jokes, and people explain what’s going on – but I happened to end up in the best seats in the house via a circuitous route.

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Due to various stresses and strains and admin mistakes, my seven year old son’s season ticket was not renewed this year, meaning that the great prize he’d been looking forward to the whole of last season – a year of watching premier football – was cruelly now no longer his.  Following a near divorce and an attempt to accept that his dreams were over, I couldn’t quite let it rest.  It played on my mind. His sad little face.  Egged on by various people incensed by his plight, who assured me that the Brighton management were a lovely, cuddly, understanding people who would certainly waive the deadline rule for the sake of a seven year old’s crushed heart if it were properly explained to them, I decided to plead his case again.  I discovered that they were in fact more of a black-and-white, “rules mean rules” type of a person:  not all of them, but the ones that made the decisions.  Anyhow, I spent a couple of days remonstrating via email; attempting to cajole, threaten, pressure, plead, almost harass the management into granting him back his season ticket, but to no avail.  However, it turns out they did have a heart, and not only that they probably wanted quite badly to be free of the stream of increasingly desperate emails of a truly riled, protective mother duck once and for all, and as a kind of consolation, they kindly invited Henry to the Atletico Madrid match, and promised him a photo in the stadium.  Not only that, the whole family were invited.  A gesture which was much appreciated, made life considerably brighter for Henry, and thankfully put a stop to me planning my revenge through conducting a massive social media campaign to try to totally discredit the club and its management.

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It actually looked better than this when you were there

So we turned up to discover that our seats were in a most fantastic place; the middle of the West stand, in spitting distance of the subs bench, the back of Chris Hughton, and banks of journalists.  Seeing as our old season ticket seats were tucked away in the corner of the East stand, at ground level, and the main excitement to be had was when a player walked over to take a corner and you got a good look at his face, this was high definition, centre of the action stuff.  We felt like royalty.  Now I don’t understand football, not in the slightest, and so the way I entertained myself through this match was by writing a blog in my head, so here I am at home on the night of the match and here are a few random thoughts that came to me.

Please sort out the food

Hot dogs and burgers had sold out 20 minutes before kickoff.  “No kids, just have a snack at lunch” we had said.  “We’ll get you a hot dog at the ground.”  The hot dog is a tradition and a highlight for the children.  Well, by the time we’d hung around pitch side for half an hour waiting for Paul Barber to appear, and the proposed photo to happen, and discovered we’d been waiting in the wrong place, the Brighton Hove Albion kitchen cupboard was bare.  How much more disappointment could two young boys take?  Please have some back up baps and sausages in reserve, Albion.  You could always freeze them if they don’t get used.

The managers

Chris Hughton looks a bit more slender, lithe and bandy-legged in the flesh than he does in the media.  He has a very impressive whistle;  the kind of whistle that you do with two fingers in your mouth, one from each hand, the sound reaching clearly all the way across the ground like a lark.  He wears very comfy looking sporty clothes to watch the match.  I don’t even like to imagine the pressure of being a football manager.  But he seems to manage it by chewing gum quite vigorously, folding his arms across his front, only occasionally fiddling with the hem of his top and the waist of his tracksuit bottoms, and looking over his right shoulder to someone sitting with the subs.  He barks some kind of surprisingly high-pitched command to the team sometimes.  I wasn’t far away but I couldn’t hear it.  Maybe it’s like dog-whistling.  There’s also quite a bit of gesturing for people to move position.  When the other team score a goal, he immediately adopts the military “at-ease” stance i.e. legs apart, hands clasped behind the back.  In fact something that was apparent in this match is that both managers went a bit quiet and subdued after a goal against them, but the Madrid guy was counterintuitively at his most vociferous and agitated when they were a goal ahead.  I suppose it’s the fear of losing your advantage, rather than the luxury of having nothing to lose and everything to play for.  Was that man Diego Simeone?  An Argentinian?  Hard to tell.  I only saw him from the back, and all the images from my bing search are from the front.  He looked smart in open necked shirt and black jumper, comfy trainers.  He had his hands in his pockets a lot, and when they were out they were gesticulating as wildly as befits someone from a warmer climate, but I do regret to say he is a spitter.  Perr-leeeeasse.  I am trying to raise two boys to be well-mannered and civilised, and not spitting in public is really the minimum standard I expect.  Do you have to do it?

The players

Well, I know a lot of the names.  Solly March, Dunk, Bong, Lualua, Duffy, Stephens.  Mostly because they sound a bit like teletubbies.  I had even picked up that there is a new boy in goal – g’day to Maty Ryan, all the way from the Antipodes.  As a semi-Australian myself, who occasionally pines for lamingtons, proper Aussie meat pies, warm rock pools and not judging people according to their accent, I feel well disposed towards him.  And wow he started off impressively, reassuring the Seagulls fans that his were indeed a solid and safe pair of hands.  However he did seem to butterfinger one a bit and let it in – the first goal, I believe, but I forgive him, if forgiveness is required.  According to everyone around me the Spaniards should have had a penalty anyway, for some undignified kind of scrum that happened when the elaborately rehearsed, chess-piece-type play had broken down – so maybe it was just the universe’s sense of justice.

Another one I noticed was Bruno.  What a figure of a man!  What nobility, what depth, what a profile!  He looks like a player of a different order, even when he’s kicking a ball straight to someone on the other team.  Was he actually borne of woman, or simply hewn from the rock of Mount Olympus?  This is who I imagine throwing the hammer at the first ever Olympics – I mean the ones in Ancient Greece, not the watered-down, namby pamby,  modern version.  What a shame Game of Thrones is on its last series – he’d be assured of a part if his football career ever dries up.

Knockaert came on toward the end.  Was that a bulge in his sock, or was he just pleased to be back on the pitch?  Yes, he of the ankle injury, which turned out to be not as serious as initially feared, seems to be the darling of the crowd.  He got a standing ovation.  It’s lucky he’s not a cricketer;  with their love of nicknames he’d be Knocky or worse.  (You fill this one in yourself, just think “Aggers”).  He certainly energized our side.  He looks a bit like a terrier, lean and cheeky and powerful, and I think his fighting spirit led to the final setting up of a goal.  So sad that his father never lived to see his team go up to what I still like to call the first division.

There’s more.  I could go on, and on, and on, but I don’t want to bore, and the score, 3 -2, to them, tells it all.  They got one more goal, and were more in control, but we have a fine team, so be proud of them all.

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A sea of satisfied seagulls fans off to look forward to next week’s launch into the top division, after a very special day at the AMEX