Thursday, 17 January 2013

The cost of following Brighton and Hove Albion: Around £3,000 a season


The cost of following Brighton home and away in every league game this season will set fans back more than £3,000.

The total Seagulls' supporters will have to spend on away tickets alone works out at around £611 - according to prices listed online.

That works out at an average of £26.50 for an away ticket in the Championship this season, give or take a few pounds due to estimated categorisation of certain games yet to be played.

Earlier in the season the cost of petrol for the roughly 9,000 miles clocked up by a travelling Seagull was put at around £1,700 - meaning the cost of travel and entry alone for all 23 away league games is £2,311.

And that does not take into account a repeat 565-mile return trip to Blackburn which Albion fans will have to make twice after the first fixture was called off late in the day.

Add to that an average priced Amex season ticket in the West Stand Upper (£490) and the total reaches £2,801.

The total cost of a programme at each away match is £70, with every club charging £3 apart from Leeds United, who ask £4.

And buy a copy of the programme, priced £3.50, at each home game, and fans are looking at another £80.50.

Add that cost to the £2,801 and you get £2,951.50 before you have even factored in food, drink or parking.

If fans were to have just one pint (at a relatively conservative estimated price of around £3.30) and a pie (against, at a guestimated average of around £3) at each game that would add another £144.90 to away games.

At The Amex, a pie and a pint deal is available each game for £7. Have one of them at each game and you need to put aside £161.

All this means that for a Brighton fan to attend each game (buying tickets in advance), travelling by car, buying a programme and enjoying a pie and a pint would cost around £3,256.90 - an average of about £70 a match for 46 games.

Of course that does not take into account car shares or people who travel by train taking advantage of early deals, but it does provide a rough idea of the price of watching football week in, week out.

It would seem that the cost of football is not just something which is an issue in the top flight.

Brighton's chief executive has already told supporters that the cost of season tickets will increase next season, with the club looking to tackle estimated annual losses of around £8million since moving to The Amex from Withdean.

And supporters going to every game have already stumped up for cup games away at Swindon Town and at home against Newcastle United and Arsenal (being played later this month).

Fans of Premier League clubs have started an online petition calling for a £30 cap on the cost of tickets for away fans and similar campaigns are being mooted for the Football League.

However, although the issue of cost finally seems to be attracting attention in the national press, clubs lower down the leagues, who get far less television money, will be reluctant to drop prices and see a dip in what remains in many cases their biggest single revenue stream, bar perhaps the sale of star players.

And there is also the risk that if Premier League clubs DO use increasing TV revenues to reduce entrance fees that lower league and non league clubs could suffer.

If, for example, West Ham end up playing in the Olympic Stadium and can cut ticket prices while playing in the top flight, there are real fears for the future of Leyton Orient. Why, when you can watch top level games for around the same price as League One, would young people in the East End head to Brisbane Road?

Whatever the answer (and a proper distribution of TV money throughout the divisions would be a start) one thing is clear: following your favourite football club is an expensive business and one which increasingly fewer people can justify.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Albion losing £8million a year at Amex


Brighton lost £8million in their first season at The Amex and are set to lose a similar ammount this year, according to Tony Bloom.

Writing in tomorrow's programme (which is available to download now on the club's website) Bloom and his right hand man Paul Barber lift the lid on the Albion's current financial position amid concerns about the cost of watching football at the £93million stadium.

Fans have questioned the club's pricing of individual matches and reacted badly to some of recent decisions made by Barber.

However, Bloom, who has bank-rolled the club since taking over from Dick Knight, says every ticket, shirt, pie or programme sold is vital if the club are going to continue to compete at this level.

Bloom says, "Last year we lost around £8 million and in the current year, notwithstanding our record crowds, we forecast a similar sized loss. This unfortunately is today’s reality of life in the Championship, especially for those teams pushing hard for success on the pitch.

"In spite of these massive losses we are actually within the current Financial Fair Play (FFP) parameters. This reflects the phased launch of the FFP rules for Championship clubs, so as the rules tighten each year we will progressively have to bring our budgets more into balance in order to meet the sliding FFP targets.

"We need to keep our cost base as low as possible.

"We need to continue to listen to you, our fans, and we will always try to meet, or exceed, your expectations.

"Nobody wants prices to go up, but we have to be realistic. This will happen over
time, and we will aim to keep increases manageable – and we will do everything we can to make things easy, such as the interest-free direct debit scheme, which spreads the cost of a season ticket over 12 months.

"Our intention is to give Gus additional money to attract more quality players. As supporters of the club you can help us by continuing to buy tickets, food and drink, or host a party or meeting on nonmatchdays...the simple equation is the more profit we generate in this way, the more funds it will give the manager to invest in the playing side.

"All this really adds up and helps us enormously."

He added that the hope for the season remained a top siz finish, while Barber - who has recently become something of a hate figure among Albion fans, also uses tomorrow's programme to talk about the need to meet FFP guidelines.

And, perhaps surprisingly, he reiterates his belief that fans should be seen as customers.

He says, "Football fans hate business speak. I know that. And I know why. What matters to fans is the team, our players, how we're playing, where we are in the league, and how far we can progress in the cups. And rightly so.

"However, for the first time, FFP means that there now has to be a more direct and formal link between the business side of a football club and the playing side. And inevitably our fans sit between the two.

"For the business side of the club, it is essential we treat our fans as customers (yes, I've seen the banner and heard the rhetoric!)while, for the football side, of course our fans are supporters.

"Supporters of the team. Customers of the club. Businesses – and, yes, we are one – have customers.

"Successful businesses seek new customers and build their revenues. Successful businesses also become as efficient as possible and reduce their costs wherever
they can."

One area where the club will no doubt be hoping for additional income is the area of sponsorship, with the Albion's existing deals coming to an end before next season.

During his time at Spurs, Barber was instrumental in securing the club's then record shirt sponsorship deal.

A similar result at The Amex would certainly be welcome.

- Paul Barber and the club's press officer will appear on the Albion Roar radio show tomorrow. Visit www.albionroar.co.uk for more details. There are also four pages on FFP in tomorrow's official match programme. This is available to download now at www.seagulls.co.uk as well as being on sale at the game as usual.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The great Albion ticket debate


With the news that a substantial group of Manchester City fans have boycotted their club's away match with Arsenal in protest over ticket prices, the subject of how much it costs - and how much it should cost - to watch football has once again hit the headlines.

However, here in Sussex, the issue has been under discussion for much of the season.

Brighton and Hove Albion announced pre-season that the club had sold more season tickets than AC Milan - somewhere around the 23,000 mark. With a capacity of just over 27,000, that left around 2,000 home tickets available on a match by match basis.

Part of the reason for the high level of uptake is Gus Poyet's team promising performances on the pitch coupled with the excitement surrounding the club's new stadium, which shows no signs of dimming a season and a half after the Albion made the move from the run-down Withdean to the £93million award-winning Amex.

Perhaps more importantly though was the club's decision to allow fans to pay for their season tickets monthly with no interest charges - a move which was widely praised by supporters who found regular attendance suddenly more affordable.

It seems to have worked. This season the Albion have the highest average attendance in the Championship despite being up against traditionally bigger clubs like Wolves, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County.

That isn't to say the season tickets are cheap. They aren't. Adult season tickets start at £425 behind the goal and go up to £625 in the lower tier of the ground's imposing West Stand.

In 1989, the cheapest season ticket in the West Stand at the club's old Goldstone Ground home was £135. Now it is £425 in the block at each end and £490 everywhere else. Drop down a tier and the cheapest annual ticket is £525 in the wings rising to £625 in the centre.

Those fees do include the previously optional £30 travel voucher which enables fans to use public transport to get to and from the stadium but even with that figure removed, the prices for the cheapest West Stand seats have gone up by around 219% since 1989.

Nevertheless, in the current climate and taking into account the superb facilities now offered at The Amex, a lowest price season ticket of £425 means fans can attend every league game at home for an average cost of around £18.50. You are unlikely to find many supporters moaning about that.

Even the best seats work out at about £27 a match which is hardly terrible for the high end price bracket.

However, things get a little more expensive for those who cannot afford a season ticket or cannot justify buying one because they would not be able to attend every match.

The cheapest available single match ticket costs £28 for an adult with a £2 booking fee. That figure is the same regardless of opposition.

That is around £8 more than the division's average for lowest price ticket and, to make matters worse, the club appears to only release these one general sale once tickets in more expensive areas of the ground have sold out - a move which has, understandably, angered fans who feel they are being exploited.

In the popular West Stand Upper section a match tickets would set you back £32, or £34 with the booking fee. To put it into context, if a fan was to pay £34 per game all season, it would cost them £736.

The most expensive single match tickets are advertised at £39, but there are rarely any of those left. That is, unless season ticket holders decide they want to sell their seat for any match they cannot attend.

In year's gone by, popular website www.northstandchat.biz was the first place fans looked for any unwanted tickets.

The forum, which has thousands of members and was a vital tool during the club's long-running fight for a new stadium, operated a ticket exchange. Fans who could not go would post details on the site's sub-forum but only for face value or lower.

Pre-Amex, this service was a vital and affordable way for fans to get tickets to see the Albion, particularly in the early days at the Withdean when demand for seats was at a premium. In fact, many of the fans now sitting as fully fledged season ticket holders will have had their interest kept alive by securing cheap tickets from NSC on an ad hoc basis.

That all stopped earlier this season though when the club asked for it to be taken down.

Fans now have to hand their season tickets back to the club if they are unable to go, with the Albion placing them on sale once, or if, the game has sold out. The club can then, presumably, sell the tickets at full price rather than the discounted rate the original season ticket holder paid for that particular match.

Much of this game to a head prior to the Albion's recent FA Cup match with Newcastle United.

Many fans voiced their disappointment when the club announced the ticket prices would be set at the usual match by match rates - meaning season ticket holders were left having to pay substantially more for their regular seat than they usually would.

For example, the discounted season ticket price for the cheapest annual ticket would be around £18.50 per match. For the same seat against Newcastle those supporters were asked to pay £28 - plus a booking fee for doing little more than charging the extra match onto the holder's existing credit card style ticket.

Other fans in more expensive areas were asked to cough up £39 for a match which was selected for live coverage on ITV and came hot on the heels of Christmas.

Some fans stayed away while many more stumped up the cash. Not everyone, it would be fair to say, was bothered. Lots of fans sympathised with the club's approach, arguing that if fans want to see better players, they need to be willing to put their hand in their pocket to help fund them.

But the fact that the attendance was, at around 21,000 with 2,000 away fans, noticeably lower than the 26,000 plus who were at the previous home match with Watford, showed quite a few were not happy.

And it isn't just the ticket prices. Prices have gone up across the board. Food and drink are now more expensive and the match day programme is now 50p more expensive despite appearing to be printed on cheaper paper.

Brighton have been drawn at home to either Arsenal or Swansea in the next round and the club has confirmed prices will stay the same. Unlike the Newcastle match, this game will most likely sell out.

An opt-in automatic purchase scheme for cup tickets has been pushed by the club and, with tickets going on sale this afternoon to season ticket holders, the Albion will surely benefit from fans snapping up the stubs in the hope it will be Arsenal heading to The Amex.

And, in defence of the club's decision-makers, £28 for a big match against the likes of Arsenal, or indeed Swansea, is reasonable enough.

For Newcastle though, many supporters hoped the club would take into account the fact the game came so soon after the expensive festive period, was on television and was a repeat of last year's fourth round meeting between the two sides.

On its own, the prices were not extortionate, but some season ticket holders decided to stay away as much in protest at what fellow fans were having to pay for match by match tickets.

Can the club really justify charging £28 and upwards for far less glamorous face-offs against the likes of Barnsley? You would hope not, but they already have.

And they are not alone. Already this season travelling Brighton fans have been forced to regularly pay upwards of £30 for entrance to an opponent's ground.

Crystal Palace traditionally charge the Albion around the £34 mark for the two sides' derby match despite the run-down nature of Selhurst Park, while Ipwich Town recently asked Albion fans to cough up the same amount. It seems that these days £32 is the starting point for away entry in the Championship - although Blackburn deserve a nod for asking for just £20. The fact they called the game off with just a couple of hours notice shouldn't detract too much from the affordable pricing.

There will always be arguments from people pointing to the increase of players' wages, the context of pricing at other clubs and, invariably, the relatively high price of watching non league football in 2013.

However, pointing out that every other club is guilty of the same crime does not make it acceptable. Hopefully the newly found coverage in the national press might encourage all clubs to look at ways to reduce the number of people priced out of following their favourites.

Earlier this week Morecambe opened up the gates to its ground to supporters for free in a bid to get new fans onto the terraces. Some non league clubs are now operating a pay what you can afford scheme. It seems, as you would expect, it is the clubs struggling for crowds who are coming up with the most imaginative ways of making going to the match affordable.

At Championship level though, Crystal Palace are doing all they can to fill the Selhurst stands, including tickets offered up when mobile phones are topped up and hooking up with discount website Groupon. It might be funny to Brighton fans, but the Eagles should be applauded for taking a pro-active approach to dwindling attendances.

The Albion's capacity is set to rise to 30,000 by the end of the season, meaning the issue of demand will, you would imagine, reduce. Some season ticket holders may even opt to pick their matches next season knowing tickets will almost certainly be readily available for each game.

Hopefully the club - which lest we forget had established itself as one of the most community-minded in the country - will be careful not to price people out of supporting their local side.

It is going to be an exciting time for the Albion. Hopefully everyone will be in a position to join the adventure.




Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Brighton by numbers: The season in statistics


Statistics are becoming more and more a part of modern football, with most clubs throughout the country using them in at least some way to help make decisions around training, tactics and player recruitment.

Baseball's Billy Bean is the most famous champion of a statistic approach to squad building and not without a definite degree of success. He used previously ignored statistics to sign under-valued players as general manager of the Oakland As, carrying on where his predecessor Sandy Anderson had left off.

His success is perfectly illustrated by the As' 2006 MLB season during which they ranked just 24th of 30 major league teams in terms of how much they paid their players but ended the regular season with the fifth best record.

Since then a host of other clubs, across a stack of sports, have tried to use statistics to improve their chances of success. Football has perhaps lagged behind other sports but, thanks to pioneers like Arsene Wenger and the services offered by firms like Opta, it is catching up.

Statistics and football are becoming more and more interlinked. But, without access to the wealth of data supplied to clubs, what can be learn about Brighton's players and who should be selected?

Well, in truth, not too much. However, if you look at the number of games during which each player has been on the pitch for ten minutes or longer, you can try find a few interesting snippets.

With more time, each player's appearances would be weighted to take into account the time spent on the pitch, the score when they came on/were subbed off and other more in-depth areas.

In the short-term though you can limit findings to include just players who played 10 minutes or more in each match, which takes into account important cameos which no doubt contributed to the outcome of the match without handing easy plus points to players who came on for a last minute run-out.

There are some players who have made just a handful of games, such as Peter Brezovan and Torbjorn Agdestein, so the findings have been limited to those who have played five or more matches.

So far this season the Albion's league performance has read Played: 25, Won: 9, Drawn: 10 and Lost: 6. That works out as a win ratio of 36%, a loss rate of 24% and a draw level of 40%.

Below are listed the same statistics for each squad player who had completed five or more matches with a minimum of 10 minutes in each game. Some of the per centages have been rounded up, so they are only approximate to within one per cent.

Tomasz Kuszczak
Games (G): 24
Losing % (L): 25%
Win % (W): 33%
Draw % (D): 42%

Gordon Greer
G: 25
L: 24%
W: 36%
D: 40%

Adam El Abd
G: 19
L: 26%
W: 32%
D: 42%

Lewis Dunk
G: 7
L: 14%
W: 43%
D: 43%

Wayne Bridge
G: 21
L: 24%
W: 33%
D: 43%

Bruno
G: 20
L: 25%
W: 40%
D: 35%

Inigo Calderon
G: 8
L: 25%
W: 25%
D: 50%

Liam Bridcutt
G: 24
L: 25%
W: 33%
D: 42%

Dean Hammond
G: 18
L: 22%
W: 39%
D: 39%

Andrew Crofts
G: 16
L: 31%
W: 25%
D: 44%

Andrea Orlandi
G: 16
L: 12%
W: 50%
D: 38%

Gary Dicker
G: 15
L: 26.5%
W: 47%
D: 26.5%

Stephen Dobbie
G: 13
L: 38%
W: 31%
D: 31%

Kazenga Lua Lua
G: 11
L: 27%
W: 27%
D: 36%

William Buckley
G: 20
L: 20%
W: 35%
D: 45%

David Lopez
G: 9
L: 33%
W: 11%
D: 56%

Will Hoskins
G: 7
L: 14%
W: 43%
D: 43%

Ashley Barnes
G: 24
L: 25%
W: 33%
D: 42%

Craig Mackail-Smith
G: 22
L: 23%
W: 41%
D: 36%

Gordon Greer has played in every single league match this season, so there is little to find in his statistics, although the fact that Lewis Dunk has only been on the losing side in one of his seven outings could certainly be used by any arguing for the young defender's inclusion in the starting line-up.

Perhaps surprisingly, Ashley Barnes and Liam Bridcutt have exactly the same statistics while Gary Dicker, so often underrated by Albion fans, has helped the side to victory in nearly half (47%) of the matches he has featured in.

This could be because he is adding something to the Seagulls, or suggest that when Poyet sets his team out to win matches, he often includes the Irishman in his line-up alongside other more attack-minded colleagues.

A number of players have featured in every defeat this season (Kuszczak, Greer, Barnes and Bridcutt) but this is most likely because they are almost permanent fixtures in the team, rather than highlighting any personal lack of form or defensive prowess.

More interesting to look at is who has featured in each of the Albion's nine league wins. Again, having played every game, Greer kicks off the list. However, Mackail-Smith has also played in every win and the Albion have come out on top in 41% of the games he has appeared in.

They are the only two to feature in every win but looking at those who have played in, say eight of the nine and their individual win rate is more telling.

Andrea Orlandi has played more than 10 minutes in just 16 of the Seagulls' 25 games, but has appeared in eight of the nine maximum returns - meaning Brighton have won in 50% of the games he has played - a much higher rate than the team's overall record.

Gary Dicker's seven wins from 15 matches represents another high of 47%, while perhaps unsurprisingly Will Buckley has also contributed heavily to the Albion's winning performances, clocking up seven wins in his 20 games, or 35%.

And one good indicator as to whether or not you can expect a Brighton win is whether or not Bruno starts at right back. He has played in five defeats in his 20 games but his win rate sits at 40%.

So, for a bit of fun, which starting 11 would the statistics suggest Poyet should go with to maximise his chances of winning? Below is the team the stat man may pick, with their win ratio in brackets.

GK: Kuszczak (33%)

LB: Bridge (33%)
RB: Bruno (40%)
CB: Dunk (43%)
CB: Greer (36%)

M: Dicker (47%)
M: Bridcutt (33%)
M: Hammond (39%)

F: Mackail-Smith (41%)
F: Orlandi (50%)
F: Buckley (35%)

Strictly speaking Hoskins should be included, with Orlandi dropping back into midfield instead of Bridcutt, but almost all of his seven appearances came from the bench, slightly distorting his importance.

That team may not be the one Poyet believes is his best starting 11. There could certainly be a strong case for El Abd being included above Dunk - particularly as Dunk's one defeat came after a individual error early on in the Crystal Palace game - but it would be hard to argue that any other starting 11 would be better.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Liam Bridcutt - The Real deal?


Anyone who watched ITV's coverage of Brighton's win against Newcastle United in the FA Cup will have had their eyes opened to what The Amex faithful have known for some time - that Liam Bridcutt is among the most talented and consistent performers outside the top flight.

The pint-sized defensive midfielder was cast out by Chelsea after failing to make a single first team appearance. His time at Stamford Bridge was notable only for a string of loan spells, first at Yeovil, then Watford and finally Stockport County.

He Stockport debut was actually against Brighton and saw Bridcutt sent off. There can't have been many Albion fans who noted his name as a potential future star after that outing. In fact, there were probably only a handful who even remembered his name before he signed a short-term deal at Withdean Stadium in August 2010.

Gus Poyet's preferred defensive shield, Alan Navarro, was injured and Bridcutt was approached to fill that scouse-shaped void and given a five month contract.

A few fans grumbled during his feet-finding first couple of games but since then he has become a firm favourite - landing the club's player of the year award last season.

Yet, despite his consistent brilliance as a ball-winner, you will struggle to find anyone parading round The Amex with Bridcutt 26 on the back of their replica top.

Spend a few minutes listening to Bridcutt speak though and you get the distinct impression he would not have it any other way.

As unassuming off the pitch as he is on it, Bridcutt has quietly gone about establishing himself as the most important player in Poyet's squad - and one of the best players in the Championship.

Much was made recently of Poyet comparing Albion winger Will Buckley with Crystal Palace starlet Wilfried Zaha. Perhaps a better comparison would be between the Selhurst star and Bridcutt.

Both are young, English, integral to the way their teams play and soon to be in demand.

Bridcutt may not get the headlines Zaha's performances so often demand, but he is building a reputation as a good transfer prospect for any Premier League club looking to strengthen its midfield.

Despite being just 5ft 7in (according to Wikipedia - always looks shorter than that from the stands), Bridcutt is impressive in the air, and this season he has added a wider range of passing to his Makélelé like presence in the Seagulls' engine room.

Much of Brighton's recent success has hinged on playing a high-tempo short passing game and quite simply, without Bridcutt, this would have been near impossible to pull off.

Gordon Greer and Adam El Abd - Brighton's usual central defensive pair - have both benefited hugely from Bridcutt's willingness to accept the ball from the back four and take responsibility for pushing the play forward. In fact, the pair have at times looked nothing short of cultured. Remove Bridcutt from the equation and it would be fair to say neither would look anywhere near as comfortable in possession.

Defensively Bridcutt is without equal in the hotly-contested Championship of 2012-13. With so much of Brighton's approach dependant on Bruno and Wayne Bridge attacking from full back, Bridcutt's ability to read the game and fill in the gaps is priceless.

Or almost. Poyet has often spoken of his admiration for Bridcutt but recently the manager's quotes have started including concern he may lose his first name on the team sheet.

There will have been no clubs with a scouting system worth its salt who have only been made aware of Bridcutt after his man of the match turn against Newcastle at the weekend.

However, with the transfer window now open, interest in the midfielder is likely to intensify. The Albion, it seems, are preparing for concrete offers.

Speaking after the 2v0 third round win, Poyet said, "I am worried. Other clubs can ask about him because it’s part of the game.

"As a holding midfielder, there is no better player in the division."

And Poyet, who knows a thing or two about carving out a career as a top midfielder, believes recent speculation linking Bridcutt with Aston Villa, Norwich City and Fulham may even be doing his player a disservice.

"If I was coach of Real Madrid," said Poyet, "I would take him because he deserves to go to the highest level."

It might be expecting a lot for Bridcutt to go from Championship tempo-setter to Champions League game-changer but anyone who has seen him in the stripes wouldn't bet against him one day making it to the very top.

His position may have been described by Eric Cantona as the water carrier, but Bridcutt has done nothing but serve up Champagne football since arriving on the south coast.

Brighton fans will be hoping he continues to do so, for the near future at least.

Barbernomics: Price rises + fans = angry punters


Last month a message from Brighton & Hove popped up in the Twitter feed of thousands of supporters.

It was urging fans to make use of the pre-match brasserie ahead of forthcoming home fixtures. Nothing unusual about that. The wording however was enough to make event the most stoical fan's stomach churn. Whoever wrote the message, you see, wanted fans to "maximise" their "matchday experience." It was as if David Brent had been let loose on the club's PC.

And, while the Albion's chief executive Paul Barber was obviously not behind the management-speak-gone-mad message, most supporters realise he is very much behind the club's recent drive towards commercialism off the pitch.

However, while some see it as a necessary evil to be suffered if the Albion are to push further up the footballing pyramid, others look upon Barber and his recent approach as the first step in stripping the club away from the very ideals which so successfully kept extinction at bay throughout the lean Goldstone, Gillingham and Withdean years.

When he was appointed back in May, Tony Bloom hailed Barber as the man to move the club forward, drive revenues and, without saying it in so many words, drag what had been something of an amateurish off field operation kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Bloom told fans, “He brings a huge amount of experience from his previous roles. He will be an extremely excellent appointment for Brighton both right now and for many years hopefully in the future.

“What the Amex brings, what the city of Brighton brings, what this football club brings, is the opportunity to use his commercial experience, his commercial skills to bring in new sponsors and partners to really increase the revenues of this football club.

“It’s far too early to be putting figures on it but I think we can get very good increases in the future."

That last line is key. Bloom, having bankrolled The Amex and the club's first season assault on the Championship needed the Albion to meet him halfway. Or at very least make the effort. It is public knowledge that when designing the stadium, Martin Perry et al were very much afforded a blank cheque. Nothing was done on the cheap. And every bill was paid by Bloom.

If you believe various murmurs coming out of the club, the Albion spent much of last season somehow managing to lose money. This despite unprecedented ticket sales, a huge leap in merchandising revenue and mass interest in off field partnerships with local businesses.

With a new £30million plus training complex to pay for though, Bloom was always going to want the Albion money-making machine to click into top gear sooner rather than later. Enter Paul Barber.

At Tottenham Hotspur Barber secured the club's then biggest ever sponsorship deal, a £34 million four year contract online betting firm, Mansion.com. He also established international partnerships with MLS side San Jose Earthquakes and Hong Kong-based South China FC.

Brighton, lest we forget, are coming to an end of their sponsorship deal with Brighton and Hove Jobs. Fans should not underestimate the part Barber will play in finding a far more lucrative new backer.

Part of the problem at the moment is that prices are going up without an obvious improvement in what Barber would no doubt call, the product.

If supporters are going to be treated as customers, the club has to be careful to keep up its side of the exchange. One perhaps unappreciated aspect of Barber's arrival is that Gus Poyet may find himself under pressure far quicker if results do not go according to plan.

Last year the club needed the off the pitch operations to catch up with the team's performance on it. Now, with Barber at the helm, the opposite may be true. Poyet may need to up his game to keep pace with the money men.

Barber, for someone with such an extensive background in marketing has made some PR blunders, not least the removal of Gully's Girls from the pre-match proceedings.

While many supporters were apathetic about the idea of cheerleaders at football, the one thing you can say about Brighton fans is they will defend their own. Gully's Girls were a group of volunteers who, unlike around 12,000 of the current weekly crowd, were at Withdean every match. In their outfits. In the rain. They also did superb work with the club's community and charity departments and had become well-respected ambassadors for the Albion.

That they were so shabbily cast to one side is regrettable. Barber may be perplexed by the reaction, but hopefully he will have learnt from it.

Prices have gone up across the board. The cost of food and drink increased pre-season and the price of the programme, albeit an award-winning one, went up 50p despite appearing to be printed on cheaper paper. On their own, explainable by quoting the rising cost of players' wages and recruiting the best talent. In tandem with other Barberisms, perhaps not so easily swallowed.

The club, and thus Barber, have been widely criticised for their ticketing procedures this season. The option to spread season ticket payments out monthly with no interest has proved hugely popular and made regular attendance at The Amex a more affordable option for many. It is one of a number of measures introduced by the Albion which should be applauded.

However, for those who cannot justify a season ticket, the pricing leaves far more to be desired. A cheapest match ticket on a game by game basis is £28, around £8 higher than the division's average for lowest price stubs. And to make matters worse, this batch appears to only be released on general sale once the higher priced £34 tickets are sold out.

To put it in context, if a fan was to pay £34 per game all season, it would cost them £736.

And the decision to demand popular website www.northstandchat.biz remove its well-used ticket exchange has proved an own goal equivalent to Colin Hawkins' bullet header at a wet and windy Withdean.

Fans now have to hand their season tickets back to the club if they are unable to go, with the Albion placing them on sale once, or if, the game has sold out.

Pre-Amex, the online ticket exchange was a vital and affordable way for fans to get tickets to see the Albion, particularly in the early days at the Withdean when demand for seats was at a premium. In fact, many of the fans now sitting as fully fledged season ticket holders will have had their interest kept alive by securing cheap tickets from NSC on an ad hoc basis.

Any small amount of money the Albion will make by getting rid of Gully's Girls and and the NSC ticket service will be less than the value of the lost goodwill among supporters.

This, people argue, used to be club which first and foremost connected with the supporters. The times, as Bob Dylan once sang, possibly imagining an Amex era Albion, they are a changing.

But is it really for the worst? Many will say no. For everyone moaning about the increase in the price of pies there will be another demanding Bloom loosen his purse strings and make big money available for new players. This, rightly or wrong, is modern football and the Albion are smack bang in the middle of it.

That this new approach is at such odds with that of Dick Knight era Brighton is perhaps as much the fault of the previous management than Barber. The shock of this new approach is all the more bracing because of the less-than-professional way things were done during the Withdean years.

Nobody wants increased prices and Barber et al have clearly made some major mistakes, albeit, in reality, small ones. This season is as much about the Albion finding their feet off the pitch as Poyet fine-tuning things on it. Sometimes this direction will be chased too quickly. But fans wanting a direct line to Bloom and Barber to consult on every decision are never going to get it.

And perhaps there also needs to be a change in fan representation. One victory over the powers-that-be, we are told, was the decision to have a supporters bar and stock real ale.

But how important are those two things to anyone but a handful of supporters who, well, like real ale. Harveys sells thousands of pints a game, which, of course, is great for all considered. But would the much-celebrated "matchday experience" really have been significantly reduced by not having them? Probably not.

Are those small victories really cause for celebration or piecemeal concessions to subdue supporter unrest?

Matchday pricing, potential season ticket increases and stopping supporters finding themselves at odds with the ownership are bigger issues which needs addressing.

Barber was also responsible for introducing the One Hotspur membership scheme at White Hart Lane which, in return for a payment ranging from between £42 and £63 for adults, secures priority ticket access. He was also largely behind the England Fans membership scheme while working for the FA. It would be good to know whether there are plans to launch something similar at The Amex.

The fact remains though that Barber is one of the most experienced, well-connected and respected chief executives in football. He has been hired to whip the club into shape and get it ready to support Premier League football. If it wasn't him making the changes, it would be someone else.

There is no going back. Brighton is a club with a new direction and progress in all areas is all that will be tolerated.

We might not all like it, but all the time we keep buying tickets there is not much we can do about it.

Welcome to Brighton & Hove Albion 2013.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Where should Poyet be looking to strengthen this January?


The opening of the transfer window is just hours away and Gus Poyet has already been vocal about the need to spend big on a striker and re-shape his existing squad in other areas.

Fans are divided over exactly what needs to be done, although the general consensus is that a line-leading goalscorer is top of the list. They though tend to cost money, and a premium rate at that during the harum-scarum signing scrap that is the mid-season transfer window.

So where exactly do Brighton need reinforcements and where could the club benefit from moving players on?

Goalkeeper

Tomasz Kuszczak has been one of Brighton's best performers this season and is evidence that sometimes a club is better off paying higher wages to a free agents than spending big on transfer fees. Has the number one spot nailed down and it is no surprise the defence has looked more solid since he slotted into the team.

However, the Albion do not need both Casper Ankergren and Peter Brezovan in reserve. Both were originally signed as first choice keepers so, presumably, are on fairly healthy wages, albeit for what were at the time League One stoppers. Of the two, Ankergren will likely be on the higher take home and possibly more attractive an option to other clubs. Poyet would do well to part company with either of the two.

Verdict: Move on either Ankergren or Brezovan.

Defence

The Seagulls' defensive record has improved this season, although you would expect it to given the substantial wages paid out to Kuszczak, Bruno and Bridge. Calderon and Painter are probably sufficient cover in the full back areas for where Brighton are currently, so no new recruits needed there.

However, Adam El Abd and Gordon Greer have shown a lack of pace in the centre of the Brighton back four - something which is exploited more often when playing alongside rampaging full backs like Bruno and Bridge. At times they have struggled to cover the space left by particularly Bruno and also seem to be missing any dominance in the air.

Lewis Dunk is a talented and emerging third choice who can consider himself unlucky not to be getting a more regular run.

As harsh as it may sound, given the pair's excellent form in the League One winning season and solidity in many Championship outings, El Abd and Greer are probably not top six material.

And the side is also short of cover in centre defence if any of the three centre backs were to suffer a bad injury or suspensions.

Verdict: No need for new full backs but Poyet would be wise to look for an experienced, dominant centre half with a bit more pace to play alongside either El Abd, Greer or Dunk. Might involve moving on Greer.

Midfield

If there is one area where Brighton seem well stocked other than between the sticks it is midfield. Poyet, it appears, love a midfielder. This season he has already added Andrew Crofts, Dean Hammond, David Lopez and Andrea Orlandi to his increased stable of central players. Young starlet Jake Forster-Caskey is due to return from a loan spell, while Matt Sparrow looks likely to depart for former club Scunthorpe if the Albion can agree a deal to pay off his contract at The Amex.

Flop Ryan Harley has left for MK Dons on loan while the future of star performer Liam Bridcutt is not clear, with rumoured interest from top flight teams.

However, even if Bridcutt does leave, Poyet should have enough talent to finalise a midfield three and stick with it. Hammond operated in the more defensive slot while at Southampton, while Lopez, Orlandi, Crofts, Stephen Dobbie, Gary Dicker and even Ashley Barnes can expect to compete to fill the remaining two slots. Dobbie particularly may benefit from a run of games at the attacking front of Poyet's preferred middle three system, with the manager himself talking up his talents as a replacement for injured Vicente rather than an out and out striker.

A lot rests on Vicente. If the Spaniard can return to fitness and play a part on the second half of the season Poyet probably won't need to spend on a playmaker. If not, Dicker is probably his best existing option as string-puller extraordinaire. A game-controlling midfield maestro may be on his shopping list.

Verdict: Rather than spending significant funds on another midfield player, Poyet would perhaps be better advised to work out his best combination. The squad will be poorer without Bridcutt should he leave, but it should be able to fill in the gaps.

Attack

With Poyet's preference for a 433 formation, the attack also includes those players played in wide positions, one of which has been heavily linked to a move away from The Amex.

William Buckley has been a shining light for the Albion since arriving from Watford for a then club record £1million and he would prove a tough player to replace if his rumoured move to Southampton goes ahead.

However, while Poyet's transfer record has been hit and miss in some areas of the pitch, he does seem able to identify talented wide players. Kazenga Lua Lua, Craig Noone and Buckley have all arrived under Poyet's stewardship, and all looked good additions to the squad.

Noone was sold for around £1.6million earlier this season and any offer of around double that for Buckley would almost certainly be accepted. If he does move, Poyet will have to prioritise finding his replacement.

In the central striking role Poyet has had a less impressive signing success ratio. Since losing Glenn Murray before the start of last season, the Brighton boss has borrowed both Billy Paynter and Sam Vokes in a bid to find a striker capable of holding the ball up and linking up play. Both were spectacular failures.

He also paid a significant fee for Will Hoskins, who has yet to be afforded a run in the team in his preferred centre forward slot, and Craig Mackail-Smith, the club's top scorer this season.

Much of the talk surrounding the transfer window involves Mackail-Smith being sold, with Norwich City and Leeds United both rumoured to be preparing bids. Anything above the £3million mark would surely prove tempting to Poyet and Tony Bloom.

However, Mackail-Smith's shot conversion rate is not far shy of the division's top marksmen and a lot will depend on whether or not the Albion can hope to bring in better. If not, it seems pointless selling him. Chris Wood was a target, but opted for Leicester City, and earlier in the season the Albion approached Queens Park Rangers with a view to loaning Jay Bothroyd, only for the striker to opt for a stint at Sheffield Wednesday.

If that is the calibre of forward Brighton are looking at, splashing the cash and paying over the odds might not be a sensible move. A change in tactics to accommodate the attacking talent already at his disposal might be a more attractive option.

Poyet has already signed Mackail-Smith, Hoskins, Dobbie, Barnes and the likes of Fran Sandaza and Chris Holroyd without really finding a successful striker to operate in his preferred system. Bloom may well think twice before loosening the purse strings yet further.

Verdict: In Hoskins, Mackail-Smith and Dobbie, Poyet already has a good base of attacking options. Any new recruit would be welcome but for them to be a success they would need to be coupled with a change in attacking emphasis throughout the team. Simply replacing Mackail-Smith with another centre forward would be blinkered and it might not be the time to pay over the odds on a risky signing.

Any Brighton fans expecting the likes of Rickie Lambert, Grant Holt or Kenwyne Jones to rock up at The Amex are dreaming. A change in style and a partner designed to get the best out of Mackail-Smith or Hoskins could drastically improve the Seagulls' chances for the remainder of the season.

However, Poyet should be careful not simply to spend for the sake of it. In the last window he siged Dobbie, but has hardly played him since. A repeat performance this time round might be prove hard to swallow for the Bloom.

Frustratingly for Brighton fans this window may be just as much about replacing players who leave as it is bringing new signings in to fine-tune the squad.