The liveliest party resort on the south coast, Brighton is a football-focused city with a huge fan base. And the main club, Brighton & Hove Albion, have just returned to the Premier League exactly 20 years after near oblivion and homeless purgatory.
The Amex, Brighton’s long-awaited stadium by the university complex in Falmer, attracts something close to its 30,000 capacity every home game. In April 2017, it saw unprecedented scenes as Albion supporters swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate promotion – only a year after narrowly missing out in the play-offs.
Opened in 2011, the Amex replaced the inappropriate Withdean Stadium, appropriately named Palookaville by famed local DJ Fatboy Slim for a launch party there. A modest athletics ground, the Withdean was the decade-long ‘interim’ solution to the mismanaged closure of the club’s beloved Goldstone Ground.
The Goldstone stood in Hove, the adjoining seaside town merged with Brighton in 1997.
Now a bland expanse of chain outlets by Hove Park, the Goldstone was Brighton’s home for most of their history. The cup run of 1982-83 that led to last-minute heartbreak at Wembley, the four short years in the top flight, the second-half strike against Doncaster that helped keep Brighton in the Football League and the subsequent pitch invasion, they all happened here.
The invasion of 1997 was part celebration, part protest, the Goldstone and its history having been dismantled thanks to a chancer owner who had his millions in DIY.
The man who rescued the club from near oblivion was Hove-based advertising mogul Dick Knight. His crusade to rescue his beloved Brighton took many twists and turns before the Seagulls again faced Doncaster for the first league match at the Amex. Today fans congregrate in Dick’s Bar, named in honour of the club’s Life President made an Honorary Freeman of the city in 2013.
The same day as the new stadium’s curtain-raising friendly with Tottenham, boyhood fan Dick unveiled a memorial in Hove Park, dedicated to the Goldstone that had once stood opposite.
It was there that Hove FC first played in 1901. Brighton & Hove Albion had been created that same year, following the collapse of Brighton United in 1900. Brighton’s first club, United had joined the Southern League in 1898 but invested too heavily in players such as Welsh international Maurice Parry.
Folding the following year, United paved the way for Brighton & Hove Rangers, renamed Albion in 1901 after a meeting at today’s Seven Stars gastropub in Ship Street.
Brighton & Hove Albion moved in to groundshare the Goldstone with Hove FC, who moved out to Hove Rec 1904. Sole Goldstone tenants Albion went from Southern League to Football League in 1920, second division in 1958 and first in 1979.
Hove FC, meanwhile, played in the Sussex County League before becoming Hove United in 1950 – for one season in the Metropolitan & District League.
In more recent times, Whitehawk FC came from the Sussex County League in 2010 to put in a creditable challenge for a place in the fifth-flight National League in 2016. On the way, the Hawks of East Brighton, between the Downs and the Marina, have attracted a crowd of noisy Ultras and gained nationwide fame with an FA Cup run in December 2015. Around the same time, the club decided against the idea of calling itself ‘Brighton City FC’.
Lewes FC played in the fifth-flight Conference in 2008-09 and reached the first round of the FA Cup the season before. Currently in the Isthmian League, the community-owned Rooks made the news when they converted a row of beach huts as executive boxes at their quaint Dripping Pan ground close to Lewes station.
Back at the Amex, almost equidistant between Brighton and Lewes, Brighton’s main rivals are Crystal Palace. Partly born of a dispute between managers Terry Venables and Alan Mullery and a bitter two-replay cup tie in 1976, the fixture continues to boil over and will be one to watch out for when the Premier League schedule is announced for 2017-18.
Each named after a famous Brightonian, Brighton & Hove buses cover the city. A single ticket is £2.40, a day saver £4.70 on board, app price £4.10.
Popular weekend destination Brighton is packed with hotels – many operate a two-night minimum booking policy. Regency Square and the streets between the seafront and St James’ Street are lined with hotels.
Guesthouses, hostels and cheap chains abound. On lodging-lined Regency Square, the Royal Pavilion Townhouse Hotel is the most unique mid-range option, each individually furnished room echoing the landmark palatial folly. The nearby Beach Hotel was a jewellery shop in the Regency era.
There are no hotels near the stadium. To stay close to Brighton station, the ibis is right outside, while behind the station complex, Jurys Inn is a reliable choice – and it now has another branch on the seafront.
Brighton is party city. Weekends see the seafront and historic centre packed with revellers, year-round.
The nearby Evening Star is where renowned local beer Dark Star was first brewed. It is also served in bohemian The Prince Albert, its façade of iconic rock and rollers brightening the gloom by the railway arches adjoining the station. Punk generation football nuts should go no further.
Finally, in similar vein, behind the Jurys Inn hotel a short descent from the station, the World’s End is a cosy hideaway with big-screen football and a superior grill kitchen.