Superlatives: the best, the biggest, the newest, the most luxurious were used to describe the £100 million stadium financed by local developer Tony Bloom. Even the thirty well-travelled, sophisticated Patcham U3A members were impressed by the size and structure of this stadium which was waiting for fourteen years for permission to be built and then astonished all by the speed and competence of its production. The number of seats is awesome - 22,500, every seat with an uninterrupted view, and more plans being considered to increase that number to 30,500. From the very top of the West stand, which itself holds 11,000 seats, the pitch seems a long way down but every centimeter is visible, as is the surrounding view of the South Downs, where the rolling curvesssss of Stanmer park are paralleled in the curves and waves of the stadium's structure, and even echoed in the pattern of the carpets in the lounges! After a delicious three course lunch and coffee prepared by students from the City College, the thirty members were ushered in two groups around the stadium and behind the scenes. We saw the different stands, the respect stand for families, the singing East Stand and the Visitors West Stand.
Behind are outlets where pies and pints are sold, locally produced Harvey's beer from Lewes and pies from Shoreham sell well. Much thought has been given to producing efficient catering on a grand scale, this even involves television screens being sighted away from the bars and food counters to enable (or encourage!) queues to move more quickly. The picture on the left shows the sad sight of beer pumps in storage, while 22,500 copies of the icon in thepicture on the right go to make up the word 'Albion!' on the wall in the tunnel. The centre picture shows one of the highlights from the Club's history, many of which are represented on the tunnel walls. No food outlets are permitted on the outskirts of the site; over a thousand workers are employed on match days to herd the thousands of fans in and out of the stadium; a Harris hawk is 'employed' to discourage small birds from nesting beneath the stadium's steel framework; all these considerations and more are undertaken to placate the locals who may well have disgruntled murmurings, not only about the stadium but also about the increased volume of traffic, and sheer numbers of visitors.
The players themselves are well looked after, having their own chef, appropriate meals provided before and after matches and their various kits washed and prepared for them. They even have their own family lounge with toys for their children and tables adorned with the blue and white team colours. The home changing room (shown in the picture) has padded seats in a horseshoe for luck, individual spaces for each player where their kit is hung for them on match days. Not so the visiting team whose accommodation is quite sparse by comparison!
The friendly atmosphere within the stadium might well have encouraged the U3A members to hire a box for the season, but we were slightly discouraged by the cost. The nine corporate rooms cost between £18,000 and £24,000 a season, and are all booked for the next five years. Who says there's no money about?
Report thanks to Val.