By Naomi Wilcock
Brighton and Hove Albion are riding a wave of success at the moment. With Falmer as their new stadium, Gus Poyet as manager and the team riding high in the Championship, the future certainly looks bright.
However, there have been significant transport issues at the new stadium with delayed trains in and out of Falmer around match-time together with problems with the park and ride system.
We talk to David Wilcock, a former co-presenter for the football phone-in on BBC Radio Sussex, about how Falmer has changed the club and how he views the future of Brighton and Hove Albion.
How long have you been an Albion fan and what drew you to the club?
I have been a fan since around 1975 and went to watch them as something to do on a Saturday. I had no real interest in football really.
How do you feel the recent influx in Albion fans has affected the club?
It’s a double-edged sword. Yes it is great for the club moving forward to encourage new fans into the ground and club, but it has alienated some fans who struggle to get tickets.
To what extent do you believe Falmer has enhanced the profile and fanbase of the club?
It has certainly put the club in the showcase and led to one or two high profile matches on TV. The fan base has certainly increased having a new stadium and all the hype with that and we have seen fans of other clubs who have bought season tickets for the Albion games.
Fans obviously play a vital role at a football club, how vital are the fans to Brighton in particular?
Without fans you do not have a club. You can move your club to gain new fans, like Milton Keynes Dons/ Wimbledon and in US sport. But in Europe, if a club starts to haemorrhage fans, this leads to all sorts of knock on effects involving finances and the club eventually has to rely on rich benefactors.
Liverpool played Brighton recently; do you think that big names travelling to the Amex have a big effect on the profile of the club?
Only if [the big teams] are on TV. Sunderland’s visit, although a premiership team, warranted a limited interest outside the two teams and their fans.
The future looks bright for the Albion; where do you see the club in 5 years’ time and consequently what do you think will happen to the fanbase?
If they establish themselves as a Championship side, I can see our fanbase hovering around the current mark. However, if we have a promotion or relegation this will affect the gates [attendances].
By limiting the ground capacity and filling it with mainly season ticket holders, it does not allow for further expansion. You can add an extra 8,000 seats in but that would require a further planning battle.
If we start to struggle, especially with transport issues being so bad at the moment, you can see gates dropping.
As a fan, how are you finding the Championship as opposed to last year’s League One?
It is a better standard obviously and we are up against far better individuals and teams collectively. The trouble is, it is so difficult to compare grounds and atmosphere as it is very much like comparing chalk with cheese, but certainly the move has galvanised the fans.