Seagulls Over Burwash Article – November 2021

Flying High and Youthful Investment

“With so little to choose between the six teams at the top so far this season, could the title race prove to be the most exciting in Premier League history?” This quote is the first line of a recent article on the official Premier League website. At the time, after seven rounds of matches, the top six were separated by only two points. “So what?”, I hear you cry, “the top six are always in a league of their own at the top of the table whilst the also-rans battle it out below”. Indeed, that has become the expected order of things; Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are considered ‘the big six’ and are expected to dominate the top of the Premier League. This year, however, there has been an unlikely gate-crasher to their exclusive party, a gate-crasher that goes by the name of Brighton and Hove Albion. Yes, after four seasons of relentless relegation battles, this campaign has started remarkably well for the Seagulls. After seven matches they were two points behind leaders Chelsea, one point behind Liverpool and level on points with both Manchester clubs and Everton. 

Two points is the smallest gap between the top six sides after seven games ever in the Premier League history. It prompted the Premier League website to continue its article by speculating which of the top six sides would win the league. Yes, I know it is early days and a lot can change before the season ends in May, but the very fact that Brighton and Hove Albion is even mentioned in such discussions speaks volumes of the progress that the club has made in recent years. A mere twenty four years ago, the club was languishing at the bottom of the league, on the verge bankruptcy and extinction. Only a second half goal by Robbie Reinelt at Hereford on the last day of the season and the intervention of a consortium led by businessman Dick Knight saved the club from relegation to non-league and oblivion. The story of the rise of the club since the Hereford Great Escape has been well documented and I have banged on about it before now in the pages of this mag so I wont reiterate it here. However, for those of us old enough to have followed the club through the dark days, the thought of the Albion mixing it with some of the biggest teams in world football takes some getting used to. Nevertheless, the sight of the Premier League table with Brighton second to Liverpool on goal difference, albeit for a short period only, is etched on my mind….. as well as saved on my phone! This early success may not last long and the Albion may yet plummet down the table and be scrapping for survival come May but, for now, forgive our gloating, allow us our moment in the sun, because myself and all other Brighton supporters are absolutely loving it!!

Incidentally, the aforementioned Premier League article concluded with a poll for the readers regarding which of the top six sides they thought would win the league title this season. Chelsea were the favourites with 27% of the votes, closely followed by Liverpool with 24%. The third favourite was Brighton, polling 23 % of the votes, ahead of Manchester City (13%), Manchester United (11%) and Everton (3%). Whilst I suspect an element of mischievous voting by partisan readers, a third place finish with the prospect Champions League football is a great thought although, in reality, it is unlikely. But then again, Leicester City, 2016,……….. you never know.

One aspect of Brighton and Hove Albion football club that has gone largely under the radar in recent years has been the establishment of the youth academy and the nurturing of talented young players. Considerable effort and expense has gone in to establishing a youth development system that is becoming the envy of the football league and this effort is currently bearing fruit. At present, the Brighton U23s are in the highest tier of youth team football, namely Premier League 2. Brighton’s U18s were contenders for the league title last season, eventually finishing third, and the club won the U17 Premier League Cup. This success is already having an impact on the first team. Last season, 30.8% of first team minutes played were by players who had graduated through the youth system. The closest to that in the Premier League was Manchester United (25.6%), Chelsea (24.4%), and Arsenal (21.2%). Recent first team academy graduates have included the likes of Ben White (now at Arsenal), Steven Alzate, Aaron Connolly and Robert Sanchez. Add to that the older ‘home grown’ players such as Lewis Dunk and Solly March and the talent conveyor belt appears to be in full production. The current junior sides have a wealth of promising young players that are pushing for first team consideration. Indeed, for the 2-0 League Cup victory against Cardiff, the average age of the Albion team was only 20.5 years, with numerous teenagers making their first team debuts.

For a club like Brighton and Hove Albion, investment in the youth academy is not just a ‘nice thing to do’, it is an integral part of the future strategy of the club that will, hopefully, enable the club to compete in the Premier League in a financially responsible manner.  Brighton cannot compete financially with the hugely wealthy clubs such as Manchester City, United and Chelsea, and they cannot afford to buy the best, very expensive, proven Premier League players or even afford their extortionate wages. However, by producing their own young players that can play at the highest level, such fees need not be paid. Furthermore, as was the recent case with Ben White, when a product of the academy is sold to another club, the money received (£50 million in the case of White) can be reinvested in the club. It’s a win – win scenario and long may it last.

The Seagulls Over Burwash coaches for this season’s home game are fully booked with season ticket holders. However, we do get spaces when members cannot attend matches or, as has been the case recently, have had to self-isolate. So, if you have tickets for a forthcoming match and you would like to travel to the game by coach, please call or drop us an email and we will try and help you out.

For further information on joining Seagulls Over Burwash and details of forthcoming events, meetings or coach travel, please visit our website at www.seagullsoverburwash.co.uk or email me at simon.forster@seagullsoverburwash.co.uk. Alternatively, please feel free to contact our Chairman, Mr Teskey O’Neil, on 01435 884344 or tesbar80@btinternet.com

Simon Forster