August 27, 2008
It was a long drive for me to the Withdean Stadium in Brighton last match day but it was a visit I was looking forward for a number of reasons. I wanted to be there to see us collect our first point or points of the season and I was pleased for the staff and players when we were rewarded for a determined second half display with five or so minutes remaining of normal time. I was pleased for our travelling supporters also. The Withdean is not the best place to watch football especially if you are a visiting fan.
Brighton are much in the same position as ourselves in that they play their football in a stadium not built for the purpose. They are working hard to put in place all that is required to replace it with a venue that will take them forward and one that will match and run parallel with their ambitions on the playing side. I was keen to catch up on the progress that they have made over the summer and to gauge the prospects for both them and us over the coming months.
Many answers to my questions were given on page 10 of the “Seagull” where a report was to be found on the annual Fan’s Forum which took place at the Withdean on the Thursday before the season kicked off. Interestingly the Forum was broadcast on BBC Southern Counties Radio and I assume the broadcast was live. The pattern and range of questions was very similar to our own when we held pre season question and answer open meetings around our patch in July and early August.
Unsurprisingly questions at Brighton and at our own meetings were asked on much the same issues with the respective stadium developments heading the list in each case. Here are the common subjects that were covered at the open meetings that took place in Bristol, Paulton, Slimbridge, Weston Super Mare and at Melksham.
On the question regarding the stadium regeneration Geoff Dunford gave a lengthy and full reply. Geoff explained that there was no inkling of any trouble as we had one hundred percent committal from the man at the very top of Opal. Nick Higgs told his audience that the had a short list a short list of student accommodation providers and would be going out to tender in a few weeks. Nick said, “We are not going to change the design and we have nearly got a contractor on board.” He then added “The stadium is the most complicated deal I have ever worked on. All the leases on the hotel, retail, office space and sports injuries clinic have to be back to back”. Nick, Geoff and Ed Ware told their respective meetings that they are working to have everything in place by January or February 2009.
The reasons for the new training ground at West Town Lane also attracted a number of questions. Geoff explained that the Centre of Excellence at Filton was still being used by the club but that the outdoor pitches were never up to the standard required by the first team. The Bristol Rovers ground staff made a considerable effort at getting the pitches ready but in the end it was a question of health and safety. Geoff went on to say that at the Imperial we are paying enough to expect state of the art facilities. Lennie added that the new training facilities are an excellent advertisement for attracting new players to the club.
Paul and Lennie were asked about the Reserves at their respective meetings. Lennie explained that our 18-20 year olds did not make enough progress in the reserve league because of wide range of standards they came up against. Some clubs put out very strong teams whilst others were not so good. Lennie said “We will play prestige friendlies when we need it for the teams sake. Players out on loan can come back and play in these as they are not official competitive reserve team games.” He added “More away frendlies will be played on state of the art training pitches training pitches like ours at the Imperial”.
Audiences were keen to ask questions about the strength of the current playing staff. Lennie answered that he believed this is the best playing squad since ten years ago and the Jason Roberts era. He added that he is still looking to add to the squad at this time particularly with forward players. Paul made it clear that he always would like four strikers and some youngsters coming through.
Many thanks to Paulton Rovers, Slimbridge AFC, Melksham Town and The Windsor Castle for hosting the meetings, to all attendees for asking the questions and to all panel members for being so straight forward with their answers. The process added much to the dialogue between supporters and the club. It took a bit of organising but question and answer open forums will be repeated for sure.