Brighton & Hove Albion clearly have one of the finest football grounds in the whole football league. Envied by both clubs and fans, plans were submitted initially for the stadium following the club’s previous home, The Goldstone Ground, was sold by the club’s former board (Greg Stanley, Bill Archer and David Bellotti) to developers in 1995 without having a new home arranged.
When the club was evicted at the end of the 1996-1997 season, BHA shared a ground for two seasons with Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium, 75 miles away in Kent.
Two years later the club returned to Brighton as tenants of Withdean Stadium.
The site at Falmer was first identified during the 1998-99 season and it was hoped that the stadium would be completed in the early to mid 2000’s. However, many delays in gaining planning permission meant that the club would have to wait until August 2011 before being able to play their home games there – more than a decade after the stadium was first proposed.
Planning permission was given by the unitary authority of Brighton and Hove in June 2002, with the intention of the stadium being ready for the 2005-2006 season. The plans for the stadium were fought by neighbouring Lewes District Council and local residents.
Further complications were due to both vacant fields, and the campus of the adjacent University of Sussex, being included in the South Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, although outside the National Park. This led to the designation of the stadium plans being the subject of a separate planning inquiry by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
John Prescott (then Deputy PM) approved the plans on 28th October 2005. However, Lewes District Council, immediately mounted a new legal challenge to the stadium plans. In April 2006, Prescott admitted that he had given his approval based on the misconception that only a small part of the stadium site lay on the Lewes side, and withdrew it!!!
Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State responsible for planning, re-affirmed the approval on 25th July 2007. Her decision went against the advice of the planning inspectors. Lewes District Council, Falmer Parish Council and the South Downs Joint Committee (the three main opponents) announced shortly afterwards that they would not mount a high court challenge. On 4th September 2007, the deadline for appealing the new grant of permission expired and at last the club received full permission to proceed with the development.
On 27th November 2008 the Buckingham Group signed the construction contract for the new stadium and began preparation work on site on 17 December.
The stadium is set three storeys down into the ground. 138,000 cubic metres of chalk was excavated for its construction, which was put on the field on the south side of Village Way. This has been estimated to preent 20,000 lorry trips taking the chalk to landfill.
Construction on site officially started on 17th December 2008 and finished in May 2011.
The stadium itself was designed by London-based Architects KSS.
The deal with American Express Europe, Brighton and Hove’s biggest private sector employer, confirming the naming rights of the stadium was announced on 22nd June 2010.
The stadium officially opened on 30th July 2011, hositing a friendly match against manager Gus Poyet’s old club Tottenham Hotspur. Where Brighton only just lost with a 3-2 defeat to them. The first competitive match was held on 6th August 2011, where Brighton beat Doncaster Rovers 2-1.
On 2nd January 2012, Brighton and Hove Albion submitted an application to Brighton and Hove Council to increase the stadium capacity by a further 8,000 seats as well as to add additional corporate boxes, new television facilities and a luxury suite. This was granted unanimously on 25th April 2012.
The West Stand is the largest three–tiered stand which holds 11,833 fans, including 14 luxury boxes and the premium fans’ 1901 Club. You then have the East Stand and now East Upper, the North and the South Stand which has now had the corners filled in. The North corners are currently being constructed.
As well as football matches, the stadium is also designed for other sports such as rugby and hockey and music concerts, conferences and exhibitions. The stadium’s drinking outlets offer real ales from two local breweries, Harveys and Dark Star, both organisations having supported the club’s appeal for a new stadium at Falmer, along with special guest beers from breweries local to the away teams.
The stadium also incorporates a banqueting and conference facility, a nursery school/crèche, 720 square metres of teaching space for the University of Brighton, 1,200 square metres of office space, the club shop for tickets and merchandise and above it the bar/lounge named Dick’s Bar which is named after the club’s life president, Dick Knight.