While Withdean provided breathing space, all efforts were concentrated on a site on the edge of Brighton at Falmer that the club – and the local council – identified as the best for a new stadium, given its ready access to public transport and its partly-developed nature.
Masterminded by chief executive Martin Perry, the plans would give the club a bright future, but first permission had to be secured from the city council and then, because of the sensitive nature of the site, from the Government.
Once again, the club’s supporters undertook a lengthy campaign to back the plans and win over the politicians. In May 1999 they secured a 68% vote in favour at a local referendum, and followed it with a 61,000-signature petition and some intense lobbying.
The opposition was also determined though, and a public inquiry lasting many months was held, but the results were inconclusive. However, a second inquiry concluded that Falmer was the only viable location for a stadium in the area, and the Government decided that the development was in the public interest because of its social and economic benefits for the more deprived areas of Brighton.
A flaw in the process delayed the final permission until 2007 – ten years after the site was first identified. Now came the task of funding the construction. Tony Bloom, a long-term supporter of the club, stepped up to take over from Dick Knight and provide around £100 million for the new stadium; and then another £30 million or so for a new training complex at Lancing.
In the meantime, Albion nearly fell into League 2, but they rallied to secure their status on the last day of the 2008/09 season. Gus Poyet, the former Uruguayan international, became manager later in 2009 and introduced a new style of possession-based football that took League 1 by storm in 2010/11 to secure Albion’s third title triumph at Withdean.
And so the club moved into the new American Express Community Stadium (“The Amex”) as a Championship side, beating Doncaster Rovers 2-1 in the first league fixture at the new venue on 6 August 2011. Will Buckley, the club’s first million-pound player, scored both goals.
Initially built with a 22,500 capacity, the Amex Stadium was expanded to 30,750 seats in 2013 as Albion reached the play-offs, only to lose out to their fierce rivals Crystal Palace.
Poyet left the club acrimoniously in the wake of that play-off defeat and was replaced by Spaniard Oscar Garcia. Again, the club reached the play-offs but lost out in the semi-finals, this time to Derby County.