Back then clubs who dared to publicly set targets would be derided, ridiculed and even laughed at, while fans of other teams and some of the less forgiving members of the media, would be lining up to poke fun at the aims and ambitions. Watching and waiting for the said club to fail. Even self-deprecating supporters of our old rivals Crystal Palace named a fanzine honour of their club’s ‘Five Year Plan’ in 2003.
Albion were playing at Withdean back then. Tony Bloom was just beginning to invest in the club, but still very much in the background. A new stadium was still a dream.
In 2009, Tony became chairman, stepped on the gas, and delivered the stadium, the training ground, and Premier League football inside eight years. Listening as he was interviewed for the first time back then, hearing his then vision of top-flight football in a brand-new stadium sounded achievable, but it was a dream, no doubt tempered with a dose of realism.
Albion fans know that ten years on Bloom has delivered, and some, and now assisted by chief executive Paul Barber, it’s time for another one. The pair ripped up the old Premier League Ready document, which morphed into Premier League Steady — that had served its purpose — and drafted a new one, presented it to the board of directors at the end of last season.
Now it’s grown from there. Fine tuned with input from the board over the summer, and building on the appointments of Dan Ashworth as technical director and progressive head coach Graham Potter, it pulls together a mix of infrastructure and personnel — underpinned by Tony’s financial support and a new multi-year partnership with American Express — and it sets the club, its staff and supporters a tough, but realistic goal.
The chairman was very particular with his timing and event at which to launch. This was something he wanted to share with the club’s supporters, and specifically selected the pre-season fans’ forum to unveil it, just ahead of the new season. Brave. Bold. Tony might not agree, he sees it as essential: something for the players, staff and supporters to aspire to. There is no doubt in Bloom and Barber’s minds, fans have a role to play, and they want them to share the aspirations of the club.
The chairman articulated this at last Thursday’s sell-out fans’ forum, explaining just why he feels the need for a new vision. He is also quick to point out it’s not clever management speak. It’s a simple ambition. Where he wants to take the football club he has loved his entire life. What’s wrong with stating our aims publicly?
Speaking in an interview for the club’s new website he explained, “It is really important, now we are in our third season in the Premier League, to have a vision which has moved on from where we were when I first took over. The last couple of years have been about stabilising, ensuring our survival and doing everything we can to stay up. We haven’t got a timescale on it, but our long term vision is to be a top-ten club.
“It’s realistic but tough. We are under no illusions, this is a tough goal we are setting ourselves, but we are up for the fight. We have got a great team all around, great support from our fans and it is a very exciting time to be a Brighton & Hove Albion supporter.”
Outsiders or opposing fans might fall into those old habits of derision, as we inevitably lose a game this season, but like Tony, Paul is keen to point out, this isn’t a target for this season or a specific point in time. This is a long-term ambition, and one the club refuse to put a timescale on. No added pressure, but an ultimate aim to aspire to, and a tactic which worked when Tony outlined his ambitions in 2009.
Barber, who spoke to all of the club’s staff this week to explain the rationale behind the new plan, explained, “We felt we needed something more exciting, more inspiring and actually difficult to achieve. Becoming a top-ten Premier League club is very difficult to achieve... there are going to be bumps along the way. Even achieving a top-ten finish in one season isn’t achieving the vision, it’s a step towards it."
It’s hard to disagree with Tony’s assessment. It is undoubtedly an exciting time to be a Brighton & Hove Albion fan.