I was born and brought up in Hastings, so my dad would take me to watch Brighton one week and Hastings Town – where my cousin played – the other. My first visit to the Goldstone was in 1985 when the club was still basking in the glory of its FA Cup Final appearance a couple of years earlier, albeit we were now playing in the Second Division.
Huddersfield Town were the opponents that day and the game finished 4-3 to the Albion. I’d seen a real goal-fest, the singing never stopped and I was instantly addicted. I do remember my dad warning me on the journey home in our red Ford Sierra that it wouldn’t always be like this! That’s another vivid memory from my childhood, those car journeys after games. The heating would go on, you’d turn on the radio with anticipation as the results and reports started coming in. Magic.
Steve Foster was my hero back then; that permed haircut, the headband, he was the player who always stood out. I was a defender at school, having no pace to play up front, and liked to slide a leg in, so I could always resonate with ’Fozzie’.
Jimmy Case, too, had a similar attitude to the game – and if he played today, he’d be getting red cards left, right and centre. But what a player; he could spray a pass and he could score goals… he was so much more than just a hard man.
The family eventually moved to Kettering for my dad’s job while I ended up in Farnham, Surrey, at college. My visits to the Goldstone were more fleeting but I never lost my passion for the club – and it was only cemented further when we lost the ground.
I became a broadcast journalist and it should have been a proud moment to report on my first Albion game, for Talksport, but events that day deemed the game irrelevant and left me questioning whether it should have been played at all. It was 11th September 2001 and driving to the game, listening to what had unfolded in the United States, left my head spinning. It felt wrong to be covering football that night, it was meaningless.
I would pitch up plenty more times after that, both for the radio and for Sky Sports, but once I became a golf reporter and presenter – covering the major PGA tournaments in America for Sky – it became harder and harder to see the Albion in the flesh.
However, if I can’t get to the club, I always make sure I take the club with me, be it in the form of a shirt, training top, flag or scarf for our on-course broadcasting HQ. One of our camera operators, Tony Dunne, is also a Brighton fan from Worthing, so we have unity there, while Tor, our production manager at The Masters, has the misfortune of supporting Crystal Palace.
Each April, therefore, I make sure the suitcase is packed with Albion flags and scarves; we decorate the house we are staying in, as well as our HQ, much to her annoyance. We did it last year at the Ryder Cup, too, but she takes it all in good faith.
As you will see from one of the accompanying pictures here, I covered the American Express 2020 tournament in La Quinta, California [held in January]. It felt right to wear my Albion top off-screen as we were at the Stadium Course, so I needed to show my support at an Amex Stadium 5,500 miles away from the real one! A lot of the Americans thought I had a golf tournament top on and wondered where they could buy one from, even if they were a bit bemused by the seagull badge!
Hopefully I managed to convert a few of them into Albion fans although with Brighton playing in the Premier League, I do get the sense that more and more Americans, who are into their soccer, know who the Albion are.
On tour, football banter is never far away and certainly in America, with the time difference involved, we usually get to see most of the games live. Ross Fisher is an Albion fan and we’ll always have a chat about how the team are faring when I see him back home, while Lee Westwood’s a Nottingham Forest supporter who doesn’t mind throwing around the banter – even if we’ve had the upper hand over them in recent years. Francesco Molinari follows West Ham, while most of our technical crew support Tottenham, so I made sure I gave them plenty of stick earlier in the season!
With a young family, time for me is obviously precious when I’m back in the UK, but I still get to the Amex whenever I can. My eldest, Evie, is now a fully-fledged Albion fan, while my other daughter, Gracie, who is six, will be indoctrinated soon enough! I think Evie gets a little freaked out at the Amex when she sees her dad singing the songs and shouting at the referee, but that evokes memories of what I was like when I first started going with my dad. It’s come full circle.
The matchday experience is so much better for the kids these days, with the pre-match activities and, of course, the fantastic facilities we have at the Amex. On the pitch it’s been a season of transition but I’ve never seen the side this comfortable when in possession of the ball – it certainly more pleasing on the eye under Graham Potter, who is clearly doing a great job.