As we bring the curtain down on another Premier League campaign, we can be very pleased with our achievements in ensuring a fifth successive season of topflight football in 2021/22.
While it has been a challenging season on the pitch, this pales into insignificance with the off-field challenges brought by the tragic and devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. My thoughts continue to be with those who have been affected by this terrible virus, and my thanks go out to our key workers in the NHS and other essential services who have done the nation so proud during these difficult times. From a local perspective, we’ve all seen the sterling work undertaken with such compassion and dignity by the NHS in Sussex – particularly when the second wave hit after Christmas.
For many people, football has been a much-needed distraction from the daily challenges and the restrictions placed on us all, and I am proud of the way our football club has continued to operate in such trying circumstances.
It’s been tough for the players to maintain such high performance levels, especially given the protocols to which they have had to adhere – and also having to play in empty stadiums devoid of atmosphere. They have done a great job this season, playing a lot of brilliant football and always being totally committed to the cause.
Throughout the various departments at the club, our staff have worked diligently and professionally, often in difficult environments of their own, and the way we have gained plaudits for our operations makes me immensely proud. As a club, we’ve often used the ‘Together’ hashtag and that togetherness has been more evident than ever over the past year.
It is also important to highlight the superb work undertaken by our charity arm, Albion in the Community, who have reached out to people throughout Sussex and beyond during the pandemic – many of whom have found themselves particularly vulnerable – and made a real difference to their lives. Well done to all.
On the pitch, I have been delighted with the progress made by the team under Graham Potter and his coaching staff. The Premier League is the most-competitive league in world football, and the squad has stepped up to the plate and provided us all with memories that will last a lifetime.
I’ll never forget the night in early February when we won at champions Liverpool, our first league victory at Anfield since 1982; and there have been many other standout performances – our dominant display in our win against Tottenham at the Amex a few days earlier being another standout memory.
We have received plenty of plaudits for our style of play which, in my opinion, is the best we have ever played as a club. It has been aesthetically pleasing, it has been brave and it has been attacking. We have also defended exceptionally well all season, regularly giving very few chances to opposing teams.
What has also delighted me has been the successful pathway of players from our under-23 squad to the first-team set-up. The most notable performers have been Ben White and Robert Sanchez – and both can be gladdened with their debut Premier League seasons. We also had a number of academy players feature in some of our cup games this term and I look forward to seeing more players progress, given the promise shown at under-23 level this season, first under Simon Rusk and then Shannon Ruth and Andrew Crofts, and with our U18s under Mark Beard.
I was also thrilled to see Hope Powell’s WSL side climb the table in the second half of this season. The defeat of champions Chelsea created shockwaves throughout the division and proved to be the turning point in our campaign. Our longer-term target is to become a top-four WSL side and we have helped lay the foundations with a sixth-place finish this season. Our ambitions will be further enhanced later this year when the squad transition to the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre, where they will benefit from some of the best facilities available in women’s football.
Tonight we welcome the players, management and staff of Manchester City to the Amex and we congratulate them on winning the Premier League and Carabao Cup.
We are also excited to welcome you, our wonderful fans, back to the Amex. I know the players really enjoyed playing in our limited capacity game against Chelsea pre-season, and against Southampton and Sheffield United in the league before Christmas, so to welcome almost 8,000 back for this fixture will really give the squad a boost. It will also provide the clearest indication yet that we are, thankfully, seeing light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel.
Ultimately, we want to see a full Amex for the start of next season, if it is safe to do so. It was extremely encouraging – given the implications of the pandemic – to see more than 92% of our supporters renew their season tickets for 2021/22, likewise to see over 80% of our 1901 Club members renew on a five-year term. I would like to thank all of you who have renewed and also thank those who are no longer in a position to do so at this particular time. These figures once again underline the incredible support we receive from our fans and, rest assured, we will be working hard this summer to provide a safe and welcoming environment ahead of your return.
Next season, for the first time in our history, we will start in the top-tier of English football for a fifth consecutive season – and ready for the exciting new challenges that await as we continue to build for an even more successful future.
The Premier League itself faces its own challenges, not least the need to build bridges in light of the fall-out from the recent proposed European Super League. Our viewpoint has been steadfast and well-documented, and we are also mindful that we need clubs like today’s opponents Manchester City, who help make the Premier League the best league in the world. It is clubs like City who we aspire to beat, clubs against whom we can measure our own success.
For us, the ability to compete against the best underlines the open and truly competitive nature of football in this country – a sport in which the traditions of promotion and relegation are ingrained. It is what has taken our club from being less than 90 minutes away from the Conference to the Premier League in a 20-year period.
While we will be looking to end this season on a high, both at home this evening and at Arsenal at the weekend, plans are already well underway for the new campaign. Meanwhile, enjoy the remainder of the season, the summer break and we hope – fingers crossed – to see you all back at the Amex as the Premier League action recommences in August.