Investing in Albion was Bloom's best-ever punt

Albion chairman Tony Bloom. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Albion chairman Tony Bloom. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

Brighton chairman and successful poker player Tony Bloom says investing in the club is his best-ever single punt.

The Seagulls make their Premier League debut today when they host Manchester City - 34 years after they were last in the top flight of English football.

Bloom took over as Brighton chairman eight years ago and paid £93m towards the club's state-of-the-art Amex Stadium - after a lengthy planning permission battle - and a further £32m for their modern training ground in Lancing.

Brighton were promoted from League One to the Championship in Bloom's second full season as chairman, before the move to the Amex. The Seagulls then lost out in the play-offs three years out of four, before gaining promotion as Championship runners-up last season.

Interested in gambling since he was 15 or 16, Bloom has been ranked in the world's top 20 poker players and runs the Starlizard betting empire.

His poker career has taken a backseat in recent years but he says investing in Brighton is the best single punt he has made: “I guess when I made the commitment - and that was a long time before I took over the club - of investing in Brighton and Hove Albion. All the money I was putting into the club prior to getting planning (for the Amex) was pretty much worthless if we didn't get it.

“Getting the planning was a magnificent time in our history but I knew even then that the majority of the money needed to put into the new stadium I would have to put in.

“Then I knew there was always a training ground that we needed and I also knew that, until we got to the Premier League, there were substantial losses every year with no guarantee you would get to the Premier League. I guess such a large amount of money, that would have to be it."

Bloom watched the Seagulls from a young age at the Goldstone Ground and when the club were last in the top flight of English football, from 1979 to 1983.

He says the club - and football - is very different now: “I think when we were in the top division for four seasons between 1979 and 1983 we were punching above our weight because we had never been there before. We were a lot bigger than many people have known us since then.

"We did well for the three seasons we survived there and then there was the FA Cup final as well. Apart from that there was a play-off final against Notts County in 1991, but otherwise until the late nineties it was all downhill and we have been climbing up ever since we got back to Withdean.

"It is a very different club from where we were in the late seventies. When we were last in the top division I was a kid and football was a very different beast then. This is so exciting , not just for me but for all of the staff at the club."

Manchester City have spent £156m on new signings this summer but Bloom will go into today's game feeling optimstic of a shock result: "I think it is great as they can only start with 11 of them!

"Man City are rightly favourites to win the league this season. It may well be that the first two or three games it could take some of their players a little bit of time to gel.

"We always try to be optimistic. Every game is a pressure game but we will go in and try to get something from it. But we won’t in any way get demoralised if we lose the game.

"It is a brilliant game for the fans and it is just something to look forward to."

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