Barber: This is the most exciting period in Brighton's history
Chief executive Paul Barber believes Brighton are in the most exciting period of the club's 117-year history.
The Seagulls are preparing for their second season in the Premier League – and just their sixth ever in the top tier of English football – but it’s on the back of the club’s highest-ever average attendance for a season, 30,405.
Tickets for the home match with Manchester United on August 19 are already sold out, with fans eagerly anticipating the new campaign after eight summer signings.
While Albion will not forget their past, especially the dark final days of the Goldstone Ground, the two years at Gillingham and 12 years playing at the temporary Withdean Stadium, this is a new era.
Barber is proud of the progress Albion have made since he came to the club in 2012. Brighton finished fourth, sixth, 20th and third in the Championship before promotion in 2017, and then finished 15th in their debut Premier League campaign last year.
While he dislikes the term ‘established’, Barber hopes Albion can keep their place in the top flight for years to come.
Speaking to the Brighton & Hove Independent, he said: “Why I say this is the most exciting period in the club’s history is because for the first time we’ve got all of the attributes that youngsters look for in supporting a club.
“We’re in the Premier League, we’ve got iconic players that have played in the World Cup, we’ve got local players they can relate to because they went to local schools.
“We’ve got a world-class brand on our shirts, we’ve got a world-class kit supplier that the kids love and think it’s cool.
“We’ve got great facilities, a wonderful matchday experience, we’re in a great part of the country and we’re playing the biggest teams in the world.
“All of those things should, if you’re a seven, eight, nine or even a five or six-year-old, help to convince you that Brighton’s the team for you.
“Even if your dad or grandad supports a bigger club from the Premier League past – and we know the influence parents have over kids when supporting teams – we’ve got a lot of adults in the crowd now that perhaps grew up supporting Arsenal but moved to Brighton.
“Now Brighton is their team. I can think of at least two or three people in my own road who have done that, so their kids have the best chance of becoming Brighton supporters because they themselves are now following us.
“When I first moved here in 2012, I used to be slightly disheartened but at the same time inspired by the number of kids on Hove Lawns for example that would wear Manchester United shirts or Chelsea shirts or shirts of other clubs.
“Over the past six or seven years, that has changed significantly. If I look at that as a very basic piece of research with my own eyes, I feel quite proud of the progress we’ve made but I still see Manchester United shirts and Liverpool shirts on youngsters in Sussex.
“They could be visitors but I like to think we would convert as many of the young people in Sussex to be Brighton fans on an ongoing basis year after year. That is the future of the club.
We’ve had supporters coming here for 20, 30, 40, 50 years but with the greatest respect to them, we’ve also got to bring on a new generation of fans and that’s what is going to sustain the club going forward.”
Barber added the club would not forget what had happened in the past but said the Amex now had its own history: “We’re into our eighth season here and a lot of our current fans don’t remember the Goldstone, some of them don’t even remember Withdean or Gillingham.
“We’ve now got a new generation of fans that only know the club through the Amex. That doesn’t mean to say the history before the Amex wasn’t important. It was vitally important, it’s a rich tapestry as far as the club is concerned but we also have to reflect on where we are, the era we’re in and the opportunity we’ve now got.
“I think that’s the most exciting in the club’s history.”
Looking ahead to the new campaign, Barber said: “We’re very excited. Obviously last season was a fantastic achievement for the club to maintain its Premier League status after such a long time away from the top tier.
“We’ve worked hard this summer to get the squad into an even stronger position we think than last year and now we’re very excited about the first game in just over a week.”