Harty on... The years of turmoil and online debate

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IN THE mid-1990s, with the Albion in turmoil, possibly facing extinction, the Commander-in-Chief (that’s Mrs Hart, for the uninitiated) suggested that for the amount of stress and upset it was causing, would it not be better to let the club go to the wall.

While I stopped short of burning her at the stake as a witch, I did take on board what she said.

From the very first day in July, 1995, when Gulls Eye learned about what was going on with Messrs Archer, Stanley and Bellotti, our lives, and those of countless other Albion fans, were turned upside down for almost two years.

In hindsight, and given the circumstances and events of that troubled period, it’s a testament to Mrs H that I didn’t end up getting divorced, with the Albion being named as the third party. Fast forward to August, 2011, and the opening league fixture at the Amex against Doncaster Rovers. All the stress and heartache appeared to have been worth it, as the Albion finally replaced the Goldstone with a new, state-of-the-art stadium, 14 years after leaving their old home. But can the same be said nearly three-and-a-half years on?

Having experienced really bad times as Albion fans, we all bought in to chasing the ultimate dream of top-flight football, and were told a main priority was to be Premier League-ready.

Looking back, I don’t know which would have been worse – what later turned out to be false hope, or having no hope at all? I and thousands of others firmly believed that ‘Premier Lead-ready’ was the case when we took on Crystal Palace at the Amex in the play-off second leg in May last year, after having drawn 0-0 three days before at Selhurst Park.

After a painful, almost gut-wrenching defeat by Palace, it became clear fairly quickly that the relationship between then-manager Gus Poyet and Albion chief executive Paul Barber had broken down.

Coupled with indifferent form on the field and ongoing issues off it, the Amex is not the place it was back in August, 2011, and certainly not conducive to having a positive large fan-base 
going forward.

And if that isn’t rectified, that in itself could cause long-term and very damaging problems for the Albion.

The new strap line ‘one club, one ambition’ is all well and good, but how many fans actually think they are currently no more than hollow words?

While I’m buoyed by the support I’ve received from both neutral readers and Brighton fans over my recent columns – in fact, I’ve yet to receive any direct negative feedback – it’s still extremely concerning that almost every Albion fan you speak to is not happy, given the stadium and the level of football we play at after years of struggle.

My reference to Albion internet forum North Stand Chat (NSC) last week started a heated debate, including an exchange of opinions with which I wrongly joined in late on Friday, at a time when I shouldn’t have been anywhere near a computer.

All feedback, negative or positive, is good, but a caveat to that is that there is a clear line between criticism and abuse from an anonymous individual sitting behind a keyboard. For the wonderful platform the internet is, that will always be one of its biggest drawbacks.

NSC is run, with help 
from other Albion supporters who act as moderators, by Darren McKay, under the pen-name ‘Bozza’.

Last week, I wrote that while I didn’t think for a moment Paul Barber controlled or censored NSC, I did feel the club were keeping a closer eye on the site than ever before – something since confirmed by one of the moderators.

I also stated that I believed contentious threads had been removed, not at the request of Mr Barber or anyone else at the club, but for Darren’s own peace of mind, as ultimately it’s his neck on 
his line.

As NSC is very much his ‘baby’, Darren clearly took umbrage, stating that only one thread has ever been removed in recent years. So, to clear things up and move on, I will change ‘contentious threads’ to the singular.

Darren was not alone in his umbrage – another affected was Harty Junior, who read the abuse, which was probably the worst thing for me of the whole saga.

Critics will say that the internet is no different to the fanzine culture – at Gulls Eye while we used pen-names, everyone knew who we were and where we lived and worked.

Hiding behind a computer keyboard is different matter.

As for the Albion, the international break gives everyone a chance to recharge their batteries. Next up at the Amex is a home game with Fulham on November 29 (plenty of tickets still available), and the first chance to turn around what appears to be a worrying outbreak of apathy amongst the support.