Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Blue and White 'Un - July 28th 2017

Saturday July 22nd
Albion, it is sometimes proclaimed, lift moods when skies darken. Rarely has there been a more literal realisation of that yearning chant than today. With apocalyptic skies shooting down waves of rain, Solly March barely gives Albion fans the chance to negotiate Crawley’s overwhelmed commercial operation (why offer tickets on the turnstiles when you can make everyone squeeze through a phone box-sized ticket office?) before side-footing Albion into the lead in their first domestic encounter of pre-season.

More than half the crowd are in the away end to watch a collective stroll comparable to Warren Aspinall’s ambling appearances ensue: there’s impressive Ingolstadt ingratiation as the least recognisable pair in the starting line-up, Markus Suttner and Pascal Gross – both, helpfully, with short dark hair, harking back to the Gus days, when all the players shared one clipper length – combine for the midfielder to score the second.

Reading unbound Tomer Hemed and flying Scotsman Jamie Murphy repeat their feats of Dusseldorf the previous week to make it 4-0 at half-time, before Connor Goldson (hooray!) heads in from a corner and Glenn Murray scores a penalty to underline his disdain for a foul on him by Kaby Djalo, a man so short he makes Mathew Ryan, who might as well have spent the entire game watching Neighbours repeats, seem a giant.

“Maty didn’t get so much work today,” says Daddy Hoo, who was presumably unimpressed at the reaction of the lesser-spotted Kaz LuaLua to one nasty foul, emitting steam from the winger’s ears and a shove for his marker. “We played really well, particularly in the first half. The three that we’ve signed have all settled in really well, particularly Pascal. If you are able to bring players in early, they can adjust to the patterns that we have. I’ve been involved in not particularly good pre-seasons when teams have not started the season particularly well. We know that we’re going into a league now where we’re gonna be tested more than we’ve ever been tested before.”

With no sign of a striker yet, the gaffer confirms he’s treating North Stand Chat like a volcanic spud. “You are never close until something’s done – that’s the way the market is. This has been the biggest jump in the market for many years. Looking at some of the speculation, it’s difficult for a promoted side that are not used to those type of levels.”

Sunday July 23th
Scratchy times for Hope Powell, the new head coach of the Women’s team. “I started to itch,” she admits, reflecting on her time off, when the former England boss became an oracular figure for many coaches. “It’s quite nice to be given this opportunity by Brighton.” The question which rolls off the tongue is: are the Albion WSL 1 ready? “I’d rather build something than take the shortcut,” says Powell, promising to promote homegrown talent.

Monday July 24th
Remember the days when Reading would rampage in and relieve Albion of players and managers like a careless baboon removing spindly leaves from a low-hanging canopy? Rumour has it that the Royals have dug deeper into their burning pockets to try and take Hemed, upping their original £4 million bid in a move doomed to neither secure one of the only fit strikers at the Albion nor persuade the man himself (Israeli good, y’know) to drop back into the division where he proved himself last time out.

“Tomer, if anything, has come back in really good shape,” says Hoo, as if someone had accused the striker of looking a bit porky and burping out lager fumes. “The only reason for interest in our players is because they’ve done well,” he adds, exorcising Hemed’s hapless bygone spot-kick at Wolves and endearing ability to crack shots straight at visiting goalkeepers. “We’ve got two out-and-out strikers. We need everyone we’ve got.”

Tuesday July 25th
The history of kit launches is decorated with memorable moments. Just this summer, Wycombe Wanderers seemed to base an entire social media campaign around how knowingly awful their goalkeeper shirt is. Ayr United’s playboy owner arranged for semi-nude models to be painted in the colours of the club’s new strip. Only with the Albion would you have to peer at pictures from an indie gig on the other side of the world to first glimpse the colours of the latest questionable article of clothing which could be yours for 50 notes.

Ben Thatcher – the Brighton rock duo’s drummer, not the psychopathic full-back who hospitalised Pedro Mendes with a swing of his studs – is pictured wearing what looks suspiciously like a green-and-white cricket top for a gig in Oz, but turns out to be Albion’s third (sorry, “alternative”) colours for the tilt at earning a non-embarrassing points total in the Richest League in the World. It’s not meant to officially launch until Thursday – perhaps it’s all a pleasingly elaborate hoax, and the actual design of the home shirt will also include sleeves which appear to relate to the rest of the shirt.

Who cares? Albion sign a player! And a (sort of, though not very prolific) striker! Isaiah Brown, or Izzy, as we’ll call him, cos he’s our mate, joins from Chelsea, turning down another loan at ‘uddersfield, where he managed four goals in 15 last season, as well as the miss of the season in the Play-Off Final.

Olly Norwood’s finest moment for Albion might remain being paraded shoulders-high down Queen’s Road by hammered fans in the unbelievable promotion aftermath in the city centre. Turns out he craved Craven Cottage. “Once I knew of the interest, I was desperate to get it done,” he says, remaking upon the conclusion of his long-mooted loan to Fulham. “The football Fulham have played suits my style.”

Chrissy Hoo wasn’t expecting the blue and white marvels to enjoy as much “balance of the ball” as they had at Crawley, but they again fly out of the traps like a whippet poked in the nads in the latest warm-up game, at Sarfend. Izzy plays an hour but Molly Starch is the man again, scoring two lovely goals before Glenn gets in on the act (another Suttner assist) for a 3-0 half-time lead which never gets added to. “I thought the grass was very long tonight, which changes the type of game,” observes Hughton, echoing some fans’ concern with the continuing length of his facial hair. “Little bit disappointing, that.” The grass theme continues. “It was really sticky and really slow,” adds Big German Uwe Hunemeier. “We tried to move the ball quickly and scored three really nice goals.”

Wednesday July 26th
Yellow. It’s a brave colour to wear even if you’re built like a professional athlete. The club instructs the players to feign moodiness in the photoshoot for the new away shirt, but they end up looking like they’ve just sniffed a particularly rancid guff or been subjected to a facial smattering with a freshly-caught kipper, adding to the underwhelming sense of wearing a Wallabies shirt when you’re a football team.

Still, we’ll all probably be trying to dig our way to Australia by the end of the Man City game, and it’s (arguably) not as bad as the orange and black one – nor, for all its novelty value, the pink one. Is it even yellow? Is it mustard? That, friends, is university gold – quite a choice of words, it has to be said, considering the quality of some of the online posts from its earliest buyers. Or, indeed, Dale Stephens. “Oooh your hard”, he tweets to Murph, upping the bantz after spotting the Scotsman’s hammy attempt at a thousand-yard stare. “Izzy can play on either flank, but we know he can off the front as well,” Hoo says, enamoured with the versatility of his new signing. “I see him as one that is going to play off a front man or in a wide area.” That’s just as well, because the French firebomb remains doubtful for the start of the season, and Baldock’s still crocked.

Thursday July 27th
Closer inspection of the new kits, which are momentarily available in most sizes at boutique shopping destination the Seagulls Superstore, reveals the unswerving generosity of the club and Nike: the home number combines three shirts for the price of one, stitching sleeves and a bottom swathe of the shirt onto a central design which appears to be only distantly related to its accompanying fabrics.

Izzy’s former Chelsea coach, Dermot Drummy, offers a restrained reference which puts the young winger/striker/saviour under no pressure. “I saw him as a mini-Drogba,” offers Drummy, who adds that Richie Towell is “nothing less than a cross between Pele at his peak and a significantly more visionary Cruyff.” “He’s like Romelu Lukaku,” Drummy concludes of Albion’s expectation-bearer. “He is humble, he is hard-working and he wants to learn.”

Man City stuff Champions League holders Real Madrid 4-1 in Los Angeles, and the hierarchies on either side reach an agreement not to spend 180 million Euros on 18-year-old Monaco striker Kylian Mbappe – a fee they mutually decide, much in the manner of rich schoolkids dithering over a Chomp bar, is “exorbitant”. The second game of the season cannot come fast enough, even if Tony Bloom is shuffling his cards, chuckling bemusedly.

Friday July 28th
Time was when you could have paid on the gate, laid across several seats and had the refreshments kiosk pretty much to yourself on a visit to Vicarage Road with the mighty blue and white angels. This time, Watford away sells out the minute the second batch of tickets go on sale. Izzy’ll be there, eating a cucumber. “When the League games come along I'll still be eating them, definitely, three little circles of cucumber,” he says, explaining a pre-match ritual initiated when he vegged-in a hat-trick following salad advice from a Chelsea under-23 teammate, along with “don’t let John Terry meet your missus”. “It's crazy but ever since then it's always been on the back of my mind, so I just do it.” 

Everyone’s had that Sunday League manager who was the last person you wanted to see after a big one the previous night, and Izzy – a Hughton fan – can relate. “David [Wagner] is very energetic, always running up and down the touchline, things like that,” he says. “"I didn't think Huddersfield on a permanent was the best idea for me. I'm still young and I still believe I can play for Chelsea. The Brighton option was the best for me and hopefully it works out well."

Albion have no new injuries ahead of the trip to Naarich tomorrow, where the gaffer definitely won’t be thumbing his nose or dummy high-fiving Alex Pritchard or Delia Smith and friends.

Quote of the week: “I quite like my scar because it will always remind me of what I’ve been through. The first few days of pre-season I was still thinking about it. We did a passing drill and Dale Stephens hit one to me. It was meant to be on the floor but it came at chest height and I thought, ‘no’ and caught the ball and put it down. Now I chest the ball fine. I never feel it. It’s brilliant to be involved on the training pitch again.” – Connor Goldson becomes the first Albion player since Shane Duffy to appear topless in the national press.

Ex-Men: Contrasting fortunes for two former Albion hitmen. Chris O’Grady – now star striker at Chesterfield – nets for the second pre-season home game in a row, causing his manager, former Albion defensive target Gary Caldwell, to gush: “His all-round display was outstanding. The team are lucky they have a centre forward they can look at who is a man that leads the line, runs about, does his fair share of work defensively, but then is also a real focal point for the team.” Peterborough legend and Albion Duracell bunny Craig Mackail-Smith plays the second half for Posh in a slightly bad-tempered 1-0 defeat to Wolves. “It was a good opportunity to get himself back in the shop window,” says United boss Grant McCann. “I’m sure he will soon find himself another club.”

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