& opinion


Those who hold reservations against Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club relocating its stadium to Falmer may well have been smiling on Sunday afternoon. Stoke Cityís defeat of Reading made Albionís failure to beat Grimsby Town ultimately irrelevant, sending Steve Coppellís men straight back into the second division. The proposed new stadium, with greater facilities and a higher capacity, was part of the plan to make Brighton a bigger club, but the performance of the players on the pitch has undermined the clubís bid for the move to Falmer.

To Seagullsí fans who are far too involved in the football to care about the preservation of Sussex landscape, the weekend was a deep disappointment. Having done so well to set up a realistic possibility of avoiding relegation on the last day, it all fell flat at Grimsby.

Fat Boy Slimís record company Skint, the sponsor that adorns the Brighton football shirt, is becoming so irritatingly ironic that the club would do well to consider a new sponsor for next year. In any case, Fat Boy Slim may well have grown tired of Albionís consistent inconsistency

But Albionís season was not actually all gloom. As the manager articulated, the fact that the Seagulls werenít relegated until the final whistle of the final match of the season represented a success in itself. When Coppell replaced Martin Hinshlewood in November, Albion were five points adrift at the bottom of the first division, having lost the past twelve consecutive games. A group of players low on morale and undergoing managerial change, set amid a backdrop of financial ruin, made Brightonís return to the second division at the very least inevitable.

But Coppellís guidance allowed the team to keep their heads above water, and Brighton were even able to creep out of the relegation zone for brief periods. There were some notable scalps along the way, such as the unlikely 1-0 win at Norwich on Boxing Day. And even when organisers of the fixture lists were already penciling Albion into the second division for next season, the Seagulls pulled off a couple of wins, including the 4-0 drubbing of Watford, and were breathing down the necks of Stoke before the ill-fated trip to Grimsby. Ultimately the 1-0 defeat by Stoke in early March cost Albion first division status.

Albionís best hope of instant promotion lie with Coppell and his star striker -Bobby Zamora. Zamoraís situation parallels that of his manager. It was his prolific goalscoring form that lifted the club into the first division in 2002. But it is a surprise to many that Zamora is still an Albion player, given the interest displayed by Premiership clubs. Relegation has meant that Zamoraís departure is inevitable Tottenham have expressed an interest), and if he is still wearing the blue and white striped shirt in August it would represent a miracle of loyalty badly missing from the modern game. Similarly, Coppell may be lured away by a bigger club. An Albion team without its head, Coppell, and its feet, Zamora, may struggle for promotion next season.

The predicament of Brighton and Hove Albion FC means the protracted move to Falmer, to be decided upon by September, is increasingly unlikely, and those against the new stadium may step-up their campaign. If protecting the serene Sussex landscape is a good thing, no joy should be taken from Albionís failure to stave off relegation last weekend. Promotion and the ultimate dream of status in the Premiership are now far, far away.