PUT YOUR HANDS UP FOR BRIGHTON!

The Amex (Photo: Stadiafile) The translucent roof is the star of the show at The Amex (Photo: Stadiafile)

AMERICAN EXPRESS COMMUNITY STADIUM
Home of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club
Capacity: 27,350 (soon to be 30,000)
Brighton, UK
Architect: KSS Design Group, 2011

The American Express Community Stadium – aka The Amex – the year-old home of the Championship’s Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club is situated just outside the beautiful seaside city of Brighton. Last week Stadiafile took a tour of the new facility and watched the Seagulls dismantle Newcastle United in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.

The Amex is a true home field for Brighton (photo: Stadiafile)
The Amex is a true home field for Brighton (photo: Stadiafile)

The Amex is the culmination of a truly extraordinary fan-led effort – spanning fourteen years to secure a new stadium site! – and was was funded entirely by Brighton club owner Tony Bloom. With its rain sheltering translucent roof above, padded seats throughout and wonderful site lines, the new venue is a major upgrade over previous Albion homes Whithdean Stadium and Goldstone Ground and in comparison to these old buildings and knowing the struggle that went into its construction the Amex is a spectacular project. Yet, as I stood in the mob waiting for the train home, I couldn’t help feel there is still some work to be done on the exterior and transportation links before it can be considered a complete success.

Amex Stadium under construction amongst the surrounding Downs, via Wikipedia

The new stadium is located five miles north of Brighton on the edge of the South Downs National Park, adjacent to the Universities of Brighton and Sussex and the historic village of Falmer. Significant local protests accompanied the proposal to build this 25,000-seat stadium in such a sensitive location and much of the Amex Stadium architecture seems to be a response to this early community push back. To reduce the overall height of the building, 138,000 cubic metres of chalk were excavated and moved to an adjacent farm – effectively burrowing the stadium into a large berm. By hiding the stadium in a man-made hill, The Amex is fairly inconspicuous – apparently not visible from Falmer village.

The South Downs hills beyond (photo: Stadiafile)
The South Downs hills beyond (photo: Stadiafile)

The curved roof is meant to mimic the surrounding South Downs hills and the exterior block is rendered in an understated beige concrete sympathetic with the region’s color palette – though the latter is so subtle it is hard to notice. Along with the exterior grey aluminum siding and black asphalt “plaza” the Amex exterior is a pretty drab experience – for a stadium with “Community” in its name, the no-frills palette creates very little sense of community outside.

The care and discipline it takes to design a beautiful yet understated building – see David Chipperfield – is unfortunately not present at The Amex. What is meant to be a subtle yet modern take on local building types – think local farm buildings – is rather bland and mediocre. This barren exterior would indicate that neither the club nor local community had any desire to create a stadium where one would want to spend time other than at a match, which is too bad given the spirit and communal nature of the club and its loyal fan base.

The approach from the nearby Falmer Train Station (photo: Stadiafile)
The approach from the nearby Falmer Train Station (photo: Stadiafile)
The uninviting main entry to The Amex (photo: Stadiafile)
The uninviting main entry to The Amex (photo: Stadiafile)

Due to the sensitivity of the site, parking is hard to come by around The Amex. The lack of on-site parking means the best, and really the only way to get to the stadium is via a nine-minute train from Brighton Station, whose impressive roof was no doubt an inspiration for The Amex. As so often stadiums are vilified for their seas of surface parking lots, a stadium that demands its fans use public transport should be commended. You would think that a giant new stadium plunked down in the countryside, bringing influx of 30,000 people in match days, would bring with it significant upgrades for the poor local train station.  And you would be wrong, though apparently the station has seen moderate upgrades they are not enough – perhaps because this is a completely privately funded facility very little public money was spent on upgrading local infrastructure. Falmer Station appears not to have been touched since long before The Amex was built and is woefully small to handle match day crowds. Fans taking the train home from the match wait en masse – Brighton fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Newcastle fans for a tense thirty minutes the day I went – which seems negligent, borderline dangerous. For days when Brighton is playing local clubs Southampton or Portsmouth, I would recommend cycling or park-and-riding to the match.

The crowd gathers for the train home (photo: Stadiafile)
The crowd gathers for the train home (photo: Stadiafile)

Fortunately, the cold feeling dissipates right after you scan your ticket and cross the turnstile as things quickly brighten up inside. It is clear that the majority of the budget for this stadium was spent on the stadium interior. The bright blue, padded seats used throughout The Amex apparently are the same ones used for the VIP areas at the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, which along with plenty of leg room and a steep bowl angle make for a very comfortable, luxurious viewing experience – just make sure to hold on when you stand up!

Our seats were in the third level of the West Stand right at the midfield line, directly above the main TV cameras. The best seat in a stadium – be it for soccer, American football or baseball – is high up and on axis with the pitch, either in the end zone or sideline; sitting close to the field of play is far overrated.

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Crowd fills up prior to FA Cup 3rd Round v Newcastle (photo: Stadiafile)

Our view could not have been better if we were at home watching the live feed on ITV. Though we were technically in the upper deck, due to the steep angle, our seats felt very close to the pitch – a testament to stadium architect KSS Design Group.

Steep! (photo: Stadiafile)
Steep! (photo: Stadiafile)
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Nestled underneath the translucent roof (photo: Stadiafile)

Having the uppermost seats situated beneath the soaring, translucent roof – means the building’s cheapest tickets remain the driest when the rains come. This is a wonderfully democratic feature of stadiums with such roofs.

The award-winning steak pie accompanied by a cup of tea is one of those perfect meals and completely took the chill off the day. Sitting back and enjoying Liam Bridcutt own the midfield below with the South Downs beyond made for one of the most pleasant afternoons I can remember having at a stadium in a long time.

The stadium roof dips revealing the Southdowns beyond (photo: Stadiafile)
The stadium roof dips revealing the South Downs beyond (photo: Stadiafile)

The patron saint of the Amex is Brighton Celebrity DJ Fatboy Slim, in the same way that Jay-Z rules over Brooklyn’s Barclay Center. Both musicians are partial owners of their hometown teams which gave them inside track on christening their respective buildings. Like with the Jay-Z dominated soundtrack for Brooklyn Nets home games, Fatboy Slim songs feature on the in-stadium play list at The Amex adding an authenticity and street cred any new stadium would crave.

Despite the drawbacks that come with a new facility, which one imagines will eventually be resolved, this grand new building has created an optimism around the club and, after waiting fourteen years for their spectacular new home, Albion fans are reveling in their new-found success.