My Premier League dilemma

IMG_2357For as long as I can remember, I have believed that once you choose a sports team to follow, you stick with them for life.

On no account should you be allowed to shift allegiance… and anyone who did wasn’t a proper sports fan in the first place. Or so my logic went.

Indeed, whilst living in Australia, I was often aghast when English-born friends announced to me that henceforth they would be supporting Australia in sporting contests against the old country.

“How could you?” I would ask. “But this is my home now” they would invariably reply.

In support of my theory, I have been an Arsenal supporter all my life.

I can’t remember exactly how it all began, but it was certainly cemented the first time my Dad took me to a game at Highbury for a birthday treat – it was a real ‘Fever Pitch’ moment and I was hooked.

Since then, I have stuck with the Gunners through thick and (quite a lot of) thin, lots more thick and then a gradual decline into the thinness we have today.

Whilst living in the UK, it was relatively easy to maintain my passion, getting along to Arsenal games whenever I could.

But when I moved to live in Australia, my attendance at live games was restricted to once every few years during trips back home.

However, whilst I may not have been present in person, I was still very much present in spirit, constantly staying up late or setting the alarm at ridiculously early hours to get up and watch a live game on TV.

And despite the distance, my support for Arsenal endured. As of course I knew it would.

Then when I returned to live in the UK in 2012, I was able to resume watching games on TV at more civilised times and also again attending live games more regularly…. but some things had changed during my time away.

For a start, tickets were both much more expensive and also far harder to get hold of than they were before and some of the atmosphere of days gone by seemed to have been lost in the move to the spectacular, but rather corporate, new Emirates stadium.

So, with cost and availability making it tricky to get to more than a few Arsenal games a season, I felt the need to search for a more regular diet of football to satisfy my appetite

Thus I turned to my local team, Brighton & Hove Albion – a ‘2nd tier’ Championship club with a colourful history, now playing at a shiny new stadium just 4 miles from my front door.

Better still, season tickets were available and I knew people who were regulars, so I duly bought season tickets 4 years ago and started regularly attending Brighton games.

At first, it was all a bit of a novelty – regular football once again, albeit with a team that I had no particular allegiance to prior to moving to the area.

And I felt it was fine to embrace two teams – my ‘proper’ premier league team and a second team from the lower divisions, especially since they were based just up the road.

But as the seasons went by and my Brighton attendances started to rack up, my affection for my local team grew too as I got to know more about the history, the players and the personalities associated with the club.

I saw how connected the club is to the local community and I liked what I saw.

Names like Murray, Dunk and Knockaert gradually became as familiar to me as Ozil, Alexis and Walcott.

On the field, after a brief flirtation with relegation a couple of years ago, Brighton appointed a new manager and started to go from strength to strength.

Last year they came agonisingly close to being promoted to the Premier League and I found myself becoming emotionally involved throughout the season’s roller coaster ride.

This season Brighton shrugged off last season’s crushing disappointment and embarked on another spirited attempt to reach the promised land of the Premier League.

But whilst all this was going on, I was simultaneously continuing my lifelong support for Arsenal – you don’t switch allegiance, remember.

As the season wore on, it seemed that my two teams were following different trajectories – Brighton over-achieving whilst Arsenal sadly continued to under-achieve.

Which brings us to Easter Monday afternoon and the historic day that Brighton finally secured promotion to the Premier League in front of a raucous capacity crowd at the Amex stadium, with thousands of fans swarming onto the pitch at the end to celebrate.

For the first time in 34 years, Brighton will now be playing their football in the highest division – a glorious day for the club, the management, the players and the supporters.

It means that next season, I will be watching Brighton line up against the likes of Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and, yes, Arsenal.

It means twice next season, my loyalties will be called directly into question. Arsenal or Brighton? Brighton or Arsenal?

Do I support the team that I have followed for decades since I was a boy, or do I support my local team, the team I have been along to watch around 80 times over the last 4 years and developed a strong affection for?

And what does this mean for my long-held belief about supporting one team for life? Can I bend the rules and support two?

I’ll let you know next season, but for now I’m enjoying my time aboard the Brighton promotion party bandwagon.

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