Harty on the Albion and Paul Barber’s programme notes

Paddy McCourt in action for Albion against Middlesbrough
Paddy McCourt in action for Albion against Middlesbrough

THERE’S no other way of dressing it up but the Albion’s Amex showing against Middlesbrough on Saturday was poor, with a 2-1 victory for the visitors putting the Seagulls on the fringes of the Championship relegation zone.

Off the field, club chief executive Paul Barber used his regular column in the programme to both answer a number of supporters’ concerns and also take a swipe at the way the BBC represented their findings in their recent annual ‘Price of Football’ survey.

With an animated debate over social media, Paul clearly felt he had to reply. Having read it initially on Saturday, then again twice since, I, as a fan, albeit with the privilege of a newspaper platform, would like to respond.

Firstly, the length of it is, in my opinion, an issue – three pages is far too long.

My old English teacher, Mr Burn, told us how Churchill had every major communication in his tenure as PM shortened down to a single sheet of A4. He helped win a war on the back of it, so clearly it worked and, by the same token, Paul probably could have got a more concise, succinct message over to supporters more effectively in one page.

By the time I’d read it three times, I’d grown light stubble.

In response to the BBC’s survey, Paul, obviously miffed, marvelled about the stadium experience, a world-class facility, padded seats, great sight lines, electronic turnstiles and the concourses, which almost reminded me of a smooth-talking, sun-kissed, holiday rep. You can talk up a hotel or resort all you want, but if the sun doesn’t shine when the people get there, the majority of visitors won’t continually keep returning.

To me, value is an over-riding issue. For what I, like thousands of others personally pay each week, I feel short-changed, as do many others I speak to, in all areas of the stadium.

The hook they have is the Albion. You have to follow your football team through thick and thin and, on some occasions, regardless of the cost. But that edict only applies to probably a hardcore support of 8,000-10,000.

To everyone else in the ground, at times almost numbering 18,000, it’s a fad, a fair weather pursuit. If the Albion are winning and playing well, they will come, if they’re not, they will find something else to do.

And, in the current climate, to lose the majority of those ‘floating’ fans would be a financial disaster for the Albion.

And that’s the crux of the whole thing. At Withdean, with a decade of almost unrivalled success outside the Premier League, three championships and a play-off final win, the Albion had great players in a ramshackle stadium.

On the face of it, with what we’ve been served up with so far this season, it’s totally turned on its head. As Paul points out, the stadium is superb but you have to provide a decent team to play in it, otherwise people will stop coming, possibly in large numbers.

He also states in his notes, “We are slowly but surely increasing our supporter base and we are expanding our reach across the county.”

Again, all well and good. But, again, to do as you state, you have to give the fan in the street value and, equally as important, put out a decent team. At the moment, there is an argument that the club are falling short on both counts, which certainly won’t increase the fan base, in fact it will be the complete opposite.

At numerous times in the text, Paul mentions the Financial Fair Play regulations and they will always be a factor. But is it in danger of almost becoming an excuse, rather than the real cause of the problem?

It all comes back down to the team. While I don’t like wishing unemployment on anybody, in my opinion, the only way forward long-term is to get a manager with a proven Championship pedigree. Preferably, and without wishing to sound xenophobic, someone British who is allowed to be the manager, rather than just a coach.

Otherwise, if the Albion don’t act fast to stop this tailspin, it could take years to recover.