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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 26/04/03, 3.00pm
Brighton and Hove Albion
By Ian Grant

A change of perspective has all kinds of consequences....

Last night, having previously married punk blueprints with step aerobics (I could explain, but we'd be here all day and none of us want that, do we?), Wire performed to a packed Barbican in four huge boxes, one for each member, mirrored and lit inside and fronted with translucent projection screens. A stunning, incendiary deconstruction and reconstruction of their twenty-five year old process, it also presented something of a unique problem....

When Bruce Gilbert broke his guitar strap, he had no way of telling his fellow band members and simply had to soldier on for the remainder of the set, hunched down with his instrument on his knees. Lines of communication broken, lines of vision obscured. A different - stunning, but for those minor details - perspective.

Earlier, at the Withdean, the usual perspectives had also been changed, fractured, obscured. But not to stunning effect, this time. As it happens, it'd be hard to think of more pleasant surroundings to watch football in early summer...because, for all the athletics stadium's temporary haphazardness, the scenery is beautiful and the complete exposure to the elements needn't always be a disadvantage. There aren't many grounds that can boast a background of a nature reserve, a bowling green, and a hillside populated by elegant detached houses with charming, crafted gardens. It must be bloody grim in winter, mind.

Seated in the away section - a small and not entirely solid stand that's been perched on the side of the running track near one of the corner flags - you enjoy a view that's quite unlike any other. Removed from the action by the pitch perimeter and the track, you're also low enough to lose any feel for distance, direction and pattern. It is, somehow, a kind of footballing dyslexia - the players float around in front of you, without forming any kind of coherent structure. With just the suburban hillside at the other end of the pitch, you don't even have the reactions of other supporters to aid your understanding of events. It's all totally mystifying.

For a while, anyway. And then it dawns on you that this is our performance. That no matter how skewed the perspective, there's really nothing to grasp or cling to. That the lack of coherence is completely genuine, not a trick of the light. It's just as terrible as it looks, from any angle.

And there's no excuse for that. No matter how pleasant the surroundings, how unusual the setting, how curious the perspective, it's not an explanation. There's only this, really - we weren't here, mentally or physically. It's an over-used cliché, but we simply didn't turn up. The manager's already commented that the players had assumed that the summer holidays had begun already...and it's utterly impossible to disagree. It wasn't merely terrible. It wasn't, full stop.

That considered, it's barely worth dignifying proceedings with a match report, especially considering that most of the action, as already explained, was completely unintelligible. My sense of outrage, I must confess, was rather diluted by a combination of tiredness, the weather, and the more-than-slight desire to see Brighton survive. For much of the afternoon, we might've been spectators at a cricket match, lazing in the sunshine with the paper and occasionally peering into the distance to find out of the opposition had declared yet.

In those circumstances, it's difficult to be genuinely irate...although that didn't stop many of our red-faced, foaming-mouthed friends from having a crack. It was dreadful, of course. The worst performance of the season by some distance. A considerable insult to those who'd bothered to travel too (and many of them were quick to return that insult many times over, it has to be said). Not a crisis, though. I'm happy enough to let the manager worry about it, provided that it doesn't become a recurring theme.

Which is probably not the savage condemnation that you're looking for. Well, you're free to waste your Sunday afternoon if you wish....

So, the game started. We didn't, it did. That Albion were clearly and understandably more eager to begin isn't, of course, an adequate explanation for our utter failure to do anything that involved effort, thought or determination, particularly when you consider that our hosts weren't up to much themselves. The match was, by and large, a shambles. It was just that one team didn't appear too concerned about defending, putting up only the most half-hearted resistance. That's the result - and the report - right there.

Not much happened. Although, to be fair, there might've been loads happening that just looked like not much happening when seen from our perspective. Then Brighton won a corner, flicked it on at the near post and Kitson sent a free header over the bar. Hmmm. A large bee flew past, on its way to somewhere more interesting. My forehead started to sizzle slightly. Some time later, the home side spent what seemed like several minutes crossing the ball from one side to another without troubling our penalty area, as if working on their long-range passing. Eventually, Mayo underhit one of these passes and it turned into a cross, met firmly and finally by Blackwell from close range. One-nil. They should've been selling ice creams at the refreshment kiosk, you know.

We won a corner, at some point. No-one stood up. It was that sort of day. On another occasion - and this happened only rarely - we prevented Brighton from scoring, rather than merely hoping that they'd miss. Watson's lofted cross from the right, a diving header at the far post, deflected through to a scrambling Alec Chamberlain ahead of an anonymous striker. My lucky chocolate's probably melted already. Long throw, quite exquisitely disorganised defending, Kitson blasting the ball into the roof of the net from a yard or so. It's two-nil, then. Pint, anyone? Is Sam Swonnell playing? What's the Stoke score?

There was a point, not long after the second goal, when the desire for Palace to do their bit for the Albion rather surpassed interest in this particular game. Because if we were going to lose abjectly - and it was already abundantly clear that we were going to do exactly that, although the full extent hadn't yet been revealed - then it might as well have some kind of purpose. It could bring someone joy, at the very least. And it did, completely. It's not all that unusual to be thanked for an away day surrender. But it is unusual to be thanked without sarcasm.

The moaning's started already. Ingimarsson's found the bowling green with a shot after another bout of incompetence from a long throw. Which still counts as a shot, and is therefore rather better than we've managed. Haven't brought my copy of the Watford Observer sports section along, regrettably. Forty-one minutes, and our first spell of controlled passing is jeered by the home supporters until it results in Jason Norville - who at least played rather than watched in the first half - bundling his way through and forcing a decent save from Beasant. Only a decent save, for the finish lacked complete conviction. Still, a shot. And another - ish - from Sam Swonnell, almost immediately. Exciting, this. Not really.

Even so, the reaction from some of the supporters would lead you to conclude that we have to get a result to avoid relegation. Plenty of cause for complaint, of course. But much less cause for hurling abuse at people who are barely ten yards away, to my mind. Sure, you've spent twenty what? There's no guarantee with football matches, and you implicitly accept that the price of your ticket doesn't vary regardless of whether you see something like this, something like Burnley or, most of the time, something in between. Besides, if I buy a CD that I don't like, does that give me the right to call the shop assistant a f***ing useless, s***-headed c***? It doesn't, no.

And the choice of scapegoats is predictable and tedious, as always. Whatever else Gavin Mahon might've got wrong - and there was plenty to choose from - it's simply blinkered to consider him to be more responsible and therefore more justified as a target for scorn than some of the others, some of the favourites. You can take your pick from the eleven - the substitutes escape blame, on account of not touching the ball - and, as usual, you can pick the most obvious target if you wish. But, honestly, what's the point?

We didn't raise our game. There was no game to raise. After two minutes, a right wing cross took a nick and fell for Zamora, who flicked a tame finish to Alec Chamberlain when he should've scored. Three more slumbering minutes, and Gavin Mahon glanced a free header wide from a corner, providing yet more ammunition. Have Palace scored yet? And why is Ray Lewington wearing a suit? More minutes, and a corner comes out to Richard Johnson, who hesitates and sees his overdue shot deflected wide. A little longer, and Johnson's chipped pass into the penalty area takes a touch from Tommy Smith, allowing Jason Norville to hit a weak shot on the turn.

There's a temptation to overstate the Australian's performance...but he did stand out, as he often does in these circumstances, simply for looking for the ball and trying to pick out a decisive pass. He was rarely successful, needless to say...partly through his own inaccuracy and often through his teammates' lethargy. But he tried. A butterfly passes through. A few rows behind, a witless idiot starts to demand travel expenses as well as a ticket refund. You should try making the journey every week, sunshine....

Kitson sneaks ahead of a dozing Paul Robinson into the right side of the area and backheels to Zamora. He twists and turns to invite a challenge that, unsurprisingly, never comes, then chips a cross to the far post. Barrett should find the net, but finds Alec Chamberlain's chest instead. No matter. Jones crosses unopposed, Zamora climbs above Wayne Brown's negligible challenge to score the third. The witless idiot announces that he's leaving, then stays to share (loudly) his joyous personality with us for the remainder of the game. Stephen Glass concedes a corner from thirty yards by shinning the ball back in the vague hope of finding his keeper, who saves from Blackwell as the defence again offers scant opposition. "How did we get to the Semi-Final playing like this?!" screeches our friend. We didn't, obviously.

And then...Palace score. Which causes the home stands to erupt as never before, certainly not for a goal by their bitter rivals. And it also provides some justification for the afternoon, especially for a long-term Brighton resident. There wasn't much else to salvage, really. There wasn't anything, in fact.

Yes, we know that your ticket cost twenty quid. You had mentioned it, once or twice. Richard Johnson tries a long range shot, mis-hits it, and looks utterly exasperated as it bobbles wide. There'll be others, mate. There'll be better days. Injury time, and Zamora breaks into the area and Oatway slides in to meet his low cross, ahead of defenders for the umpteenth time, and score an absurdly easy fourth. Yes, twenty quid. We know. Christ.

Another chance to be self-righteous as the players stumble towards the tunnel. Yawn. And then we're free to leave, to wish the Walk of Trust bunch well, to wish the Brighton fans luck for next Sunday, to concentrate on the evening's entertainment rather than dwell on the afternoon's embarrassment.

Which is just as well, all in all.