I expressed serious concerns about the concept of the pre-season friendly on here the other day, but I was nominally excited about the match between Worthing and Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon. It was too hot for football, I was tired (having already been at work for four hours in the morning) but, hey, it’s football! It has felt like a very long summer and I was glad just to be standing on a terrace watching a match.
Not having done a friendly match for a number of years, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The crowd (1384) was higher than I was expecting, but the atmosphere was more like a village barbecue than a football match. Whatever buzz there was surrounding the match, what with Brighton playing a full first team and everything, had melted away within ten minutes of the kick-off, and even the dozen or so hardy souls from Brighton that started the match singing appeared to quickly learn the error of their ways and fell respectfully silent. At half-time, and a goal up, Brighton not only changed their entire team selection but also changed their shirts, coming out for the second half in a worryingly Brazil-esque yellow shirt, blue shorts and white socks. The shock of the change seemed to affect Brighton, who allowed the home side (who play five divisions below them) an equalizer ten minutes into the second half, before a late equalizer from new signing Nicky Forster gave the League One side a just about merited victory. So, what did we learn, then?
1. Brighton’s shorts are way too big. They’re massive, flapping over their knees and making the players look like twenty-first century Stanley Matthews hybrids. They might have looked awful and they certainly increased the risk of things, well, “falling out” in the heat of the moment, but the 80s fashion for shorter and higher shorts at least had the compensation of being more streamlined. Brighton’s kit, with striped shirts and big, flappy shorts looks uncomfortably like the sort of women’s pyjama sets that you see in Marks & Spencers. I’m not sure how the players benefit from this.
2. Worthing are probably a better team than their league position lets on. True, it was only a friendly match, but they gave Brighton’s full first team a run for their money here and looked, to my eyes, too strong for the Ryman Division Two South. I suspect that they will have a good season this year.
3. Brighton really have to improve if they’re going to stay up this season. Now, I know that this was a just a friendly match, but surely Brighton’s first team squad should, under any circumstances, be able to overcome a team five divisions below them, shouldn’t they? They seemed apathetic, and lacked imagination going forward. There were also far more wasted passes and bad touches than I would have expected from a professional team. I fear for their well-being in League One this season, in all honesty.
4. It doesn’t matter how much you work yourself up about them, pre-season friendlies aren’t much good. They’re football in a parallel universe – a universe in which people go to football matches but don’t really care much what the outcome of them will be. Roll on the start of the league season.