Muesli Mountain, they call Hanover. Once a faded maze of Victorian terraces, it is now the gentrified Sussex equivalent of the Venetian island of Burano, where, famously, each fisherman’s cottage is painted a different colour. It is 2017 Brighton all over: a suburb reflecting the full rainbow of society, where health-conscious bohemians and lifelong residents coexist happily enough, and where the characterful Constant Service pub sits alongside a house that once passed itself as a ‘poetry brothel’.
Few are so much a fixture of this hilly, vibrant enclave as Dot Purvis. It is not simply that she has worked in the cafeteria at the nearby Brighton General Hospital for 27 years, but that she has decided, in her dotage, to deck out her home on Ryde Road as a shrine to her beloved football club.
The facade is in Brighton’s signature blue tone, while a collection of Seagulls scarves, dating back to the promotion to Division One in 1979, adorn every spare surface. About the only concession to a life beyond Brighton and Hove Albion is the “Save Our NHS” sticker in the living-room window.
Ring the doorbell and Dot appears, obligingly, in her club top. Aptly for somebody with her sense of decor, she has a mischievous sense of humour where little is quite as it seems. “Five years ago, I lost my husband, so I thought, ‘Right, get the paint pot out!’ ” she says. “I had a few coppers, so I had it painted blue.” Interpreting this wacky move as a response to her sense of loss, I ask whether her late husband shared her level of devotion to the cause. “No. I’ve had two husbands. Neither of them was remotely interested.”
The morning after Brighton’s first elevation to the top flight in 38 years, she is giddy with glee. As a dyed-in-the-walls fan, Dot has seen it all: the joys of the early Eighties, the brush with oblivion in 1997, when Brighton needed a final-day draw at Hereford to preserve league status, and, most recently, their gloriously improbable resurgence. She is fond of the Amex Stadium, their elegant enormo-dome in bucolic Falmer, but her most cherished memories are traced invariably to the Goldstone Ground, which Brighton called home for 95 years.
“I still remember one incident in the South Stand. It was a night game, the visiting goalkeeper was bouncing the ball up and down, and then one of our players came and kicked it in.”
Such recollections are, alas, now buried far beneath the concrete and plastic of a Hove retail park. The Goldstone, a raucous old shed redolent of a time long before the corporate hijacking of public space became fashionable, was demolished 20 years ago and has given way to a Toys R Us. The cynicism of that move, not to mention the dislocation it created – with a two-year switch to Gillingham, 70 miles away, and a brief stay at the Withdean, a hovel that had been everything from an athletics arena to a zoo – was such that some locals have refused even to set foot in the area.
To spend any time in Brighton is to see a clear contrast among its fan base. On one side are the habitués, such as the delightfully eccentric Ms Purvis, and on the other is an emerging band of affluent supporters, usually not long transplanted from London, who have helped swell the Amex to its 30,000 capacity. Already, the waiting list for the next tranche of season tickets is measured in months, not weeks. Martin Hill, who has retired to the area and has wasted no time since promotion in visiting the club shop to stock up on the latest kit, says that he understands why.
“The catchment area, all the way from Eastbourne to Worthing and beyond, is massive. I’ve got friends who are coming in to watch Brighton from north of Horsham. There’s a whole south-east corridor that is still expanding.
“Traditionally, most of the Brighton supporters I’ve known have had first or second clubs. Brighton was always the local club, but they were never taken especially seriously. That has all changed. Younger kids, rather than walking around in Manchester or Arsenal shirts, are now seen in Brighton shirts. Students and tourists, too – they are all starting to gravitate towards the club.”
Hill has kept a season ticket at West Ham, paying £4,000 for the latest one, but these days loyalties are anything but divided. “There are two distinct groups: those who are born-and-bred Brighton and those who have come down to London-next-the-Sea, but still adopted the club and taken it to their hearts. I am in that second group. I hate what West Ham have done, whereas I love what Brighton have done. West Ham have sold out: there’s that monolith of a stadium, with no atmosphere, and it has driven my kids and I away. Brighton, though, are still passionate, still local.”
The connection between club and community was vividly underscored by the celebrations on Monday night, when three Brighton players – Jamie Murphy, Jiri Skilak and Oliver Norwood – took a train with fans into the city centre and spent their journey crowd-surfing.
Little wonder that star winger Anthony Knockaert, the Championship player of the year, has committed to staying. The solidarity here is so palpable that several of his team-mates, as well as manager Chris Hughton, travelled to Lille last November to attend the funeral of his father. “For them to cancel training was a thing I will never forget,” he says. “Even now, I don’t know how to thank them. To me they are not just some team-mates, but friends forever. I owe this club a lot. That’s why I give every single bit of my life on the pitch – they deserve it.”
Already, many away fans have circled their date in Brighton next season in their diaries, as if to mark a pleasant sojourn by the seaside, where the potential for trouble is negligible.
Stella Pollard, landlady of the Railway Bell, is expecting trade to be brisk, even if she claims that she will continue to enforce her ‘home fans only’ rule. She called time at 12.10 on Monday night, while the players’ party at the nearby Bohemia bar was still going strong. Kevin Falconer, managing director of CD Scooters over on Lewes Road, admits she is still feeling worse the wear after the revelries. It is at this point that he shows off his brand-new Vespa, resplendent in – what else? – a blue-and-white colour scheme.
Falconer's gesture is just one madcap gesture of many. The longer this dream Brighton run lasts, the more its disciples’ love affair will deepen.