Brighton’s new home ground

How a football club and a local design company harnessed community spirit to create a stadium full of art, by Gavin Lucas

At the start of the new football season, Brighton & Hove Albion moved into a gleaming new home. As well as the typical trappings of a modern venue, the American Express Community Stadium boasts a series of community-generated art, design and photography projects that celebrate the club’s history and the dedication of its fans.

Brighton-based Corridor directed the project. “There was a call for  locally-based artists and designers to come forward and submit ideas for [works that could be installed in] four concourse areas within the new stadium,” explains Corridor’s Phil Nutley. “This was always going to be called the ‘community stadium’, so we wanted to challenge the usual team colours, big images of star players from over the years and all that. Our proposal was based around a vision of fans as the curators and we would be the creative directors, using the people of Brighton to create content with us.”

The club’s desire to embrace the local community perhaps reflects its recent history. Its former home, the Goldstone Ground, was sold back in 1997 for redevelopment after which the team played home matches at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium (over 70 miles from Brighton) for two seasons. Then, the club moved to Withdean athletics stadium in a Brighton suburb, which seated less than 9,000 people around the athletics track that encircled the football pitch.

After 12 seasons at Withdean – once named the fourth worst stadium in the land by The Observer newspaper – the club now has a new, permanent home, albeit one that was the subject of considerable opposition by some locals.

Within hours of their first meeting with the club, Nutley and Corridor’s Stephen Cummiskey – both of whom are lifelong Seagulls fans – were called back in, the club unsure that the pair realised the scale of the task. A tour of the stadium was arranged. Although daunted, the duo remained confident and the club told them there and then that they had the job.

Fast forward a year and Brighton & Hove Albion FC, following promotion, are playing in The Championship in their spanky new stadium which, as conceived by Nutley and Cummiskey, houses no less than 70 individual artworks within ten distinct projects created by dozens of local people across varying demographics.

In the East stand, one project saw a group of foundation students at City College Brighton & Hove being set a 12-week brief to create eleven screenprints, each one based on a particular decade from the club’s history.“We asked them to choose a noteworthy club player for that particular decade and create an illustration to celebrate him,” explains Nutley.

Another project involved working with local visually-impaired children who submitted poetry about their experiences of football, either as supporters, or as players. The five resulting works take the form of large, brightly coloured discs (representative of the bright balls that visually impaired footballers use), which display braille extracts of the poems rendered in football studs.

Corridor enlisted primary school children from 12 different schools in Brighton and Hove to create the 12 artworks in the Respect Shirt project, the idea being that each school would produce an artwork that represented either manager Gus Poyet or one of Brighton’s players. A player was invited to talk to a school or a group of kids within a school about their cultural upbringing and background. There are players in the Brighton squad from Spain, Argentina, Ireland, Egypt and Austria so the idea was to celebrate this diverse cultural identity with each artwork displaying a football shirt split down the middle with one half representing that player’s country of origin, the other half Brighton colours. “We pretty much gave the kids free rein to pick up on what the players said,” says Nutley, “just giving them a 1.2 metre square piece of wood as a substrate and explaining that the shirt would be placed in the middle.”

The resulting 12 pieces take up just over 33 metres of wall space and showcase a wide variety of imagemaking techniques, from illustration through to collage and modelmaking, all created by children between five and ten years old. The club loves the work so much the stand is now called The Respect Stand after the project.

On the opposite wall, the My Shot series of photographs were also all created by local kids who each won a competition. “We asked kids to send
in photos they’d taken which they thought captured the essence of a particular sport,” explains Cumm-iskey. “The winners won a camera and a commission to work with a professional photographer to shoot a sport in Sussex and ultimately have their best photograph [from the ensuing prize shoot] exhibited here in the stadium.”

Another project entitled Cast Off saw 30 youngsters with learning difficulties work with Brighton-based artist and sculptor Peter Webster to make plaster casts of the pitch during the last three games played at Withdean. “We took a different group of ten kids to each of those three games,” explains Nutley, “and each group cast areas of earth at the dug out and also the warming up area down the side of the pitch.” Webster is known for his bronze statues of famous Brightonians Steve Ovett and Max Miller, and incidentally had taught both Cummiskey and Nutley when they were kids.

Now the Cast Off project comprises 30 plaster casts individually framed and captioned with the names of the kids that made them. The artworks aren’t behind glass but open fronted so fans can touch them: some even have blades of grass and dirt from the old pitch ingrained in them. It’s a physical reminder of a particular episode of the club’s history.

Memory is an important aspect of the work Corridor has produced for the club. Over in the North Stand, the history of the club is told through an impressive selection of photographs and anecdotes submitted by fans both young and old. These memories have been arranged on panels of the appropriate blue and white and applied as vinyls directly to the concrete walls of the cavernous space.

And there’s still room for more work, space that the club is hoping Corridor and more community groups will continue to work with them to fill. “The projects are interchangeable and many are ongoing,” says Nutley. “The Respect Shirts can be replaced when a new player arrives at the club. We can work with a new school to create a new artwork.”

While almost all new football stadiums include graphics and artworks celebrating the club and its history, perhaps the most important thing that Brighton has done is to involve the club’s supporters and its community so deeply. All the pieces are the result of co-authorship. They all represent new stories in the club’s history that can be shared and owned collectively by the fans. “Taking in these projects has actually added half an hour to the stadium tour,” reveals Cummiskey. “That’s partly because we built into our projects narratives that need to be told. And the tour guides enjoy telling them.” 

seecorridor.com

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