Brighton eager to write new chapter in the big time

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BRIGHTON — They’re here and they believe it’s where they belong.

For nearly two centuries Brighton has been known as a popular seaside town for vacations. But for at least the next nine months it will be known as the newest destination for the Premier League.

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On Saturday Brighton & Hove Albion celebrated their first PL game in club history and for locals of the city on England’s south coast it was tough to sum up how far they’ve come after being on the brink of extinction in 1997.

“The actual day and the atmosphere has been absolutely fantastic. It is absolutely huge for Brighton. I’ve lived here a long, long time and to be here, in the stadium, it is hard to put it into words,” said Brighton fan Ross Perrett with a smile on his face. “It is where we should be. Let’s just hope we can stay up. I’m sure we can.”

Brighton held their own in their first game in England’s top-flight since 1983. They were dominated by Manchester City, the favorites for the PL title this season, and succumbed to a Sergio Aguero strike after a small defensive mistake and an own goal. Life is tough at the top.

The Seagulls’ dream to become an established PL side is still a long way away from bring realized but with a savvy manager in Chris Hughton, plus being backed by owner Tony Bloom who made their impressive American Express Community Stadium dream real, they have everything necessary to emulate the likes of Southampton, Swansea City and Bournemouth before them.

On a sun-soaked day down by the English Channel, most of the 30,000 fans in the stadium thought back to the last time Brighton were promoted to the top-flight of English soccer in 1979 where they remained for just four years.

“It has been amazing, I go back to when we last got promoted,” lifelong Brighton fan Derrick George said. “It is different now with social media and everything else. It is massive compared to what is was then, but the one thing that isn’t different is the culture shock when you see the quality of the opposition.”

Man City provided Brighton with a rude awakening to life in the top-flight but there are plenty of signs they can beat the drop in their debut season. Hughton’s men were organized and resolute in the first half and went close twice in the second half through goalmouth scrambles after set pieces.

Despite the defeat, the day was one to cherish as manager Hughton pointed to afterwards.

“I thought they [the fans] were exceptional but they have been in my time here, but I think today was very much a club day,” Hughton said. “This club has a history and a very difficult history in recent years. There are an awful lot of supporters here who weren’t able to come a good few years ago because of where this club was playing. It was very much a club day but that’s then, now it’s about making sure we dust ourselves down and get some results that we will need.”

Pubs around the city center were packed by lunchtime on Saturday with banners stating their Premier League arrival prevalent. This city on England’s south coast was ready for the big time.

Around the city the usual tourists had arrived with London Victoria and London Bridge train stations just an hour away, but Manchester City fans were plentiful and everywhere you looked there was a reminder of how big of a day this was.

In a cosmopolitan city which welcomes anyone — think Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but an hour away from New York City and on the coast — Brighton will have the eyes of the world watching their team.

20 years ago Brighton were on the brink of extinction and facing relegation from England’s fourth-tier on the final day of the season. Late heroics meant they were saved, for at least a few months, but today will have seemed like a dream for their long-suffering fans.

Forced to relocate to Gillingham, over 70 miles away, to play home games after their Goldstone Ground home was sold off to property developers, they eventually returned to Brighton to play in a converted athletics stadium, the Whitdean Stadium, which had temporary bleachers, a running track around the outside and a long-jump pit behind one of the goals. For years they struggled in the lower leagues sponsored by the record label of  one of Brighton’s favorite sons, Norman Cook, AKA Fatboy Slim, as they battled and scrapped to no return to the abyss.

Eventually Bloom took over and helped bankroll the deal for their incredible Amex home and Brighton will now be at the top of the list for every away PL fan to visit this season.

When Bruno Saltor led the Seagulls out on Saturday with “Sussex by the Sea” blaring out over the loudspeakers, it will have made every Brighton fan pinch themselves.

They’ve come close to promotion in recent seasons, missing out in the agony of the playoffs, plus also had deep cup runs, but Saturday proved that this is a city ready for the big time and they are no strangers to visitors from around the world each and every day.

From its quaint cobbled streets housing vegan eateries and old pubs, to its seafront delights and comfortable climate (for England, anyway) Brighton is already up there with the coolest cities to have a Premier League team and the city is regularly voted the “hippest” and “happiest” place in the UK.

Despite the result fans of the Seagulls were still a happy bunch.

Lifelong Brighton supporters marveled at the extra hustle and bustle about the seaside town as the TV cameras rolled into town from across the globe (including our full crew on their UK tour) with journalists in the press room at the Amex wowed by the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard on location as pundits.

They won’t be the last.

“According to local reports tourism is on the rise and it will get a massive boost from this,” George explained. “This is a summer town so throughout the winter we are going to get thousands of away supporters and many others here, so that will only help.”

On the pitch Brighton will need help to try and stay in the PL with Bloom set to dig even deeper into his considerable pockets to fund a few more transfers (they broke their transfer record twice last week, mind you) before the end of the summer transfer window in just over two weeks. But given where Brighton have come from in the past two decades, the challenge of staying int he Premier League doesn’t seem insurmountable and isn’t as daunting as having to survive as a club.

“It is a smaller challenge than when we’ve been on the brink in the past but it is still a huge challenge” Perret said. “But one we can do.”

When Brighton walked out at the Amex on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. local time, whatever happened on the pitch over the next 90 minutes it was a “I was there” moment for their fans.

It was also a “look at how far we’ve come” moment.

“I thought of days at the Goldstone when I was young,” Perrett said as he watched his beloved Seagulls walk out to make their PL debut. “I was there with my mom and my sister and I could go and touch the grass, climb over the little fences there. Those were the good days but the whole game is different now. Those were the good times. And the good times are coming back now, for sure.”

Hughton hopes to bring the good times back but is also eager to write new history when asked if he’s now glad to get Brighton’s grand day out of the way.

“I must admit there is a little element of that. It is understandable for the history of this club and our first game in the Premier League that it was going to be a big occasion,” Hughton said. “It was going to be a big occasion whoever it was, but I think the fact that Man City were coming made it even bigger. My responsibility is to make sure we are a Premier League team next season. We have a realistic group of supporters that were excellent today.”

Manchester United draws Club America 1-1 on Mata goal

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Manchester United began Jose Mourinho’s “very bad” preseason with a drab 1-1 draw against Liga MX side Club America.

Juan Mata hit the post in the opening 20 minutes and later scored the equalizer in the 78th minute after Ander Herrera‘s header rebounded off the crossbar and right into the Spaniard’s lap. Mata then put his shot through the goalkeeper’s legs and in for the only goal for the Red Devils.

With many players receiving extra rest after participating in the 2018 World Cup, Manchester United is utilizing a bit-part roster for much of the preseason which includes five matches in the United States. Regulars Mata, Herrera, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, and Antonio Valencia were all included in the starting lineup, but they were joined by a smattering of relative unknowns.

35-year-old journeyman goalkeeper Lee Grant played the first 45 minutes between the sticks, replaced in the second half by 22-year-old Joel Peirera. 22-year-old midfielder Andreas Pereira played the full 90 minutes in midfield, while 21-year-old winger Demetri Mitchell saw his name listed among the starters along with Scott McTominay, who suffered a nasty looking head injury late in the match on an overhead kick attempt.

16-year-old Mason Greenwood got a few minutes towards the end, with Mourinho hoping to get a quick look at the club’s U-18 leading scorer. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Alex Tuanzebe also both came off the bench to participate, as did 18-year-old former Feyenoord youth product Tahith Chong who was impressive during his second-half appearance.

While Manchester United held a slight majority in possession, Club America out-shot the Premier League giants 15-10, however the Liga MX side could only manage to put four of those on target.

Pep: Hart’s future uncertain, will play in preseason

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Joe Hart has returned to Manchester City after spending last season on loan at West Ham, and his future is very much up in the air as it stands.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was asked about Hart’s situation at the pre-match press conference prior to City’s International Champions Cup match against Borussia Dortmund. He confirmed they are shopping the English veteran. “We’re going to try and make a solution for Joe,” Guardiola told reporters, “but if not then he is with us. He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen but at this moment he is with us.”

Guardiola also confirmed that Hart would play in the preseason game against Dortmund. Starting goalkeeper Ederson is not on the roster for the US preseason tour, having returned from participation in the 2018 World Cup with Brazil, although he didn’t play as he served as Alisson’s backup.

The former #1 England goalkeeper, Hart has struggled mightily in recent seasons. He last played a full Premier League season back in 2015/16, starting 35 games for Manchester City. However, he lost his place the following year and was loaned to Italian top flight club Torino. He had mixed success during his one year in Italy and was loaned out to West Ham last campaign with Ederson and Claudio Bravo entrenched at his parent club. Hart only made it half the season before losing his starting spot for the Hammers, replaced by Adrian. That saw him lose not just starting job with the England national team but his place in the squad, forcing Gareth Southgate to take a trio of inexperienced goalkeepers to the World Cup, leading to the emergence of Jordan Pickford.

West Ham returned Hart to Manchester City at the end of the season, and here he sits in limbo again. Hart has just one more year left on his contract, but according to the Manchester Evening News, wants to leave this season on a permanent deal anyway.

Tomorrow, Hart will get the opportunity – albeit a small one – to showcase himself to potential suitors. If he gets another chance to play in the ICC (Manchester City plays Liverpool and Bayern Munich before heading home to England), he will have another opportunity to plead his case.

Report: Leicester to pluck Danny Ward from Liverpool

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With the announcement of Alisson’s signing on Thursday, Liverpool has spent over $200 million this summer, but it seems they’ve already begun to trim the squad and even out the net spend by a bit.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds have agreed to sell 25-year-old goalkeeper Danny Ward to Leicester City, with the clubs agreeing to a $16.2 million fee. The report also states the deal includes a 20% sell-on fee, meaning Liverpool will receive 20% of any transfer fee Leicester City receives for Ward during the life of his next contract.

[ MORE: Alisson signs for Liverpool ]

Ward has spent the last six seasons with Liverpool after signing from small non-league club Wrexham in 2012 as a 19-year-old. However, he has played more games for the Welsh international team (4) than he has for Liverpool (3). Previously stuck behind Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, the arrival of Alisson meant the club needed to make room.

Leicester City already has Kasper Schmeichel firmly entrenched between the sticks. However, especially after a stellar 2018 World Cup with Denmark where he was considered among the top choices for the Golden Glove award, Schmeichel is a wanted man and 31 years old and a contract with three more years remaining, Schmeichel’s time at King Power Stadium could be limited.

The addition of Ward at the very least would allow Schmeichel some time off. The Dane was stretched thin last season as not just the Premier League starter but also used in a few cup games with only Eldin Jakupovic behind him. Now, it’s realistic that Ward could receive time in Cup competitions, leaving Schmeichel to rest up for league games.

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

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According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commiserate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.