Harty on the Albion, tennis and golf

WHEN I stood in the drizzle on April 26, 1997, on the Goldstone turf, with the uncertainty of the “game of death” with Hereford the following week to come, I could never have dreamed how things would pan out for the Albion.

All credit to Dick Knight who came in, kept the club afloat, moved it back to Sussex, before passing the baton on to Tony Bloom who, without doubt, is the Albion’s true saviour.

On Tuesday, the club kindly hosted a reception for Chestnut Tree House at the Amex. And, with the first game, the Sussex Senior Cup final, taking place this Saturday, the Albion’s tempestuous journey is nearly over.

I have to hold my hands up and say that in the last 14 years I had, at times, serious doubts about whether the stadium would ever get built. That’s no slight at all on Dick Knight, but as was said to me by someone close to the club on Tuesday, without Tony Bloom and his money, we would have been standing in a green field on Tuesday lunchtime.

A small but significant action on Tuesday reiterated how far the club has come and, ultimately, where they could yet end up.

The Albion served up a cracking buffet lunch and guests where invited out on to the West Stand to sit and marvel at the new pitch and watch Gus Poyet’s team warm-up before their first-ever training session on the hallowed Falmer turf.

Then security politely ushered everyone back into the lounge, blinds were drawn and Gus conducted his training session behind closed doors.

Some might call that over-cautious, but I call it professional. The man has the drive and ambition and, along with the chairman’s funding, will have the Albion playing Premiership football by August, 2014 (remember where you read it first).

l Every summer we have this national debate about how we cannot produce a number of quality tennis players in this country. While we have had the emergence of Messrs Henman and Murray, it’s still clear there is a serious flaw in the development of the sport in the UK, and whether it ever sorts itself out remains to be seen.

Where tennis fails, our domestic golf scene has never been stronger. One look at the current top 15 players in the world sees three out of the top four places occupied by British nationals, Donald, Westwood and McIlroy, with another three, McDowell, Casey and Poulter, inside the top 20.

You can’t even begin to imagine what the reaction would be from, not only the LTA, but the nation as a whole, if there was six British tennis players in the world top 20.

Hopefully, this current domination will be capped with a British winner at the Open this weekend and, personally, given the ups and downs his career has endured, I hope it’s Lee Westwood.

l And, finally, I’m sure my own little record at the News of the World was never broken. Back in November, 2000, I covered an Albion home game for the paper, which was an emphatic victory against Cheltenham Town. At the final whistle, I had to submit marks out of 10 for the teams.

I freely admit a mixture of euphoria and bias kicked in and the Albion were marked very highly. Zamora got a 10 and there were at least five nines.

As a result, the Albion had five players in the team-of-the-day on the Sunday (should have been six really), something which the NOTW sub-editor said had never happened before.