I took a trip to the United Kingdom to watch some soccer. Then all our plans got messed up about two weeks before we went and we had to change the soccer we were watching. Either way, it was a good trip and I wrote a lot of stuff down in a running diary and I’m sharing. The start of the trip is here. Also I took parts of this and turned into the post “Brighton Is For (Soccer) Lovers” at AGSH.
“Well, if we walk far enough this way, we’ll get to the beach.”
This was the statement my traveling companion Zach made when we stepped out of the train station in Brighton. Zach is a planning type of person, who wants to make sure that everything happens the way it is supposed to. This day, though, was resigned to admitting that our plans were pretty much shot and this would be a day of shrugging and seeing where the road led.
We knew going into the trip that Saturday was going to be an odd day. It was originally going to be our day spent in Liverpool, cheering on our beloved Reds as they battled for a top spot in the English Premier League. Thanks to matches being rescheduled, plans had to change. At first we thought perhaps having another day in London would be good. Eventually, we settled on going to Brighton, on the southern coast of England, buying tickets to an afternoon match there, and just seeing what happened.
There were very few things I actually knew about Brighton before visiting. One was that it was home to an annual street basketball tournament, which I found fascinating and strange, and the second is that it had a beach. That’s all I knew. Sometimes, not knowing a single thing just adds to the adventure. It’s pretty fun to wander into a strange place and just say, “Why not?” When you have no clue what to expect, you can have a fuller appreciation for what you discover.
What we discovered was one of the strangest places I’ve ever been, and a place that I instantly knew I could feel right at home.
Brighton is equal parts New Orleans, Portland, Coney Island, and apparently Agra, India. It seems as if London had an excess of elements, particularly the weird ones, and they didn’t know what to do. So they took them all, threw them on a train, and sent them about an hour south to Brighton.
The weird nature of Brighton makes everything feel backwards and normal at the same time. It has a party atmosphere, playing host to weekend retreats and bachelorette parties for Londoners. Yet it also ranks as one of the top family friendly cities in the UK, housing what many consider to be some of the best schools around. Yet it also is considered to be one of the most LGBT friendly cities in the entire country. Yet it hosts a grandiose amusement park pier with arcades and food and rides. Yet it also combines a streetball tournament with a thriving arts community with The Royal Pavilion, a building needlessly built in an Indian fashion.
It’s the type of place where you felt as though the soundtrack would bounce between Beck and Kanye and Ingrid Michaelson and it would fit with it all. Who needs the normal rhythm of life? Loser and Power and Girls Chase Boys and somehow it all works together.
The day ended up being far sunnier than we expected, which meant there was plenty of time to spend outside. The pier opened at 10, but nothing on the pier opened until 11. The basketball court wasn’t busy on a windy morning in March. The city would speed up in a few hours, but as for now, things were slow. Perfect wandering environment.
We took the time to enjoy fish and chips overlooking the English Channel, which is truly an incredible experience. More time was also spent at the window of Fortune of War, a pub made from the inside of an upside down boat which originally opened in 1882 (according to their claims). Both places offered an unreal view of the water and of course the people who had decided to also spend the day there.
And the people didn’t disappoint. Between the countless pet dogs wandering down the beach without leashes and the countless oddly dressed people waiting to pet them, Brighton proved to be a place where people didn’t really care what people thought of them. This worked out well, because Brighton also proved to be a place where nobody really cared to judge the people around them. It made me very curious about the community that resided there.
It was, after all, a community that watched their local club Brighton and Hove Albion suffer through years of financial insecurity, which is common in some of the smaller professional clubs. They had to sell the ground they played at, which wasn’t great to begin with, in an effort to survive. The next few years saw them playing “home” matches 75 miles away. After two years of that, they watched their team move to a cricket ground that had to be expanded just to fit the bare minimum needs of a professional soccer team. They watched and waited for a decade as plans for their new stadium sat there without the money to make it happen. They watched construction finally begin, and they finally had not just a new stadium, but one of the best in the nation.
They watched the long process that finally brought them Falmer Stadium, also known as American Express Community Stadium. And it really is all about community.
The strongest communities I know are not the gated ones we often see out in the suburbs. They’re not the areas in which a bunch of people who look the same and act the same and are interested in the same things get together and do the same stuff. That’s not it at all, as it’s nothing more than an unhealthy clique that expanded out of the high school cafeteria it was spawned in.
No, the healthiest communities I know of are the ones that are most diverse. They are the ones who welcome all the people who look odd or act odd or are into odd things and combine it with the neat and professional people and nobody really minds in the process. They are the communities that are more interested in the people themselves than in how they appear. And Brighton exemplified that, showing that they were more interested in being a unique community than a group of people who looked as through they had it all together. Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind if the pier opened up an hour before anything on the pier did.
Brighton feels like a place that doesn’t belong. The weird thing is how well it works. If Brighton really was put together from all the weird pieces that people weren’t sure what to do with, then the residents fully embraced it. A promenade facing the rocky beach with arts shops and pubs? Sure! An annual basketball tournament on a bright blue court right on the beach? Absolutely! The Royal Pavilion, which looks to be in the altogether wrong country? Why not? It’s Brighton, after all.
And that’s what makes Brighton a place I could find myself spending a great deal of time and not getting tired of it. Like the name of their soccer stadium says, they are a community; one that welcomes all and asks no questions. It’s a community that welcomes families and oddballs and vacationers and a community that banded together to get a fine, fine stadium built.
As Zach and I sat in the window of Fortune of War, staring out on the pathway and the beach and the people involved, he pointed out and said, “Hey, look at that.” I looked, and I saw a very unique couple, which probably isn’t saying much considering how unique all of the people in Brighton seemed to be. This particular couple was covered in head to toe with tattoos and piercings and wild hairstyles to match their tough punk clothing. And with them were their two little daughters, dressed entirely in pink and playing like little princesses.
And they were all together, all the weirdness and diversity of it all, enjoying their time on the beach as a community.
Zach laughed to himself. “Why not?” he said, more as an out-loud thought than as a statement to me.
“It’s Brighton, after all.”