Long live King Shane Duffy and long live Brighton's bizarre fans' forum
The annual Brighton & Hove Albion Fans’ Forum is always one of the highlights of the season.
Tony Bloom, Paul Barber and Graham Potter subject themselves to an hour of questions and suggestions from supporters, some sensible and others downright bizarre.
To ask a question, you must follow the unwritten code of conduct. This involves stating your name, where you are from, how long you have supported the Albion and where you sit in the Amex. An optional thank you to Tony, Paul and Graham for the magnificent work they have done is always welcome.
Queries then range from the sensible about signing strikers to the surreal such as what does Potter do to relax. Normally, you get at least one fan suggesting that Potter try a new formation or leaving a man up when Brighton are defending corners.
These are always the best type of questions. Paul from Peacehaven, season ticket holder since 1983 who sits in the East Lower and wants to thank Tony for building the Amex thinks he has come up with an innovative new idea that Potter – with 30 years’ experience in professional football – has not yet stumbled across.
Unfortunately, the 2021 Fans’ Forum held at the Amex on September 8 was lacking in any tactical advice for Potter. Still, it was an interesting evening and not just because we found out that Potter likes walking his King Charles Spaniel up at Devil’s Dyke.
There were questions about the season ticket sharing scheme, safe standing, shipping out four strikers and not signing one and why the club announces tickets sold as its matchday attendances rather than physical bodies through the turnstile.
The most interesting moment for me though came when the renaissance of Shane Duffy was brought up. An Albion supporter asked Potter what he had been putting in Duffy’s tea to turn him from being described as the worst signing in Celtic history last season into one of the Seagulls’ star performers so far in 2021-22.
Potter said that Duffy had endured a terrible time of it in Scotland, not just in terms of what happened on the pitch but what he had to deal with off it. This referred to the fact that Duffy’s father, Brian, passed away in July 2020, just a few months before Shane completed his dream move to Celtic.
As a Celtic-supporting family, Brian would no doubt have loved to see Shane pulling on the green and white hoops.
That must have added to the pressure that Duffy was already feeling as a boyhood fan brought in as a marquee signing to help Celtic win an unprecedented 10th Scottish title in succession.
Steven Gerrard and Rangers had other ideas and not only did the SPL trophy ended up winging its way to Ibrox, but the Gers completed the season unbeaten.
Duffy going from a competent Premier League centre back to a player who struggled in a league in which Fran Sandaza has scored in regularly almost overnight is an indication of how off-the-field problems can impact on-the-pitch.
Football fans rarely seem to appreciate this – even when the issues which are clearly affecting an individual’s form are publicly known, as was the case with Duffy. Celtic supporters were aware that his father had passed away and yet they still subjected him to horrific levels of abuse.
Back in 2004, Mark McGhee’s Brighton gave an insipid showing on their way to a 3-0 hammering away at Derby County on a Wednesday night. Coming off the back of a 2-0 defeat at Sunderland four days earlier, Albion fans had undertaken 1,078 miles to watch Brighton barely register a shot on goal.
Frustrations ran high when the full time whistle blew at Pride Park. The man who copped most of the criticism was John Piercy, a second half substitute who supporters berated for being lazy and disinterested.
Except Piercy was not lazy and disinterested. He was actually suffering from the bowel disease colitis, as we found out six days later when he announced his retirement at the age of 26.
His last act as a professional footballer was to leave the field at Derby to a crescendo of abuse from some of his own supporters.
Nobody knew about Piercy’s problems until he quit the game. That night was an example of why fans should think twice before questioning the commitment of a player, because you never know what might be happening off the pitch to impact on their performance.
For Piercy, there was no overcoming his issues and the career of a promising talent who had captained Spurs reserves at the age of 16 was over. Duffy has at least turned things around, back in the arms of the Albion who have obviously given him the support he needs.
Potter added that Duffy has come back from Celtic a different guy having taken stock of his life and where he wants to go. In a roundabout way, a terrible time in Scotland might be the best thing that could have happened if it is the reason that Duffy is now more focussed on his football rather than the extracurricular activities he previously gained a bit of a reputation for.
Brighton and the Republic of Ireland are reaping the benefits. Potter sounded genuinely touched when he finished discussing Duffy by saying that his return to form was fantastic to see. It also means that how to replace Ben White is not something Potter has to worry about when he takes his dog for a walk. Long live King Shane.