Oh good, the Champions-elect are coming to show us how it should be done and what might have been. That will be spiffy. Luckily, its a team that's as likable as us.. Jon Rogers spoke to Jem Stone all about the fun and games of being the best this season.
Jon: Well firstly, congratulations. Fully deserved. Completely jealous. If there was any club whose fans deserved the big league, it's you guys. From the stadium, all the way through to the patience you lot have shown. You now have exactly 100 words to go full-pelt smug mode. (I will cut from word 101)
Jem: Thanks. We're still recovering. It’s incredible that we've finally got over the line this season after all the near-misses. But it’s really a tribute to the many fans, some of whom didn't live to see this moment, who saved the club when it was homeless, nearly out of the league and out of business. Twenty years of hurt is over.
And of course it shows , yet again, that you were perhaps a bit too hasty to give Hughton the boot and a certain Alex Pritchard should have kept going round the M25 back in the summer...[Not too smug]
Jon: 94 words. Ok. Three points on that smugness - I was one of the big Hughton fans, but it just wasn't working with us. Different leagues remember, so think of this when you've not scored in 959 minutes next season. It’ll be an interesting summer for Pritchard (£16m and he’s yours)...AND....I sat in the away end at the Withdean in League One. I saw that temporary stand full-up in February weather. Those are the guys I'm pleased for, because it was worse than non-league. Good things come to those who wait. Any old memories you’d like to gently reminisce about?
Jem: Withdean in L1 was wet. Very wet. But the "Theatre of trees" had its moments. We don't have "Rocket Man" at the Amex who lurked in the woods behind the stands and set off a firework into the Hove skies to celebrate one of Glenn Murray's (Round 1) many goals. It’s remarkable also that the shop, the hospitality areas, toilets and the offices were all poky Portacabins. We still pinch ourselves with our Falmer padded seats and the extra legroom paid for by Tony Bloom's largesse.
Jon: So, what you’re saying is, basically you've sold your soul. That’s unbelievable. Nothing is sacred nowadays. If you want to relinquish your place in the Premier for us, I understand.
Jem: Us Goldstone veterans are old men now so quite grateful for a bit of comfort, real ale and a £4.20 pie.
Jon: Why are you champions then? What's the magical secret, mate? I'll sell it on the black market to Ipswich and Derby.
Jem: We're not champions...yet. And judging by the video evidence of our players *still* on the lash 2 nights in a row, I'm not expecting a stellar performance on Friday which would guarantee that title. As for this season's performance then it’s some obvious stuff:
a) Goals. All promoted teams need a 20 goals-a-season striker. So we signed one, Glenn Murray; but crucially he came here because he knew he'd get great service from wingers like March and Knockaert in Hughton's favoured attacking 4-4-2 set-up.
b) Experience and depth. We've actually got the oldest squad in the Champ. But you need that blend of ex Prem/La Liga pros (Rosenior, Sidwell, Stockdale, Bruno) alongside your 20-somethings. Last season our injuries at Christmas caused a blip that ultimately cost us, this year several long-term absentees weren't missed. We've finished the season playing our 4th and 5th choice centre backs, one of whom is a 19 year old Chelsea starlet, and the other a Bundesliga pro.
c) Hughton. He joined when we were 22nd in the league and has now had 4 full seasons in the Championship, with Newcastle (Champions), Birmingham (play-offs), Brighton (play-offs), Brighton (Champions[?]). He knows this league. Now he has (another), hopefully longer, chance to prove himself in the Prem.
Jon: I get the feeling you don't think he was given a chance in the Premier league with Norwich. He had two seasons in the Prem with is and ultimately, it was the brand of football that let him down. Slow, defensive, cautionary. His signings also let him down. We went big with Ricky Van Wolfs and he scored one goal. First season we did ok. But when you start to add boring football to poor results, it wasn't the place for him. Hopefully he has learned and will go on.
Where do you need to strengthen? And do you trust Hooty with the Booty?
Jem: The spectre of Ricky Van Wolfs hangs over us too and is a big worry because we need another striker. A young creative #10, playmaker, decent at spot kicks. Know anyone? He has a decent recruitment team now though and has only had 1 real dud (the permanently offside Elvis Manu) in the last 2 years. If he keeps the squad together then I expect few big signings. Full-backs need looking at, & another creative midfielder. (Alan Judge?) Think Burnley-type spending. We'll still be there when you get back on your yo-yo and come back up in 18/19.
Jon: I hope so. I think we're similar in team/club/community/stature etc etc. We both have the sea as a catchment area. We're nice. You’re nice. Not enough good guys in football I think. From an outsider’s perspective, where do you think we went so wrong this season? Our home form has been brilliant. But our away form, only Rotherham are worse. WHY JEM, WHY!?
Jem: Down our way you held your own for the first hour. And if McGovern hadn't farted about in his penalty area then who knows. But once the 2nd one went in - you collapsed. I've seen us only really do this once this season - away at Forest. But hey. We've not beaten anyone, even Reading, 7-1 so I’m afraid I’ve no idea why you're so inconsistent. Perhaps, if only, you'd hung on at Newcastle right at the beginning of the season. We'd already be champions and it all could have been very different.
Jon: We're bored of that word - we've banned it the inconsis**** word. Ergh. Ok. Hear me out. You lose horribly on Friday...that's it.
Jem: A few years back on our way to yet more play-off heartbreak we went up to Leicester who had just been promoted and had spent the weekend getting rat-arsed. We won 4-1.
Don't read too much into Friday.
Jon: Ok...ok. Have some more then. You lose horribly on Friday. Newcastle win. You all get very concerned. Cats start cuddling dogs. Rainy and sunny at the same time. All hell is breaking loose....and you go back to Brighton v Bristol City (sorry Bristol) and you have the perfect day, 3-0 win. Bruno scores a free kick in the last minute - like Tony Adams did when Arsenal won. Champions in your own backyard.
Jem: But. But. Hughton. Carrow Road. Champions. Pritch as panto villain. Again. They don't write ‘em like that anymore.
Jon: Oh Jem. Oh Jem! You're choosing negativity over joy...Oh Jem!!! Until you've batted 1001 inflatable bananas around your OWN ground before being crowned Champions, you haven't LIVED, mate.
Jem: Joy for me though. It’s four bloody hours (and back) to Norfolk, as you know. Another win on Friday will be fine by me. Anyway, the trophy won't be handed over until Bristol (assuming Toon continue to bottle it).
Jon: Gis' a score prediction then.
Jem: Norwich 3-1 Brighton. We'll suffer for all that train crowdsurfing.
Jon: And much more fun...Winners and four teams of the play-offs and the other two who are going down?
Jem: Promoted: Fulham
Play-off heartbreak: ALL OF YORKSHIRE
Missing out: Reading.
Relegated: Redknapp and Wigan. Great Escape for Blackburn and Forest.
Jon: That's all my dreams in one. Congrats once again Jem. Enjoy the Premier League mate. It's utterly HORRIBLE and you'll be underappreicated to an inch of your life.
Jem: Can't wait to get back into the Champ and start winning games again.