Josh Goldsmith is an Albion fan based in North Carolina in the United States and who over the last season has built up a following with his Albion podcast TogetherBHA. Here, he talks about what inspired him to start the podcast and the potential that the USA holds for Premier League teams like the Albion.
The United States is undergoing yet another footballing boom. David Beckham moving to the Galaxy, a successful US campaign at the South Africa World Cup in 2010 and now the sheer volume and accessibility of the Premier League on TV in the US is cultivating a serious following across the pond.
I have lived here since 2015 and in the last four years the growth has been exponential. Four years ago, if I spoke about football (or soccer) to someone here in North Carolina they were either Chelsea fans, Manchester United fans or for those joining the game especially late newly born Manchester City advocates. Today my core friendship base here (all American born lads) consist of a much more diverse following; Watford, Liverpool, West Ham and Fulham amongst all the usual suspects.
It isn’t just the Premier League viewership either, when compared to the other major 2015 summer sports events, the Women’s World Cup finals tv audience (25.4 million viewers) exceeded that of the Basketball’s NBA Finals (19.94 million viewers) and Ice Hockey’s Stanley Cup finals (5.5 million viewers). And it only slightly fell short of the 28.3 million viewers who watched the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game on national TV.
Lord knows how this will grow as this year’s tournament draws to a climax. 40,000 people are showing up in Atlanta every week to watch MLS games, Charlotte’s 70,000-seater stadium sold out to watch a piss poor friendly starring Liverpool last summer. I see more goalposts being put up in local parks every year, and now is the time for the Albion to take this growing fan base by the scruff of the neck and embrace the love, the adulation and perhaps more cynically the money that the fanbase in the US could bring.
For me, 3pm Saturday has always been a sacred time in my life since I was old enough to understand that the team in blue and white stripes were the good guys and everyone else were not so much. Getting up early, getting the stripes on and getting everything together. Shouting at my sister to hurry up as the train leaves in 35 minutes and inevitably always end up jogging to the station anyway. My dad has a knack to have the most talkative fan in the area attach themselves to him, much to his chagrin and you always know to perk up when he goes to the bathroom, because from Stockport to the AMEX the ball is sure to be goal-bound for better or worse with him at a urinal.
Every single one of the 30,000 or so heading to the AMEX or making their trip to an away day have their own unique, strange and wonderful stories, superstitions and experiences every week and it’s what makes the game so beautiful. So, when I was asked to write an article here, I thought about just how radically that has changed since my move to the USA and coming to this realization that routines matter even when you can only watch from a sofa or a bar.
When I met my now wife at a summer camp in New York in 2012 I had the joys of taking her to what remains the one and only game she’s ever been to on one of her visits to the UK, Rotherham at home with Sami Hyppia at the helm. It was an awful 1-1 draw and nobody went home happy, I promised her it was usually better than that. And whether she liked it or not she’d subsequently be privy to the best Albion years in our lifetime, gleefully watching my emotional rollercoaster from week to week constructing a collage of head in hands photos unbeknownst to me on her phone when I wasn’t looking. Yikes.
When I made the decision to move to the US permanently in 2015, I knew I would be leaving my family and friends behind but didn’t even take the time to stop and think about the horrors of losing my Saturday 3pm traditions. My 3pm has now become 10am, my beer has become a cup of tea and my burger has become breakfast cereal. My 90-minute emotional rollercoaster now takes place in front of my TV with only my pug to witness my full range of ups and downs. And my wife happens to be scheduled to work on the Saturday mornings of big games, funny how that works.
After a while it started to drag me down, for any expat reading this I’m sure you know the feeling; visceral homesickness would overcome me every Saturday morning as I fired up Seagulls player or NBC Sports, I would have to live vicariously through my friends on WhatsApp and it just wasn’t enough. I booked a flight to the promotion parade and it stemmed the flow of FOMO for a while.
Then, at the end of the following 17/18 season despite the odds, stayed up! We weren’t going to be a one season wonder. I’d pulled a sickie to watch us beat United at home and secure safety, me and the pug danced around the room with elation at half past three in the afternoon while the AMEX faithful rejoiced under the floodlights. It was at that time I knew something more was needed and over the summer I began my plans to create a podcast. My thinking here was replacing something I missed; chatting with friends on a Monday morning at work, having the banter on a Friday before game day and so with those very basic plans in place I went for it. What happened next was just the cherry on top.
In August I began with a season preview focusing on a statistical approach to the new signings and how they could look in our line-up along with an introduction to the current players for any new fans. I was aware of our now global spotlight with the signings of South Africa international Percy Tau and Iranian international Alireza Jahanbakhsh and this combined with having just beaten Manchester United to secure safety at the end of the previous season in front of a worldwide audience, people were starting to notice.
Within a week of the first episode I’d had over half a dozen American Brighton fans reach out to me both praising the show and telling me their own Albion origin stories. The next 9 months were just fascinating, I must have heard over 20 different origin stories now from American fans; from having an ex-girlfriend who supported Palace to an Iranian American brought to the club by the signing of Jahanbakhsh.
Over the next 9 months I found myself performing the most interesting routine of balance, to be able to speak to new international Brighton fans, some of them football fans for the first time and finding a way to balance this with the hardcore of those back home walking up the ramps to the AMEX week in and week out, and be inclusive, be educational and be inviting, without being condescending to native Albion fans.
But at the heart of it was the camaraderie I’d been missing, and I embraced it hungrily, but these fans whether they had supported the Albion from afar for ten years or just found them this summer were even hungrier. They have been waiting for this to happen their whole lives and they didn’t even know it; football has wrapped them up in @PLUSA scarves and told them they’re finally home.
The Albion now have a part to play too, and that is where Barber and co. come in. Andy Bajana, the man shooting to social media fame on the BHAFC hashtag singing his songs, Paul, and his Stateside Seagulls merch heading out across the continent, hundreds of people in blue and white shirts chilling with Gully in the Premier League fan zones, Mile High Seagulls, Chicago Seagulls, LA Seagulls, Together: A Brighton & Hove Albion Podcast, we’re all small parts of what amounts to a very fast growing US fanbase.
In 2020 if Albion stay up again and we’re looking forward to a fourth year of Premier League football, Barber would be insane not to venture across the pond and arrange something here, we’re bringing in talents like Percy Tau and Alexis MacAllister with little to no intention of ever seeing them in an Albion shirt but instead for business purposes. Well here is another business venture, now is the time to lay an Albion feast in front of the American faithful and see how big their bellies are and despite the clichés, I think they would be surprised at just how much these Americans can eat.