There is hope at the Amex stadium again.
As the summer transfer window entered its final month even the most optimistic of Brighton & Hove Albion fans were not hopeful of a promotion push this season.
Despite a wealth of signings, including striker Tomer Hemed and winger Joe Ward, the squad didn’t look a threat going into a fresh Championship campaign. Following a difficult 2014/15 season that saw the departure of manager Sami Hyypia and a 20th placed finish, narrowly avoiding relegation thanks to the arrival of Chris Hughton, the team lacked belief.
However, hope is now back in blue and white. Booby Zamora has returned to Albion and has bought with him a confidence not felt at the club for too long. The former England striker is a cult hero, a legend; the messiah to the Seagulls’ faithful.
His goal scoring record in his first stint for Brighton at the Withdean stadium for untouchable, smashing 83 goals in just over three seasons between 2000 and 2003. Following spells with Spurs, West Ham, Queens Park Rangers and Fulham, where he played a heroic part in reaching the Europa League final, the 34-year-old was released from QPR and despite plenty of offers, had only one plan in mind.
“There were a few other clubs and a couple abroad as well,” begins Zamora. “I had a conversation with Chris (Hughton) at the start of the summer and he said it’s a possibility and when I heard that, this was the only place I wanted to come. So I turned down two offers and had my fingers crossed that I’d get a call back and thankfully I did.”
The news of his return was music to the ears of Albion fans who had waited patiently for his return. And, after a pitch-side welcome before the first game of the season, it was clear that it meant just as much to both sides.
“I’m chuffed to be back and to get such a great reception,” he smiles. “Obviously I want to do well for myself as well as the club. Everyone’s got high expectations of me and I want to do myself justice, so I want to be fit, I want to be ready and I want to do a great job for the team.”
There is much to get used to though. A lot has changed at the club since his departure and with the club coming close to reaching top-flight football in the recent memory of Albion fans, number 25 is confident the club are on track to success.
“The facilities first and foremost are Premier League standard and put the clubs I’ve been at to shame to be honest but they’ve done it in the correct manor,” he explains. “Slowly but surely building the team and getting up to the Championship and becoming well established, going along with the ground and the training ground like a club should do. Don’t run before you can walk.”
While the former Bristol Rovers forward has gained experience in international and European competitions during his time away from the coast, he is also 12 years on from the free-scoring striker he once was and is well aware that he is no longer guaranteed a place in the side.
“My game has evolved, I’ve sort of become more of a target man but I’ve still got plenty of ability and I’m happy to play at number 10 or up against the centre half’s, so I don’t see myself starting every game. It’s straightforward, if the gaffer wants me to play somewhere I’ll play somewhere, if I’m not in the squad it’s not a problem. I just want to do well and help the team in anyway shape or form.”
Playing at a higher level also brings knowledge and an understanding of the game that Zamora is looking to spread throughout the side. “I’d like to think that on occasions we’ll be well ahead in games and I’ll able to settle the team a little bit. Other players have said to me we’re a quiet team vocally so I like to talk quite a bit and if that means shouting and helping the other players then I’m happy to do that as well. It’s one thing I can add, a little bit of experience and my,” he stops before joking, “my big mouth.”
At 34 he is in the twilight of his career and, after signing a one-year contract at the club, there is talk that this could be his farewell season. However, despite being tentative when asked about a role behind the scenes after hanging up his boots, he was quick to reassure me that nothing is set in stone yet.
“I’m just taking each year as it comes,” he confesses. “I played a lot of games last year and I felt fine so hopefully I can play a lot of games this season and at the end of the year we’ll see. We’ll see where it goes but the ultimate aim is to get this club in the Premier League.”
With a good start to the season in the bag, hope is firmly back in the hearts of the Brighton fans and, with the bigger picture starting to take centre stage for the veteran, there is plenty more work to be done.
He says, “The club is ready for the Premier League, we’ve just got to produce what’s needed to get there, so I want to help the team, I want to help the club and I want to help the area of Brighton as well, so I’ll try and do all three if I can.”
Bobby Zamora runs a Prodays Academy soccer school in Sardinia where children are taught by Premier League players and for more information on how your child can take part, visit the website www.prodaystravel.co.uk
BOBBY’S QUICK FIRE QUIZ
Man on Fire
If you could have one super power what would it be?
East or West Sussex?
Watching or playing football?
Withdean or the Amex?
Favourite football venue to play in?
Arsenal, previously and now actually, the pitch is beautiful
Favourite Brighton moment?
Too many to name
Favourite all time goal?
West Ham playoff final
Who’s the best player you’ve ever faced?
Who’s the worst player you’ve ever faced?
Too many to name
What motivates you?