By Tony Dewhurst

Jacob Naish is at the wheel of his car on the A27 as Brighton and Hove Albion's Amex Community Stadium, cast into the chalk hills on the outskirts of the borough, comes into view.

Earlier, we had chatted for an hour over a cup of tea in a cramped office, squeezed inside the tiny Withdean Stadium, an athletics venue and former zoo, and Albion's home from 1999 until last summer.

Little remained to suggest that football was ever played there, apart from a temporary stand and a Seagulls crest on the entrance, and the distinctive contrast between the sites, a couple of miles apart, could not be greater.

Few clubs can recount a back story with as many false starts and as much peril as Albion, whose much-loved Goldstone Ground was sold from underneath them nearly fifteen years ago and replaced by a bland retail park.

An uneasy ground share with Gillingham, 75 miles away, followed before two years later returning to Brighton.

Remarkably, and against all the odds, Brighton survived, and so did Albion in the Community, a scheme that has prospered and grown into one of the most successful in the land.

Community Club of the Year 2007, League 1 Community Club of the Year 2009 and winner of Community Project of the Year in 2010 - and that's just a snap shot of their success.

"Because Brighton was in exile, the community scheme, I think, has been the bond between the club and the local area," said Jacob, Brighton's Head of Community Cohesion and International programmes.

"In a way, it made us stronger, made us innovate even more in the community.

"We managed not to just get by, but excel, and we are all very proud of that.

"Because of that nomadic existence, people did identify quite strongly with what we did in the community - it kept the link strong.

"Naming the ground the Community Stadium was a massive step forward for us as a scheme - the club really bought into the community project.

"The move to the new stadium has completely transformed the community scheme."

Jacob and a capacity audience were there to relish the stadium's official opening against Tottenham Hotspur in July - a day that had taken 14 years to arrive.

"Hopefully, this is Brighton's re-birth," added Jacob.

"It is a massive achievement to see us in the Championship and playing at an incredible stadium, but most of all there's a great feel-good factor, and that's gone hand in glove with the vibe in the community scheme.

"Brighton's a very conducive atmosphere to do community work, the population has a very open-minded viewpoint to community-based activities.

"There's quite an engaged population who are interested in working with the community scheme, and it says a lot about Brighton as a city."

Indeed, there's a formidable list of energetic and imaginative community projects - and a dedicated, talented team who deliver Brighton's message far and wide.

Disabled football, education, men's health and healthy lifestyles to name just a few, while Albion even forged a link with French club Le Havre to promote cross-channel community development.

In 2009, 60,000 people in Sussex benefited from their work, and with their Football Outreach Project - Albion in the Community teamed up with an HIV/AIDS Charity in Africa- Coaching for Hope, their message went out far and wide.

"We are especially proud of the international programme, working in some of the most deprived communities in the world," said Jason.

"The health project, for example, we've worked in partnership with the NHS, promoting lung, bowel and prostrate cancer awareness.

"More than anything, though, what made the whole thing work is that everybody at Brighton and Hove Albion has bought into the community project. It is an integral part of the club.

"You feel like everybody within the club is marching forward in one direction - and that's very special."

Jason added:"There was a lot of anti-feeling from the residents when we moved into the Withdean, many didn't want us there.

"However, when we played our final game against Huddersfield Town last April, there was a giant banner in one of the gardens overlooking the Withdean and it said: 'We will miss you Albion - the very best of luck.'

"There was a strange irony in that, but a nice one."

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