Saturday 27 November 2021. The final whistle blows at the Amex Stadium, where Brighton & Hove Albion have just drawn 0-0 with Leeds United, despite having 20 shots in 90 minutes. The result makes it eight without a victory for the Seagulls (a run which would eventually stretch to a club record 11 top flight matches) with no goals scored at home from open play in four games.
A handful of people in the 31,166 crowd booed at the full time whistle. These boos were not at the Albion’s performance. They were not at Potter or his players. They were born from frustration that Brighton could not score a goal for love nor money, thanks largely to the club failing to invest in attacking reinforcements during the summer transfer window. Jurgen Locadia played the final 20 minutes against Leeds as the Seagulls sought a goal. That is how desperate the situation had become.
And yet here we are, nearly one year on from that Leeds game with pundits and fans of other clubs still obsessing over Brighton and Potter being booed. Some have even cited it as one of the reasons why Potter left the Albion to take over at Chelsea. The five-year, £60m contract probably had more to do with it than 50 people booing a 0-0 draw with Leeds, but let’s not allow that to get in the way of this agenda against Brighton supporters.
Every weekend across English football, at least one team gets booed. Brighton under Potter know this better than most – their performances and results away from home normally garner that response from opposition fans. Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, Wolves…supporters of all those clubs have booed their team off after losing to the Albion. In their thousands too, rather than the tiny percentage of the Amex crowd who did so after that Leeds game.
Within a few days, the booing has been completely forgotten about. Why or how then is Boogate from Brighton v Leeds United in November 2021 still being talked about? Talked about so much, in fact, that it has been blown out of all proportions. What was in reality a small number of Albion fans expressing their frustration has become mythicised into 30,000 booing their hearts out and hounding Potter. It is nonsense.
The main reason Boogate remains on the minds of, well, everyone is because of Potter’s reaction to it. When questioned about being booed by a tiny minority of Brighton supporters, Potter said: “The fans are entitled to their opinions but I disagree with them. You have to understand the game, who we played and what we did. We are sitting eighth in the Premier League but maybe I need a history lesson on this club.”
Boom. Just like that, Potter had taken a molehill and made a complete mountain out of it. Had he simply said he disagreed with the reaction, the issue would have been put to bed and gone away within a week. As home fans booing their team does at every other club in English football. There was zero need to criticise supporters with jibes about needing a history lesson, the implication being that no Albion fan should question him or his players because Brighton have spent most of their existence treading water in the second and third tiers.
Almost all of the subsequent coverage of Boogate has focused on the booing. Little attention has been paid to Potter getting riled by a handful of supporters. With his appointment to one of the biggest, highest-profile jobs in the country at a club where managers are chopped and changed frequently if results are not good enough, perhaps it should.
If Potter found himself upset and biting back at such a minimal show of dissent, how will he cope with the reaction of 40,000 Chelsea fans inside Stamford Bridge and millions more worldwide if things do not go well for the Blues? What will happen if Chelsea are chasing an equaliser away at Bournemouth and Potter opts for one of his whacky out-of-the-box solutions, putting Mason Mount at left back? Albion fans went through such decision-making on a regular basis. They shrugged their shoulders and let Potter get on with it. Will Chelsea followers be so willing to give Potter free reign?
For all that has been written about Brighton supporters, there was barely a murmur of discontent during that aforementioned 11-game winless run. Or when Potter oversaw six consecutive defeats over February and March. Or when Brighton under Potter failed to score a home goal for five matches spanning 96 days across the spring. Or when Potter oversaw a club-record 14 games without a home win. Or when Potter won just a single game at the Amex in the calendar year of 2020. Or when Potter oversaw the worst start to a top flight season in Brighton history, just two wins in 18 to kick off 2020/21.
Brighton followers – and Tony Bloom for that matter – were remarkably patient with Potter during those long barren spells where things were not going well. They could see the bigger picture, the long-term project. Compare that to what he will find at Chelsea. If he comes anywhere close to leading the Blues through similarly desperate runs, then you can guarantee Chelsea fans will let him know their feelings.
And how will those supporters react if Potter takes to criticising them in response? History suggests not well, given the reception they afford Rafa Benitez upon his appointment following comments made about Chelsea whilst at Liverpool. Not even winning the Europa League and securing Champions League qualification could win everyone at Stamford Bridge around, although Benitez did depart a much more popular figure than he had arrived.
For Potter to survive and thrive at Chelsea, he will need to develop a thicker skin. He cannot allow booing or any other type of supporter reaction to cause as much distress as Boogate did at Brighton. Whether he can handle the pressure must be one of the biggest question marks over his appointment. And if it does get to him, we can all look forward to Chelsea fans’ booing being brought up once a month forevermore. Or is that honour reserved only for supporters of Brighton?