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How Brighton was a voice of Premier League during shutdown

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FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 file photo, Brighton's head coach Graham Potter during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion at Etihad stadium in Manchester, England. Brighton was a voice of the Premier League league during the three-month coronavirus pandemic shutdown. The south-coast clubs boardroom leaders, coaches and players navigated not just its own supporters but the leagues wider fan base through an unprecedented time in English footballing history. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira, File)

When Manchester City wanted some tips ahead of the Premier League restart, the defending champions turned to a team trying to avoid relegation.

As players were suddenly ordered home and stadiums emptied, Brighton became a voice of the league during the three-month coronavirus pandemic shutdown. The south-coast club’s boardroom leaders, coaches and players guided not just their own supporters but the league’s wider fan base as well through an unprecedented time in English footballing history.

Financial struggles for clubs even in the world’s wealthiest league. Health fears about returning to training — let alone playing — too soon. Concerns about not being allowed to play in home stadiums.

For 11 weeks out of the last 12 — on a Thursday or Friday — gaining regular on-the-record accounts of the trepidations of a Premier League club was just a Zoom call away for the media. Brighton’s decision to not step away from questioning during the pandemic often meant that the thoughts of its owner, chief executive, manager or players set the tone for the public debate about how and when the league would resume.

“We haven’t set out to be the dominant voice,” Brighton CEO Paul Barber said from his sofa at home during one of the Zoom calls. “It’s just been a by-product of what we’ve done.”

It was a rare chance for Brighton to dominate the news agenda at times. Larger clubs, like Manchester City, know they will be the subject of radio phone-ins and back-page transfer speculation even without there being any games.

“It maybe just fills a small gap in people’s lives," Barber said, “when football cannot be played.”

Now the competition is resuming, the rest of the league is catching up with Brighton. With social distancing still enforced, even as the national lockdown is eased in England, video calls will replace media going to club training grounds to speak to managers for match previews.