London (AFP) – Tony Bloom deserves promotion to the Premier League as a return on the £200 million (234m euros, $248m) he has invested in Championship side Brighton, says club chief executive Paul Barber.

Chairman since 2009, Bloom — a hometown boy and successful property developer, as well as a renowned poker player — has seen the ‘Seagulls’ go close in three of the past four seasons.

Last year they lost out in heartbreaking fashion on the second and last automatic promotion place on goal difference — and then lost to Sheffield Wednesday in the first round of the play-offs.

But they’re back in the mix this term and Barber says they mustn’t mess it up again.

Brighton — who have never played in the top flight since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — lead the Championship and victory in front of a sell out crowd at home to second-placed Newcastle on Tuesday would see them move nine points clear of third-placed Huddersfield, who would have a game in hand. 

“We are very lucky we have a very wealthy owner who has set aside money to give us an edge,” Barber told a small group of journalists including AFP after speaking at the Sports Industry Breakfast sponsored by BT. 

“He has brought us a new ground (37,500 capacity Amex Stadium), training facilities and covered the losses. 

“This is the fourth year in five we are in a good position to go up and I just hope we don’t screw it up like the other three.”

Barber — in his present role for five years after working with the Football Association, Tottenham and Vancouver Whitecaps — said the club had to be prepared financially for either scenario. 

“We work on a twin track budget,” said Barber.

“We have to prepare for another season in the Championship but also for the EPL.

“If you start planning in May you will be in trouble, so we have parallel projects.

“We are working to get back in the black which would be for the first time in our history and give some money back to the owner.” 

Barber, who came into football after a career in banking, admits the odds of retaining their place should they gain promotion will be difficult.

“It is really tough to stay up and looking at the numbers now it will be very tough to stay there,” said Barber.

“It is possible to do both like Bournemouth last year and probably Burnley will this season.

“You have got to be clever and smart and recruit really well whilst maintaining the togetherness and spirit of the previous squad.”

Barber admits that if Brighton fail to reach the Premier League this time the challenge is only going to be greater for those clubs battling the relegated trio who receive huge amounts of cash from the Premier League.

– ‘Disparity will grow’ –

“We have been very consistent and made a loss every year I’ve been there,” said Barber.

“Our challenge is to limit them and compete with those clubs with parachute payments.

“They have tens of millions of pounds more than us even before a ball has been kicked.

“It hasn’t worked for Norwich or Villa this season for different reasons.

“But over a period of time the disparity will grow and will have an effect.

“History has shown so far it hasn’t but these numbers are getting bigger and the law of averages dictates that those coming down will go back up.

“Only well run clubs will be able to compete against that.”

Barber believes nevertheless the club is in a good place whatever the outcome this term.

“I run on the sea front and the numbers of kids wearing Brighton shirts as opposed to five years ago is stunning,” says Barber.

“It is partly down to results and they want to be part of success.

“However, it is also down to the club giving free shirts to boys on their seventh birthday whose families are signed up to the club.

“If your older sibling gets one then the others want one and you can have 3-4 extra fans.

“Partly as a result of that our average gates have gone from around 6,000 in 2011 (when the Amex opened) to just under 30,000 now.”