Naivety and Youth

One Sky Sports most prominent pundits Graeme Souness got on his soapbox after Brighton’s 3-1 home defeat to champions Liverpool on Wednesday night calling Brighton manager Graham Potter “naive” for his teams approach in playing the ball out the back. An approach which led to Albion giving the ball away twice and conceding two goals in the first seven minutes. A deficit from which they never recovered.

Souness stated that he thought even Man City who had better players would play more long balls initially against Liverpool and “wait for the sting to go out of the game”. He went onto say that if any team played that approach from the start it would be a “mistake”. Whilst Souness’s co-pundit Matt Murray agreed saying “when you’ve just conceded, just learn from it… I think they’ve got to work it out and maybe play it a little bit longer a couple of times.”

This isn’t the first time these kind of accusations have arisen about Potter’s management. In particular there was the defeat at home to Sheffield United earlier in the season when it seemed that the tide had turned against his approach. It was a game which saw Brighton’s keeper Ryan have 48 touches and an 89% pass accuracy rate. Numbers that demonstrate the intention of passing out from the back but mask the difficult situations the players he was passing to often found themselves in.

Unlike on Wednesday night with an empty AMEX, that day heard a stadium full to the brim with vocal frustrations over the teams over playing in defence, leaving the side taking too many risks at the back and making little progress going forward. Adam Webster in particular received heavy criticism, a player seemingly unperturbed as it was his loss of possession when rashly trying to dribble out from the back through the centre of the midfield, which led to Liverpool’s second on Wednesday night.

The defeat to Sheffield United, and more importantly the fans reaction during it, lead to Potter’s comments in the matchday programme before the next home game against Bournemouth. In which he said: “You will see misplaced passes. But these are all part of the process & the mistakes that we make will be made with the intention of developing our way to play, our identity & our belief. They will also be essential in us getting to where we want to be.”

The home defeats to Leicester, Sheffield United and Palace all brought scorn and concern from the home crowd and have highlighted the weaknesses to Potter’s approach when coming up against an organised counter attacking outfit. Something Man United exposed brilliantly in their 3rd goal of a 3-0 win over Albion at the AMEX recently. But every team has their weaknesses. Whilst managers like Chris Hughton look first to set up to minimise these risks, Potter instead sets up to first maximise the opportunities which the team can achieve. It’s a higher risk approach, but with higher risk comes higher rewards.

Potter also admitted he’s no stranger to Souness’s accusations of nativity saying to The Athletic after the Liverpool game: “I know why he would say that, and I have been called that a few times, and I’ve ended up in the Premier League coaching.” Fighting talk indeed.

Many call for more pragmatism from Brighton, but as Potter pointed out himself after the game, over the past 2 years many teams have played against Liverpool using a variety of different approaches, yet Liverpool have regardless still won comfortably more often than not.

Moreover, the stats suggest Brighton’s approach on Wednesday night was far from useless, with its XG being so high at near 3, only Man City had achieved higher against Liverpool this season. Demonstrating that Brighton had enough chances to level it up despite these mistakes.

This highlights another quirk of the Potter reign. Last season Brighton were converting a high proportion of a relatively low amount of chances, this season they’re converting a much lower proportion of a far higher number of chances. Conversion and creation are both difficult problems to solve, arguably the most difficult things to solve in the game and ultimately come down to the quality of personnel who are making those decisions in the moment.

It was indeed poor decision making and individual errors that cost Albion on Wednesday night. Both in conceding goals and not taking chances, with Dan Burn’s miss at 2-1 down a further example of Brighton’s plentiful missed opportunities to score more goals this season. Whilst Trossard’s goal for Albion was their 36th of the season, their highest total since promotion, it could have been so much higher. Going back to XG, this statistical model shows Brighton with an expected goals total of 8 higher for the season at 44.

So despite the criticism, Potter’s approach should leave us with some optimism, but only if Brighton take the chances they are creating. If you don’t do that, then it makes the risk taken by the defence in playing the ball out short under opposition pressure not worth taking.

Looking forward, we can be confident that from the evidence of the team’s good early season form and the further evidence from its recent good post lockdown form, that the more time Potter gets to put his ideas across on the training ground, the better prepared players are going to be to carry out his ideas. The team have certainly improved since the break, arguably better than any other team in the division, and Potter deserves a lot of credit for that.

The recruitment teams work is also paying off too with the teams previous reliance on Gross and Murray for goals continuing to reduce, due mostly to the continuing improvement of Maupay and Trossard, who’ve scored 14 of Albion’s league goals between them this season. This being the kind of impact the recruitment of Jahanbakhsh, Locadia and Andone was also hoped to have had.

Regardless of this progress, there will still be a need for some summer acquisitions. In particular the need for another striker is evident in order to add competition to Maupay. Especially coupled with the ever wilting performances of Connolly and Murray’s game time still surprisingly limited despite some good performances pre-lockdown.

I suspect there will also be a search for a new left back. Especially considering Gaëtan Bong’s departure in January, along with the minimal game time afforded to Albion’s other recognised left back Bernardo and regular makeshift left back Dan Burn probably hoping to move back to centre back in the long term. And then there’s also the potential prospect of replacing any sold players, with interest in some of the more senior first team player such as Lewis Dunk likely this summer.

That said, Alzate and Connolly have shown the U23s will have opportunities. Players like Alex Cochrane who started in the League Cup against Villa as left wing back, Tudor Baluta who did so in central midfield and Taylor Richards who started on the left side of the attack, will all be hoping they can emulate their former development team colleagues. As will central midfielder Jay Molumby and centre backs Matt Clarke and Ben White, who are all getting good reviews from their loan spells in the Championship this season.

Bringing through more youngsters into the squad certainly won’t help Graham Potter disprove accusations of nativity. But considering the U23 teams continued success and the good performances of many Albion loanees, all those mentioned above plus a number of others will all feel they are both overdue an opportunity to impress in the Brighton first team next season, just as Alzate and Connolly have this season.

Potter’s approach is very different from that of his predecessor Hughton, both in terms of risk taking and the promotion of young players. It has at times rightly led to some calling him out for being foolhardy and hasty in his decision making, I have even done so myself. But to say that he is naive isn’t fair or just. Especially when you consider his record and the resources, he’s achieved all that with.

Time will tell if next season leads to the continuation of the recent progress, or a difficult second season at the club’s helm, but the early signs are good. I for one suspect that this change in approach at the club we’ve seen this season, is one Albion fans will have to get used to for some time to come.

Graham Potter and the Diamonds of Universality

In Jonathan Wilson’s book about the evolution of football tactics – “Inverting the pyramid”, he ends it by foreseeing that the next stage of this tactical evolution would be universality within a team, leading to increased tactical fluidity and the end of set roles.

In particular he’s since spoken about the trend of the demise of the traditional goalscoring striker. A trend evident at Brighton this season since Potter’s arrival with his significantly lower utilisation of Glenn Murray. That said, Murray’s success of the previous two seasons does somewhat challenge this hypothesis, but that’s another story.

In Murray’s place has come Neal Maupay, who whilst similarly a penalty box goalscorer, is so much more besides. You won’t see it in his highlights reels, but his movement and energy when leading the line allows for more options and versatility in Albion’s build up play than we otherwise see. Something the goal against Norwich demonstrated as Maupay dropped deep to receive the ball, allowing space for others to run into and set the move on its way.

Part of the purpose for this was spoken about by JJ Bull after Potter’s first game in charge, a 3-1 win away to Watford last August. He outlined how when in possession the outfield players are tasked with “forming diamonds all over the pitch, with players fluidly moving into the appropriate positions depending on the phase of play and where the ball is.” This leaves Brighton’s current de facto centre forward Neal Maupay often moving out of position to enable this pattern of play. Going back to the goal on Saturday against Norwich, Maupay actually formed the deepest point in that particular diamond, passing to Mooy in an advanced position on Albion’s right wing, with Connolly and eventual goalscorer Trossard forming the other two points in the diamond.

One aspect of the demise of the traditional centre forward Jonathan Wilson spoke about was their potentially increased use as a “super-sub” when their team was looking for a goal. Something we’ve seen in Potter’s use of Murray this season, but to little effect. It’s seemingly a role he’s less familiar/suited to than he was starting games as the teams attacking focal point under Hughton, which his 14 substitute appearances generating no goals scored attest to.

Before the restart it appeared that Murray may be seeing a renaissance under Potter, with his only goal of the season coming in a start against West Ham in February, which lead to two further starts before he was dropped for the home defeat to Palace later that month. But one short substitute appearance post restart has suggested his marginal role in the team going forward continues to intensify, to my personal disappointment. Put the understandable tactical reasons to one side, I just love watching Glenn Murray lead the line in those Blue and White stripes.

Another huge part of Potter’s management this season has been the adaptability of his squad. In particular Steven Alzate, promoted this season from the U23 team and traditionally a central midfielder, has been asked to play in a number of positions. Starting with his debut where he found himself on the left side of the attack, Alzate’s played in most areas of the pitch, at one point playing a run of games at right back.

Then there’s a man traditionally thought of as a centre back, 6″7 Dan Burn, who’s spent most of the season playing aptly at left back. And it’s not been just the less established members of the squad who’ve been at it, with Murray starting the season being asked to play on the left wing before his prolonged absence from the starting eleven. In fact it was his injury that saw Steven Alzate get his debut away to Newcastle.

And it’s not just players starting positions that have been adaptable. It’s the roles they’ve played within those positions too. In particular Maty Ryan and Lewis Dunk who have had to evolve the most since Potter replaced Hughton last summer.

The change in style from a quite direct team who were happy out of possession, to one more comfortable in possession and better at retaining it, has seen Lewis Dunk move from the teams heading and blocking defensive battering ram, to a key figure in the starting point for much of the team’s attacks. And you only have to look at his involvement in the game this season to see that. Having averaged around 55 touches a game over the last two seasons, he’s now averaging around 79 per game, and with it his highest season average passing accuracy too at 87%.

A large reason for this is the nature of Maty Ryan’s distribution. Who is being asked to mostly play the ball out short to the centre backs, rather than long over the halfway line to the forwards. Subsequently being asked to offer a passing option to his centre backs when they then have possession of the ball.

This has meant Ryan has also seen an increase in his involvement in the game, particularly in games like the win over Norwich on Saturday that saw him have 56 touches. Around 20 more than his per game average under Hughton.

But this isn’t always the case. Like Potter’s ever changing team selections and use of formations, more recently Ryan has often been asked to play far more longer-balls up the pitch in order to relieve pressure from the opposition. Particularly against Leicester where he racked up a whopping 24 long passes, compared to his season average of 6 per game.

Like a lot of things about recent Albion performances, it’s been about doing what is required to get the points needed to avoid relegation. Potter’s seen his side collect 7 point from the 4 games since the restart, an upturn in results. Something required to ease the threat of relegation after a pre lockdown slump of just 6 points collected from the previous 9 games since the turn of the year.

If we compare Potter’s first season in charge to Hughton’s last, little has changed in comparison to results and league position overall. But the nature of how Albion has got there certainly has.

Whilst I personally don’t agree with a lot of the criticism he got, Hughton’s downfall was ultimately his perceived inability to evolve the team tactically into a more effective attacking side. With his much maligned experiment with a 433 unable to solve his problems. In contrast, this season Brighton are an effective, if often wasteful attacking outfit, now combined with the defensive robustness of the Hughton years that is still in place. If it weren’t for that wastefulness in the final third, Brighton may well be competing much higher in the Premier League table.

Graham Potter’s issues at the club were primarily balancing its short term goals of retaining its topflight status with its longer term objectives of improving the teams style of play and even loftier ambitions of establishing itself as a top half Premier League Club.

Getting through this first season with that topflight status intact and with the fanbase having bought into his management was always going to be key to enable the longer term success to materialise. With the prospect of further evolution of the team under Potter in the topflight next season, it’s a testament to him that those longer term objectives which felt quite speculative a year ago when they were announced, now seem more achievable.

1995/96 – Protests and anger as relegation to the Football League’s basement is the least of Brighton’s worries

A club in turmoil

After the club was relegated down to the third tier in 1991/92, Albion manager Barry Lloyd began losing the faith of the Albion supporters. This was despite leading the club to a respectable 9th place finish the following season, when at one point it even looked like the club may finish higher and make the playoffs. However, a winding up order on the club from HMRC due to an unpaid tax bill somewhat halted the team’s momentum.

In fact this winding up order was a close call. After four adjournments, the club was given until 21st April to find the money to pay the debt and only managed it in the end at the eleventh hour when Barry Lloyd’s wheeling and dealing saw goalkeeper Mark Beeney sold to Leeds United for £350,000 and raise the necessary cash. So close some fans who attended the game at home to Blackpool the Saturday before Beeney’s sale, feared that it might be one of the club’s last.

Unfortunately things would get worse before they got better, in part down to the club’s ongoing fight to build a new stadium. Lloyd himself tried to solve this issue by spending a lot of time away from the training field working on a proposal for a new ground being built at Beeding Cement Works, but the plan was rejected by director Bill Archer, who preferred another site at Waterhall to the North of Brighton.

Later that year there was another winding up order from HMRC and this led to a restructuring of the club’s shareholdings and board of directors. Bill Archer would become chairman of the club by securing a 56% stake in a joint bid with Greg Stanley who bought the remaining 44% and took up the post of club president, in a deal publicised as helping to save the club’s finances with some new investment. In reality rather than a new dawn for the club this was the beginning of a further downward spiral for the club. With the pair invested nothing more in the club as equity than the nominal £100 to purchase the share capital and instead loaning the club hundreds of thousands at high levels of interest in the form of bank loans secured against the club’s only valuable asset, the Goldstone Ground, they simply delayed the problem from being dealt with by significantly increasing the club’s debt.

In part drawn out of the lack of funds available, Lloyd had taken on the responsibility of managing director as well as first team manager and it seemed the additional responsibilities were turning his attention away from on-field duties. After the club only secured two wins in the first sixteen league games of the 93/94 season, he was sacked.

Ultimately Lloyd’s loyalty to the club was seemingly partly his undoing, the chaos off the field had well and truly taken over and Lloyd did his best job of fire-fighting until he had finally lost control. After that point it was probably only a matter of time before things hit rock bottom.

Finances had been so tight for a while and meant that any good players were required to be sold. But now things had got so bad that money couldn’t even stretch to replace them with genuine senior professionals. So instead they were being replaced by youngsters like Nicky Rust, Stuart Tuck and Ross Johnson who were promoted ahead of schedule from the club’s youth system.

The arrival of Liam Brady as manager settled things for a while. He led the club to an unlikely looking and ultimately comfortable survival in 93/94. Then to another mid table league finish the following season, but the stability on the field was just masking the ever growing problems off it. The job of spinning the boards line and masking the problems was the former Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne David Bellotti who Archer and Stanley had appointed as Chief Executive. Who as such would become synonymous with the ineptitude of the club’s leadership that was to follow in the coming years.

Much of this stability was instead down to Brady in spite of the board, as he took on full responsibility for the sinking ship that the club had become. Having ended a prestigious playing career that featured trophy winning spells in both England and Italy, Brady had a fairly underwhelming two-year spell managing Celtic before taking the Albion job. Whilst he wasn’t a proven manager, he was a big name and was described by Bellotti as “head and shoulders” above the other applicants.

Whilst Brady was working with a squad full of youngsters, there was some experience in this squad. As alongside Club veteran Dean Wilkins was former Irish international John Byrne and former England international Steve Foster. But these were all players coming to the end of their careers, and they could no longer be expected to carry the team.

The precursor to the new season was a friendly with QPR for Dean Wilkins’ testimonial. A game particularly special for Dean because as well as being against QPR, the team he started out for as a professional, they were also then managed by his brother Ray. This game would turn out to be a rare moment of sentimentality amongst the gloom that was to come in the season ahead.

The 95/96 season begins

After two years of consolidation, there were hopes from some that the club could mount a promotion push. But, hopes were quickly diminished after a defeat to Peterborough began a run of no wins in the first 6 matches, which included a 5-0 aggregate defeat to Third Division Fulham in the League Cup.

But, the on field matters were the least of everyone’s worries when reports arose that the club had sold the Goldstone Ground to property developers Chartwell, who were planning on building a retail park on the site. A company it later came to light had connections to the Kingfisher Group, with which club Chairman Bill Archer was also involved. Whilst the club initially denied the sale, they later confirmed it and the clubs plans to ground share with Portsmouth next season ahead of the clubs first home game of the season against Bradford, which was drawn 0-0.

One of the leaders of the resentment against the club’s ownership was the now defunct Brighton fanzine Gulls Eye. A fanzine that had been running for a number of years up to that point and would play a huge part in shining a light on the owner’s wrongdoing at the club. After a tip off from a Portsmouth employee over the summer break, the fanzines co-editor Ian Hart took the story to The Argus who ran it on the front page ahead of the 95/96 season.

They had been no stranger to run ins with the club before, having been sued by the board in 1990 for libel over an article in the fanzine, after which its editors Ian Hart and Peter Kennard agreed an out of court settlement to pay the legal costs of the Brighton directors. Not that this experience had fazed them.

The summer had seen further revelations of the owners mismanagement of the club too. As it was revealed that after buying the club, Stanley and Archer had removed the clause from the club’s constitution designed to prevent shareholders from profiting if the club was wound up. After an investigation by supporter Paul Samrah and the Argus’s investigating journalist Paul Bracchi into the ownership of the club, it came to light two years later and the club was forced by the FA to change it back. Bellotti claimed it was simply an admin error, albeit an incredibly convenient one from which the owners could personally financially benefit from after the more recent sale of the Goldstone Ground. Following the correction, Paul Samrah continued to hold the owners to account and played a huge part in eventually ousting them, later becoming involved in the club’s fight for planning permission for a new stadium at Falmer.

As the season went on matters both off and on the field were becoming a considerable mess. A 2-1 defeat to Wycombe followed and the fact it featured two goals from former Albion schoolboy Miguel De Souza, only rubbed salt in the wounds of the Albion faithful. A sign that if you cut back a clubs infrastructure to its bare bones, even if you’re going to give youngsters a chance, some will be missed.

There were chinks of light when the club secured its first win of the season at home to Notts County, poignantly just four years after the club’s had met in the playoff final for a place in the topflight. But fittingly for such a season, even this was overshadowed by protests from supporters. A group invaded the pitch and sat in the centre circle interrupting the game to protest about the running of the club and the sale of the Goldstone Ground.

Liam Brady came onto the pitch and managed to convince the fans they’d made their point and that they should leave so the match can be finished, which they did. Unfortunately, this warning was not acted on by the club’s board and this protest was only the beginning of many that were to come.

An escalation in tensions

Following the victory over Notts County, another win followed away to Bristol City which momentarily lifted the club out of the relegation zone. But two subsequent defeats destroyed any good feeling created ahead of a trip to Bournemouth for a game being shown live on ITV in the South East as part of Meridian TVs “Meridian Match” series. Regionally broadcaster live matches were all part of ITV’s broadcast deal with the football league, which came to an end that season and would move to Sky.

It was the first time the club had been on live TV in eleven years and was only the fourth live TV match in its history. With the only previous times being the original and replay of the 1983 FA Cup final, and then a fourth round FA cup tie against the then mighty Liverpool in 1984. Whilst this occasion was just a lower league game on ITV regional TV, it still gave the supporters a chance to once again show their discontent towards the board in front of the watching media.

Protests were inevitable. Initially it was done with Brighton fans in the away end holding up red cards and banners stating “Sack the Board” and “We’ll never go to Pompey”, as well as singing songs about Archer, Stanley and Bellotti. But with the Albion falling 3-1 behind, some fans ran onto the pitch to halt the game and cause further disruption to events to raise attention for the cause. The fans were fairly peacefully dispersed but as time went on and the board stood firm, frustrations would grow and that would change.

A win in the Auto Windscreen Shield did nothing to halt the downwards momentum of the club, as a draw and three further defeats extended the clubs winless run to seven. It left Albion second bottom of the league and with just 9 points from its first 13 games. Ultimately the position the club would finish, but this season had plenty left to run and plenty of anger was to be vented.

In that run the club lost 3-1 to top of league Swindon. Whose Player-manager was Steve McMahon, returning to the Goldstone for the first time since scoring the winner for Liverpool in an epic 1991 FA cup fourth round replay between the club’s four years previous. A relatively small matter of time and yet a world away from the goings on at the Goldstone at that time.

There were light moments amongst the pain and anger. Possibly none more so than George Parris’ goal in a 2-0 win at home to Bristol Rovers. After the Rovers goalkeeper had rolled the ball to his feet, unbeknownst to him sneaking in behind him out of sight was George Parris, who tussled the ball off him and scored a memorable goal.

After a spell with West Ham that saw him make over 300 First Team appearances in over ten years, George Parris had found himself at Brighton in the dying days of his career. And whilst the club were struggling off the field with their issues, so was he as a gambling addiction meant he was amassing debts, something he later discussed in his book “My Name is George…I am a Compulsive Gambler”. His problems would get worse and eventually lead to him contemplating suicide, but, like the club he later rebuilt his life, going on to build a career in Women and Girls football coaching that saw him briefly re-join the Albion in 2016.

That win was just another short lived moment of joy in an otherwise depressing season. A 2-0 defeat at home to Swansea followed three days later, a game that despite the recent victory saw the club’s lowest home attendance for 40 years, a sign of the level of disgruntlement of supporters. The ones who stayed away missed a game which featured a certain West Ham loanee Frank Lampard Jr scoring Swansea’s second.

Then came a match against Canvey Island away in the first round of the FA Cup. The Essex side had never got to that stage of the competition before and had never played football league opposition before either, so Albion’s visit was a momentous day in their history. Amongst Canvey’s ranks was the former Albion goalkeeper and future Albion goalkeeping coach John Keeley who after winning the club’s player of the season in 1989 was sold to Oldham in 1990.

After losing at that stage of the competition to non-league Kingstonian the season before, Brighton could be excused for fearing another upset. Nerves that were well placed as despite going ahead twice, Canvey came back to draw and take the tie to a replay at the Goldstone.

After this a 3-0 home defeat to Walsall followed, which left the team second bottom with only 12 points from 17 games in the league and Liam Brady resigned as manager. He’d shown incredible loyalty to the club by taking a pay cut to afford some new signings and would show further loyalty to the club in the future, but said he simply couldn’t serve as manager under the current leadership at the club anymore.

Brady’s out the bunch but Jimmy is now on the Case

In his place came Jimmy Case who was part of Brighton’s cup final team in 1983 and famously scored in every round in the lead up to the final. Case was also a key part of the club’s midfield for the first half of the eighties after originally joining the club from Liverpool as part of a deal which saw Mark Lawrenson go the other way. Having been at the club as reserve team manager, he now found himself promoted to managing the first team.

In his first game in charge of the club they comprehensively beat Canvey Island 4-1 in the replay of their FA Cup first round tie. But then lost away to York 3-1 in his first league game in charge.

There were also further revelations about the club’s owners when the club accounts were leaked and revealed Greg Stanley was due £400k interest on a £600k loan. In reaction to the revelations the Brighton Argus ran a headline in the front page telling the board to resign and the board subsequently banned the paper from being sold within the ground.

But on the pitch Case’s appointment was beginning to see an upturn in form as the club won 2-0 at home to Bournemouth. And despite this being followed by two defeats, the club then took 7 points from the next three games including beating Brentford 1-0 and Bradford 3-1.

However, that was the high point for Case as manager and nonetheless the club was still sat firmly within the relegation zone. So a run of no wins in the next eight left the club with an ever increasing gap to third tier survival. And as well as still sitting second bottom the club was still looking for certainty over somewhere to play the following season.

The board were insisting the plan for next season was the play at Portsmouth despite an offer of the property developers to rent the Goldstone back from them for one final season whilst they made longer term plans. Adding further concerns was that the football league were reporting they’d seen nothing from the club to permit them to actually play at Fratton Park next season and so many questions remained unanswered.

Despite an impressive 4-0 win at home to Bottom side Hull, that was followed up with 3 defeats and a draw that left the club ten points from safety and having played two games more than fifth bottom Burnley who were their next opponents at the Goldstone.

This was last chance saloon for the club, and a 1-0 win here kept the club there for a short period. The winner came from Zeke Rowe who was on loan from Chelsea, a player who scored three goals in a nine game loan spell which ended with a red card. But whilst this win gave the club some hope, in reality only the most optimistic weren’t planning for relegation to the fourth tier.

And despite the board still insisting they were going ahead with the ground share with Portsmouth, there was growing uncertainty over where the clubs home would be next season. And when a 2-1 defeat away to Swansea all but secured relegation it became all the more pertinent.

An ignominious end to the season

The off field issues were tearing the club apart, the fans were regularly chanting “Sack the Board”, most of the media coverage surrounding the club was all about the owners questionable leadership and Chief Executive David Bellotti’s interviews had become more and more absurd, as to little avail he tried to spin the Board’s line.

One person who’d had enough was Steve Foster, an Albion legend and a man who’d led the club out at Wembley in the 1983 cup final replay, who with games still to play retired blaming the club’s bad owners for his decision.

The situation came to a head when the club played Carlisle at home next. And despite winning 1-0 in a fiery game that saw future Albion player and current BBC Sussex co-commentator Warren Aspinall sent off for Carlisle along with Albion’s Jeff Minton for fighting, things would take an even fiercer turn at the end of the game.

Upon the final whistle fans demonstrated their anger by invading the pitch and attempting to get into the board room to approach the board, causing damage to the boardroom and ripping up seats. The board had fled but stayed strong to their plans and public statements. However their hand was being forced by the football league giving the club 31 days to get its plans for where they were playing next season finalised or risk being kicked out the league altogether.

Five years on from the clubs meeting in the playoff final for a place in the topflight, Brighton faced Notts Country and a 2-1 defeat meant relegation to the Football League’s bottom tier was officially confirmed. Having spent all bar two of its 76-year spell to that point as a third tier club or higher, this was confirmation of a real low for the club and coming just a few years after being so near to a return to the topflight.

After which club faced a home match with York that as it stood would be its last game at the Goldstone. But the game would descend into riot and was abandoned.

It’s clear there were some who were there to make trouble and take advantage of the anger of the supporters towards the board. A number of spectators were injured, including Eleanor Ellison who was hospitalised after being headbutted when she was trying to protect her daughter, whilst another was seen being stretchered off after being hit by a missile.

With the country preparing to host Euro ’96 starting in six week’s time, some media outlets jumped on the scenes coupling it with the country’s Hooliganism problem that was a big topic for discussion in the build-up to the tournament. Made all the worse when the now infamously trouble-causing travelling England fans caused a friendly match with Ireland to be abandoned earlier that season.

The News of the World described the Brighton-York abandonment as “sickening scenes that shamed soccer.” However, others were more understanding of the circumstances that had led to these incidents, but the timing had highlighted the violence and somewhat masked the cause of the genuine protests. With the FA director of communications David Davies saying: “whatever the reason. It is obviously unhelpful that this happened so near to Euro ’96.”

After losing to Walsall in what was meant to be the last match of the season, the match with York was eventually replayed. But not as many expected behind closed doors, instead on the morning of Thursday 9th May as an all-ticket match with tickets only available to purchase the day before. In such circumstances a respectable gate of 2,106 saw Albion lose 3-1 as York secured their third tier status for another season at the expense of Carlisle.

Brighton also incurred a suspended three point deduction for the riot, two of which were docked after another pitch invasion, on Tuesday 1st October 1996, in a match against Lincoln.

As well as dealing with the aftermath of the York game, and on top of the host of issues the club had off the field, there was still the issue of where Albion were going to be playing next season and the deadline for the offer of a one year extension of their spell at the Goldstone Ground from the new owners Chartwell was close approaching.

In a further twist, former manager Liam Brady announced he was the lead figure in a consortium attempting to buy the club from its current owners, which involved the offer of him personally paying the deposit to ensure the club stayed at the Goldstone the following season.

Greg Stanley, who has taken a step back from day to day affairs had returned to try to help resolve the situation. After all he still held the role as club president and in that role stated publicly that Archer may sell his shares within the week, another promise from the club which was not carried out.

The club ultimately reached a last minute deal with Chartwell to stay at the Goldstone, with Archer and Stanley remaining in place. This would just be a stay of execution for them at the club. This was until the consortiums new figurehead Dick Knight (who’d been brought on board by Liam Brady, we have a lot to thank that man for!) managed to oust Archer and Stanley and take over as Chairman at the end of the following season. With the club just about avoided falling out of the football league altogether through that final day draw at Hereford.

After seeing out a two year spell ground sharing at Gillingham of all places, one of Bill Archer’s final gifts to the club, Dick Knight led the club to its new temporary home at Withdean Athletic Stadium where a new era in the club’s history would begin.

Jimmy Case didn’t last that much longer as manager however. He was sacked with the club bottom of the whole football league the following season and left new incumbent Steve Gritt to save the club from its seemingly inevitable doom.

Whilst the story of the 95/96 season is one of anger and resentment at the greed and deception of the board, the lasting legacy is of the many tales of personal sacrifice and generosity. In later times the likes of Dick Knight and Tony Bloom would overshadow others, but it’s clear that without people like Liam Brady, Ian Hart, Paul Samrah and Barry Lloyd, there would not have been a club to save at all.

Albion’s impressive and improving defensive record

Throughout the season and throughout the club’s occupation of the Premier League, Brighton’s form has fluctuated, but one constant has been the teams pretty dependable defensive record.

155 goals conceded in 107 games may not sounds impressive, but when you consider many relegated teams in recent years have conceded at an average of around 2 goals per game or sometimes more, and that Albion’s record equates to less than 1.5 per game, it starts to look far more impressive.

Moreover, despite the team’s much spoken about increased emphasis on attack under new manager Graham Potter, the defensive record this season is currently better at 1.32 goals conceded per game compared to both last season at 1.57 pg or the season before at 1.42 pg.

It can’t be ignored that since promotion this defensive record has been the club’s saving grace. With the team also scoring an average of less than a goal a game in both of the last two seasons, it’s that dependable defensive record that has enabled the team to pick up some all-important draws which helped it retain its topflight status over that time.

But this season has been different in that regard, with Potter’s Albion already being one goal off matching its best scoring record since promotion and that’s with 7 games still left to play. Whilst this hasn’t led to an increased rate of wins (7 so far compared to 9 in both the last two seasons), the defeats column totalling just 12 compared to a whopping 20 last season, (which no matter what won’t now be matched), indicates progress.

Statistics can be misleading though if not analyses properly and comparing this seasons stats when we aren’t yet finished to previously completed seasons could be just that. In particular the club’s tough run in should be considered. Especially if Albion concede 4 or more at home to Manchester City and Liverpool in future games as they have in recent seasons, some of those statistics could look far more comparable to last season or even worse.

But the fact that Albion would have to concede at about 3 goals per game between now and the end of the season to even match last season’s goals conceded record, (more than double its current season pg conceding average) shows just how good a defensive job the team have done so far this season whilst also improving its attacking record.

One of the key factors in that success has been the teams improved ball retention and at the heart of that has been Brighton’s captain Lewis Dunk. He was a lynchpin in Chris Hughton’s Albion side alongside Shane Duffy and has since flourished under Potter’s less direct style of play, which has seen him move from the teams heading and blocking defensive battering ram to a key figure in the starting point for much of the teams new found attacking possession based style.

Whilst Dunk has added consistency between the leaderships, one key change that has enabled Potter to enact this evolution in style so effectively has been Adam Webster. His arrival in the summer left many assuming Dunk would be on his way to Leicester, but it has instead seen last season’s Albion player of the season Shane Duffy spend much of the season on the bench.

It is true however that Webster has struggled at times, particularly early on when the sides use of a back three and an overemphasis on playing out from the back left him very exposed. Amongst Potter’s tactical fluidity, the move to a more regular use of a back four and a slightly more risk adverse approach to building out from the back has definitely helped him and the team improve its defensive stability.

Another player who like Dunk has had to similarly adjust to a very different style is Brighton’s goalkeeper Maty Ryan. A player who was equally important under Hughton and has equally flourished under Potter’s passing style. With the statistical swing of his distribution changing significantly from mostly kicking the ball long beyond the halfway line to mostly passing the ball out to one of Albion’s centre backs, he has arguably had to adjust the most.

I wrote earlier in the season that I’d like to have seen Duffy brought back into the team to give the club more defensive stability. And whilst he has come in and played well in some more recent games, blaming Webster individually for Brighton’s problems earlier in the season is too simple, the team’s risky approach simply left Webster often as the fall guy.

The tide really began to turn against this approach at home to Sheffield United in November, a game which saw Brighton’s keeper Ryan have 48 touches and an 89% pass accuracy rate. Numbers that demonstrate the intention of passing out from the back but mask the difficult situations the players he was passing to often found themselves in. That day saw the AMEX faithful frustrated with the teams over playing in defence, leaving the side taking too many risks at the back and make little progress going forward, with Webster in particular receiving heavy criticism.

This was one of many examples of course. Albion’s 2-0 defeat at home to Leicester in November saw Ryan achieve similar passing stats and Webster receive similar criticism after conceding the penalty for Leicester’s second. A penalty that unsurprisingly came after Ryan made a short pass to Pröpper in the teams own third despite him being under severe pressure from the opposition. It was the definition of a “hospital pass” which saw him promptly dispossessed by the opposition and a subsequent hasty challenge from Webster lead to the penalty for Leicester to score their second.

Compare that to the most recent games against Arsenal or Leicester, which saw Ryan achieve lower figures more comparable to last season under Hughton of 37 and 36 touches respectively and a lower passing accuracy of 68% and 63% as the team moved to a more direct style accepting less possession of the ball and taking less risks at the back. This has knock of effects of course, particularly on possession which has been severely reduced. Whilst this was in part dictated by the nature of the opposition, for most of the season Brighton have had more possession than the opposition, averaging 53%, the leagues seventh highest average. But in recent games this has significantly reduced with 41% against Arsenal and 34% against Leicester.

After the defeat at home to Sheffield United left many Albion fans audibly groaning at the teams risky and frustrating possession based approach, Graham Potter said in his programme notes for the next home game against Bournemouth in December that: “mistakes will happen” and that it was “all part of the process”. And whilst the subsequent win that day supported his claim, the recent change to a more risk adverse approach of playing out from the back may suggest the fans did still have a point. And although Maty Ryan’s spot of bother against Leicester shows you can’t remove all risk, moments like this have been less common in recent games.

Funnily enough in this regard, the 3-1 defeat away to Bournemouth in January in particular seems like a turning point in style. And after initial teething problems in the subsequent 3-3 draw against West Ham, the team have conceded only 4 goals in the last 6 games. Including away trips to Wolves, Sheff Utd and Leicester and home matches against Arsenal and Palace. All of whom currently sit in the top half.

Much of the recent talk on social media about Brighton’s defence has been about the future of Brighton’s loaned out youngster Ben White. But with Dunk, Webster and Duffy all playing well and the global transfer market likely to be significantly diminished by the ongoing global pandemic, there is no certainty he’d even be in Potter’s first choice eleven next season with the other options he has available. Add Dan Burn to the mix too, who whilst having played mostly at left back this season is more commonly thought of as centre back, and you have a lot of competition for places. And that ignores the likes of fellow loaned out youngsters Leo Ostigard and Matt Clarke, all making for increased competition in defence at the club.

Brighton’s end of season slump in both the previous two seasons and tough upcoming fixture list will hopefully ensure there is no complacency and that all minds are fully focused on the games ahead. But the recent improvement in its defensive record since the horror show away to Bournemouth along with Potter’s shift to a less idealistic style of play, gives rise to a certain amount of optimism for the Seagulls ahead of the final 7 game run-in.

A restart for Albion

After the initial joy of victory had subsided, Saturday’s first experience of the Premier League’s project restart left many yearning for the old ways.

Saturday’s win could be crucial in Albion’s bid for another Premier League season. But as others pointed out, imagine being at the AMEX after an injury time minute winner gives the club its long awaited first win of 2020 over the (not so) mighty Arsenal. Yes, winning is great, but experiencing it together is so much better and I can’t pretend I’m fully bought into this restart just yet.

Maybe if I was an Arsenal fan, I’d feel a bit different. Given their club’s horrific restart and the club’s recent history of a toxic atmosphere at the Emirates, the alternative fan experience of some fake crowd noise and the option to just change the channel and watch Escape to the Country on BBC One when things inevitably go against you would probably be preferable.

We all need time to adjust to the new reality we find ourselves in, and all this squabbling over Maupay’s challenge on Leno that unfortunately lead to the Arsenal goalkeeper to be stretchered off with a long-term looking injury isn’t helpful. Both club’s seemed keen to accept it was an unfortunate accident based on post-match comments, but some of the media coverage and fans comments online would have you think Brighton’s match-winner went at the German goalkeeper with a sledgehammer.

Maupay didn’t help himself of course. His feisty nature more than makes up for his compact stature and when his continued verbal jousting with Guendouzi spilled into physical jousting after the final whistle it only added to the attention on his actions. But then again, it’s exactly this kind of attitude, even within the newly subdued matchday environment, that makes him so difficult to play against.

Brighton manager Graham Potter will have been heartened by his teams display. The inconsistency of his regular choices like Maupay, Webster and Bissouma have led to some, including myself, to call for going back to some form of basics with Duffy and Murray returning to the team. But this performance saw Albion achieve for periods exactly what he has been working for all season, with the winning goal in particular a fantastically well worked team move.

It’s a sign that Potter’s patience may be paying off. But without Albion’s well practiced defensive solidity and Maty Ryan’s continued heroics between the sticks, it may have been a different story. And that’s ignoring the occasion Aubameyang strayed ever so marginally offside.

In reality Brighton rode their luck and then when the opportunity came, they took it. Something we’ve seen little of this season, particularly at home. Without the preying vultures of the AMEX crowd that have become so commonplace in recent seasons when times get tough, the team were able to stay patient and play their game right to the end.

Even in added time within added time, the slow build up before Mac Allister set up a one-two between Maupay and Connolly, which led to Maupay’s winner, was impressive. And no doubt if it was going on with a full crowd in the stadium, it would have led to some counterproductive shouts from the crowd of: “Get it forward!”.

The last few months have taught us much and many are taking the opportunity to review their previous actions and restart in a reinvigorated fashion. One of the most prominent recent lessons many have have taken is the value of being less harshly judgemental and more compassionately appreciative of events. Maybe Saturday’s result was just further evidence of these lessons.

A Resumption of Woe?

As the Premier League season resumes for Brighton on Saturday, the club sit 15th, 3 places and 2 points ahead of the relegation zone.

Whilst there is much excitement of football and many other aspects of normal life returning, this excitement has masked the concerning predicament that the club finds itself in. Still searching for its first win in 2020, only having scored 8 goals in the 10 matches played during that period, and with mounting scepticism over Graham Potter’s leadership. All combining to mean those good vibes could be over as quickly as David Luiz’s chaotic cameo for Arsenal against Man City on Wednesday night.

There are significant concerns over the club’s Premier League status despite bookies making Brighton a relative 3/1 outsider of the bottom six club’s to be relegated. Especially considering the fixture list, which leaves the club with four of the traditional top six still to play plus high flying Leicester.

Lots has already been discussed about the team’s lack of ability to take its opportunities this season. Be it goalscoring opportunities, or game winning opportunities. But most telling is that of the teams five remaining home fixtures, four are against traditional top six clubs. Leaving Albion either needing to significantly improve its away form or pull off some significant shocks in order to survive the drop.

Many have praised the club for its long term strategy, but too often it’s come at the expense of short term success. I’ve discussed the club’s overemphasis on the long term before. The most prominent example of which being the club’s stated target of establishing itself as a top ten topflight club. Something that felt a bit like planning a wedding before having found a partner who has agreed to marry you.

After a few high profile and high value underwhelming transfers from overseas, the emphasis seems to have altered towards encouraging the utilisation of more unproven younger players. With the likes of Lamptey, Mac Allister, Connolly and Alzate all being relied on to fill some gaping holes in the Albion’s squad. And with 5 substitutions now available during matches and those matches now coming thick and fast, this will be the case more than ever.

Graham Potter will get much of the credit/criticism for this approach. But it’s arguably far more as a result of the ever-growing influence of Technical Director Dan Ashworth on Brighton’s transfer policy in the post-Hughton era, as it is down to the appointment of Graham Potter.

Of course, whoever you credit/criticise for Brighton’s transfer policy, it’s worth noting that the club is limited in who it can recruit by its finances. With one of the smallest wage budgets in the division mixed with a huge amount of flux last summer, a relegation battle was always likely. All meaning the likelihood that the club could have brought in significant proven talent in recent transfer windows was small.

If my recent trails through the club’s history teaches me anything, it’s that the current stable leadership and topflight status should be cherished and enjoyed. Nonetheless this season has left many with a feeling of missed opportunities on a number of occasions.

But we do have reason to be optimistic, the return of the likes of Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy to starting births in the recently games before lockdown saw the club gains some vital draws. But with games running out, the team will need to turn those draws into wins.

Much will rely on the team actually taking advantage of the creative talents of Pascal Gross, Aaron Mooy and Leandro Trossard. All of which have deserved better at times than the results have delivered. Along with an increased reliance on other experienced squad members like Ryan, Propper and Dunk setting an example which the younger players can follow.

There is still plenty of game time for Brighton to make up for their lost ground from the season gone by, but time is running out, and the excuses for Potter’s team’s missed opportunities are beginning to run thin.

The game on Saturday against an Arsenal side fresh from Wednesday night’s embarrassment, gives the Seagulls a chance to make up some of that lost ground as well as putting some space between them and the bottom three. But given how many chances have already come and gone, you could forgive Brighton fans for still being pessimistic.

Seagulls Reading list

Without any live football to watch over recent weeks, I’ve been spending some of the time which I’ve inherited brushing up on my Albion history. So, I thought it was best to share some of the brilliant reading I’ve come across in that time.

Micky Adams: My life in football – To be frank, I was surprised how good Micky’s autobiography actually was. Micky has always come across as enigmatic character and it comes across perfectly in his book. He’s had an eventful career and here he tells his story from birth to right up to the current day and everything in between.

Micky isn’t afraid to name drop, loves a bitch and shares his honest and insightful perspective on the events past. The Brighton segments are great, but they aren’t overly focus on as Micky has a lot of ground to cover. But, if you like stories of what goes on behind the scenes within football, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Paul Camillin and Stuart Weir: The Albion: The First 100 Years of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club – I was given this book by my parents for a Birthday present a number of years ago and after a cursory skim it just sat up on the shelf to gather dust. But in a clear out five years ago I came across it and finally gave it the appropriate attention.

It’s a great archive of Albion’s first 100 years of history and contains some great pictures and events that tell the story of the Club’s history fantastically well and is a book I often refer back to for all things Albion.

Paul Camillin: Match of My Life Brighton and Hove Albion – Another book authored by Albion’s current Head of Media and Communications which compiles the stories of sixteen Albion players and managers from over the years and tells the story of some of the most famous games in Albion history which they played in. With names like Steve Foster, Peter Ward and Bobby Zamora this is a great book for all generations of Albion fans, providing a tour through Albion’s pre-AMEX history.

Dan Tester: Brighton and Hove Albion On this day – A fun book that tells you the big moments from throughout Albion’s history which happened on that day.

Dean Hayes: Brighton and Hove Albion an A-Z – Another fun short book that gives you all the Albion facts you’ll ever need in a handy A-Z format. From a list of Albion games Abandoned via those played at neutral venues to all you need to know about Bobby Zamora. A must have for any Albion fans bookcase.

Bob Booker: Ooh aah: The Bob Booker story – if I’m honest, this one is still in my to read pile, but Bob is one of the great Withdean era Albion figures and I couldn’t not include it.

Whilst I haven’t read it yet, I most definitely will, and many already have. In a review of the book for the football magazine When Saturday Comes, Chris Dean said it was a “lovingly crafted story of a career” and that is “meticulously researched and chronicled”. Can’t say fairer than that!

Spencer Vignes: Bloody Southerners – Is Brian Clough the greatest England manager there never was? Arguably. But there are two sides to every story and for every Derby or Forest on Clough’s CV there is a Leeds and more pertinently, a Brighton.

In this book Spencer Vignes tell the lesser known story of Brian Clough going from English champions Derby to Third Division Brighton through the memories of those involved. Clough’s time in charge was meant to instigate Albion’s rise to the big time, but instead it’s simply a precursor to the club’s golden era of the late 70s and early 80’s. Now only existing as a black mark on the glorious career of one of England’s great football figures.

Nic Outerside: Death in Grimsby: 50 Years Following Brighton & Hove Albion – This is a great read for all Albion fans, in which Nic tells the story of his own personal journey as an Albion fan over 50 years with each chapter telling a separate story related to different matches he’s attended and the events of the time.

Nick Szczepanik: Brighton Up – This is a book I’ve already covered in an old blog but in a list of gear Albion books, it cannot be left out. The book tells the story of the two seasons up to the Albion’s promotion to the Premier League and is a must read. Not just for any Albion fan looking for a nice bit of reminiscing about a great period in the club’s history, but this book also includes some great insight behind the scenes of the Albion’s promotion campaign.

Spencer Vignes: A Few good men – Another book covered in a previous blog but the same applies. A book in which author Spencer goes thin names, profiles, and interviews his all-time Albion 11 with a chapter dedicated to each person.

1990/91 – A tale of what if?

Following the club’s relegation from the topflight in 1983, and after the years of overspending that preceded it in the aim of achieving that topflight status, the club had continuous struggles with its finances and its ever mounting debt.

At first the team persevered. In 1985 Chris Cattlin was close to leading the club back into the First Division and the season after took the club to the last eight of the FA Cup for only to the second occasion in its history. But despite subsequent protests from supporters, Cattlin was sacked later that season with the club out of the promotion picture and after allegations from the club of Gross Misconduct.

In his place came the return of Alan Mullery, but with the financial problems now dominating affairs the club’s performances on the pitch continued to diminish and he was sacked a matter of months after his return, being replaced by Barry Lloyd. The man initially brought in by Mullery to manage the reserves and youth team.

Lloyd’s task was tough and was one of remaining competitive in the second division amongst the increased cutting of costs and multiple played sales. So drastic was the cost cutting The Argus featured a front page story saying that all the club’s first team professionals were for sale.

So somewhat inevitably, amongst such turmoil the club couldn’t avoid relegation back to the third tier after ten years away. However given the circumstances he was working under and after sacking two high profile managers in just over a year, it’s little surprise that the club stuck with Lloyd.

There, despite the club’s financial limitations Lloyd began building an exciting, attacking side, focused on a passing style. Managing it despite having to sell high profile players like Terry Connor and Dean Saunders for a profit and replace them with cheaper options like Garry Nelson who signed from Plymouth and was that seasons club top scorer with 32 goals, along with Dean Wilkins, who returned to the club after playing in the Dutch topflight with Zwolle for three years. As a result of his good work in the transfer market the team secured promotion back to the second tier at the first time of asking against many’s predictions.

For the first two years back in the second tier, the club spent the majority of the time near the bottom of the division but avoided relegation as the club continued to wheel and deal. As a result of this transfer policy there were very few long serving players remaining at the club, with goalkeeper Perry Digweed, one exception.

Having joined the club in 1981 when it was in the topflight, Digweed was more commonly the number one in his time with the club. But had more recently spent a significant period out of the team after being on the wrong end of a dangerous lunged challenge from West Brom’s John Paskin which saw him tear his Urethra (ouch) and lose a significant amount of blood. From which he’d only returned in March 1990 after at one point some wondering if he’d ever return to playing at all.

Lloyd continued to bring in players as best as he could under the restrictions the financial position of the club dictated, whilst still having to sell some of his bigger names to make ends meet.

Ahead of the 1990/91 season the club signed striker Mike Small from PAOK in Greece, former Chelsea and Sunderland winger Clive Walker from Fulham and shortly after the start of the season, John Byrne made the move across the English Channel from Le Havre. All of which brought little fanfare but would be key figures in Albion’s season.

After a couple of years of struggle Albion understandably started the season as one of the favourites for relegation. So when an opening day defeat away to Barnsley was followed up by going out of the League Cup in the first round at the hands of Fourth Division Northampton, many were getting worried that those predictions would ring true.

However, after a draw at home to Wolves had gained the club its first league point of the season, things were to starting looking up as the club then won four of their next five in the league, a run that saw the club rise to 8th in the table. This run included two consecutive 3-2 wins first over Charlton and then Portsmouth with Mike Small, Dean Wilkins and Robert Codner all getting one each of Albion’s goals in both games.

Codner, who is now the agent of current Albion player Solly March, was much like his client as a player in that he greatly divided opinion amongst fans. But Codner was arguably very representative of Lloyd’s Albion era, often exciting and entertaining, but frustratingly inconsistent and unreliable.

The club’s good run was to abruptly come to a halt with a 4-0 hammering received in a home match with Ron Atkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday. Whilst it was a bad day for Albion, this was a talented Wednesday side that would go onto much better things.

It was a side which included future England international Carlton Palmer in midfield playing alongside the likes of Sweden international Roland Nilsson, club top scorer David Hirst and goalkeeper Kevin Pressman. So talented, that this team would go onto win that season’s League Cup despite being a Second Division club, and after achieving promotion that season, finished 3rd in the topflight the following season, qualifying for Europe. Subsequently going on to finish as runners up in both the League Cup and FA Cup finals to Arsenal the season after that.

But that defeat was a sign of things to come in the short term for Albion as they won just one of their next six matches. After which a 3-1 win away to Ipswich helped lift the club above their opponents and into 9th ahead of a 3-2 home win over Plymouth Argyle that further boosted the teams promotion prospects.

The match programme from that day featured a notice of the intention from the club to build a new home, which included the prospective design for the stadium, but ominously a location had yet to be decided upon. This is of course a tale that would continue to overshadow much of the history of the club for the next two decades until it moved into a permanent home in Falmer in 2011.

We were now over a year on from the Hillsborough disaster that killed 96 and the fallout was well underway. The Taylor report from the enquiry into the disaster had been published in January of that year and club’s were beginning to plan for its recommendations that all major stadiums in the UK should be all-seater and like many, Brighton had long realised that its ground was in no longer fit for purpose.

The Hillsborough disaster meant terrace capacities were reduced across the UK, and on top of that with parts of the Goldstone already closed due to a lack of funds for redevelopment leaving them in a state of disrepair, the capacity of the club’s ground was significantly reduced. So despite success on the pitch attendances were falling, with that seasons average home gate 8,386.

Director Ray Bloom (uncle of current owner Tony Bloom) said in the club’s announcement of its plans that: “It is not feasible to convert the Goldstone Ground.” But after years of broken promises over the redevelopment of the Goldstone Ground, there was no doubt much scepticism amongst fans about the new proposal, and as it would turn out this was just the continuation of the club’s mounting issues off the pitch.

However, on it things were going well, but a run of tough matches was ahead. Firstly a trip to second placed West Ham where despite taking a first half lead through another goal from Mike Small, the game ended in a 2-1 defeat. As Barry Lloyd said after the game, “our open style of play won plenty of praise and confirmed our ability to keep scoring. But in the second half we showed the other half of our nature and conceded two goals.”

So despite failing to win, the sides next game at home to Millwall seeing a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw would have pleased Lloyd. But what followed put all that good work out the window as Albion travelled to the eventual champions Oldham and were handed a heavy 6-1 defeat. Much like against Wednesday, it’s worth pointing out that this was a very good Oldham side who at the time under the management of Joe Royle had reached the semi-final of the FA Cup and the final of the League Cup the season before. And whilst not quite achieving the same success as Wednesday following promotion that season, they would get to another FA cup semi-final in 1994.

Nonetheless, losing 6-1 was maybe the kick up the backside that this Albion side required as five wins in its next seven matches saw the club rise into the playoff spots and up to 6th in the table.

This run of form saw the short lived Albion career of one time Soviet Union international and future Belarus international Igor Gurinovich, who signed for the club from Dinamo Minsk. As a youngster he was part of the Soviet team that had won the 1978 U17 European Championships and then finished runners up at the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championships. Whilst his senior international football was limited to one cap, he went onto win the 1982 Soviet league championship with Dinamo Minsk. But somehow found himself at the Albion a little under a decade later.

After making his debut in the Zenith Data Systems cup at home to Charlton, he played the next four matches scoring two including once in Albion’s third round FA Cup victory over Scunthorpe. But that was his last start for the club before returning to Dinamo Minsk in the January of that season.

This wasn’t the first Soviet player Barry Lloyd had brought to the club as its empire began to crumble. More prominently Sergey Gotsmanov had signed for the club the season before and in his 16 games became a cult hero before joining First Division Southampton the summer of 1990.

That run of games also saw another new arrival at the club, with the soon to be infamous Albion Chairman Bill Archer joining the board initially as one of the then nine directors. He was spoken about in the matchday programme in glowing terms in regards to his commercial and advertising expertise, with his experience of securing a shirt sponsorship deal with Liverpool whilst working for Crown Paints specifically referenced. He was quoted as saying “Brighton have a terrific potential and I am here to develop a greater sponsorship input for the future.” Unfortunately for all involved, his legacy at the club would be very far removed from his stated objectives.

But all that was for future seasons, for now Brighton were flying. In the run up to their fourth round FA Cup tie with Liverpool the team won four in a row, scoring twelve and conceding seven. This exemplified Lloyd’s Albion team, attacking and exciting, but always having issues with conceding too many goals, even in this season of such relative success. In fact only two other teams outside the bottom five in the Second Division that season conceded more than them and they finished the season with a -6 goal difference despite their high league finish.

So with that record, Brighton would have been worried ahead of their trip to Anfield but after a quiet first half Brighton held off the hosts. But it soon looked that things would turn as were initially feared when John Barnes found Ian Rush who gave Liverpool the lead, before Rush then doubled his personal tally and Liverpool’s lead. But after Small pulled one back from the spot, he then set up Byrne to equalise from close range which set up a midweek replay at the Goldstone and gained Albion some welcome national media attention.

The replay continued in that vein as Small again equalised for Albion after this time McMahon had given Liverpool the lead. Albion were threatening their visitors goal throughout and as the game went into extra time Byrne got on the end of a Small knock down to score his second goal of the tie and give Albion the lead for the first time. But it didn’t last long as Rush finished off a brilliant Liverpool team move to level the tie again before some tired defending from Albion let McMahon in for his second to win this magnificent cup tie for Liverpool.

The excitement of the cup gave the club a short term boost as they won their next two matches over Charlton and Leicester. However the teams inconsistency remained as a shock a 2-0 defeat to struggling Plymouth followed. Then sandwiched in between creditable away draws to Newcastle and Wednesday were two defeats, the first 2-1 at home to Oldham and the second 3-0 away to Millwall.

However, by sitting 8th in the table and just one place outside the playoff places Albion were still in the mix for promotion ahead of the run in. But manager Lloyd wasn’t getting carried away saying in his programme notes ahead of the club’s next match at home to Blackburn saying that: “the season is far from over and that the task which lies ahead places heavy demand on the resources at the club.” Going onto say “see me at the end of April and I’ll let you know.”

Indeed, there was still a fair way to go with four matches still remaining in March before their hectic April schedule of eight matches in 24 days. And Lloyd’s restrained approach did seem to help initially as Albion won consecutive home games 1-0 over Blackburn and 2-0 over West Brom, before consecutive 3-1 wins away in the West Country over Swindon and then Bristol Rovers.

This left Albion 4th going into April and suddenly just five points off Wednesday who occupied the third and final automatic promotion place. But two straight defeats to Port Vale and Leicester put pay to any automatic promotion hopes and whilst a win at home to West Ham and a draw away to Notts County appeared to stabilise things, four defeats in the next five meant even the club’s playoff hopes were floundering.

If it weren’t for that sole victory during those previous five games, which came against bottom placed Hull, they would have dropped out of the playoff places altogether. But as it stood a win at home to an Ipswich team with nothing to play for on the final day of the season would secure a place in the playoffs and give the club a chance to earn an unlikely return to the topflight. Fail to win and there was the likely threat of both Barnsley and Bristol City waiting to take advantage.

Albion had reason to be confident too having beaten their opponents 3-1 earlier in the season at Portman Road. And it started well when Mike Small converted a spot kick to give Albion the lead but after Chris Kiwomya equalised for Ipswich things began to unravel for the Seagulls. Perry Digweed, who was also named player of the season that day saved Albion from the spot, but time was running out for the Seagulls to get the win they required.

This was until a foul on the edge of the box earned Albion a free kick with just a few minutes left. Up stepped future Albion manager and then captain Dean Wilkins who scored in the dying moments of the game to give Albion the win they needed to qualify for play offs. Wilkins free kick goals were one of his trademarks but his lack of defensive grit at times left supporters frustrated, but that day he could be forgiven for such limitations.

In the Playoff semi-final Brighton were drawn to play Millwall, a team they’d finished just one place and three points behind in the table. Their talisman was striker Teddy Sheringham who’d scored 38 goals that season for the Lions and won the club’s player of the season, in a season where he’d captured the attention of many bigger clubs and would move to big spending First Division Nottingham Forest that summer for £2m.

Brighton had a recently strengthened their squad by signing Stefan Iovan, a former Romanian international bought from Steaua Bucharest. Iovan captained Steaua to their 1986 European Cup win and played for them in the 1989 final which they lost 4-0 to Arrigo Sacchi’s great AC Milan side. After initially being in reserve for Albion, injuries meant he found himself playing in Albion’s biggest games of the season.

The first leg was at home and it was a tie which Millwall started the better by taking a 1-0 lead but Brighton equalised shortly after with the game tied going into half time. Then came an incredible second half performance from Albion which turned the tie in their favour. Albion caught their opponents out with three goals in seven minutes, eventually winning the first leg 4-1.

Millwall’s top scorer Sheringham later admitted: “we were so confident that we thought we must prevail. We finished fifth in the League, but we reckoned we got the best of the lot in Brighton. If we were guilty of anything it was perhaps being a bit overconfident. We thought we would walk it. We were wrong.”

This result had left Millwall with too much to do in the second leg, and despite getting one back and giving themselves some hope, Albion again came back from behind in the second leg to prevail on the day winning 2-1 and 6-2 on aggregate to secure a place in the final.

That win earned Brighton a trip to Wembley for the Play off final to play Notts County who’d beaten Middlesbrough in their semi final. Giving Brighton a return to the national stadium just eight years after that FA Cup final appearance there. And giving the club a chance of an unlikely return to the topflight just eight years after relegation from that level.

This was also Brighton’s first playoff campaign and was before the Football League playoffs had become the global sensation that they are today, being just four years after their introduction. Many were still coming around to the idea, but the fact this Brighton side were here showed just the opportunity they could give to clubs otherwise out of the picture much earlier in the season.

After missing the semi final through injury John Bryne returned to the team in place of Garry Nelson who despite his goalscoring record for the club in previous seasons had been in and out of the starting eleven all season following the arrival of Byrne and Small who both reached a double figure goal tally that season.

However, when it came to the big day Brighton were ultimately outclassed by Neil Warnock’s Notts County side, who took the lead when Tommy Johnson headed home at the near post after a short corner routine just before the half hour mark. Albion were admittedly giving it their best go at the other end and after Clive Walker hit the post with a header, Dean Wilkins hit the bar with a free kick.

But that was the closest they came before Tommy Johnson got his second. Then County took an unassailable 3-0 through a goal from Johnson’s strike-partner Dave Regis. Ultimately a late Dean Wilkins goal was only a consolation in another heavy Wembley defeat for the Seagulls.

Who knows what could have happened had the club managed to win that day. Despite the club’s mounting financial problems, promotion may have meant the sale of its star players, like top scorer Mike Small who instead moved to promoted West Ham that summer, would have been delayed and possibly even provided the club with more power in its search for a new stadium.

This is by no means certain. The breakaway of the Premier League from the Football League was still one season away, so promotion to the topflight wasn’t the land of milk and honey it’s become more today.

The reality is it’s likely that this Albion side wouldn’t have made much impact in the topflight despite its evident talents. The heavy defeats received that season from the likes of Oldham and Wednesday showed that they were some way off the standard required and finances would have no doubt dictated that little investment in improving the squad would have been available for the step up in class. Yes they matched Liverpool in two cup games, but doing that throughout an entire season is another thing entirely.

Furthermore, the financial and infrastructure issues would have overpowered the on field success at some point. After losing the playoff final this Albion team were dismantled. Despite having offers from other clubs Lloyd stayed loyal to Albion but couldn’t repeat this season’s success as Albion were relegated to its spiritual home the following season, the third tier of English football. There, it’s off field issues would continue to mount and overshadow it’s on field woes.

Brighton were ill-equipped for the topflight in so many ways. Whilst other clubs were beginning significant infrastructure investment that would take the English game into a new era of global success and growth, in contrast Brighton were entering a period of great uncertainty and regression that would ultimately lead to a civil war between the board and its supporters and one where the club nearly lost its Football League status and even its existence.

Some say this season is a story of what if, but in reality, in his time at the club Barry Lloyd did a remarkable job. Just in getting the club back to the second tier on a shoestring and keeping it there for four years despite the financial issues. Let alone nearly getting the club to the topflight, Barry Lloyd delayed the inevitable fall from grace that would later occur at the Albion.

1976/77 – Albion are finally worth promotion!

After winning the Fourth division in 1965, Brighton spent ten of the next eleven seasons in the Third Division and went into the 1976/77 season having a bit of a reputation as a perennial third tier club.

In fact of the 56 seasons since joining the Football League, they’d spent 49 of those at that level and even the arrival of the great Brian Clough in the Autumn of 1973 couldn’t change the club’s fortunes.

Clough’s eight month spell at Brighton is best chronicled in Spencer Vignes book “Bloody Southerners”. After which his assistant Peter Taylor stayed on to try to finish the job, failed and resigned in the summer of 1976 to join Clough in the Second Division at Nottingham Forest, a club that they would lead to become National and European champions.

In Taylor’s place Albion chairman Mike Bamber appointed the former Tottenham captain and England international Alan Mullery to take on the task of freeing Brighton from its self-induced Third Division detention.

Unlike Bamber’s previous appointments, Mullery was a complete novice in football management having only recently ended his distinguished playing career which included 35 England caps. However, thankfully for Mullery he didn’t have the usual squad upheaval task that most new managers had as Peter Taylor’s legacy was the impressive squad that he’d built and left behind. Many of whom would go onto thrive under Mullery’s leadership.

This squad of players included experienced full back and future Albion manager Chris Cattlin, who was one of Taylor’s final signings on a free transfer from Coventry.

After starting out at Second Division Huddersfield, Cattlin moved to Coventry where he spent eight seasons playing for for the Sky Blues in the topflight before moving to Brighton. After retiring at the Albion in 1979, he remained at the club on the coaching staff before going onto manage the club himself for three years after its relegation from the topflight in 1983.

Another of Taylor’s recruits was the young striker Peter Ward, who’s been signed from non-league Burton Albion the previous summer and had made his mark on his debut towards the end of that season by scoring in a 1-1 draw away to Hereford in front of the Match of the Day cameras and the BBC commentator that day John Motson. Under Mullery, Ward would go onto have a breakout season at Brighton and played a huge part in him becoming one of the most iconic figure in the club’s history, but more on that later.

The season started with a 3-2 two legged League Cup win over Fourth Division Southend United ahead of the start of the League campaign. And it was a good omen, as the club started their league campaign as it meant to go on, remaining unbeaten in its first four matches, recording three wins ahead of the visit of Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town at the Goldstone for their Second Round League Cup tie.

The club’s had already drawn the original tie 0-0 at Portman Road. And it was a night to savour as a crowd of 26.8k saw the club record a historic 2-1 win over the First Division side. An attendance that was the highest of the season so far, but one that would be topped as the big matches continued.

This was club’s first win over a First Division club since 1933, and it was a notable scalp. This was an Ipswich team that would go on to win the FA Cup the following season and the UEFA cup in the 1980/81 season, as well as being a regular feature at the top-end of the First Division for an extended period. They finished 3rd this season and within the top-6 in nine out of the ten seasons between the 1972/73 and 1981/82 seasons, after which Bobby Robson left the club to take the England job, and the Club’s fortunes soon diminished.

One of Albion’s goalscorers that day was Fred Binney, who started the season on fire, scoring four in his first eight appearances, including two in the clubs 3-2 win over Oxford and one in a 3-1 win over Rotherham. But this was to be his last goal of the season as he lost his place in the team due to the success of the partnership between Ian Mellor and Peter Ward.

Binney had top scored for the club in the past two season, scoring 13 in 74/75 and then 27 in 75/76 (with 23 of those in the league) as Albion finished 4th, just one place outside the promotion places. After starting this season in the same vein, Binney made only two more appearances before he moved to the US to play in the NASL for St Louis Stars, where he competed alongside the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Pele, Gordon Banks and George Best.

However, the notable victory over Ipswich was followed up by a shock 2-0 defeat away to Grimsby, who recorded their first win of the season. But fortunately for Mullery’s men this was followed by the visit of second bottom York City to the Goldstone. The Minstermen were lambs to the slaughter as Brighton recorded a 7-2 win with Ward and Mellor both getting two goals.

This was Ian Mellor’s first start of the season, and what a way to make his mark! From that point onwards this became the regular strike partnership for the remainder of the season. With target man Mellor providing the perfect foil for Ward’s goalscoring exploits, whilst adding a fair few himself.

Another of Albion’s goalscorers that day was Peter O’Sullivan, the skilful winger was a veteran of the club by that time having signed for the club in 1970 on a free transfer from Manchester United. He was one of very few players to outlast Brian Clough and Peter Taylor at the club, when at times some joked that they needed to install a rotating door at the entrance of the first team dressing room, such was the number of ins and out at the club at that time. His longevity at the club of eleven years show just how good a player he truly was.

This win was also the perfect tonic ahead of a trip to another First Division club, West Bromwich Albion for the third round of the League Cup. In this Third Round tie, the club recorded a 2-0 victory and in doing so repeated that long awaited feat of beating First Division opposition twice in the same season, through two goals from Peter Ward.

That game was followed up with another league win, this time 3-1 over Tranmere that left the club top of the league going into a big match at the Goldstone Ground. Big because is saw the visit of promotion rivals Crystal Palace and was fittingly featured as the main match on ITVs The Big Match. The game ended in a respectable 1-1 draw and Managers Terry Venables and Alan Mullery sat very chummily side by side as they were interviewed by Brian Moore in the TV studio the next day.

All that would change, but we’ll come to that shortly. First Albion followed up that draw with another seven goal haul, this time winning 7-0 at home to Walsall. A match that incredibly saw Ian Mellor score four and his strike partner Peter Ward score three.

This was a night remembered almost as much for the atrocious playing conditions as the fact that all seven of Albion’s goals came in an extraordinary second half. Results like this were seeing the good work that Alan Mullery had already done with this Albion side in such a short space of time recognised far and wide, and he was nominated for the September Football League manager of the month award.

The results didn’t lie and Mullery wasn’t just getting the national plaudits. He’d very quickly won around the Albion faithful, a fact underlined by a quote from Centre Back Andy Rollings who in a recent interview for the club’s website said: “the moment we found out that Alan Mullery was taking over was light at the end of the tunnel. He was a man who had played for England, won almost everything and was such a great motivator. I loved playing under him”.

The club continued to get national recognition by featuring again on ITV’s The Big Match for their trip to Bury the following weekend, a game which saw Albion looking splendid in their all red away kit. But, they were nonetheless well and truly brought down to earth with a 3-0 defeat. Admittedly Bury were one of the better team in the division, but it was a not untypical result of the season. Brighton were heavily reliant on their home form for wins in a time where two points for a win gave draws more significance. In total that season their 19 home wins were matched with just six away from home.

So they would have been pleased that this defeat was followed by a home match with Peterborough. A match where the team showed their mental strength by earning an important 1-0 win. A result followed with an equally important draw away to fellow promotion chasers Mansfield.

This was a season where the high profile games continued to come for the club as the Seagulls next continued their impressive run in the League Cup with a game in the fourth round at home to Derby County, the First Division Champions from two years previous.

Despite the lofty opposition, some were starting to dream of a first Wembley appearance for the club and so it was a game which saw tickets in great demand. So much so that when tickets for the cup match were put on sale at the club’s reserve match with Charlton, that game attracted a crowd of 17.5k, whereas at the time reserve matches would usually attract crowds of less than 1k.

The match with Derby at the Goldstone started well for Brighton when that man again Peter Ward put Albion ahead after only 37 seconds. But Derby’s Welsh international winger Leighton James equalised for the visitors and that’s how it remained, so a replay at Derby’s Baseball Ground was to take place in two weeks’ time.

In the run up to the return match, Brighton won their next three games, the third of which a 4-0 win at home over Swindon. But despite this good form the team failed to repeat their previous heroics when they were beaten 2-1 in a replay despite a goal from Ian Mellor.

Derby were beaten in the next round by Bolton, but their star winger James would go onto feature at Wembley that summer for his country Wales where he scored the winner in a 1-0 win over England in the Home Internationals.

For Albion, their exploits in the cup that season continued with what has become one of the most famous cup ties in the club’s history, when Albion met Crystal Palace in the first round of that season’s FA Cup.

It’s a match that has helped to spawn what has become a vicious and persistent rivalry between the club’s. There had already been animosity between them, notably when on the club’s met on the opening day of the 74/75 season and there was significant crowd trouble between rival fans. Whilst former rival managers Peter Taylor and Malcolm Allison both publicly criticised the other teams style of play after recent matches between the sides. And in the 75/76 season Brighton adopted the nickname the Seagulls after the Brighton fans began signing “Seagulls!” in reaction to the Crystal Palace fans chants of their newly adopted nickname “Eagles!”

But this season would cement the rivalry when the club’s battled for promotion to the Second tier along with a trilogy cup ties, a combination which lead to rival managers Venables and Mullery upping the ante when it came to publicly criticising the opposition in what became a vicious personal duel of words.

The FA cup tie saw the clubs meet in an infamous second replay at the neutral venue Stamford Bridge, after the previous games held first at the Goldstone Ground and then Selhurst Park both ended 1-1. The tie concluded when Crystal Palace scraped a 1-0 win in the second replay, but in controversial circumstances after Albion’s midfielder Brian Horton was ordered to retake a penalty he’d originally scored.

When Horton unfortunately missed the retaken spot kick Brighton’s manager Mullery lost his temper and made a two fingered salute to the Palace fans, for which he was later fined. One Palace fan is then said to have thrown a hot cup of Coffee over Mullery who responded by throwing some loose change on the floor and exclaiming, “You’re not worth that!” Palace won and the teams have hated each other ever since.

But let’s be frank, this story has become so legendary its masks the main reason why the rivalry has persisted beyond this period of fierce competitive and personal rivalry. Hooliganism. Yes, the competitive rivalry at the time fed it too, but most games between the clubs were, and remain to this day, marred by crowd trouble. For example, the original first round cup tie between the sides that season was halted three times by smoke bombs being thrown onto the pitch.

Crowd trouble was becoming common place in English Football at this time and would persist throughout the 1980s. The following summer saw one of the most notable example of over-exuberant football fans causing havoc, when Scotland met England at Wembley Stadium in what was that years Home Internationals decider.

After beating England 2-1 to win the trophy, Scotland’s fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate. One group of supporters snapping the crossbar of the Wembley goal, others tore up the Wembley pitch and many caused further damage to the stadium and throughout London later that night. And it was scenes like these that in part led to the tournament ultimately being removed from the football calendar in 1984.

For the Albion, the cup run had helped to derail their season with that defeat to Palace the latest in a run of seven games without a win in all competitions that included four defeats and exits from both cups. As the match day programme said ahead of the club’s next match at home to Chesterfield: “it never rains, but it pours.”

But the club were still third in the league and only a point off top spot. So when a 2-1 win over Chesterfield meant the team moved up to top of the table ahead of a trip to Portsmouth a week later, the club looked to have turned a corner and got over that slump. But after a surprise defeat saw the club drop to third again, they were required once again to quickly bounce back, which they duly did with a 2-0 win over Northampton to regain top spot once again just after the turn of the year.

From then on, the team built up some much needed momentum and consistency for its promotion push as the season went on, winning five of the next nine in the lead up to a return to Selhurst Park to renew their battle with Crystal Palace.

But there good form counted for nothing as the fifth and final meeting between the sides that season saw a comprehensive 3-1 win for Palace, in which Terry Venables impressed the watching media by showing off the tactical competencies which saw him go on to manage at some of the games great global stages.

But whilst Palace won the club’s individual battle that season, Brighton were still winning the war and quickly regained the momentum of their promotion push by responding to that defeat with an emphatic 4-0 victory at home to Shrewsbury in mid-March and regained top spot in their next match with a 3-1 win at home to leaders Mansfield thanks to yet another Peter Ward brace. The first of four wins in eleven days and five wins throughout April, which put the club on the brink of promotion to the second tier.

Their next match could see Brighton clinch promotion at home to Sheffield Wednesday but they needed to win and hope other results went their way. As such this crunch match saw yet another crowd of over 30k at the Goldstone where a 3-2 win secured the club a long awaited promotion to the second tier after Rotherham lost at home to Reading. John Vinicombe of the Argus said he’d “never witnessed such scenes at the Goldstone before” as the crowd spilled onto the pitch to celebrate after what was a dramatic match.

It looked like it wouldn’t end that way early on when Brighton found themselves 1-0 down at half time, made all the worse by Peter Ward uncharacteristically missing a chance to score from the penalty spot. But Ward finally did equalise for the Albion after the break, who then took the lead through a penalty, this time taken and scored by Brian Horton, and eventually won the game 3-2.

Brian Horton who captained the team that season, was another of Peter Taylor’s astute signings who made over 250 appearance for the club in a five year spell and would be named that season’s Club player of the season despite Ward’s imperious goalscoring exploits. Horton did return breifly to manage the club in 1998 during its exile in Gillingham, but soon realising the task he had on his hands, left to take the Port Vale job later that season.

The season wasn’t over yet though as the title was still up for grabs, but despite Peter Ward scoring in both the club’s remaining two fixtures to set a club record by scoring 36 goals in the season, a defeat to Swindon and a draw to Chesterfield meant the club ended up settling for second behind Mansfield. But the consolation was that they still finished ahead of rivals Palace who sneaked into the third and last promotion place ahead of Wrexham.

As the seventies drew to their conclusion the club continued to reach new heights, achieving promotion to the topflight for the first time in 1979, and remaining there for four seasons before finally succumbing to relegation in 1983. A blow softened by it coinciding with the clubs only appearance in the FA Cup final, which was lost on a replay to Manchester United after the original tie was drawn 2-2.

But whilst there were seasons to come where this team would go onto bigger and better things, when it comes to iconicity, there are few in the club’s history that match 1976/77.

I don’t usually do politics, but…

Brighton deputy chairman Paul Barber has been featured on a great deal of sport media coverage this week after he came out against the use of neutral venues in order to complete the current Premier League season, because as he said it may damage the “integrity” of the competition.

He is reportedly in opposition to most of the League’s clubs, including the big six and arch rivals Crystal Palace. Whose chairman wrote an article in support of the move in the Times, saying that: “Premier League football with its physical science, medical infrastructures and resources for looking after its people, can begin to define how the ‘new normal’ might look for a lot of working environments.”

Whatever your personal viewpoint is of these two men, both their arguments were clearly thought through and well made. And it’s a testament to the fact that whilst many club’s struggle with untrustworthy boards of directors, our club’s do not and we can trust them to do what they think is right for their respective club’s.

The UK government have played down their involvement in these talks, but have been in contact with many national sports authorities in their response to the crisis throughout the lockdown. Including giving out a £16m loan to England’s Rugby League in order to safeguard its future.

Moreover, given the Premier League was voted in a Populus poll in 2019 as the top UK global brand, it will be in the Government’s interest to ensure the Premier League returns as soon as is possible, so to present the UK as back to business to the rest of the world.

It has also been reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson sees the return of live sport in general as providing an important moral boost to the country. Whilst Culture, Media and Sport minister Oliver Dowden has encouraged the Premier League to return by highlighting its importance to ensure the financial viability of the industry as a whole. When he said recently: “I think the financial reality for most clubs is their biggest source of income is the direct transfers they get from the Premier League. So if we got that running in some way behind closed doors then that would relieve the pressure on all other clubs”

All this provides us with a reminder that politics plays a huge part in our national game both implicitly and explicitly. Since the burgeoning days of professionalism in football in the 19th century, football has become an increasingly important part of the countries culture. And as such our politicians want to utilise it for their own gain.

The most unsuccessful to do that is probably Margaret Thatcher’s governments in the 1980’s, through their various unpopular attempts to clamp down on football hooliganism as well as the public safety issues of football stadia. Issues highlighted by the Bradford fire in 1985 and later the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. Most prominently they intervened with the 1989 football supporters act which was so unpopular it was never properly implemented.

In subsequent years various politicians have attempted to piggy back on the success of the Premier League to provide them with a useful bit of publicity and a boost to their electoral chances, largely to little success. Brighton’s own supporters launched the Seagulls Party for a 2006 by-election, as part of the campaign in favour of a Sussex community stadium, which is of course now in place and better known to you and me as “The AMEX”.

So for me, whilst the phrase “I don’t usually do politics, but…” is one you often see on social media from sports journalists or other sports related users prefixing a political expression of any kind. You can’t avoid its impact on the game and our experiences as supporters.

But it’s a practice that’s become common in football circles and one that comes from how divisive and taboo the subject of politics has become in the UK. Given the amount of vitriol that it can bring your way in some social situations, especially online, it’s no wonder. And it predates social media too, with the phenomenon of the ‘Shy Tory’ skewing the polling for both the 1992 as well as the more recent 2015 General Election.

Football is traditionally a more commonplace for ‘Shy Tory’s’, with the more uncommonly conservative working class ultimately gaining control of football as the 21st century progressed. Over the years many prominent figures within the game have expressed openly their support for the Labour Party and its principals.

Jimmy Hill’s legacy on football is there for all to see, the biggest of which is probably as a trade union leader, successfully campaigning for the scrapping of the Football League’s maximum wage in 1961. And whilst his views became increasingly conservative in nature as his life went on, this was a piece of legislation that has the trade union labour heartland at its centre.

Indeed whilst politician was one of the few jobs Jimmy didn’t actually do, he clearly fancied it. Once saying: “Wasn’t it Queen Mary Tudor who had ‘Calais 1558’ written on her heart? Well, when they finally open me up, they’ll find ‘Ministry of Labour, January 18, 1961’ carved on mine”, in reference to that famous legislation.

Some were far more explicit in their political party support. Like Brian Clough, who as Spence Vignes described in his book “Bloody Southerners” about Clough’s time managing Brighton, helped campaign for Labour’s Derby’s North candidate at the 1974 General Election. Clough was a self-confessed socialist and was even approached to stand as a labour MP twice, but declined to continue his football management career.

Football in those days was full of self-confessed socialist, such as Bill Shankly the famous Liverpool manager. He regularly talked of his ideology of a “collective effort” and used his political ideology to build a bond with the Liverpool fans that stands to this day many years after his death.

Take a short trip from there to Manchester and you’ll find another story of a legendary manager whose political views shaped his football career. Former United manager Alex Ferguson admitted in his recent autobiography that his trade union activism and socialist background was important in shaping his approach to management. Yet again, he was another public supporter of the Labour Party.

In the modern day of millionaires professional footballers and the move away from the sports’ working class routes, this has changed of course. You’re now more likely to hear footballers express support for a Conservative political view.

Some of the most prominent include former England defender Sol Campbell who ran to be conservative candidate as London Mayor, Frank Lampard who was once rumoured to have been approached to stand as a conservative MP, and the politically outspoken ex-Wolves player Karl Henry.

But these were all subsequent to them being involved in football. In fact the days of managers, players and clubs giving outwardly political affiliation are mostly gone so to keep everyone onside. Today clubs have a team responsible for Public relations and everyone at the club with any media involvement is well media trained, something I for one can’t imagine the likes of Brian Clough partaking in willingly.

So to see Brighton and Crystal Palace’s senior representatives discuss opposing views on subjects of great public interest in such an open and thoughtful way is an encouraging change to a culture within football of avoiding expressing an opinion of any kind.

Whatever your political persuasions, it’s clear politics has a place in football and it’s here to stay. So, aren’t we better if we have open discussions about it?

This is especially true since the outbreak of Covid-19, which has highlighted our clubs’ importance to their local communities and its national culture. With many clubs stadium’s now a focal point of by the local communities response to the virus, like at Brighton’s AMEX stadium or Stoke’s Bet 365 stadium which are being used as testing centres.

Whilst clubs continue to discuss the return of the Premier League, it’s impossible to ignore the potential political implications and impact their actions could have. We may have moved away from the overtly political days in football and the likes of Clough and Shankly. But whilst many of us try to claim to “not do politics”, what this crisis has shown as much as anything is that the football industry is having more of a political impact than ever before.