1984 Newcastle vs Brighton – Kevin Keegan’s final game

Is there a footballer more synonymous with the malaise that was English football in the 1970s and early 80s than Kevin Keegan?

Keegan was possibly English football’s first global superstar, but unfortunately it was during a time when English football was possibly at its lowest ebb. Keegan received multiple individual awards along with winning various trophies at club level, but never quite managed to replicate his club success at international level. But nonetheless even in the dying days of his professional playing career Keegan had fans fly over from as far flung places as Japan just to see him train, such was his global profile.

Keegan was so highly thought of around the world that he was even included in the FIFA 100 that celebrated the top players of first 100 years of the organisation back in 2004.

And yet remarkably he only played in one game at a FIFA World Cup. When, after England failed to qualify for both 1974 and 1978, he arrived at the 82 tournament injured. Whilst he missed most of it, he did drag himself onto the pitch for the final 26 minutes of England’s final second round group game. A scoreless draw with hosts Spain, a game that England needed to win to progress.

His career was in many ways exceptional and in others far less illustrious. So maybe fittingly his career that had reached such heights at Liverpool and Hamburg ended with a less notable two year spell with Newcastle United in the English Second division. A move Chris Waddle recently said would be akin to Mo Salah signing for a struggling Championship team.

But despite being born and growing up in Doncaster, Keegan always had an affection for Newcastle and its football club due to his ancestral routes to the city that his dad had passed down to him through tales of Hughie Gallacher and Jackie Milburn. When he signed for the club in 1982 following England’s exit from the World Cup, he said his father would have loved seeing him play for the club and that signing for the club was like coming home. And it wasn’t long before the Geordie faithful equally took him to their hearts.

After finishing just three points and two places shy of the promotion places to the top flight in the 1982-83 season, a Keegan inspired Newcastle were to finally return to the topflight after six years away in his last season as a professional footballer.

And in his last game he was to face our very own Brighton and Hove Albion. Making only our third trip to St James’s Park for a league match.

The first was a resounding 5-0 defeat back in 1961, during a season where the Seagulls finished rock bottom of the second tier. A season that ended their first spell at that level of the Football league, and a level they wouldn’t return to for over a decade.

And as a result their second trip to St James’s Park wasn’t for nearly two decades. But it was worth the wait, as a historic 3-1 victory clinched promotion to the topflight for the first time for the Seagulls in 1979.

Brighton spent the interim years up until this subsequent trip to the North East in the topflight themselves, which up to promotion to the Premier League in 2017 was the club’s only period at that level. But after relegation in 1983 was coupled with that famous FA Cup final defeat, Brighton’s team was slowly ripped apart and a demise followed that took them within a defeat of relegation out of the football league a mere 14 years later. As a result the Seagulls went into this match just a year after losing the cup final with a team featuring only 5 of their starting 11 from that day at Wembley.

Whilst Newcastle went into the match already promoted and certain of a third place finish, Brighton would have to settle for a mid-table finish, ultimately falling 20 points short of Keegan’s Newcastle.

Brighton manager Chris Cattlin (who had only been promoted to manager from first team coach earlier that season), fielded an attacking line up saying that the team “want to play their part in making Keegan’s farewell a memorable one.” And even more fittingly it was an old teammate from Keegan’s days at Liverpool Jimmy Case that would captain Brighton that day on this celebratory occasion.

Jimmy Case was a key member of Albion’s midfield for the first half of the eighties after joining the club from Liverpool as part of a deal in which saw Mark Lawrenson go the other way for £900k. In his first season the Seagulls finished a still club high league finish of 13th in the first division and he famously scored in every round of the FA Cup except for one in the club’s run to the 1983 FA Cup final.

The Newcastle team that day were more than a match for Catlin’s men. Alongside Keegan was his future assistant when he later managed the club Terry McDermott as well as future England stars Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle and another future Newcastle manager Glenn Roeder.

The match was being played in front of thirty-odd thousand spectators at the pre-renovation St James’s Park. This wasn’t the lopsided cathedral of North East football we know today though. This was of course four years prior to the Hillsborough tragedy and the subsequent Taylor report that, along with most other British sporting stadia, led it to become an all-seater stadium.

But football stadiums of the early eighties were tired, ramshackle, old beasts and even a club the size of Newcastle had let their home become worse for wear. The Leazes end had already been demolished in 1977, and with plans to replace it scuppered by relegation it was just replaced with an open end. Whilst the main West Stand was still in place that day it was in a general state of disrepair and would be demolished a few years later following it being deemed to not meet new fire regulations that were put in place in light of the 1985 Bradford stadium fire disaster.

Nonetheless, the events of the day created a true spectacle. And with a return train ticket costing £14 and return coach ticket costing £13.50 (the equivalent of about £45 today) plenty made the trip up for Albion’s final game of the season.

But the day wasn’t about Brighton and it was as if the script had been perfectly written for Keegan’s big day after he opened scoring to give Newcastle a 1-0 lead. Man of the day Keegan turned in the rebound after a Chris Waddle shot was saved by Albion ‘keeper Joe Corrigan.

This was Corrigan only season playing for the Albion and he retired after a couple of short loans spells the following season. He had spent the majority of his career with Man City and was in fact a former England teammate of Keegan’s, including being a fellow benchwarmer during the 1982 World Cup. Unlike Keegan’s hefty total of 63 caps, Corrigan only collected 9, no doubt limited by the competition at the time of the likes of England goalkeeping greats Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence.

This was Kevin Keegan’s 28th and last goal of the season and the 203rd of his club career, a magnificent total by anyone’s standards. But Brighton weren’t there to make up the numbers at Keegan’s leaving ceremony and upset the hosts by equalising through Gerry Ryan. Ryan took advantage of a slip by the aforementioned Roeder and turned the ball home to level the scores up at half time.

Gerry Ryan was one of a group of international footballers to play for the club at the time, but unlike Keegan, as Ireland didn’t qualify he didn’t play at the 1982 World Cup. The following year Case’s career was cut short after breaking his leg during a typically ferocious derby match with Crystal Palace in a tackle with Henry Hughton, the brother of future Brighton manager Chris Hughton. A tackle so horrific it left Ryan in plaster for 15 months.

The game wouldn’t stay tied for long, and it was almost as if one former England great passed on the mantle to a future England great, when Chris Waddle scored after being set up by Keegan. A young Waddle had played a crucial part in Newcastle’s promotion that season scoring 18 goals and this goal helped cap off a great season. After scoring another 16 the following season as a first division player with Newcastle, the following season he moved to Tottenham where he earned his reputation as one of England’s best attacking talents of that time, before moving to France to play for Marseille.

Then another young future England star Peter Beardsley scored the best goal of the day to wrap the win up for the magpies. His magnificent chipped goal made it 3-1, with Keegan again being involved in the build-up.

As the final whistle blew the St James’s Park crowd rose for one last ovation for Kevin Keegan and their promotion heroes. After the game, despite his lack of international success Keegan said his only regret was that his kids were too young to have seen him play at his peak. Such is his nature, he appreciated the great things he had achieved, rather than focusing on things that he hadn’t.

Keegan would make on last outing in a testimonial against former club Liverpool before hanging up his boots. A game that saw him exit the ground in a helicopter after finishing his lap of honour.

Without Keegan and without manager Arthur Cox who resigned the following summer due to a lack of funds from the board, this promising Newcastle team underwhelmed in the top flight achieving only two top half finishes in five years. At the end of which they were relegated back to the second division

However, they returned four years later under the management of Keegan himself, who led the club to 3rd, 6th and 2nd place finishes respectively in their first three years back in the top flight. The later in 1996, was the club’s highest league finish since 1927.

Nonetheless, Keegan’s managerial career is known most prominently for that Newcastle team’s dramatic fall from clear leaders of the Premier League at Christmas of 1995 to eventual runners up come the following May. A demise in the second half of the season that culminated in Keegan’s infamous emotional outburst live on Sky Sports.

After sensationally resigning in the January of the following season, and after a mixed subsequent managerial career that included another difficult spell with the England national team (only this time as manager), Keegan returned to St James’s Park to manage the club again for a short period in 2008. He can now be seen working intermittently as a pundit on English football for overseas broadcasters.

In contrast, after that day Brighton continued their demise down the football league. The club was relegated to the third tier in 1987 and despite an instant return to the second tier and a brief flurry with the playoffs during a promotion push back to the top flight in the 1990/91 season, the club continued their demise up to 1997 where it was a game from going out of the Football League.

A demise that Brighton’s captain of that day back in 1984 Jimmy Case, was at the centre of. After becoming manager of the club part way through the 1995/96 season, he oversaw the club’s relegation to the bottom tier of the Football League before being fired in November 1996 when they were bottom of the Football League. Not every great former player makes a successful manager.

In Case’s defence, he had admittedly inherited an almighty mess. A mess so great that the previous manager Liam Brady was forced to resign as manager in protest at the poor running of the club. Brady did so with a heavy heart and had such affection for the club that he later played an important part in Dick Knight’s consortium to purchase the club in 1997. And was involved in the running of the club for many years afterwards.

The rest of this is a special story in the history of Brighton & Hove Albion, but in football there will always be two teams and sometimes the story isn’t focused on yours. But for our club to play a supporting role in a special day for one of England’s greatest footballers is something we can take pleasure in.

Seagulls Reading list

It’s been a while since I did one of these but with the cold January night’s drawing in here’s more additions to my Seagulls Reading List:

Goldstone Wrap – A fellow Albion blogger, the Goldstone Wrap has pieces on many memorable moments from Albion’s Goldstone years. Well worth a read to reminisce or brush up in your Albion history.

The Seagulls Love Review – a former Albion fanzine turned blog and twitter account. Writing opinions on all things Albion.

Brighton but only at home – Another Albion blogger, this one focuses on home match reports and has been going since the AMEX opened its doors. Always worth a read.

In parallel lines – Not another one?!?! Yes, another Albion blog authored by professional writer Nick Turrell who focuses on former Albion players connected to our upcoming opponents.

Seagulls Programmes – an invaluable archive of Albion Matchday programmes and other treasures through the decades, collated by Albion’s Matchday programme aficionado Ian Hine. This website is always a point of call for me when researching a new topic and is a great source of club material down the years.

Any one still interested in further Albion reading can refer back to previous pieces linked below where I detail some other places that are good starting points:

Seagulls Reading list

Seagulls Reading List 2

Get your kit off the Queens Road club shop, Wonderbras and Valentines cards

As an avid Brighton fan my interest was piqued by the discussion on a recent episode of the Quickly Kevin 90’s football podcast of a Brighton kit marketing campaign from 1997, so here’s a piece which gives some background on how the infamous campaign came about.

This was a kit advertising campaign far away in style from the recent ones from the club which have included members of its various men’s, women’s and disability specific teams. Instead this campaign included notable celebs with links to the local area wearing the new kit with a slogan slavered with innuendo.

The campaign itself was an idea that came as part of the new club chairman Dick Knight’s plan to increase the club’s commercial output after taking over the club.

Dick had just bought the club from the disgraced former owner Bill Archer. Not long after the club’s short-term future was secured and relegation out of the Football League was narrowly avoided. But the club had to spend the first two full seasons of his ownership playing over in Gillingham before finding a suitable (not so) temporary home back in Brighton at Withdean Stadium, with the club not finding a permanent home until 2011 at Falmer Stadium.

Back in 1997 Dick took over the club having just come out of a successful advertising career including being behind advertising campaigns such as Wonderbra’s famous “Hello Boys” advert from a few years earlier. So slightly edgy marketing campaigns featuring attractive women that may just seem crass in the modern day were all too familiar to him.

The Wonderbra adverts were of course controversial, but Dick has defended it saying: “As soon as the campaign launched, we had protests from Women’s groups who claimed that women were being exploited. It was the opposite. The ads were sexy not sexist. The woman, Eva [Herzigova], was making statements. She made you laugh at the same time.”

Whereas Feminist activist Julie Bindel, co-founder of legal reform group Justice for Women said: “Wonderbra’s ‘Hello Boys’ advert, the scourge of the feminist movement throughout the mid-1990s, was so sexist it was almost a parody.” But in many ways that hits the nail on the head of what may be one of the key elements to Dick’s success in advertising, his almost parody like wit.

Either way, in 2011 it was voted as the favourite ‘iconic’ advertising image in a poll by the Outdoor Media Centre. So before Dick arrived at the club in 1997 it was this that his career was best known for, but he was soon to become much better known as the saviour of Brighton and Hove Albion football club.

As soon as he took over, he then had a huge job on his hands turning the fortunes and the image of the club around. An image so tarnished 17 of the 71 other Football League clubs voted that year to expel Brighton from the League whilst a further 8 abstained from the vote with the rest voting for the club to keep its status.

A big part of the turnaround required at the club involved increasing the club’s commercial revenue. When he took over the club Dick said he was “astonished to discover the club had virtually no revenue from merchandising or commercial activities at all.” A fact particularly true as a result of losing the Goldstone ground that year and having to play home games at Gillingham (a trip that included three separate motorways). So giving the club some form of presence in Brighton was crucial.

They did this by opening a shop in central Brighton on Queens Road in the autumn of 1997 (the grand opening of which was carried out by then Brighton manager Steve Gritt), with the kit marketing campaign released later that year also linked to gain more awareness of the new club shop.

It’s not often a football fan is first pulled in by their club through its club shop, but this was my personal experience. I was just about old enough to be aware of the club’s plight at the end of the Goldstone years, but with my parents not being football fans they were never likely to take me to the Goldstone, especially when various forms of protests became a regular occurrence.

But I do have them to thank for the regular trips to Brighton. And when on our walk down from the train station towards the centre of town I would always insist on a look in the club shop. Not long after I was hooked, so much so that when the club came back to Brighton in 1999 it wasn’t long before I was sporting the new ‘Skint’ Brighton shirt and making regular trips to the theatre of trees at Withdean with thousands of other Albion fans.

But two years before the club’s reputation was in the gutter and it had a fight on its hands to just convince the local council to give it permission for a suitable site to make its home.

Dick’s attention grabbing if at times crass marketing was a key part of gaining public favour for that. From the Bring Home the Albion campaign (which primarily needed to convince local Withdean residents the club’s fans weren’t a bunch of hooligans about to spoil their local area), the Falmer for All campaign (which included all sorts of attention grabbing schemes including a giant Valentines Day card that was sent to then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott), and even the club’s marketing of its commercial output, Dick’s advertising career continued well after he left the advertising industry.

Which of course brings us to one of his first, the “get your kit off the club shop” campaign. The fan site We Are Brighton have recently written a piece on the campaign, which might provide some more info for those whose interest was also piqued by its recent mention. And the adverts can be seen in Seagulls Programmes electronic copies of the programmes from the 1997/98 season.

But how did it all come about? It’s simpler than you may think as all the three people in the campaign were chosen due to their links to Brighton. Jordan and Louise were both from the area whilst Lenny Henry at the time had recently worn a Brighton kit for a sketch in his BBC TV show “Lenny Goes to Town” for an episode which was based in Brighton.

Louise’s advert was the first to appear and included a poster of the picture being available to buy in the club shop, whilst the others followed later. Lenny Henry’s even happened to coincide with the club’s end of season sale.

Whilst this campaign may raise a few eyebrows now, it was all part of Dick’s constant effort to raise the club’s profile and boost its commercial opportunities, which would then in turn increase the much-needed investment into the club. And lest we forget it is his advertising wit and charm that was behind and inspired many of the Falmer for All campaigns ideas that got our clubs the right to build the fantastic stadium we now call home.

Ideas like the previously mentioned Valentine’s Day card that is apparently was when John Prescott first became aware of the huge public support for the stadium.

So whilst we may wince at the idea of some of his campaigns, we must recognise that without Dick Knight’s advertising career know-how the club would likely not have progressed to the state in which it is in today.

Loyalty in football

Loyalty is an often-discussed topic amongst football fans. Be it the perceived loyalty of long-serving players such as Brighton’s former striker Gary Hart or the perceived lack of it from the currently loaned out Brighton striker Florin Andone. Many of Hart’s former managers regularly praised him for his commitment, dedication and work-rate, but despite his evident talent Andone’s behaviour at the club was so divisive that journalist Paul Hayward joked he’d be holding his leaving party in a phone box before his departure to join Turkish giants Galatasaray on loan this summer.

But loyalty isn’t just about being liked by interested parties. The Oxford Dictionary definition of loyalty is “the quality of being faithful in your support of someone or something.”

Whilst it’s easy to see that Hart fits this definition far better than Andone, based on his recent interview with the Athletic the later clearly felt that the club didn’t deserve a faithful dedication to the cause based on how he had been treated. In contrast Gary Hart regularly stated that he expected little and was just happy to be a professional footballer, and his determination was almost undying despite the relatively limited renumeration and training facilities he had at the club during his time. The loyalty of those within a club relies heavily on the environment that exists and modern football has many recent examples like Andone’s that suggest the environment is far from ideal.

Loyalty isn’t just about players though. Whilst fans demand it from their club’s players, many supporters fail to act in a similar fashion.

At Arsenal, led by the YouTube channel Arsenal Fans TV there is a culture of regular and at times ferocious criticism of players and management. And at its heart is the fans YouTube channel which has encouraged the hounding of key figures at the club, no more so than the regular and viscous protests that were held against former manager Arsenal Wenger. A trend continued after his departure with the latest figure of the fans ire Granit Xhaka who’s perceived lack of dedication and loyalty has made him a scapegoat for Arsenal’s recent poor form.

All of these are examples of how the changes in the funding structure of the football industry in recent decades has altered the power of the different stakeholders. The investors and the loyalty of their key revenue source; the TV corporations, are of the upmost importance. In contrast supporters are becoming a marginalised interest group in the sport and an ignored voice. And as such the players are now far more motivated by the loyalty they are shown from the owners of their club and their image in the media as presented by the TV corporations, than their reputation amongst supporters of their club.

When it comes to owners, some clubs are luckier than others and as Brighton fans we are incredibly lucky to have Tony Bloom as Chairman. He’s not just a fan of the club from a young age, but someone whose family has been involved at the club for decades and a person that was on the board at the club long before becoming Chairman. As such the history and identity of the club is ingrained within him and we are unlikely to get the types of missteps that some modern football club investors who have been attracted to English football primarily by the financial possibilities have become notorious for. You only have to compare his reign as chairman to other clubs such as Cardiff, Bury, Sunderland or Hull to appreciate that. Clubs where owners have come in and even if their actions were well intentioned, they have destroyed the harmony amongst supporters and left the club in a mess.

However even with the best possible owner of the club, they don’t always act with the highest levels of loyalty. Take the sacking of former manager Chris Hughton for example. Hughton was the man that led the club to achieve Bloom’s ultimate goal of top flight status, and kept the club there for two seasons. However the perceived lack of entertainment and worrying loss of form meant he lost his job regardless, mainly because the club’s topflight status and the club’s reputation within it are far more important than loyalty to past achievements. The club didn’t want to risk the loss of tens of millions of pounds in TV revenue and slowly getting the reputation as the new Stoke City that neutrals don’t wants to watch, and so sacked Hughton in favour of a more attack-minded and exciting appointment in Graham Potter.

In an industry with a culture where results are expected quickly and progress is expected almost indefinitely, it could easily be argued that the loyalty of people like Chris Hughton should be praised. Instead they have are often roundly criticised by supporters as soon as things go wrong, supporters who perceive themselves as the truly loyal party at the club.

But then again supporters’ voices aren’t listened to much in the modern Premier League era where clubs are driven by the TV corporations who almost entirely fund their organisations. So it’s no wonder that criticism of others arises from a feeling of bitterness and frustration.

Another example of these changes is the FA Cup. A competition steeped in history and tradition, much of which has been undermined in favour of the increased commercial success of the competition in order to keep it relevant to the clubs and so losing those traditions that are important to supporters.

All this is a sign of those whose loyalty in football really matters. The TV corporations are the club’s key stakeholder and so lead those club’s decision-making processes. As such the loyalty in English football is no longer prioritised towards reciprocating supporters’ loyalty towards their clubs but the financial support provided by the TV revenue.

In an industry where TV revenue and success are king, loyalty feels like a forgotten skill and the loyalty of the likes of Gary Hart’s and Chris Hughton’s is no longer as valuable to clubs. And so supporters will have to accept their clubs having less of their like and more talented but unpredictable players and managers of the likes of Florin Andone.

The return to Hereford

This weekend provides another stark reminder of the significant rise in status that Brighton and Hove Albion’s mens senior team have achieved over the last decade. As they prepare for a trip to Old Trafford to face the most successful club in English Football League history, many of their former competitors from up and down the country are preparing for FA Cup first round ties.

It’s a round of the famous old cup competition that was until recently a fixture of the football calendar that Brighton fans were all too familiar with and one that for a while was anticipated with dread. One particular FA Cup first round tie that will stick in the memory of those who are old enough is the trip to face Hereford United in the 1st round of the competition in 1997.

As fate would have it, the clubs were drawn together just months after Brighton had survived relegation to the non-league on the last day of the previous 1996/97 season away to Hereford, with instead Hereford relegated after a tense 1-1 draw.

This tale of serendipity is one that cup draws often seem to produce, where naturally emotions were still very raw after the last meeting between the sides, especially for the Hereford faithful. And one that drew the attention of the BBC television cameras for a FA cup Match of the Day special.

With both clubs struggling financially, the chance of a cup run was an opportunity to boost their clubs bank balance with some much-needed prize money. This was demonstrated best by the fact that Brighton had recently transfer listed a number of first team players because the club couldn’t afford to pay their wages, and were facing a Hereford team mostly made up of players signed in the summer after relegation on free transfers.

As the Hereford fan site Talking Bull admitted, “tensions were high”. And after it remained 0-0 at half time it was the home side who struck first to go 1-0 up, through Neil Grayson. But this was not before Albion had missed the chance to take the lead themselves after Paul McDonald’s penalty kick was saved by the Hereford ‘keeper.

But it didn’t take Albion long to level things up, when Stuart Storer converted from a corner after a mistake from the Hereford ‘keeper, (who quickly went from hero to zero for being caught out of position after coming for the corner and missing it) left the goal mouth gaping just four minutes later. An action packed twenty-minute spell came to an end when Hereford again took the lead to take a 2-1 lead through Neil Grayson, this time after Peter Smith had wrestled Ian Foster to the ground in the box to give away the games second spot kick.

And so it ended with the now non-league club gaining some form of retribution for the Seagulls relegating them just a few months before. Something Hereford manager Graham Turner admitted after the game when he said: “There was a lot of pride in the way we played today, and we’ve given the supporters plenty to sing about”.

For Albion however this was just another sorry defeat to a non-league club in The FA Cup. The 1990s saw the club have a spate of defeats to non-league sides in the competition, of which Hereford was the last and least embarrassing. There was the 2-1 defeat away to Isthmian Premier League side Kingstonian in 1994. Then there was a defeat to Southern League Premier side Sudbury Town in a replay on penalties in 1996.

This was a run of notable cup defeats that just exemplified the club’s status at the time as the barometer for a poorly run professional football club. Something greatly chronicled in the tales told by Dick Knight’s autobiography “MadMan”. In fact in those barren years for the club between 1993 and 2000 as the club plummeted towards and stumbled along in the bottom tier of the Football League, it failed to make it past the second round, losing in the first round five times and the second round three times.

Things have changed greatly since then. Aside from a freak defeat to eventual National League Champions of that season Lincoln City in 2017, (a game which saw Casper Ankergren’s 67th and final appearance for the club and a calamitous one at that, along with an equally calamitous debut from the now Chelsea and England defender Fikayo Tomori), this was the last time the club had exited the FA Cup to non-league opponents having progressing past 7 non-league sides since then.

In contrast Hereford fans had little to sing about subsequent to that cup match. It took them 9 years of trying to finally retain their Football League status, but they were once again relegated back to the non-league four years later. And after two further seasons they were then expelled from the conference for financial irregularities in 2014 and were wound up by the high court over unpaid debts to HMRC later that year. A new Hereford football club has since been formed that still play at Edgar Street and in the National League North, two leagues below the Football League.

The varying stories of both club’s recent history just show how important that decisive match in 1997 which sealed Hereford’s relegation has been for both clubs. A fact highlighted even more by the cup match which reunited the sides a few months afterwards.

So as Brighton get set to make a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday sitting 8th in the Premier League and two places higher than their hosts, Hereford have a weekend off before they host Alfreton Town in the National League North on Tuesday. And as such, all Albion fans should count our lucky stars that we aren’t instead preparing for another FA cup first round tie with a team full of transfer listed players we cannot afford and journeymen signed on free transfers.

Tweeting Seagull – Ever-growing expectations amongst an uncertain reality.

In sport, expectations of success and failure are constantly being discussed, something that is especially true of the globally followed and scrutinised English Premier League. But whilst some disagree over their veracity, the expectations held over a Premier League club are a good barometer of its perceived standing.

The dictionary definition of an expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future”. Or in layman’s terms in this context a “preconception” or “anticipation” of a club’s future performance.

The expectations ahead of Brighton’s season were vastly contrasting depending on who you listened to. Many pundits predicted the club to be relegated and some bookies tipped newly appointed Graham Potter to be the first Premier League manager to be sacked. Whilst some of the more optimistic Albion fans were talking of new dawn of free-flowing attacking football, and even qualifying for Europe.

Neither of these are necessarily exemplify the club’s genuine status, but both are a consequence of the perceptions many have of the club from recent events. Speak to some about the club, and they’ll say it’s one that has no business being at the top level, whilst others will say the only reason the club aren’t matching the loftier achievements of clubs like Leicester and Bournemouth is because of failures in the first team management last season.

The reality, as ever, is somewhere in between. But either way it is true to say that expectations of the club have never been higher. The combination of consistent levels of smart investment by owner Tony Bloom, unprecedented levels of success across all teams representing the club and a board of directors that hold a seemingly unwavering ambition to succeed and progress in a hugely competitive industry, have all created an environment where the club’s supporters have begun to expect continuous progression. Even when many outside the club think the only realistic expectation is the opposite and a regression to the club’s previously lowlier status.

This is a level of expectation that ultimately told for former men’s first team manager Chris Hughton. Who was subsequently sacked just hours after the season ended despite continuing to meet what many saw as the club’s ultimate objective of last season, surviving relegation. Expectations that despite his successor overseeing two impressive 3-0 victories in his first ten competitive matches, have led for some to suggested that the jury is still out on whether Graham Potter is the man to lead the club forward.

Hughton’s sacking and Potter’s subsequent appointment is a topic I’ve discussed here before, more than once. But what is relevant here is that the expectations held are guided by perceptions of events and not just the events themselves.

Whilst on paper Hughton’s achievements were great, possibly the best any manager has ever achieved at the club, they were often not easy on the eye. His defence-first mindset was pragmatic and unarguably successful. And it built a base that without it, the club wouldn’t be now aiming as high as it is. But nonetheless it left many supporters uninspired and craving more.

Hence why now the club has chosen to twist and go down a different route. A route intended to arrive at achieving a more entertaining spectacle as well as improved results. And we’re already seeing evidence of it. Pretty much any statistic or piece of informed punditry you can find demonstrates the drastic change in style of play since last season, and whilst the points total after eight league games this season (9), is only marginally ahead at this stage last season (8). The nature of the expansive style of play in contrast to Hughton’s pragmatic and conservative style has caught many Albion fans imagination.

But, how does the club manage the situation to ensure the euphoria of exciting football and significant, if sparsely populated victories don’t create an unrealistic level of expectation?

This is tough, especially as so much of the perception of the club is drawn from factors outside their control or incidents from the past. And managing expectations isn’t as simple as shaping or manipulating the truth, but instead ensure the perceptions of your performance are based on realistic boundaries.

Perceptions over football managers success or failure are often shaped by the circumstances they work within that are out of their control. Circumstances which will inevitably create biases towards a certain mindset. 

As Andy Naylor said in the Athletic recently: “For all the importance placed on a change of style, Brighton’s Premier League success or failure will come down to something much more straightforward: scoring goals.” As much as Graham Potter tries to create an environment where the team will score more goals, he is reliant on others to do their jobs properly for this to be successful.

At Brighton, the success of not only the men’s team, but also the women’s team and its youth academy team’s has created a positive atmosphere and a bias towards expecting continued success, despite the increased level of competition that comes with playing at a higher level.

When managing expectations a key rule is: never overcommit. An area which if not explicitly, but at least implicitly Brighton have certainly been unafraid of risking doing just that of late. Not only in sacking Chris Hughton and in his place appointing a manger tasked with bringing in a more expansive ambitious style of play whilst achieving better results on the pitch, but also by stating that the club’s long-term aim is to become a top half club.

In football, one stakeholders’ expectations that truly matters is the supporters, and as a club with a fan as an owner this is no truer than anywhere as it as at Brighton and Hove Albion. 

As a supporter of a club like Brighton, holding our club to high standards is a virtue of the recent and almost unprecedented levels of success. And it’s a virtue constantly evident in an industry of great flux where there must always be both winners and losers. 

The contrasts of which are demonstrated perfectly by the recent fortunes of crisis club and once holder of the Premier League’s “model-club” tag: Bolton Wanderers. What stories like theirs show is just as having high expectations of our club is a virtue, so is lowering those standards by showing the situation the empathy it deserves and being willing to demonstrate forgiveness when your team is inevitably at times cast as a loser rather than a winner.

In practice expectations, and possibly more pertinently hope, is a natural consequence of supporting a football team. But the level of expectations that a group of supporters have and the pragmatism of those expectations, can have an impact on the mental state of the team. And in a sport decided by such small margins, this could be a key factor in Brighton’s Premier League season.

As Graham Potter approached the North Stand after that memorable 3-0 victory at home to last season’s European Cup finalists Tottenham Hotspur, the sound of “Graham Potter’s Blue and White Army” was sung throughout the stadium. A clear sign he is currently meeting the expectations of most. Time will tell if the reality of this seasons achievements by his Albion team can continue to keep up with the ever-growing expectations that are being set of them.

The Tweeting Seagull WSL Albion season preview – From inspiration to realisation

Ahead of the new WSL season the Telegraph asked me to answer some questions about Brighton’s prospects, which you can read here. And I’ve extended my thoughts into a season preview blog. Which you can read here:

The new WSL season starts this weekend with probably the greatest amount of anticipation since the FA launched the Women’s Premier League in 1991. And with Brighton retaining its topflight status for a second season the excitement is also building in Sussex.

Like most WSL teams, Brighton’s fan base is comparatively minuscule compared to that of the club’s men’s team. And playing their home games over 20 miles away in Crawley hasn’t helped to build on that either. But with WSL season ticket sales hitting club record numbers this summer, there is hope all that can change. The potential of the teams support no better demonstrated than the record breaking WSL crowd of 5,256 attending the final home game of last season against Arsenal after it was played at the club’s HQ, the AMEX Stadium.

Last season was a big step up for the team in its first ever topflight season. And this was particularly true for most players who were adapting to going professional, along with the squad losing some key players who decided to not go do so, like promotion winning captain Vicky Ashton-Jones. But despite a few heavy defeats to Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea, lessons were learnt and the season ended well with a 4-0 win away to West Ham.

Nevertheless for the club to remain competitive then continued progression will be required. The WSL has never been stronger and with the addition of the highly resourced Man United and Spurs replacing the softer-touch of Yeovil, points will be harder to come by. But there will still be hope of further progress at the club this season.

This is something manager Hope Powell is more than aware of ahead of the new season, saying to the Argus over the summer: “With the introduction of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur to the division, it is set to be an even tougher task, and all the players and staff need to be ready for what lies ahead.”

And she will no doubt continue to ensure Brighton won’t replace Yeovil as the league’s soft touch. Mainly through the team’s relatively solid and resolute defensive base. Last season they made most teams work hard to break them down, bar the handful of heavy defeats that come with the territory of being an inexperienced newly promoted team.

This was an attribute shown best by the team’s relatively comparable defensive record to the remainder of the WSL outside the top four. And the shrewd additions of Dutch international Danique Kerkdijk who has signed from Bristol City along with the highly rated Danish youth international Matilde Lundorf Skovsen, adds to the teams strength at the back, which will be needed given the long-term injury recently sustained by Laura Rafferty.

It will be hoped that as well as those signings, the further additions of experienced WSL keeper Megan Walsh and former French youth international Lea Le Garrec, as well as the added experience gained by the existing players from last season, will all ensure the squad possesses the quality required to make the required progress. Required given that the team were too often found lacking against more established WSL teams last season.

At the other end of the pitch goals were harder to come by, with a quarter of the team’s goals coming in that 4-0 end of season win over West Ham. A victory that came after the team had secured survival from relegation. England youth international Ellie Brazil top scored in the league with just four, and it will be hoped that her and Imi Umotong (who scored only one league goal last season) can contribute more in that department this season.

Much like with Graham Potter and the Men’s team, much will depend on Hope Powell and her coaching team continuing to get the most out of this fairly young squad of players and for the more experienced players,including the likes of last season Albion’s player of the season award winner Aileen Whelan, to continue to lead the way. One young prospect in particular to watch out for is England u17 Captain Maya Le Tissier (no relation) who will be hoping to make more of an impact on the first team this season after making her debut last season.

In 2015 the club stated that it wanted to be playing Champions League football in 5 years, and whilst wins over Birmingham, Liverpool and West Ham towards the end of last season demonstrate progress, achieving that within the stated timeline is at best unlikely.

Those of course were different times, before the mass professionalism of the topflight and before Albion’s involvement in it. But Tony Bloom announcement at the recent fans forum that the club’s long-term vision for the Women’s team has been revised for it to become a top-four club is equally ambitious in the short-term.

Realistically another season of avoiding relegation is the goal, whilst bettering last season’s 3rd bottom finish would probably be considered a success for Hope Powell’s side.

At the beginning of last season, Hope Powell spoke a lot about the importance of her team being role models as much as being successful competitors. But with the success of the Lionesses at this summers World Cup, it does seem that discussions about Women’s football in the UK have largely moved on from talking about inspiration and aspirations and onto realisation of the sports potential.

As Assistant Manager Amy Merricks recently said “The game is changing all the time and we need to ensure that we constantly evolve with it as well… It’s great to be on this journey and now we want to be able to stay at the highest level.”

With this increased focus on Women’s football in the UK coinciding with the increased competitiveness of the WSL and Brighton and Hove Albion’s new AMEX sponsorship deal including performance based payments specific to the Women’s team, there will be much more focus this season on results and performance. The question is, can Brighton’s aspirations and progression keep pace with the continued advancements of the Women’s game in the UK?