Burnley – A sporadic acquaintance

Whenever Brighton and Burnley face off you can expect a battle and down the years there have been some great games between the sides as well as a fair few feisty moments. But it’s not a fixture with a great deal of history, occurring only nine times before the Premier League era began in 1992, with the club’s not meeting in a league match until 1972. As the top echelons of English football revelled in Sky TV’s investment in the game both Brighton and Burnley were less prosperous. Whilst Brighton continued their demise down the league that followed the success of the early eighties, Burnley had survived falling out the league themselves in the late eighties and both found themselves meeting in England’s third tier.

Whilst Brighton won both fixtures that season including a 3-0 win at the Goldstone Ground on Boxing Day, Burnley were the club on the upwards trajectory. So whilst four Kurt Nogan goals across the two fixtures did the job for the Albion that season, a sign of the contrasting futures of both clubs was that he moved to Burnley in 1995 before the Albion continued their demise into the bottom tier of the Football League the following year.

So knowing what was to come it won’t surprise you that when the club’s met during the 1993/94 season Burnley won the home fixture and secured a draw at the return match at the Goldstone Ground on their way to promotion to the second tier. And whilst relegation followed the season after, they were establishing themselves as an aspiring second tier club, whereas Brighton were the bare bones of the club who’d got to the FA Cup final whilst playing in the first tier a little over a decade before.

The clubs faced off twice more in the third tier in the 1995/96 season before Brighton’s relegation to the basement division meant the clubs didn’t meet again until after the millennium, by which point the Goldstone Ground had become a retail outlet and Brighton were playing at Withdean Stadium.

After years apart the club’s met again in the second tier in the 2002/03 season and were scheduled to face-off on the first day of the season. After a 3-1 win for Brighton on that day at Turf More, the clubs met again in the December, when a 20-year-old young rookie on loan from Arsenal who went by the name Steve Sidwell scored two late goals to earn Brighton a dramatic late draw.

In recent years, close battles between the sides have become a trend, with 5 of the last 6 meetings ending in a draw. Most of which were tight, often scrappy, low scoring affairs. With the tension and feistiness at times spilling over into some unsavoury behaviour. During the first top flight meeting between the sides at Turf More in April 2018, Brighton’s Gaetan Bong was booed throughout by the home support for allegations he had made towards former Burnley player Jay Rodriquez of racially abusing him.

Another recent battle between the sides was an Albion home game in April 2016, which ended in a 2-2 draw and is possibly the exception to the tight and cagey affairs. Although nonetheless, three of those goals came from corners and even this game was most notable for a fiery midfield battle between Burnley’s Joey Barton and Brighton’s Beram Kayal, a battle which saw neither booked but both (and Barton in particular) treading a fine line between a warning and a dismissal.

But for me when it comes to facing Burnley, I always think first of a day when Brighton lost 1-0, ended the game with 9-men, but yet with a feeling of pride mixed with what could have been. It was 17th December 2011, Brighton had been promoted to the Championship that summer as champions of League One and at the same time were still getting used to their new surroundings of the long-awaited AMEX stadium that had only opened that summer.

In fact it was the sides first meeting in five years. Whilst the Albion had spent the intervening years in League One, Burnley had secured an unlikely promotion to the Premier League via the 2009 Championship playoffs, only to (as expected) be relegated in their first season at that level. Following relegation, they finished 8th in the Championship and just outside the playoffs in 2010/11, so were hoping to go one better this season but went into the game at the AMEX in mid-table and adrift of those all-important playoff places.

In contrast, the Albion were acclimatising to the second tier after promotion from League One. The team had started well picking up 16 points from a possible 18 from their first six games, with the only points dropped via a dramatic Kevin Phillips inspired late Blackpool comeback from 2-0 down, a comeback instigated by a second-half triple substitution from then then Blackpool manager Ian Holloway. But this good run wouldn’t last, as the side won only four in their next fifteen games in the run up to this clash, finding themselves falling down the table and outside the playoff places.

So this was a game both sides were keen to win to keep up with the promotion race, and it started with incident from the off as after only six minutes Brighton’s Romain Vincelot was sent off. It was a dismissal that left everyone in the ground mystified including the player himself, but it turned out to be for a retaliatory punch to the ribs of Burnley midfielder Marvin Bartley. No complaints there.

Then only five minutes later the sense mystification amongst the Albion faithful turned to anger as Ashley Barnes was also sent off. He went into a 50/50 challenge with Chris McCann and initially many in the home end cheered as they thought the red card brandished by referee Craig Pawson was for the Burnley man. But it was instead for Barnes who was dismissed for stamping on Chris McCann after reacting violently to his aggressive two-footed tackle, which escaped unpunished. Again upon reflection it was a red card there should have been little complaints of.

Yet Brighton manager Gus Poyet said after the game: “I don’t want to comment on the sending off incidents, it’s up to the club whether they want to take it further but I’m not because I don’t want to spend any money. Some people in games like this may lose their jobs. It was a really bad day at the office.”

The Albion appealed the Barnes red card, but it was unsurprisingly unsuccessful and he and Vincelot both served three match bans. On the appeal Albion Managing director at the time Ken Brown told The Argus: “Personally I thought both sending-offs were harsh, but I think in particular Ashley’s was not justified. I think we have footage that indicates that and hope we can support that in written form to the FA.” Sadly for the club few others agreed.

The reality was neither had any complaints, and both reds were clearly moments of indiscipline and stupidity from the players involved. The moments of madness that would cost the Albion that day occurred more regularly throughout Poyet’s leadership than you’d usually expect, and the team got something of a reputation as a dirty side. In fact the team had the worst disciplinary record in the league that season accumulating 83 yellows cards and 8 red cards.

In reaction, aside from his predictably brash and at times vulgar antics on the touch line, Albion manager Gus Poyet made a double substitution, bringing on Craig Noone and Alan Navarro for Kazenga LuaLua and Ryan Harley to attempt to stabilise things for the Albion, but 80 minutes with 9-men would be too much of a challenge.

Referee Craig Pawson was busy throughout a frantic match. Not long after he turned down appeals for a Brighton penalty after Craig Noone went down in the box. Poyet’s response was predictably impassioned as he threw his coat down in anger and disappeared down the tunnel, returning to the touch line five minutes later after presumably calming himself down.

And it got worse for the Albion when then Man City loanee Kieran Trippier opened the scoring. The defender was starting to make a name for himself playing at full back for the Clarets for his ability to get up and down the flank and put dangerous crosses in, but it was his goalscoring ability that would be most prominent that day. Trippier had caught the attention of the better informed scouts with a successful loan spell the year before at Barnsley, scoring twice in 41 games. He added to those goals here by hitting a powerful effort from the edge of the box after Ross Wallace’s low corner to score his first league goal of the season and give Burnley the lead. Trippier has subsequently become better known for his ability to score from set-pieces, most notably in the World Cup semi-final for England in their defeat by Croatia, but he was not known for this then and caught the Albion defence off-guard.

Tempers continued to flare as Burnley striker Martin Paterson and Brighton defender Adam El-Abd clashed, with a yellow card given to Paterson as well as Brighton defender and assistant manager Mauricio Taricco in the aftermath. Taricco was much like his former Spurs teammate and manager Gus Poyet regarding his poor temperament and despite his senior status was often in disciplinary trouble whilst at the club, which sums up Poyet’s lax control of the team’s discipline during his time in charge. In only 19 appearances he accumulated 4 yellow cards and two red, hardly leading by example.

Despite this the atmosphere in the AMEX was great. Spurred on to support the team in adversity, the tune of the great escape rung around the AMEX as Brighton fought on. And despite Burnley seeing much of the ball, the Albion would create chances on the break via the pace of Craig Mackail-Smith. First a quickly-taken free-kick set Mackail-Smith away just before half-time, however Burnley’s Michael Duff got back to clear.

Burnley manager Eddie Howe summed up the situation saying: “It’s sometimes harder with a numerical advantage… We didn’t want to sit too deep and our defensive line wasn’t great at the end. I can’t recall playing for such a long time against nine men, but the atmosphere the Brighton fans created was terrific and if you stand off for one second someone like Craig Mackail-Smith will punish you.”

But Mackail-Smith had chances and didn’t punish the visitors. Next shooting wide from inside the box and then as time went on and Burnley sat back on their lead, they were fortunate when David Edgar denied Mackail-Smith in injury time with a desperate goalline clearance. Mauricio Taricco also tested Lee Grant with a long-range effort, but the Albion couldn’t break Burnley’s resistance, and in the end it oddly felt like a missed opportunity.

The feeling of missed opportunities would continue for both clubs as Brighton finished the season 10th, three places and four points ahead of Burnley, with both missing out on the playoffs. As the season ended both clubs would look back on days like this one was for the Albion, an examples of how they fell short of those playoffs.

Poyet said after the Burnley game: “The lads were outstanding. We were 100 per cent sure we would have a chance and what a chance, the best chance in the game. It didn’t go in, but it doesn’t matter. We did everything we should.”

Whilst this is true, for me this game summed up the issues that trouble the Albion throughout this season, and in many ways Poyet’s management after moving into the AMEX stadium. Whilst we were ‘F***ing brilliant’ as we won the League One title, the two seasons in the championship that followed were mixed, especially when the amount of investment in the team is considered.

One example of this is Craig Mackail-Smith, his signing was met with great fanfare as the Albion beat teams including West Ham to his signature, but if we are honest even considering the injuries he never lived up to the hype. His goalscoring record says it all, worse than a goal in every 5 games, so bad that he ended his time with the Albion playing out wide as the club bought an alternative front man in the form of Leonardo Ulloa, a man whose goalscoring record was far more impressive.

This day personified Mackail-Smith, lots of running and hard work, with little end-product. He was bought to the club to replace Glenn Murray, who’d scored 54 goals in his previous 118 appearances with the club. But Mackail-Smith never filled the goalscoring void that Murray left. In fact, this summed up a lot of the players in that team who played that day, like Ashley Barnes and Lewis Dunk who were young, inconsistent and wouldn’t fulfil their potential until later years, or Kazenga Lua and Craig Noone who despite possessing great talent never seemed to be able to deliver the goods consistently.

It would be wrong to say that the same was true of the following season, the team’s disciplinary record improved (relative to the atrocious record of the previous season) and the team ended up only a handful of points off automatic promotion, only missing out on promotion to Palace in that playoff semi-final. But even that night was defined in part by Poyet’s failings. In a tight game the emotion of the occasion got the better of the Albion, chances came and went and the fact the Albion had made a mistake to let that season’s Championship top scorer Glenn Murray go on a free transfer only two years before to their semi-final opponents was for all to see.

In fact Brighton scored only 69 goals that season in their 48 games, fewer than any of their play off rivals, and the season’s was in part notable for the amount of games the club failed to win despite dominating possession, drawing 18 times that season, more than any team in the league with half of those coming at home.

The negatives of Poyet’s period in charge now seen in hindsight feel particularly true of that day back in December 2011. What felt at the time like a proud moment of heroic defeat, now feels like a day when the failings of the Poyet era were on show for all to see, we were just choosing to ignore them and enjoy the ride.

But this was because, despite Poyet’s failings, we chose to ignore them because this was a great time to be an Albion fan, which the great atmosphere that day attests to. Whilst Poyet was a flawed manager in many ways, he built a team that inspired us and and a team that put the club into the national consciousness for the first time in decades, and for that at least we should be grateful, despite the failings that were shown throughout his management, and in this match in particular.


Mansfield at home – One person’s idea of romance is another person’s nightmare

At home to a lower league side in the FA Cup third round, a tie that you’d always expect to win. Especially one where your opponent is 91st in the Football League and without a win away from home in the league all season having lost their last five games on the road.

That’s where Brighton found themselves on 5th January 2008 for the FA Cup 3rd Round. And it wasn’t just the oppositions relative position to us that meant we thought we’d win. Our recent head to head record against Mansfield was good too, with the last two Brighton home games between the sides ending in 6-0 and 2-0 wins for the Albion respectively.

And that 6-0 win on the opening day of the 1999/2000 season was a truly special day, a day which the Albion returned home to Withdean Stadium, and which marked the end of some dark years for the club throughout the 1990’s.

The six goals scored that day included an iconic hat-trick from striker and new signing Darren Freeman. Local boy Darren’s look of long-untamed hair and scruffy appearance meant he could pull off the new Skint Records sponsored shirts better than most. But subsequent injuries hampered Darren’s time with the Albion and only nine more goals would follow in the remaining 43 appearances he made that season. Eighteen more appearances and no goals followed the next season, at the end of which he emotionally announced retirement, conceding the injuries had got the better of him at the age of just 27.

With these memories considered, drawing Mansfield at home seemed like a good omen, and the team could also take confidence from the cup-run they’d had so far that season. In the first round the team beat Cheltenham in a replay, at the end of a two-week period where the two teams met three times. The first was the original FA Cup tie which was a 1-1 draw in the West Country, then the following Wednesday there was a 4-1 win for the Albion in the Football League Trophy, which was followed by a 2-1 win for the Albion that saw them make round 2, where they were drawn away to Torquay United. So, it was another trip West in the name of the FA Cup, and this time the Albion won 2-0 to make it to round three and face Mansfield.

But unlike the previous games already mentioned, this day wouldn’t end in success for the Albion. And it became apparent things weren’t going to plan early on when Mansfield’s Matthew Hamshaw opened the scoring to give Mansfield a 1-0 lead after just ten minutes and it was a goal where the Albion defence was caught sleeping. In particular Joel Lynch and Adam El Abd, who were caught out by some neat play from the Mansfield attack. 

Joel Lynch was one of the many players at the club at that time who’d been brought through to the first-team from the youth ranks. And having made his debut away to Southampton in January 2006, he had soon become a regular and went on to make 79 appearances for the club before leaving for Nottingham Forest in September 2008. 

Some still resent Joel for the manner in which he left by forcing the clubs hand with a transfer request, but given his talent and the rut that the club were in at the time, both competitively and financially, I find it hard to hold any animosity to a young, ambitious and talented footballer who moved on in hope of bigger and better things elsewhere. Players like Dan Harding and Dean Hammond amongst others also did the same during that period to varying degrees of success, but I doubt any will have regretted leaving much. And given the fact that Joel’s four-year spell with Forest was followed by a four-year spell with Huddersfield before moving to QPR where he is still now, it’s hard to argue with his decision. Throughout that period he’s been playing at a bigger and better standard of football than he ever was for the Albion.

At this time the team was full of players that originated from Sussex and Dean Wilkins dream was to manage and lead a team full of Sussex players into the AMEX Stadium. But this dream wasn’t to materialise, and Dean Wilkins would in fact be sacked at the end of the season following three mixed years as first team manager. In his book “Madman” Dick Knight speaks of his difficult relationship with Dean Wilkins during his time as manager and how Dean Wilkins would almost always opt for homegrown talent over bought in talent, at times to the detriment of the team. You could even say that it was youthful naivety that was a big part of the Albion’s downfall against Mansfield.

But despite this, it wasn’t long before normality was resumed, for a time at least, as Alex Revell equalised via a Dean Cox free kick. Unbeknownst to many at the time, this was to be one of his last appearances for the Albion. A certain Glenn Murray would sign from Rochdale later that month for £300k, leaving Revell surplus to requirements and later that month he signed for Southend.

Revell showed during his time with the Albion that he had tenacity and quality in the final third in abundance, and after being plucked from the obscurity of level 7 of English football where he was playing for Braintree Town that was even more pleasing for the club. But after signing in the summer of 2006 and scoring ten goals by early December, his time with the Albion was then continuously set-back by injuries, and he scored only three goals between then and the following Christmas, when he returned from a two-month spell on the sidelines with a hernia injury. Despite his return being met with a flurry of five goals in three games, including the consolation goal here, it appears that it was too little too late and that the club had decided Glenn Murray was a better long-term investment, which ultimately proved to be a good call.

Alex Revell was playing up front that day with Veteran Nicky Forster, who was the club’s top scorer that season with 16 goals, having been the top scorer with 19 goals the season before and would be the top scorer with a further 16 goals the following season, despite the signing of Glenn Murray. But in contrary to his good goalscoring record for the club, Nicky Forster missed a number of good chances that day and whilst he knew where the goal was, he couldn’t do it on his own.

Someone who perhaps underlined this best was Jake Robinson. Another youth team product and Albion’s Youngest ever goalscorer at the age of 16 in a Football League Trophy tie four seasons before this one against Forest Green Rovers. But after breaking through as a striker, he was now playing on the right-wing and had found further goals harder to come by. In all honesty after early promise, Jake didn’t manage to live up to the hype and soon found himself out of the first team. After a loan spell at Aldershot the following season, he left the club the following summer and after subsequent spells at a few Football League clubs now plays in the non-league at Maidstone United.

Despite the Seagull’s recovery it was the Stag’s who would have the last laugh when Ian Holmes met John Mullins’ teasing right-wing cross just before the half-time interval to give Mansfield the lead again. It was a sickener for the Albion from which they wouldn’t recover.

After a horror first half for Joel Lynch who was playing in a less accustomed role of left-back, he was moved to centre back after half time as Dean Wilkins brought off veteran centre back Guy Butters who was replaced by Sam Rents, another youth team product, who moved to left back. And whilst the defence was a bit more organised and Mansfield wouldn’t score any more goals, the Albion were still one behind and needed to find a goal from somewhere to stay in the cup. 

But it was still Mansfield creating the best chances. And it could have been 3 or 4 were it not for the superb shot-stopping of an albeit by this time in-decline Michel Kuipers. Mansfield had plenty of chances and were playing some neat football with a real tempo that was well above the expectations of their league position and recent form.

But the second half was most notable for the Mansfield rear-guard performance. They would impress the most with some resolute defending as the game went on, which mostly restricted the Albion to speculative long shots from distance. Albion Substitute Striker Nathan Elder came close to finding the equaliser late on, and in desperation as chances and possession kept being wasted by the Albion, they pushed everyone forward, even including ‘keeper Michel Kuipers, but Mansfield held on and claimed a not-so-famous FA Cup upset.

But for the Albion it was a memorably frustrating and disappointing day, and that frustration was evident on the post-game BBC Sussex radio fans phone-in. A phone-in which featured a rare if ill-timed appearance from Chairman Dick Knight, who took the brunt of it. Whilst there were other factors at play, in part the frustration was due to the novelty that it was for the club to get to the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Unlike now we had to earn our place at this stage of the competition. That said it was not a novelty in some respects, as this was the Albion’s sixth appearance at this stage of the competition in the previous nine years since the move to Withdean. But we had lost all of the previous five, and with this being probably the best chance to finally get a win at this stage, instead made it six third-round defeats in-a-row. 

The record reads – 

01-02 – Preston home 2-0 defeat

02-03 – Norwich Away 3-1 defeat

04-05 – Tottenham Away 2-1 defeat

05-06 – Coventry home 1-0 defeat

06-07 – West Ham Away 3-0 defeat

And now add:

07-08 – Mansfield home 2-1 defeat.

Hardly an illustrious record, which reflected the club’s relatively lowly status at the time. But, after losing in round one the following season in the subsequent ten years the Albion have qualified for or entered due to our league status, round three every year, losing just once in the 15/16 season, 1-0 away to Hull City in a game where both sides made seven changes.

This good record would have been unthinkable on that frustrating afternoon at Withdean Stadium back in 2008, an afternoon that was the beginning of the end for Dean Wilkins reign as manager. Mansfield went on to be drawn away to Middlesbrough, a tie they lost 2-0. It’s another one of those many signs of how far the club has come that at the time it was a big disappointment to miss out on what was deemed an exciting away tie to a big club. Whereas when we drew Middlesbrough away at the same stage of the competition last season it was met with an audible groan on the concourse of the AMEX, with some suggesting that they’d prefer to lose in the third round to Palace than make the trip!

There are many lessons from that defeat to Mansfield, but whilst this game is not one that will live long in many Albion supporter’s memories its evidence of the great show that the FA Cup continues to consistently deliver every season. The nature of the knockout competition brings fans both romance and nightmares, with very little in between. So lets just hope we end up on the good side of that combination.

Tribalism and half-and-half scarves

There can’t be many more annoying trivial discussions in football than all the faux outrage at half-and-half scarves. They have recently become common place at football stadiums around the country and many don’t like it.

As Evan Bartlett put it in the Independent “There is little else in modern football that draws as much ire as the half and half scarf: a piece of fabric bearing the emblems of rival teams, denigrated as the preserve of tourists and part-timers that no “proper” football fan would ever dream of wearing.”

Such was his distaste of half-and-half scarves, Dave Newbold created the protest company Half and Barf, which manufactures spoof half-and-half scarves mocking the concept, with scarves such as “Notts-Bovered” or “Sporting-No one”.

Newbold says the concept came to him as he says the scarves “always got on my wick”. Also saying he believes most are worn by “corporate Johnnies who are supporting no one and are just there for the freebie.”

There was further criticism of half-and-half scarves by Thom Gibbs, who wrote a piece in the Telegraph where he said that he thought that its rise in prominence was “a logical by-product of modern football”. He explained he thought that this was “because a great number of people were there just to experience English top-flight football… a half-and-half scarf says “I was there”. Merely being there, without proof, is an empty gesture in late capitalism. To just experience an event without also paying for something when there is an unconsummated relationship.”

This though is just the tip of the iceberg regarding half-and-half scarves, go online on any match day and you’re bound to see outrage at the sight of these things being sold. Even critic Dave Newbold says “It’s amazing how much vitriol you see online around them. But I’d rather make fun out of them than rant and rave.” However, many feel otherwise, and you will often see many calls to ban them, albeit with some of this being light-hearted.

But all this reasoning doesn’t explain the level of outrage that is directed towards half-and-half scarves. And the way I see it that level of outrage comes as a result of the culture within football in the UK of tribalism, with fans pressured into undying loyalty and a strong devotion to their chosen club. This means fans are often behaving in a way so as to be seen as a “proper” fan and gain a sense of authenticity amongst there peers.

Such loyalty to a fan’s chosen club means most importantly, to not support two teams. And in an article from the magazine When Saturday Comes about supporting two teams, Ed Wilson said “this one-eyed devotion to a single cause – beyond good sense and, sometimes, beyond even basic standards of decency – has acquired such weight as a measure of superior fandom that any deviation from its course represents something sinister.” This appears to be the generally required standard of behaviour for a football fan.

In contrast, in the book ‘Gullhanger’ (a must-read for any football fan) Mike Ward writes about his journey from a fan of giants of English football Arsenal to fan of the more modest Brighton, who were then playing in the even more modest Withdean Stadium.

He said: “I hope the club take the book in the right spirit. I do take the mickey because I think football deserves it sometimes. But ultimately it is an affectionate, upbeat, positive book.” But such was the books success that he was warmly welcomed by the club and its supporters and for a time was a part of the BBC Sussex radio coverage of Brighton’s matches. But often a story like his does not culminate in such a welcoming atmosphere, such is the seriousness which loyalty to your club is valued by other supporters.

This level of loyalty by supporters to their club has gone so far as to see any two clubs as completely contrasting entities. The guardian’s sports blog reasoned when discussing half-and-half scarves that: “A Venn diagram of Liverpool and Everton supporters would have a minuscule crossover.” But us football fans have much more that unites us than we realise. For instance, did you know many Liverpool and Everton fans live in the same city?

In fact us football fans have much more that unites us than divides us, after all the Merseyside Derby itself is known as the ‘friendly derby’. Long before many people in the country owned a car to enable them to support their team away from home, it was common place for football fans to attend one local team’s matches one week and another local team the next. Within my extended family I’ve heard stories of a great-grandfather attending Sheffield United one-week Sheffield Wednesday the next. And another grandfather who watched both Chelsea and Fulham on alternate weekends.

That said, tribalism in football isn’t new and in the UK it’s a trait that has created some of the fiercest and most entertaining rivalries in the game. But it’s this same tribalism that some have used to justify prejudiced behaviour in football stadium’s, prejudice of the type that those same people wouldn’t dare to justify outside of it. Too often a fans moral-perspective is hindered by their loyalty to their team with the culture of ‘he’s one of our own, he’s all-right’.

In fact, I’d say the outrage towards half-and-half scarves is sometimes akin to that of the level that is shown to incidents of prejudice in football, where in the cold light of day surely, we can all recognised that there is no comparison between the two.

And it’s not just prejudice, tribalism also in part gave way to the hooliganism that over-shadowed English football during the 70s and 80s. And it wasn’t just the traditional rivalries that saw this. During this period my club Brighton developed a particularly fierce rivalry with another not so local club, Crystal Palace. And whilst it is said to have been instigated by an infamous FA Cup tie and a personal rivalry between then managers Alan Mullery and Terry Venables dating back to their days as teammates at Tottenham, it is a rivalry that has perpetuated until this day, in no small part due to the constant violence and hatred between rival fans, simply for supporting the wrong team.

This rivalry isn’t for everyone. Former BBC Match of the Day presenter Des Lynham once said “Nothing irritates me more at home Albion matches than having to listen to that banal chant of ‘Stand up if you hate Palace’. Adding that, “hate has no place in football.” This was in 2012, so it’s safe to say that his calls for harmony were ignored and the rivalry continues as fierce as ever.

Whilst during a football World Cup all we hear about is the power of football and its ability to bring people together. Outside of it, it’s very good at separating us into individual groups of fans.

But football can also unite us outside of international tournaments, as the fan-organised protests at my club Brighton in the 90’s showed. The ‘Fans United’ game at home to Hartlepool in particular being an example of this where supporters of rival clubs from throughout the UK and beyond came to support the Albion fans fight to oust its owners.

Many football fans also have their own personal experiences of football being a uniting force rather than a dividing one. When I met my wife at university we forged a bond very quickly, in part through a shared love of football. And whilst not supporting the same team, football was a mutual interest that helped to create our lasting bond.

With her being a Chelsea fan and me a Brighton fan, our teams wouldn’t meet in a competitive game until 2017. And this is where I must put my cards on the table now, I own a half-and-half scarf. From Brighton’s visit to Stamford Bridge on that day, Boxing Day 2017.

I bought it as a souvenir, not as suggested earlier to avoid experiencing an event without also paying for something, but as a souvenir of a very special day. A day when the two teams that met were teams that my wife and I have special affection for. This wasn’t a match about tribal competitiveness, it was about two of the big passions in our lives coming together and the scarf was a way to remember that.

Half-and-half scarves were even discussed on BBC 5 Live’s 606 on Sunday 6th January and the presenter Alistair Bruce-Ball listed the only three occasions where he believes that it’s acceptable for you to buy a half-and-half scarf, which were:

  • A young fan attending his first game
  • A one-off occasion, if your team were playing in a game you won’t play in regularly, e.g. a smaller, lower league team playing away to one of the top sides in the country
  • Where your club is competing in a European game against an obscure team

I find this way of thinking depressingly narrow-minded, football means so much to people for many different reasons. Discouraging items like half-and-half scarves because of either loyalty to one club or by calling those buying them “corporate Johnnies”, just creates divisions in football that leads to bigger issues. It may appear like harmless fun, but this outrage and vitriol creates a culture of abuse and encourages the tribalism within football in the UK to perpetuate. The same tribalism which can lead to the problems that it in turn creates to therefore persist.

2018 – The year of the Murray

As we have had our lot of 2018, I thought it was about time we praised the man who for many, including myself, has been Brighton & Hove Albion’s man of the year, Glenn Murray.

For Glenn Murray 2018 is a year that started with two goals in two games, one each against two of his old clubs and ended up with him having scored 17 goals in all competitions, becoming Albion’s highest post-war goalscorer and disproving well and truly any doubt over his ability to score goals at the top level of English football.

The first goal he scored in 2018 was against Bournemouth in a 2-2 draw on New Year’s Day, finishing off a good move created by last season’s player of the season Pascal Gross. Then came a late winner against Palace, a game Murray started on the bench. It was a goal that caused confusion over whether VAR, which was being trialled in the match, had been used to clarify the legality of the goal, but replays showed it came off Murray’s knee and not his hand and the goal stood.

But whilst 2018 started with a flurry of goals, 2017 ended with what had been a mixed start to the Premier League campaign for Albion’s number 17. A flurry of four goal in three games at the end of October and the beginning of November aside, he’d struggled to continue his great goal scoring record from the Championship promotion campaign.

In fact, the 2017/18 season didn’t start well for Murray, with a preseason injury meaning Tomer Hemed instead started up front in the first few games of the season. Hemed’s good performances even earned himself a new contract and kept Murray out the side for a while, but that all changed when Hemed received a retrospective three game ban for a stamp on DeAndre Yedlin in the home 1-0 win against Newcastle at the end of September. A game in which Hemed scored the only goal and received the Sky Sports Man of the Match award. This meant that as the season entered October, with Hemed absent Murray would get his chance to shine.

But in the first game of Hemed’s suspension, Murray was on the bench with loanee Isaiah Brown starting up front. But with the team going 2-0 down, Murray and the 2016/17 Championship player of the season Anthony Knockaert came off the bench and barely moments after coming on the Frenchman’s cross found Murray who headed just over in what was the best chance Brighton had created that day. Murray then started in the 1-1 home draw with Everton, but it was the next game away to West Ham where he would score a brace in front of the Sky Sports camera’s and re-establish himself as the Albion’s first choice frontman.

So Murray went into 2018 as the Albion’s main man and after starting January with two goals against two of his former clubs, he was on the bench as the team played their fourth round FA Cup tie away to Middlesbrough. This is despite the shadow of an ongoing tax fraud investigation hovering over him, an investigation it had been widely reported that he and his wife were arrested in connection with just days before the match. But despite this he again came off the bench in the second consecutive cup game to score the winner, which put the Albion into the fifth round of the cup for only the ninth time in its history. He in fact responded to the off-field issues by scoring a further two goals in the next two games. One from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw away to Southampton and one in a spectacular 3-1 home win over West Ham that also included one of the best Albion goals of the 2017/18 season from Jose Izquierdo.

I bring the tax investigation up not to revel in the supposed scandal as some media outlets did at the time of his arrest, but to contextualise Glenn Murray’s wonderful year. It reminds us that footballers, are individuals who have to deal with the stresses and strains that life brings just like anyone else. Glenn Murray isn’t just an Albion living-legend, he’s a father, a husband and someone who at the same time must deal with the complexities of life in a globally scrutinised, highly pressurised job. Putting what Murray has achieved on the pitch this year in this context makes it all the more impressive.

And yet what I’ve loved the most about watching Glenn over his second spell at the club, and over the last year in particular, is that he is playing with a smile on his face. A smile that suggests he’s loving playing for the club. Murray’s enjoyment of his recent years at the club is something that he’s spoken about being due to a greater perspective that comes with his age and experience.

In a recent interview with the Telegraph he stated just that. “You just never know. I am taking each game as it comes, enjoying it and taking that little bit of extra time to look around a full stadium, because I know it’s not going to last forever. But I will try and make it last as long as possible.”

But it wasn’t always this way. Murray said in the same interview that: “When I was young, I would dwell on games and beat myself up about a result,” he said “I would lock myself away in the house, almost punishing myself and those around me. My family, they did not see the best side of me. I went to see somebody who helped me, a sports psychologist, and he said I need to get out, that it is more important to get out of the house when you have lost, rather than when you have won. When you have won, you are content in whatever you do.

“He said to try to get out when I lose. To go to the cinema, go out for a meal. It has caused quite a few arguments in the past — people saying to me, ‘what are you doing out? What are you doing showing your face?’ — but that is what works for me. It might not work for everyone, but for me it does.”

Murray signed for Brighton the first time around in January 2008 at the age of 24. He impressed instantly, scoring nine in the second half of that season, including two on his home debut, in a 3-0 win against Crewe.

He then missed much of the 08/09 season with a hernia injury and when he did play often did so whilst clearly not being fully fit. Nonetheless he impressively still managed to score 12 goals in what was a struggling side.

The following 09/10 season he would play more regularly, but only better his goal total by two, often at this point gaining criticism about his work-rate and discipline. A subject spoken about by Dick Knight in his autobiography ‘MadMan’ where he stated that even then manager Dean Wilkins called out Glenn Murray for his work rate, but Dick defended the striker saying: “His style is languid and unhurried but certainly not lazy.”

The frustrations towards him mostly arose from the fact that he was clearly the most talented player in the team but often didn’t show it. Manager at the start of the season Russell Slade comments showed that he agreed with that line of thinking. At the beginning of the 2009/10 season he called Murray the “best striker outside the Championship”, but then in October Slade publicly criticised Murray for a sending off in a home defeat to Tranmere stating it cost the team the chance of a comeback. As such it was the case amongst some that Murray was getting a reputation as a bit of an unreliable enigma.

But Slade was sacked soon after because of an unsuccessful start to the season and Gus Poyet came in as his replacement. Gus transformed the club’s prospects and the team started to look like one worthy of the impending move to the new state-of-the-art stadium being built down the road at Falmer.

And the following season Glenn Murray and the Albion would both live up to their potential with Murray top scoring with 22 goals as the Albion won League One in its final season at the Withdean. Whilst there were still a few dissenting voices, as there always will be, Murray was now rightly regarded as Albion’s best striker and one of its best assets.

But unfortunately, Murray’s contract was up at the end of that season and with a step up required after promotion to the Championship was achieved, manager Gus Poyet appeared to earmark the signing of the energetic, if as it turned out comparatively goal-shy Craig Mackail-Smith at the expense of Murray. Gus Poyet said of Murray that the club “couldn’t pay him within our budget” and that the club couldn’t afford both players, but given the fact he left to join our arch rivals and lead them to great success at our expense, it’s fair to say that at least in hindsight, the club should have found a way to balance the books so to pay Murray what he was rightly worth.

When Brighton signed Mackail-Smith, Poyet spoke of his “unbelievable” work-rate and that, “he will always give you something. Even on a bad day, he doesn’t stop running. Now we are going to be a more competitive team.” It seems that it may have been in part at least, the perceptions of Murray’s so called ‘laziness’ that led to his move away.

Crystal Palace did just that, and a few months later he would score twice as they became the first opposition team to win a league game at the AMEX. He scored 47 goals whilst at Palace in four years, which is all the more impressive considering he missed much of the 2014/15 season through a knee injury sustained in the first leg of the playoff semi-final win by Palace over the Albion. Palace won and would go on to win promotion to the Premier League.

At full time in the second leg of the semi-final Murray celebrated with his team, the Albion’s arch rivals, on the pitch at the AMEX in front of the away end. Just three years later he would re-sign for the Albion and it wasn’t long before all was forgotten and hero status was resumed. Murray was a goalscorer, and when the goals started flowing even the most dissenting of voices came around. After opening his account with two goals in a 3-0 home win over Forest in front of the Sky Sports cameras it felt to many, including myself, that he’d never left. That season he went on to score 23 goals as the Albion secured promotion to the Premier League.

The intervening years after that play off semi-final and his return to the Albion were initially spent at Palace with mixed success under a variety of managers. This was followed by a short loan spell at Reading where he scored eight goals, including two goals at the AMEX against Brighton on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw. Which was then followed by a year at Bournemouth where his game-time was limited and as a result he scored just four goals, albeit one of those being a memorable winner at Stamford Bridge for the Cherries over Chelsea.

But his return to Brighton showed he hadn’t lost any of his wit and skill, nor as the Albion fans knew to their cost, his eye for goal. And as 2018 rolled on, somewhat inevitably so did the Murray goals.

Next up came another brace, including a goal from the penalty spot in a 4-1 win over Swansea. And in the following game Murray scored the crucial second in a memorable 2-1 win over Arsenal. Murray’s goal that day was yet another example of his growing relationship with Pascal Gross, with the German’s cross hanging in the air invitingly for Murray to head home in between two accommodating Arsenal defenders. These two wins lifted Brighton up to tenth in the league table and seven points clear of the relegation zone, safety was now looking likely.

Murray’s role leading the line was a big part of this. Not just scoring key goals but his ability as a target man to hold the ball up and link up with Pascal Gross, continuously producing results. Even though his only other goal to come in the remainder of the season was a consolation goal away to Palace, in a 3-2 defeat, he played a key role in the run-in as the Albion reached the coveted 40-point mark and comfortably secured another season of Premier League football.

Murray was asked during last season by the BBC what was the reason for his success and he answered simply, Pascal Gross. Last season’s Albion player of the season was high up in the charts for assists and goals, ahead of some perceived bigger names within the division, and his relationship with Murray was a big part of that. In fact, Murray and Gross between them contributed 19 of the 33 league goals Brighton scored last season. Demonstrating the importance of their combined impact.

For instance, the Albion’s lack of success from set-pieces last season demonstrates this best. Scoring a total of 5 goals from this method, which was the lowest in the Premier league last season. This is despite Pascal Gross creating more chances from set-pieces in the Premier League last season than any other player (36).

As the Albion prepared for their second season in the Premier League there were signings and optimism aplenty. But Murray still started the season as the main man up top. And after a bad day at the office all round in a 2-0 defeat away to Watford on the opening day, Man Utd came to town and the Albion caused a shock by beating them 3-2.

The Albion got off the mark that day with a sublime chip from Murray. This is a goal that has to go down as one of his best for the Albion, whilst it was from close range, the skill and technique to flick the ball up and chip the ball over United ‘keeper De Gea was a sight to behold.

Next up at the AMEX were newly promoted Fulham and it was another game where Murray was the star of the show scoring twice, his second a late equaliser, again from the penalty spot and in doing so earned the Albion a late comeback draw from 2-0 down. This was a game where Murray’s partner in goals Pascal Gross came off injured with the team 1-0 down and after a period out through injury, he has since struggled to recapture his previous season’s good form. But nonetheless Murray has kept on scoring goals regardless as the new signings that were made in the summer gave the Albion an attacking threat from other areas.

Next up was Southampton away on a Monday night game in front of the Sky Sports cameras. And Murray scored a late penalty to make it 2-2 in the second consecutive game. A penalty that demonstrated Murray’s calm confidence in front of goal, even in the most high-pressure of situations.

There were then two 1-0 home victories courtesy of Glenn Murray’s 99th and 100th goals for the club, with a hard fought 1-0 victory away to struggling Newcastle sandwiched in-between. A game where Murray was carried off with a worrying looking head injury, but one which he quickly recovered from to play the following week and net that record-breaking milestone goal.

The goals against West Ham and Wolves were classic Murray goals. The type of goals that had cemented Glenn’s place as only the second ever player to score one-hundred goals for Brighton. He also became the highest post-war goalscorer, taking over from Kit Napier on 99 goals.

He spoke in Nick Szczepanik book ‘Brighton Up’ about how he would often find space in the box by standing still, whilst others moved around him, and these goals were no different. For example, for his century goal against Wolves, as the ball fell to Bruno on the right side of the box, the Wolves defence shifted in his direction. In the same motion Murray stayed almost stationary but alert to find himself in acres of space at the far post to score his century goal, when the ball went slightly fortuitously in his direction. As Bruno later admitted his ‘pass’ to Murray was intended to be a shot on goal.

This style of Murray’s goals is where the comparison to the man Gus Poyet replaced him with Craig Mackail-Smith is telling. Whilst other strikers like Mackail-Smith energetically run around somewhat thoughtlessly. Murray is more deliberate in his movement and his running and whilst a layperson-fan like myself can’t always see it, Glenn Murray is usually one step ahead of most defenders, even at the top level.

His next goal against Leicester showed that level of alertness and wit in the box perfectly. As Murray nipped in at the near post to get Albion’s goal in a 1-1 draw.

Then came that win against Palace, which started with Murray scoring a 24th minute penalty and ended for him shortly after due to a shoulder injury in the build up to the corner that led to the second goal.

It is well known that after Glenn Murray left The Albion to join Palace in 2011, he remained living in Brighton. Not surprising considering it’s the city where he met his wife and the city where they started a family together. The city appears to work for him, and he appears to work well for the city’s football team too, continuing to break records and increase in size his already secured legend status at the club.

2018 was a year where he made the whole country sit up and take notice of a 35-year old player previously written off as only Championship-standard. So much so that Glenn is now a periodic voice on BBC Radio 5 Live’s football coverage, he was an answer to a question on the BBC’s Question of Sport recently and even popped up on Michael Macintyre’s Christmas Day special.

It’s odd to say due to his relative veteran status within football, that it’s been something of a breakthrough year for Glenn, but us Albion fans know it’s more a fact of him finally being appreciated for the player he is. I’m sure that at the age of 35, many will continue to write off Glenn Murray, just like others have done before, but his continued success highlights that he shows little signs of deterioration.

18/19 season review – halfway

If the first ten games gave us optimism for the season ahead, then the next nine have consolidated all those good feelings. In an article about mid-table teams in the Premier League Adam Hurray aka @FootballCliches on twitter described Brighton as “the team that people will most likely forget if you challenge them to name all 20 Premier League teams in under a minute.” Some will take this as an insult but not me personally. It’s a long way from that terribly forgettable 1-0 home defeat to Millwall just over four years ago that all-but signalled the end of Sami Hyypia’s reign as Albion manager and ultimately, the beginning of the success that Chris Hughton has gone onto lead us to. So yes, I will take competent forget-ableness over incompetent forget-ableness every day.

Matchdays 11-13 – Frustration and refereeing controversy

Talking of forgettable, let’s overlook Everton away. A bad day at the office, in which we were outclassed by a better resources team. There’s no shame in that.

Not that this stopped one fan phoning in BBC Radio 5 Live’s phone-in “606” and calling for Hughton to be sacked. A call described by host and one time Albion loanee Robbie Savage as “One of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in my life”. You know you’ve got it wrong when Robbie Savage is taking the common sense high-ground. Thankfully the vocal minority that phone into programmes like 606 are not speaking for the majority of sensible football fans who appreciate Chris Hughton as one of the best managers currently working in the English game.

Whilst from an Albion perspective it was a demoralising defeat, it was one that we could have anticipated. However, the game was notable for at least two positive things:

First, it saw another set-piece goal from the Albion, something we lacked last season, scoring only five all season. But something that is becoming increasingly part of our attacking armoury, scoring eight already in only half the amount of games.

Second, it saw a debut from the bench for a certain Florin Andone, someone who we will come to later.

But first, next up was a Saturday lunchtime kick-off at Cardiff. And if we were honest, it was a game we expected the team to win, but it was not to be.

The team made a good start, with Lewis Dunk getting his second goal in two games, another one of those goals from a set piece and another assist from Solly March. But quickly the Albion’s fortunes began to turn as soon after Callum Paterson equalised for Cardiff. Then the Albion’s Dale Stephens saw red for what was at best an overzealous challenge. And one at which I, unlike many other Albion fans, won’t argue against.

With nearly an hour left what then followed was an extended period of Cardiff pressure, one which the ten-men Brighton team fought hard against, but it was a fight that was ultimately to no avail as a late winner from Sol Bamba meant Cardiff took all three points. Upon review Sol Bamba appeared to be offside in the build up to the goal. But in the melee that was the Brighton penalty area that preceded the goal it’s no wonder the officials weren’t sure. So near but yet so VAR…

After a couple of frustrating results we hoped for a Hughton-side-like instant positive reaction against Leicester at home. And with Albion taking the lead via yet another goal from Glenn Murray, it appeared we had just that. A goal that added to the Albion’s ever-growing set-piece goal tally. And when Leicester and England’s rising star James Maddison saw red for a silly second yellow card for diving, things seemed to be evening up for the Albion very quickly. But the Albion couldn’t capitalise on their numeric advantage, and this wastefulness would prove costly. As after Beram Kayal sloppily gave away a penalty, Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester.

It was an afternoon of frustration for the Albion. Frustration in a lack of attacking intent, frustration in a lack of quality in possession, and frustration in sloppy, panicked decision making. The amount of long distant pot-shots and wild hit-and-hope(less) crosses made it hard to watch. It was a performance described, as level-headedly as ever by manager Chris Hughton, as “below the standard required”.

Many Albion fans were less level-headed and a small amount of boos could be heard at the end of the game. Whilst the Argus’s Andy Naylor continued his never-tiring battle on twitter with those who deem Hughton too ‘negative’ tactically, and who he deems the “moaning minority”. Some other were coming around to the idea of our previously disgraced Albion fan on 606, but that perspective would soon flip on its head.

Matchdays 14-15 – Andone stars as we win away and beat the scum!

The frustration that was brewing meant that the trip to Huddersfield had more riding on it than our league position relative to our hosts along with our solid start to the season granted. Which was unfortunate given our recent bad record away to the Terriers. And as many feared the Albion got off to a bad start. But oddly it was a spectacularly miscued overhead kick from Albion captain Bruno, one which he unintentionally kicked the ball into the Brighton defensive six-yard box, that set up a goal for Mathias Jorgensen to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Bruno’s second unintentional assist of the season after his miss-hit shot set up Murray’s century goal.

Panic could have ensued, but that’s not the Hughton way, and after a slightly shaky first twenty minutes the Albion started to get back into the game. Then when a Huddersfield red card gave the Albion the initiative, soon after they equalised, just before halftime. Bruno made amends with an intentional and impressively acrobatic piece of ball control that led to an Albion corner. From the corner Solly March found Shane Duffy who equalised before halftime, another set piece goal and another Match assist.

After half time the Albion continued to step up the intensity in search of a winner, one that would this time against ten men prove fruitful. As Solly March continued to prove his doubters wrong by finding Andone with a great cross, where the Romanian nipped in ahead of the Huddersfield defence to put the ball home and give Albion only their fourth away win since promotion.

Up next was the derby game against Palace, which after all the nonsense of last season’s game at the AMEX had once again been scheduled on a Tuesday night, great. Nonetheless, with the gap between the sides at only six points the teams had to put all the sideshow of the rivalry out of their mind and get the three points.

And it was the Albion who struck first, with Murray emphatically scoring a penalty against his old side after Izquierdo went down in the area. A soft penalty but we will take it.

Next chaos ensued, after Murray was brought down in the box by James Tomkins. The ref ignored calls for another penalty and pointed for a corner. A melee ensued, one which saw Shane Duffy headbutt Palace’s Patrick Van Aanholt in front of the referee, I’m sure he had it coming, however, the referee had no choice but to send off Duffy leaving the Albion handicapped for the rest of the match.

But fear not, things were only getting started for the Albion. Pascal Gross was quickly sacrificed for Leon Balogun to partner Lewis Dunk in the back four, but before he resumed defensive duties he quickly doubled the Albion’s arrears. Balogun sending the ball home with a spectacular half volley after being unmarked in the box. An extra man and they still left the big centre back unmarked!

So, with a two goal lead the Albion attempted to hold onto what they had and defend for their lives. But rather than memorable defensive heroics, the game will forever be synonymous with a piece of individual brilliance from Florin Andone that followed.

As Brighton sat deep defending their lead, they had only one player in a remotely advanced position, Florin Andone. As the ball was pumped long and diagonally by Bernardo, remarkably Andone got to this speculative pass near the East stand touchline about ten yards into the Palace half, meaning he had a lot of ground to cover. But cover it he did, slaloming his way around the Palace defence as he did so and then finishing well to make it 3-0.

As the game went on Palace continued to probe without much penetration of the Albion defence. In a resultant moment of frustration, Palace talisman Wilfried Zaha attempted a tackle on hero of the day Florin Andone, which he seriously mistimed. Andone was fortunate to walk away unharmed and Zaha was fortunate to walk away with only a yellow card. Saving Palace further frustration and embarrassment on a bad night at the office.

And whilst Palace got a goal back via the penalty spot to make it 3-1 nothing would take the shine off this win for the Albion. What a victory, what a night. And it was a special night for Albion not just given the circumstances of the victory, but also the novelty that a win over Palace has been in recent years. In fact, this was only the second home league victory by the Albion over Palace since Boxing Day 1988. It’s the kind of win many fans would give a lot away for, and for the Albion it was a victory that preceded the worst run of consecutive defeats to date this season.

Matchdays 16-19 – A winless run – with promise

It was a winless run that started on a miserable wet and grey day in Burnley, one that at least went without last season’s deplorable behaviour from some of the home support.

The goal that ultimately cost the Albion the game was largely as a result of poor defending. As a cross from the right came into the Brighton box, it was headed to the far side of the box and headed back into the six-yard box melee by a Burnley shirt only to be headed clear by Lewis Dunk. But unfortunately, the ball fell kindly for James Tarkowski on the edge of the box to drill it home, scoring a goal that would ultimately give the home side a narrow 1-0 win. It was the type of 1-0 win that they prided themselves on last season, but the type of win that has been harder to come by this season.

If we are honest, it was a poor piece of defending from the Albion, two fairly measly clearances, which coupled with Ryan’s failure to get anywhere near a cross he came for, left Tarkowski with a simple finish. But Ryan’s error was a type of error we’ve not seen much from the Australian number one, which considering his relative lack of height is a testament to him, the management of Chris Hughton and coaching of the head goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts.

Nonetheless this was an error of judgement, but one of a type he’s been encourages to avoid. Maty Ryan spoke to the Independent last season of how before he signed for the Albion he was a much more proactive goalkeeper, with the coaches at Brighton now encouraging him to be less proactive and in situations like this stay on his line and leave the initial defensive duties to the defence, primarily due to the heading prowess of Dunk and Duffy coupled with the incredibly deep defensive line that the Albion often deploy, leaving him little option other than staying on his line.

So, maybe partly due to a concern over the missing Shane Duffy, Ryan uncharacteristically (or characteristically for him two years ago, old habits die hard) came for a cross that he didn’t win leaving a virtually open goal for Tarkowski to shoot into. And no wonder Ryan was nervous, Shane Duffy has been brilliant for the Albion since promotion and as such was justifiably given a contract extension recently. In fact, he is widely being regarded as Albion’s best player so far this season, and primarily is someone who knows how to defend a cross into the box.

As the game went on the Albion threw on Murray and Locadia to go with two up top and try to get an equaliser. And they would combine for the Albion’s best chance of the game. As Murray peeled off wide, something he has grown accustom to doing much less of as a sole striker, he found himself in a position to cross a ball into the box from a deep position. Cross he did, and what a cross it was, landing in a perfect position for Locadia to run onto and head home to equalise, except he headed it over. Cue bedwetting of the highest order, including some Albion fans calling for Locadia’s head, which is frankly ludicrous, more on this later.

But first, up next at the AMEX was Chelsea, and fresh from their victory over champions Man City it was an imposing prospect. In fact, for sixty minutes they showed exactly why that was. They controlled possession with such ease, toying with Brighton and creating enough chances to win a handful of games.

Eden Hazard in particular was brilliant. I’ve already said last season that he was the best opposition player I’d seen at the AMEX. After this day it was clear to me that he’s the best player entirely.

The first goal was of his making. After Chelsea somewhat casually sprayed the ball around the Albion defence, it came to Hazard. Out of nothing he took virtually the whole Albion defence out of the game with only a few touches, then with one more he found Pedro at the far post in space who prodded the ball home and give them the lead.

They then extended the lead as the Albion’s continued the evidence of some growing indiscipline when Balogun gave the ball away, leaving Hazard free to stride forward and pass the ball past a helpless Ryan in goal.

At half time I texted my wife, a Chelsea fan, joking that it would be nice if they could even up the teams by letting Hazard switch and Chelsea almost justified the lack of confidence that I had shown in my team as they almost scored again when Azpilicueta’s low teasing cross fell to Pedro, but his overhead kick went well over.

Then Alonso received the ball on the edge of the box but despite his well-hit shot across the face of goal beating Ryan in goal, it hit the post. It was as if the sound of the smack of the ball against the woodwork woke up the atmosphere in the stadium from its slumber and livened the home team into life.

The Albion had just brought on Florin Andone for the unusually ineffectual Glenn Murray. It was this change that would instigate the livening up of the team’s attacking play and it would quickly produce the intended impact. Propper played a cross-field pass to Gross, Albion’s player of last season then crossed to the on-rushing Bernardo who’s nodded the ball down to Solly March at the far post who tapped it home. A nice move that kept the Albion in the game, somehow.

It wasn’t just Andone who made an impact from the bench, the ever-improving Yves Bissouma came on and his pace and power from midfield put Chelsea under more pressure. Particularly when a cross-field diagonal pass looked to put Solly March through on goal, but he was brought down by Alonso who appeared to be the last man. But Alonso received only a yellow card and ultimately Chelsea held on to take all three points in a manner that was far closer than their dominance for an hour deserved.

It was Bernardo who was the Albion player who took the most plaudits as man of the match. He’d had a great match at left back and was beginning to show his worth after a tough start to the season, particularly on the opening day when his debut against Watford left some already calling him a flop. But like a few other new signings he is beginning to prove the doubters wrong.

The fact Bernardo has replaced Bong, a man who was a mainstay in the team last season, demonstrates his impressive impact on the team. I see the reason being that Bernardo is a much more proactive attack-minded full-back, and it’s no coincidence his move into the starting eleven has coincided with better performances away from home and in general more attacking football from the side.

His more proactive nature is shown via a range of stats, having totalled 5 more interceptions (18 to Bong’s 13), totalled 17 more tackles (28 to Bong’s 11) and totalled almost double the headed clearances (15 to Bong’s 8). All this in 9 appearances to Bong’s 13. It’s no doubt that Bernardo would suit the more offensive-minded and high pressing Brighton team that Hughton has started to encourage, materialising for at least periods in games if not yet for a full ninety minutes.

Game 18 was a trip to Bournemouth and a rare start for both Andone and Locadia, with Murray dropping to the bench. And unlike many other away performances since promotion, this led to the Albion matching if not bettering the home sides attacking intensity, at least for the first 45 minutes. But in their way stood an inspired goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic. First saving from the previously mentioned Locadia low down to his left and then from a Dunk header, again low down to his left.

But at the other end the home side were also creating chances and a man who is proving to be one of the best Premier League signing of the last summer, David Brooks (signed for £10m from Sheffield United) was providing the biggest threat. And it was him who opened the scoring with a wonderful shot into Ryan’s bottom left-hand corner.

But despite the Albion’s attempts to equalise, no goal was forthcoming. And after Lewis Dunk received a red card for a second yellow card it was all but over. The first card Dunk received was for a foul on the prior mentioned David Brooks, one that many believed had gone to Bissouma. So when he got his second yellow and subsequent red for a cynical trip of Callum Wilson from behind, many thought it was only his first card, but off he went and with it went any hope the Albion had of taking a point from the match.

Bournemouth sealed the points when David Brooks made a run to the near post and looped a header back over his head and over Ryan into the goal. A wonderful goal that capped a wonderful performance from the Welshman who is no doubt already worth significantly more than the £10m Bournemouth paid for him over the summer.

So, after three straight defeats it was Arsenal at home that would take us to the halfway point. And it was the visitors who started the brighter, with Aubameyang’s chipped shot forcing Ryan into an early save. And it was Aubameyang who would break the deadlock barely a few minutes later, when after Balogun kept the ball in play only to give the ball straight back to Lacazette who after interchanging with Ozil, worked his way around a static Albion defence to find Aubameyang in space who passed the ball into the top corner to give the visitors the lead.

It was Aubameyang who then forced Ryan into another great save, this time down to his left with the game still 1-0. Further evidence that Ryan is a player the Albion will greatly miss when the Australian goalkeeper now goes to represent his country at the Asia cup in UAE.

Those saves would prove vital as the Albion not long after equalised through the seemingly ever-criticised Jurgen Locadia’s first goal of the season. It was somewhat fortunate circumstances that led to it, but he deserved a bit of luck after some of the less fortunate moments he’s had this season. Davy Propper’s hopeful long diagonal pass forward from level with the Albion penalty area looked meant for Gross but was unintentionally headed into Locadia’s path by Arsenal’s Stephan Lichtsteiner. Locadia then simply had to round the keeper and pass it into the empty net to put the scores level, which he did.

Locadia deserved his goal, he was fantastic in the left-wing role and with better finishing could have given the Albion all three points in the second half. Locadia didn’t deserve the vitriolic abuse he received after his miss at Burnley and he doesn’t deserve to be held up as an Albion great quite yet either. But this was a stepping stone towards him fulfilling his potential.

When we signed Jurgen Locadia we knew he wasn’t the finished article, we knew he was a raw talent coming from a league that is below the standard of the English Premier League. For every Van Persie or Van Nistelrooy that has been a success in the Premier League after signing from Holland, there is a counter example of a Jozy Altidore or an Alfonso Alves who were not a success.

Whilst it’s a lot of money for Brighton to spend, £14m doesn’t buy you a proven goalscorer at this level. It buys you a Jurgen Locadia, a player who’s shown promise, shown he’s competent, shown he’s got a lot of ability, but also shown he’s not perfect, at least not yet. So, if he has a bad game and misses a big chance against Everton or West Ham, I won’t be getting carried away, he needs time in the team to settle and show what he can do.

In fact, it wasn’t Locadia this time being maligned for missing a good chance to score, it was Solly March or Davy Propper, or both, depending on who you spoke to after the game. As the Albion pushed forward and created chances both could have scored, but neither did. I’m happy to state that I’m not concerned with this, both players have potential to be a more significant goalscorer for the team than at current, and if they’re getting in the positions to score that’s the hard part. If they keep doing that then taking those chances will naturally come next.

A halfway point summing up

The draw with Arsenal leaves the Albion with 22 points at the halfway mark of 19 games, ahead of schedule in our search for another year of Premier league status. And 8 points from the last nine games is a reasonable return given the amount of tough away games and games against top six teams that were included in that run, along with the self-induced handicap that the three red cards we received created.

One real positive so far this season is the increased impact of Hughton’s substitutions and varied team selection. The continued impact of new signings like Andone, Bernardo and Bissouma along with regulars like Murray, March and Duffy show the evidence of the increased squad depth.

Hughton still doesn’t make change for changes sake though. And as such the consistency of approach and defensive organisation remains a true strength of the team. Burnley’s Sean Dyche has spoken before about how it’s often braver to stick with what you’ve got and easier to panic and twist when it comes to substitutions and in-game tactical decisions. Hughton shows trust in his players, hence why many have and are continuing to fulfil their potential in this team under his tutelage.

Take Anthony Knockaert as an example, someone who was almost ever-present last season and has looked reinvigorated when he has played recently but is still struggling to get a game, such is the increased competition for places.

But with the added versatility has come some frustrating moments as the team experiences some growing pains. No more so than the frustration and indiscipline that lead to the three Albion red cards. A trend that needs to end.

In my ten games in summing up, I said I thought the fact that Brighton had the second most shots conceded, and the least shots taken would reverse to the average of our league position once the season went on. Well, it hasn’t yet. We currently have the second least total of shots taken and the second highest conceded, with only Burnley totalling lower and higher totals in both areas respectively. Even more anomalous is that the Albion post fewer shots per game at home than anyone in the division despite totalling the joint 9th highest points total accumulated at home.

Whilst stats don’t necessarily tell you everything, for me this one does illustrate two things. Firstly, the Albion’s well-known reliance on their defensive solidity. And secondly, the reliance on Glenn Murray’s reliability in front of goal. In fact, in Murray’s case his conversation rate of shots taken is about as good as it gets for a high scoring forward in a top-flight European football, sitting currently at 36.4%.

The next run of matches starts with a tough visit of Everton who gave us a footballing lesson recently, followed with an away trip to West Ham who are a better team now than the one we beat 3-0 at the London Stadium last season. Which is before another trip to Bournemouth this time in the FA Cup, followed by the visit of leaders Liverpool and a trip to a revitalised Man United. So, it could be a while until we see the next Albion win. But as the recent run shows, the team is capable of giving anyone a game and if we keep beating the teams below us that gap between us and those bottom three places should remain in place.

The Albion sit 13th, a position if which we remain in come May will match the club’s highest ever league finish from the 1981/82 season. In the following season the manager Mike Bailey was sacked after growing pressure on his safety-first approach contributed to the team’s worsening performances. Despite the change of manager, the team were ultimately relegated at the end of the following season in the summer of 1983, albeit being relegated along with the memories of competing in that season’s FA cup final, one which was ultimately lost to United in the replay. Maybe we should take some lessons from history before we moan about Hughton’s ‘negative’ tactics.

When the team was in the fourth tier nearly twenty years ago, then Brighton chairman Dick Knight borrowed a phrase from an album title of DJ and Albion investor/fan Fatboy Slim aka Norman Cook to describe the club’s status, “Halfway between the gutters and the stars”. Today we are one of those stars, albeit one that some could forget about amongst the brighter Middle Eastern or Russian oil illuminated stars.

As we approach 2019, we do so with promise, hope and anticipation of another 19 games to come. Ones which if the last 19 games were anything to go by, should give us a lot of excitement to look forward to. Up the Albion, Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Rainbow laces and banana skins – diversity and prejudice in football

In light of the banana skin thrown at Gabonese international footballer Pierre Patrick Aubameyang during last Sunday’s North London Derby and the Homophobic abuse sung by Huddersfield supporters in their match with Brighton the day before, the football community continues to soul search for the antidote to the prejudice that is still apparent in modern football stadia each weekend.

It’s easy to overlook incidents like these as either committed by a small group of idiots or just misplaced banter respectively, particularly when you’re not directly affected by the prejudice. However, it’s just as easy to over compensate and find fault in minor issues where there is no fault.

Comedian Matt Lucas has spoken about his experiences of Homophobic chants at football games. He said on a BBC documentary about football and its attitude towards homosexuality back in 2012 that you had to be able to have a “bit of a laugh”. But, whilst he sees chants like “we can see you holding hands” as harmless, he recognised that there is an ugly side to it, referencing the chant sung about Sol Campbell which makes false claims that he is a homosexual living with HIV.

As a Brighton fan I’ve heard plenty of homophobic chanting at matches, including a few references to HIV. Sadly, whilst a lot of homophobic chants are less unpleasant than this, there are periodic occurrences of the uglier variety. And no matter how often you hear it, it’s always shocking. In fact it’s not just in the stands. When going to Brighton away games I, like many other Brighton fans, have experienced one-on-one homophobic abuse aimed at me because of the football shirt I wear. Personally I can easily just ignore the abuse and laugh in pity at the individual giving it out, but there is no doubt that for others it would deter them from going to a game again.

Another person, I find worth listening to on the subject of discrimination is Comedian Nish Kumar. He commented in the guardian recently that as a society previously “we were in denial about the extent to which Britain had cured itself of the poison of racism. We’re definitely not in denial about it now.” Even if you disagree with his overt political viewpoint, it’s hard to disagree with this point given the rise in popularity of nationalist, at times racist, political views over the last few years. A political shift that has shown as a society, not just in Britain but across much of the Western world, we have become more aware of the prejudice within our mix that we would liked to have thought had been eradicated. And the recent incidents in the Premier League last weekend bring this to our attention even more.

Many supporters of clubs accused of discriminatory chanting will say it’s all about creating a unwelcome atmosphere for the visitors and just ‘part of the game’. This is an argument many Burnley fans made after the booing of Gaetan Bong last season led to accusations of racism. But whilst no malice may be intended by those giving out abuse from the stands, prejudice of all kinds is still very prevalent in modern society, be it in our football stadiums, in our workplaces or in our politics. So to accept it under the premise of ‘banter’ would be at the risk of normalising this kind of discrimination.

With the 24 hour news cycle and the constant scrutiny on social media platforms that now exists, it’s easy for these incidents to be taken out of proportion. The recent documentary on ITV “Out of their Skin” fronted by Ian Wright certainly showed that football and society has come along way from the days when monkey chants and uses of the racist terminology was common place in Britain. From the shocking clips of the far-right political group the National Front, to the tales of former Chelsea player Paul Cannoville being racially abused by his own supporters, it’s worth remembering things have been a lot worse in the not to distant past. Whilst the recent incidents are deplorable, they are a long way from the aggressively sinister attitudes towards minority groups in the 70’s and 80’s.

But nonetheless there is still a long way to go before we can genuinely claim equality. Be it the lack of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups represented in football, something Brighton’s very own Chris Hughton has spoken about on multiple occasions. Be it the evident homophobia at most Brighton games shown by opposition supporters. Or be it the blatant sexist behaviour most women in football often talk of regularly dealing with. In fact a recent report from the equality group Women in Football stated that reports of discrimination in women’s football had risen by 400% during the 2017/18 season.

Football being a predominantly male sport has meant that sexism isn’t as popularly called out as other forms of discrimination. From the inaugural Women’s Ballon D’or winner Ada Hegerberg upon receiving the award being asked presenter Martin Solveig if she knew how to twerk. To Eni Eluko being patronisingly clapped by Patrice Evra for making a good point during the half time punditry of ITV’s coverage at this summers World Cup. Or the derision shown to another female pundit Alex Scott, every time she appears on TV. Sexism is as prevalent, if not more prevalent, than any form of prejudice in football today.

When assistant referee Sian Massey was unwillingly caught up in the Richard Keys and Andy Gray sexism saga that led to them both leaving Sky, she subsequently came under a lot of attention from the media, mostly out of sympathy. So much so that every right decision she made was seemingly picked out by pundits on all football programmes for praise, a well intended but nonetheless patronising gesture we could all do without. For Women to be truly accepted in football, we need to stop treating them as if they’re a novelty act. Sian Massey and Alex Scott have both earned their right to be in the jobs they hold, a statement without question for most male pundits or officials, but one women in the same positions have to tolerate on a daily basis.

In isolation all this may appear fairly harmless, but put together it paints a much more worrying picture of modern football. Whilst the chants from fans towards their opposition counterparts can often just be put down to ‘banter’ and part of creating an unwelcoming atmosphere for the visitors, they can also create an unwelcome atmosphere for many minority communities.

In a week where the Premier League were promoting diversity through its rainbow laces campaign, ironically at the same time the type of prejudice it aims to eradicate has been brought to the foreground of public’s consciousness. Whilst there have been darker days in British football, in order to ensure a true and meaningful form of diversity is achieved we can’t afford to let complacency set in. Even if some deem it banter, or isolated incidents committed by idiots, there are certain thing that just shouldn’t be accepted and more needs to be done to eradicate it.

But how? In football stadiums self-policing of fans by fellow fans has provided a great deal of the progress seen since the 1980s and is still a large part of eradicating discrimination in football stadiums now. In a blog on the Crystal Palace fan site Red n Blue army, one fan’s talks of his personal battle dealing with the homophobic chants from his own fans during Tuesday’s derby against Brighton and whether self-policing is enough or whether to report it. In my eyes self-policing can only do so much. Many of those starting these chants know it’s wrong to do so and revel in it, being told this by a fellow supporter will only encourage them.

I see the best solution as to punish the clubs these fans hold dear. Only when the prospects of their club is at stake will these people act responsibly. And only then will clubs take genuine evasive action and punish fans for their behaviour.

The sight of a banana skin splattering over the Arsenal’s players rainbow laces, laces there in support of diversity, is a lasting image of the issues British society still has to deal with in order to create genuine equality. Now, as ever, football must recognise the important part that it must play in continuing this process.

ITV Digital – A tale of greed and speculation

It’s been 18 years since the digital television provider owned by television companies Granada and Carlton, originally known as ON Digital then subsequently better known as ITV Digital was granted the rights to Football League and League Cup live TV coverage. What began with optimism and spending levels in the Football League of an unprecedented nature to that date, ended in chaos and outrage. But how did it all happen and what lessons can be learnt?

The infamous tale began as David Lister put it with “a rush of blood to the head”. A fee of £315m was agreed with the Football League for which ITV Digital were getting exclusive rights to show live Football League and League Cup games for three years starting in the 2001/02 season. A monumental sum compared to the current deal at the time, and in fact only £14m a year less than the 5-year deal just agreed with Sky due to start in August 2019, nearly 17 years after the ITV Digital deal started.

In David Lister’s Independent article, he talks about how the ITV Digital venture was “doomed to fail from start”. He goes on to detail a long list of mistakes that led to the ITV Digital failure. For example, how in November 1998 there were not enough set-top boxes to meet the demands from the Christmas period. Lister also details how “in three-and-a-half years, ITV Digital consumed £750m of the ITV companies’ cash to attract 1.2 million subscribers. The break-even figure was 1.7 million. Sky has 5.5 million”. ITV Digital’s intention was to provide competition to Sky, but it ended up only reinforcing its dominance in the market.

By the end of the first season of the new TV deal ITV Digital had collapsed and the Football League was in crisis. As the crisis came to a head the late Tessa Jowell, then UK Government Minister for Culture, Media and Sport spent time encouraging the company to keep going, but it was to no avail, leaving the Football League without its main income source.

Subsequently Minister for Sport Richard Caborn warned financially troubled clubs that the Government would not mount a rescue operation. In fact, going as far as stating that there were “four very famous clubs who will probably not be in existence at the end of the season”. But this was a threat that proved untrue, but a threat that was spoken of a lot at the time.

Then Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon spoke out on behalf of the top clubs in the country in favour of halving the number of professional clubs in the league pyramid. Amongst others the PFA and Football League objected and ultimately won out, but Kenyon wasn’t alone in calling the current Football League structure “Unsustainable”. John Williams, the director of the football research unit at Leicester University agreed with Kenyon, but the number of full time clubs in England remains as high today as it was then.

The argument of reducing the number of professional clubs is an old recycled argument from the dark days of English football during 1970s and 80s, one that was driven by the top clubs wanting a larger share of the TV revenue and went away when the introduction of the Premier League markedly increased the size of the market and the proportion of revenue going to the top clubs.

However, it’s no wonder that the Football League has survived as it is when you consider the breadth and depth of support for Football in the UK. You only have to look at stories like that of my club Brighton to see how the threat of a local community losing its football club can pull everyone together in a show of support.

Many saw the deal with ITV Digital and the subsequent chaos that followed largely because of clubs speculating on money that they had not received yet. But as former Barnsley chairman, John Dennis put it clubs like his saw it as “perfectly reasonable to assume the terms of a properly negotiated contract with a properly constituted company would be honoured”. Barnsley who hadn’t long been relegated from the Premier League were one of the clubs who subsequently went into administration to stave off the threat of extinction.

How wrong they were and with many clubs left with players on relatively lucrative long-term contracts, many players were released, some players like those at Watford and Grimsby instead agreed a pay-cut and many other clubs were left with financial difficulties to manage for years to come. According to one Guardian report at the time 30 of the Football League’s 72 clubs were at risk of going under and 12 went into administration in the immediate aftermath.

Those 12 teams included Bradford City, who were also suffering from a recent relegation from the Premier League and the accompanying subsequent fall in revenue. As a result, they found themselves unable to meet the contractual demands left over as a legacy of their Premier League days and also went into administration.

At this time Leicester were another recently relegated team who coupled with Premier League debts, the collapse of ITV Digital pushed them over the edge and into administration. And it wasn’t until a Gary Lineker headed consortium enabled the club to exit administration in 2003 and secure its long-term future.

Administration is a tool used in business for an organisation to restructure and keep running as an organisation under a new directorship whilst paying a reduced amount to its outstanding creditors, and as such appeals more to football clubs than other businesses. This large influx of football clubs entering administration was also partly so they could utilise loopholes in British law under the “football creditors rules”, which prioritises other football organisations and staff over non-footballing creditors.

This trend led to clubs succeeding under administration being heavily criticised for utilising this loophole as a financial advantage. In particular Leicester City, who after exiting administration in 2002 achieved promotion at the end of the 2002/03 season back to the top flight. Subsequently the Football League brought in rules meaning clubs would be subject to penalties such as points deductions if they were to utilise the administration route in future.

Of course, many clubs like them should and did take their fair share of the blame for financial mismanagement. For many clubs, ITV Digital’s collapse was simply the final straw in a long list of evidence of financial mismanagement. And considering what has already been said of ITV Digital and its flawed business model it’s surprising clubs were as fast and loose as they were with the money that was to be never forthcoming.

Stories like the demise of Bradford’s fortunes and subsequent stories like that of Portsmouth have led to the introduction of greatly increased parachute payments for clubs relegated from the Premier League and financial fair play regulations for all Football League clubs, including a salary caps.

The issues that clubs had financially were exaggerated due to a temporary collapse of transfer market. With many Premier League clubs like Leeds and Chelsea along with many of the Football League clubs experiencing financial difficulties, the financial trouble couldn’t be fixed as easily as it could now by a club selling off their top players for a quick injection of cash and reduction of the wage bill.

Unlike now where the Premier League riches filter down the English football pyramid via the transfer market, it simply didn’t exist at the time. For example, due to their own financial difficulties the pre-Abramovich Chelsea stated they would concentrate on home-grown talent, how times have changed.

The transfer market is often a get out of jail card clubs use to paper over the cracks, much as my club Brighton did in the late 80’s. And is ultimately often just a tactic used to delay the inevitable effects of this mismanagement. Many shared this view, for example David Taylor, then chairman of Huddersfield Town said: “Many clubs have been guilty of paying out silly wages in an effort to get success. The demise of ITV Digital brought home that you have to be more realistic in the wages you pay.”

At my team Brighton, the chairman at the time of the ITV Digital collapse, Dick Knight reassured fans that the club’s finances were secure. In fact after stepping down, in his book ‘Mad Man’ he wrote about how he and Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn were both sceptical from the start. So much so that Dick Knight said he told the board of directors that they weren’t going to rely on the money turning up at all, but as it has already been shown many other club chairman didn’t have the same foresight.

However, to a certain degree it’s hard not to sympathise with the football clubs and their owners given the circumstances they are working in. If you consider the pressure they are under it’s no wonder clubs speculated to make the most out of the anticipated financial windfall. It’s a well-accepted culture in the Football League for clubs to sail close to the wind financially and rely on windfalls from generous benefactors to make ends meet. Just look at my club Brighton in the Withdean years and imagine what the club would have achieved without the generosity of some of the directors at the time, I suspect a much more modest period in the club’s history would have followed.

It’s also true that fans believe this is the duty of the board of directors to part with their cash for the better of the club. Dick Knight, now a club legend and a man who took the club from a perilous position in exile to stability and success during the years at Withdean Stadium, was nicknamed ‘Dick Tight’ by many of the fans on the website North Stand Chat because of his perceived lack of willingness to get his chequebook out. The ambitions of fans are often forcing owners to take financial risks whilst at the same time not being irresponsible with regards to the club’s financial sustainability. Two requirements that have little correlation with each other and create little synergy.

Sky benefited from all this chaos, with the Football League returning after only one season away. In some ways it saved the day and, in the process, got a cut price deal for Football League TV rights for the next four years totalling only £95m. Many complained of Sky’s opportunism, but they’d been supportive and constructive partners of the Football League for a number of years up to this point. In particular, helping in no small part to make the Football League playoffs, the highlight of the English football calendar it is today. It was the Football League that decided to walk away from this partnership in search of better things, something that in hindsight looks greedy and foolish.

Furthermore, unlike ITV Digital, Sky have always met the contractual financial demands they have agreed with footballing authorities for TV deals. And they were the established market leader in digital TV. So, it’s fair to say that the Football League and its clubs deserve some criticism for entering into this deal with a company that instead were without a proven track record or established subscriber base, even with the backing of the ITV brand.

To add to this, it became clear the Football League had not ensured the contract was as watertight as it should have been. When they later took their claim for damages against ITV Digital to the high court, the judge ruled against the Football League’s claim. The judge said that it had “failed to obtain the necessary written guarantees”, because the final contract hadn’t been signed. Which was further damming evidence of the Football League’s incompetence in this whole fiasco.

Around the same time as the ITV Digital collapse, a Scottish football pay-per-view tv deal known better as “SPL TV” was being planned for the Scottish top flight but at the last minute the idea was scrapped due to the high risk of the venture. Once again, the club’s greed got the better of them and after rejecting a much larger deal with Sky had to accept a far less valuable deal with BBC Scotland. As well as the initial financial loss this deal also meant Scottish football has been out of sight of much of the UK ever since.

There could be lessons in this story in the current discussions surrounding the deal just agreed with Sky for Football League (now better known as the EFL) TV rights, with talk of a breakaway by some of the top Championship clubs. The bigger clubs such as Leeds, Aston Villa and Derby are said to be unhappy with the deal and in particular the affect the increase in live midweek fixtures could have on attendances.

The problem is that these same clubs were happy to take Sky’s money when it suited them. Now Sky knows it’s TV rights deal for the EFL games constitute such a high proportion of those club’s revenue, it can hold the clubs and its fans to ransom and to hell with the consequences for anyone else. In fact, the cynic in me says it would be encouraged by the potential of decrease in attendances as it would only increase dependence from those same clubs on Sky’s TV rights deal revenue. It’s hard to see anything but a Sky win here.

And whilst BT Sport seem to have established themselves as a secondary party to Sky in the fight for Premier League TV rights, the latest round of bidding was overshadowed by rumours of their financial insecurity. Furthermore, any substantial deals with new partners that were spoken of like Amazon (who after rumours of grander intentions bought only the smallest TV rights package, showing only two full match-days), will likely be ignored due to the risks played out in the story of ITV Digital.

And ultimately that’s the main legacy of this story, as well as the increased financial regulation that exist for English football clubs today, is the increased power and influence of Sky in British football.

Additionally, and unlike many predicted at the time, the number of professional football clubs didn’t fall, in fact the Football League has the same composition now as it did then and after years of recovery is in as strong a position as ever.

Just look at the recent England squads and the number of players involved with Football League clubs on their CV (like Brighton’s very own Lewis Dunk), or the number of Premier League teams who were not that long ago playing in the lower divisions of the Football League. There are plenty of examples which show that the Football League’s influence on English Football is still very strong, and long may it continue.

Hughton – A man who deserves trust and respect

Sky Sports described Chris Hughton this week as “one of the most respected managers in the Premier League”. But if you looked on social media over the past few months you’ll find some Brighton fans who will disagree.

Hughton spent the best part of his playing career at Spurs, in a period in which he won 3 FA cups, 1 League cup and 1 UEFA cup. He’s described himself as a “an attacking full-back” in a “very offensive team”. A concept that will be unimaginable to many who know him now as a more conservative, defence-minded manager.

He then moved into football coaching, spending a significant amount of time as a coach at Spurs. In his time there, Hughton got a good idea of the unstable working environment that is the life of a football manager, working under 11 different coaches. He will therefore appreciate as much as any person that there aren’t many industries like football, where an employee’s potential sacking is everybody’s business, whilst your work is judged on the basis of what other people do or don’t do.

It has no doubt led to the requirement for those working in the industry to develop a level of stoicism in order to deal with the stresses and strains of the job. And an environment like this naturally leads to stress. Couple this with the increase in international television exposure that comes with modern Premier League football, and this only increases the stressful environment for both managers, their staff and their players. And when responding to stress, this can lead to a deterioration in a persons technique, slower anticipation and bad decision making.

But it appears clear that what Hughton learnt throughout his playing, coaching and management career is the importance to ease that stress on those around him, doing so with his calm and assured nature and enabling everyone to be at their best.

The club clearly recognise this quality and on giving Chris a four year contract after missing out on promotion in 2016, the club said that in doing so it would “offer some stability”. Something Chris provides in bucketloads, as his track record attests to.

Of course, management is more than just creating a productive environment. He has shown on many occasions that he is a likeable man, one that people want to be around and work hard for. Never more so than when Anthony Knockaert’s father died. Hughton cancelled training and arranged for the whole squad to travel to France for his father’s funeral. This wasn’t just an empty gesture for popularities sake, it was one of many that has created the team spirit and unity that the Albion are currently thriving off.

Of course there are many reasons to admire him. Many see him as a figurehead for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) football coaches. It’s something he could be overwhelmed by and shy from. Instead, like many things in his career, he takes it upon himself to fulfil that role. This is no surprise though, especially given his awareness of the importance of the representation of BAME communities in such a high profile industry as football.

Chris Hughton playing career in the late Seventies and Eighties was during a time of great racial tension in Britain, which was very evident in the ferocious environment of a football stadium. Hughton says himself that “I was brought up in a football environment where we saw a lot of racism”.

Times have changed in that regard, but the lack of BAME coaches is still a huge issue in British football. It is one that to his credit he has spoken out about on various occasions. Where many others would hide behind meaningless media trained platitudes he speaks honestly and forthrightly about the issue, recently stating he would like to to see the introduction of the Rooney Rule in the recruitment of football coaches and managers roles in this country.

There are of course many ways football has changed since Hughton’s playing days. One example being the ever increasing status of players at football clubs. Hughton speaks highly of his old Spurs captain Steve Perryman, describing him as “the ultimate captain”. But he also talks of the more vocal changing room in his playing days and how different it is now. This is another example of Hughton’s adaptability and personality. Being able to gain respect from such different people as Anthony Knockaert with his man-management skills. And it’s this kind of work he does off the pitch with his players, that enables him to get the best out of them on the pitch.

Hughton is a man who is admired and liked almost wholesale across the football industry. The manager of this Saturday’s opponents Cardiff, Neil Warnock, said jokingly of Chris Hughton that: “He’s bad for us as managers, he’s so nice! He gives us a bad reputation!”.

And whilst Chris is seemingly liked by all who’ve met him (outside of Norfolk), it’s fair to say Chris has shown his ruthless side whilst at the Albion. As soon as he arrived, he was already judging the current talent, quickly axing long serving players like Jake Forster-Caskey, who were deemed surplus to requirements.

Subsequently he’s rufused to shirk from harder decisions, including last summer releasing and selling some of the players who helped the Albion in promotion to the top division. Including fan favourites Steve Sidwell and Liam Rosienior. It was Rosienior who spoke of Hughton’s ruthless side on Sky Sports the debate recently, suggesting he was liked by so many because he treated others with respect rather than it being a case of him being too nice.

Rosenior spoke of how after releasing him, Hughton sat down with him for 2 hours to discuss his next options. In fact, try to find an interview with Hughton where they don’t praise him personally, I’ve tried and I can tell you it’s hard.

For Chris Hughton though, you can tell whilst the personal acclaim is flattering, for him what matters are his achievements in football. Furthermore, there is a realisation from him of what is still to be achieved with the Albion, despite the already impressive record he can point to. And he has spoken of the work done by Sean Dyche at Burnley and Eddie Howe at Bournemouth as an inspiration of what he can achieve at Brighton.

Brighton’s progression under Hughton has been as impressive, taking a team in danger of relegation to England’s third tier to currently sitting 12th in the top tier. What would be our highest ever league position if we were still there come May. That said, he still get criticised for the style of play and in-game tactical approach.

There is history of this in Hughton’s career too. In hindsight Hughton’s pragmatism whilst manager at Norwich appears to have been undervalued and written off as an overly defensive approach. Something many who have criticised him should remember.

Indisputably, major football clubs are now complex businesses, intrinsically concerned with financial matters, and this means that whilst in Chris’s day he aimed for and achieved a great deal of success in cup competitions, today the league is all that matters and getting the Albion to Premier League safety will be his ultimate and overriding goal this season.

The issue is partly that with more success comes higher expectation. With the Albion starting the season well many fans have become more vocal than ever about what they deem as, ‘Hughton’s defensive style of play’ and how they want to see the team attack more. This pressure is only likely to increase as time goes on and the unrealistic expectations of some fans continue to increase.

But those criticising Hughton need to take a look at his track record and listen to what he says in his press conferences every week. He is a knowledgable and experienced manager who deserves your trust and respect, not your panic driven scorn.

18/19 season review – Ten games in

Ten games is traditionally the point in the season that the league table starts to take shape and become a meaningful barometer of a team’s performance. As such it feels like a good time to reflect on what’s happened so far this season. Brighton sit 11th in the table with fourteen points from those ten games, a points return and league position that is probably better than most predicted, so let’s take a look at how we got there and what it shows us.

Matchdays 1-3 – The bad, the good and the ugly

We started the season with a wave of optimism. Partly because of the number of new signings made over the summer, including record signing and last season’s Eredivisie top scorer Alireza Jahanbakhsh. But partly because of the way safety was secured last season, earning four points in our final two home games against top four sides Spurs and Man Utd, including that unforgettable 1-0 victory over United.

So as we approached the first game of the season away to Watford there was plenty predicting an Albion victory. But instead what occurred was a 2-0 defeat, the Albion’s eighth 2-0 defeat on the road since promotion the year before and the fourteenth time the Albion had lost conceding more than once in the process, all that in only twenty-four Premier League games.

So, as the team lined up at Vicarage Road it wasn’t long before that optimism faded. Bruno was substituted early through injury and replaced by Bong, with new signing Bernardo moving to right back. Subsequently Bernardo had a tough day up against the former Juventus player Roberto Pereyra, who scored both goals that day and whose second was scored after Bernardo was found hopelessly out of position allowing Pereyra to double the Albion’s arrears. Bernardo’s poor performance and Bruno’s injury opened the door for another new signing Martín Montoya to cement a place in the team in the coming weeks at right-back.

I mentioned in one of my pre-season blogs that I thought Bernardo was being lined up as Bruno’s long term replacement. However, given the subsequent signature of Montoya and the subsequent events on the pitch, it appears Bernardo is seen as more of a left-back by Chris Hughton. So, given Hughton’s loyalty to Bong, a players who’s featured in every game this season, it’s likely Bernardo will have to patiently wait his turn to make amends for his poor showing against Watford.

The team didn’t make it a meaningful contest against Watford and despite promising substitute appearances from new signings Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the Albion took few other positives from a terrible display, with Albion manager Chris Hughton describing his side as “off the pace”.

Thankfully this low level of performance didn’t continue. In fact, if this was the bad, the first three games were a case of the bad, the good, and then the ugly.

So, next up was the good and another victory over Man Utd, although it wasn’t all good for the Albion that day. After captain for the day Lewis Dunk came off injured early in the first half, he was replaced by the new signing and Nigerian international Leon Balogun. However, unlike Bernardo, Balogun was instantly up to the pace and the standard of the Premier League and played well alongside Duffy.

With Balogun a more than capable deputy, the Albion were able to press United with gusto, putting them under plenty of pressure. And it wasn’t long before this pressure told and the Albion got off the mark with a sublime chip from Glenn Murray. This is a goal that has to go down as one of his best for the Albion, whilst it was from close range, the skill and technique to flick the ball up and chip the ball over United ‘keeper De Gea was a sight to behold.

Whilst the Albion faithful were in a state of shock to be ahead, a second Albion goal from Shane Duffy sent the AMEX into a state of pandemonium. With Shame Duffy allowed an absurd amount of time to take the ball down he then rifled it home to give the team a two-goal lead. After Lukaku pulled one back with the Albion conceding another goal from a corner, last season’s Brighton player of the season Pascal Gross converted a penalty to regain the team’s two goal advantage going into half time.

As the first half ended it was hard to take stock of what had been a whirlwind of a first half. One where the Albion had played with a level of pace and intensity unrecognisable from the defeat to Watford the week before. Despite an improved display from United in the second half they rarely trouble the Albion defence, making the late penalty clumsily given away by Duffy and scored by Pogba a meaningless consolation for the visitors. In contrast to the game against Watford there were so many positives, none more so than the previously mentioned debutants Martin Montoya and Leon Balogun.

Nonetheless the two sloppy goals conceded were a concern. It was four conceded in two now from the Albion and there were more to come.

Which bring us to the Ugly, Liverpool away. Ugly because of the dreadful way the Albion gifted Liverpool the lead via an error from the otherwise impressive Yves Bissouma. After he was dispossessed by the evergreen James Milner in the Albion’s defensive third, Liverpool made no mistake and took the lead which they held onto for the rest of the game to take all three points.

Nonetheless this was a good Albion performance where they minimised Liverpool’s well-known attacking threat (particularly well-known by Albion who lost 4-0 at Anfield as recently as May) and could have nicked a point if Gross or Knockaert had beaten the keeper with good chances to score in the second half.

Matchdays 4-7 – A charitable donation of a 2-0 head start

So, it had been a mixed start for the Albion but one that gave hope for better things to come. But then followed a string of four games where the team gave all their opponents 2-0 head starts and took only two points from a possible twelve.

First up Brighton returned to the AMEX to face a newly promoted Fulham side in good spirits after their first win of the season, a 4-2 win at home over Burnley. But it was Brighton that started the stronger, earning an early penalty, but one that this time Pascal Gross failed to convert.

On this moment the game swung and Fulham took advantage taking a 1-0 lead into half time. Brighton’s defence was again looking shaky and with a newly returned Lewis Dunk looking as if he’d been rushed back too early from injury, the Albion soon found themselves 2-0 down after the aforementioned Dunk was outmuscled by Fulham’s new signing Mitrovic who put the ball past Maty Ryan and into the top corner.

It had been an incredibly frustrating first 60 minutes for the Albion and particularly for last season’s player of the year Pascal Gross. In fact it had been an underperforming start to the season in general for Gross, who was clearly playing through an injury. He was brought off on the hour and hasn’t feature since this season, such is the strength in depth that the Albion now has in its squad.

So Gross was replaced by Bissouma and with some added attacking impetus from his fresh legs and incisiveness, the game swung again as the Albion started an impressive comeback. First after a wonderful run from a reinvigorated Anthony Knockaert, he found Murray in space on the edge of the box to pull Albion back in it. Then after an inexplicable handball from Fulham goalscorer Mitrovic, the Albion were awarded a penalty. One which Murray dispatched to earn Albion a draw.

Next up was Southampton on one of those weird Monday night games Sky Sports insist on organising. And it took Brighton 45 minutes to get their head in the game as what followed was the worst half of football the Albion has produced so far this season. It was reminiscent of many other away performances since promotion, one with poor ball retention, a lack of tempo and intensity in and out of possession, leading ultimately to a lack of attacking intent.

Southampton took advantage, first through a spectacular long-range strike from Hojbjerg. Then after the Albion gifted the opposition another penalty, this time via a clumsy foul by Gaetan Bong, Southampton striker Danny Ings scored to make it 2-0.

So the Albion found themselves once again needing another great comeback and a remarkable improvement materialised. The midfield pushed up, the full-backs made more forward runs and the Albion created multiple opportunities to score. And after Duffy scored again from a set piece, Murray scored a late penalty to make it 2-2 in the second consecutive game.

Next up it was Spurs at the AMEX, who were on a three-game losing streak meaning there was optimism of an upset. But after a third sloppy concession of a penalty so far this season, this time via an inexplicable Murray handball (a matter of feet away from the spot where Mitrovic conceded a penalty via the same fashion as in the last home game) the Albion were 1-0 down at the break. Then Erik Lamela finished off a wonderful team move to give Spurs a 2-0 lead. The Albion rallied and attempted another unlikely comeback but could only muster a late Knockaert consolation goal. If only he’d taken the chance he had from only a few yards out earlier in the second half with the game at 1-0. Ultimately, the game swung on moments of skill and good decision making that goes to show the quality the Spurs squad has in greater supply to the Albion.

A trip to Champions Man City followed where an ever-greater supply of quality players was on offer and it was like Albion were lambs to the slaughter. That said, having put five past Burnley and Cardiff and six past Huddersfield, despite losing two-nil the Albion can take many positives from the performance if not the result. In conceding twice despite having only 20% possession the defence had to dig in and concentrate for long periods to avoid a thrashing, which they did, and it was a sign of things to come.

So although ending match-day seven with two consecutive defeats, the City game was still an improvement on the performances away from home that we’d seen previously given the standard of opposition the team were facing.

In fact considering the calibre of opposition the Albion had faced in the first seven games, (which included playing all of last season’s top 4 and an in-form Watford side) a five-point tally coupled with some good performances against the top teams was satisfying. However, taking account that the only win came against United at home rather than against Fulham at home or Southampton away it suggested a certain amount of missed opportunity and meant the next three games, two at home with the away game to winless Newcastle, had a bit more riding on them than they should have.

Matchdays 8-10 – 1-0 to the Albion, defensive solidity at last!

So if the first seven games showed signs of a team with a habit of conceding soft goals. The next three games that followed demonstrated the team were capable of the exact opposite. There were two 1-0 home victories courtesy of Glenn Murray’s 99th and 100th goals for the club, which were sandwiched between a hard fought 1-0 victory away to struggling Newcastle.

This run made it seven one-nil wins since promotion for the Albion, and thirteenth clean sheets, a good record all things considered. Hard-fought one-nil wins have been a regular feature of Hughton’s tenure at the Albion, with six coming in the promotion season alone.

The first of the three consecutive wins was one of those special Friday nights at the AMEX. A night where we welcomed West Ham, a team the Albion convincingly beat twice last season and a team we would beat once more.

Wins over the teams around you at home is always important in a battle for survival from relegation, but in a game like this where the Albion were under pressure from West Ham attacks for so much of the game it is all the sweeter.

Hughton started with a changed midfield, with Stephens and Gross out, Kayal and Propper started in deep lying central midfield roles and Knockart and Jahanbakhsh played on the wings with Solly March surprisingly getting nod to play in the number ten role in a three behind Murray. And it worked for much of this and the following two games, with Stephens replacing Propper and Izquierdo replacing Knockaert in the following two games.

It was a sign that the impressive player recruitment the Albion have continued to make since winning promotion is paying dividend in the form of options for and unpredictability in Hughton’s team selection. We rotated mainly between the same 15 or 16 players throughout most of last season with no decent back up in many positions. In fact we have already used 18 players this season and whilst this is comparable to the total this time last season, it’s no doubt that the standard of the second-string players has improved significantly. With the remaining players from the squad like Florin Andone and maybe the odd development squad player likely to be used at some point in the near future, there are real signs of the added options and strength in depth available to Chris Hughton.

This is most true in attacking areas and that night against West Ham the adapted system meant the three behind Murray provided lots of threat through runs on and off the ball, with March particularly causing the opposition lots of problems. This left space for others to exploit. Something which Kayal did exactly that for the goal, finding space on the left wing to cross the ball to Murray in space at the back post.

The return of Izquierdo was a welcome positive, but the three games were dominated from an Albion perspective by the return to powering dominance of the centre-back partnership of Dunk and Duffy. Who were no doubt buoyed by the good display in the previous game at the Etihad. Before the West Ham game it was announced they both signed five years deals and if performances like this continue over that period, they should go down as the best centre back partnership the club has ever had.

A week later the team travelled to the North East to face a Newcastle side who’d lost all their four previous home games this season, and Albion would make it five with another hard fought 1-0 win.

After Murray came off injured with a nasty looking head injury, Kayal opened the scoring by deflecting an Izquierdo shot past the Newcastle ‘keeper. What followed was another display of defensive solidly from the Albion as Duffy and Dunk once again showed why the club had just extended their contracts, whilst Maty Ryan made multiple saves to earn his second clean sheet of the season.

Then came the third win in a row and it was becoming a case of Groundhog Day for the Albion. Another 1-0 home win, another Glenn Murray winner, more great defending from Duffy and Dunk, and some reliance on a few top saves from Maty Ryan to keep the clean sheet.

It wasn’t just any old 1-0 win though, Glenn Murray cemented his place as only the second ever player to score one-hundred goals for Brighton. He also becomes the highest post-war goal scorer, taking over from Kit Napier on 99 goals.

And he did it in typical Glenn Murray fashion. He spoke in Nick Szczepanik book ‘Brighton Up’ about how he would often find space in the box by standing still, whilst others moved around him. This day was no different, as the ball fell to Bruno on the right side of the box the Wolves defence shifted in his direction. In the same motion Murray stayed almost stationary but alert to find himself in acres of space at the far post to score his century goal.

But that day and in fact across the last three games it wasn’t vintage Albion. Hughton admitted after the Wolves game that the team were not at their best, citing the problem of poor ball retention that has been a bad habit throughout the first ten games of the season.

As centurion Glenn Murray stated after the win over Wolves it was ‘back to basics’ for the Albion. Keeping it tight at the back by defending deep and not giving too much away to the opposition and then relying on taking the odd chance you get at the other end. Whilst this worked over the past three games and was a system that kept us safe last season, there’s plenty of flaws in this tactic.

For me, the biggest example of this is the amount of draws last season that could have been wins. We entered the final third of last season having been hammered by Chelsea and mainly as a result of all those draws, relying on winning the home games we had left. We did this emphatically and partly through allowing the team more attacking licence and creating more chances to score. Swansea and West Ham at home being the best examples. But given the amount of sloppy goals conceded in the first seven games a back to basics approach was required.

A ten-games in summing up

There is plenty to be pleased with out of the first ten games, nothing more so than the points tally. But let’s not get carried away it’s a tally of 14 not 40, and none of Albion’s wins were emphatic. What the first ten games have shown, as we all knew before the season started, is that there is very little difference between all the teams that will fill the bottom end of the table.

One stat that’s been mentioned a lot since the Albion’s recent run of wins is that the team have conceded the second most amount of shots in the Premier League this season, whilst having the least amount of shots ourselves. But stats are sometimes misinterpreted and given the way the fixtures have fallen and the easier run of games ahead for the team, I suspect that both statistics will revert to a similar level to last season.

As we quickly approach the winter period of the season, one thing that has proved founded, despite the early bump in the road at Watford, is the wave of optimism from back in the summer. Many of the new signings have given the squad a strength and versatility that was not on offer last season. These additions have allowed the Albion to make changes in personnel and tactics more often as well as making changes during games that have helped towards achieving the points total amounted so far.

The idea the team could have coped with the absence of Dunk, Stephens and Gross for long periods in the first ten games, whilst playing such high calibre opposition and find themselves with the outcome they have so far this season, would have been unthinkable this time last season. Whilst this season has been and will continue to be a scrap, the investment in player recruitment made by the club and led by Paul Winstanley and his team in the recent transfer windows, looks to be making the difference for the Albion. Long may it continue…

Zamora’ Goal vs Wolves – Out of darkness cometh light.

The club had just ended a run of 12 straight defeats and 13 without a win with a 3-2 win at home to Bradford, a game in which Zamora scored twice. This was an overdue win but one that showed with new manager Steve Coppell in charge, the Albion had found a new lease of life to re-energise their survival hopes. Many had given up on the team during that losing run, particularly after the 5-0 defeat away to rivals Palace, but this night was to show that the Albion had the fight and in Zamora the quality to put together a survival challenge.

Brighton went ahead with a goal as well-known as any of Zamora’s goals for the club during that period. Partly because it was live on Sky Sports TV away to big name opposition, partly because it would later form part of the Sky Sports Football League title sequence, but mainly because of the calibre of the goal.

This was Albion goal 74 of 90 for Zamora at the Albion. The preceding two years were an already legendary period for him and the club, and while the goals were fewer and further between at a higher level this one was just as spectacular as any that preceded it.

That said, this goal didn’t make the top ten of Bobby’s goals on the DVD released by the club after he was sold at the end of that season, (a DVD which contained all the 83 goals he scored in his first spell at the Albion). Maybe evidence of why Zamora is still thought so highly of at the Albion. In fact, then Chairman and now Life President of the club Dick Knight described Zamora as “the best signing I ever made” in his book “Mad Man”.

The goal was instigated by a perfectly weighted through pass from Simon Rogers, which put Zamora clean through in behind the Wolves defence. As the Wolves centre back Mark Clyde realised the desperation of the moment he flailed his arms at Zamora’s back, leaning forward in a final moment of desperation as Zamora sped away. Zamora was too sharp for the defender and the England U21 striker found himself one-on-one with an international teammate of only a matter of weeks before, the Wolves ‘keeper Matt Murray.

Seeing Zamora had beaten his teammate Clyde and knowing Zamora’s prowess in front of goal, Murray made a split-second decision to come charging out of goal in Zamora’s direction, hoping to put the young striker off his stride and avoid conceding the first goal of the day. But this only set the situation up perfectly for Zamora, as what was to follow was a sublime chip of the type Zamora’s YouTube reels are full of. Especially in that time whilst wearing the blue and white stripes.

So, as Zamora noticed the incoming sight of the Wolves ‘keeper he made the decision to go with the chipped shot over the keeper. By this time Murray had fully committed to coming off his line to stop the shot, but instead found himself laid on his side sprawled across the grass looking skywards as Zamora expertly and yet routinely lifted the ball over the ‘keeper and into the goal.

With Zamora shot still airborne, He, Murray and Clyde almost collided but his quick feet allowed him to avoid any harm and peel away ready to celebrate the Albion taking the lead, just as the ball landed neatly at the back of the goal nestling in the bottom of the net.

As the game went on it was defined by a magnificent goalkeeping performance from the Albion’s Michel Kuipers who made a number of great saves, including a double save that has gone down in Albion folklore. In fact, so much so, that it is often is played on the big screen at the AMEX before matches to this day.

And whilst Kenny Miller was to equalise for Wolves, this was a creditable draw for the Albion as they rebuilt their ultimately doomed but valiant survival challenge after a terrible recent run of defeats. Indeed, this draw, and Zamora’s goal showed there was still something there to give us fans hope. Just as the sign in the players tunnel at Molineux that the teams passed as they entered the pitch read – Out of darkness cometh light.