New Season, New Signings

It’s been another busy transfer window for the Albion. Once again breaking its transfer record, that’s for the third transfer window in a row and for the sixth time in the last five windows. The Albion have so far made a total of seven first team signings, all of which look to have improved on the squad depth and quality from last season, whilst at the same time filling any gaps left by departing players.

Florin Andone was the Albion’s first signing of the summer and adds much needed depth in the striker area. The Albion were far too reliant on Murray and Gross for goals and chance creation last season and adding extra quality in this area would have been top of the priority list of the recruitment team. The reliance on them in attack is demonstrated by a number of stats, for instance Murray and Gross between them contributed 19 of the 33 league goals Brighton scored last season.

The football statistics website Squawka said of the Romanian striker: “the striker is a proven goalscorer when the system fits him, having scored 27 goals in 58 games while at Cordoba. His effect at Brighton will be down to how well the Seagulls can cater to his strengths.”

Last season Hughton set up the team to get the best out of Glenn Murray and he did his job accordingly by scoring 14 goals in all competitions to help fire Brighton to safety. However, because of the lack of options and the underperformance of Anthony Knockaert, the Albion were at times quite one dimensional. Therefore, its important both Andone and January signing Jürgen Locadia make an impact to give Hughton more options on how to set up the team in order to get those all-important goals.

Leon Balogun was the Albion’s second summer signing and one many fans will know the most of given shortly after signing we had the chance watch him represent Nigeria at the World Cup.

The one striking thing about him to me though more than his football ability is his character. He has spoken insightfully about racism in German football to the BBC’s World Service and written articles about his upbringing in Germany as a dual national, something topical in football currently. He comes across a very grounded man and one that could fill the hole left in the dressing room by departing players like Liam Rosienior and Steven Sidwell that Hughton will have relied on in the past to uphold the Albion’s highly thought of team spirit. Something German football journalist and Albion fan Jonathan Harding echoed to the BBC back in May.

Following the departure of Tim Krul and Niki Maenpaa, new signings Jason Steele & David Button will provide competition for Maty Ryan for the number one shirt, whilst helping to fill the Premier League squad homegrown players quota. That said, one of them will be needed to step up when Ryan leaves to represent Australia in the Asia Cup, which starts January 5th and ends February 1st. Assuming Australia go all the way, Ryan would be ruled out for at least 4 league games (potentially 5 or 6 depending on when he leaves to meet up with the squad), plus 1 or 2 FA Cup games and both legs of a potential League Cup semi-final, ambitious but true.

Those 4 league games include a home game against Liverpool and a trip to United. So, whoever comes into the team for Ryan could well be busy! These follow a trip potentially reuniting David Button with his old team Fulham and finally the Albion face Watford at home.

New signing Yves Bissouma announced himself to Albion fans last weekend with a terrific free kick goal in a friendly against Birmingham. Signing from Lille the Mali international chose to sign for the Albion over Portuguese champions and 11th ranked team in Europe, Porto. As has been pointed out by many already, as well as being a good bit of business by the Albion, this is a sign of the power the Premier League possesses for a side like Brighton, relative newcomers, to win a transfer battle with two times European Champions Porto.

For me, Yves Bissouma could be the best addition, giving the Albion something that we lacked last season in the middle of the pitch. However good Pröpper and Stephens were last season, and they were great, as a team we lacked a threat going forward from that area of the pitch, increasing the reliance on Pascal Gross and Glenn Murray to provide the goals. From his time in France, Bissouma has shown he is able to add defensive stability as well as an attacking threat at the same time. In Squawka’s analysis of the new signings they underlined this by stating that Bissouma is “able to contribute in both defence, with his tackling ability, and attack – having completed 3.2 take-ons per 90 last season”. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him replace Stephens, or more likely Pröpper, in the starting eleven.

So, to Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who broke the Albion’s not so long-standing transfer record.  The man from Iran comes with a lot of interest from his home country, you only need to look at the amount social media comments that have appeared of late on anything Brighton associated that are in Persian to notice that. The transfer saga also caught the imagination of the Albion faithful and his signing was met with an out pouring of joy on all forms social media. For many it was caused just because of the joy and relief of beating Leicester City to his signature.

For all the hype he will be expected to hit the ground running, which as shown by Izquierdo and Locadia’s initially slow starts with the Albion could prove to be tough, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench in early season matchdays. However, I think he will at least add a much-needed extra level of depth to the squad in wide areas, providing added competition for the existing wide players Izquierdo, March and Knockaert.

He looks like a wide player in the mould of Hughton’s liking, whilst often starting from a wide position, he likes to cut inside and create something from central areas, through either a shot or a pass. This type of play from Albion wide players last season helped allow Gross to often drift out or full backs to push on into the wide areas as they did to such good effect last season.

That said, the Dutch league isn’t the top level of European football it used to be, and for every Luis Suarez style success there is an Afonso Alves style flop, so you may call the signing a little speculative. But he does come with a high rating, for instance Jacob Steinberg wrote in the the Guardian’s Albion season preview that “The 24-year-old’s arrival demonstrates that Brighton’s recruitment team are endeavouring to think outside the box. A determination to look in places others are ignoring allows them to find young, hungry and affordable players who still have time to improve.” I’ve praised the Albion’s recruitment on my blog time and time again and whilst it’s still unknown whether Alireza will succeed with the Albion, his signature feels like a statement of intent

Bernardo will become the first Brazilian to play for Brighton in its history but don’t let the goal in a pre-season fixture with Crawley fool you, he is a full back more in the European mould than the South American mould. Having previously played at RB Leipzig, a team known for their high tempo and defensive organisation this should be no surprise. Signing for a reported £9m this sounds like a lot for a full back but shows how highly the Albion recruitment team rate him, but also how important the full back positions are to Albion’s width. As pointed out above, the wingers will often drift inside leaving space which the full backs are often expected to make use of, making good full backs critical at both ends of the pitch. I suspect Bernardo may replace Bruno in Albion’s notional first eleven, but he can play on either side of the back four.

As I’ve pointed out in previous blogs, the Albion were lucky last season with injuries. As a result many squad players like Connor Goldson and Sam Baldock went largely unused, hence the keenness from them to leave for pastures new this summer. A stronger squad in case of any potential injury crisis will at least best prepare the Albion for this eventuality whilst keeping those in the first eleven on their toes. If we had a run of injuries of the like that we did in the 15/16 season that coincided with a bad run, including a 3-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough, which ultimately may have cost the Albion promotion that season, it could cost the Albion Premier League status once again.

Therefore, the business done by the seagulls this summer whilst maybe speculative in some areas like the signing of Jahanbakhsh, looks to have given the Albion a level of squad depth and an increased variability of options not seen before, certainly in my memory.


Club Progression and Unprecedented Status

As the English football season once again approaches, Brighton find themselves competing with the best teams in English men’s football once again in the Premier League. But it’s not just the men’s first team this season, the Women’s first team start their WSL 1 season in September, whilst there are various age level men’s and women’s youth teams and a number of disability-specific teams also playing at the top level in their classification. So as the club starts a season of unprecedented status, what is the cause of the clubs wide ranging current success?

One of Brighton’s saving graces over the dark years that followed relegation from the top flight in 1983 was its large catchment area. It has meant the club was still able to pull a significant number of fans to watch it play no matter what, and there have been plenty of times many of us have experienced that “what”, and its not been good. For instance the club regularly attracted 6-8 thousand fans a game to watch a lower league side play in a converted amateur athletic stadium with no atmosphere whatsoever. A ground voted the 4th worst football ground in England in the Observers poll in 2004, the worst being Brighton’s one-time temporary home Priestfield. An attendance that may seem measly compared to current figures, but this was of course a very different club at the time. One that for a while had not been a club the City could taken pride in. Being an 80s baby meant when I was younger I was the only person at my school who supported Brighton, this was typical across Sussex in the 90s and 00s. But despite this apathy from many circles the club still attracted a large core of fans who kept the club alive during the tough periods.

The club’s catchment area has also meant that the youth team has been able to attract a reasonable pool of players. Even when Brighton were relying on sharing their limited training facilities with the local university, they still kept bringing players through to the first team, some of whom went onto play for bigger clubs elsewhere. At times the club relied on such players to fill gaps in the team where finances couldn’t be stretched to buy a replacement. A luxury that other lower league clubs like Brentford had to work harder for and one they have since given up on. I do wonder what could have been for some of the young talented players one-time Albion manager Dean Wilkins championed if Falmer has been given the green light even just a couple of years earlier. Many instead went onto bigger and better things elsewhere.

The club and fans quite rightly champion former chairman Dick Knight for what he did for the club during the 90s, grasping the club away from the previous owner Archer and subsequently going onto lead it into the new stadium at Falmer. However, the intervening period was long, much longer than expected, and it could have led to a feeling apathy and a period of further decline. But instead the club had some great years, in fact some of its best. The Albion won 4 promotions and spent 3 years in the English second tier whilst playing in a ground famously dubbed in the hit protest song ‘We Want Falmer’ as being fit for “Albanian Division Eight”. Those years where the battle for planning permission overshadowed it all, were the truest personification of making the best of it and to Knight, Perry and co. we owe a great debt of gratitude.

However, the club is now a very different organisation, both on the field and off it. Whereas facilities up until the move to the AMEX could be aptly described as ‘make-shift’ they are now of a high standard. The club has moved from porta-loos, portable cabins, sharing facilities with the local university and players washing their own kits to the new stadium at Falmer, a state of the art training centre and unrecognisable levels of professionalism. The club has been saying its “Premier League ready” for a while and in 2017 when the club finally managed to make the step back up to the top table of English football (for the first time since 1983) it was ready for the challenge.

This investment is coupled with ambitious targets set by those in charge at the club. The club stated in its most recent annual report: “Our ambition for the club’s senior teams, both men and women, is to play at the highest level possible.” One they had already achieved with the men’s team and have since achieved with the Women’s. With this investment and stated ambition comes increased expectations as well as the added complexity of running a larger organisation. Along with that, the management of such great change, as shown by the amounts of money paid to some management consultants is not an easy process and one seemingly carried out well.

A lot of the off the field success is due in no small part to the smart investment decisions made by Tony Bloom and the recruitment of the right people in key positions. From Chief Executive Paul Barber to Head of Recruitment Paul Winstanley, Tony Bloom is continuing to invest in both the long and short term and a quick look at the club financial statements will tell you how lucky the Albion are to have found Tony Bloom.

Talking to the accountancy magazine “Economia” Brighton’s Finance director David Jones admitted as much “Tony Bloom loves the club and is passionate about it. His family has been involved for years; his grandfather was the vice chairman in the 1970s and 1980s. He has invested over £250m of his own money including £100m for the new stadium and £30m for a new training ground. He’s funding the club’s losses and provided the funding for a team capable of winning promotion to the Premier League.”

The Albion’s 16/17 financial statements shows a debt due to Tony Bloom of £191m up from £170m in the previous year. As it says in Economia it is “the “friendliest” of debt, because it is entirely owed to Bloom and is interest-free, it shows how much the club is dependent on him.” Jones goes onto underline Bloom’s importance by saying: “The size of the football budget has been largely down to the chairman and how much he was prepared to commit, while at the same time living within the game’s financial regulations such as Financial Fair Play (FFP) and its profitability and sustainability rules.”

Of course, much of the attention towards the club and investment from the club is aimed at the men’s team. And with the incredible amount of competition and media coverage in men’s senior football that team’s success, rightly or wrongly, ranks above all others in many observer’s eyes. Soon after Bloom took over he quickly pumped money into the football budget of the club. After appointing Gus Poyet as manager, at the Poyet’s request he put money into improving the professionalism of the club by paying for services so players could concentrate on the football, for instance so they didn’t wash their own kit. He also began investing more so Poyet could build a team in his vision that went on to win League one.

However the more significant change has come off the pitch since those make-shift days playing at the Withdean. A great example of his astute investment that has led to this success is the Albion’s much praised recruitment team. Back in 2015 and pre the appointment of Chris Hughton as manager, the Brighton Argus were already praising this move. You only have to look at the success of the signings made last summer to know what a success this investment has been.

Whilst some of the investment decisions are made primarily to produce results on the pitch, others are made with a view to promoting the clubs culture and community spirit. There is no greater example of this than the clubs award winning community scheme Albion in the Community, highlighted via the success of some of the national disability-specific league teams championed by the organisation. In its annual report the Albion said: “We know how important this club is to so many people and know we can have an impact in such a positive and inspiring way. Since our promotion to the Premier League, we have seen so much pride and positivity in the local area and we will continue to embrace that.”

Another area the club are investing in is in Women’s football, highlighted by the success of the first team who will be playing against the best English Women’s football has to offer in next season’s WSL. When the club appointed former England, manager Hope Powell this underlined how serious it was for this team to succeed. In previous eras, any other team other than the men’s seniors were more of an afterthought, but the club now has an array of well-funded and well managed teams playing under the club badge.

But why does this matter? In my opinion it only goes to extend the culture created and cultivated in Dick Knight’s period as chairman. He took a club that was broken and moulded it back together into a proper community club. He took the passion the fans had shown to see off Archer and utilised it to aid the clubs progress at the Withdean. His legacy is a club that is truly a part of the city, part of the community and by investing in the variety of football teams the club ensures it caters for all people within that community that hold it so dear.

A further example of the club’s willingness to invest in the local community and further afield is the Monk Farm estate development, one not without its controversy. Whilst that is true it also goes to show the club’s commitment to invest in not just the City of Brighton and Hove but Sussex as a whole.

This all comes at a cost of course, the clubs latest accounts for the 16/17 season show the total annual operating costs were £68m with a loss of £38m (up from £51m and £25m respectively in 16/17). One of the additional disclosures that is required is the pay of the highest paid director. Which in the latest accounts stood at £1.2m (up from £0.6m in 15/16, although much of the year on year increase relates to his portion of a club wide £0.9m promotion bonus). It is widely believed this salary is paid to Chief Exec Paul Barber, and whilst reviewing the 16/17 year end accounts Kieran Maguire from the Price of Football says he believes he is “worth every penny”. He goes on to say: “Ultimately if Tony Bloom thinks Paul Barber is worth the money then that’s good enough for us.” Here, here.

In Paul’s time at the club he’s overseen structural changes of the like the club has never seen and considering the tangible success that has occurred in that time, whilst still managing to maintain some of the culture cultivated under Dick Knight and Martin Perry’s stewardship, he’s got every reason to be proud of his work. Furthermore, it’s no wonder other clubs have been rumoured to be after him.

All this said, it’s hard to give Brighton the “model club” tag that some other have been labelled with in recent years. As already stated a lot of the success in recent years remains down to Tony Bloom’s investment. Whilst the club foundations were rebuilt through the hard work of Dick Knight, the board of directors and the fans during end of the Goldstone, Priestfield and Withdean years, Tony’s investment has given those foundations a further platform to reach taller and broader levels of success.

That said, the cynic in me would also say that in football success is often cyclical and after a short period clubs often reverse to mean. Look at the line up of this seasons Championship and League One and you’ll see an array of clubs who’ve basked in the glory of a short successful period at the top, only for it to come crashing down in a heap after a few bad signings and a few key people leaving. And Brighton are no different to any other Premier League club that finished outside the top half last season, relegation is and for the short to medium term remains a realistic possibility. But at least we know with Tony at the helm, if the worst does happen then the club will never stoop to the low it did in the decade or so following relegation from the top flight in 1983.

On the day Dick Knight stepped down as chairman and handed over the reins to Tony Bloom he described it as a “natural progression”, but what has happened since that day has in fact been not far short of miraculous. Whatever the coming season brings, the City of Brighton and Hove and the county of Sussex has a football club to be proud of and a community organisation to treasure. UTA!

Second Season Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?

Second Season Syndrome – Fact or Fiction? A blog looking at the effect of Second Season Syndrome in the Premier League #bhafc #htfc #nufc

So as Brighton approach another season in the Premier league a topic that will no doubt be discussed at length is the concept of “Second Season Syndrome”. For those who are unaware of this concept “Second season syndrome” is simply put: where a team fails to match the achievements of the first season after promotion in the season that follows, usually leading to relegation. The reasons for this occurring have been hypothesised as ranging from increased pressure resulting from heightened expectations to decreased motivation and complacency after achieving or exceeding a club’s expectations in its first season.

To be clear a “syndrome” can be defined as: a group of symptoms that are consistently occurring together. Suggesting Second Season Syndrome would equate to a regularly occurring trend for teams in their second season. Therefore, in this blog I will analyse the historic data to see if this syndrome exists, specifically within the Premier League.

According to anecdote the examples of this theory appear to be numerous but for me there are two that stick out. First Ipswich town who finished 5th in their first season in the top flight in the 2000/01 season and qualified for Europe, only to finish 13 places lower and be relegated the following season. Furthermore, Reading finished 8th in their first ever top flight season back in 2006/07 but dropped ten places to finish 18th the following season to be relegated back to the Championship.

However, there are of course examples of teams who have by contrast drastically improved on their first season performance in their second season. Leicester City famously won the league in their second season after promotion, whilst last season Burnley finished 7th and qualified for European competition. Both improving significantly on their first season league position.

But are either or both of these examples of anomalies or a rather sign of a greater trend?

Findings and analysis

I have looked at the performance of teams in their second season in the top flight following promotion to see if we can prove or disprove this theory, basing a team’s overall performance on their end of season league position. I looked at this using two fairly definitive measurements of second season syndrome. The proportion of team that were relegated in their second season, and the movement in position of a team from its first to its second season.

To do this I looked at the Premier League from 95/96 to date. The reason I did this was because for this period the top level contained 20 teams and 3 were promoted and 3 were relegated. I appreciate football began before this period but it would be an unfair year-on-year comparison as a result.

Furthermore, much has changed since the start of the premier league, particularly with the factor of ever increasing Sky tv revenue, which makes comparing the current day performances to performances before the advent of the Premier League difficult.

My analysis shows:

  • Since 95/96 – 13% of teams relegated were in their 2nd season (compared to 42% in first season).
  • In the last 10 years – 13% of teams relegated were in their 2nd season (compared to 33% in first season)
  • Since 95/96 – teams on average finish 1 place lower than they did in their first season (0.86) with a median movement of a one place drop.
  • In the last 10 years – teams on average finish 1 place higher than they did in their first season (1.22)
  • Standard deviation is a statistical measure which shows the spread of data within a dataset, the higher the deviation the higher the number. The standard deviation of the change in second season performance compared to the first season is just above 5 (5.4).


Whilst the examples of teams performing significantly worse in their second season are apparent, there is no clear evidence of a trend. Furthermore, there are as many examples of successful second seasons as there are unsuccessful.

The generally accepted hypothesis appears to be that a team’s second season is harder than the first, however the data here shows you are almost four times as likely to be relegated in your first season as your second.

Whilst a small decrease in average position of teams in the Premier league from first to second was found over the course of the period studied, there was no clear trend.

In fact, the standard deviations of the change in second season performance compared to the first of 5.4 shows there are large swings in 2nd season performance from one team to another. For instance during the period studied, whist Ipswich dropped 13 places year on year, Leicester went up 13 places year on year. As you can see from the final graph there are as many outliers on both sides of the deviations, which ensures this doesn’t skew the average significantly enough to affect the findings.


Ultimately Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle fans will be glad to see my analysis shows no definitive trend either way. The data shows a team’s 2nd season performance is ultimately more dependent on each club circumstances and the fact it’s their 2nd season doesn’t necessarily equate to a drop-in performance.

Ipswich for example had to contend with the additional strain on resources of extra games in the form of European competition in the season they were relegated. Leicester and Burnley however, went from a first season of relatively narrow survival to a second season of great success. Second seasons appear to only be a hinderance in certain circumstances.

These are of course outliers, the more common movement year on year was a fall of one place, with 50% of the year on year movement between a three-place fall and a one place rise in end of season league position. Whilst a small fall in average final league position suggests a second season may be on average marginally harder, a small movement such as this in a game of small margins such as football, hardly equates to a “syndrome” of such widespread notoriety.

In fact, in the last ten seasons the trend of second season performance has moved from a small decrease in year on year league position to a small increase, something that seems logical to me. As a team’s become more experienced and established in the top flight you’d expect their league position to rise. Furthermore, with the level of analysis that takes place at Premier league clubs now it’s not unexpected that the surprise factor of newly promoted teams may have been lost or at least diminished.

So, whilst some will refer to second season syndrome it appears to me to be a fictional concept designed in an attempt to try to create the narrative of a trend that doesn’t really exist. Many clubs in fact perform similarly or better to how they did in their first season and as already mentioned, where this isn’t the case there are often extenuating circumstances.

The clear trend is if you survive your first season you are between three and four times as likely to survive relegation in your second, many Premier League teams key goal. A trend that should fill Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton fans with confidence. Furthermore, the general trend is that every season you survive you’re then more likely to survive the following season.

My club Brighton appear to me to be a stable club that picked up points consistently over the course of the previous season and one that is more than capable of meeting and even improving on last season’s performance. Ultimately though the Premier league is a toughly fought division and time will tell where we end up come May and whether my hunch is correct.

England Blog –  will crowd trouble once again overshadow the fortunes of the men’s national team?

Following the recent wins by England in successive World Cup knockout stage matches, a feat only achieved twice before in this competition by the men’s national team, there was mass celebrations across the nation. However, there were also reports of public disturbances and damage to public property, most notably an ambulance being vandalised on Borough High Street in London and a taxi being vandalised in Nottingham city centre, a Taxi containing the driver. Clearly these are deplorable events and ones at first glance may lead to the conclusion that this is just typical football fan behaviour – but is this fair?

DCI Paul Wells of Essex police commented on twitter: “do you remember when we won the rugby World Cup and everyone started throwing bottles at each other and smashing up ambulances?…….me neither.” But subsequently stated the comparison between the two sports was unfair, nonetheless that this is reflective of the typical culture of supporting England at the major tournaments. So is this appropriation of football and public disorder fair?

Football of course has a history of crowd trouble, going back to the dark days of football fan hooliganism and violence in the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, the prevalence of this at football grounds in the UK has since been diminished since the advent of the Premier League and all-seater stadiums making football games a day-out for all the family. Current national weekly attendance figures for football matches during a regular in-season weekend are in the region of ½ million attendees in England alone. Thankfully incidents of public disorder within football as a result are extremely rare whilst not eradicated entirely.

This is a sign of the changing face of English football, from the days of regular crowd trouble on a weekly basis up and down the country, through successful measures like football banning order and community projects led by the FA and football clubs the level of football associated public disorder has fallen considerably and the reputation of the national sport has been revived.

These measures go to show that football has and continues to accept its responsibility to eradicate football associated violence and public disorder. These shouldn’t be undermined either, just look at Millwall football club. A name synonymous with the football violence culture of the 70s and 80s, now synonymous with the brilliant community schemes it and other football clubs like it support. A clubs who’s supporters group have since these events raised money to fund the repair bill for the damage to the London Ambulance on Borough high street.

Football clubs across the UK in fact do a great deal to support the communities within their local catchment areas and beyond, particularly supporting communities that used to be a breeding ground for the type of football hooliganism spoken so insightfully about by various authors including JH Kerr’s book “Understanding Football Hooliganism” or in first-hand accounts by those involved at the time such as “Scally” by Andy Nicholls.

Thankfully those days are gone and football is now a widely celebrated leisure activity across England and the UK more widely. Football is the most popular and one of the most highly participated-in sports in the country, and the World Cup is a national event – with almost half the population watching the England vs Sweden game on TV, it truly captures the imagination of the nation. So surely any public disorder associated with this event is more appropriately a reflection of our society at large rather than specifically on any football fan culture?

In fact, the football violence of the past was also to a degree really just reflective of the society at the time. Whilst football has dealt and continues to deal with the causes of its historic problems with hooliganism, these problems also reflect issues and problems within society and local community as a whole. Furthermore, anyone who listens to the BBC’s wonderful World Football Phone-in will know that a national football team and it’s supporters are often reflective of the national society and it’s national culture, something the pundits commenting on the various global regions often illustrate well.

England fans abroad were of course formerly associated with some of the worst and more persistent forms of football hooliganism but the scenes seen in France at the 2016 European Championships are thankfully now isolated, rare and nothing like that has been reported in Russia at this years World Cup so far.

That said there was and to a degree still is a issue of football fans reflecting strongly their association to a football team in their actions, which historically partially led to football hooliganism. These days it is instead largely reflected by tiresome arguments on social media.

But as a football fan I accept this is something football hasn’t addressed fully. Look at the out-spilling of animosity from my team Brighton and our rivals Crystal Palace leading to crowd disorder at the derby games last season. However as stated before this is thankfully a rare occurrence and I can account from my own experience that my club Brighton has a wonderful family friendly culture at its football matches, like many others up and down the country.

Whilst this is an issue football needs to address I feel this is a discussion for another day, as the disorder seen on the streets of England following recent wins from the men’s national team at the World Cup are more reflective of the dangerous and widespread binge-drinking culture in the UK more widely.

The mix of a global event like the FIFA World Cup and glorious summer weather left the pubs and bars of towns and cities across the country rammed from lunch time and public services such as police and ambulances unable to meet the demand they were subsequently met with. Anyone who has witness an A&E on a Friday or Saturday night in any UK town or City will know this is an issue independent of football.

Whilst football has a history of violence and disorder that should rightly be condemned, the events in recent days and weeks do not reflect that same narrative and those like DCI Paul Wells attempting to do so, should look at society more widely to find the answers to those issues that led to these events rather than wiping their hands with it and place the responsibility at football’s door.

Fixtures – what can we expect?

As the FIFA World Cup has rolled on it’s been easy to overlook all the ongoings at the AMEX recently. But there’s been plenty of recent transfer dealings, which along with the release of the fixture list for upcoming 2018/19 Premier League season are getting me excited for what the new season will bring.

So, whilst there’s little science in it, I thought I’d have a look and see how the fixtures have fallen for Brighton and what we might expect from the months ahead.

I would break the season into five sections:

1. Games 1-7 – A tough start

2. Games 8-16 – First key point picking period

3. Games 17-23 – The seagulls might prefer to go south for the winter

4. Games 24-32 – Second key point picking period

5. Games 33-38 – The inevitable tough run-in

Here’s is a full list of the fixtures

1. A tough start

So in a feat of wonderful symmetry the team we played in the final home game of last season, United, are first up at the AMEX in the upcoming season. This is sandwiched between two tough away games. Meaning our fourth game of the season, Fulham at home which is not until September, will likely be first game we will start as favourites. By end of September the Albion will have played 4 of last seasons top six, and whilst some will say it’s nice to get them out the way early, we should expect to be in the bottom 3 come West Ham at home in October (match-week 8). Cue the ‘bedwetters’ panic!

In all seriousness this could be a significant mental burden on the team if this happens. Playing catch up is tough and will be new to the Albion in the Premier League, having spent almost all of last season out of the bottom three, albeit at times by a very small margin.

2. First key point picking period

Therefore it’s will only be following the West Ham game that we can look at the table for the first time with any kind of significance. The second international break will follow that and after 8 games it will be a good time to reflect on what has gone by so far, and assess our chances and requirements for the remaining 30 games.

The West Ham game also begins a run of 9 winnable games, 4 of which are at home, including the first derby game of the season. This is ahead of another tough period, so these 9 games will be where the pressure could start to rise, particularly as has already discussed, points will likely have been hard to come by up to this point. The teams character and the clubs #together-ness will likely be tested, particularly if the home draws that persisted for much of last season continue here. However, I rate Hughton’s calm patience approach to endure this pressure period and overcome it.

3. The seagulls might prefer to go south for the winter

The outcome of those 9 games will affect in what mindset the Albion then approach what is a tough December and January period for the Albion including the FA Cup game(s) that follow in January.

January looks particularly tough, fixtures against Liverpool and United are sandwiched between potentially two FA Cup games. Definitely expect changes if we make round 4 as it is only a few days ahead of Fulham at home, a game most will expect to win.

4. Second key point picking period

Fulham at home is followed by two more winnable games that begin another key point picking period up to match-week 32. After a trip to Stamford Bridge in February there will then be a run of 5 more winnable games as we move into March and April which is often the period that makes or breaks the season. That is if you have still given yourself a chance by then. This includes winnable games against Cardiff and Huddersfield at home and the second big derby of the season at Selhurst Park, which could well be ‘must-win’ for both sides.

5. The inevitable tough run-in

The Final 6 games then include 3 of the top 6 and a tricky trip to Wolves. The other two at home to Bournemouth and Newcastle in this run will therefore likely be targeted. I’m sure Hughton and his team will be hoping we have enough points by then but the home crowd factor could be important. In the past, many teams including the Albion have been helped and hindered by home crowds at this point in the season. Either crumbling under the pressure, or spurred on by the atmosphere, but let’s hope this helps an otherwise tough run in. Which is ‘coincidently’ something we will remember from last season. Much as The Telegraph warned us would happen again.

Of course that final period could be more congested if certain teams go far in the domestic cup tournaments leading to fixtures being rearranged and making a tough run in even tougher. So keep your weekdays around this time free.

What does this all mean

It’s important in the Premier league to be realistic and realistically the Albion are once again aiming to finish outside the bottom three. To do this we need to aim to get a minimum of 38 points which is an average of a point a game.

Whilst the Albion took 7 points off the 12 games against the top 6 last season, all were at home and if we are being honest we caught those teams on a bad day. Next season we might not be so lucky, which makes it important to get your minimum points from those other 26 games. This equates to a required average points total of just under 1.5 points a game from those remaining games, which suddenly sounds more daunting.

Therefore, hitting form at the right times will be crucial to staying above the dotted line come May. As such, the way the fixtures have fallen will rely on us to hit form in those key periods of match-days 8 to 16 and 24 to 32. That said the games against ‘the rest’ in those tough periods will also be targeted and picking ourselves up from the type of drumming we got at Anfield on the last day of the season may well be required ahead of a must win match. For instance the home games scheduled within the end of season run-in against Bournemouth and Newcastle come after a potentially demoralising away trip to Tottenham.

Injuries and suspensions will also play their part too. Last season we were fortunate to not get many long-term injuries to key players as reported in The Argus recently. If for example, a combination of Ryan, Dunk, Duffy or Gross were missing during those period then we’d be relying on our second string to step up, something we were fortune to not require much last season.

Hughton’s management style depends on a level of consistency and stability, which is required for the solidity of the team structure that we relied on for our defensive prowess last season, conceding the 2nd lowest amount of goals outside the top seven. Therefore, any replacements will need to fit straight in like Kayal did for Pröpper so competently towards the end of last season.

All this is speculative of course, look at Burnley last season. The way they started by beating the then reigning champions Chelsea and drawing away at Tottenham, (picking up 7 points in their first four games as they went on from there to finish 7th) wouldn’t have been foreseen when looking at the fixtures and summer transfer dealings before the start of the season.

Of course, much will depend on a multiple of factors and uncontrollable events, but this quick run through has certainly got me in the mood for the season ahead. Let’s just hope the club continue to get their transfer dealing done as well as last season to give Chris and his team the best chance of staying up once again.


International tournaments and The Albion

So, it’s almost time for the World Cup. One which could break an Albion record for most representation at a single tournament with Matty Ryan, Jose Izquierdo and new signing Leon Balogun all in line to make their respective international squads.

Only three players have represented their country at a World Cup prior to this one whilst with the Albion, all before my time. In fact, if you go to the museum at the AMEX, you’ll see a relatively modest list of Albion players to have represented their country whilst with the Albion. One which if you looked at a team like Chelsea or United would probably compare more closely to that of a single season.

The last Albion player to appear at a World Cup was Steve Penney at the 1986 Mexico World Cup playing for Northern Ireland. I’m now somewhat ashamed to say that he’s a player which until deciding to write this blog I knew little of.

He started the first two games for Northern Ireland against Algeria and Spain and would have been in line for a start against Brazil in the final game were it not for an injury he received against Spain. Penney had his best years with the Albion and during that period he won 17 caps for Northern Ireland, which makes him the most capped of any player while on Albion’s books. A record being challenged by current Albion striker Tomer Hemed.

Steve is highly regarded amongst many of the Albion fans who saw him play in the stripes. In Spencer Vines book ‘a few good men’, in which he picks his Albion dream team, he stated that Penney was one of the first names on his team-sheet. In the book Spencer says Steve Penney was: “a breath of fresh air, a flying winger whose close control and devastating pace left opponents and spectators alike lost for words.” Sadly, for Steve and those who enjoyed watching him, injuries like the one he received in Mexico 86 meant by the end of his time with the Albion, Steve was a diminished force and after a spell in the reserves, in 1992 he left on a free transfer to go to Burnley.

This was before the protection that attackers like Steve would receive in modern football. The type of challenge by Spanish hardman Emilio Butragueno that put him out of the Brazil game were common place and it was somewhat inevitable players like him would feel the effects of them in the long term. Just watch clips of Maradona from the 1982 and 1986 World Cup to see the sort of treatment attacking players of that time had to deal with.

Maradona was of course the star man of the 1986 tournament as Argentina won the trophy, but infamously he was brutally kicked and fouled out of the previous tournament in 1982. He like all attacking players of the time had to learn the hard-way how to deal with this type of treatment, whilst riding their luck so not to receive the type of challenge that could end a career, the type of tackle both Maradona and Penney dealt with on a weekly basis. The good old days some might say.

Prior to that, Albion had two players representing them at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Then captain and headband fashionista Steve Foster went to the 1982 World Cup with England, to date the only Brighton player to have played for England at a World Cup. Whilst Foster wore his famous headband to protect an old wound from opening when heading, it made him look the part nonetheless.

At the tournament Steve roomed with England’s star player Glenn Hoddle, sadly neither would have a lasting impact on the tournament as England went out in the second group stage. Steve made his England debut verses Northern Ireland, a 4-0 win in the British Championships in February 1982. Getting his second cap in a warm up friendly ahead of the tournament.

His inexperience and the relatively lowly stature of the Albion nationally meant he was a controversial pick by then manager Ron Greenwood. That said he was only ever going to be back up to first choice pairing Terry Butcher and Phil Thompson. Steve did get a game at the tournament in the win over Kuwait, but this was a dead rubber group game played after England had already qualified for the next stage. He didn’t play again for England after that.

Foster selection in 1982 was even a surprise to himself. He’s said of the day he found out about his selection: “I wasn’t expecting to go so when I hadn’t heard anything by the afternoon, I went out to play golf. I heard the news on television when I came off.”

That tournament also saw the Albion’s other World Cup representative Sammy Nelson who played for Northern Ireland. Sammy Nelson was approaching the end of his career when he signed for the Albion from Arsenal in 1981 but still made the squad for the 1982 World Cup.

Sammy went on to be capped 51 times for Northern Ireland but he went to the World Cup not being a first-choice player and didn’t make an appearance until Northern Ireland’s last of three group games, the famous 1-0 win over Spain where he appeared as a late substitute. He then started as Northern Ireland drew 2-2 with Austria in the second-round group stage but then wasn’t even on the bench when they lost 4-1 and went out of the tournament at the hands of France in their final game.

He played one more season for Brighton after the World Cup as the Albion were relegated from the top flight and lost that famous cup final to Man United at Wembley. Nelson wasn’t in the team for the final or the replay that followed and retired that summer. After spending the following season as a coach at the Albion under the newly appointed manager Chris Cattlin, he left football altogether.

Despite this modest history of international representation, in recent years things looked to be changing with a growing trend for a diverse group of nationalities playing for the Albion. Of last season first team squad eleven of them held international caps.

This was highlighted when at the 2016 European championships Jiri Skalak was included as part of the Czech Republic squad. Jiri signed for the Albion in the January of that year and made a positive impression in the months leading up to the tournament scoring twice in twelve games, as the Albion challenged unsuccessfully for promotion.

At the 2016 tournament he was an unused substitute for the Czech’s opening defeat to Spain. He then started the next game against Croatia but after failing to make an impact was brought off after 67 minutes with his country 2-0 down. Following some crowd trouble that disrupted the game the Czech’s completed an unexpected comeback that looked unlikely when Skalak was on the pitch to draw 2-2. After that Skalak then didn’t feature in the Czech’s final match as they went out with a whimper in a 2-0 defeat to Turkey. Hardly a story for the ages but an appearance for an Albion player in a major tournament nonetheless.

He’s certainly had a mixed experience for the Albion since then being a big part of the team that won promotion in the 16/17 season but was then notably absent from the team this season, only making 3 appearances in domestic cup competitions as the Albion reinforced its attacking options.

His appearance at Euro 2016 felt like a milestone for the club in my eyes, especially as prior to this my personal memory of any Albion interest in international tournaments was lived through former players. Be it Gareth Barry at the 2010 World Cup with England, whilst the great Bobby Zamora missed out through injury. Or be it the ‘Coca Cola Kid’ Colin Kazim Richard’s appearances for Turkey in the 2008 Euros, when they made a surprise run that ended in a narrow semi-final defeat to Germany.

There was some hope there would be future Brighton representation for England too for a while, particularly in the shape of Jake Forster-Caskey. In 2010 Jake became the Albion’s youngest ever player as a late substitute in an end of season league game against Yeovil. By that point Jake had already represented England at Schoolboys level and had built a reputation for himself as a hot prospect at the club.

Jake went on to represented England in the 2011 u17s World Cup, the 2012 u17s Euros and in 2013 was named in the u20s World Cup 35-man long list but didn’t make the tournament squad, however his England journey wasn’t over. He was soon redrafted amongst his u21s squad by the then manager Gareth Southgate and in 2014 he was a contender for u21 player of the year. He subsequently won a place in Gareth’s squad for the 2015 u21 European championships alongside now England senior team internationals like Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Jack Butland.

Gareth Southgate liked him a lot. Saying at the time: “He is a very mature footballer, he reads the game really well. He is a good technical footballer.” As a result, Southgate controversially included Jake in the squad for the 2015 tournament ahead of taking established internationals like Jack Wiltshire and Ross Barkley and asking him to dictate the midfield, something many pundits at the time were baffled by. Ultimately Jake only started one of the three group games as England went out in the group stages finishing bottom of their group.

Southgate later admitted he should have taken Barkley, maybe an admission Jake was in over his head, maybe throwing Jake under the bus to mask other mistakes that he made. Whichever was true, it was tough for Jake. He’d spent that season playing in a Brighton team struggling at the foot of the Championship table until Hughton came in, at which point he quickly lost his place in the team altogether and was then later sent out on loan.

This experience will no doubt have shaped Southgate’s approach to the upcoming World Cup but it wasn’t the catalyst for Jake’s career that either would have hoped for. Jake had a loan spell at Milton Keynes the following season coupled with spells on the side-lines for the Albion. The following year he went on loan to Rotherham but this was cut short due to further lack of game time. After which he then left the Albion permanently in January 2017 for a move to Charlton in League One where he’s been a regular fixture of the first team. A sad ending to a promising career with the Albion, but whilst Jake is also no longer a part of the England setup, he seems to be rebuilding his career with regular first team football after a tough period.

All the three players who have represented their country at a World Cup whilst at the Albion did so for a home nation country, whereas the three set to do the same this time around are all representing countries from outside of Europe. A sign of the globalised football market the Albion are now very much a part of.

Barring injuries or surprise team selections, there is little doubt that the Albion’s all-time representation at the World Cup will be increased to four at this summer’s tournament, most likely when Australia play France on Sunday 16th June and could increase to five when Nigeria play Croatia later the same day. However, whether that total will increase to six later in the tournament and break an Albion record held for 36 years will depend on the selection choices of Columbia manager Jose Pekerman.

The 2004 Playoff Final Brighton vs Bristol City – A victory built on solid foundations but one with sharp front teeth

30th May 2004 – That day in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium will always be a special memory for me. It was my first cup final experience as a Brighton fan and currently the only one, unless you count the Sussex Senior Cup that is. And what a day it was, sunny and warm in Cardiff on the Sunday of a Bank Holiday weekend. As a result of which Bute Park in the centre of Cardiff which is over the road from the Millennium Stadium was full of fans enjoying the good weather. I remember strolling through the park with my family before the game anxious with anticipation whilst others joined in kickabouts between rival fans.

We had stayed in a nearby B&B in the south west of England the night before, so to break up the journey to Cardiff and drove the short final leg of our journey on the morning of the game. So, we arrived in Cardiff fairly fresh and parked in Ninian Park Stadium car park and got a park and ride bus to the Millennium Stadium. Ninian Park was an old, run down and later knocked down stadium but one that still felt impressive to see and one that was worlds away from the Withdean Stadium that the Albion occupied at the time.

The build up to the game, in fact the season as a whole had been dominated by the campaign to get planning permission to build our new stadium at Falmer from the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Most notably the “We’re pleased to be here, but we wish we were here” postcards we were given with our playoff final tickets and were encouraged to send to John Prescott’s office. At that time, it was always a balance between fighting for the new stadium and focusing on matters on the pitch and the requirement to fund the continued legal battle was stretching resources at the club. Former manager Steve Coppell said during his time as manager whilst the club struggled against relegation:

“The football has almost been a sideshow. If that money had been spent on the pitch, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this position.”

Despite the off field troubles, it had been another good season for the Albion, after last seasons instant relegation back to the third tier that followed two consecutive promotions up to that level. And whilst after all that a year of mid-table mediocrity would have been welcomed by the more faint-hearted, another promotion campaign was anticipated. Ultimately though despite playing well during the season and being driven forward by the goal-scoring exploits Leon Knight, we missed out on automatic promotion and had to settle for a place in the playoffs.

Mark McGhee had come in as manager just after the start of that season following the resignation of former manager Steve Coppell who left in the September of that season to join Reading. Coppell had been brought in to save the Albion from relegation the previous season. This was despite relegation looking likely after a terrible start to the season had the Albion looking doomed, Coppell ensured there was a fight at least and the Albion were ultimately only relegated on the final day of that season. When McGhee came in he built on the organisation and experience that Coppell had instilled and constructed a solid, defence-minded team that conceded only 43 goals in 46 games, the third best in the league that season. McGhee also added a much-needed injection of Scottish Charisma to post match interviews, something Steve Coppell’s dry monotone nature lacked.

Whilst McGhee wasn’t that popular during his time at the Albion, I think history looks back fondly on the three years he had with the Albion. He got the best out of the limited resources available at the time and persevered with the circumstances the club found themselves in, whilst others like Steve Coppell and Peter Taylor had given up and jumped ship. In doing so, the following season he would achieve the Albion’s highest place finish at the Withdean, 20th in the second tier, becoming the only Albion team playing in the second tier not to be relegated during the Withdean years. And despite a terrible season the following year that ended in relegation and a bottom place finish, overall, he did as well as could have been expected under the circumstances at the time.

When McGhee joined he will have quickly realised he had a rebuilding job to do as the Albion had lost a few key players in recent months. None more important than the three years running top goal-scorer Bobby Zamora, who left for the bright lights of the Premier League in the form of Tottenham Hotspurs. But in his place came Leon Knight, a young striker from Chelsea who quickly filled the void left by Zamora scoring 27 goals in league and cup that season and giving Albion the bite they needed up front.

That said, Knight wasn’t alone and forged an array of striking partnership with loanee target men throughout the season, some more productive than others. McGhee had the Albion playing a game based mostly on long balls up to the target man with a compact two lines of four in behind. This target man role was key to McGhee’s system if under appreciated. That player was instructed to win headers, hold the ball up and supply Leon Knight with chances, who would use his pace in behind the opposition defence, as well as being expected to chip in with goals himself.

Knight started the season playing with Darius Henderson but Henderson only netted twice and soon returned to parent club Reading. Then there was Trevor Benjamin, my personal favourite, a man who came on loan from Leicester and scored 5 in 10. After which McGhee was keen for him to stay but he returned to Leicester when a deal couldn’t be reached. Finally, to fill the position there was his partnership with Chris Iwelumo, who would partner him in the all-important Playoff final and have a key impact that season. It was a partnership notable for the height differential of the pair, dubbed ‘little and large’ and whilst all Knight’s partners were taller than him, Iwelumo towered over Knight by just under a foot at 6 foot 3 inches. Iwelumo seemed to bring the best out of Knight and as a result their partnership helped to secure the Albion’s place on the playoffs.

There’s far more that could be said of Leon Knight, he went on to become as infamous as he would famous in football circles. Maybe that’s for another blog, but this was his season and without his goals, the Albion simply wouldn’t have been in the playoffs at all.

However, this was a team built primarily with solid defensive foundations, particularly when playing at home conceding only 11 in the league at the Withdean that season. Now Albion coach Ben Roberts played in goal that year having deposed stalwart and fan favourite Michel Kuipers who had been involved in a horrific car crash early in the season. This was a car crash that had a significant impact on the Dutchman and gave him a new lease of life that would eventually spur him on to winning his place back in the team and he would stay at the club as a player until 2010. The Dutchman made 247 appearances for the club and is a player who is synonymous with the Withdean years, but this wasn’t his year. Pictures of the crash and the aftermath were plastered over the front of the Brighton Argus, ones not for the faint hearted. But thankfully Michel walked away from it and is one of the members of this team who now works for the club as an ambassador for the club’s community support charity.

In front of Roberts was captain Danny Cullip and centre back partner and player of the season Guy Butters who together had forged a wonderful centre back partnership. For Guy Butters, the turnaround from the previous season was striking after a poor first season at the club as Brighton were relegated from the second tier. He didn’t win many fans over that year, in fact somewhat unfairly he became a figure of mockery. He has since spoken about how as a result his kids were bullied at local schools and notably during the summer before the 03/04 season, as a cruel joke, one Albion supporter put Guy up for sale on an online auction website. However, Guy had the last laugh that season and He and Danny both still also work for the club as ambassadors for the club’s community support charity.

The Albion showed their defensive prowess in the first leg of the playoff semi-final. The club drew Swindon, and through a clean sheet and with a Richard Carpenter long range special, won the away leg 1-0. But were then poor in the return home leg and needed a late goal from defender Adam Virgo to take the game to a penalty shootout, which was won to get into the final. That Virgo header still goes down as a favourite Albion goal of mine. We were beaten, some fans had already begun to leave and it was a last throw of the dice to get as many players forward as we could and launch the ball into the box. The scenes when he scored and then when we won the shootout were like little seen at the Withdean. It was hard to not feel sorry for Swindon, but I still enjoyed mocking Swindon striker Tommy Mooney who missed a penalty.

Watch the goal here

So, we came into the final on a high. And that high led to great demand for tickets with long queues at the Withdean Stadium when they went on sale. I personally enjoyed the novelty of queuing up around Withdean Stadium to get tickets, it added to the anticipation of the big day but I wasn’t keen to do it again. However, after our arch rivals Palace won the Division One playoff final over West Ham to get promotion to the top flight the day before our final, an extra pressure formed and it made it all the more important that we won, we couldn’t have them getting one over us again! That said it wasn’t all bad that day, the Palace fans put our rivalry aside whilst they displayed a banner proclaiming their support for a new stadium in Brighton. A nice gesture I’m sure you’ll agree, but I was still disappointed that they won.

We got to the stadium and took our seats ready for the game. We were in the top tier and I remember the steps leading up to the seats seemed incredibly steep and we were only in the second or third row! Our vantage point felt very high up, this was very different to the Withdean. The teams came out to loud cheers and horns blowing from the crowd and this noise was accompanied by two large flamethrowers either side of the tunnel that the players appeared from. As they lined up and sung the national anthem this suddenly felt incredibly surreal and somewhat overwhelming, very different to Withdean. A proper cup final!

The game started and we set out our stall to defend and spoil the game from the off. As a result, it was a poor game and one I have little memory of. That said, I like many fans in attendance was incredibly nervous and was unlikely to enjoy the game either way. Ultimately, we won the game when we were given a penalty through debatable foul on Chris Iwelumo and as soon as he won it, there was little doubt that Leon Knight would put it away. 1-0 Albion and after a tense finish that’s how it ended.

This wasn’t just a side with a solid back four, the midfield were solid and disciplined too. Centre midfielders Carpenter and Charlie Oatway were almost ever present that year, both great workhorses whilst Carpenter added a bit of skill and creativity, particularly from set pieces. Out wide the personnel had varied throughout the season, but that day on the left was the now Luton manager Nathan Jones, a player who had played long spells at full back so knew how to defend but also offered some skill and trickery going forward as well as some much-needed pace. On the right was the wonderful Gary Hart, Oh Gary Hart! What a player he was, incredibly talented in the final third yet his selfless work rate and endless stamina meant he spent many years at Brighton on the wing or even at full-back defending. Just ask Zamora though what a talented provider of goals Gary could be, a true Albion legend.

The celebrations afterwards were great, over 25,000 Brighton fans in one place cheering a victory was an experience I hadn’t had before and was nothing like a win at the Withdean. That said, the overriding emotion was relief that it was over and we’d done it. As the pressure subsided we could enjoy the day and the celebrations, inevitably some a little too much. As the players celebrated on the pitch the base of the trophy was bent and broken, no permanent damage was done we were assured though as back up keeper for the day Kuipers bent it back into place.

When we got back on the coach and started our journey home the talk quickly turned to next season, let’s be fair the game itself didn’t leave much of an impression. With that talk the achievement started to hit home and the excitement of promotion and teams like Sunderland and West Ham visiting the Withdean again was overwhelming, particularly after getting the taste the season before.

Promotion is always special but the jeopardy and the anxiety of the playoffs makes winning all the better. That said the hope and anticipation of promotion makes losing all the harder as Albion fans have learnt well subsequently in recent seasons. Therefore, whilst I will always look back on that day in 2004 on a sunny May Bank Holiday weekend with glee, I will look forward all the more to the playoff finals this weekend knowing that all we have to worry about is who we will be playing next season.

The Inaugural Tweeting Seagull Awards

As it’s the end of the season please indulge me as I give out some well-earned awards to recognise what I believe are some of the most memorable moments from the Albion’s season gone by, some for the good and some for the bad.

The Guy Butters Award for defying initial judgements – Paul Winstanley and his recruitment team

The general public can be fickle about those in the public eye. Albert Einstein once said of fame:

“Worshipped today, scorned or even crucified tomorrow, that is the fate of people whom—God knows why—the bored public has taken possession of.”

There is no truer example of this than with us football fans, just listen to a football fan phone-in on a Saturday evening on more than one occasion. One week you’ll get the fans calling for a manager’s head and the next they’ll be calling for a statue of him to be commissioned. The way the Albion’s recruitment team have been spoken about over the season personified that attitude more than anything.

The panic throughout both transfer windows was absurd, the stench of the bed-wetting fans on internet forums and social media was unbearable and yet the ultimate result of the work of the recruitment team was better than most of their peers. When the Albion’s long awaited new striker didn’t come in the summer window, some were calling for members of the recruitment teams head, now that we are safe from relegation Paul Winstanley deserves a knighthood.

Not that I’m undermining the praise, far from it. The signings that were made transformed the Albion from a good Championship team to an established Premier League team. In particular, the signings in the summer of Matty Ryan, Davy Pröpper and Pascal Gross were crucial and they have all been a core part of the team that secured survival. Furthermore, all these players were widely criticised following the first three games in which we recorded only one point, yet all could have rightly been given the player of the season award. Top work Paul Winstanley and co, a lesson for us Albion fans to keep faith with the people Tony Bloom puts his trust in.

An honourable mention here goes to Tomer Hemed – if only for the stick I and many others gave him after the opening game against City. The performances he subsequently put in and goals he scored against West Brom and Newcastle in the next two home games that secured two vital early season wins disproved that criticism entirely.

The Mark McCammon Award for most cringeworthy moment of the season – John Motson’s minutes applause.

We all love Motty, he’s a national treasure and he’s been staple of Match of the Day as well as all football coverage on the BBC for decades and his retirement will leave a huge gap in the BBCs future football coverage. So, the gesture shown on Football Focus before the West Brom home game following the announcement of his retirement, where Albion Chief Exec Paul Barber presented him with a Brighton shirt with ‘Motty’ and the number 50 on the back to represent the five decades that he’s worked for the BBC, was a wonderful tribute but the minutes applause was too much.

During the previous home game against Man City, the passing of Albion fan and Falmer For All campaigner, Ed Bassford, was recognised with a minute’s applause. Ed was a man I didn’t know personally, but knew of. This is because he was a man who dedicated much of his later life to ensure that people like me have a club to support and a stadium to watch them play in. Whilst I don’t want to be seen to be utilising the death of a person purely to labour a point, the example provides a worthwhile and poignant comparison. Celebrating his life and recognising his passing with a mid-game minutes applause wasn’t just fitting but important due to his contribution to the club. Using this method to celebrate a person’s retirement only goes to trivialise and undermine the tributes that are otherwise apt. Cringeworthy.

The Award for the moment that most made me cry – Connor Goldson and his MoM performance against Watford

Like all grown men, I like a good cry but only about football. I jest of course but there’s been quite a few moments this year which I could have picked, what an emotional rollercoaster. So please let it out once more to recognise Connor Goldson. The unexpected shock and horror of his heart defect that required preventative surgery last season hit many at the Albion hard. A health issue that was potentially career ending, we can just be thankful it wasn’t missed and more damage wasn’t done. Therefore, a year later that man of the match performance he put in against Watford was a tear-jerking moment and a testament to what a talented and hardworking individual Connor is.

The Award for Most funny Albion GIF – Hughton awkward walk away

Something a bit lighter now. Whilst Knocky’s failed knee slide goal celebration against West Ham got plenty of plaudits, I am a fan of the awkward exit made by Chris Hughton after being interviewed by the Sky pundits after the Friday night away trip to Bournemouth. A link is included below:

Hughton’s Awkward Moment

The Award for the most irritating and most repeated line of Albion punditry – “Did you know that last season Pascal Gross created the most chances in the Bundesliga?”

Pundits do struggle to remain informed on anything outside the top 6 or 7 clubs and anyone who’s followed the Albion for even only a few years will know that first hand. Therefore, when there’s a good line about a club or a player from outside that group it gets utilised by all and sundry.

This line about the Albion’s player of the year was repeated almost as many times as anything discussed about our fair club this season. A player who was signed for a relatively mere sum, yet one whose influence on the team has been so great and who’s produced so many match winning moments, all this reduced to one stat, embarrassing.

The Billy Sharp Award for best opposition player performances at the AMEX – Eden Hazard

It’s been a season where we’ve seen the best that English football has to offer come to the AMEX so it would be amiss to not recognise that. Whilst we can all agree as Albion fans we’ve enjoyed the performances of those in Blue and White stripes the best, the other lot have at times been good too and last season’s PFA player of the season definitely comes into this bracket.

As an Albion fan with Chelsea fans in the family I looked forward to the visit of Chelsea with both great anticipation and anxiety, but the early two goals, inspired by Hazard’s brilliance killed off any of that excitement. Whilst we battled back and played well at times that day, we were ultimately outclassed by the reigning champions and their star man Eden Hazard. Chelsea’s fourth goal, which left more than one Albion player on their bum, was truly special. Well played sir, but you can keep your shirt thanks very much.

So that’s it for the 2017/18 season, another great one to be a Brighton fan. Let’s not forget how spoilt we are to have experienced it and remember where we’ve come from to get here. Up the Albion!

Liverpool (11/12) – A home to call our own, own goals and more own goals

Many of the established Premier League teams wouldn’t have played Brighton both home and away in one season before this one for a couple of decades at least. Some not since the early 80s during the Albion’s last stay in the top flight. Apart from Liverpool that is as in the 2011/12 season Brighton met Liverpool both home and away in the domestic cup competitions.

The teams met first at the AMEX on 21st September in the League Cup 3rd round, a matter of weeks after the opening of the AMEX. Brighton finally had a home to call its own and what a wonderful time to be an Albion fan. It was hard to get my head round everything that had happened since the beginning of the season and to reconcile all this with the club I was supporting in League One with eight thousand others down the road at a converted athletics stadium just a few months before. Hard in a good way of course, coming out of harsh wilderness of the Withdean stadium and into the promise-land that was the AMEX stadium was incredibly exciting.

So, when we drew Liverpool in the cup, it was yet another wonderful game to go watch at our wonderful new stadium. Still to this day some of those early AMEX games are my favourite Brighton games to have witnessed. And the good feeling was rubbing off on the team who were in form and sitting 3rd in the Championship, so all the reason to be optimistic.

The game itself was notable for the return of Liverpool and England star Steven Gerrard from a six-month spell on the side-lines through injury, although he only came on as a late substitute. Plus, the fact Brighton player Craig Noone once worked for him as a roofer before Noone turned professional. A point I remember Sky drumming down our throats a lot when I re-watched the coverage of the game the following day, including an awkward interview with the pair after the game.

But it would be Craig Bellamy and Luis Suarez who would be Liverpool’s main threat on the night. And it was them that drove Liverpool to a 2-1 win, Brighton’s first defeat at the AMEX.

Bellamy had just returned to Liverpool for his second spell and got their first and with a great breakaway run, created the second. Both of their performances showed whilst Brighton were on the up, the gap between Us and the Premier League’s top sides was still very big. I remember thinking at half time that they could have scored multiple goals and we should be happy that it was only 1-0 at that point, which seems truer after looking at what happened at Anfield later in the year.

That said the Albion weren’t disgraced, and got a late consolation goal through an Ashley Barnes penalty. We defended well too, which we had to during long spells in the first half. Whilst we threatened going forward on the break when we got the chance, particularly from wide positions through Craig Noone. Noone was a firm fans favourite, exciting to watch if at times lacking the decision-making ability to make the most of the skill and pace that he had. Not this night though, against Liverpool he was involved in everything good the Albion created and on another night, could have got the headlines.

So, whilst it was a 2-1 defeat and the first defeat at the AMEX for the Albion, it felt like we’d done ourselves justice and the honeymoon period at the new stadium continued. Although a certain Crystal Palace and Glenn Murray would burst the Albion’s bubble in the next home game, but the less said about that night the better.

Brighton and Liverpool then met again that season on 19th February in the FA Cup 5th round. A game which the Albion went into with confidence. Particularly having beaten Premier League Newcastle in the 3rd round meaning there was the hunger and belief for another scalp. They were also fresh from a romantic 2-2 draw with Millwall on Valentine’s Day courtesy of a late equaliser from the Albion, so spirits were high.

The Albion had good memories of visits to Anfield having never lost a cup tie there before that day, including some memorable days in the 80s. That said the Albion’s cup record in recent history was modest and it was their first 5th round FA Cup tie since 1986.

So, despite the good vibes around the club the then Brighton manager Poyet recognised the scale of the task ahead of his team. “The players know what they need to do in order to be competitive, because we have already played them this season… They know how they need to defend, they know how strong Liverpool are and they also know their quality in movement, speed and technical ability.” Sadly, the team didn’t heed his warnings.

The season so far had been up and down but Brighton went into the game with an outside hope of still making the play offs and on a good run of form. Signed permanently in the summer from Newcastle, Kazenga Lua Lua was one of the stars of the season so far and would score Brighton’s only goal that day and give the Albion a high point in an otherwise dour day. As in a heavy 6-1 defeat notable for a FA Cup record 3 own goals scored by the Albion, they put in a performance containing an incredible lack of discipline and some awfully comic defending.

Bridcutt’s two own goals preceded a spectacularly bad Lewis Dunk own goal that is reminiscent of me attempting to do keepie-uppies in my back garden, a fine way to cap off an awful display. Under little pressure the ball came to Dunk in the middle of the penalty area, he took a couple of touches that took the ball out of his control, further away from his original standing position and towards goal. This was followed by a big hoof away that was ultimately meaningless as the ball had already crossed the line. At least scoring own goals is a habit he has shaken off since…oh.

Poyet said after the game that Brighton ‘weren’t ready for promotion’, going on to say “People have been getting excited because we are doing all right. It would be fantastic if we went up but we would need to change things completely because I don’t want to be managing in the Premier League and getting beat 6-1.” Sadly, it would be another five years of toil for the Albion as despite claims in following seasons of being ‘Premier League Ready’ it is only this season the Albion get to revisit Anfield and exorcise the ghosts of that day.

Maybe trips to Anfield in the 80s hold nostalgic memories of better times for older Albion fans but for those of us with shorter memories the thought of a trip to Anfield will only lead to us waking up in a cold sweat thinking of conceding another comical own goal. If we can take anything from those two games that season it’s to keep disciplined and to just be glad we aren’t going to Anfield in need of a result.

The Curious Case of Abdul Razak

Abdul Razak is a player with an unspectacular record and is quickly gaining a reputation as a bit of a Nomad

Abdul Razak is a player with an unspectacular record and is quickly gaining a reputation as a bit of a Nomad. A quick look on Wikipedia will tell you he’s played for a variety of clubs, starting in the academy with Palace (boo), onto Manchester City, Portsmouth, Brighton, Charlton, onto Anzhi in Russia, back to England with West Ham, onto Doncaster… and more recently to Sweden where he’s currently with his fourth club and currently playing in the Swedish second tier.

Abdul Razak joined City as a teenager adding to their Ivorian contingent at the club. Then manager Roberto Mancini is reported to have thought of Razak as the most promising youngster at City’s growing academy and under him he was given a number of first team opportunities.

He made a surprise debut as a late substitute for City in 2011 in a 3-0 win against West Brom. Coach David Platt said: “We didn’t have many midfield players and I’m not too sure the gaffer would have thrown him on had the game been a bit tighter, but he has ability, no doubt about that.” This was not the City of now. Whilst they had Sheikh Mansour’s investment by then and had built a great first team side that would win the league that season, they weren’t the empire of hoarded young talent they are now. So Abdul got a chance, but ultimately this was one of only a handful of first team appearances he made during his time at City with minimal impact.

Despite this, when he arrived on loan with the Albion he’d built up a reputation of being a promising talent. With this reputation came the inevitable comparison to his fellow Ivorian central midfielder at Man City, Yaya Touré. However, aside from the shared nationality and position, it would later become clear that they were worlds apart as players.

He joined the Albion on loan from Man City in February 2012 along with fellow City youngster Gai Assulin. Razak was brought in to fill the gap left by an injury to Gary Dicker. Then Albion manager Poyet said on signing Razak: “Abdul is the type of midfielder I have wanted to bring into the squad for some time. He is someone we have been aware of for a while”.

The Albion were in good form and still had an outside chance of the playoffs, but nonetheless he went straight into the team for his home debut against Ipswich. He started in a midfield three with Alan Navarro and Liam Bridcutt and despite being amongst established players, Razak was the one that starred in the 3-0 win, getting the Man of the Match award and plenty of plaudits in the process. Poyet said Razak added “Power, Strength and Speed” to the midfield that the Albion had previously lacked.

I can confirm that Abdul was fantastic that day. He really suited the way Poyet wanted the team to play, I personally was mesmerised. I went to the game with my mum as my usual compatriot couldn’t go and she had told me a few times that she was keen to experience the AMEX for herself in person. As I’ve said in previous blogs, she’s not a football fan and she’s not been to many games since, so for all she knows Razak could now have gone on to become a star of world football once he returned to City.

Gus was so taken with Abdul he stated after the game “We will try and keep him until the end of the season, and hopefully use him all the time.” However Abdul played only 5 more times for the Albion having an ever diminishing impact on the team, and produced no better performances than that day. This would be his high watermark, for the Albion and looking at his career since, possibly to date.

Abdul stated to the Man City website soon after that performance about his time at Brighton: “I’m enjoying it, I like the way that Brighton play their football.” He also spoke at the same time to the BBC about his aim to improve, saying: “I’ll keep learning. I hope I can show to people I can do more on the pitch.” Sadly this improvement didn’t materialise as he’d hoped, certainly not at the Albion.

As his impact quickly diminished, he was left out of the squad for the matches against Blackpool and Portsmouth and after playing just six times in his two month spell, when Gary Dicker returned from injury, the clubs mutually agreed for him to go back to Man City ahead of schedule.

Both club websites reported his departure in short blunt statements. However, rumours circulated there was more to it and Abdul’s nomadic record of clubs ever since also suggests he can be a disruptive figure that fails to settle at clubs. Rumours at the time suggested that as Abdul’s spell went on and his performances began to drop, he eventually fell out with manager Gus Poyet and soon after inevitably left the club. Poyet officially cited a move to decrease the number of loan signing at the club soon after his departure, but this wouldn’t have been the first or the last time either party would fall out with their colleagues.

Further evidence of Razak’s disruptive character was shown, when a year later he was sent home from an Ivory Coast squad after fighting with fellow player Jean-Jacques Gosso. After that, he was only included in two more national team squads and hasn’t played for them since.

Razak’s career was already starting to feel like a case of unfulfilled potential. He left City in 2013 and a move to then sugar daddy fuelled Anzhi in Russia followed. However, this ended after only a few months when the opportunity to return to England came about with West Ham the following January but he failed to make any kind of impact there. Subsequent short spells here, there and Doncaster followed and Razak is now attempting to rebuild his career in Sweden but since joining Gothenburg in January 2017, and at the time of writing he is now with his fourth Swedish club, the second tier outfit Örgryte IS.

At the age of 28 the hope that Razak could return to a big European league once again to fulfil the potential that those such as Roberto Mancini saw of him as a teenager, is dwindling. Maybe he’s learned from previous mistakes but you feel he may have burned too many bridges along the way for that to happen in England at least.