Albion continue to prove their doubters wrong.

Marc Cucurella’s recent impressive performances aside, Albion’s summer incoming players have had limited impact so far this season. Meaning the team’s success has mainly been built on improvements in performance within the existing squad.

As Graham Potter said at the beginning of the season, on having more limited options in defence after the sale of Ben White: “we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We find solutions and be creative if you need to be.”

And many of the solutions that Albion have found during Graham Potter’s tenure are ones that I doubt many Albion fans saw coming.

Go back to last season and Albion’s issue between the sticks caused by the drop in form of Matt Ryan was solved by the unexpected introduction of development team promotee and recent Rochdale loanee Robert Sanchez. A player who went on to impress so much in his maiden topflight season, that he earned a place in Spain’s European Championship squad.

Going into this season, Albion still had a number of issues to resolve at both ends of the pitch. Issues that materialised in dropping 25 points from winning position in the Premier League last season. They led in a total of 19 games and won just 9 of those, less than half. The worst record in the league that season.

This season, Albion have so far dropped zero points from winning positions, maintaining a 100%-win rate from the 4 games in which they’ve taken the lead. It’s early, but there is a clear trend here.

But what has made the difference? One of the factors is most certainly the return of Shane Duffy, whose presence really has added that extra element of resilience, after a consistent spell of solid displays since his return from a loan spell at Celtic, one that I’m sure everyone is keen to forget.

Against Palace last time out he continued his good form and recorded 5 clearances, 3 interceptions, 2 tackles, won 3 out of 3 ground duels and won 3 out of 4 Aerial duels. Showing once again that he is a player who has mastered the art of defending.

It’s not just about defending leads though but extending them too: Duffy is a threat in both boxes. With him in the side Albion have so far scored at a rate of 1.33 pg, higher than in any of their other Premier league seasons.

Yes, the fixtures have been kind so far, but you have to take those chances, something Albion weren’t doing previously. Last season they won just 9 games all season, only 4 of which came against teams in the bottom half.

A big part of the reason for that, as Graham Potter has spoken a lot about, was key moments going against the team. There are few players I’d rather have on our side in those key moments than Shane Duffy and I’m not surprised to see that the teams luck has turned with him in the side.

Glenn Murray spoke about Duffy on BBC Sussex’s program ‘Albion Unlimited’ prior to the Palace game saying: “I think Shane will openly admit that he didn’t realise what he had when he was at Brighton, and he maybe took it for granted. And now we can really see him really knuckling down and proving to us all how good of a player he is, and how much he does actually love the club and how much he wants to be here.”

This isn’t to say Shane is the sole reason Albion find themselves 6th in the Premier League table. As Richard Newman spoke about in his recent piece for Eurosport, this success has been building for a while, with Graham Potter’s appointment the latest step on that progression. Saying “Potter immediately implemented his own identity – based on tactical fluidity, intensity and fast build-up. Over the past two years, he has patiently assembled the squad that he wants – only Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy and Solly March remain from the side promoted from the Championship in 2017.” Albion were playing well last season and have been largely a progressive, good team to watch since Potter’s appointment back in 2019.

Another huge improvement on last season has been Neal Maupay’s goalscoring rate, who’s contributed 4 goals/50% of Albion’s goals so far this season. Maupay’s finishing has been criticised by all and sundry, but he showed brilliant finishing ability to lob the Palace goalkeeper Guaita so calmly with one touch in the last minute of injury time to equalise against Albion’s biggest rivals. Even as a big supporter of Maupay, it’s hard to imagine him doing that last season where he struggled for long periods in front of goal.

For those who haven’t seen it I’d implore you to go watch Neal Maupay’s post-match interview on Sky Sports from Monday night. It was open and honest, with him rightly grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat throughout.

I did note that when he was asked about the club trying to sign a striker, he was clearly a little uncomfortable, but his inner self-confidence and belief shone through in his answer. Maupay has had his difficult periods and his critics, including some prominent pundits who’ve continually questioned his finishing ability. But, to achieve this turnaround whilst under that kind of criticism and pressure makes his performances of late even more admirable.

The stats really do demonstrate that he’s having a great season so far too:

In the 495 minutes he’s played this season, he’s had:

• 24 touches in opposition box,

• 11 total shots,

• 5 shots on target,

• Scored 4 goals.

That compares to 2,768 minutes in 2019/20,

• 177 touches in opposition box

• 96 total shots,

• 38 shots on target,

• Scored 10 goals

And compares to a total of 2,517 minutes in 2020/21,

• 190 touches in opposition box

• 71 total shots,

• 26 shots on target

• Scored 8 goals

What links Duffy and Maupay in particular is that the prevailing opinion of them was that they weren’t up to the standard required for Albion to rise up the table, which they’ve resoundingly countered so far this season.

As the example of Sanchez’s usurping of Maty Ryan shows, Potter doesn’t show loyalty to the existing group of players for loyalties sake, but that it’s more a case of Graham Potter working with what he has to find the best working solutions.

As I discussed last season when talking about the likes of Dan Burn and Adam Webster, this is a team built with a group of players who have all had their own failures, who have all been written off by supporters and pundits alike, but persisted and ultimately proven to be vital parts of this Albion team.

This is what Graham Potter’s Albion is all about, working with what they have and salvaging what they can, something that has been demonstrated in their performances this season.

This was shown notably at Selhurst Park on Monday night, where injuries severely hampered Albion. The absences of Bissouma and Webster were a huge loss. To then lose a further two players mid-game limited options further in terms of substitutions to salvage the game from a losing position, but they persisted right up to the very last minute of the game to earn a point.

The bedrock of Albion’s continued success under Potter is all about maximising the potential of what the club has and building on the strengths that are already in place. If we go back to that euphoric 3-0 win over Watford in his first game in charge in 2019, Graham Potter talked then about the foundations in place that have enabled his success.

In his interview on BBCs Match of the Day with presenter Gary Lineker, instead of talking up his own achievements he instead spoke about how he inherited a team where “a fantastic foundation had been laid, a lot of good work [had gone before]”. And then admitted despite the good result that “we haven’t found the answers today but it’s a nice start for us.”

In very much the same way this good start to his third Premier League season in charge falls under the same category. This success is very much built on the foundations laid throughout the club’s recent history. With a manager in charge who is unafraid to look for creative and unexpected solutions to build on those foundations, Albion remain in safe hands.

Graham Potter and the succession of missed opportunities

For many last night’s defeat to Crystal Palace will have only reinforced their opinions of Graham Potter’s Albion team being an almost comically wasteful football team, but his persistence with the project he continues to carry out is nonetheless something to admire.

Just as many times before, last night saw an Albion performance with plenty of youthful exuberance in attack, but one which was mixed with just enough youthful inexperience and naivety to spoil it.

These have been the defining characteristic of the club’s season so far as well Potter’s entire tenure in charge. So it’s easy to conclude that the team aren’t learning some of those lessons Graham Potter often talks about after a disappointing result.

But amongst the frustration it’s easy to overlook that Graham Potter has done a great job over the last year and a half and that he’s not a magician, despite his surname. Albion’s wage bill is reportedly just over half that of last night’s opponents, but it certainly didn’t look it despite the result reflecting that.

The club’s transfer business over the last year has been widely admired, with the signings of Lamptey, Lallana and Veltman now looking like absolute bargains. But, the lack of investment in the squad has often been evident where it counts this season, in the opposition penalty box.

Many have criticised the club for not signing a top class striker, but manager Graham Potter has stated on numerous occasions that he is happy to work with what he has. Bringing through a roster of largely young and unproven talents, all of whom have had their difficulties in front of goal.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the limitations of this Albion team are ones they seem to be unable to overcome. This is a relatively young Albion team, one which over Potter’s tenure has replaced some of the key experienced members of its squad like Shane Duffy, Dale Stephens and Glenn Murray with players with no previous topflight experience like Neil Maupay, Yves Bissouma and Adam Webster. With others like Robert Sanchez, Ben White, Steven Alzate and Aaron Connolly being brought through from the club’s U23 team to fill other gaps in the squad. Players who other than U23 football only have varying degrees of experience on loan at lower league clubs to their name.

Some have done better than others. Adam Webster in particular is a true gem of Potter’s persistence with the younger and inexperienced members of his squad, but this was too after a difficult first season in the topflight. However, he has since become arguably Albion’s best centre back.

Webster’s performance in last season’s defeat at home to Sheffield United left many Albion fans audibly expressing their disgust at the centre backs performance and place in the team. As the man voted the club’s player of the previous season that he was keeping out of it, Shane Duffy, was sat on the bench. But Graham Potter defiantly stated in his programme notes ahead of the teams next home game against Bournemouth that: “mistakes will happen” and that it was “all part of the process”. And the subsequent win that day along with Webster’s progress since certainly support that claim.

So to see him consistently stick by his roster of young strikers is no surprise either. One of the main reasons Graham Potter got the job at Brighton was his ability to work with youngsters, something which was so evident from his time at Swansea.

The signings of younger more inexperienced players like Trossard, Connolly, Zeqiri and Maupay, either for the first team or initially for the U23s is a huge part of the clubs recruitment strategy and something many Albion fans have lauded. And Graham Potter’s job is to coach them into being better players, but he needs time and patience to do that.

Giving Graham Potter patience doesn’t mean to direct your ire elsewhere, ire that many of the names mentioned above have experienced over Potter’s tenure. It means, as he previously stated, to accept that mistakes happen, especially with the club’s chosen recruitment strategy to focus on this young talent.

Games like last night’s are an inevitable part of the process for this Albion team. But Graham Potter and more broadly the entire management team at the club have a clear idea of how they want this team to progress. The evidence of the progress of Adam Webster can serve as a template for Albion’s roster of misfiring striker to follow. What is clear is that Potter will stick by them, even if many others have lost their patience.

Palace 5 – 0 Brighton

It was somewhat fitting that Ms Dynamite performed in Brighton the evening after the cities football club had been on the end of an explosive and damaging defeat.

Palace’s 5-0 win that day was described by the BBC as humiliating, the Guardian as a hammering and the Argus as a nightmare. All Albion fans that remember it will know that it was all these things and more.

For Albion it was a season that had started with optimism after two consecutive championship winning promotions that had seen the club rise from near oblivion to the second tier in the space of just five years. But one that quickly descended into misery. A run of 10 straight defeats had seen manager Martin Hinshelwood quickly demoted back to the youth team coaching role he’d previously held and former Palace manage Steve Coppell appointed in his place to do a job of firefighting.

In Coppell first game in charge, despite plenty of promise, the same fallibilities and bad luck were again shown as Albion lost a dramatic game 4-2 at home to Sheffield United, which made it 11 straight defeats. So the last thing Albion needed at the time was an away game with its arch rivals and Coppell’s former club Crystal Palace, but that’s exactly what they got.

This was the first league match between the sides for 13 years and their first meeting since a 1991 Zenith Data Systems cup match, when Steve Coppell was managing Palace, and so was highly anticipated.

For some that anticipation boiled over into violence. The Guardian’s report from that day said: “By lunchtime, there was heavy fighting around Thornton Heath train station and elsewhere. The kick-off was delayed for 15 minutes, helicopters buzzed overhead and riot police marched alongside mounted colleagues. There will be a few children who made their first and last trips to football yesterday.”

In contrast to their hosts, this was an Albion team well out of its depth in Division One. Bobby Zamora’s goals had propelled the team from a mid-table Third Division side into the First Division in the space of just two seasons, but his injury in the first of the eleven straight defeats that had preceded this match had exposed Albion’s over reliance on their star striker.

Despite Zamora having since returned from injury, this would be a day where the oppositions main marksman would star as Andy Johnson scored twice from corners either side of Zamora spurning a half chance to equalise for Brighton.

But a two-nil deficit at half time for Albion would get much worse in the second half as they continued to gift their opposition sloppy goals, something that had defined their season so far. And just like in Coppell’s first game in charge, it was also the second match in succession in which they gave away two second-half penalties.

Albion captain Danny Cullip brought down Johnson for the first, before Brooker was sent off for bringing him down as the last man for the second. Both penalties were dispatched, the first by Freedman and the second by Johnson for his hat-trick, before Julian Gray capitalised on the home sides numerical advantage to score Palace’s fifth goal and a third in six minutes, cementing the home sides victory.

This result ensured that Albion’s run of now 12 straight defeats equalled the run of defeats they had suffered under Pat Saward in the 1972-73 season. Coincidentally, that season the club also went on to be relegated after winning promotion to the second tier the previous season. After this defeat it was clear to even the most optimistic of supporters that Albion would go onto replicate that feat this season.

Steve Coppell did manage to go on to improve things remarkably, particularly defensively. Additions like defender Dean Blackwell, who made his Albion debut that day and went onto play 20 of the remaining 32 league games, certainly helped. Along with Coppell’s intricate attention to detail, which saw long-term players like Kerry Mayo play some of the best football of their career during his tenure.

Moreover, the result was a necessary wake up call for the team that season. After picking up 4 point from their first 14 games, Coppell led a revival that saw them win 41 from the remaining 32 games to keep the fight for survival going until the final day of the season against the odds, but the damage had already been done. Crystal Palace ultimately finished 14 points and 9 places higher in the table and were promoted back to the topflight the following season via the playoffs.

At the time of writing 19 years on, the sides are separated in the topflight by just three points and one position, sitting in the same league positions and separated by just one more point than they were at the end of the previous season. By contrast back in 2002 the 5-0 result was exemplary of the huge gulf between the sides.

In the thirteen years that the sides had not played each other in a league match, Palace had been to an FA cup final and three other cup semi-finals whilst yoyo-ing between toe First Division and the topflight. Meanwhile Albion had plummeted down the Football League and almost out of it entirely. All while fighting off a succession of winding up orders, directors intent on pulling the club to pieces for their own gain and the threat to the entire existence of the club.

Despite the much needed stability brought in by Dick Knight’s subsequent chairmanship and the club’s move back to the Withdean Stadium in Brighton, it was still far from ideal circumstances. The instability of the club’s ongoing search for a permanent stadium and the financial restrictions which that brought with it, limited the club’s ambitions on the pitch. Something that would last for a number of years to come.

Monday Musings – two draws and an England international adds competition up front

Two draws on Sunday left Albion 16th in the Premier League with 4 points from 5 games and 8th in the WSL with 5 points from 5 games

A derby draw that raised more questions than answers

Let’s be honest, Sunday afternoons 1-1 draw in the (don’t call it the M23 Derby) Derby left neither party happy. Whilst hosts Palace walked away underwhelmed with a sum total of zero XG if we exclude the debatable penalty, Albion walked away frustrated after a domination of a total of twenty shots to Palace’s one resulted in only a draw and only Albion’s fourth point from their opening five games.

Those opening five fixtures were always going to be tough and the impressive win over Newcastle as well as some notable injustices and unfortunate defeats have left plenty still feeling optimistic despite the disappointing results recorded. But, didn’t we feel the same way this time last season?

Brighton opened last season with a similarly impressive run of performances in their opening games which gained a similarly disappointing points total, with one impressive 3-0 win away from home propping things up. Sound familiar?

Graham Potter was given the benefit of the doubt then due to his newly appointed status as manager. But what is also different is the level of opposition, which this time around was comparatively much higher. As such the upcoming home games against West Brom and Burnley respectively are likely to give a better barometer of Albion’s progress under Potter to date and answer a number of those still unanswered questions that remain from the end of last season.

An impressive away point on a satisfactory Sunday

If Albion’s draw in the Premier League was underwhelming, the impressive nature of Hope Powell’s teams 2-2 draw away to in-form Everton in the WSL was far from it. In fact Albion remain the only team not to have been beaten by Everton women’s team so far this season ahead of their next match in the belated Women’s FA Cup final against Man City.

Albion took a slightly fortunate lead when Everton‘s Sevecke inadvertently turned in a dangerous Kaagman free kick. The Dutch international player took the plaudits as she came up against her old club Everton for the first time since signing for Albion this summer.

Albion were then unfortunate to not go in ahead at the break after a deflected Christiansen free kick flew into the top corner and evened the scores as well as the luck. Albion’s ‘keeper Walsh was then once again this season forced to make a number of important saves to keep Albion level before getting a hand but not managing to keep out a Gauvin header from an Everton corner which gave the Toffees the lead.

But Albion saved the best goal of the game until last as a brilliant team move was finished off by the team’s top scorer last season Aileen Whelan, as she slid home the equaliser to get her first of the new season.

It’s a draw that not only puts the teams cup disappointment as well last weekend’s heavy defeat to Arsenal behind them, but also suggests the impressive win over Birmingham and draw with Man City were more of an indication of the team’s potential this season than that heavy defeat.

The game was slightly spoilt by some questionable refereeing after Albion’s Kayleigh Green appeared to be awarded two yellow cards but no red, in what was presumably an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Mistakes happen, but ones of the officiating kind happen far too often in the women’s game. This one however is one which as it came to Albion’s aide, I am willing to tolerate as the luck swung once in Albion’s favour.

Are Maupay’s chances running out as Welbeck signs?

Albion striker Neal Maupay certainly had and missed his chances against Palace on Sunday (6 shots – 2 on target, 1 off target, 3 blocked). But with the announcement pre-match of the Club’s signing of former England, Arsenal and Man United striker Danny Welbeck now adding to Connolly and Zeqiri waiting in the wings, there is now genuine competition for the starting striker role to keep him on his toes.

The signature of Danny Welbeck on a free transfer is another feather in the cap of Albion’s highly regarded recruitment team and further financially prudent transfer business from the club in these uncertain times.

This one in particular however could be the best signing of the “summer” transfer window as the addition of proven quality in attacking areas appears to be just what Potter’s squad needs right now. Especially after such an excruciating period of wasted chances that has held back much of the progress made by the team during Graham Potter’s period of management.

Up Next

As this week sees the beginning of the Champions League, Albion’s men’s team have a valuable midweek off and don’t play again until the visit of West Brom on next Monday night, which is live on BBC Sussex Radio (and apparently some new Pay Per View TV thingy).

Meanwhile the Women’s team don’t play again in the WSL until they host Aston Villa on 8th November, due to international fixtures taking place next weekend being followed by the aforementioned belated Women’s FA Cup final the following Sunday.

Fear not, if you can’t wait a whole week your next Albion fix the men’s development team are in action on Friday night at home to Leicester. A win would put Simon Rusk’s ever impressive young side top of Premier League 2, after a goal scored by Reda Khadra (his second in two matches) gave them a notable 1-0 win over Liverpool. A starting eleven that also featured a 45-minute cameo from a certain Jose Izquierdo.

The Executive Derby

It has been a tough week for both Steve Parish and Paul Barber. Steve Parish, the part-owner and chairman of Crystal Palace said in a recent Times article that “Deliveroo aren’t bailing out your local café”, whilst various replies to Brighton fans messages on the subject of Pay Per View (PPV) games have been posted on Twitter, apparently from Albion’s Chief Executive and Deputy Chairmen Paul Barber, who reportedly said in one ‘fans will always want everything for free’.

So it’s a good thing for many Premier League Executives that they will ultimately be judged by their actions rather than their words. And the announcement this week of £20m in grants and additional £30m in interest free loans to League One and Two club’s to ensure their short term survival is a good step toward repairing their reputations.

That total of additional funding figure of £50m is a good start, but change is needed. The EFL’s financial model has become unsustainable as club’s from throughout its leagues overspend in search of the Premier League’s riches. Whilst the rest do their best to keep up with the competition by also overspending. Meanwhile Premier League club’s enjoy the riches of its TV broadcasting wealth.

At Brighton we are fortunate that as Paul Barber assured the fans on this week’s Q&A call the club’s future isn’t in doubt and Tony Bloom will cover any losses. But many in the EFL aren’t as lucky. We’ve already seen Wigan go close to bankruptcy this summer, if things carry on this way many more will surely follow.

Even before the Global pandemic caused this crisis, the bankruptcy of Bury was a huge warning sign about financial problems in the EFL and Macclesfield following suit this summer has its origins well before that hit. Even if this funding (along with the likelihood of subsequent amounts) tie club’s over until the crisis ends and fans are allowed back in the stadiums, long-term change is required.

As Paul Barber pointed out himself in that Q&A this week the Premier League club’s would be in a better position to help club’s lower down the leagues if fans were allowed back into stadiums. It’s a fair point, as they are the clubs losing the most revenue in real terms.

He sounded genuinely frustrated by the doubles standard that have seen a half full Palladium Theatre whilst the Ministry for Sport continues to drag their feet on elite sporting events, despite having given him the impression that the test event held by the club would lead to a return of some fans.

As the statements across the Premier League’ clubs stated yesterday: “Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them. The Premier League and all our clubs remain committed to the safe return of fans as soon as possible.” Unfortunately for the League and it’s clubs this is out of their hands.

But even if a limited numbers were allowed in, there’d be plenty of fans who would be struggling to go back given the crisis many are experiencing in their own personal finances. Whilst both clubs have subsequently publicly committed to a phased refund of season ticket holders, this will only help some supporters. Many others who attend on a more casual basis because of other commitments and will want to watch certain matches, won’t get that same cash boost. Whilst for others it will do little to help their growing financial worries.

Whilst Paul Barber made a great case from the club’s perspective on the PPV scheme, stating it was essentially a choice for them of games on PPV or not shown on TV at all. For many supporters that choice means the same thing for them at the moment as money worries mean they simply won’t be able to pay out additional amounts for PPV games whilst already worrying about meeting existing contracted bills due to Sky and BT along with all their other bills and monthly rent/mortgage payments.

As I pointed out in a piece earlier in the week, English football sold its soul to TV broadcasters well before Barber, Parish and their fellow executives had a personal influence. Us supporters must except that we have enabled this process of excess to grow. But this doesn’t help those struggling with their own personal financial concerns.

A clubs identity and culture is arguably more than ever shaped by its executives. And whilst they haven’t done their reputations much favours this week both Palace and Albion are luckier than most clubs in this regard.

Paul Barber and Steve Parish have both shown themselves over the course of their time at their respective club’s to be brilliant representatives for their Club’s interests and welfare. And both have been commended for overseeing a refocus of resources into its community work during recent lockdown. So for me to suggest they don’t care about their club’s fans and it’s place in the local community would be disingenuous.

However, both have seemingly shown little sympathy for the crisis faced by many other EFL clubs, or for the crisis many of their fans will face in their personal finances. Nonetheless their actions in recent days show they have at least listened to some of the concerns raised and acted somewhat accordingly, even if it was hastened by Man United and a Liverpool’s cynical project big picture proposal.

The executives will all have lost a certain degree of personal standing in the last week. And so will have to excuse many fans such as myself for being sceptical of the outcome of the coming review into the strategic plan for the future structures and financing of English football.

With the lead up to this weekend’s derby being overshadowed by negotiations at an executive-level, you can excuse supporters for being a little less enthusiastic than usual. For the two public faces of those clubs, after a week of turmoil in the boardroom, a win in this Sunday’s derby match would go some way towards healing those wounds.

Dolphins, Seagulls and Eagles

The cry of “Seagulls, Seagulls!” has become common place at Albion games for many a year, but it wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t actually incorporated as the club’s nickname until the mid-seventies. Prior to which the club had a brief dalliance with another sea-linked nickname – “The Dolphins”.

The club’s original crest featured the coat of arms of Brighton and Hove, which was used after the Second World War. As a result the Dolphin had been incorporated into the clubs crest (albeit less prominently) well before the nickname was adopted, given the Brighton element of the coat of arms features two dolphins surrounded by the six gold martlets of Sussex. The arms also features the motto “Inter Undas et Colles Floremus”, which translated from Latin to English is: “Between Downs and Sea We Flourish”. But given the modest success the club had achieved over that period it’s understandable it wasn’t incorporated by the club any further.

Brighton’s association with the Dolphin goes back at least a century when the coat of arms of the city (then town) were officially granted to them by the College of Heralds in 1897, but there are records that show even before then Dolphins were used as a symbol of the town.

Brighton’s Supporters club was regularly after a new nickname, having been known under a few different guises in its early existence. It was a vote in 1972 which lead to its adoption of the nickname “The Dolphins”. As well as its historical links to the town, the animal was a topical theme locally at the time because the dolphinarium which had opened at the Brighton Aquarium (now known as the Sea Life Centre) in 1969. Whilst the Dolphinarium was initially very popular, the changing public opinions on keeping dolphins in captivity and their cramped conditions meant it increasingly came under fire in the 1980s and the Dolphinarium was closed in 1990.

Fortunately for the club, it ensured there was no association with the Dolphinarium during the criticism the venue faced in the 80s as its association with the Dolphin was even shorter-lived. At the beginning of the 1974/75 season the club began to use a Dolphin on the front of the matchday programme and during the season the club officially became known as ‘The Dolphins’. By the beginning of the following season, a new club crest had been introduced which incorporated a Dolphin. But it would only last a season and leave the club with a large amount of Dolphin associated memorabilia to bin, after an incident said to have taken place the following season in the Bosun public house on West Street, Brighton (now better known as Molly Malones or Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy’s drinking hole).

Crystal Palace had recently adopted the nickname “The Eagles” having previously been known as “The Glaziers”. The rivalry between the club’s had been rapidly growing since a fierce opening day match of the 1974/75 season, which saw significant crowd trouble between rival fans. The rhyming nicknames would be just another step in the acceleration of tensions between the club’s.

As the story goes, prior to a subsequent match between the club’s in February 1976, a few Palace supporters started chanting, “Eagles, Eagles” to which a group of Brighton & Hove Albion fans responded with a chant of “Seagulls, Seagulls”. The club has been known as “The Seagulls” ever since and the club’s crest was changed once again to incorporate the Seagull that we now know and love in 1977.

There are various versions of this story, but there does appear to be a loose element of truth in it. That said, you may wonder how some alcohol fuelled chanting in a pub on West Street escalated so quickly, well apparently club Director Derek Chapman was in attendance, a club drinking hole for many a year it seems!

As Elizabeth Cotignola said in her piece on the Taxonomy of English Football nicknames for the website Unusual Efforts “[Nicknames have] evolved organically, historically, and in some cases through highly manufactured means, but regardless of the rationale behind them, a nickname can provide insights into where a club came from.” In Brighton’s case it appears that it is somewhat a mix of all three.

But the manufactured element of its nickname shouldn’t be discounted as a result of its suitability. The 70s was a huge boom time for the club, mostly due to the investment from then owner Mike Bamber. The adding of a more marketable nickname on top of the well-established “Albion” was no doubt all a part of to turning the club’s fortunes from a then perennial Third Division club towards its aspiration of (and eventual promotional to) the topflight.

There is a 19th-century saying “a nickname is a biography in a word” and both Seagulls and Dolphins tell you something about the history of the City and it’s football club.

Brighton’s current nickname “The Seagulls” says a lot about the importance to its identity of the Crystal Palace rivalry. Had Crystal Palace not changed its nickname to “The Eagles”, who knows what could have happened instead. The club we now know as “The Seagulls” would possibly still be known as “The Dolphins”, or maybe the club would have moved onto another sea life nickname instead. As it is, “The Dolphins” has instead become an intriguing footnote in the history of the club as well as the City.

1976/77 – Albion are finally worth promotion!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t usually do politics, but…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty things from twenty seasons (part 2)

This piece is the second part of two blogs. To start at the beginning click here to read part one.

2009/10 – After an underwhelming start to season and with the club still scarred from the horrors of the season before, manager Russell Slade was sacked in November. This was Tony Bloom first sacking as Chairman, and it was proof he had the ruthlessness required for the job. Whilst in hindsight it looks a clear and obvious decision, many of the Albion faithful wanted him to show more loyalty to Slade after the heroics he oversaw as Albion miraculously avoided relegation in the previous season.

This was a level of ruthlessness that it could be said former chairman Dick Knight lacked in his final season. In contrast, the reason Knight gave Micky Adams the job in the first place was mostly through thinking with his heart over his head, then he gave him enough time to disprove the faith shown in him ten times over. Bloom said on sacking Slade: “Russell is a good man, which made it an even harder decision to take, but it is one which has been made in the club’s best interests.”

After Steve Coppell ruled himself out of a return to the Withdean, in his place Bloom appointed Gus Poyet. Gus was a man who unlike Slade and Adams had no managerial experience to fall on despite his high-profile reputation in England from his playing days at Chelsea and Tottenham. As a result of his profile and outspoken nature, Gus was a man who attracted headlines in the national press for good and for bad from the moment he was appointed to the moment he left the club somewhat in disgrace a few years later.

That day at St Mary’s in mid-November started his Albion career with a bang and there were plenty more bangs to come. I wrote more about the game here, but this was a night when in Gus Poyet’s first game in charge of the Albion the team ran out 3-1 winners in a victory so memorable the third goal is often still played in the game opening montage at the AMEX and whilst it took time for Poyet to properly make his mark on the club, this was a sign of things to come.

2010/11 – the following season saw Poyet turn the Albion from a hapless relegation struggler to a F’ing brilliant Championship winning side. One that wasn’t just great, but also great to watch.

A night that personified Gus’s tenure as manager was that famous and frantic night where we beat Dagenham and Redbridge 4-3 to gain promotion to the Championship.

On a night we expected to secure promotion with ease over a Dagenham side that would eventually be relegated, against a Brighton team who’d not lost at home all season were instead staring down the barrel of a defeat when John Akinde gave the visitors the lead after just 1 minute.

However, that lead didn’t last long and a quick double from the Albion via goals from Inigo Calderon and Glenn Murray game them a 2-1 lead at half time.

But it was not to be plain sailing from there as after 3 second half minutes Dagenham equaliser and then after 3 more they took the lead from the penalty spot

But the lead changed hands once again. First Liam Bridcutt fired home from 25 yards to equalise for Brighton and then Ashley Barnes headed in what turned out to be the winner with just under half an hour to go.

This left the reminder of time where the thousands of Albion fans inside Withdean or listening to the radio at home with a long anxious period where Dagenham pushed for another equaliser, but this time the defence stood firm.

What a way to see off the Withdean days, a pitch invasion ensued, the title was secured the following Saturday away to Walsall and lifted at home to Huddersfield the week after, who had to settle for a place in the playoffs, whilst Albion were about to enter an new era in the club’s history.

By now Tony Bloom’s investment was starting to make a mark on 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, one that had gone on to win League One and would experience more success in the Championship.

2011/12 – August 2011 finally saw the first competitive game at Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club’s long awaited, stubbornly fought for and much anticipated new stadium. As the day’s events off the pitch were going to be memorable, the events on the pitch had to ramp it up a notch to have a chance of sticking in the memory too, and how they did.

The game was to be played against the team Brighton had played in their final home game at their last permanent home the Goldstone Ground back in 1997, Doncaster Rovers. And as we walked up the ramp to the stadium and settled in our padded seats in the state-of-the-art stadium, it was hard to reconcile this club with the one many of us had watched play at the Goldstone and at Withdean over recent decades.

After Billy Sharp gave Doncaster an unexpected lead and in doing so scored the first competitive goal at the AMEX, Albion huffed and puffed for a long time to no avail until a late double from Will Buckley saved the occasion from being dampened.

The £1m man Will Buckley was a second half substitute, coming on for the less than effective Matt Sparrow. This substitution was to have an almost instant impact as after a Liam Bridcutt free-kick was headed clear to the edge of the box, Buckley rifled it home to equalise. Cue pandemonium in the stands and almost as if it was choreographed, thousands of Blue and White flags were flown in the air to celebrate. This would have been enough to salvage the momentous day from ending on a sour note, but more joy was to come.

The momentum was with Albion, players streamed forward in search for a winner and indeed it came, when fellow substitutes Craig Noone and Will Buckley combined. A Noone through pass in behind the Doncaster defence found Buckley one-on-one with the keeper, who scored the winner. Cue further pandemonium, flag waving and an incredible outpouring of emotion. Ultimately the result wouldn’t have mattered as it was finally having the stadium that really mattered, but by winning the team had topped off a wonderful day in fairy-tail style.

2012/13 – With the stadium still in its honeymoon period, a feeling of deflation, frustration and torment was about to well and truly kill that off. It was a feeling brought on by losing the playoff semi to our rivals Crystal Palace; and was a result of those the two Zaha goals and the wild celebrations amongst the travelling Palace fans in the South Stand that followed them.

What made it worse is that for the first time I could remember since supporting the Albion, we went into the derby game with the upper hand. Having finished higher in the final league table and beating Palace 3-0 at the AMEX in the league just a couple of months before, this felt like our match to lose. As a result, this coupled with the chance of top-flight football, it was probably the biggest match for the Albion since the playoff final in 2004.

This confidence remained, when after a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park in the first leg, Albion were favourites to progress. And as the tie was still 0-0 on aggregate at half time in the second leg at the AMEX, and with the possibility of a penalty shootout looking more likely, this was tense but exciting.

The second half though, was heart-breaking. We started well and had good chances to take the lead, Ashley Barnes hit the bar with one shot and had another cleared off the line, but this was not to be Brighton’s day.

And as the frustration grew so did the anxiety from the home fans and with twenty minutes to go Zaha scored to give Palace the lead. Then after twenty minutes of fruitless pressure from the Albion, Zaha made it 2-0 and with that ended the Albion’s dream of promotion, for another year at least. And as our pain was Palace’s gain, this made it even worse.

2013/14 – after a long and drawn out suspension and investigation into Gus Poyet’s conduct he was sacked by the club over the summer and replaced by former Barcelona B manager Oscar Garcia Junyent. And after initial concerns following the fiasco which followed the defeat to Palace that the club would take a step backwards, this showed the club were intent instead on continuing to progress. In that vein the club qualified for the end of season promotion playoffs once again, albeit on the last day of the season with virtually the last touch of the ball off Leo Ulloa’s head finding its way into the net.

In the Semi-final Brighton drew Derby County, who finished 3 places and 13 points above the Albion and so were strong favourites. But it was Brighton who struck first when the on loan Jesse Lingard finished a good team move but by half time Brighton were 2-1 down and that was how the first leg ended.

But to say it was a deserved lead for Derby would be untrue. Brighton manager Garcia said the result was “unfair” and that “We were better than them in all areas. I am really proud of our performance.”

But you have to take your chances in knockout football and that was it for the Seagulls, something that a conversion rate of 20% of shots on target compared to Derby’s 200% that night suggested (Derby’s second was an own goal from Albion Keeper Kuszczak which ricocheted in off his back after hitting the crossbar).

What was to follow was 90 minutes of hell at Pride Park in the second leg, as an Albion team already ravaged with injuries lost captain Gordon Greer early on who was replaced by the youngster Adam Chicksen who was making only his fifth appearance of the season to make up a makeshift defence.

That was the telling moment of the game, as Albion went on to be overrun by a rampant Derby side who scored 4 to Albion’s 1, eventually winning 6-2 on aggregate. And that was that for another season. Yet another season of joy, hope and relative success in the context of the club’s history ending in despair.

Context is important though. For a club that for so long didn’t have a permanent home ground and that had spent most its history in the third tier of English football to establish itself as one of the best teams outside the top flight was a testament to Tony Bloom’s investment. But he wasn’t done just yet, not until the club were in the Premier League. Unfortunately, there were a few bumps in the road ahead before that could happen.

Oscar Garcia resigned shortly after the season ended, a resignation the club had apparently expected. In particular it was his dissatisfaction with the club’s transfer policy being cited in some quarters as a reason for his departure. With the situation not helped when Ashley Barnes was sold to Burnley and Liam Bridcutt moved to Sunderland in the January transfer window of that season. A lesson the club would heed when clubs came calling in later promotion battles.

This was the second manager in two seasons resigning because he felt he couldn’t take the club further in the competitive climate the club were competing within. Whilst some criticism was valid, this was an incredibly competitive league, one where a significant proportion of club’s had significantly higher budgets than the Albion. And with the FFP rules to comply with too, the club were in a difficult spot.

Poyet said that it was “Now or Never” to get promotion to the top tier the season before. Whilst this was a typically Poyet-style exaggeration of the truth, there was an element of truth to it. Especially given the financial power that a number of the other teams had over the Brighton; it was going to take a serious defying of the odds to achieve promotion from here on in.

2014/15 – The next season contextualised just how competitive this division was when after former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia was appointed manager over the summer, the club went on a downturn which saw only six wins in twenty-six games. A run which lead to Hyypia losing his job and Albion staring down the barrel at the prospect of relegation back to the third tier.

Not long after assistant manager Nathan Jones took charge as the Albion visited Fulham. That night the Albion put in probably the best performance of the season so far to beat Fulham 2-0. The scenes at the end as Jones celebrated wildly in front of the Albion fans were very special, if it were up to me I’d have given him the job there and then, but that is probably why I’m not in charge of making those decisions and Tony Bloom is. You can tell what that night meant to him too by watching his post-match interview.

Later that week Chris Hughton was appointed manager and Jones was kept on as a first team coach. Hughton in fact was keen to keep him on board and had some nice things to say about Jones on his appointment. “Nathan Jones will very much be part of my first-team coaching staff and he has done a fantastic job here. I’m particularly grateful for the last two results and as somebody from the outside with a keen interest looking in, I was hoping that the last two results would fare well, and he has done very well. I have a lot of respect for him as an individual and also as a coach, so I’m delighted to have him on board.”

The next four and a half years saw Hughton and the team he went on to build cement their names as Albion legends; legends that will be spoken about for generations to come. And once survival from relegation was secured with relative comfort, it was a period where Hughton would begin to build possibly the best side in the club’s history.

2015/16 – but you don’t appreciate joy without having experienced plenty of heartache. And 15/16 was to see an Albion side would experience a great deal of that. After an intense season-long promotion race with rivals Burnley and Middlesbrough went down to the final day, Brighton missed out on goal difference.

It was the nearest of near misses as going into the final day, Burnley were two points ahead of Middlesbrough and Brighton but as Brighton travelled to Middlesbrough on the final round of fixtures, they had already achieved promotion. So it came down to this showdown at the Riverside, with both teams knowing that a win would see them up, but a 1-1 draw meant both finished on 89 points (a points total good enough for automatic promotion almost every other season in recent history) and Brighton missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference by just two goals.

The nature of the miss left everyone demoralised ahead of the familiar and this time less eagerly anticipated playoffs semi-final, which would this time be against Sheffield Wednesday.

It wasn’t just the nature of the miss but also the fact the playoffs hadn’t been kind to Brighton, and the first leg at Hillsborough would be no different as a 2-0 defeat left the Albion with an unenviable deficit to overturn.

It was a game to forget, with Dale Stephens suspended after receiving a controversial red against Middlesbrough, and Lewis Dunk also suspended for the first leg, whilst the returning veteran Bobby Zamora missed the entire run-in through an injury, the team were severely weakened. This injury for Zamora was one that ended up forcing him to retire, ending an enjoyable but short swansong that brought back memories of his first spell. Brighton lost another four players to injury during the first 60 minutes leaving them down to ten. And after Kieran Lee gave Wednesday a 2-0 lead many thought would be unassailable.

And so it proved, but it was not without the Albion throwing everything at their opponents in the second leg at the AMEX. In these circumstances you’d usually say the team threw the kitchen sink at them, well here the Albion threw the whole kitchen at them; washing machine, oven, cupboards and all, but to no avail as Wednesday stood firm.

When Dunk game Albion the lead on 19 minutes it felt like it could be our day, but Wednesday quickly equalised within nine minutes and Albion went on to miss a plethora of chances to make a comeback. 27 shots, 9 on target but only 1 goal to show for it. It was to a degree the same old story, three semi-final defeats in four years, three different managers, but when it came to the crunch playoff game the same old problems.

But this day felt different to the others, gut-wrenching, yes. But not as demoralising. For a start I doubt the atmosphere in the AMEX for that second leg will ever be topped, and to go with it was an inspiring performance of real effort and intent from the Albion players. Despite the crushing miss of automatic promotion and the crushing defeat at Hillsborough this team was still kicking.

2016/17 – the next time we all convened at the AMEX there was a reinvigorated optimism around the place. There had been many good summer additions, including a certain Steven Sidwell, now 33, that we came across back in 2003 during a loan spell with the club as a young up-and-coming player. The club also signed Northern Ireland international Oliver Norwood to bolster numbers in a central midfield that had become over-reliant on the partnership of Stephens and Kayal. Shane Duffy was to sign later that month, a player who would go on to form a formidable partnership with Lewis Dunk at the back. And then there was the return of Glenn Murray. A man who’d left the club in 2011 on the eve of the move to the AMEX to join rivals Palace was back and would quickly win round any remaining doubters with his keen eye for goal.

But more than that, key players had been held onto, Dale Stephens and Lewis Dunk in particular had been subject to fierce transfer rumours of a move away, but both stayed, largely due to the club’s firmness to reject a number of offers. Clearly a sign they’d learnt lessons from the ill effects of the sale of key players in prior transfer windows.

When the first home game came around against Nottingham Forest there was plenty of optimism of the team going one better and finally achieving that coveted goal of automatic promotion to the topflight.

And it was a game that mirrored much of what was good about this Albion team, Anthony Knockaert who went on to win Championship player of the season scored the opener and then the returning Glenn Murray scored his first two goals after returning to the club and was set on his way to scoring 23 that season.

What followed was possibly the best season on the club’s history when it’s comes to pure joy and glory. At times winning felt like an unvarying habit and losing inconceivable.

After unexpectedly losing at home to Brentford in early September the team didn’t lose again in 2016. And aside from that Bristol City defeat at home where the team had already been promoted, only Champions Newcastle took all three points from the AMEX from there on in.

After the win over Forest, Brighton went top that night as a result of playing on a Friday night ahead of the rest of the division. They went on to spend 76% of the season in those automatic promotion places, including most importantly the last one. Premier League here we come!

2017/18 – There were more triumphant days than the 2-0 home defeat to eventual Champions Manchester City, but for me there have been no game which filled me with more pre-match excitement, maybe except from the opening game against Doncaster six years before.

Brighton in the Premier League, that’s right Premier F***ing League! The hairs on the back of my neck were stood up all day with anticipation. Before the game Brighton city centre was packed with football fans of both the royal-blue and sky-blue persuasion and the 5-30 kick off allowed everyone a bit more time for everyone to lap up the atmosphere and enjoy the build-up on a sunny late summer day.

Once you got into the ground you were greeted with the sight of countless TV crews lining the pitch in anticipation of the Premier League’s opening weekend late Saturday kick off, this felt like Brighton were finally box office.

As the teams came out a banner was lifted in the North Stand saying “From Hereford to Here”, the title of a poem written for the occasion by Atilla the Stockbroker which was based around the club’s rise since that win at Hereford in 1997 that kept the club in the football league. For me it wasn’t quite from Hereford away in 97 to here but from Hartlepool at home in 99 to here, but it had still been some rise that I’d been lucky enough to witness the majority of.

At times during the mid-Withdean years when the Stadium planning permission battle seemed endless, it was hard to imagine the club playing in the top flight, but 34 years since the club last reached these height, 20 years since that Hereford game and the closing of the Goldstone and 6 years since the opening of the AMEX it had finally come. Through all the battles with shoddy owners, planning committees and playoff semi-final opponents, the club had finally made it.

The game itself was less important but as brilliant as the day was, City were just as mesmerising, and Albion matched them for large periods. And in fact, Albion nearly took the lead before two quick goals around the hour mark sealed a 2-0 win for City.

This was a lesson in what the step up to the topflight was all about, the ball retention, passing accuracy and constant tempo of the City possession was like nothing the team had seen in the Championship. So, they quickly found out what survival would require and in the coming months Hughton’s men continuously progressed and eventually achieved safety with the relative comfort of two games to spare.

2018/19 – Finally, we come to last season and when it comes to the best moments of that season there are none that beat the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. But rather than focus on the game here I want to focus on the day, and what a day it was.

Yes we lost, but the day was never about the result, it was about the club and its fans enjoying a historic day in the club’s history. Brighton fans filled pubs all over London, from Marylebone to Mayfair, from The Globe in Baker Street to The Green Man in Wembley. And the pre-match the atmosphere in the west end of Wembley stadium was a sight that could have put a lump in the back of the throat of even the less sentimental from within our fanbase.

For me the best moment of the day was still to come. At the final whistle 35,000 Brighton fans stood on their feet applauding and cheering their side. Proud of their efforts and appreciative of what had been a memorable cup run for the club, it’s second best performance in the FA Cup and the best for 36 years.

These were post-match celebrations that will live long in the memory. I, like I’m sure many others, felt quite emotional at the end, maybe it was the weariness from the battle, maybe it was the sound of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” ringing around the Stadium, a song that has become synonymous with the club, or maybe it was sharing such a momentous day with family and friends. Either way it had been a second half performance from the team to be praised. Whilst chances were few and far between, this Albion side had pushed possibly the greatest team in the world right to the end. And after a few post-match drinks to savour every drop of the day we went home satisfied that we’d made the most of it and the team had done the City proud.

Whilst some would criticise this as a typically negative performance from Brighton, including the BBC’s Jermaine Jenas who called it as “missed opportunity” for the club, they were up against a great team. And you only have to look at the final ten minutes where Brighton did throw players forward in attack to see what they were up against, a period in which the Albion managed to create no clear cut chances, whilst City created the best of the game on the break, which Raheem Stirling struck tamely into the hands of Brighton ‘keeper Maty Ryan.

The club hoped this would be a springboard for the two key home games coming next in their relegation run-in, but instead the team lost both games at home to Bournemouth and fellow-strugglers Cardiff and only stumbled to safety when at one point it looked like it would be achieved comfortably. But achieved it was and I go into my twenty first season as an Albion fan supporting a topflight club, which considering all that has gone before is pretty special.

Twenty things from twenty seasons (part 1)

According to the World Health Organization, twenty years equates to around a fifth of the average life expectancy in the UK. It is also a period of time that equates to around a sixth of the history of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.

So on reaching the culmination of the twentieth season since I decided to start following the Albion, and as the club approaches the twenty year anniversary of moving back to Brighton and making Withdean Stadium its temporary home, it feels like a good time to reflect. So here’s a few memories from times gone by.

1999/20 – You never forget your first game. But by 1999, I’d already been a football goer for a few years, having been sporadically taken to Arsenal and England games by my parents. But it wasn’t until Saturday 6th November 1999 when I first experienced the Albion live. A day which saw an unspectacular 1-0 win over Hartlepool at Withdean Stadium.

I remember little of the games aside from Jamie Campbell’s headed goal and the subsequent firework that followed. Something that became a regular celebration of Albion goals at Withdean for the majority of the club’s time there.

It was a game Albion Manager Micky Adams described as having a “dead” atmosphere. No wonder really considering the quality of the match and the fact it was such an incredibly cold day. I still remember my brothers’ complaints ringing in our ears, so if you’d told him then that we’d be regularly frequenting this place for the next twelve years I expect his response would have been far from friendly.

Yes, the Withdean wasn’t a place to be when the weather wasn’t on your side, with no protection from the elements. And on this day the wind swept through the newly upgraded converted athletic stadium with a fierce harshness. But nonetheless this was a place we would grow to begrudgingly love over the coming years.

2000/01 – The next season a man arrived at the club who for a while defined my love for it. And when Bobby Zamora signed for the Albion from Bristol Rovers for £100k I think the majority of fans thought we’d go on to win the league. So much so that on the first day of the season away at Southend the Albion away end sung chants of ‘Championes’ before the game, only for the team to embarrassingly then lose 2-0.

But nonetheless the team did win the league with Zamora the league’s top scorer on 28. We all know the rest, those three seasons with the club go down as one of my favourite periods over these two decades. A period that began and ended with the transfer of Bobby Zamora.

2001/02 – In the third season at the Withdean it got even better for the Albion. The team continued their supremacy and marched on to a second consecutive title and promotion. With a little help from that man Bobby Zamora, who once again top scored with 28.

Even the departure of manager Micky Adams couldn’t derail the Albion’s journey onwards and upwards. After he left for Leicester City, Peter Taylor moved in the opposite direction and got the team over the line. But, he then left in the summer after realising the club’s plans for a new stadium and the financial resources available to strengthen the team, weren’t quite what he’d been hoping for.

But for me the moment of the season was that Swindon game at home. The worst 0-0 you’ll ever see, but a result that secured yet another championship title. There’s nothing like seeing your team win a title but seeing them do it two seasons in a row is particularly special.

The club had won two titles winning promotions in my first three seasons as an Albion fan, but what I was soon to find out was that there would be just as many ups as there would be downs.

2002/03 – And inevitably after such a sharp jump up the leagues, the following season was one of those downs. Whilst the season started brightly with four points from the first two games, a run of 12 straight defeats followed and the writing was on the wall for the Albion.

But after Steve Coppell was brought in to replace the hopelessly out of his depth Martin Hinshlewood as manager the team put up a great fight and almost survived. At one point remarkably lifting themselves out of the relegation zone.

And a game that summed up this fight was a 2-2 draw at home to Burnley. The club’s had met on the first day of the season a day which saw a 3-1 win for Brighton at Turf More, a win that had preceded that losing run. And when the clubs met again in the December of that season there would be more Albion celebrations.

But first the Albion once again found themselves behind. Burnley were dominant in the first half and finally took a deserved lead through Glen Little. Then after many chances came and went and with less than twenty minutes to go, Burnley first goalscorer Little found Ian Moore with a cross who doubled the Clarets lead.

I like many Albion fans had seen this story too many times before that season and assumed that was that. I was close to giving up and leaving when unthinkably the Albion mounted a comeback through a 20-year-old young rookie on loan from Arsenal named Steve Sidwell.

And it was that man Zamora who was to turn provider this time. First, he found Sidwell with a cross who pulled the deficit back to one with three minutes left on the clock. Then the duo combined again for Sidwell to equalise and cue bedlam in the rickety South Stand in the Withdean rain.

It wasn’t just that the Albion had got a result by scoring two late goals, but also that it was done so despite being second best for long periods. But after a successful spell on loan Chairman Dick Knight made a futile attempt to sign him when Steve Sidwell’s loan soon ended. But instead Sidwell went to Reading where he was later a key player as the club achieved promotion to the topflight. The Albion’s main marksman Zamora would also leave at the end of the season for topflight Tottenham. I wonder what that side could have gone on to achieve if it had held the same pulling power that the club does now to enable it to hold onto its best players.

2003/04 – So a new season brought a new dawn for Brighton back in the third tier. As following the resignation of manager Steve Coppell who left in the September of that season to join Steve Sidwell at Reading, there was another new manager in the shape of Mark McGhee.

Whilst Coppell didn’t save Albion from relegation, he had at least ensured there was a fight and that 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, constructing 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.

And it was McGhee’s charisma and wit that pushed the Albion over the line into a playoff place for promotion back to the second tier at the first time of asking.

After being drawn against Swindon in the playoff semi-final and winning the first leg 1-0, the Albion were poor in the return home leg. After going 2-0 down in extra time they needed a late goal from defender Adam Virgo to take the game to a penalty shootout, which they won to get to the final.

That Virgo equaliser still goes down as a favourite Albion goal of mine. We thought we were beaten; some fans had already begun to leave, and it really was the 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.

Then came the final, one of the great Brighton and Hove Albion days as nearly 30,000 Albion fans descending on the Welsh capital of Cardiff, a following about four times larger than the average attendances the club were getting at the time at Withdean.

Ultimately, we won the game when we were given a penalty through a 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 that’s how it ended.

But 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 postcards saying: “We’re pleased to be here (with a picture of the Cardiff Millennium Stadium), but we wish we were here (with a picture of the design for the new stadium)” the club gave out with the playoff final tickets and that fans 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.” But this was to continue for some time yet.

2004/05 – Given that the planning permission battle was to run on for a few more seasons, the fact the club avoided relegation from the second tier for the only time during the Withdean era is a testament to the good work Mark McGhee was doing at the club.

His style wasn’t to everyone’s taste though and would eventually be his downfall a couple of years later. One of the best examples of his approach was the switch of Adam Virgo from Centre Back to Striker to play him as a target man, eventually becoming the club’s top scorer that season.

I remember the surprise when I first saw that he was playing up front. Like most I first thought it was bizarre, but this exemplified the makeshift nature at the club that McGhee had to work with at the time.

This was first tried in what was a notable 1-0 win for the Seagulls away to recently relegated from the topflight Leicester City, who were incidentally managed by former and also future Albion manager Micky Adams.

And it was just as bizarre of a winner as the Leicester defence’s failed offside trap left Virgo with so much room, he had plenty of time to set himself and slot the ball home past former England goalie Ian Walker.

And he wasn’t the only former England international on show for Leicester as up the other end Dion Dublin wasted a few opportunities to peg back the seagulls. In fact, this was a Leicester team full of players with plenty of topflight experience and the three points were a real coup for the Albion.

Virgo admitted the forward role wasn’t one he relished saying after the Leicester win: “I wouldn’t say I am enjoying playing up front. There is a lot of running involved” and McGhee was clear that it wasn’t in his long-term plan saying: “Adam is a better centre half than centre forward or right-back and eventually he will be a terrific centre half for us.”

But Virgo never really did get the chance to do that. He played most of that season as a make-shift target man, top scoring with eight. In doing so he caught the eye of Celtic manager and former teammate of McGhee, Gordon Strachan, who signed Virgo for £1.5m. A deal Dick Knight described as “the best deal I ever did”.

Things didn’t work out though for Virgo at Celtic as personal issues and broken promises counted against him. After a knee injury during a loan spell at Coventry he found himself back at Brighton in 2008. When despite being a fairly regular face in the team over those next two seasons, he never looked like the potentially great centre back he had under McGhee pre-injury. And when his contract ran out, he left the club in 2010, subsequently ending his playing days with spells at Yeovil and Bristol Rovers.

2005/06 – The following season Brighton couldn’t repeat the feat of survival again, ultimately succumbing to relegation as the bottom placed team sitting a whopping 12 points from safety. Whilst the club had made a huge financial gain on the sale of Virgo, much of that money went into keeping the club and its fight for a new stadium afloat and as such the on-pitch matters suffered.

But there were still some high points. In particular when Albion won a meeting between themselves and rivals Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park 1-0 through a Paul McShane header. A win that to a degree dispelled the ghosts of the 5-0 defeat there that bookended the 12-game losing run in 2002.

Brighton were favoured by the fact that hat-trick hero of that day back in 2002 for Palace Andy Johnson started on the bench due to injury. But it was Albion’s strike-force which looked like it was missing something as an out of form Leon Knight and a young Jake Robinson spurned a number of chances until McShane became the unlikely goalscoring hero to earn Albion a morale boosting victory.

But later that season Palace came to our place and got a late winner through Jobi McAnuff and beat the Albion 3-2 to even the score. It just seemed like they always got the better of us and always had the last say. How things change.

2006/07 – So with the club back in the third tier and with everyone still stinging from the horrors that they saw over the previous season; Mark McGhee was sacked in September only a handful of games into the season.

In his place came former club captain and more recently Youth team coach, Dean Wilkins. Once in charge he put his focus almost entirely on developing the young players at the club. But unfortunately, as Dick Knight says in his autobiography: “a good coach doesn’t necessarily make a good manager.”

The first season he had in charge was far from a success as the Seagulls finished only six points and three places above the relegation zone.

But as always in the darkness, there is still light. And that came with a humongous 8-0 win over Northwich Victoria in the FA Cup first round that was played in front of just four and a half thousand dedicated souls at the Withdean Stadium. With Brighton 2-0 up at half time the Conference side crumbled as they went on to concede six second half goals.

This was a win that would end up being Brighton’s equal third highest winning margin in its history. A margin that is only beaten by a nine-goal winning margin over Wisbech Town in the FA Cup first round in 1965 and a twelve-goal winning margin over Brighton Amateurs in the FA Cup first qualifying round in 1902.

Jake Robinson scored a hat trick, Dean Cox scored a brace and there were also goals for Alex Revell, Sam Rents and Joe Gatting. Notably, Alex Revell was the only one of the five goalscorers that wasn’t a product of Dean Wilkins work with the youth team.

In fact, one of those youth products Jake Robinson is a man associated with another Albion record as being the youngest ever goalscorer for the club, a feat he achieved three years earlier against Forest Green in the Football League trophy.

But Dean Wilkins partiality towards his youth team products went far beyond that of a run out for a highly rated sixteen-year-old in a neglected and low priority cup competition. The scorers that day were a sign of the work Wilkins did whilst manager that was at times foolhardy. Dick Knight admitted in his autobiography that a number of potential signings were turned down by Wilkins whilst others that did materialise, like a young Glenn Murray, would often be used as bit part players to make room for Wilkins youth team players.

Whilst his overall vision of a team fill of Sussex born players leading Albion out at the AMEX was a noble one, it almost certainly could not have been achieved whilst gaining Brighton promotion back to the second tier as Poyet would achieve four years later.

2007/08 – The following season saw a significant upturn in fortunes as the team finished 7th and were ultimately unfortunate to just miss out on a playoff place to Leeds United. This was all-but confirmed the night before a trip to Bristol Rovers for Albion’s last away game of the season. Nonetheless they took a good away support with Wilkins referencing this saying: “It is the best in the division by an absolute mile… After Leeds won on Friday it looks like we have missed out on the play-offs, so the amount of fans turning out here today was quite phenomenal.”

I remember it being an unusually sunny day for a football match and I ended up with a quite rosy-red sunburnt shade to my facial skin-tone due to the uncovered away end. I’m not a regular at away games, mainly due to a general laziness when it comes to committing to the long journeys involved. But on this occasion living a 10-minute walk down the road from Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Ground it wasn’t as huge of a commitment as usual.

And it was a game the travelling support who had made the journey from Sussex wouldn’t regret doing so, as goals from Ian Westlake and Glenn Murray earned Brighton a 2-0 win.

The game was advertised as the last game at the Memorial Ground for Bristol Rovers, but we returned their next season after redevelopment of the ground was delayed and then later scrapped altogether. They still play there to this day.

It’s been a while since Rovers started talking of moving stadium and have since lost significant ground to city neighbours Bristol City who’ve redeveloped their previously run-down Ashton Gate stadium into a modern stadium fit for the purpose of topflight football. Rovers story is one that really makes you appreciate the AMEX.

That day in 2008 turned out to be Wilkins last away game in charge of the Albion as he was demoted back to a first team coach over the summer. In his autobiography Chairman Dick Knight admitted that he’d “lost confidence in Dean Wilkins abilities as a manager.”

2008/09 – So the summer of 2008 then saw another new manager, this time it was the return of the man who built the team that I had initially fallen in love with back in 1999, Micky Adams. As a result, the excitement and optimism at the club seemed to be on its way back. And it was enough for me and my brother to get season tickets again, which considering I was still living in Bristol made it quite a personal commitment, but Micky was worth it.

However, despite a decent start repeated home defeats followed. One home game that remarkably didn’t end in defeat was the visit of Premier League Man City in the League Cup. Unlike now the visit of a topflight team was a real novelty but living and working in Bristol meant evening games were a no-go for me and I had to settle for watching Sky Sports News for score updates.

So I was left jumping around my living room amongst my slightly bemused housemates as the winning penalty went in that gave Albion a victory at the end of an engrossing 2-2 draw. It’s a shame that the team were otherwise so dreadful that season. The return of Micky Adams didn’t work out at all, but as well as this moment of glory there was also the run to the semi-finals of the Football League Trophy, where the Albion were a penalty shootout away from a final at Wembley, but it was not to be.

Not long after that game Micky Adams was sacked, and Russel Slade came in as his replacement. The change was needed, the team looked hopeless and doomed to face relegation under Adams towards the end of his reign with him stood seemingly helpless on the sidelines.

However, under Slade’s leadership the Albion did stay up on the final day of the season thanks to a 1-0 win over Stockport that bookended a truly great escape from relegation by the team.

In doing so they had managed to avoid falling into the football league’s bottom tier, which considering we were now two years from the opening of the AMEX, feels like a pivotal moment in the club’s recent history.

To read part two click here