Frustration and promise, with Albion set to break multiple records

Last weekends draw with Leeds in many ways reflected the story of the season for Graham Potter’s Brighton side. An impressive performance, being much the better team for the majority and yet coming away with less than they deserve.

Yet another draw that could and probably should have been a win. The 15th draw of the season, equalling a club topflight record from 1979/80. Not the club topflight record we were hoping to get on Sunday.

However, there is plenty reason to celebrate. As well as extending the club’s good run over Leeds, that could be the point that secures a record high topflight league finish for the club. And whilst the early season talk of European qualification soon petered out, results elsewhere also mean a win on the final day against West Ham would be enough for a top half finish. Which given our good record against them, is very possible.

Either way, it is also a point that gives Albion a total of 48 points, which as well as being a Premier League record, means they now have achieved their highest ever points per game average in a topflight season. Less than the 52 gained in 1981/82, but that was in a 42 game season.

And Albion’s good end of season is more than just positive for the sake of a few records and statistics. It gives a more positive glow on the season than there was just a month and a half ago when the club drew at home with bottom placed Norwich after a run of six straight defeats.

The subsequent introduction of Moises Caicedo in particular has been revolutionary, with Graham Potter even admitting he made a mistake in not giving him a chance earlier. A player whose presence has greatly diminished the panic surrounding the seemingly inevitable departure of Yves Bissouma this season and the long term injury to Jakub Moder.

Meanwhile, Danny Welbeck’s supreme leading of the line flanked by the ever-improving Leandro Trossard and Alexis Mac Allister have all meant even the seemingly endless panic surrounding Albion’s lack of depth up front has somewhat diminished.

However, it does raise other question marks. Particularly about the future of two young players in those areas of the squad, Steven Alzate and Aaron Connolly.

Both were introduced into the first team by Graham Potter back in 2019 and had meteoric rises to prominence, but have both since struggled to maintain that upward momentum.

Steven Alzate was signed from League 2 Leyton Orient in 2017 and loaned to League 2 Swindon in 2018. But soon after his first team debut the following year was called up to the Columbian national team, then ranked 10th in the world and soon became crucial to both his club and national team.

But his 9 appearances (including just 5 starts) in the Premier League this season is his lowest since his promotion to the first team and he subsequently wasn’t even named of the subs bench for Columbia’s World Cup qualifiers in March.

His former development teammate Aaron Connolly’s impressive home league debut, which saw him score twice against a desperately poor Tottenham side, also saw Connolly called up by his national team, Ireland. But he has also struggled to make a consistent impact for both club and country since, on the pitch at least. And even a loan period at Championship side Middlesbrough, where he scored just twice in 21 appearances, has seemingly failed to relight his promising career.

The momentum behind Connolly that saw him become one of the hottest youth properties in the country after an impressive 2018/19 season with Albion’s development team which saw him beat Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah to the Premier League 2 Player of the season award, has truly been halted.

But where some fail, others may prosper, and there are many other members of Albion’s loan army who will return this summer with renewed vigour after impressive seasons.

Arguably most notably is defender Jan Paul Van Hecke, who was named Blackburn Rovers player of the season, and returns south with his fellow Blackburn loanee Reda Khedra who has also shown plenty of promise. Meanwhile eyes will also be on Karou Mitoma, Kacper Kozlowski and the recently added Dennis Undav, whose joint part in the recent success of Tony Bloom’s Belgian side project USG has seen them all earmarked as possible Albion stars of the future.

And that selection of players is merely the tip of the iceberg when it come to potential first team additions next season from

the clubs bulging roster of existing options. As Graham Potter has shown in the past with the likes of Robert Sanchez, he isn’t afraid to pluck a player from obscurity to fill a first team place. So I won’t even try to cover all the bases.

Just seven weeks ago, Albion’s long list of out of contract first team players, both this and next summer, being coupled with their poor run of form was giving us Albion fans mounting concerns for next season. But, oh how a few wins can change your perspective. As the club has settled nicely into the calm of mid table obscurity with games to spare, this space has allowed for the opportunities of the future to come to the fore, of which there are many.

This is in great contrast to the club’s previous record high topflight finish of 13th in 1981/82.

Then Albion manager Mike Bailey, who’d only taken over from Alan Mullery at the begging of the season, had set the team up playing an uninspiring defensive style of football that wasn’t to everyone’s taste, including chairman Mike Bamber. And whilst it at first produced results, with a landmark 1-0 win at Anfield leaving the team 8th in the league, a subsequent run of ten defeats in the last 14 games of the season meant the club finished in 13th. 

After the slump at the end of the season and along with the negativity surrounding Bailey’s defensive tactics, the club started the following season in unsettled fashion. This wasn’t helped when club captain Steve Foster handed in a transfer request, telling the press at the time: “It just seems like the chairman doesn’t want to move forward.”

It’s fair to say that Bamber had a lot on his plate, with the club financially unstable and reportedly losing £6,000 a week, he needed to get people coming back through the turnstiles to turn the financial tide in danger of crashing against the club.

These were dark days in English football’s popularity and reputation and attendances were falling. Albion’s were no different, at times were falling under 10,000. As far as Bamber was concerned: “I have been bitterly disappointed at the very poor sale of season tickets and wonder if the Sussex public really want First Division football,” he said in August of that season.

The following season the club was relegated and after mounting debt from the excesses of those glory years, the club went on a downward spiral to almost falling out the football league and out of existence just over a decade later.

Recent examples of the likes of Leeds, who finished an impressive 9th last season gaining plenty of by plaudits, show us not to be complacent about Albion’s recent success. But we can also be glad of the comparatively vastly greater structural and financial stability at the club than in their previous topflight jaunt.

The modern reality of the club is very different. Yes this season has seen it’s fair share of frustration. But amongst all that frustration last weekend was another example of the best thing about this season from a Brighton perspective, how much scope for improvement there is despite being on the verge of a club record league finish.

And even if things on the pitch do take a turn for the worse, with the backing of Tony Bloom the club is in safe hands to be able to withstand a setback and come back fighting, unlike in the aftermath of the clubs previous record breaking league finish.

Looking for the good amongst the frustration

As the final whistle blew on a cold spring afternoon at the AMEX stadium, the boos rang out across the South Downs. Boos heard from many of the remaining hardy souls who had braved the chill, not that of the spring breeze but that of Albion’s recent poor form.

There has been many voicing their frustration over the home support at the AMEX this season. But given the rudderless nature of Albion’s otherwise admirable attacking play for much of Graham Potter’s tenure, that so many still come to support the team with hope of better and are renewing their season tickets for next season despite the uninspiring nature of much of the football on show, actually in contrast says a lot about the dedicated supportiveness of the AMEX faithful.

Albion’s goalless draw with bottom side Norwich City extended the clubs winless run to 7 games and their scoreless home run to 5 games. With games running out in Graham Potter’s third season in charge of the club he has still failed to win as many Premier league games at the AMEX as his predecessor Chris Hughton.

Under Graham Potter Brighton have won just 12 home games out of 52 in the Premier League, still one less than under Hughton did in just 38 games.

For all the talk of progress, Graham Potter’s Albion statistics are in many aspects quite comparable to that of his predecessor, whose achievements he was brought in to build on and surpass. Albion have averaged a fairly measly 1.00 goals scored per game under Graham Potter in the Premier League at the AMEX, compared to 1.13 under the more defensive Chris Hughton.

And yet there has been tangible progress, particularly away from the AMEX where Albion have doubled their points return compared to that under Chris Hughton. Brighton won just 24 points from 38 games away from home under Hughton, 0.63 per game, vs the 58 from 52 games under Potter, or 1.12 points per game.

And despite all the frustration, the style of football and quality of possession from the team has noticeably changed for the better under Potter’s tenure as many statistics will tell you, aside from the ones that really count of course, goals scored, and points accumulated.

The frustration of the Hughton era hasn’t gone away, and if anything, this season has reached a new nadir in that regard. Despite some irritation towards this frustration, it’s not entirely unreasonable. According to whoscored.com Brighton have scored just three goals from open play at home in the league all season. That’s the equal lowest in all of England’s top four divisions along with Gillingham and is dramatically behind their average across their previous four Premier League seasons of 13.

Gloomy stuff, it seems like it was a long time ago that we were talking of top half finishes and dreaming of a European tour. The club right now is full of ambition, but at the moment there’s a growing feeling of unfulfilled ambition. A factor creating an environment of frustration, anxiety, and despondency. The perfect recipe for depression

But amongst all this gloom it’s worth remembering where the club is right now and comparing that not just to its entire history but particularly to where it was when Tony Bloom took over as Chairman back in 2009.

As a reminder, having narrowly survived relegation to the 4th tier on the last day of the season (by beating Stockport County 1-0, who by contrast are currently playing in the National League), Albion had finally got permission to build their new stadium in Falmer, but due to the global economic crash and credit crunch, they suddenly had no way of paying for it.

So, in stepped Tony Bloom and as the saying goes, the rest is history. Within two years the club were League One Champions and had moved into their brand spanking new stadium. Six years later they were a topflight club for the first time in 34 years.

What a whirlwind, in hindsight it was probably the best period to be an Albion fan in its history. That level of success, progression and excitement will probably never be matched again. The club literally went from living out of portacabins to being “Premier League ready” in just a matter of months, it truly was a dream come true.

So, it’s understandable that the subsequent and inevitable flatlining of that progress has led to significant frustration. Frustration that when comparing the team’s fortunes at home and away has clearly seeped into the teams’ performances at the AMEX.

To a degree it’s the natural process for many football clubs. Success and joy, followed by a natural flatlining and then subsequent regression back to the mean amongst an inevitable environment of frustration.

How many club’s supporters describe themselves as a “sleeping giant” with “lots of hidden potential”? I’d say a good chunk of the football league, but for every winner there must be a loser.

Despite this, in his relatively short time as chairman Tony Bloom has uncovered the potential in the club that had been hidden for most of the over a century worth of history prior to his ownership. It’s the type of story most clubs and fans dream of, we have lived that dream.

In 2013, less than two years after the AMEX had opened its doors, manager Gus Poyet said it was “now or never” for Albion to win Premier League promotion due to the effect of FFP on the Championship. But despite the club losing in the playoffs that season they continued to compete, losing again in the playoffs the season after that, and again two years later, before finally achieving automatic promotion to the topflight in 2017. It’s fair to say we’ve become accustomed to the club excelling our expectations. But that can’t always happen, and continuous progression is not sustainable, especially in such a competitive environment as the Premier League.

Frustration and feelings of gloom are a natural part of life, as it often has a habit of reminding us. But recent life experiences have made me realise that even in the most difficult times there is joy and hope and that we must appreciate that for all its worth. Otherwise, the bad can swallow you up and there can seem like no way out.

I’m not one of motivational quotes, but in the low times you’ll try whatever you can to achieve some solace. One quote that does help me on those occasions is: “life is full of beautiful possibilities”. The problem is we are often too concerned with the adverse possibilities to fully appreciate it when the beautiful possibilities come to fruition.

In that spirit (and I know it’s obvious and boring to say) we really should appreciate Albion being in the topflight whilst it lasts, because it won’t last forever. Tony Bloom is quite obviously a genius, but even his genius has its limitations.

When the love is gone

I’m sure many football fans who follow the game in Britain will share in my despair at some of the characteristics of the modern game. Since the Premier League necessarily pulled it out of the doldrums and into the 21st century, it has continued to grow, but now to a point that it has grown so far, it can’t even see its own feet.

Ultimately that growth has taken much of the joy out of the game. Most prominently demonstrated by an abundance of football YouTubers getting angry about the most trivial of things. This isn’t what football was meant to be about, is it?

To me and many others football is a fun hobby and national pastime, so it makes me sad that for so many it’s become an opportunity to simply get angry and vent frustration.

Probably the best example of the soulless nature of modern football is the latest incarnation of Manchester City, assembled by an oil state, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for the purpose of Sportwashing. A club that made their now annual visit to the AMEX recently running out 4-1 winners.

But rather than being awestruck by their superiority, I was left feeling numb. A team that is potentially the most talented ever assembled to compete in English domestic competitions, but one that given the circumstances that talent was amalgamated, it’s hard to find any joy in.

The way football is going all the joy that we love will soon be dead and all that will be left is angry people settling grudges about whose club is bigger and whose club is ‘tinpot’, whilst sovereign wealth funds pump billions into a small group of “super-clubs”, who continually compete for all the major honours. 

The recent takeover at Newcastle by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund PIF is for many, including myself, an aberration. But it is just another step along the current path of modern British football. But a step that has seemingly woken up many to the fact that its endless search for growth and success has gone too far.

Newcastle’s recent trip to our rivals Crystal Palace saw Palace supporters unveil a striking banner in protest at the PIF’s involvement in the Premier League. A protest that received claims of racism that were disregarded by the Metropolitan Police. Similar criticisms of Man City’s owners have received similar claims of racism too, claims raised to mask the genuine and important message the protests are making.

The human rights abuses in question are vast. According to Amnesty international, the human rights watch group, both Saudi Arabia and UAE have terrible human rights record. Both have a record over the repression of the rights to freedom of expression, both countries retain the death penalty, which includes the threat of the death penalty because of “same-sex sexual activity”. Whilst several detainees remain in prison past the completion of their sentences without legal justification or because of grossly unfair trials.

To their credit, Palace’s supporters have carried out this type of protest several times before, but as has been pointed out, they are themselves among several British clubs with some level of Saudi investment. And after all, the Premier League continues to make millions selling TV rights to these parts of the world and doing business (directly or indirectly) with regimes that commit human rights abuses and are in direct contradiction to the campaigns from the Premier League and its member clubs for greater diversity and the removal of discrimination.

The reality is that hypocrisy is rife in football and most clubs have little moral high ground left to stand upon. Some have suggested that Brighton fans should borrow the banner that was displayed by Palace fans for the trip of Newcastle to the AMEX this weekend. It would certainly look good being unfurled at the same time as the adverts for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix that were going around the LED advertising board surrounding the AMEX pitch at recent matches. An event Amnesty international has accused of being a prominent example of sportswashing.

It’s worth caveating here that I have been informed that this advertisement is not a direct club partner, but a sponsorship independent of the club with a third party who are responsible for the LED advertising board for part of the time on match days.

Nonetheless, indirectly or not they are using club property to advertise the event, so we can’t wash our hands of responsibility completely, it reflects on us all, literally in the case of the supporters in the stands on matchdays.

This is an issue throughout football. It wasn’t long ago that Albion changed their sponsor from national paint brand Sandtex to local restaurant Donatello, in part because of the formers links to Focus DIY, a company owned by the infamous former Albion Chairman Bill Archer. And the club was far more desperate for money then than it is now. A statement of principal far removed from most of modern football.

Whilst I appreciate the club must broaden and increase its commercial revenue streams to compete in the topflight, I believe this urge to compete should not come before our moral compass and social conscience. Something the club takes great pride in through its community programs, but one that could be badly damaged by such associations.

Some will say, to be able to become wealthy enough to own a Premier League football club in modern football, you need to be a billionaire and there are little to no billionaires without questionable morality in their past. But there is are questionable elements of a persons past and then there is enacting human rights abuses on a population of over 30 million people.

In my view, change must be driven by a want from all sides. When talking about his role in the Ireland peace process, Tony Blair spoke about the importance of change being a trade between all parties rather than it just being the easier option for one or both parties to embrace. It’s easy to forget just how difficult a peace deal in Ireland between Unionists and Republicans was seen to achieve back in the 1990’s.

Does the Saudi Arabian state have the same inclination for change? Well signs and statements being made by the regime suggest the answer to that is yes, most notably “Saudi Vision 2030” spelling out how they plan to reinforce economic and investment activities, increasing non-oil international trade, and promoting a softer and more secular image of the country. 

In a recent interview with CMEC (the Conservative Middle East Council) Dr Hoda Al-Helassie, a member of the Kingdom’s advisory Shura Council, spoke positively about reforms and progress, telling sceptics to come to Saudi Arabia and take a look for themselves.

But the plan has been criticised for lacking a vision on the improvements of human right. Abdullah Alaoudh, one the initiators, described it as “the chapter that we think has been missing in the Saudi Vision 2030.”

The organisation the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated in a detailed review of Saudi reforms. “While the changes are potentially far-reaching, their ultimate direction is uncertain. Most are individually minor (and few are wholly unprecedented), and they remain quite reversible.” Whilst Amnesty international told The G20 to not “buy the spin” and called it “shameless hypocrisy”.

Some in this discussion over the PIF’s takeover at Newcastle have pointed to the hypocrisy of numerous PIF investments in the UK and other western industries. But rather than this being a sign that we don’t care, these are part of a wider strategy of influence by involvement from the West.

There are many areas of grey here. But few are saying don’t do business with Saudi Arabia at all. Investment to influence modernisations and change is part of the strategy from the west to eradicate human rights abuses in various parts of the world and encourage change. But this should be considered separate from investment in sport from sovereign wealth funds, which are initiated to garner public favour for the country’s regime. The two things are very different.

That isn’t to say all trade and investments with Saudi Arabia are of equal value, some are equally if not more morally questionable and detrimental than the Saudi Arabian investment in Newcastle United. Such as the involvement of the West with various parts of the world in the arms trade deals, which are equally being questioned by human rights groups. But those are for a separate discussion to that about the future of modern football.

Some will say the investment from PIF shines a light on these issues. This ignores the fact that this spotlight can bring significantly more positive than negative media coverage and that the aim is to achieve a net reputational benefit, not to erase bad publicity altogether.

Which takes us back to the nub of the reason why people care so much of sportswashing of this type. It’s about sovereign wealth funds like PIF and the Abu Dhabi United Group attempting to use sporting success to mask the human rights abuses in their country. 

When a western company with PIF investment is successful, the PIF don’t get praise across the world. But if and when Newcastle are successful under their ownership, they will get praise from football fans throughout the world, overshadowing their awful deeds at home.

Some fans of clubs with owners who have been criticised have called out fellow supporters criticism as driven by jealousy. A view that is at best incredibly cynical and in my view appears to take an attitude that a football clubs’ success is deserving of praising owners and should be prioritised ahead of millions of people’s suffering. 

This kind of attitude is why protests are important. Sportswashing that is happening at Man City and Newcastle diverts attention from their owners’ human rights abuses. And when thinking of the owners, rather than thinking of the human suffering that they are responsible for, many instead think of sporting success. 

There are a depressing number of regimes committing human rights abuses throughout the world, which deserve more media coverage. But few use Premier League football in an attempt of Sportswashing like is happening at Newcastle or Man City. That’s why this is being spoken about so much in the English media.

Protests from the public, as shown by the recent European Super League protests, can be hugely influential. And can force government and/or industry to enforce or simply threaten sanctions, which leads to positive change. Change that football so fiercely needs.

I’ve spent most of the past 18 months working from home and getting out for walks at lunchtime, when I can around my work schedule. One of my regular lunchtime walks takes me past a school playground, where noticeably about 90% of the kids there are usually competing in one big game of football.

This is standard practice in playgrounds across the country and the world. Many of our first memories of football will be playing the game rather than watching it. For me this is why football truly is the people’s game, we are all a small part of it.

As Newcastle fans have rightly pointed out, the Premier League sold its moral standing a long time ago. And as the Newcastle fans have demonstrated, most football supporters don’t care about the morals of their owners as long as they bring success to the team. So, some will complain, most will ignore it and we will all have to live with the consequences. Because many have forgotten what football is truly about, the sport and the taking part, not the winning.

The future of football hinges on how we as a supporter base choose to react to the ongoing bastardisation of our national game. We have all been to blame for that, greedily encouraging excesses in search of success. But if football wants to rediscover its soul, something must change and us supporters are the ones who need to make it happen.

I still love football and so do so many others, as demonstrated by all those kids playing the game in playgrounds across the world. But just because that’s the case now doesn’t mean it will always be so. The bastardisation of our great game is in my view approaching breaking point. We need to act soon before the love is gone.

Jingoistic Xenophobes or Jolly Revellers?

The booing of the Germany national anthem by a number of England fans at the European Championships match between the two countries on Tuesday caused much discontent among the watching public. Unfortunately it’s a habit that’s been happening at most England games for years, decades even, along with some other more deplorable chants, particularly about the Germans.

It’s worth saying however that it happens at many other international matches too, including at other matches of the current European Championships. Even the Germans have been known to do it when they play other countries at home as well.

For the majority it is simply part of the pantomime of football, but it also speaks to a hostile nationalist xenophobia that exists amongst a minority of the England Men’s teams regular supporters, as well as among many other national football teams support. It is the type of behaviour you wouldn’t see amongst many other sports national teams support.

However, I think major international sports events bring out far more good than bad, even football tournaments. Something masked by our habit as human beings of focusing on the shocking behaviour of a few plastic chair throwing, racist chanting idiots, over the vast majority of jolly revellers enjoying a major international event. Even if they partake in some practices you find offensive.

Look at the reaction to the taking of a knee by England’s footballers, yes some boo, but the vast majority have been supportive by cheering to drown that booing out. Football supporters, just like most members of society, are largely good people.

We seem to live in such a polarised society right now, where everything is being seen through the prism of a ferocious culture war. A war that has accelerated since the Brexit referendum in 2017, which split the country in two distinct camps, and which subsequently appears to have influenced the culture of ever-polarising debates ever since. So no surprise that the countries national sport and favourite pastime, football, is going the same way.

Football has always had an unattractive element to its fanbase. For many years attitudes of Xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia dominated the terraces, but then again they also dominated in wider society. In the 1980s when Justin Fashanu was hounded by the public and the media for his open homosexuality, so much so it eventually led him to taking his own life, 75% of the UK public thought acts of homosexuality were mostly or entirely immoral.

Much has changed, back then it would have been hard to imagine the captains of both England and Germany football teams wearing rainbow colour captain armbands in a show of solidarity with the LGBT+ community, but that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday. But whilst football now leads the way in terms of messages of support in the fight against various forms of discrimination, major international tournaments still shine a light on the rotten elements of the football family, people who unfortunately represent unwelcome attitudes that still exist in society. However, it still leads to the entire football family being tarred with the same brush.

Football doesn’t help itself either. The tribalism and polarisation of discussions has been encouraged in football for decades by media outlets attempting to drive interest and traffic. And football supporters now seem to be falling over themselves to take polarising positions about managers or players that drive a wedge between them and many of their fellow supporters. You only have to look at the debate surrounding many of England’s star players to see evidence of this.

Football tournaments of the 90’s and 00’s seemed to bring the country together, but in contrast the more recent football tournaments seem to highlight the great divisions that exist in our society and the animosity that exists towards the England football team. No more so than in the reaction to the continuous references by England fans to the famous song “It’s coming home”.

“Football’s coming home” was the tag line to the 1996 European Championships, a tournament hosted in England, and so the official England song written by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds repurposed it and the rest, as they say, is history.

There is a misunderstanding of what was meant by “Football’s coming home” both by some of those who use it and those who disparage it. It was never about imperialism nor some kind of misguided arrogance, nor is it not saying, “we own football”, although it’s convenient for some to interpret it in those ways.

The tag line itself references the fact that the original rules of Football originate from England in 1863 & were then adopted by FIFA in 1904 in what is now the world’s most popular sport.

At the time the originator of the phrase, Chris Thomas who also designed the marketing for Euro 96, said “it’s intentionally simple but let it rest in your head… we think it has infinite possibilities.” Many in hindsight now admit the line was bit crass, and it has been re-engineered and reinterpreted as arrogant when it was never meant as a boast about success.

As David Baddiel said during the 2018 World Cup “Three Lions is a song about loss: about the fact that England mainly lose. We as fans — as English people — invest an enormous amount in the idea of England, and then, as experience suggests, England let you down. We know this and yet we still — as the 98 version put it — believe. Football fandom is this, it’s magical thinking, it’s hope over experience.”

Despite its origins many of the past examples of great global football era aren’t English. The tika-taka of Barcelona, the Total Football of Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and Netherlands, the great flowing football of Brazil, or the contrastingly stern but effective Catenaccio of the Italians. All of which are part of the beautiful evolution of the world favourite sport, a sport which originated from rules set and exported by our country. It’s something internationally recognised by the football family too, with the 4 home nations still making 50% of The governing body of the laws of the game, IFAB.

English football has had huge influence globally, including on some of the great sides previously mentioned. In particular in Brazil where British settlers played a huge part in the establishment of the game. Brazil’s first game was played against the travelling English club team Exeter, whilst Brazilian giants Corinthians took their name from the English amateur team Corinthian Casuals. Meanwhile Italian giants Juventus play in black & white stripes after taking inspiration from another English club team Notts’ County

The protests against the European Super League proposals earlier this year galvanised football fans and showed us how powerful we can be as a society if we use our collective voices. But more recent examples of Tottenham and Everton fans protesting against potential managers before they have even been appointed, including a banner being left outside Rafa Benitez family home warning him not to take the Everton job, show that this power can and is used equally for destructive purposes.

But the power of football is used for good more often than for bad. Even if we ignore the less trivial elements already mentioned such as the use of its platform to tackle all forms of discrimination, football has great powers for good in many other ways too. Most prominently in the way many of us use it as a way into a conversation with people, an ice breaker or a bonding technique with friends, family, work colleagues and acquaintances. Forming bonds that can bring happiness and joy to so many lives.

There will always be those who try to spoil the fun by accusing those supporting their national sports teams of jingoistic tendencies or getting emotional at our club teams success as just utilising it to express repressed emotions, but in reality they are the ones who are losing out on one of the world’s greatest pastimes.

Look at the power of the London 2012 Olympic Games or Euro 96. Huge international sporting events that took place in this country that are both still spoken about to this day in such glowing terms. Some will point to faults in the event and it’s organisation, sure there were a fair few, but just as with most things in sport the overriding effect was a wave of positivity and joy. Personally I’m choosing to continue to ride that wave of joy rather than the one of misery and consternation.

But I think the England manager Gareth Southgate summed it up better than I could in his brilliant Players Tribune piece prior to the tournament. “The reality is that the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there’s much more at stake than that.”

“It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever.”

Mings, Coady and White all in contention for a starting place as England gets ready to Host(ish) a Home(ish) European Championships

England go into the much delayed Euro 2020 with high expectations and the manager Gareth Southgate having an increasingly exciting and talented young group of players to pick from. Hold on, haven’t we been here before?

Maybe, but it does feel like a different England under Southgate. Whilst you cannot please everyone, the team now come across as far more likeable than many of its previous incarnations and that’s backed up by success on the pitch too with two consecutive semi-final appearances now to their name. There is an air of confidence in this team without the arrogance of old and a firm belief in its ability without the brash cockiness seen in past eras.

England start the tournament as favourites to win their group and as one of the most highly fancied teams in the entire tournament, but they won’t be caught by surprise by any of their group opponents with each one in its own way a familiar face.

Each match will be tough, but in many ways the second match with Scotland is looking like the toughest test after an impressive run of results under manager Steve Clarke who has transformed the previously much maligned home nation. Which makes beating England’s World Cup semi-final nemesis Croatia in their opening game all the more important and that won’t be easy opponents either.

Whilst Czech Republic’s win over England in qualification, the success of Czech internationals Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal at West Ham last season, along with the success of the countries invincible domestic league champions Slavia Prague over British teams in the Europa League last season all ensuring England are well aware of their threats too. All three matches mean any speculation over potential last 16 opponents and possible routes to a prospective semi-final and final at Wembley will have to remain on ice for now.

Southgate said after England’s friendly win over Romania last weekend that he had just one place in the starting eleven for Sunday’s opener against Croatia that he was still unsure of, and I wonder if it’s his choice over defensive shape and personnel that this quandary is in relation too.

Much has been made of Man United Captain Harry Maguire’s injury in the lead up to the tournament and if he was fit he would almost certainly start alongside John Stones, but someone’s loss is another person’s opportunity and England’s back-up centre-back options of Mings, Coady and the late addition of our very own Ben White will all likely be in his thoughts.

The pre-existing members of the England squad Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady would appear to be at the front of the queue despite much derision being put their way on social media. Mings as a no nonsense defender may be Southgate’s go to option alongside Stones in a back four, whilst Coady would probably be more likely first pick in a back three.

Mings in particular has seen his fair share of criticism after a couple of unimpressive performances in England’s warm up games, but as many have already pointed out these games are more about gaining/maintaining fitness and avoiding injury than performance. Whilst his two years at Villa in the Premier League marshalling their defence to survival and then an impressive 11th place last season show he’s more than capable to fill the hole in the back four if required. As the Aston Villa online blog “Under A Gaslit Lamp” said recently: “Regardless of the occasional below par performance, Aston Villa are a better team and club due to the fact that Tyrone Mings is a part of it and he will be vital, as Dean Smith tries to steer the club into the upper echelons of the Premier League and back into Europe.” Unfortunately for him, in tournament football any mistake is likely to be amplified and ultimately this may count against him.

As an Albion fan I will be hoping that is the case and it is instead Ben White who gets the nod against Croatia, a player who’s versatility to be able to play in a number of positions along with his potential to improve appears to be what has secured him a place in England’s 26 after the injury to Alexander-Arnold.

White has continued to impress since coming to the attention of the Albion faithful during his multi-award winning season on loan at Newport County and his Rookie Premier League season saw him continue his impressive rise and surprise a few last weekend to win the club’s player of the season award, albeit seemingly with the help of his old friends from Leeds.

Whilst he only made his Premier League debut less than a year ago and his England debut less than two weeks ago, I doubt Gareth Southgate will be afraid to throw him in if he feels that he’s his best choice. After all Southgate himself was handed a surprise call up and subsequent selection to start as centre back for England at Euro 1996. Having only made his England debut seven months before, he started the opener against Switzerland alongside captain Tony Adams with just four caps to his name.

If it is Ben White who starts for England, it will be a huge personal moment for him and his family. But also for the Albion and everyone involved at the club. It is 23 years ago this week that the club made the signing of the Withdean era legend Gary Hart for £1,000 and a set of tracksuits from non-league Stansted, who went on to be the club’s joint top scorer in his first season. That youth team product Ben White has made the England squad this summer, let alone is being discussed as in contention for a start in the opening game, shows just how far the club has come since then.

Ollie Robinson’s Tweets

Last week was one of contrast for Sussex cricketer Ollie Robinson with the joy of his successful England debut matched with the ignominy of various historic offensive posts he had made on Twitter coming to light during his debut test match appearance.

The tweets in question that Ollie Robinson posted were abhorrent and rightly caused outrage, but he did sincerely apologise for them and has shown a genuine attitude to want to educate himself and be a better person. So I’m not really sure why this needs to go any further?

The fact they’re historic, he was much younger then and they were not made when he was a public figure are also very relevant here. If he’d sent them in the weeks in the lead up to his England debut I don’t think an apology would be sufficient. But the context here is very different, our response to this type of thing often ignores such context and is far too vindictive.

People like Ollie Robinson who’ve made the kind of offensive tropes and stereotypes he did, of course need to be put right. Not only for their benefit, but more importantly for the benefit of the people who those kind of remarks harm. But do we need to gang up like some kind of mob and put his head on a spike to prove a point? That’s not fighting for equality, that’s just seeking vengeance.

At my school in the 1990s and 2000s, like many, the kind of tropes he used were regularly banded about on the playground and in classrooms. I particularly remember many kids insulting others by calling them “gay” and I don’t remember one teacher calling kids out on it. I do however remember a teacher being effectively hounded out of the school by pupils and teachers for being openly gay. Whilst I also remember one occasion at primary school where two boys were punished because they kissed each other. Schools weren’t to be seen to encourage such things in those days, but times have thankfully changed.

I think football is a good example here too, where in the 1970s and 1980s many of the people attending matches would precede to racially abuse black footballers or direct homophobia towards Justin Fashanu and others. These people haven’t disappeared, most have just learned better behaviours and learned better of those attitudes.

In 1988 when section 28 was introduced, a British law that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities, a survey found 75% of the population thought that homosexual activity was “always or mostly wrong”. And that legislation was only repealed in 2003. Views change and move on for the better. As a society we need to start recognising that more.

Banishing Ollie Robinson from Cricket would be like pretending none of us have ever said or done anything offensive…. Well, I’m calling out bullshit on that one.

The former England Cricketer Mark Ramprakash spoke eloquently on the subject on BBC Breakfast and made a good comparison when referencing Boris Johnson’s more recent offensive comments about Muslims. But he’s now our Prime minister, was then a huge public figure and yet failed to show even a fraction of the sincerity in his apology that Ollie Robinson did.

Boris Johnson and one of his cabinet members Oliver Dowden called the ECB’s decision to suspend Robinson an overreaction. But then again given the Prime minister’s track record with offensive remarks, he would think that. But as Mark Ramprakash said in his BBC interview the ECB had little choice or would have been seen to not have taken evidence of racism and discrimination seriously. I think it is more a sign of how poorly their due diligence was prior to his selection that they are effectively having to now play catch up.

But in contrast to Boris Johnson’s brash ignorance on the subject, Ollie Robinson showed the correct amount of regret in his public apology that I would be surprised (assuming the subsequent ECB investigation finds no further fault on his part it) if the ECB and the England team aren’t willing to welcome him back.

Furthermore it would be an incredibly powerful image to see Ollie Robinson, following his apology, welcomed back into the England team, one of mixed ethnicities and backgrounds. That’s the sort of healing our society needs right now, not more ignorance and acts of vengeance.

The Tweeting Seagull awards 2020/21

It’s been a season like no other and one that the players deserve a great deal of credit for their perseverance in such difficult and uncertain circumstances. So here I’ve picked out a few of the best and worst moments from the season just gone.

The Guy Butters Award for defying initial judgements – Dan Burn

Dan continues to defy the expectations of him as well as the at times inane derision put his way in equally emphatic measure. His winning goal against City, whilst scrappy, was just rewards for the frequency of his forward runs and upfield impact that he has had in the second half of the season since coming into the team after injuries to both Tariq Lamptey and Solly March.

Burn also played a huge part in the other highlight of Albion’s season, their 1-0 win away to Liverpool. That night Graham Potter described him as “incredible”. Going onto say about his detractors: “Anyone that criticises someone like Dan Burn doesn’t understand football, ultimately, I wouldn’t listen to them. It’s irrelevant to me. Dan just gives his best every day.”

Many of his critics will reference his performances against Leicester away in late December and Wolves at home in early January, which drew much criticism. TalkSPORT described his performance in the draw with Wolves as “a night to forget” whilst the Guardian described him as “helpless”.

However, it’s hard to find an Albion player who hasn’t had a few bad games this season. Even my pick for player of the season Lewis Dunk has had his moments, including that recent red card which ultimately cost Albion all three points in Albion’s return match with Wolves.

Nonetheless, so bad were a couple of Burn’s performances that many questioned his suitability on the left or even in the topflight entirely. Whilst his selection in the Albion team continues to draw a huge amount of confusion and contention despite his consistent dependability in numerous positions.

But he’s been hugely important for Albion throughout the season, which is a testament to him and his mental resilience. His importance to the team, despite not being in many Albion fans first eleven, is demonstrated by the fact that he has still been involved in 27 of Albion’s Premier League games this season and 10 of Albion’s 12 victories in all competitions, only Pascal Gross with 11 has played in more.

The Mark McCammon Award for most cringeworthy moment of the season – Albion fans booing Man City onto the pitch for their guard of honour.

We’ve been here before, back in 2019 Kyle Walker was booed whilst receiving his Premier League winners medal, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Albion have their fair share of petty supporters willing to spoil another teams moment of joy.

The irony that after a season which saw the near crumbling of the competitive structures of the game as we know it, and with it the integrity of the competition, that the team who won the league fair and square were then booed during a guard of honour held to congratulate them on their victory, shouldn’t be lost on us.

Evidence of petty and pathetic behaviour like this is racking up from the AMEX faithful and it isn’t a good look.

The Award for the most irritating and most repeated line of Albion punditry – “Neal Maupay embodies Brighton problems in front of goal”

Some will be surprised by this one, but I’m a huge supporter of Maupay and think Albion are far worse off without him.

Anyone who has watched Albion without Maupay this season should recognise that the team has struggled offensively without him. The bluntness of the attack on the final day defeat to Arsenal was telling of how he offers so much more than just scoring goals.

Albion’s recent win over Man City is the exception to this, but City were down to 10 men for most of the game, which makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions from. The other four games that Albion played without Maupay this season (Fulham away, Spurs away, West Ham home & Arsenal away) saw the team struggle going forward. In all those 4 games the team created less shots (average across those 4 games was 7.5 shots pg) than the season average shots per game (12.8), scoring just twice (half their average goals per game rate).

As a part of their end of season reviews the Guardian were quite typical in the national press’ distain towards Albion’s top scorer. Going in hard on Neal Maupay by naming him as one of the “Flops of the season”.

Yes, he has missed big chances and should have scored more goals. But it is worth noting that he’s scored 22% (18) of Albion’s goals over the past 2 seasons, whilst taking 18% of their shots. Maupay isn’t blameless, but Albion’s problems in front of goal don’t just lie with him.

In fact, it doesn’t make sense to blame a teams lack of goals on the player actually scoring a significant proportion of its goals. Instead we should look at others. For example the likes of Gross, Lallana, Jahanbakhsh and Trossard who should all have scored more this season too, between them have only matched Maupay’s 8 goals.

The idea of Albion needing to sign a 20-goal a season striker is a huge red herring, the only two who actually scored that many in the Premier League this season were Harry Kane and Mohammed Salah, players unattainable for the Albion. If we look at two teams Albion have been competing with in previous seasons that managed to lift themselves up the division this season, Aston Villa and West Ham, neither had one player on 15 goals, let’s alone 20.

Instead, both teams had a number of players with multiple goals. West Ham’s top scorer was Antonio on 10, but they had three other players on 8 goals or more. Admittedly Villa’s top scorer was Watkins 14, but they also had El Ghazi on 10 and Traore on 7. In contrast, aside from Neil Maupay, over the past two season no Albion player has matched Danny Welbeck’s 6 goals in the a single season.

The only player to do that in their four Premier League seasons is Pascal Gross in 2017/18 with 8. But his more recent goalscoring form in particular is a concern. Since moving into a slightly deeper role he has scored just 8 across the next three season, only 2 of which from open play. Whilst still crucial to Albion’s play, he’s become far less effective in front of goal under Potter.

I don’t think anyone in the squad this season, maybe Connolly aside, shows the same kind of instinct to get in the box like Maupay does. So in that sense, compared to the too often goalshy likes of Trossard, Gross, Lallana and Jahanbakhsh, he’s the antithesis of Albion’s problems in front of goal. If Albion had more players with his mindset to get in the six yard box and take a risk then Albion would have turned far more of those many draws into wins.

At the start of the season I said an improvement from Albion would be partly contingent on Maupay showing the kind of second season improvement in his goal tally as he did at Brentford in the Championship, but that hasn’t happened. In fact he’s scored 2 less than last season’s tally of 10. So just as his goalscoring rate has largely stood still, so have Albion finishing 16th compared to last season’s 15th placed finish.

Much like at Brentford he’s been asked to play a role that is the focal point of the attack, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the team always plays to his strengths. At Brentford you’d often see him getting on the end of crosses or picking up second balls, but he doesn’t really get much of that kind of delivery at Albion and is often expected to deal with short sharp balls to feat, which has often seen him get his feet in a muddle and miss the chance.

I think to get the best out of Maupay next season Albion need to add a bit more variety to the balls going into the box. They need to be a little more direct from wide areas, and/or find a taller striker for Maupay to play off and pick up the scraps from. But whether Graham Potter would want to forgo an element of the teams slick and sharp forward play that has drawn so much admiration from pundits and caused opposition defences such concern but not yet seen the deserved improvement in the goals and points tally to go with it, is yet to be seen

The Billy Sharp Award for best opposition player performance at the AMEX – Reece James

Reece James progression as one of the most exciting young players in Europe continues somewhat under the radar because of the prominence of so many other top class English right-backs. But in his first full season as an established first team player at Chelsea, he started as he meant to go on with a match-winning performance for Chelsea in their 3-1 win over Albion at the AMEX.

Even on this night, he was somewhat overshadowed by his former Chelsea teammate Tariq Lamptey’s impressive performance at right back for Albion that actually earned Albion’s right back the BBC’s man of the match award.

But given it was James who with the game tied at 1-1 grabbed it by the throat and won it for the visitors, he should ultimately take the plaudits. Firstly he was given a bit of space on the edge of the box and took no hesitation in rifling the ball home into the top corner of the net. Chelsea’s third then came from his attack down the right hand side winning a corner off Solly March, whom he had tormented all night, then sending in the corner towards Zouma, who turned it home to make it 3-1 and put Chelsea out of sight.

Whilst in the second half of the season his success was somewhat curtailed by injury and a change of management, his impressive first half of the season shows the potential and ability that he has. So good was he that he was named by Alan Shearer in his Premier League half-way team of the season and was involved in two of England’s qualifiers back in March including the crucial 2-1 win at home to Poland.

That night at the AMEX the Guardian’s Barney Ronay described Brighton’s performance as “impressively slick and a little unlucky”. Start as you mean to go on as they say. However unlike on many occasions this season where it has been Albion’s poor finishing or sloppy defending when ahead that has cost them points, on this occasions it was largely down to an impressive performance from arguably England’s best right back.

The Scott McGleish villain of the season – Maty Ryan

What a difference a year makes. This time last year Maty Ryan was Albion’s number one and considered pretty untouchable in that position. A year later he has lost his place, been loaned out and found himself as the unfortunate figure of hate from a significant portion of Albion’s social media supporters.

In Albion’s second Premier League season Ryan was deemed so important to Albion that his absence for a short period to appear in the Asia cup for his native Australia was one of that season’s regular narratives of concern. As it turned out Albion would manage ok without him, but he was still instantly reinstated on his return.

However the improvement of the young Robert Sanchez, who started the season as Albion’s 4th choice goalkeeper after returning from loan at League One Rochdale and ended it by being named in his national team Span’s European Championships squad, alongside a run of bad form for Ryan that stretched back to the end of the previous season, saw Ryan quickly replaced as Albion’s number one.

Maybe links last summer between Albion and Emiliano Martínez, who would ultimately sign and star for Aston Villa, should have given a hint that Ryan’s days at Albion were numbered. But when he was initially dropped away to Spurs and then again for Albion’s trip to relegation rivals Fulham, there was a great deal of shock, but Sanchez has quickly proved his worth and no one has looked back since.

Ryan was completely isolated from Albion’s Matchday squads and loaned to Arsenal after becoming a figure of blame for Albion’s woes from some on social media. But his subsequently interview with Australian broadcaster Optus Sport only served to increase the animosity.

In that interview Ryan went into detail about his private conversations with Albion manager Graham Potter about being dropped, before going onto describe his move to Arsenal as a step up and revealing that he viewed Brighton as a stepping stone to a bigger club. Comments that I think just described the situation honestly and frankly, but that appear to have upset the more sensitive and insecure members of Albion’s support.

Furthermore, Albion’s current transfer model is just that, to become a stepping stone to bigger clubs for young and talented players like the often praised Yves Bissouma. Maty Ryan’s comments show a level of ambition the club should expect of its players and is an attitude the supporters are going to have to accept as the new normal, even from players they don’t rate as highly as Bissouma.

Despite this and Albion’s Chief Executive Paul Barber defended Maty Ryan, saying he felt his comments had been misinterpreted, but some Albion fans still seem keen to stick the knife into Maty Ryan at every opportunity.

But he is person who represented the club with such distinction for three and a bit years both on and off the pitch. Yes, substandard performance meant he was ultimately deemed surplus to requirements and he was possibly naive and tasteless in the honesty of his comments in this now infamous interview, but that doesn’t diminish his previous three seasons of commendable service to the club, a period where he was a hero to many.

And yet because some have taken exception to something he said in an interview they will continue to abuse him at every opportunity. Franky, they need to grow up.

Dunk out and White in as Gareth Southgate names his provisional 33-man England squad

Poor old Lewis Dunk, he has the season of his life and whilst many have called for his inclusion in this summer’s England squad for the European Championships, he has instead been usurped by his rookie teammate Ben White.

It’s a game of opinions I guess. And given Gareth Southgate does have a pretty decent record as England manager, you will have to excuse me for trusting his judgement.

Good record you ask? Yes, Gareth Southgate in fact has the second best win percentage of all England managers. Add to that getting to the semi-finals of both the World Cup and Nations League, as well as two comfortable qualification campaigns all to his name in just four years, I believe his record looks rather impressive. Especially whilst also managing a huge turnover in players.

Many Brighton fans (along with a few others) have said that based on form Lewis Dunk should be in the England squad, and even if we accept this as true, I don’t think you can base an international squad selection purely on form or that he’s been at the heart of Albion’s impressive defensive record.

Many talk about Dunk’s form in reference to an interview Southgate did in 2017 with the Daily Telegraph where he talked about selecting players based on form rather than reputation. But this is taking what he said out of context. There are many other factors which also need to be considered than simply form, no international manager picks a squad purely based on form. This isn’t Garth Crooks selecting his team of the week after all.

Here’s the full quote from that interview: “I’m very conscious I’ve got to get the balance right because ultimately my responsibility is to produce a winning England team. I never pick on reputation — form has to come into it. You have to look at the opposition and the type of game you’re expecting and select the players best suited to that.”

Going onto say: “We’ve got to be better, everything we do has got to be better. Even being second in the world isn’t good enough, we have to be the best we can be, and that’s the best.”

Building a squad of players, as Albion have found in the Premier League, is hard. Most importantly you need to have depth, experience, a range of characteristics and versatility in terms of position. Unfortunately for Dunk, he appears to have fallen just short in Southgate’s eyes compared to his other defensive options.

Southgate did reference Dunk’s impressive season and how important he is to Brighton in his press conference. But in reasoning Ben White’s selection (along with the also uncapped Ben Godfrey) over Dunk he referenced both White’s potential to improve and his versatility, both areas that Dunk does fall down on compared to other options available to England.

Dunk has had his chance with England too and clearly failed to sufficiently impress. In The Athletic earlier this season Andy Naylor reported that Lewis Dunk fell well below the training levels expected during his only England call up and that Dunk’s training was also an issue at Brighton earlier in his career under Guy Poyet. It may sound like a harsh and rash judgement, but these things do matter in terms of setting the type of winning mentality and attitude that Southgate referenced back in 2017.

This of course won’t be the only factor in Southgate’s thinking. If we look back at Southgate’s 2017 interview he talks about the balance of the team as well as the opposition they face as factors in his mind when selecting a team. Some have said Southgate has an anti-Dunk agenda or even an anti-Brighton agenda. I think his agenda is simply that he prefers Mings, Coady, Maguire and Stones to Dunk in terms of what he wants from his squad. That’s his job to make that call after all.

Many say Dunk deserves to be in the England squad and I don’t dispute that he is more than good enough. But so are many others. For example, Aston Villa’s Ezri Konsa and AC Milan loanee Fikayo Tomori were also specifically mentioned by Southgate in his press conference, whilst James Tarkowski and Michael Keane have both been in England squads more recently than Dunk, all of whom miss out too. We are lucky to have such competition for places.

Some have suggested Dunk’s omission is because of a smaller club bias, but that Ben White has also been included is a huge contradiction to this. And that nine of the fourteen non-“Super Six” Premier League Clubs are represented in the provisional squad also massively contradicts this notion.

Gareth Southgate has consistently been willing to pick players from a wide variety of clubs, even those overseas most of us don’t see as much or those like Brighton not competing in a European club competition.

Much like many of those clubs represented, for Brighton, Ben White’s selection is a feather in the cap for the growing reputation of its academy. It’s one that they will hope to be the first of many and not simply for the odd one cap that Lewis Dunk is currently stuck on.

White’s talent, potential and versatility appears to be what saw him saw him beat others into the provisional squad, but getting into the final 26 is likely to be a much tougher task. As Southgate yesterday suggested, he’s there more as one for the future than for these Euros.

However, I wouldn’t be too despondent. The last and only time a Brighton player was picked by England at a major tournament, Steve Foster in 1982, Albion were relegated from the topflight the following season. So if White is overlooked like his Albion teammate Dunk, then maybe we should all be grateful.

Brighton v Everton (1924)

Brighton and Everton aren’t teams who’ve come up against each other much in their respective histories. Prior to Albion’s promotion in 2017, and aside from their other brief spell in the topflight between 1979 and 1983, you have to go back to 1924 when the sides had last met, in the second round of that years FA Cup. A game that saw one of Albion most famous victories prior to the Second World War.

Brighton had played their first season after the First World War in the Southern League in 1919/20 finishing 16th, before joining the expanded Football League with the rest of the Southern League’s best club’s for the 1920/21 season.

Charlie Webb, who had scored the winner in Brighton’s 1-0 1910 Charity Shield win over Aston Villa, had since retired and taken over as manager in 1919, a position he would hold until 1947. And his first task was rebuilding the team after the horrors of the First World War.

Webb was known for his shrewd transfers, but this was in part forced upon him due to circumstance because of a relatively limited budget at the club. Restrictions which at times during his tenure led to bad relations between him and the board, and which were made worse due to accusations of undue influence on team affairs.

Until the 1920’s, Football Managers had been little more than trainers who picked the side and did little to influence how they played. But this was the decade of the emergence of the modern manager, largely influenced by Herbert Chapman’s success with Huddersfield in the 1920s and later more notably at Arsenal in the 1930s.

However, at the time Everton were still managed by the club’s secretary manager Thomas McIntosh, and it wasn’t until Theo Kelly was appointed in 1939 that the club appointed their first manager in the modern sense. Whilst for Brighton, Charlie Webb oversaw a period of great modernisation in the role, but the tales of conflict suggest it wasn’t a quick transition.

Although consistently in the upper half of the Third Division South table, Albion’s chief successes during the 1920s and 1930s were in the F.A. Cup, with its first and one of its most notable giant-killing successes coming when they beat Everton 5-2 in the second round at the Goldstone Ground.

Albion had already knocked out higher ranked opposition at home in a first round replay in the form of Second Division Barnsley, and the visit of Everton brought a then record crowd of 27,450 to the Goldstone.

Everton were a regular in the top half of the First Division before the war, which they had already won twice. But the club’s performances since the end of the First World War and the resumption of the Football league had been inconsistent. Their 7th placed finish that season being one of their better seasons until the great Dixie Dean was signed from local Third Division North side Tranmere Rovers and transformed their fortunes.

Nonetheless they were strong favourites and named no less than six internationals in their line-up. So it was no surprise when they opened the scoring through John Cock and despite Tommy Cook quickly equalising the visitors were back in front through Wilfred Chadwick on 25 minutes. However, Albion were giving as good as they got and a Wally Little penalty made it 2-2 at half time.

After the break the game turned quickly in favour of the hosts as Albion dominated the second half. Tommy Cook scored two in the first twenty minutes to complete his hat trick, before Andy Neil made it 5-2 to add a bit of extra gloss on a magnificent result for the club. A display manager Charlie Webb described as “the best Cup exhibition of any Albion team under my management”.

The Sunday Post exclaimed: “Brighton surprise Everton.” Going into state that the result “was one of the biggest surprises of the round, but none would deny that it was deserved.”

The Liverpool Daily Post said “Brighton’s best were Wilson, at outside left, Nightingale, in the second half, at outside right, and Coomber [Albion’s captain], at centre half, together with the snap-chance artist Cook” The aforementioned Ernie “Tug” Wilson had joined the club in 1922 and spent twelve years with the club in the inter-war years going onto become Brighton’s record appearance holder with 566 appearances, a record he still holds.

And he wasn’t the only prospective club record holder playing that day. Albion’s hat-trick hero Tommy Cook would go onto become the club’s record goalscorer with 123 goals, once again a total yet to be beaten. He had joined the club on an amateur basis in 1921 and became a regular in the first team the following season. Part of the reason for Cook’s prolific record in front of goal was that this hat-trick was one of eight for the club, his first coming against Gillingham in only his third appearance, after which he never looked back until leaving the club in 1930.

Cook was described that day by the Sunday Post as “one of the most dangerous centres in England”. And despite playing for Albion in the regionalised third tier he went on to win an England cap, in a 2-1 win against Wales in a Home International in 1925. However, despite being praised he was never chosen again for his country.

The Liverpool Daily Post said of his performance that day “Cook did not stand out on his own in spite of his three goals. He just kept his position, kept the ball going, and shot instantly the chance showed itself. That was why Brighton scored so heavily.”

Albion went onto host another First Division team in the next round of the competition in Man City, but this proved one step too far as they were heavily beaten 5-1. They went on to finish 5th that season missing out on promotion to the Second Division by 8 points. And it would be another 34 years before they achieved their long awaited promotion into the second tier in 1958.

Everton and Brighton would have to wait 55 years before they met again, this time in the First Division, after Brighton were promoted into the topflight for the first time in their history.

Dan Burn – conveniently unconventional

He may not be the most technically gifted player in the team and probably doesn’t get into the Albion’s first eleven when everyone is fit, but Dan Burn has been pivotal for Brighton this season.

He is one of only five players to have featured for Brighton in all six of its league wins this season (along with Yves Bissouma, Lewis Dunk, Ben White and Neil Maupay). And he is also the only Albion player to have featured in all nine of Albion’s wins in all competitions that were inside the normal 90 minutes.

Some may be surprised to hear of his record, but it is a sign of Burn’s positional and tactical versatility, which gives Graham Potter something most others in the squad do not. An attribute that makes him so important to the squad, especially for a manager like Graham Potter who regularly alters his teams system and approach.

In Jonathan Wilson’s book about the evolution of football tactics – “Inverting the pyramid”, he ends it by foreseeing that the next stage of football’s tactical evolution would be universality within a team, leading to increased tactical fluidity and the end of set roles. Graham Potter’s management approach and Dan Burn’s adaptability are good examples of this beginning to come to fruition. Burn’s positional adaptability under Potter has turned him from a rarely used fringe player under Hughton to a key member of the Brighton squad under Potter.

Even during the early periods of the current season where Burn spent much of his time on the bench for league matches, he was often brought on as a substitute. Being used by Potter to switch the formation and adapt to the issues that were arising in the match.

But of late he has taken advantage of the opportunity that injuries to other teammates has given him, starting the last eight games in a row, his best run since last season where he was near ever-present, starting 33 of the 38 league matches.

The first of those eight matches was a perfect example of his versatility, which was used to the team’s benefit to surprise the opposition in the victory over Liverpool at Anfield. In that match, rather than in the more defensive role he is accustomed to, he was used more as wide target man/left winger.

Jurgen Klopp said after the match that his team struggled to deal with Albion’s attacks which he described as “Chipping the ball to Burn and go from there.” It certainly wasn’t a role Burn had played often before if at all, so it’s not a surprise it caught Liverpool out and was so effective. And Burn’s role in subsequent matches has seen him stay in that position further up the pitch than he’s played previously, filling in for the absent Solly March.

This trend goes back to Albion’s defeat at home to Southampton during the early stages of the 2019/20 season, when after starting the season in a back three alongside Dunk and Duffy, he was switched to left back after Florin Andone was sent off and Potter switched to a back four. Despite the defeat, his marauding and effective full back performance was a real positive and was a role Potter went onto use him in for much of the rest of the season.

Former Fulham manager and Man United coach Rene Meulensteen said of Burn last season: “He’s an ideal player for a manager because he can play in multiple positions. He’s decent on the ball with his feet for a big, tall lad. Skill-wise, he’s very well equipped.”

However, it’s not been plain sailing for Burn this season. Most notably his first half performance against Wolves when he struggled to deal with Wolves winger Adams Traore so much that he gave away a penalty, got booked and scored an own goal as Albion trailed at half time 3-1 and he was eventually subbed off part way through the second half as Albion recovered to draw the match 3-3.

But Potter was defensive of his utility man saying after the game: “Dan Burn a couple of years ago was at Wigan in League One. Rather than being critical of Dan Burn, we should be proud of him. He puts himself there, he gives his best every day, gives his best every match. It’s easy to be critical in this world and he is a fantastic professional, a fantastic person.”

Graham Potter is clearly conscious of the criticism his players are getting, particularly after making mistakes whilst being asked to fulfil at times unfamiliar roles and take big risks defensively, such as the amount of space sometimes left in defence by Burn’s marauding runs forward. And is keen to not be overly critical of his players.

But Burn is a player Potter has regularly had to come to the defence of, saying after his eye-catching performance away to Liverpool “Anyone that criticises someone like Dan Burn doesn’t understand football… I wouldn’t listen to them. It’s irrelevant to me”.

As well as the criticism, Burn has drawn praise from many areas, not just from his manager. Last season Premier League pundit Adrian Clarke said “Burn does not look like a left-back, but he has taken to his new role wonderfully” Going into say “He is comfortable moving the ball through the lines…Meanwhile, his height and defensive ability are assets out of possession.”

Even prior to March’s injury which saw him return to the left hand side, he had made the left back role in a back four his own last season and has often been used in games this season as a left sided centre back in a back three able to switch to a left back in a back four if Potter makes one of his regular in-game formation switches. An adaptability that has regularly allowed Potter to save using a substitution.

Indeed he has had to adapt and find a less conventional route throughout his career to get to the point of playing regular Premier League football. He was initially on the books of Newcastle United but was released at the age of 13 and had to work his way through a more obscure route via the youth team Blyth Town and onto Blyth Spartans. From there he was picked up by League Two Darlington before moving to Fulham in 2011.

Whilst at Fulham two loan spells followed in between a handful of appearances for the club in the Premier League. Before playing more regularly for them in the Championship after their relegation in 2014. A move to Wigan followed in 2017 where he caught the eye of the Albion scouts despite their relegation to League One and was signed by Brighton under then manager Chris Hughton in 2018.

Hughton described Burn upon joining the club as having “a wealth of experience” going into say “He’s an imposing figure and had an excellent season helping Wigan to the League One championship”. And yet Burn was initially loaned back to Wigan for 6 months before being used sparingly by Hughton mostly in cup matches, as he favoured the tried and tested partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.

Indeed it’s been a long road for Burn who admits he initially struggled during his time at Newcastle, saying: “I wasn’t very good… I was struggling to grow into my body and a little bit all over the place.” To add to the difficulties he faced whilst he was still growing into his body, he also lost one of his fingers on his right hand, when it caught on a spike while he was climbing a fence.

Yes there are many things about Burn’s development and career that are unconventional, which in many ways makes him very suited to Graham Potter’s Brighton side.

Graham Potter’s own route into Premier League management is similarly unusual. Having started as a lower league footballer, he studied at the Open University and then at Hull University before working as an administrator for Ghana’s women’s team at the 2007 women’s World Cup. He then had his first chance in management in the Swedish Fourth Division, where he took Ostersunds into the top tier and then into European competition before he moved to Championship side Swansea and then onto Brighton in 2019. An experience which means he is clearly not overly influenced by a players track record, as his treatment of Burn shows.

It’s often the case that criticism of individuals in team sports comes from the audiences confirmed bias of that individual and an ignorance of the bigger picture. I think this is often the case when it comes to Dan Burn.

For example you hear it said a lot that “Dan Burn can’t win a header despite being so tall”. This simply isn’t true. Dan Burn has won 71 aerial duels so far this season, the most in team and the 19th most in the division. Whilst last season he won 141 aerial duels, again the most in the Albion team and the 10th highest in the Premier League.

The Secret Footballer has spoken about how ignorance from supporters often leads to unfair criticism of players, including how on many occasions when a misplaced pass is made, it’s often that a teammate didn’t make the right run off the ball rather than the player passing the ball being at fault.

Potter’s Albion are a team that takes more risks than many of its competitors, particularly the players in Burn’s current role at wing back. Graham Potter seems unafraid of his teams making mistakes and is happy to place his trust in those who have made them on multiple occasions previously. In fact, it would be hard to find a player in the Brighton team that hasn’t made a few mistakes this season. But at 6”7 and playing as an eye catching marauding wingback, Dan Burn stands out more than most when they do occur.

When players reach their late 20s as Burn now has, it isn’t unusual for them to reinvent themselves positionally to adapt and maintain their position in the game. However, it isn’t as commonplace that you see a centre back doing so as an attacking wing back, let alone one that is 6”7 tall. But if history has taught us anything it’s that neither Graham Potter nor Dan Burn are conventional.