Brighton, Leicester and Micky Adams

Ahead of the game with Leicester I wanted to write about the biggest link between the two clubs from my perspective, the one, the only, Micky Adams.

Wednesday 10th October 2001- I still remember the instant crushing feeling in my chest now when my mum woke me for school that day and then told me that the local news were reporting that Micky Adams was leaving the Albion. (and taking the currently vacant assistant manager job at Leicester as understudy to Dave Bassett with a view to taking over as manager the following season)

I had fallen in love with the Albion since their move back to Brighton at the Withdean Stadium and the period since had appeared to be an almost continuous period of progress. Gone were the days of Brighton being in danger of losing its league status come May, now they were pushing for promotion into the 2nd tier of the football league.

The club was now gaining appreciation from outside of its loyal but modest local fan base. Led off the pitch by the lovably enthusiastic and media savvy Chairman and club saviour Dick Knight, and being fired through the divisions on the pitch by the goals of Bobby Zamora (who was by then quickly becoming a club legend) people were taking note. Having won the Division 3 championship the previous season by a ten point margin after Chesterfield were deducted nine for financial irregularities, the Albion found themselves taking to Division 2 in a similarly imperious manner. Currently sitting 4th they were well set for another title challenge.

Captaining the ship was the captivating Micky Adams. A man who had been manager for just under 3 years and during that period it had been constant steps forward. Taking over in April 1999 with the club in Division 3 he steered the club to safety and then in its first season at the Withdean he led the club to a top half finish, remaining unbeaten in the final 13 games of the season.

Despite a poor start to the following season Brighton eventually got going and with Bobby’s goals and Micky’s charm, quickly built up momentum and were confirmed champions by beating nearest challengers Chesterfield 1-0 with two games to spare following a headed goal from Danny Cullip. After which Chesterfield’s points deducted was confirmed.

As a young fan who was relatively new to the club at the time, I was not weighed down by it’s recent struggles and was simply enjoying the glory. That said there was plenty to admire, but whilst there were many significant figures within the club at the time, in my eyes Micky was definitely the talisman for the team during his tenure. The man who ensured everyone would “keep the faith” when things weren’t going our way and the man who built this hard and stern team which would go on to win back to back promotions and titles.

Micky was quick to set about putting his impression on the club. He was young, enthusiastic and had plenty of character. He brought in his friend and long time colleague Alan Cork as assistant, as well as players he’d managed at former clubs such as new club captain Paul Rogers and Danny Cullip.

His assistant Alan Cork in particular was a key member of the jigsaw. A huge character and member of Wimbledon’s crazy gang, he once got in some trouble on one of Albion’s preseason trips to Ireland, but that’s a story for another day. He was Micky’s stooge and often the butt of the some cruel jokes and pranks from the players that Micky would let happen throughout their coaching careers together, all for the sake of strengthening the bond between the players.

Micky has revealed subsequently that whist succeeding at the time on the pitch with the Albion, he was dealing with heartbreak and personal issues off the pitch. These revelations only go to further increase Micky’s achievements at Brighton the manner in which he went about his job in the glare of the (albeit mostly local) media spotlight.

The success continued into Division 2. The season started with gusto, 4 wins in the first 7 included a 2-1 win over QPR and a 4-0 win over Blackpool. As such Brighton were once again proving to be promotion contenders. October came around and so did Brighton’s first and only home league defeat of the season 2-1 to Brentford. Sadly for the Albion fans this was how they unknowingly got to say goodbye to the man who galvanised the upturn in prospects for a club almost heading for the scrapheap only a few years earlier.

So Micky moved to Leicester, initially as assistant, but their relegation from the top flight would instigated his promotion from assistant manager to manager. The following season he once again he set about putting his impression on the club creating a team of winners, which went on to win promotion back to the top flight.

After Micky left and in a wonderful move of symmetry, Brighton appointed the man just sacked as Leicester manager Peter Taylor (who quickly left come the end of the season). Under his leadership, Albion went on to win Division 2, which set up a return for Micky with his new club to the Withdean Stadium the following season. However, that game turned out to be a fairly forgettable 1-0 win for Leicester. Forgettable mostly as my view was masked by a thick cloud of fog. For all I was aware it could have been 5-0 to the Albion!

Micky’s time with Brighton and Leicester reached its peak by the end of that season. Relegation and resignation would follow at Leicester who was once compared to Sir Alex Ferguson. His story is a lesson in how the harsh world of football management can quickly push you out as it can prop you up.

In 2008, following the Leicester job and some other unsuccessful spells in management, Dick Knight appointed Micky for his 2nd spell in charge of the Albion (then back in league one – previously division 2), telling the then manager Dean Wilkins to step aside and take a role in the youth set up. After the immediate excitement and splurge of new signings, it was soon clear things weren’t working out and personally I think I speak for most Albion fans to say that I was devastated.

We were terrible and produced some of the worst performances I’ve seen from an Albion team. Losing at home to 9 man Walsall and 4-0 at home to Crewe were some of the lowlights. Micky left by mutual consent in February and the Albion stayed up by the skin of their teeth.

Despite this period I will always remember falling in love with Albion during Micky’s first spell in charge. The feelings of devastation I and many others felt when he left the 1st time around and again when it didn’t work out 2nd time around just go to demonstrate how wonderful those 2 and a half years were to be an Albion fan.

Fan Protests – How West Ham’s current plight mimic Brighton’s in the 90s

Malcolm X “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
The West Ham fans protest recently took a dramatic turn during their 3-0 home defeat to Burnley with angry fans invading the pitch and surrounding the directors box to show their disapproval and contempt for their current Joint-Chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan.

As a Brighton fan it’s hard not to draw comparisons to my club’s struggle in the 90s and the attitude towards many supporters of the club at the time. The apathy from the FA and more generally the football establishment, the public condemnation of the fans and the civil war between fractions within the club’s own support all mimic my club’s situation when fighting against irresponsible and reprobate individuals who asset stripped Brighton and Hove Albion football club and almost ran it out of business.

There has been plenty written about that time in the club’s history, so I won’t go into any greater level of detail here, but for those looking to get a greater understanding should read the fantastic book “Build a Bonfire” by Paul Hodgson and Stephen North.
What I will state about that time is, if it wasn’t for those protesting and their perseverance for the cause, it’s fair to say that the club wouldn’t be where it is today. In fact it’s quite likely there wouldn’t be a club at all.

Whilst the situation at West Ham may not be quite as near to a potentially terminal one, it certainly appears to be potentially terminal for the culture and spirit of the club. English football is renowned for its fan culture, and West Ham are one of the clubs which has a unique place in English football history, for better and worse. From 1966 World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, to the Hooligan element of the fanbase that played a part in the bad reputation that overshadowed English football in the 70’s and 80’s. However, they are currently starring at very different future, which threatens to endanger this and what the clubs aims to stand for.

Whilst West Ham still have an element of their fanbase that have been rightly regarded with disdain and that I certainly will not defend, (a quick google search and you’ll find various incidents of appalling fan behaviour just from the past two years) the clear majority are purely passionate football fans who want the best for their team. Sadly, it’s my opinion, that the same cannot be said for Mr Sullivan and Mr Gold. I am in no doubt that the tears shed by Mr Gold during the protests that day were more out of self-pity than anything else.

At Brighton in the 90s, the protests at the club created a sense of community amongst the supporters and incoming board of directors that was then galvanised during the various campaigns that were to follow including the at the time seemingly unceasing “Falmer for All” campaign. Whilst West Ham currently appear far from the sense of community created at Brighton, if the fans persevere with effective protests that catch the imagination and attention of the public, this can still be a long-term goal for the club.

Whilst some clubs like Brighton have flourished and succeeded following fan protests, others have failed. Blackburn Rovers supporters were widely criticised for not backing the team when protesting about their owners Venky’s during the season they were relegated from the Premier League and now find themselves in League One. Whilst the protest towards Charlton Athletic owner Romain Duchâtelet seems only to have hasten the clubs inevitable fall down the leagues. However, even if it is at the short-term hinderance of the team’s success, I fully believe fans should protest if they believe it is in the long-term interest of the club.

In ten years’ time, most owners and shareholders of professional sports teams will have lost any sense of amusement they currently get from their respective clubs and no doubt in time will neglected them, leaving the fans and local community to pick up the pieces (See Portsmouth, Swansea, et al.)

However, this is not to say I don’t appreciate some of the anger towards the protesters. The understandable reaction from players like Mark Noble who in the heat of the moment threw a supporter to the floor in anger and probably a slight sense of fear for his own safety, should only go to motivate those in power to appease the concerns of those protesting rather than vilify them. Vilifying them will only make the chasm of understanding between the two parties grow larger. Just as much as it did when the then Leyton Orient Player Ray Wilkins was attacked by Brighton fans during a pitch invasion at a league game between the teams in 1997. One of many pitch invasions at Brighton which at the time had already cost the club two league points and a fine. Whilst that is a worthy comparison, the intentions of the fans were not to harm the players on the pitch, not that Mark Noble knew that at the time of course. It’s easy to say that but of course many probably thought the same when Gunter Parche ran onto a tennis court in Hamburg during a WTA tour match quarter final in 1993, until he stabbed Monica Seles in the back that is.

The club and local authorities have a duty to protect the players but let’s not let the behaviour of a small number of individuals undermine the anger and contempt towards the owners of the club. The fans do have a right and maybe even a duty to protest about the mismanagement of their club. Whilst there will always be those that express the anger they hold in idiotic ways, let’s just hope the fans concerns are listened to and that this can lead to a productive solution rather than just vilifying an already oppressed set of supporters that simply want the best for the club they love.