In Brighton’s 118-year history, it has won a only one major national trophy and it came 9 years after its formation and 109 years ago today, when the club won the 1910 Charity Shield.
Back in the early twentieth century English club football was fragmented. With the Southern League, the Northern League and the Combination League all rivalling the now long established Football League, which was initially established in 1885 by clubs from the Midlands and the North of England. Brighton instead played in the Southern League, formed in 1894 by teams in the South of England, created to mirror the success of the Football League.
A preview of the 1900/01 season in the Daily News described the league as “now, without a doubt, second only in importance and the strength of its clubs to the Football League itself. With the exception of Woolwich Arsenal, who prefer to remain members of the Second Division of the Football League, all the best professional teams in the South are now enrolled in the ranks of the Southern League”
Brighton and Hove United was formed in a meeting at the Seven Stars Hotel on Ship Street, Brighton on 24 June 1901. The new team was to take the place of the defunct Brighton and Hove Rangers in the Southern Second Division. But after disapproval from City neighbours Hove FC over the name (who were worried it sounded like a merger between them and the defunct Brighton Rangers), the name was changed to Brighton and Hove Albion, and so it has remained.
After promotion to the top level of the Southern leagues in 1902, Brighton made an unremarkable start, finishing in the bottom half in the first three years. But in the 1909/10 season all that would change when Brighton won the league title.
In doing so they qualified for the Charity Shield, a new cup final formed in 1908 that at the time was effectively the All-England football final between the Southern League champions and the Football League Champions, who that season were Aston Villa.
Aston Villa were a true football heavyweight at the time. Having been a founding member of the Football League in 1888. They’d won the FA Cup four times prior to their meeting with Brighton, and that season’s league title represented their sixth First Division title.
But this was also a Brighton team with much prestige having won that season’s Southern Division title with a five points margin and a game to spare, along with the less prestigious Southern Charity Cup. The Times wrote at the time that “Brighton and Hove Albion have not had much difficulty in finishing at the head of the Southern League, and for that reason the competition has lost some of its interest, though probably the rivalry between the teams has been as keen as ever.”
The match was to be played at Stamford Bridge, the ground where they’d won the Southern Charity Cup Final earlier that year, beating Watford 1-0 after extra time. But that match was attended by around a fifth of the attendance of this Charity Shield match, a game that was the biggest in the club’s short history to that date.
Whilst there was much anticipation, the fans would have to wait as the Charity Shield match was four months on from both Albion’s and Villa’s league title triumph’s, with the match being played after the first round of fixtures of the new 1910/11 season. When the day finally came, it is reported that fans decked out Brighton train station in blue and white and it is thought that hundreds of supporters travelled on the train from Brighton to Stamford Bridge for the big match.
It was a game where Albion started brightly, but also had to see out long periods of pressure from their more distinguished opponents. And it was to many’s surprise that it was Brighton who took the lead on the 72 minutes. A cross from Bert Longstaff found Bill Hastings who passed to Charlie Webb to score the famous goal that won what is to date Brighton’s only major national trophy.
While it was his more famous moment for the club, it wasn’t just that goal that wrote Charlie Webb’s name in the Brighton record books. An amateur at the time, Webb became the first current Brighton player to represent his country, when in 1909 he played for Ireland against Scotland and Wales.
After being ever-present in the Brighton side that won the Southern League title and then scoring that historic Charity Shield winning goal, he signed professional terms with Brighton. He continued to play for the club in the Southern League until the First World War broke out, after which he returned to manage the club for twenty-eight years, and is still the club’s longest serving manager to this day. And was replaced as manager in 1947 by Albion’s record goalscorer Tommy Cook. After a short spell as the club’s general manager, Charlie Webb retired in 1949.
But that goal is what he will forever be synonymous with in Albion history. At the end of the match a pitch invasion took place to celebrate the club’s victory and when the team arrived back at Brighton station, it is said that they were welcomed by a large crowd of hat waving well-wishers celebrating Brighton’s victory. A victory that was described by a reporter the Fulham observer as “deserved”.
It wasn’t just Charlie Webb whose legend remains strong from that team, but also Bert Longstaff. He was an Inside Forward known for his pace and skill who represented the club 443 times from 1906 right up to 1922, scoring 86 times and playing for the club in both the Southern League and then again after the First World War in its inaugural two seasons in the Football League.
The Charity Shield went on to have a diverse history of opponents before settling on its current format of Premier League Champions vs FA Cup winners. After a brief hiatus during the First World War it switched to a match between the First and Second Division Champions in 1920. As that change coincided with the national expansion of the Football League, the winners of the First Division rather than the Charity Shield have been considered “champions of England”. But in 1910 Brighton could rightly claim that title. Their win was also the only occasion a Southern League team to won the trophy.
The club continued in the Southern League until 1920 when the top division was absorbed with in Football League and Brighton started a 38-year long spell as a Third Division Football League club before finally achieving promotion to the second in 1957/58.
Stability and consistency didn’t remain. The club has since spent no more than seven consecutive years in the same division, in a 62-year period that has contained 11 promotions and 9 relegations, or an average of just three years between changing divisions.