1971/72 season – Aston Villa and Brighton secure promotion from the Third Division

The 1970s began with a heady optimism after the swinging 60s had breathed new life into post-war Britain. In 1970 the self-made builder’s son Edward Heath was elected prime minister promising a “quiet revolution” that would improve the fortunes of the country. However, the combination of an energy crisis, a financial crash and a second miners’ strike in two years would scupper any optimism.

At Albion things were somewhat following that trend. The investment of Property developer Mike Bamber (who would become club chairman in 1972) heralded an era of great ambition at the club. However, that ambition wouldn’t be fulfilled until the end of the decade.

Aside from a brief dalliances with the Second Division between 1958 and 1962 and the Fourth Division in 1963 to 1965 Albion had spent 39 of their 45 seasons as a Football League club in its third tier since joining in 1920. Promotion back to the second tier had been an often unachieved goal for the club.

In contrast Aston Villa had joined Brighton in the Third Division the season before and started the 71/72 season as promotion favourites. Prior to the Second World War Aston Villa had won the First Division six times since being a founding member in 1988. They won the FA Cup as recently as 1957, but their league standing was on the wane and they had a brief spell in the Second Division in the late 50s.

They appeared to have recovered after promotion back to the topflight was coupled with winning the League Cup in 1961, but they subsequently underwent a dramatic decline which resulted in them being relegated to the Second Division in 1967 and then again to the Third in 1970. But fortunes at the club were to take a turn for the better, in no small part down to the sale of the club at the end of 1968 to a group which installed Doug Ellis as chairman.

Albion manager Pat Saward was a former Aston Villa player himself and was part of the 1957 FA Cup winning side and also part of the team that won the Second Division title in 1960. But after retiring he became Albion manager in 1970 and was now going up against his old club in the Third Division.

Saward had been second choice for the managers job when it was given to his predecessor, Freddie Goodwin 18 months earlier. But when Goodwin left the club at the end of the 1969/70 season for Second Division Birmingham, he left a vacancy that Saward would this time fill.

In Saward’s first season, 1970/71, Albion wore an all-white kit with a blue collar. But as part of Pat Saward’s drive to build a stronger bond with supporters, he listened to supporters, and brought back the famous blue and white stripes the following season.

I suspect part of the lack of appeal for the white kit was that Albion were not a success on the pitch in it, as they finished a disappointing 14th. Meanwhile, Aston Villa pushed for promotion but would ultimately miss out finishing 4th in their first season as a Third Division club.

The games against Aston Villa were a rare highlight for Albion that season. A stalemate at Villa Park saw the club earn a respectable point whilst a winner from Kit Napier saw them shock their visitors to take all three points in a 1-0 win at the Goldstone, as Albion pulled away from relegation trouble and put a dent in Villa’s promotion hopes.

A change in kit wasn’t the only change in style at the club as Saward introduced a new attacking style to improve the club’s fortunes. Most prominently, alongside Albion’s star striker Kit Napier was new signing Willie Irvine signed from Preston. With Bert Murray and Peter O’Sullivan providing additional attacking threat from the wings.

Saward spoke confidently about this team’s attacking prowess in the programme of the first home game of the season against Bradford: “I know that all of you who attend the Goldstone regularly will want to see many more goals from the team this season. I don’t think we shall disappoint.” And they didn’t, winning 3-1 that day and going on to score 39 goals in their 23 home games that season, 11 more than the 28 scored in Saward first season in charge.

Kit Napier would go onto notch 19 of the 82 goals Albion scored that season, the 5th and final season he would end the season as the club’s top scorer, the most seasons from any Albion player in its history.

Albion started the 71/72 season well and after drawing their opening game with Port Vale won three games in a row. But the first meeting with Aston Villa was preceded by a 2-0 defeat at home to York, which would become two in a row as Villa secured a 2-0 victory over them at Villa Park which left Villa 5th and Brighton 7th, both on 7 points.

Despite early promise, Albion’s poor form continued and after winning only one of their next seven they fell to twelfth in October. Villa also had a mixed start to the season with a run to the fourth round of the League cup distracting them from their Third Division duties and a defeat away to league leaders Bournemouth saw them fall to fourth and four points behind the Cherries, which given this was in the days of two points for a win amounted to a decent gap.

Despite only being promoted from the Fourth Division the season before, Bournemouth had started the season well and many were now taking them as a serious promotion contender. Along with Notts County they would cause both Albion and Villa the most to worry in their search for Second Division status.

For Albion, it was an Irvine winner at Walsall which instigated an eight match unbeaten run and an upturn in fortunes. This included a 2-0 win over fellow promotion chasers Bournemouth on 27th December in front of a bumper crowd of 30,600, a win of intent from Albion. Indeed Bournemouth started that day in second on equal points with leaders Notts County, with Villa in third just two points behind.

But Albion’s good run was ended by a 1-0 defeat to the league leaders Notts County, which saw Albion fall five points back and down to fifth, with Villa just a point behind the leaders in 3rd. It was the sort of result that left many focusing on the Club’s around Albion as promotion favourites. But a brilliant second half of the season would see Albion surprise many.

Meanwhile Villa really turned up the heat in the second half of the season. After losing to Rochdale the week after Albion’s defeat to Notts County, they would only lose a further two games that season, romping towards the Third Division title.

Albion responded to that defeat to Notts County by winning eight of their next twelve games, a run that including an entertaining 5-3 win away to Shrewsbury, where all eight goals were scored in the space of 27 minutes. But that run of games was ended with two defeats ahead of the visit of now league leaders Aston Villa, with Albion sitting 3rd, six points behind them and four points behind Bournemouth in 2nd.

But despite Villa’s loftier league position and good form, it was Brighton who would run out 2-1 winners in a match that was so anticipated, it was featured on Match of the Day.

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Fortunately for the cameras, the game saw one of Albion’s most iconic goals of that period, a spectacular team goal which was finished off by Irvine after being set up by John Templeman and was featured on that season goal of the season competition, and was voted into third place. With the other Albion goal that day being scored by Kit Napier, who else.

It was a win that instigated an unbeaten run of 13 games which helped to secure promotion for Albion. The thirteenth of which being a home game with Rochdale on final day of season that saw a crowd of 34,766, the third largest at home in the club’s history, as Albion got the draw they required to secure promotion and instigate a wild pitch invasion.

John Templeman had given Albion an early lead, but Rochdale managed to score a shock equaliser on the hour. Then suddenly what was up to then a fairly ferocious game is said to have stopped dead in its tracks. With the result suiting both teams, it appears they informally agreed to play the game out as a draw. Something Albion players Willie Irvine and Ken Beamish both attested to in their autobiographies.

Willie Irvine said “Neither side had a shot on goal in those final minutes; nor did either team look to penetrate each other’s defence. It probably wouldn’t happen nowadays because the final matches of the season are all played on the same day, but back then we were playing after the end of the season and so both knew what we had to do.”

Whilst Ken Beamish stated: “We’d played this game at 100 miles an hour until the score became 1-1. At this point I’d noticed Saward and the Rochdale manager talking on the touchline. Somehow the game seemed to slow down dramatically”

As such Albion had pulled off an unpredicted promotion. Manager Pat Saward said of his sides success: “I spent only £41,000 in getting my promotion side together so we were very much Villa’s poor relations in that sense. Notts County were the team that surprised me (Who finished 4th). I just don’t know why they fell away so badly in the end for they had all-important matches in hand. Bournemouth were the most skilful side we faced.”

Saward put down his team’s success to: “Dogged determination to succeed from all the players. We stamped out inconsistency. I got rid of ten of the players I inherited and got together a team built on character. That’s the key quality, apart from skill of course, as far as I’m concerned.”

However, after Kit Napier was sold to Blackburn that summer whilst Willie Irvine was sold to Halifax midway through the next season after falling out with Saward, the Second Division proved too much for Albion. As they were relegated back to the third tier the following season after finishing bottom of the league.

That season Mike Bamber invested a further £700k into the club to take a majority 51% stake and improve the facilities at the Goldstone. He was initially supportive of Saward but in the October of the following season with the club back in the third tier and finding themselves near the bottom of the division, he was sacked and one of the most famous names in the game Brian Clough was appointed as Brighton manager. A story told brilliantly in Spencer Vignes book “Bloody Southerners”

In that book Spencer talks a lot about how Clough’s presence put Albion on the map and helped attract supporters that followed the club during its glory years of the late 70’s and early 80’s, which is true. But this 1972 promotion winning side deserve a lot of credit, pulling an average attendance of 17.6k, the club’s highest for seven years and 8k higher than the season before.

The appointment of Brian Clough may have put Albion on the map nationally, but Pat Saward’s 1972 promotion winning side had already done a lot of the groundwork even if the season and a bit which followed it diminished some of that work.

In contrast Aston Villa finished the following season 3rd but were a significant 11 points behind QPR in the 2nd promotion place so missed out on a return to the topflight until two years later, where Albion would join them a further four years later. But by then Villa had gone from strength to strength, winning two more League Cups (75 and 77) and getting to the quarterfinals of the UEFA cup in 78. Going on to win the First Division in 81 and European Cup in 82.

Monday Musings – Albion’s first ever win at Villa Park eases pressure on Potter

The trip to an in-form Aston Villa was always going to be a big test for Potter’s so far frustrated Albion side. With a run of tough games against Liverpool, Southampton and Leicester to follow and only six points so far accumulated from their first eight games you could easily see the pressure quickly mounting on Potter if results didn’t start going Albion’s way.

As I’ve been reiterating since his appointment, I hope Potter gets the time to turn these impressive intentions and subsequently impressive performances of late into the results the team deserve, but I do wonder how much patience he will be afforded if relegation worries mount. Especially in such uncertain times economically for the club, its industry and the country as a whole.

These circumstances made Albion’s victory and the dramatic way it was achieved through a VAR overturn of an Aston Villa penalty in injury time even sweeter. In the context of Albion’s season this win feels huge and eases the pressure caused by the run of frustrating results which preceded it.

Yes, we got a little lucky in the end, but regardless it was a brilliant performance all round. And it was a result that saw Albion under Potter continue to break new ground whose first ever win at Villa Park saw Albion now register its sixth Premier League away win under his management. One more than the five achieved at home in that time and one more than the five away wins achieved in the Premier League under Hughton.

In particular, the first full 90 minutes from Albion’s new striker Danny Welbeck was a true highlight. He gave Albion’s attack an extra dimension with an ability to play direct and long effectively whilst also being happy with the more common approach of patient short passing out of the back. With Albion’s two goals perfectly demonstrating this newfound variety in attack.

It gives the opposition lots to think about. If you press Albion high, they now have a dangerous long ball outlet they can hit to catch you out. If you sit back, you give players like Dunk and White the time and space that opponents can ill afford, enabling them to pass the ball about into dangerously areas. Particularly in the direction of Lamptey and March at Wing Back who have been consistently effective in attack so far this season.

So, the loss of Lamptey for Liverpool to suspension is disappointing, who according to Richard Jolly on Twitter became the shortest player ever to be sent off in the Premier League. Dan Burn has been great when called upon in reserve at left wing back this season, so don’t be surprised if Albion call upon their tallest player to replace him in the starting eleven next time out, with March switching to replace Lamptey at right wing back. That said, Potter’s team selections are rarely predictable.

But there were more positives than negatives. And Pascal Gross’s new found success in Graham Potter’s midfield three has been a joy to behold. Gross played in a deeper role alongside Bissouma and behind Lallana in the first half to great effect. But when Lallana’s tight groin once again saw him fail to complete the 90 minutes, Gross was pushed further forward with Ben White dropping into the midfield. And Gross showed his class and composure in the final third by picking out Solly March with a fantastic assist for Albion’s sublime winner.

It was a game which gave another example of Albion’s strength in depth. With a number of first team players out through injury Potter was still able to name a strong bench that enabled him to make some important alterations during the game that assisted the teams victory.

In particular, Lalana’s replacement Joel Veltman was fantastic in the second half at centre back. Composed and assured in possession whilst also fierce and combative in defence. A performance in his fifth league appearance of the season that will no doubt keep others on their toes.

One of those many players missing was Davy Pröpper, who returned to the injury list after his recent spell as an unused substitute in the last two matches. Thankfully his absence wasn’t due to a recurrence of his Achilles injury but a stomach bug.

His absence and recent return to the matchday squad has gone largely unremarked. Fitting for a player who is in my opinion the club’s most underrated player of Albion’s Premier League era. And after a run of good performances but frustrating results was ended by a good result despite a mixed performance, I feel more strongly that the Dutchman could be Albion’s missing piece of puzzle.

With Lallana’s continued struggles for fitness recently seeing Graham Potter turn to central defender Ben White to play in central midfield to retain the defensive balance which it has at times struggled to achieve this season. A fact demonstrated by the 15 goals conceded in 9 games, a goals conceded per game ratio higher than that of any of Brighton’s previous three Premier League seasons.

Pröpper’s impending return could solve this issue who is arguably Albion’s most rounded midfield player, both providing quality in attacking areas (as demonstrated by his 7 Premier League assists over the last 3 seasons) and resilience in defence (as demonstrated by being involved in 18 Premier League clean sheets in 100 games, compared to Bissouma’s 3 in 58).

Either way his impending return adds extra competition to an area of the pitch that is already congested following impressive performance from Bissouma, Lallana, Alzate, Gross and White, along with the young prospect Jayson Molumby, who made his Premier League debut against Villa as a late substitute.

This is a win that has changed the perspective of the season so far. A performance built on defensive resilience more than possession football, further demonstrating Graham Potter’s adept tactical fluidity.

The great performances of late not leading to many points being accumulated may have increased the anxiety levels and pressure on Potter from outside of the club prior to the win at Villa. But the message from inside the club appears to be that he’s the man for the long-term come what may. Which has no doubt helped that anxiety not to spread to those within the club.

Ultimately though it’s a win that leaves Albion 6 points clear of the relegation zone, but 4 points below the top half, once again marooned in that mid-bottom-half league position that has become very familiar to Albion fans since promotion in 2017. But as 2020 begins to draw towards a close, a year that has been tough both on and off the pitch, events of the last two weeks have certainly helped ease much of the growing anxiety and pressure that has been accumulating since the start of the season.

Brighton – The 1910 Champions of England

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.