Social Media and Scapegoats

This week saw Albion striker Aaron Connolly deactivate his Twitter account due to the amount of abuse he had received from other users after missing a clear cut chance to score a second goal for Albion in Sunday night’s win over Tottenham.

Whilst examples of this are becoming all too common, social media has become a useful tool for football club’s and their players to engage with supporters in an increasingly detached industry. Particularly at Premier League level where the lifestyles of its players have become increasingly diverged from that of its supporters as a result of the increasingly eye-watering salaries that players are now paid.

But Social Media platforms, like the rise of Internet forums prior to their mass adoption, have also given football supporters a much larger audience to voice the vociferous criticism of their team.

It’s often the players who are on the receiving end of this fury, and has led to many example of them being scapegoated by fans expressing their fury in the heat of the moment, which can sometimes lead to the kind of deplorable abuse that Aaron Connolly recently received.

Of course this isn’t a truly modern phenomena, Scapegoats have always existed. Going back into the English football archives prior to the Internet gives you plenty of examples of fans targeting individual players on the terraces, or in fanzines and even by journalists in professional sports media.

A notable example is the late Ray Wilkins, who had a prestigious career for both club and country. Albion fans will remember him as a part of the 1983 Man United FA Cup winning team, as well as for making 84 appearances for England, which included playing at two world cups as well as making ten of those 84 appearances as captain. Yet his career was played with criticism as he was unfairly typecast as “Ray the Crab” for his perceived tendency to play too many sideways passes.

Scapegoats like Ray are often picked out for criticism not necessarily because they are doing their job particularly badly, but because it defines something about the style of the team that the fans don’t like.

Dale Stephens, a midfielder who plays a similar role, received similar criticism to Ray Wilkins during his time at Brighton and certainly fell into that category. He often played as Albion’s one or one of two holding midfielders in a very defensive team that lacked much forward invention. As such he was often unfairly picked out for not playing the right pass or giving away the ball, despite having one of the best, if not the best, passing accuracy records during his time at the club.

Glenn Murray defended Stephens during their time playing together for the Albion saying: “I think Dale Stephens is a footballer’s footballer. He does a job that goes very unnoticed, especially to the untrained eye.”

Stephens’ fellow Burnley teammate and another former Albion player Ashley Barnes was also picked out for regular criticism during his time at Albion too. In fact, fans of another of his former club’s Torquay thought he wasn’t even good enough for league 2 during his time there, yet he has since gone on to recently score his 100th goal in senior football in Burnley’s win over reigning Premier League Champions Liverpool, a goal which was also his 40th goal in the Premier League.

Unlike Stephens, Barnes at times made a rod for his own back through his lack of discipline, but despite that and his occasional wastefulness in front of goal, he was valued by then Albion manager Gus Poyet for his versatility and selflessness, an underappreciated attribute common with that of many scapegoated players.

The animosity directed toward Ashley Barnes was at times so high that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that he was top scorer for the Albion in the 2011/12 season, ahead of Albion’s then record signing Craig Mackail-Smith and helping to fill the gap left by Glenn Murray after his move to Crystal Palace the previous summer.

It’s interesting that both of these players have found a place at Sean Dyche’s Burnley, a proudly unfashionable side who are not afraid to play a style of play which is more physical and less easy on the eye, but one that values these usually underappreciated players like Barnes and Stephens.

Sean Dyche seems confident in his own mind with what he wants from his side and unapologetically unconcerned in trying to please supporters. In 2019 he commented after receiving some criticism for his teams style of play that: “I’m always a bit confused with what the masses want now…But I don’t mind a tackle, I don’t mind a challenge. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s a thing of society. If you get touched now, it’s like everyone’s dead, everyone’s properly dead. I just find that peculiar, I don’t know where that’s all at.”

It may not please people aesthetically, but Dyche’s Burnley sides more physical style of play and squad of underappreciated players have consistently been overachieving since promotion to the topflight when you take into consideration their relatively meagre resources.

Maybe Dyche’s own career has shaped his views in this regard. In his own career he earned a reputation as a no-nonsense centre back and made a move to Bristol City at the age of 26 in what was a big move for both him and the club at the time. Unfortunately, during his time there he struggled with injuries and was often singled out by supporters for criticism when he did play. After 20 appearances in 18 months he was first loaned to Luton before being sold to Millwall, where he was far better accustomed.

However, it’s often the strikers like Barnes and Connolly which tend to get the brunt of fans criticism as they are the ones who miss the game changing chances to score goals. Score and you’re a hero forever, as the likes of Glenn Murray, Bobby Zamora, Peter Ward or Tommy Cook show. But as the contrasting examples of Connolly and Barnes show, this is far from always the case.

Some players are able to deal with the criticism better than others. Former Albion striker Mark McCammon once called into the BBC Sussex’s post game phone-in to argue his case after feeling unfairly criticised by supporters and the phone-in host Ian Hart. Whereas most others choose to do their talking on the pitch.

Whilst, McCammon actively went out of his way to listen to the phone in and take on the criticism he was receiving before infamously phoning in, players are now being directly contacted by users for abuse, simply as a result of having a social media presence.

As Sean Dyche admitted back in 2017 things are very different now. “The game has radically changed off the pitch. It is a whole different profession now, even to when I was playing. I just think it (social media) opens up an unnecessary moment… Unfortunately with life, often people want to vent. And if they have got a chance to vent directly at you… well, I just wouldn’t put myself up for that. That’s my view on social media.”

If more people don’t learn to cut out the online abuse and social media platforms don’t start introducing more severe punishments for those who don’t, we will likely see more footballers go the way of Sean Dyche and Aaron Connolly and just not engage with it at all. Which would be a huge negative for an industry which is becoming more and more detached from its consumers by the day.

Twenty things from twenty seasons (part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whilst Coppell didn’t save Albion from relegation, he had at least ensured there was a fight and that the Albion were ultimately only relegated on the final day of that season.

When McGhee came in, he built on the organisation and experience that Coppell had instilled, constructing a solid defence-minded team that conceded only 43 goals in 46 games, the third best in the league that season. McGhee also added a much-needed injection of Scottish Charisma to post-match interviews, something Steve Coppell’s dry monotone nature lacked.

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

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

That Virgo equaliser still goes down as a favourite Albion goal of mine. We thought we were beaten; some fans had already begun to leave, and it really was the last throw of the dice to get as many players forward as we could and launch the ball into the box. The scenes when he scored and then when we won the shootout were like little seen at the Withdean.

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

Ultimately, we won the game when we were given a penalty through a foul on Chris Iwelumo and as soon as he won it, there was little doubt that Leon Knight would put it away. 1-0 Albion and that’s how it ended.

But the build up to the game, in fact the season as a whole, had been dominated by the campaign to get planning permission to build our new stadium at Falmer from the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Most notably the postcards saying: “We’re pleased to be here (with a picture of the Cardiff Millennium Stadium), but we wish we were here (with a picture of the design for the new stadium)” the club gave out with the playoff final tickets and that fans were encouraged to send to John Prescott’s office.

At that time, it was always a balance between fighting for the new stadium and focusing on matters on the pitch, and the requirement to fund the continued legal battle was stretching resources at the club. Former manager Steve Coppell said during his time as manager whilst the club struggled against relegation: “The football has almost been a sideshow. If that money had been spent on the pitch, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this position.” But this was to continue for some time yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read part two click here

Burnley – A sporadic acquaintance

Whenever Brighton and Burnley face off you can expect a battle and down the years there have been some great games between the sides as well as a fair few feisty moments. But it’s not a fixture with a great deal of history, occurring only nine times before the Premier League era began in 1992, with the club’s not meeting in a league match until 1972. As the top echelons of English football revelled in Sky TV’s investment in the game both Brighton and Burnley were less prosperous. Whilst Brighton continued their demise down the league that followed the success of the early eighties, Burnley had survived falling out the league themselves in the late eighties and both found themselves meeting in England’s third tier.

Whilst Brighton won both fixtures that season including a 3-0 win at the Goldstone Ground on Boxing Day, Burnley were the club on the upwards trajectory. So whilst four Kurt Nogan goals across the two fixtures did the job for the Albion that season, a sign of the contrasting futures of both clubs was that he moved to Burnley in 1995 before the Albion continued their demise into the bottom tier of the Football League the following year.

So knowing what was to come it won’t surprise you that when the club’s met during the 1993/94 season Burnley won the home fixture and secured a draw at the return match at the Goldstone Ground on their way to promotion to the second tier. And whilst relegation followed the season after, they were establishing themselves as an aspiring second tier club, whereas Brighton were the bare bones of the club who’d got to the FA Cup final whilst playing in the first tier a little over a decade before.

The clubs faced off twice more in the third tier in the 1995/96 season before Brighton’s relegation to the basement division meant the clubs didn’t meet again until after the millennium, by which point the Goldstone Ground had become a retail outlet and Brighton were playing at Withdean Stadium.

After years apart the club’s met again in the second tier in the 2002/03 season and were scheduled to face-off on the first day of the season. After a 3-1 win for Brighton on that day at Turf More, the clubs met again in the December, when a 20-year-old young rookie on loan from Arsenal who went by the name Steve Sidwell scored two late goals to earn Brighton a dramatic late draw.

In recent years, close battles between the sides have become a trend, with 5 of the last 6 meetings ending in a draw. Most of which were tight, often scrappy, low scoring affairs. With the tension and feistiness at times spilling over into some unsavoury behaviour. During the first top flight meeting between the sides at Turf More in April 2018, Brighton’s Gaetan Bong was booed throughout by the home support for allegations he had made towards former Burnley player Jay Rodriquez of racially abusing him.

Another recent battle between the sides was an Albion home game in April 2016, which ended in a 2-2 draw and is possibly the exception to the tight and cagey affairs. Although nonetheless, three of those goals came from corners and even this game was most notable for a fiery midfield battle between Burnley’s Joey Barton and Brighton’s Beram Kayal, a battle which saw neither booked but both (and Barton in particular) treading a fine line between a warning and a dismissal.

But for me when it comes to facing Burnley, I always think first of a day when Brighton lost 1-0, ended the game with 9-men, but yet with a feeling of pride mixed with what could have been. It was 17th December 2011, Brighton had been promoted to the Championship that summer as champions of League One and at the same time were still getting used to their new surroundings of the long-awaited AMEX stadium that had only opened that summer.

In fact it was the sides first meeting in five years. Whilst the Albion had spent the intervening years in League One, Burnley had secured an unlikely promotion to the Premier League via the 2009 Championship playoffs, only to (as expected) be relegated in their first season at that level. Following relegation, they finished 8th in the Championship and just outside the playoffs in 2010/11, so were hoping to go one better this season but went into the game at the AMEX in mid-table and adrift of those all-important playoff places.

In contrast, the Albion were acclimatising to the second tier after promotion from League One. The team had started well picking up 16 points from a possible 18 from their first six games, with the only points dropped via a dramatic Kevin Phillips inspired late Blackpool comeback from 2-0 down, a comeback instigated by a second-half triple substitution from then then Blackpool manager Ian Holloway. But this good run wouldn’t last, as the side won only four in their next fifteen games in the run up to this clash, finding themselves falling down the table and outside the playoff places.

So this was a game both sides were keen to win to keep up with the promotion race, and it started with incident from the off as after only six minutes Brighton’s Romain Vincelot was sent off. It was a dismissal that left everyone in the ground mystified including the player himself, but it turned out to be for a retaliatory punch to the ribs of Burnley midfielder Marvin Bartley. No complaints there.

Then only five minutes later the sense mystification amongst the Albion faithful turned to anger as Ashley Barnes was also sent off. He went into a 50/50 challenge with Chris McCann and initially many in the home end cheered as they thought the red card brandished by referee Craig Pawson was for the Burnley man. But it was instead for Barnes who was dismissed for stamping on Chris McCann after reacting violently to his aggressive two-footed tackle, which escaped unpunished. Again upon reflection it was a red card there should have been little complaints of.

Yet Brighton manager Gus Poyet said after the game: “I don’t want to comment on the sending off incidents, it’s up to the club whether they want to take it further but I’m not because I don’t want to spend any money. Some people in games like this may lose their jobs. It was a really bad day at the office.”

The Albion appealed the Barnes red card, but it was unsurprisingly unsuccessful and he and Vincelot both served three match bans. On the appeal Albion Managing director at the time Ken Brown told The Argus: “Personally I thought both sending-offs were harsh, but I think in particular Ashley’s was not justified. I think we have footage that indicates that and hope we can support that in written form to the FA.” Sadly for the club few others agreed.

The reality was neither had any complaints, and both reds were clearly moments of indiscipline and stupidity from the players involved. The moments of madness that would cost the Albion that day occurred more regularly throughout Poyet’s leadership than you’d usually expect, and the team got something of a reputation as a dirty side. In fact the team had the worst disciplinary record in the league that season accumulating 83 yellows cards and 8 red cards.

In reaction, aside from his predictably brash and at times vulgar antics on the touch line, Albion manager Gus Poyet made a double substitution, bringing on Craig Noone and Alan Navarro for Kazenga LuaLua and Ryan Harley to attempt to stabilise things for the Albion, but 80 minutes with 9-men would be too much of a challenge.

Referee Craig Pawson was busy throughout a frantic match. Not long after he turned down appeals for a Brighton penalty after Craig Noone went down in the box. Poyet’s response was predictably impassioned as he threw his coat down in anger and disappeared down the tunnel, returning to the touch line five minutes later after presumably calming himself down.

And it got worse for the Albion when then Man City loanee Kieran Trippier opened the scoring. The defender was starting to make a name for himself playing at full back for the Clarets for his ability to get up and down the flank and put dangerous crosses in, but it was his goalscoring ability that would be most prominent that day. Trippier had caught the attention of the better informed scouts with a successful loan spell the year before at Barnsley, scoring twice in 41 games. He added to those goals here by hitting a powerful effort from the edge of the box after Ross Wallace’s low corner to score his first league goal of the season and give Burnley the lead. Trippier has subsequently become better known for his ability to score from set-pieces, most notably in the World Cup semi-final for England in their defeat by Croatia, but he was not known for this then and caught the Albion defence off-guard.

Tempers continued to flare as Burnley striker Martin Paterson and Brighton defender Adam El-Abd clashed, with a yellow card given to Paterson as well as Brighton defender and assistant manager Mauricio Taricco in the aftermath. Taricco was much like his former Spurs teammate and manager Gus Poyet regarding his poor temperament and despite his senior status was often in disciplinary trouble whilst at the club, which sums up Poyet’s lax control of the team’s discipline during his time in charge. In only 19 appearances he accumulated 4 yellow cards and two red, hardly leading by example.

Despite this the atmosphere in the AMEX was great. Spurred on to support the team in adversity, the tune of the great escape rung around the AMEX as Brighton fought on. And despite Burnley seeing much of the ball, the Albion would create chances on the break via the pace of Craig Mackail-Smith. First a quickly-taken free-kick set Mackail-Smith away just before half-time, however Burnley’s Michael Duff got back to clear.

Burnley manager Eddie Howe summed up the situation saying: “It’s sometimes harder with a numerical advantage… We didn’t want to sit too deep and our defensive line wasn’t great at the end. I can’t recall playing for such a long time against nine men, but the atmosphere the Brighton fans created was terrific and if you stand off for one second someone like Craig Mackail-Smith will punish you.”

But Mackail-Smith had chances and didn’t punish the visitors. Next shooting wide from inside the box and then as time went on and Burnley sat back on their lead, they were fortunate when David Edgar denied Mackail-Smith in injury time with a desperate goalline clearance. Mauricio Taricco also tested Lee Grant with a long-range effort, but the Albion couldn’t break Burnley’s resistance, and in the end it oddly felt like a missed opportunity.

The feeling of missed opportunities would continue for both clubs as Brighton finished the season 10th, three places and four points ahead of Burnley, with both missing out on the playoffs. As the season ended both clubs would look back on days like this one was for the Albion, an examples of how they fell short of those playoffs.

Poyet said after the Burnley game: “The lads were outstanding. We were 100 per cent sure we would have a chance and what a chance, the best chance in the game. It didn’t go in, but it doesn’t matter. We did everything we should.”

Whilst this is true, for me this game summed up the issues that trouble the Albion throughout this season, and in many ways Poyet’s management after moving into the AMEX stadium. Whilst we were ‘F***ing brilliant’ as we won the League One title, the two seasons in the championship that followed were mixed, especially when the amount of investment in the team is considered.

One example of this is Craig Mackail-Smith, his signing was met with great fanfare as the Albion beat teams including West Ham to his signature, but if we are honest even considering the injuries he never lived up to the hype. His goalscoring record says it all, worse than a goal in every 5 games, so bad that he ended his time with the Albion playing out wide as the club bought an alternative front man in the form of Leonardo Ulloa, a man whose goalscoring record was far more impressive.

This day personified Mackail-Smith, lots of running and hard work, with little end-product. He was bought to the club to replace Glenn Murray, who’d scored 54 goals in his previous 118 appearances with the club. But Mackail-Smith never filled the goalscoring void that Murray left. In fact, this summed up a lot of the players in that team who played that day, like Ashley Barnes and Lewis Dunk who were young, inconsistent and wouldn’t fulfil their potential until later years, or Kazenga Lua and Craig Noone who despite possessing great talent never seemed to be able to deliver the goods consistently.

It would be wrong to say that the same was true of the following season, the team’s disciplinary record improved (relative to the atrocious record of the previous season) and the team ended up only a handful of points off automatic promotion, only missing out on promotion to Palace in that playoff semi-final. But even that night was defined in part by Poyet’s failings. In a tight game the emotion of the occasion got the better of the Albion, chances came and went and the fact the Albion had made a mistake to let that season’s Championship top scorer Glenn Murray go on a free transfer only two years before to their semi-final opponents was for all to see.

In fact Brighton scored only 69 goals that season in their 48 games, fewer than any of their play off rivals, and the season’s was in part notable for the amount of games the club failed to win despite dominating possession, drawing 18 times that season, more than any team in the league with half of those coming at home.

The negatives of Poyet’s period in charge now seen in hindsight feel particularly true of that day back in December 2011. What felt at the time like a proud moment of heroic defeat, now feels like a day when the failings of the Poyet era were on show for all to see, we were just choosing to ignore them and enjoy the ride.

But this was because, despite Poyet’s failings, we chose to ignore them because this was a great time to be an Albion fan, which the great atmosphere that day attests to. Whilst Poyet was a flawed manager in many ways, he built a team that inspired us and and a team that put the club into the national consciousness for the first time in decades, and for that at least we should be grateful, despite the failings that were shown throughout his management, and in this match in particular.

18/19 season review – halfway

If the first ten games gave us optimism for the season ahead, then the next nine have consolidated all those good feelings. In an article about mid-table teams in the Premier League Adam Hurray aka @FootballCliches on twitter described Brighton as “the team that people will most likely forget if you challenge them to name all 20 Premier League teams in under a minute.” Some will take this as an insult but not me personally. It’s a long way from that terribly forgettable 1-0 home defeat to Millwall just over four years ago that all-but signalled the end of Sami Hyypia’s reign as Albion manager and ultimately, the beginning of the success that Chris Hughton has gone onto lead us to. So yes, I will take competent forget-ableness over incompetent forget-ableness every day.

Matchdays 11-13 – Frustration and refereeing controversy

Talking of forgettable, let’s overlook Everton away. A bad day at the office, in which we were outclassed by a better resources team. There’s no shame in that.

Not that this stopped one fan phoning in BBC Radio 5 Live’s phone-in “606” and calling for Hughton to be sacked. A call described by host and one time Albion loanee Robbie Savage as “One of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in my life”. You know you’ve got it wrong when Robbie Savage is taking the common sense high-ground. Thankfully the vocal minority that phone into programmes like 606 are not speaking for the majority of sensible football fans who appreciate Chris Hughton as one of the best managers currently working in the English game.

Whilst from an Albion perspective it was a demoralising defeat, it was one that we could have anticipated. However, the game was notable for at least two positive things:

First, it saw another set-piece goal from the Albion, something we lacked last season, scoring only five all season. But something that is becoming increasingly part of our attacking armoury, scoring eight already in only half the amount of games.

Second, it saw a debut from the bench for a certain Florin Andone, someone who we will come to later.

But first, next up was a Saturday lunchtime kick-off at Cardiff. And if we were honest, it was a game we expected the team to win, but it was not to be.

The team made a good start, with Lewis Dunk getting his second goal in two games, another one of those goals from a set piece and another assist from Solly March. But quickly the Albion’s fortunes began to turn as soon after Callum Paterson equalised for Cardiff. Then the Albion’s Dale Stephens saw red for what was at best an overzealous challenge. And one at which I, unlike many other Albion fans, won’t argue against.

With nearly an hour left what then followed was an extended period of Cardiff pressure, one which the ten-men Brighton team fought hard against, but it was a fight that was ultimately to no avail as a late winner from Sol Bamba meant Cardiff took all three points. Upon review Sol Bamba appeared to be offside in the build up to the goal. But in the melee that was the Brighton penalty area that preceded the goal it’s no wonder the officials weren’t sure. So near but yet so VAR…

After a couple of frustrating results we hoped for a Hughton-side-like instant positive reaction against Leicester at home. And with Albion taking the lead via yet another goal from Glenn Murray, it appeared we had just that. A goal that added to the Albion’s ever-growing set-piece goal tally. And when Leicester and England’s rising star James Maddison saw red for a silly second yellow card for diving, things seemed to be evening up for the Albion very quickly. But the Albion couldn’t capitalise on their numeric advantage, and this wastefulness would prove costly. As after Beram Kayal sloppily gave away a penalty, Jamie Vardy equalised for Leicester.

It was an afternoon of frustration for the Albion. Frustration in a lack of attacking intent, frustration in a lack of quality in possession, and frustration in sloppy, panicked decision making. The amount of long distant pot-shots and wild hit-and-hope(less) crosses made it hard to watch. It was a performance described, as level-headedly as ever by manager Chris Hughton, as “below the standard required”.

Many Albion fans were less level-headed and a small amount of boos could be heard at the end of the game. Whilst the Argus’s Andy Naylor continued his never-tiring battle on twitter with those who deem Hughton too ‘negative’ tactically, and who he deems the “moaning minority”. Some other were coming around to the idea of our previously disgraced Albion fan on 606, but that perspective would soon flip on its head.

Matchdays 14-15 – Andone stars as we win away and beat the scum!

The frustration that was brewing meant that the trip to Huddersfield had more riding on it than our league position relative to our hosts along with our solid start to the season granted. Which was unfortunate given our recent bad record away to the Terriers. And as many feared the Albion got off to a bad start. But oddly it was a spectacularly miscued overhead kick from Albion captain Bruno, one which he unintentionally kicked the ball into the Brighton defensive six-yard box, that set up a goal for Mathias Jorgensen to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. Bruno’s second unintentional assist of the season after his miss-hit shot set up Murray’s century goal.

Panic could have ensued, but that’s not the Hughton way, and after a slightly shaky first twenty minutes the Albion started to get back into the game. Then when a Huddersfield red card gave the Albion the initiative, soon after they equalised, just before halftime. Bruno made amends with an intentional and impressively acrobatic piece of ball control that led to an Albion corner. From the corner Solly March found Shane Duffy who equalised before halftime, another set piece goal and another Match assist.

After half time the Albion continued to step up the intensity in search of a winner, one that would this time against ten men prove fruitful. As Solly March continued to prove his doubters wrong by finding Andone with a great cross, where the Romanian nipped in ahead of the Huddersfield defence to put the ball home and give Albion only their fourth away win since promotion.

Up next was the derby game against Palace, which after all the nonsense of last season’s game at the AMEX had once again been scheduled on a Tuesday night, great. Nonetheless, with the gap between the sides at only six points the teams had to put all the sideshow of the rivalry out of their mind and get the three points.

And it was the Albion who struck first, with Murray emphatically scoring a penalty against his old side after Izquierdo went down in the area. A soft penalty but we will take it.

Next chaos ensued, after Murray was brought down in the box by James Tomkins. The ref ignored calls for another penalty and pointed for a corner. A melee ensued, one which saw Shane Duffy headbutt Palace’s Patrick Van Aanholt in front of the referee, I’m sure he had it coming, however, the referee had no choice but to send off Duffy leaving the Albion handicapped for the rest of the match.

But fear not, things were only getting started for the Albion. Pascal Gross was quickly sacrificed for Leon Balogun to partner Lewis Dunk in the back four, but before he resumed defensive duties he quickly doubled the Albion’s arrears. Balogun sending the ball home with a spectacular half volley after being unmarked in the box. An extra man and they still left the big centre back unmarked!

So, with a two goal lead the Albion attempted to hold onto what they had and defend for their lives. But rather than memorable defensive heroics, the game will forever be synonymous with a piece of individual brilliance from Florin Andone that followed.

As Brighton sat deep defending their lead, they had only one player in a remotely advanced position, Florin Andone. As the ball was pumped long and diagonally by Bernardo, remarkably Andone got to this speculative pass near the East stand touchline about ten yards into the Palace half, meaning he had a lot of ground to cover. But cover it he did, slaloming his way around the Palace defence as he did so and then finishing well to make it 3-0.

As the game went on Palace continued to probe without much penetration of the Albion defence. In a resultant moment of frustration, Palace talisman Wilfried Zaha attempted a tackle on hero of the day Florin Andone, which he seriously mistimed. Andone was fortunate to walk away unharmed and Zaha was fortunate to walk away with only a yellow card. Saving Palace further frustration and embarrassment on a bad night at the office.

And whilst Palace got a goal back via the penalty spot to make it 3-1 nothing would take the shine off this win for the Albion. What a victory, what a night. And it was a special night for Albion not just given the circumstances of the victory, but also the novelty that a win over Palace has been in recent years. In fact, this was only the second home league victory by the Albion over Palace since Boxing Day 1988. It’s the kind of win many fans would give a lot away for, and for the Albion it was a victory that preceded the worst run of consecutive defeats to date this season.

Matchdays 16-19 – A winless run – with promise

It was a winless run that started on a miserable wet and grey day in Burnley, one that at least went without last season’s deplorable behaviour from some of the home support.

The goal that ultimately cost the Albion the game was largely as a result of poor defending. As a cross from the right came into the Brighton box, it was headed to the far side of the box and headed back into the six-yard box melee by a Burnley shirt only to be headed clear by Lewis Dunk. But unfortunately, the ball fell kindly for James Tarkowski on the edge of the box to drill it home, scoring a goal that would ultimately give the home side a narrow 1-0 win. It was the type of 1-0 win that they prided themselves on last season, but the type of win that has been harder to come by this season.

If we are honest, it was a poor piece of defending from the Albion, two fairly measly clearances, which coupled with Ryan’s failure to get anywhere near a cross he came for, left Tarkowski with a simple finish. But Ryan’s error was a type of error we’ve not seen much from the Australian number one, which considering his relative lack of height is a testament to him, the management of Chris Hughton and coaching of the head goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts.

Nonetheless this was an error of judgement, but one of a type he’s been encourages to avoid. Maty Ryan spoke to the Independent last season of how before he signed for the Albion he was a much more proactive goalkeeper, with the coaches at Brighton now encouraging him to be less proactive and in situations like this stay on his line and leave the initial defensive duties to the defence, primarily due to the heading prowess of Dunk and Duffy coupled with the incredibly deep defensive line that the Albion often deploy, leaving him little option other than staying on his line.

So, maybe partly due to a concern over the missing Shane Duffy, Ryan uncharacteristically (or characteristically for him two years ago, old habits die hard) came for a cross that he didn’t win leaving a virtually open goal for Tarkowski to shoot into. And no wonder Ryan was nervous, Shane Duffy has been brilliant for the Albion since promotion and as such was justifiably given a contract extension recently. In fact, he is widely being regarded as Albion’s best player so far this season, and primarily is someone who knows how to defend a cross into the box.

As the game went on the Albion threw on Murray and Locadia to go with two up top and try to get an equaliser. And they would combine for the Albion’s best chance of the game. As Murray peeled off wide, something he has grown accustom to doing much less of as a sole striker, he found himself in a position to cross a ball into the box from a deep position. Cross he did, and what a cross it was, landing in a perfect position for Locadia to run onto and head home to equalise, except he headed it over. Cue bedwetting of the highest order, including some Albion fans calling for Locadia’s head, which is frankly ludicrous, more on this later.

But first, up next at the AMEX was Chelsea, and fresh from their victory over champions Man City it was an imposing prospect. In fact, for sixty minutes they showed exactly why that was. They controlled possession with such ease, toying with Brighton and creating enough chances to win a handful of games.

Eden Hazard in particular was brilliant. I’ve already said last season that he was the best opposition player I’d seen at the AMEX. After this day it was clear to me that he’s the best player entirely.

The first goal was of his making. After Chelsea somewhat casually sprayed the ball around the Albion defence, it came to Hazard. Out of nothing he took virtually the whole Albion defence out of the game with only a few touches, then with one more he found Pedro at the far post in space who prodded the ball home and give them the lead.

They then extended the lead as the Albion’s continued the evidence of some growing indiscipline when Balogun gave the ball away, leaving Hazard free to stride forward and pass the ball past a helpless Ryan in goal.

At half time I texted my wife, a Chelsea fan, joking that it would be nice if they could even up the teams by letting Hazard switch and Chelsea almost justified the lack of confidence that I had shown in my team as they almost scored again when Azpilicueta’s low teasing cross fell to Pedro, but his overhead kick went well over.

Then Alonso received the ball on the edge of the box but despite his well-hit shot across the face of goal beating Ryan in goal, it hit the post. It was as if the sound of the smack of the ball against the woodwork woke up the atmosphere in the stadium from its slumber and livened the home team into life.

The Albion had just brought on Florin Andone for the unusually ineffectual Glenn Murray. It was this change that would instigate the livening up of the team’s attacking play and it would quickly produce the intended impact. Propper played a cross-field pass to Gross, Albion’s player of last season then crossed to the on-rushing Bernardo who’s nodded the ball down to Solly March at the far post who tapped it home. A nice move that kept the Albion in the game, somehow.

It wasn’t just Andone who made an impact from the bench, the ever-improving Yves Bissouma came on and his pace and power from midfield put Chelsea under more pressure. Particularly when a cross-field diagonal pass looked to put Solly March through on goal, but he was brought down by Alonso who appeared to be the last man. But Alonso received only a yellow card and ultimately Chelsea held on to take all three points in a manner that was far closer than their dominance for an hour deserved.

It was Bernardo who was the Albion player who took the most plaudits as man of the match. He’d had a great match at left back and was beginning to show his worth after a tough start to the season, particularly on the opening day when his debut against Watford left some already calling him a flop. But like a few other new signings he is beginning to prove the doubters wrong.

The fact Bernardo has replaced Bong, a man who was a mainstay in the team last season, demonstrates his impressive impact on the team. I see the reason being that Bernardo is a much more proactive attack-minded full-back, and it’s no coincidence his move into the starting eleven has coincided with better performances away from home and in general more attacking football from the side.

His more proactive nature is shown via a range of stats, having totalled 5 more interceptions (18 to Bong’s 13), totalled 17 more tackles (28 to Bong’s 11) and totalled almost double the headed clearances (15 to Bong’s 8). All this in 9 appearances to Bong’s 13. It’s no doubt that Bernardo would suit the more offensive-minded and high pressing Brighton team that Hughton has started to encourage, materialising for at least periods in games if not yet for a full ninety minutes.

Game 18 was a trip to Bournemouth and a rare start for both Andone and Locadia, with Murray dropping to the bench. And unlike many other away performances since promotion, this led to the Albion matching if not bettering the home sides attacking intensity, at least for the first 45 minutes. But in their way stood an inspired goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic. First saving from the previously mentioned Locadia low down to his left and then from a Dunk header, again low down to his left.

But at the other end the home side were also creating chances and a man who is proving to be one of the best Premier League signing of the last summer, David Brooks (signed for £10m from Sheffield United) was providing the biggest threat. And it was him who opened the scoring with a wonderful shot into Ryan’s bottom left-hand corner.

But despite the Albion’s attempts to equalise, no goal was forthcoming. And after Lewis Dunk received a red card for a second yellow card it was all but over. The first card Dunk received was for a foul on the prior mentioned David Brooks, one that many believed had gone to Bissouma. So when he got his second yellow and subsequent red for a cynical trip of Callum Wilson from behind, many thought it was only his first card, but off he went and with it went any hope the Albion had of taking a point from the match.

Bournemouth sealed the points when David Brooks made a run to the near post and looped a header back over his head and over Ryan into the goal. A wonderful goal that capped a wonderful performance from the Welshman who is no doubt already worth significantly more than the £10m Bournemouth paid for him over the summer.

So, after three straight defeats it was Arsenal at home that would take us to the halfway point. And it was the visitors who started the brighter, with Aubameyang’s chipped shot forcing Ryan into an early save. And it was Aubameyang who would break the deadlock barely a few minutes later, when after Balogun kept the ball in play only to give the ball straight back to Lacazette who after interchanging with Ozil, worked his way around a static Albion defence to find Aubameyang in space who passed the ball into the top corner to give the visitors the lead.

It was Aubameyang who then forced Ryan into another great save, this time down to his left with the game still 1-0. Further evidence that Ryan is a player the Albion will greatly miss when the Australian goalkeeper now goes to represent his country at the Asia cup in UAE.

Those saves would prove vital as the Albion not long after equalised through the seemingly ever-criticised Jurgen Locadia’s first goal of the season. It was somewhat fortunate circumstances that led to it, but he deserved a bit of luck after some of the less fortunate moments he’s had this season. Davy Propper’s hopeful long diagonal pass forward from level with the Albion penalty area looked meant for Gross but was unintentionally headed into Locadia’s path by Arsenal’s Stephan Lichtsteiner. Locadia then simply had to round the keeper and pass it into the empty net to put the scores level, which he did.

Locadia deserved his goal, he was fantastic in the left-wing role and with better finishing could have given the Albion all three points in the second half. Locadia didn’t deserve the vitriolic abuse he received after his miss at Burnley and he doesn’t deserve to be held up as an Albion great quite yet either. But this was a stepping stone towards him fulfilling his potential.

When we signed Jurgen Locadia we knew he wasn’t the finished article, we knew he was a raw talent coming from a league that is below the standard of the English Premier League. For every Van Persie or Van Nistelrooy that has been a success in the Premier League after signing from Holland, there is a counter example of a Jozy Altidore or an Alfonso Alves who were not a success.

Whilst it’s a lot of money for Brighton to spend, £14m doesn’t buy you a proven goalscorer at this level. It buys you a Jurgen Locadia, a player who’s shown promise, shown he’s competent, shown he’s got a lot of ability, but also shown he’s not perfect, at least not yet. So, if he has a bad game and misses a big chance against Everton or West Ham, I won’t be getting carried away, he needs time in the team to settle and show what he can do.

In fact, it wasn’t Locadia this time being maligned for missing a good chance to score, it was Solly March or Davy Propper, or both, depending on who you spoke to after the game. As the Albion pushed forward and created chances both could have scored, but neither did. I’m happy to state that I’m not concerned with this, both players have potential to be a more significant goalscorer for the team than at current, and if they’re getting in the positions to score that’s the hard part. If they keep doing that then taking those chances will naturally come next.

A halfway point summing up

The draw with Arsenal leaves the Albion with 22 points at the halfway mark of 19 games, ahead of schedule in our search for another year of Premier league status. And 8 points from the last nine games is a reasonable return given the amount of tough away games and games against top six teams that were included in that run, along with the self-induced handicap that the three red cards we received created.

One real positive so far this season is the increased impact of Hughton’s substitutions and varied team selection. The continued impact of new signings like Andone, Bernardo and Bissouma along with regulars like Murray, March and Duffy show the evidence of the increased squad depth.

Hughton still doesn’t make change for changes sake though. And as such the consistency of approach and defensive organisation remains a true strength of the team. Burnley’s Sean Dyche has spoken before about how it’s often braver to stick with what you’ve got and easier to panic and twist when it comes to substitutions and in-game tactical decisions. Hughton shows trust in his players, hence why many have and are continuing to fulfil their potential in this team under his tutelage.

Take Anthony Knockaert as an example, someone who was almost ever-present last season and has looked reinvigorated when he has played recently but is still struggling to get a game, such is the increased competition for places.

But with the added versatility has come some frustrating moments as the team experiences some growing pains. No more so than the frustration and indiscipline that lead to the three Albion red cards. A trend that needs to end.

In my ten games in summing up, I said I thought the fact that Brighton had the second most shots conceded, and the least shots taken would reverse to the average of our league position once the season went on. Well, it hasn’t yet. We currently have the second least total of shots taken and the second highest conceded, with only Burnley totalling lower and higher totals in both areas respectively. Even more anomalous is that the Albion post fewer shots per game at home than anyone in the division despite totalling the joint 9th highest points total accumulated at home.

Whilst stats don’t necessarily tell you everything, for me this one does illustrate two things. Firstly, the Albion’s well-known reliance on their defensive solidity. And secondly, the reliance on Glenn Murray’s reliability in front of goal. In fact, in Murray’s case his conversation rate of shots taken is about as good as it gets for a high scoring forward in a top-flight European football, sitting currently at 36.4%.

The next run of matches starts with a tough visit of Everton who gave us a footballing lesson recently, followed with an away trip to West Ham who are a better team now than the one we beat 3-0 at the London Stadium last season. Which is before another trip to Bournemouth this time in the FA Cup, followed by the visit of leaders Liverpool and a trip to a revitalised Man United. So, it could be a while until we see the next Albion win. But as the recent run shows, the team is capable of giving anyone a game and if we keep beating the teams below us that gap between us and those bottom three places should remain in place.

The Albion sit 13th, a position if which we remain in come May will match the club’s highest ever league finish from the 1981/82 season. In the following season the manager Mike Bailey was sacked after growing pressure on his safety-first approach contributed to the team’s worsening performances. Despite the change of manager, the team were ultimately relegated at the end of the following season in the summer of 1983, albeit being relegated along with the memories of competing in that season’s FA cup final, one which was ultimately lost to United in the replay. Maybe we should take some lessons from history before we moan about Hughton’s ‘negative’ tactics.

When the team was in the fourth tier nearly twenty years ago, then Brighton chairman Dick Knight borrowed a phrase from an album title of DJ and Albion investor/fan Fatboy Slim aka Norman Cook to describe the club’s status, “Halfway between the gutters and the stars”. Today we are one of those stars, albeit one that some could forget about amongst the brighter Middle Eastern or Russian oil illuminated stars.

As we approach 2019, we do so with promise, hope and anticipation of another 19 games to come. Ones which if the last 19 games were anything to go by, should give us a lot of excitement to look forward to. Up the Albion, Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Rainbow laces and banana skins – diversity and prejudice in football

In light of the banana skin thrown at Gabonese international footballer Pierre Patrick Aubameyang during last Sunday’s North London Derby and the Homophobic abuse sung by Huddersfield supporters in their match with Brighton the day before, the football community continues to soul search for the antidote to the prejudice that is still apparent in modern football stadia each weekend.

It’s easy to overlook incidents like these as either committed by a small group of idiots or just misplaced banter respectively, particularly when you’re not directly affected by the prejudice. However, it’s just as easy to over compensate and find fault in minor issues where there is no fault.

Comedian Matt Lucas has spoken about his experiences of Homophobic chants at football games. He said on a BBC documentary about football and its attitude towards homosexuality back in 2012 that you had to be able to have a “bit of a laugh”. But, whilst he sees chants like “we can see you holding hands” as harmless, he recognised that there is an ugly side to it, referencing the chant sung about Sol Campbell which makes false claims that he is a homosexual living with HIV.

As a Brighton fan I’ve heard plenty of homophobic chanting at matches, including a few references to HIV. Sadly, whilst a lot of homophobic chants are less unpleasant than this, there are periodic occurrences of the uglier variety. And no matter how often you hear it, it’s always shocking. In fact it’s not just in the stands. When going to Brighton away games I, like many other Brighton fans, have experienced one-on-one homophobic abuse aimed at me because of the football shirt I wear. Personally I can easily just ignore the abuse and laugh in pity at the individual giving it out, but there is no doubt that for others it would deter them from going to a game again.

Another person, I find worth listening to on the subject of discrimination is Comedian Nish Kumar. He commented in the guardian recently that as a society previously “we were in denial about the extent to which Britain had cured itself of the poison of racism. We’re definitely not in denial about it now.” Even if you disagree with his overt political viewpoint, it’s hard to disagree with this point given the rise in popularity of nationalist, at times racist, political views over the last few years. A political shift that has shown as a society, not just in Britain but across much of the Western world, we have become more aware of the prejudice within our mix that we would liked to have thought had been eradicated. And the recent incidents in the Premier League last weekend bring this to our attention even more.

Many supporters of clubs accused of discriminatory chanting will say it’s all about creating a unwelcome atmosphere for the visitors and just ‘part of the game’. This is an argument many Burnley fans made after the booing of Gaetan Bong last season led to accusations of racism. But whilst no malice may be intended by those giving out abuse from the stands, prejudice of all kinds is still very prevalent in modern society, be it in our football stadiums, in our workplaces or in our politics. So to accept it under the premise of ‘banter’ would be at the risk of normalising this kind of discrimination.

With the 24 hour news cycle and the constant scrutiny on social media platforms that now exists, it’s easy for these incidents to be taken out of proportion. The recent documentary on ITV “Out of their Skin” fronted by Ian Wright certainly showed that football and society has come along way from the days when monkey chants and uses of the racist terminology was common place in Britain. From the shocking clips of the far-right political group the National Front, to the tales of former Chelsea player Paul Cannoville being racially abused by his own supporters, it’s worth remembering things have been a lot worse in the not to distant past. Whilst the recent incidents are deplorable, they are a long way from the aggressively sinister attitudes towards minority groups in the 70’s and 80’s.

But nonetheless there is still a long way to go before we can genuinely claim equality. Be it the lack of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups represented in football, something Brighton’s very own Chris Hughton has spoken about on multiple occasions. Be it the evident homophobia at most Brighton games shown by opposition supporters. Or be it the blatant sexist behaviour most women in football often talk of regularly dealing with. In fact a recent report from the equality group Women in Football stated that reports of discrimination in women’s football had risen by 400% during the 2017/18 season.

Football being a predominantly male sport has meant that sexism isn’t as popularly called out as other forms of discrimination. From the inaugural Women’s Ballon D’or winner Ada Hegerberg upon receiving the award being asked presenter Martin Solveig if she knew how to twerk. To Eni Eluko being patronisingly clapped by Patrice Evra for making a good point during the half time punditry of ITV’s coverage at this summers World Cup. Or the derision shown to another female pundit Alex Scott, every time she appears on TV. Sexism is as prevalent, if not more prevalent, than any form of prejudice in football today.

When assistant referee Sian Massey was unwillingly caught up in the Richard Keys and Andy Gray sexism saga that led to them both leaving Sky, she subsequently came under a lot of attention from the media, mostly out of sympathy. So much so that every right decision she made was seemingly picked out by pundits on all football programmes for praise, a well intended but nonetheless patronising gesture we could all do without. For Women to be truly accepted in football, we need to stop treating them as if they’re a novelty act. Sian Massey and Alex Scott have both earned their right to be in the jobs they hold, a statement without question for most male pundits or officials, but one women in the same positions have to tolerate on a daily basis.

In isolation all this may appear fairly harmless, but put together it paints a much more worrying picture of modern football. Whilst the chants from fans towards their opposition counterparts can often just be put down to ‘banter’ and part of creating an unwelcoming atmosphere for the visitors, they can also create an unwelcome atmosphere for many minority communities.

In a week where the Premier League were promoting diversity through its rainbow laces campaign, ironically at the same time the type of prejudice it aims to eradicate has been brought to the foreground of public’s consciousness. Whilst there have been darker days in British football, in order to ensure a true and meaningful form of diversity is achieved we can’t afford to let complacency set in. Even if some deem it banter, or isolated incidents committed by idiots, there are certain thing that just shouldn’t be accepted and more needs to be done to eradicate it.

But how? In football stadiums self-policing of fans by fellow fans has provided a great deal of the progress seen since the 1980s and is still a large part of eradicating discrimination in football stadiums now. In a blog on the Crystal Palace fan site Red n Blue army, one fan’s talks of his personal battle dealing with the homophobic chants from his own fans during Tuesday’s derby against Brighton and whether self-policing is enough or whether to report it. In my eyes self-policing can only do so much. Many of those starting these chants know it’s wrong to do so and revel in it, being told this by a fellow supporter will only encourage them.

I see the best solution as to punish the clubs these fans hold dear. Only when the prospects of their club is at stake will these people act responsibly. And only then will clubs take genuine evasive action and punish fans for their behaviour.

The sight of a banana skin splattering over the Arsenal’s players rainbow laces, laces there in support of diversity, is a lasting image of the issues British society still has to deal with in order to create genuine equality. Now, as ever, football must recognise the important part that it must play in continuing this process.

13 games without a win

I remember turning to the person next to me before kick-off and saying: “won one, drawn one, we are due a loss”. I didn’t quite know at the time to such the extent that this was true. A 12-game run of defeats was to follow that left the club facing an instant return to the third tier.

It was 17th August 2002 and after back to back title wins the Albion had appeared to have taken to life in the second tier of English football with relative ease. Winning 3-1 away at Burnley on the opening day, followed by a goalless draw at home to a Coventry team facing a second consecutive year outside the top flight for the first time in a decade after relegation from the Premier League in 2001.

After the Burnley win, the newly appointed manager and former director of youth Martin Hinshelwood spoke, of the possibility of a third consecutive promotion: “It has to be rated an impossible dream to have three successive promotion seasons; but that still does not stop us having ambition.” But the next 13 games would prove to make a mockery of the mere suggestion.

So, with four points from the first two games, the following Saturday the Albion hosted Norwich on a bright summers August day, but one that would soon turn gloomy. Bobby Zamora was the talisman of the team at the time and the main goal threat. But to the Albion fans horror towards the end of the first half he hobbled off injured, with what turned out to be a knee injury that would keep him out for much of the run of defeats that were to follow. With Bobby out this ultimately left the Albion with a hole in their side of monumental proportions for a run of games that would prove pivotal in the season.

The game itself was from there on in a comfortable 2-0 win for Norwich, one in which Brighton failed to register even a shot on target. With Bobby gone this left youth team graduates Shaun Wilkinson and Daniel Marney to lead the line and neither did so with much success. These were young players of potential who were thrown into first team football ahead of schedule because of the limited finances available at the time and it showed.

The honeymoon was over for Hinshelwood and he had to find a solution to the missing goal threat. After the Norwich game he admitted the team needed to strengthen and the next day they did just that by signing veteran striker Paul Kitson. A signing met with an initial air of excitement but one that would turn out to be a bad one. Kitson’s time at the Albion was dogged by injury and when he did play he was ineffectual, that winner at Reading aside. Since retirement Kitson has been declared bankrupt following some failed investments and large betting losses, a sadly common story amongst retired professional footballers.

Later that month after three defeats in a row the club was getting panicked. As a solution they added more new signings to the squad, including a young striker on loan from Arsenal, Graham Barrett. Another striker who would struggle to make an impact in front of goal that season.

Barrett signed on the same day as veteran centre-back and soon to be Albion legend Guy Butters. Although for him this would be a season to forget, he would later redeem himself by helping the Albion make an instant return to the second tier via the playoffs the following season. They both made their debuts in a spirited 4-2 defeat to eventual champions Portsmouth, a game in which the Albion played well and led 2-1 but ultimately lost again. Sadly, for Barrett it was a debut to forget after he was dismissed late on for violent conduct, a sign of more frustrating times ahead. However, Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp said the Albion had given the eventual champions them the best game so far that season and it left the Albion with some optimism to take forward.

However, what followed would kill off any post-promotion and post-Portsmouth optimism that remained. First there was a 1-0 defeat away to Millwall when the hosts broke down the Albion’s resistance to score a late winner and continue Albion’s run of defeats. Next a 4-2 defeat at home to former landlords Gillingham, and despite the return of talisman Zamora in a home game against Grimsby, a run of four one goal defeats left the Albion bottom of the league and facing an unwelcome record of ten successive defeats.

The pressure got too much for Hinshelwood who was inevitably sacked, but it was his replacement that caused a surprise. Steve Coppell was the most successful manager in the history of the Albion’s fiercest rivals, Crystal Palace. So, when in early October he was appointed Brighton manager, it wasn’t met with resounding support. Coincidently it was also almost two weeks from the first competitive match between the two rivals in a decade, which added an extra spice to proceedings.

First though came a 4-2 home defeat to Sheffield United, which was a fiery start to Coppell’s reign. A game after which as the Argus put it Coppell will soon realise that the Albion “don’t do boring”. Six goals were scored that day including a hat trick by Carl Asaba for United and Graham Barrett’s only goal for the Albion. But it is a defeat that will mostly be remembered for the late Albion capitulation after leading 2-0. This capitulation included two late penalties that won the game for United and left referee Phil Prosser with an infamous reputation at the Withdean, one that would stick for years to come. With a surname like that it will be easy for you to imagine the chants that followed these contentious decisions.

Then there was the trip to Selhurst Park, the home of arch rivals and Coppell’s former club Crystal Palace. What followed is one of the most infamous defeats in club’s history. An Andy Johnson hat-trick contributed to a 5-0 score-line. Any hope that remained was killed that day and the Albion had hit rock bottom.

After the excitement of consecutive promotions this terrible run had an incredibly demoralising effect on the club. Despite a turnaround under Coppell and a spirited fight against relegation, ultimately the run of 13 games without a win left the club with too much to do and the club were relegated to the third tier at the end of the season.

Second Season Syndrome – Fact or Fiction?

Second Season Syndrome – Fact or Fiction? A blog looking at the effect of Second Season Syndrome in the Premier League #bhafc #htfc #nufc

So as Brighton approach another season in the Premier league a topic that will no doubt be discussed at length is the concept of “Second Season Syndrome”. For those who are unaware of this concept “Second season syndrome” is simply put: where a team fails to match the achievements of the first season after promotion in the season that follows, usually leading to relegation. The reasons for this occurring have been hypothesised as ranging from increased pressure resulting from heightened expectations to decreased motivation and complacency after achieving or exceeding a club’s expectations in its first season.

To be clear a “syndrome” can be defined as: a group of symptoms that are consistently occurring together. Suggesting Second Season Syndrome would equate to a regularly occurring trend for teams in their second season. Therefore, in this blog I will analyse the historic data to see if this syndrome exists, specifically within the Premier League.

According to anecdote the examples of this theory appear to be numerous but for me there are two that stick out. First Ipswich town who finished 5th in their first season in the top flight in the 2000/01 season and qualified for Europe, only to finish 13 places lower and be relegated the following season. Furthermore, Reading finished 8th in their first ever top flight season back in 2006/07 but dropped ten places to finish 18th the following season to be relegated back to the Championship.

However, there are of course examples of teams who have by contrast drastically improved on their first season performance in their second season. Leicester City famously won the league in their second season after promotion, whilst last season Burnley finished 7th and qualified for European competition. Both improving significantly on their first season league position.

But are either or both of these examples of anomalies or a rather sign of a greater trend?

Findings and analysis

I have looked at the performance of teams in their second season in the top flight following promotion to see if we can prove or disprove this theory, basing a team’s overall performance on their end of season league position. I looked at this using two fairly definitive measurements of second season syndrome. The proportion of team that were relegated in their second season, and the movement in position of a team from its first to its second season.

To do this I looked at the Premier League from 95/96 to date. The reason I did this was because for this period the top level contained 20 teams and 3 were promoted and 3 were relegated. I appreciate football began before this period but it would be an unfair year-on-year comparison as a result.

Furthermore, much has changed since the start of the premier league, particularly with the factor of ever increasing Sky tv revenue, which makes comparing the current day performances to performances before the advent of the Premier League difficult.

My analysis shows:

  • Since 95/96 – 13% of teams relegated were in their 2nd season (compared to 42% in first season).
  • In the last 10 years – 13% of teams relegated were in their 2nd season (compared to 33% in first season)
  • Since 95/96 – teams on average finish 1 place lower than they did in their first season (0.86) with a median movement of a one place drop.
  • In the last 10 years – teams on average finish 1 place higher than they did in their first season (1.22)
  • Standard deviation is a statistical measure which shows the spread of data within a dataset, the higher the deviation the higher the number. The standard deviation of the change in second season performance compared to the first season is just above 5 (5.4).

Findings

Whilst the examples of teams performing significantly worse in their second season are apparent, there is no clear evidence of a trend. Furthermore, there are as many examples of successful second seasons as there are unsuccessful.

The generally accepted hypothesis appears to be that a team’s second season is harder than the first, however the data here shows you are almost four times as likely to be relegated in your first season as your second.

Whilst a small decrease in average position of teams in the Premier league from first to second was found over the course of the period studied, there was no clear trend.

In fact, the standard deviations of the change in second season performance compared to the first of 5.4 shows there are large swings in 2nd season performance from one team to another. For instance during the period studied, whist Ipswich dropped 13 places year on year, Leicester went up 13 places year on year. As you can see from the final graph there are as many outliers on both sides of the deviations, which ensures this doesn’t skew the average significantly enough to affect the findings.

Conclusions

Ultimately Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle fans will be glad to see my analysis shows no definitive trend either way. The data shows a team’s 2nd season performance is ultimately more dependent on each club circumstances and the fact it’s their 2nd season doesn’t necessarily equate to a drop-in performance.

Ipswich for example had to contend with the additional strain on resources of extra games in the form of European competition in the season they were relegated. Leicester and Burnley however, went from a first season of relatively narrow survival to a second season of great success. Second seasons appear to only be a hinderance in certain circumstances.

These are of course outliers, the more common movement year on year was a fall of one place, with 50% of the year on year movement between a three-place fall and a one place rise in end of season league position. Whilst a small fall in average final league position suggests a second season may be on average marginally harder, a small movement such as this in a game of small margins such as football, hardly equates to a “syndrome” of such widespread notoriety.

In fact, in the last ten seasons the trend of second season performance has moved from a small decrease in year on year league position to a small increase, something that seems logical to me. As a team’s become more experienced and established in the top flight you’d expect their league position to rise. Furthermore, with the level of analysis that takes place at Premier league clubs now it’s not unexpected that the surprise factor of newly promoted teams may have been lost or at least diminished.

So, whilst some will refer to second season syndrome it appears to me to be a fictional concept designed in an attempt to try to create the narrative of a trend that doesn’t really exist. Many clubs in fact perform similarly or better to how they did in their first season and as already mentioned, where this isn’t the case there are often extenuating circumstances.

The clear trend is if you survive your first season you are between three and four times as likely to survive relegation in your second, many Premier League teams key goal. A trend that should fill Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton fans with confidence. Furthermore, the general trend is that every season you survive you’re then more likely to survive the following season.

My club Brighton appear to me to be a stable club that picked up points consistently over the course of the previous season and one that is more than capable of meeting and even improving on last season’s performance. Ultimately though the Premier league is a toughly fought division and time will tell where we end up come May and whether my hunch is correct.

The sorry Bong/Rodriquez affair rears it’s ugly head once more

Earlier in the season in a Premier League game between West Brom and Brighton, Gaetan Bong claimed he was racially abused by Jay Rodriquez, and earlier this month (April 2018) The FA said the charge against Mr Rodriquez was not proven.

To clarify, as there seems much confusion over what this verdict means; Not Proven is one of two verdicts available to the Independent Disciplinary Panel appointed by the FA but not in English criminal courts. The Panel case may end in one of two verdicts:

1. Proven (guilty),

2. Not Proven (the panel doesn’t have to be convinced that the suspect is innocent, but guilt has not been proven “in the balance of probabilities”)

The complaint was taken up by the FA and as a result the case was between the FA and Mr Rodriquez to be assessed by an independent panel. Therefore as the report states: “It was common ground between the parties that the burden of proving the allegation rests upon the FA.”

Given the evidence shown in the FA report a predictable verdict of Not Proven was found, but if you read the report it’s a verdict that neither party, I expect, really welcome. In Scotland Not Proven is used in criminal courts as a third alternative to Innocent or Guilty and has its criticism. Because the “not proven” verdict carries with it an implication of guilt but no formal conviction, the accused is often seen as morally guilty without the option of a retrial to clear their name. It is important to therefore to state that this is not the intention of the law, but to purely give the option of not “guilty” or “acquitted” due to a lack of evidence.

The Panel explained its verdict by saying the “essential issue for us boiled down to one question – are we satisfied the player (Rodriquez) probably said to Gaetan Bong: “You’re black and you stink’? The FA discussed the evidence for which it was basing its verdict. It said the two lip reading experts “could not help” as “The player’s mouth was obscured, and neither could see sufficient to interpret his moving lips”.

Ultimately the FA therefore didn’t have enough evident to find Mr Rodriquez guilty. “After much deliberation we were left in the position where the case distilled to the evidence of each player. We could not say that any of the other evidence or competing arguments lead us to prefer one over the other.”

It is important here to state that the FA report stated the panel were “completely satisfied” that Gaetan Bong’s complaint “was made in absolute good faith” that “it was right that they did so” and “Rightly, no one suggested this was a malicious complaint nor that Mr Bong was lying.”

This is where my opinion comes in. Full disclosure, I’m a Brighton fan, so somewhat biased of course. But I think it’s important to not let your loyalty to your club cloud your judgement and I have done my best to do so by stating the reports findings objectively first. But subsequent to this verdict, on social media and at matches, Mr Gaetan Bong has received a great deal of abuse for bringing forward his claim. Most notably when Brighton travelled to Mr Rodriquez’s former club Burnley at the weekend.

A lot of this this abuse seems to be aimed at Gaetan Bong’s most recent statement where he stated that: “I am certain of what I heard on the field.” Mr Rodriquez’s representatives however stated on his behalf: “Jay never said anything racist”. It’s important to state here that whilst both may be justified in their views, based on the panels findings neither can be stated as a fact as neither was Bong’s claim proven nor was the panel able concur with Rodriquez’s story of events. It’s also worthwhile stating that both have said since the investigation they want to move on from this unfortunate incident that has no doubt been an ordeal for both, which would appear best option for all.

However what happened on Saturday brought up the whole sorry affair again, due to a significant group of Burnley supporters putting their loyalty to their club ahead of the facts. This is why many, including Brighton manager Chris Hughton, have called out the Burnley fans who booed Bong constantly throughout yesterday game. Hughton himself described it as shameful, for which I agree.

As the FA said it “takes all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and continues to encourage all participants who believe they have been the subject of or witness to discriminatory abuse to report this through the appropriate channels”. Any vilifying of Mr Bong will discourage others to come forward who experience discrimination. In the same way as vilifying Mr Rodriquez for a charge that wasn’t proven would be wrong and make others fear of being vilified for an unproven claim against them.

Ultimately due to the lack of evidence, we don’t know what was said. Either way, vilifying either party is abhorrent shameful behaviour, the kind of which that as a society we should condemn.

Memories of a win at Turf Moor

Brighton went into the 2002/03 Division One season (later rebranded to The Championship) on a high and with a great deal of momentum. Having won back to back titles in the previous two seasons, rising from Division Three to Division One, the club was back in the second tier ten years after a relegation from that level that preceded a turbulent time in the Albion’s history.

But all that was now in the past and after the recent upturn in fortunes things were going well for the Albion. First up that season was a trip to Burnley, their first since a 3-0 defeat in 1995. And with Burnley missing out on the playoffs on goal difference the season before, it was expected a tough test against an establish Division One side.

The preparation for a new season could have been better for the Albion though. Manager Peter Taylor had resigned over the low transfer budget and the delays in getting planning permission for the new stadium. In response, Chairman Dick Knight has appointed youth coach Martin Hinshelwood, whose only previous management experience had been as caretaker manager of the Albion the previous season, a bit of a punt you might say.

Brighton were also without the centre back partnership that led them to the title the previous season. Captain Danny Cullip was at home ill and Simon Morgan had retired over the summer. This left the Albion with a centre back partnership of utility man Robbie Pethick and youth team graduate and the managers nephew, Adam Hinshelwood.

That said, the Albion were led by the talismanic striker Bobby Zamora and with 63 goals in the past two seasons he was the hot property on the south coast. So still plenty of reasons to be confident, and it was Bobby who set up Steve Melton for the first and the Albion surprisingly led 1-0 at half time.

The Albion’s cause was helped greatly by a Burnley red card shortly before tricky winger Paul Brooker added second and Bobby made it three. And despite a consolation goal for Burnley, the Albion came away with a 3-1 win. A truly brilliant way to start the season.

Paul Brooker was one of the stars of the team at the time and along with Gary Hart’s selfless work-rate and Paul Watson set pieces delivery, he was one of the main supply lines for Bobby’s goals. It wasn’t just the experienced names that did the business that day. Rookie Adam Hinshelwood got the man of the match award in various newspapers reports and went on to make 100 appearances for the Albion as well as a handful of appearances for England U21s.

All this on top of the back to back promotions was giving the Albion a sense of optimism. Martin Hinshelwood said after the game “It has to be rated an impossible dream to have three successive promotion seasons; but that still does not stop us having ambition.”

However, it was an impossible dream. The win was the only one in 14 games and following a draw at home to Coventry that Tuesday, the Albion went on a 12 game losing streak, which signalled the end of the leadership of Martin Hinshelwood, who would take a role back with the youth team. Steve Coppell was brought in as replacement but couldn’t save the Albion from the inevitability of relegation that followed at the end of the season.

But whilst the optimism that followed was too good to be true, the win still goes down as a personal favourite. All my memories of the Albion up to this point were of them playing in lower divisions, mostly whilst struggling and being a bit of a local joke at the same time. At the time this felt like a breakthrough moment for the Albion. Brighton were back!