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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aldershot v Brighton (2000)

November 2000 was a busy time for sport in Brighton. Whilst Micky Adams’ Brighton side were beginning to flourish following the move to the Withdean Stadium, the newly rename Brighton Bears Basketball team were attracting significant crowds for their games at the Brighton centre, a venue which also hosted the 2000 Samsung Open indoor tennis tournament, which featured Great Britain’s top two men’s tennis players of the time Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski. Brighton was very much in vogue at the time and would be granted City status the following month by Queen Elizabeth II as part of the millennium celebrations.

So it was apt that it’s football team was on the up. As well as flourishing in the league, Albion were beginning to get national attention for the team which Micky Adams was building. Following the clubs demise in the late 80s and 90s, the early 2000s were glorious for Albion fans and Adams’ teams, which was spearheaded by a young goalscorer named Bobby Zamora was a key part in their rise out of the abyss.

After a slow start to the season, the 1983 FA Cup finalist had lifted themselves to 2nd in the Third Division. So, when they were drawn away to Isthmian Premier Division side Aldershot in the first round of the FA Cup, it was no surprise that it was the chosen tie to feature on the BBC’s Match of the Day.

Especially given Brighton were the first league team to visit Aldershot since the club went bust in 1992, after a number of years of winding up orders and mounting debts at the club. It’s a similar story to that of Brighton in the late 80’s and 90’s and they could have followed Aldershot out of the football league or even out of business just 5 years later.

For Albion it was the investment of Dick Knight in 1997 that meant they avoided this fate. And just two and a half years on from being a game away from losing their league status, they were now back in Brighton at their new home Withdean Stadium and with some much needed stability.

Despite those similarities in the recent histories of their clubs, some fans were evidently not interested in unifying over their kinship. As evidenced by some trouble between a small number of opposition supporters in Aldershot town Centre before game.

But the game itself was played with a well-mannered spirit by both teams and most supporters who witnessed would enjoy a captivating cup tie.

It was Albion midfielder Richard Carpenter who opened the scoring in the first half with a trademark free kick, of which Match of the Day’s commentator Tony Gubba said that David Beckham “won’t have scored many better himself”. It was Carpenter’s third goal in seven games and he would make a name for himself at Albion for the spectacular goal from distance scoring 22 times in 279 appearances for Albion. He was particularly well known for his ability to score from set pieces and perhaps most famously scored in that manner for Albion in an FA Cup Third round tie away to Spurs in 2005 that ended in a 2-1 defeat.

But despite Carpenter getting Albion off to a good start, there was still a threat of an upset. And when Danny Cullip brought down Wayne Andrews to concede a penalty, which Gary Abbott scored to level the scoring, many will have feared the worse.

Even more so after Abbott’s strike partner Wayne Andrews then gave Danny Cullip another fright as he had the Albion captain scampering to stop his run into the penalty area to no avail, but Andrews’ resultant shot hit the side netting.

Andrews certainly caught the eye for Aldershot that day, he had been released by Watford the year before and ended up playing for a handful of non-league clubs before being given a second chance in the football league by Oldham in 2002. He would go onto make nearly 200 appearances in professional football for a number of clubs, including Colchester United and Crystal Palace, for whom he made 9 appearances in the Premier League.

Albion had a difficult recent history coming up against non-league sides in the FA Cup, having lost to conference side Hereford at this stage of the competition as recently as 1997. The 1990s saw the club have a spate of defeats to non-league sides in the FA Cup, of which Hereford was the last and least embarrassing. There was the 2-1 defeat away to Isthmian Premier League side Kingstonian in 1994. Then there was a defeat to Southern League Premier side Sudbury Town in a replay on penalties in 1996. As well as fellow non leaguers Canvey Island taking the club to a replay in 1995.

But despite a spirited performance from Aldershot, today wasn’t to be another repeat of Albion being on the wrong end of a cup upset. They took the lead again when the Shots ‘keeper Andy Pape brought down Bobby Zamora and Paul Watson scored from the spot to give them a 2-1 lead at half time. But it was in the second half where Albion would show their superiority.

They quickly extended their lead through future club captain Charlie Oatway. Whose fine side-foot strike from outside the box left commentator Tony Gubba exclaiming, “Oh well done Oatway!.”

Then the Shots ‘keeper Andy Pape was in the thick of the action again as he brought down an on rushing Nathan Jones to give away a penalty, a decision the BBC match report described as “controversial”. But from the highlights, it is more a case of clumsy and ill-advised goalkeeping. So for the second time Albion’s right back Paul Watson stepped up and scored from the spot.

Paul Watson scored 19 goals in total for Brighton over his 221 appearances, an impressive record for a right back. He was also a key avenue for Albion goals via his fabulous crossing ability that was a key part in Zamora’s goalscoring for the Albion, having assisted more of his goals than any other player during Zamora’s Brighton career.

Whilst the 4-1 lead Albion now held had all but won them the tie, Aldershot kept pushing and had a goal ruled out for a foul by Aldershot substitute Adedeji on Michel Kuipers.

But it wasn’t long before Aldershot’s woes were to mount after a Gary Hart cross was put away by Bobby Zamora. As well as Watson, Gary Hart was another regular assister for Zamora and the number of goals he went onto score would be in no small part down to his strike partner Gary Hart doing a lot of the legwork that allowed him to shine. In Spencer Vignes “A Few Good Men”, Bobby recognised this himself when he said “I was scoring a lot of goals. But that was down to the running of a lot of other guys in the team… ‘my bitches’ I used to call them!”

And Gary Hart turned provider again for Albion’s sixth goals when he knocked on a Oatway corner which was turned in defender Matthew Wicks, son of the Chelsea and QPR defender Steve Wicks.

Aldershot did pull another goal back through Gary Abbott’s second of the game when he turned in Jason Chewin’s cross, but it was far too little too late for the non-leaguers. Abbott was a prolific non-league goalscorer and managed a remarkable 120 goals in 156 appearances for Aldershot, scoring an impressive 45 goals that season alone, but the Shots problems at the other end of the pitch meant his goalscoring that day was in vain.

This was an impressive victory for a brilliant Brighton side who went onto win the Third Division that season. But despite their success in the league a defeat to fellow Third division side Scunthorpe followed in round 2, the club’s eighth successive failure to make the third round of the FA Cup, the club’s longest run since joining the football league in 1920 and a record that has thankfully since much improved.

2005/06 – A year of contrasting disappointment for Brighton and Leeds

For Leeds and Brighton, 2020 represented a year of success. For Leeds promotion back to the topflight for the first time in 16 years has seen them shake off the “fallen giant” tag. Whereas for Brighton, Premier League survival has seen them match their longest and to date only other spell in the topflight of four years.

But go back 15 years and things were very different for both clubs who started the 2005/06 season together in the recently rebranded Championship.

Albion were out of their depth financially in the second tier, a period probably best exemplified by a striker shortage solved by reutilising defender and youth team product Adam Virgo as a target man. He went onto be the team’s top scorer with 8 goals as they survived relegation on the last day of the 2004/05 season. It was a problem that dramatically arose after the form of Leon Knight plummeted after he had fired the Seagulls to promotion the season before with 27 goals, scoring just 4 goals in 41 appearances that season.

The summer of 2005 saw Adam Virgo sold to Celtic for £1.5m in a deal described by chairman Dick Knight as “The Best Deal I Ever Did”. Saying in his book he thought Virgo was only actually worth around £200k. It was a price that led to speculation of dodgy dealings between Albion manager Mark McGhee and then Celtic manager Gordon Strachan who would later work together for Scotland as assistant manager and manager respectively. But as McGhee told the Athletic recently: “People have suggested that there was some sort of skulduggery going on between Gordon and I because of the amount of money they ended up paying. I have to give credit to Dick. He was the one who forced it up to that price. It wasn’t me. I kind of stepped back, partly because of my association with Gordon.”

In his place came the “Coca Cola Kid”, Colin Kazim Richards. Nicknamed as such after his fee was paid for when the club had won from the Coca Cola win a player fund. A cheque for the £250k prize fund was presented to Dick Knight at the 2005 Championship playoff final between West Ham and Preston.

It was a fund that Dick Knight said in his book “Mad Man” he originally wanted to use to bring Bobby Zamora back to the club. And having spoken to his current club West Ham’s owners at that game, Dick says they seemed interested in a deal. Until that is when Zamora scored the winner for West Ham that day, which secured the Hammers promotion to the topflight and killed any deal.

So Kazim Richards it was. Unfortunately for Albion, he was young, inexperienced and couldn’t be solely relied on to lead the line and provide the goals this Albion side were missing, like Bobby Zamora had done previously. Compared to the 14 Zamora scored for Albion in an injury-hit 2002/03 season when Albion were also relegated from the second tier, Kazim Richards managed just 6, not scoring in any Albion victories. So whilst in 02/03 Albion were only relegated on the final day after failing to beat Grimsby, in 05/06 Albion finished bottom, 12 points adrift of survival and were ultimately relegated with two games to spare after a dismal defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

Another of mercurial Albion’s strikers Leon Knight, who had been becoming progressively anonymous since his 27 goals inspired the club’s promotion from the third tier in 2004 and was sold to Swansea in the January of this season. But not before being threatened with being kicked off the club coach in the middle of the New Forest by manager Mark McGhee who simply had lost patience with the one time goal machine.

McGhee had already publicly questioned Knight’s attitude in training and after he questioned McGhee’s decision to drop goalkeeper Michel Kuipers before an away match with Southampton, he was first threatened with being kicked off the coach and then subsequently told he wasn’t even welcome in the dressing room. Leon then scored a hat trick on his Swansea debut just four days later, but that was a rare high point of his short time with Swansea and his career saw a quick demise thereafter.

In contrast, Leeds had come from the other direction. Having finished 3rd in the Premier League in 2000, reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001 and begun 2002 top of the Premier League, a sudden financial crisis hit the club that had been building for a while as a result of financial mismanagement and saw a fast and dramatic fall from grace for the club.

By the end of 2002 many of their star players had to be sold and they ended the 2002/03 season 15th. But despite those sales the club’s finances were not under control and they were relegated to the championship the following season, and finished a disappointing 14th the next as the club were forced to sell both their training ground and their stadium to make ends meet.

By the time they had reached the 2005/06 season the Leeds squad had already seen a number of successive seasons of mass overhauls, a job recently inherited by manager Kevin Blackwell and chairman Ken Bates. A host of players exited Elland Road that summer, most notably star player Aaron Lennon who moved to Tottenham. In their place came a host of loan signings and free transfers along with a handful of paid for players including that season’s club top scorer Rob Hulse.

One player that Leeds also signed for a fee that summer was the Albion left back Dan Harding. It was a transfer that went to a tribunal to decide the fee. Despite him being out of contract, as he was under 24 Albion were still entitled to compensation so Leeds were ordered to pay the club £850k. Youth team product Dan Harding was one of Albion’s most prized possessions having been recently nominated by Four Four Two as one of the top 50 players outside the Premier League, but over the previous season he and the club had engaged in drawn out and ultimately fruitless contract negotiations that did nothing for the reputation of either party. But despite a promising start to his season, it was an injury hit one and he moved to Ipswich at the end of the season in an exchange for another former Leeds and Brighton player Ian Westlake.

Given the nature of his exit and the extended contract talks which preceded it, it is little surprise that when the two sides met in September Harding was booed by the Brighton supporters every time he touched the ball in a 3-3 draw at Elland Road. It was ultimately a draw that was harsh on Albion who led 2-0 through a rare Leon Knight goal and a second from Sebastian Carole only for a David Healy double to level the scores, who was fresh from his heroics of scoring a famous winner for Northern Ireland against England at Windsor Park. A Sean Gregan own goal looked to have won the game for the Seagulls but Leeds equalised in injury time through Jonathan Douglas to earn the home side a point.

Whilst Leeds manager Keven Blackwell was adamant his team deserved to win and that Healy “could have had six goals”, “the mighty mighty whites Leeds” fan site is far more magnanimous saying “Leeds were lucky to get anything out of Brighton”.

This wasn’t the first time Albion’s defence proved to be leaky that season, in fact they conceded a total of 71 goals, the second highest in the division. And it was no coincidence that Albion’s former club captain and defensive rock Danny Cullip had left in the December of the previous season. So the young Irish defender Pat McShane was brought in for the 2005/06 season on loan from Man United to fill the still resultant gap.

Despite the defensive issues, McShane’s quality shone at the back and he went on to win the club’s player of the season award, which his centre back partner Guy Butters had won two years previously and McShane remains the only loan signing to have ever been voted as Albion’s Player of the Season.

McShane in part received the award for the appreciation of his contribution to one of Albion’s highlights of the season, scoring the winner in a 1-0 win at Selhurst park over rivals Crystal Palace, which left Albion 20th as at the same time saw Leeds climb to 4th in the table.

As the season progressed it looked as if both teams were in a good place to achieve their respective goals come the end of the season. A win over QPR on Boxing Day put Albion four points clear of the relegation zone courtesy of a Guy Butters header. Whilst a 3-1 win at home to Coventry put Leeds 3rd and closing in on the previously run-away top two, in particular Neil Warnock’s Sheffield United.

For Albion though the joy of their fourth victory of the season was tempered by the loss of captain Charlie Oatway to an ankle injury in what turned out to be a career-ending injury for the central midfielder and the man who inherited the captaincy from Cullip. That it was also against the club he supported as a boy was an even crueller twist of fate and left Oatway on 248 appearances for the club over eight years. His injury hit Albion hard as they lost ten of their next twelve, which left them five points from safety and second bottom of the league going into March.

Brighton’s 2-1 win over Leeds at Withdean in January was a rare highlight of an otherwise bleak winter of Albion. The win was secured by a goal from Gary Hart and lifted them out of the bottom three. It gave Albion belief that a second consecutive survival could be achieved, but a run of 7 defeats and a draw in the next eight would essentially secure relegation for McGhee’s Albion side.

There would be some hope for Brighton. A subsequent run of three straight draws and a win over 3-0 fellow strugglers Millwall gave them a faint lifeline. But as manager Mark McGhee stated ‘It’s probably too late for both of us. But this gives us a chance. Who knows?”

And so it turned out, as four defeats in the final five meant any hopes of a great escape were quickly squandered. With both Brighton and Millwall relegated, finishing 12 and 10 points from safety respectively.

With relegation this side was quickly dismantled. McGhee was sacked shortly after the beginning of the following season whilst Albion’s young striker Kazim-Richards made the move to the Premier League with Sheffield United during the summer. A year later he found himself playing for Turkish giants Fenerbahce and in 2008 he appeared for semi-finalists Turkey at the European Championships, a long way from the Withdean stadium.

For Leeds the defeat to Brighton may have seemed at the time as a blip, but signalled what was to come. A good run of five wins in the next eight left them going into the final ten games very much in the automatic promotion hunt, now only five points adrift of Sheffield United after being 17 points behind earlier in the season. But an end of season slump left them settling for the playoffs with three games to spare. And to rub salt in their wombs the first of those three games was a high tempered affair away to the newly promoted Sheffield United on Easter Tuesday which ended 1-1.

After beating Preston in the playoff semi-finals, the playoff final saw another capitulation from this Leeds side as a 3-0 defeat to Watford cost them promotion back to the topflight and so much more aside. It was a defeat that signalled their continued demise. Further struggles were to follow with relegation to League one next season and the subsequent infamous angry pitch invasion from Leeds fans which followed. Then there was the equally infamous defeat to Histon in the FA cup, it would be a long and winding road back for the Leeds faithful.

At the time there was much optimism at Leeds of what was to come. Chairman Ken Bates said to the Leeds players in the dressing room after the playoff final that: “They had given what they had and they had given their best. I said that tomorrow is the first day of our Championship season.” Little did they know how misplaced that optimism would turn out to be.

I doubt many who saw Leeds lose the 2006 playoff final thought it would take Leeds another 14 seasons for them to get back to the topflight. Or that the 05/06 season would be their highest league finish for another thirteen years, before the arrival of a certain Marcelo Bielsa saw their return to the topflight. Nor that this Brighton team who were then playing in a converted Athletics stadium with a four figure capacity, still battling a lengthy and expensive planning permission battle for a new stadium and out of their depth in the second tier, would return to the topflight three years before Leeds.

When you look back at this period of Leeds’ history, it’s somewhat explains the reprehensible and overly defensive attitude we’ve seen from some of its supporters towards Karen Carney and other critics of the club in recent months.

Having experienced such highs in the 60s and 70s and then again in the 90s and early 2000s, this demise will have been hard to swallow for many of its supporters. Especially given that it was largely self-induced by its own incompetent leadership. And as a result, the club became the punchline of jokes for the rest of the English football community.

It was a trend that would last until the recent Bielsa-led renaissance of the club. Meanwhile less prestigious club’s like Brighton had leapfrogged them into the topflight and Leeds were and still are desperate to put things straight.

Following the 2005/06 season, the next 14 years would see both clubs have plenty of disappointing days and see much concern over each club’s existence. But more recently they have both been had periods of great and historic success.

The current reality for both is that amongst times of great global economic struggles, the Premier League represents a whole new challenge altogether for both.

Brighton v Newport (2013)

Newport County just keep causing cup upsets. It’s helpful not just for the South Walians but also for Albion, with each one making Albion’s defeat at their hands in 2013 look ever less embarrassing.

Back in the early stages of the 2013/14 season Albion were still reeling from the aftermaths of the previous season’s playoff semi-final defeat to rivals Crystal Palace. Following the very drawn out and public sacking of manager Gus Poyet which followed over the summer, the former Barcelona B team manager Oscar García had been brought in as his replacement to manage the team and finish the job that Poyet almost managed but ultimately fell short of, get Albion into the Premier League.

So a weeknight League Cup tie against a League Two side recently promoted to the Football League hardly seemed like a priority, but nonetheless was an opportunity for García to get his first win in charge of Albion after a 2-1 defeat in his first game away to Leeds. But despite that, Albion made a number of changes to a team that featured then young prospects and now current Albion regulars, Solly March and Lewis Dunk as unused substitutes.

Albion started the game the dominant team and quickly had the ball in the Newport net after a Kemy Agustien cross found Jake Forster-Caskey, but the goal was ruled out for offside. Not long after Albion did go 1-0 up with Ashley Barnes putting away a Will Buckley cross at the end of a typically aesthetically pleasing quick passing move. This was exactly the type of football that Gus Poyet had spent his time at the club working towards, and why Owner Tony Bloom had decided to bring in the former Barcelona man Oscar Garcia to replace him so he would continue that work.

Newport battled and created a couple of chances of their own, but Albion continued to have the better of the game and again had the ball in the net but it was again ruled out for offside. However, the game changed on the 67th minute when a 50/50 tackle between Albion’s right back Inigo Calderon and Newport Captain Byron Anthony resulted in a red card for the Albion man and a double leg break for Newport captain. It was an injury that took a while to treat on the pitch so you couldn’t say it was more serious than it looked, but that didn’t stop some unwelcome boos from a minority in the home crowd.

With that the game swung in Newport’s favour and constant swathes of Newport attacks followed. And with nine minutes to go Newport equalised through a Danny Crowe header.

And with the game into extra time Danny Crowe double his tally with a spectacular finish from outside the box to make it 2-1 to the visitors. And as Albion pushed forward in search of an equaliser Newport made it 3-1 as Connor Washington capitalised on some absent Albion defending to break clear, take it round the helpless Albion ‘keeper Casper Ankergren and put the ball into an empty net.

Ultimately an impressive win for the Football league newbies and despite the shock of the serious injury to their captain Byron Anthony, they impressively rallied to win the game with some gusto. As then Newport manager, the late Justin Edinburgh suggested after the game his side “won the game for Byron”.

However in his typically honourable style he showed no resentment towards Inigo Calderon also saying in his interview about the incident that: “I don’t think there was any malice in it – I know there wasn’t – but we’re really disappointed for Byron and it takes the gloss off tonight’s result really.”

A statement backed up by Calderon’s manager Oscar Garcia who said: “I know Calde. He went to the ball and it was a 50-50 challenge. It was unlucky for the Newport player. We have seen the video and we can see the action of Calde was legal.”

The Albion manager went into say “We had many, many chances to finish the game and win it before and they had three or four chances and they scored them all.” A cruel game for Albion to lose, but it’s a lesson that Albion have since learnt too many times this season too, having dropped 12 points from winning positions so far in the 2020/21 Premier League season. If you don’t finish off your opponent’s, you’ll pay for it.

Although Byron Anthony made a brief return to playing the following season, the injury would eventually result in his retirement. Following that, he was appointed as a youth coach at Newport and was eventually promoted to academy manager after a brief spell as the interim manager, but resigned in 2018.

For Albion, 2013/14 was another season that would result in a Playoff Semi-final defeat and a subsequent summer of managerial recruitment following Oscar Garcia’s resignation after that semi-final defeat, this time at the hands of Derby. Even more unfortunately was that in his place came Sami Hyypia, but that’s another story…

Subsequent links between the two club’s are mostly through Albion defender Ben White, who is set to return to Rodney Parade after a loan spell there in 2017/18. As the 2017/18 season drew near and being on the fringes of the Albion first team at the time, White was sent on loan to Newport for the season to get some game time.

Whilst there, he came up against England striker Harry Kane in Newport’s impressive run to the 4th round of the FA Cup that season, which also saw them beat his future loan club Leeds in the 3rd round. A 1-1 draw in the original tie against Spurs saw White mark Kane admirably as Newport pulled off a shock draw at home to earn a replay at Tottenham’s temporary home, Wembley Stadium.

Ben said of his time there: “The cup run was amazing, what we achieved and the manner in which we secured the game with Tottenham Hotspur was brilliant. Then we nearly beat them in the home tie, but to then play at Wembley Stadium was a dream come true. Facing Harry Kane was great for me and I feel like I more than held my own against him.”

White came to the attention of many clubs and many Albion fans during this loan spell at Newport. Whilst the club had finished a fairly underwhelming 11th place in the league, he had greatly impressed. Both to the masses in the cup run and the locals throughout the season, winning four of Newport’s player of the season awards, the Doc Heffernan Shield for Young Player of the Year; the Brian Tom’s President’s Cup Player’s Player of the Year Award; the Supporters’ Club Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. County’s manager Mike Flynn described him as an “outstanding talent” and the best loan signing the club had ever made.

That was just one season of many that has featured Newport’s cup upset exploits and it’s lazy to typecast Newport as some archetypal long ball League Two club either. Anyone who has been paying attention lately will know they are having a great season and sit one point off top of the league. And having beaten Watford in the League Cup earlier this season they then gave Newcastle a fright in the next round only to lose on penalties.

That said, the Rodney Parade pitch is often in a terrible state at this time of year due to its use by multiple sports teams, and the recent postponements due to a waterlogged and frozen pitch respectively are a cause for concern. Whilst many will be aware of Newport’s cup exploits in recent years, those still involved at the Albion who remember that defeat in 2013 will want to make sure Albion don’t become serial victims at the hands of the South Walians.

1995/96 – Protests and anger as relegation to the Football League’s basement is the least of Brighton’s worries

A club in turmoil

After the club was relegated down to the third tier in 1991/92, Albion manager Barry Lloyd began losing the faith of the Albion supporters. This was despite leading the club to a respectable 9th place finish the following season, when at one point it even looked like the club may finish higher and make the playoffs. However, a winding up order on the club from HMRC due to an unpaid tax bill somewhat halted the team’s momentum.

In fact this winding up order was a close call. After four adjournments, the club was given until 21st April to find the money to pay the debt and only managed it in the end at the eleventh hour when Barry Lloyd’s wheeling and dealing saw goalkeeper Mark Beeney sold to Leeds United for £350,000 and raise the necessary cash. So close some fans who attended the game at home to Blackpool the Saturday before Beeney’s sale, feared that it might be one of the club’s last.

Unfortunately things would get worse before they got better, in part down to the club’s ongoing fight to build a new stadium. Lloyd himself tried to solve this issue by spending a lot of time away from the training field working on a proposal for a new ground being built at Beeding Cement Works, but the plan was rejected by director Bill Archer, who preferred another site at Waterhall to the North of Brighton.

Later that year there was another winding up order from HMRC and this led to a restructuring of the club’s shareholdings and board of directors. Bill Archer would become chairman of the club by securing a 56% stake in a joint bid with Greg Stanley who bought the remaining 44% and took up the post of club president, in a deal publicised as helping to save the club’s finances with some new investment. In reality rather than a new dawn for the club this was the beginning of a further downward spiral for the club. With the pair invested nothing more in the club as equity than the nominal £100 to purchase the share capital and instead loaning the club hundreds of thousands at high levels of interest in the form of bank loans secured against the club’s only valuable asset, the Goldstone Ground, they simply delayed the problem from being dealt with by significantly increasing the club’s debt.

In part drawn out of the lack of funds available, Lloyd had taken on the responsibility of managing director as well as first team manager and it seemed the additional responsibilities were turning his attention away from on-field duties. After the club only secured two wins in the first sixteen league games of the 93/94 season, he was sacked.

Ultimately Lloyd’s loyalty to the club was seemingly partly his undoing, the chaos off the field had well and truly taken over and Lloyd did his best job of fire-fighting until he had finally lost control. After that point it was probably only a matter of time before things hit rock bottom.

Finances had been so tight for a while and meant that any good players were required to be sold. But now things had got so bad that money couldn’t even stretch to replace them with genuine senior professionals. So instead they were being replaced by youngsters like Nicky Rust, Stuart Tuck and Ross Johnson who were promoted ahead of schedule from the club’s youth system.

The arrival of Liam Brady as manager settled things for a while. He led the club to an unlikely looking and ultimately comfortable survival in 93/94. Then to another mid table league finish the following season, but the stability on the field was just masking the ever growing problems off it. The job of spinning the boards line and masking the problems was the former Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne David Bellotti who Archer and Stanley had appointed as Chief Executive. Who as such would become synonymous with the ineptitude of the club’s leadership that was to follow in the coming years.

Much of this stability was instead down to Brady in spite of the board, as he took on full responsibility for the sinking ship that the club had become. Having ended a prestigious playing career that featured trophy winning spells in both England and Italy, Brady had a fairly underwhelming two-year spell managing Celtic before taking the Albion job. Whilst he wasn’t a proven manager, he was a big name and was described by Bellotti as “head and shoulders” above the other applicants.

Whilst Brady was working with a squad full of youngsters, there was some experience in this squad. As alongside Club veteran Dean Wilkins was former Irish international John Byrne and former England international Steve Foster. But these were all players coming to the end of their careers, and they could no longer be expected to carry the team.

The precursor to the new season was a friendly with QPR for Dean Wilkins’ testimonial. A game particularly special for Dean because as well as being against QPR, the team he started out for as a professional, they were also then managed by his brother Ray. This game would turn out to be a rare moment of sentimentality amongst the gloom that was to come in the season ahead.

The 95/96 season begins

After two years of consolidation, there were hopes from some that the club could mount a promotion push. But, hopes were quickly diminished after a defeat to Peterborough began a run of no wins in the first 6 matches, which included a 5-0 aggregate defeat to Third Division Fulham in the League Cup.

But, the on field matters were the least of everyone’s worries when reports arose that the club had sold the Goldstone Ground to property developers Chartwell, who were planning on building a retail park on the site. A company it later came to light had connections to the Kingfisher Group, with which club Chairman Bill Archer was also involved. Whilst the club initially denied the sale, they later confirmed it and the clubs plans to ground share with Portsmouth next season ahead of the clubs first home game of the season against Bradford, which was drawn 0-0.

One of the leaders of the resentment against the club’s ownership was the now defunct Brighton fanzine Gulls Eye. A fanzine that had been running for a number of years up to that point and would play a huge part in shining a light on the owner’s wrongdoing at the club. After a tip off from a Portsmouth employee over the summer break, the fanzines co-editor Ian Hart took the story to The Argus who ran it on the front page ahead of the 95/96 season.

They had been no stranger to run ins with the club before, having been sued by the board in 1990 for libel over an article in the fanzine, after which its editors Ian Hart and Peter Kennard agreed an out of court settlement to pay the legal costs of the Brighton directors. Not that this experience had fazed them.

The summer had seen further revelations of the owners mismanagement of the club too. As it was revealed that after buying the club, Stanley and Archer had removed the clause from the club’s constitution designed to prevent shareholders from profiting if the club was wound up. After an investigation by supporter Paul Samrah and the Argus’s investigating journalist Paul Bracchi into the ownership of the club, it came to light two years later and the club was forced by the FA to change it back. Bellotti claimed it was simply an admin error, albeit an incredibly convenient one from which the owners could personally financially benefit from after the more recent sale of the Goldstone Ground. Following the correction, Paul Samrah continued to hold the owners to account and played a huge part in eventually ousting them, later becoming involved in the club’s fight for planning permission for a new stadium at Falmer.

As the season went on matters both off and on the field were becoming a considerable mess. A 2-1 defeat to Wycombe followed and the fact it featured two goals from former Albion schoolboy Miguel De Souza, only rubbed salt in the wounds of the Albion faithful. A sign that if you cut back a clubs infrastructure to its bare bones, even if you’re going to give youngsters a chance, some will be missed.

There were chinks of light when the club secured its first win of the season at home to Notts County, poignantly just four years after the club’s had met in the playoff final for a place in the topflight. But fittingly for such a season, even this was overshadowed by protests from supporters. A group invaded the pitch and sat in the centre circle interrupting the game to protest about the running of the club and the sale of the Goldstone Ground.

Liam Brady came onto the pitch and managed to convince the fans they’d made their point and that they should leave so the match can be finished, which they did. Unfortunately, this warning was not acted on by the club’s board and this protest was only the beginning of many that were to come.

An escalation in tensions

Following the victory over Notts County, another win followed away to Bristol City which momentarily lifted the club out of the relegation zone. But two subsequent defeats destroyed any good feeling created ahead of a trip to Bournemouth for a game being shown live on ITV in the South East as part of Meridian TVs “Meridian Match” series. Regionally broadcaster live matches were all part of ITV’s broadcast deal with the football league, which came to an end that season and would move to Sky.

It was the first time the club had been on live TV in eleven years and was only the fourth live TV match in its history. With the only previous times being the original and replay of the 1983 FA Cup final, and then a fourth round FA cup tie against the then mighty Liverpool in 1984. Whilst this occasion was just a lower league game on ITV regional TV, it still gave the supporters a chance to once again show their discontent towards the board in front of the watching media.

Protests were inevitable. Initially it was done with Brighton fans in the away end holding up red cards and banners stating “Sack the Board” and “We’ll never go to Pompey”, as well as singing songs about Archer, Stanley and Bellotti. But with the Albion falling 3-1 behind, some fans ran onto the pitch to halt the game and cause further disruption to events to raise attention for the cause. The fans were fairly peacefully dispersed but as time went on and the board stood firm, frustrations would grow and that would change.

A win in the Auto Windscreen Shield did nothing to halt the downwards momentum of the club, as a draw and three further defeats extended the clubs winless run to seven. It left Albion second bottom of the league and with just 9 points from its first 13 games. Ultimately the position the club would finish, but this season had plenty left to run and plenty of anger was to be vented.

In that run the club lost 3-1 to top of league Swindon. Whose Player-manager was Steve McMahon, returning to the Goldstone for the first time since scoring the winner for Liverpool in an epic 1991 FA cup fourth round replay between the club’s four years previous. A relatively small matter of time and yet a world away from the goings on at the Goldstone at that time.

There were light moments amongst the pain and anger. Possibly none more so than George Parris’ goal in a 2-0 win at home to Bristol Rovers. After the Rovers goalkeeper had rolled the ball to his feet, unbeknownst to him sneaking in behind him out of sight was George Parris, who tussled the ball off him and scored a memorable goal.

After a spell with West Ham that saw him make over 300 First Team appearances in over ten years, George Parris had found himself at Brighton in the dying days of his career. And whilst the club were struggling off the field with their issues, so was he as a gambling addiction meant he was amassing debts, something he later discussed in his book “My Name is George…I am a Compulsive Gambler”. His problems would get worse and eventually lead to him contemplating suicide, but, like the club he later rebuilt his life, going on to build a career in Women and Girls football coaching that saw him briefly re-join the Albion in 2016.

That win was just another short lived moment of joy in an otherwise depressing season. A 2-0 defeat at home to Swansea followed three days later, a game that despite the recent victory saw the club’s lowest home attendance for 40 years, a sign of the level of disgruntlement of supporters. The ones who stayed away missed a game which featured a certain West Ham loanee Frank Lampard Jr scoring Swansea’s second.

Then came a match against Canvey Island away in the first round of the FA Cup. The Essex side had never got to that stage of the competition before and had never played football league opposition before either, so Albion’s visit was a momentous day in their history. Amongst Canvey’s ranks was the former Albion goalkeeper and future Albion goalkeeping coach John Keeley who after winning the club’s player of the season in 1989 was sold to Oldham in 1990.

After losing at that stage of the competition to non-league Kingstonian the season before, Brighton could be excused for fearing another upset. Nerves that were well placed as despite going ahead twice, Canvey came back to draw and take the tie to a replay at the Goldstone.

After this a 3-0 home defeat to Walsall followed, which left the team second bottom with only 12 points from 17 games in the league and Liam Brady resigned as manager. He’d shown incredible loyalty to the club by taking a pay cut to afford some new signings and would show further loyalty to the club in the future, but said he simply couldn’t serve as manager under the current leadership at the club anymore.

Brady’s out the bunch but Jimmy is now on the Case

In his place came Jimmy Case who was part of Brighton’s cup final team in 1983 and famously scored in every round in the lead up to the final. Case was also a key part of the club’s midfield for the first half of the eighties after originally joining the club from Liverpool as part of a deal which saw Mark Lawrenson go the other way. Having been at the club as reserve team manager, he now found himself promoted to managing the first team.

In his first game in charge of the club they comprehensively beat Canvey Island 4-1 in the replay of their FA Cup first round tie. But then lost away to York 3-1 in his first league game in charge.

There were also further revelations about the club’s owners when the club accounts were leaked and revealed Greg Stanley was due £400k interest on a £600k loan. In reaction to the revelations the Brighton Argus ran a headline in the front page telling the board to resign and the board subsequently banned the paper from being sold within the ground.

But on the pitch Case’s appointment was beginning to see an upturn in form as the club won 2-0 at home to Bournemouth. And despite this being followed by two defeats, the club then took 7 points from the next three games including beating Brentford 1-0 and Bradford 3-1.

However, that was the high point for Case as manager and nonetheless the club was still sat firmly within the relegation zone. So a run of no wins in the next eight left the club with an ever increasing gap to third tier survival. And as well as still sitting second bottom the club was still looking for certainty over somewhere to play the following season.

The board were insisting the plan for next season was the play at Portsmouth despite an offer of the property developers to rent the Goldstone back from them for one final season whilst they made longer term plans. Adding further concerns was that the football league were reporting they’d seen nothing from the club to permit them to actually play at Fratton Park next season and so many questions remained unanswered.

Despite an impressive 4-0 win at home to Bottom side Hull, that was followed up with 3 defeats and a draw that left the club ten points from safety and having played two games more than fifth bottom Burnley who were their next opponents at the Goldstone.

This was last chance saloon for the club, and a 1-0 win here kept the club there for a short period. The winner came from Zeke Rowe who was on loan from Chelsea, a player who scored three goals in a nine game loan spell which ended with a red card. But whilst this win gave the club some hope, in reality only the most optimistic weren’t planning for relegation to the fourth tier.

And despite the board still insisting they were going ahead with the ground share with Portsmouth, there was growing uncertainty over where the clubs home would be next season. And when a 2-1 defeat away to Swansea all but secured relegation it became all the more pertinent.

An ignominious end to the season

The off field issues were tearing the club apart, the fans were regularly chanting “Sack the Board”, most of the media coverage surrounding the club was all about the owners questionable leadership and Chief Executive David Bellotti’s interviews had become more and more absurd, as to little avail he tried to spin the Board’s line.

One person who’d had enough was Steve Foster, an Albion legend and a man who’d led the club out at Wembley in the 1983 cup final replay, who with games still to play retired blaming the club’s bad owners for his decision.

The situation came to a head when the club played Carlisle at home next. And despite winning 1-0 in a fiery game that saw future Albion player and current BBC Sussex co-commentator Warren Aspinall sent off for Carlisle along with Albion’s Jeff Minton for fighting, things would take an even fiercer turn at the end of the game.

Upon the final whistle fans demonstrated their anger by invading the pitch and attempting to get into the board room to approach the board, causing damage to the boardroom and ripping up seats. The board had fled but stayed strong to their plans and public statements. However their hand was being forced by the football league giving the club 31 days to get its plans for where they were playing next season finalised or risk being kicked out the league altogether.

Five years on from the clubs meeting in the playoff final for a place in the topflight, Brighton faced Notts Country and a 2-1 defeat meant relegation to the Football League’s bottom tier was officially confirmed. Having spent all bar two of its 76-year spell to that point as a third tier club or higher, this was confirmation of a real low for the club and coming just a few years after being so near to a return to the topflight.

After which club faced a home match with York that as it stood would be its last game at the Goldstone. But the game would descend into riot and was abandoned.

It’s clear there were some who were there to make trouble and take advantage of the anger of the supporters towards the board. A number of spectators were injured, including Eleanor Ellison who was hospitalised after being headbutted when she was trying to protect her daughter, whilst another was seen being stretchered off after being hit by a missile.

With the country preparing to host Euro ’96 starting in six week’s time, some media outlets jumped on the scenes coupling it with the country’s Hooliganism problem that was a big topic for discussion in the build-up to the tournament. Made all the worse when the now infamously trouble-causing travelling England fans caused a friendly match with Ireland to be abandoned earlier that season.

The News of the World described the Brighton-York abandonment as “sickening scenes that shamed soccer.” However, others were more understanding of the circumstances that had led to these incidents, but the timing had highlighted the violence and somewhat masked the cause of the genuine protests. With the FA director of communications David Davies saying: “whatever the reason. It is obviously unhelpful that this happened so near to Euro ’96.”

After losing to Walsall in what was meant to be the last match of the season, the match with York was eventually replayed. But not as many expected behind closed doors, instead on the morning of Thursday 9th May as an all-ticket match with tickets only available to purchase the day before. In such circumstances a respectable gate of 2,106 saw Albion lose 3-1 as York secured their third tier status for another season at the expense of Carlisle.

Brighton also incurred a suspended three point deduction for the riot, two of which were docked after another pitch invasion, on Tuesday 1st October 1996, in a match against Lincoln.

As well as dealing with the aftermath of the York game, and on top of the host of issues the club had off the field, there was still the issue of where Albion were going to be playing next season and the deadline for the offer of a one year extension of their spell at the Goldstone Ground from the new owners Chartwell was close approaching.

In a further twist, former manager Liam Brady announced he was the lead figure in a consortium attempting to buy the club from its current owners, which involved the offer of him personally paying the deposit to ensure the club stayed at the Goldstone the following season.

Greg Stanley, who has taken a step back from day to day affairs had returned to try to help resolve the situation. After all he still held the role as club president and in that role stated publicly that Archer may sell his shares within the week, another promise from the club which was not carried out.

The club ultimately reached a last minute deal with Chartwell to stay at the Goldstone, with Archer and Stanley remaining in place. This would just be a stay of execution for them at the club. This was until the consortiums new figurehead Dick Knight (who’d been brought on board by Liam Brady, we have a lot to thank that man for!) managed to oust Archer and Stanley and take over as Chairman at the end of the following season. With the club just about avoided falling out of the football league altogether through that final day draw at Hereford.

After seeing out a two year spell ground sharing at Gillingham of all places, one of Bill Archer’s final gifts to the club, Dick Knight led the club to its new temporary home at Withdean Athletic Stadium where a new era in the club’s history would begin.

Jimmy Case didn’t last that much longer as manager however. He was sacked with the club bottom of the whole football league the following season and left new incumbent Steve Gritt to save the club from its seemingly inevitable doom.

Whilst the story of the 95/96 season is one of anger and resentment at the greed and deception of the board, the lasting legacy is of the many tales of personal sacrifice and generosity. In later times the likes of Dick Knight and Tony Bloom would overshadow others, but it’s clear that without people like Liam Brady, Ian Hart, Paul Samrah and Barry Lloyd, there would not have been a club to save at all.

1976/77 – Albion are finally worth promotion!

After winning the Fourth division in 1965, Brighton spent ten of the next eleven seasons in the Third Division and went into the 1976/77 season having a bit of a reputation as a perennial third tier club.

In fact of the 56 seasons since joining the Football League, they’d spent 49 of those at that level and even the arrival of the great Brian Clough in the Autumn of 1973 couldn’t change the club’s fortunes.

Clough’s eight month spell at Brighton is best chronicled in Spencer Vignes book “Bloody Southerners”. After which his assistant Peter Taylor stayed on to try to finish the job, failed and resigned in the summer of 1976 to join Clough in the Second Division at Nottingham Forest, a club that they would lead to become National and European champions.

In Taylor’s place Albion chairman Mike Bamber appointed the former Tottenham captain and England international Alan Mullery to take on the task of freeing Brighton from its self-induced Third Division detention.

Unlike Bamber’s previous appointments, Mullery was a complete novice in football management having only recently ended his distinguished playing career which included 35 England caps. However, thankfully for Mullery he didn’t have the usual squad upheaval task that most new managers had as Peter Taylor’s legacy was the impressive squad that he’d built and left behind. Many of whom would go onto thrive under Mullery’s leadership.

This squad of players included experienced full back and future Albion manager Chris Cattlin, who was one of Taylor’s final signings on a free transfer from Coventry.

After starting out at Second Division Huddersfield, Cattlin moved to Coventry where he spent eight seasons playing for for the Sky Blues in the topflight before moving to Brighton. After retiring at the Albion in 1979, he remained at the club on the coaching staff before going onto manage the club himself for three years after its relegation from the topflight in 1983.

Another of Taylor’s recruits was the young striker Peter Ward, who’s been signed from non-league Burton Albion the previous summer and had made his mark on his debut towards the end of that season by scoring in a 1-1 draw away to Hereford in front of the Match of the Day cameras and the BBC commentator that day John Motson. Under Mullery, Ward would go onto have a breakout season at Brighton and played a huge part in him becoming one of the most iconic figure in the club’s history, but more on that later.

The season started with a 3-2 two legged League Cup win over Fourth Division Southend United ahead of the start of the League campaign. And it was a good omen, as the club started their league campaign as it meant to go on, remaining unbeaten in its first four matches, recording three wins ahead of the visit of Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town at the Goldstone for their Second Round League Cup tie.

The club’s had already drawn the original tie 0-0 at Portman Road. And it was a night to savour as a crowd of 26.8k saw the club record a historic 2-1 win over the First Division side. An attendance that was the highest of the season so far, but one that would be topped as the big matches continued.

This was club’s first win over a First Division club since 1933, and it was a notable scalp. This was an Ipswich team that would go on to win the FA Cup the following season and the UEFA cup in the 1980/81 season, as well as being a regular feature at the top-end of the First Division for an extended period. They finished 3rd this season and within the top-6 in nine out of the ten seasons between the 1972/73 and 1981/82 seasons, after which Bobby Robson left the club to take the England job, and the Club’s fortunes soon diminished.

One of Albion’s goalscorers that day was Fred Binney, who started the season on fire, scoring four in his first eight appearances, including two in the clubs 3-2 win over Oxford and one in a 3-1 win over Rotherham. But this was to be his last goal of the season as he lost his place in the team due to the success of the partnership between Ian Mellor and Peter Ward.

Binney had top scored for the club in the past two season, scoring 13 in 74/75 and then 27 in 75/76 (with 23 of those in the league) as Albion finished 4th, just one place outside the promotion places. After starting this season in the same vein, Binney made only two more appearances before he moved to the US to play in the NASL for St Louis Stars, where he competed alongside the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Pele, Gordon Banks and George Best.

However, the notable victory over Ipswich was followed up by a shock 2-0 defeat away to Grimsby, who recorded their first win of the season. But fortunately for Mullery’s men this was followed by the visit of second bottom York City to the Goldstone. The Minstermen were lambs to the slaughter as Brighton recorded a 7-2 win with Ward and Mellor both getting two goals.

This was Ian Mellor’s first start of the season, and what a way to make his mark! From that point onwards this became the regular strike partnership for the remainder of the season. With target man Mellor providing the perfect foil for Ward’s goalscoring exploits, whilst adding a fair few himself.

Another of Albion’s goalscorers that day was Peter O’Sullivan, the skilful winger was a veteran of the club by that time having signed for the club in 1970 on a free transfer from Manchester United. He was one of very few players to outlast Brian Clough and Peter Taylor at the club, when at times some joked that they needed to install a rotating door at the entrance of the first team dressing room, such was the number of ins and out at the club at that time. His longevity at the club of eleven years show just how good a player he truly was.

This win was also the perfect tonic ahead of a trip to another First Division club, West Bromwich Albion for the third round of the League Cup. In this Third Round tie, the club recorded a 2-0 victory and in doing so repeated that long awaited feat of beating First Division opposition twice in the same season, through two goals from Peter Ward.

That game was followed up with another league win, this time 3-1 over Tranmere that left the club top of the league going into a big match at the Goldstone Ground. Big because is saw the visit of promotion rivals Crystal Palace and was fittingly featured as the main match on ITVs The Big Match. The game ended in a respectable 1-1 draw and Managers Terry Venables and Alan Mullery sat very chummily side by side as they were interviewed by Brian Moore in the TV studio the next day.

All that would change, but we’ll come to that shortly. First Albion followed up that draw with another seven goal haul, this time winning 7-0 at home to Walsall. A match that incredibly saw Ian Mellor score four and his strike partner Peter Ward score three.

This was a night remembered almost as much for the atrocious playing conditions as the fact that all seven of Albion’s goals came in an extraordinary second half. Results like this were seeing the good work that Alan Mullery had already done with this Albion side in such a short space of time recognised far and wide, and he was nominated for the September Football League manager of the month award.

The results didn’t lie and Mullery wasn’t just getting the national plaudits. He’d very quickly won around the Albion faithful, a fact underlined by a quote from Centre Back Andy Rollings who in a recent interview for the club’s website said: “the moment we found out that Alan Mullery was taking over was light at the end of the tunnel. He was a man who had played for England, won almost everything and was such a great motivator. I loved playing under him”.

The club continued to get national recognition by featuring again on ITV’s The Big Match for their trip to Bury the following weekend, a game which saw Albion looking splendid in their all red away kit. But, they were nonetheless well and truly brought down to earth with a 3-0 defeat. Admittedly Bury were one of the better team in the division, but it was a not untypical result of the season. Brighton were heavily reliant on their home form for wins in a time where two points for a win gave draws more significance. In total that season their 19 home wins were matched with just six away from home.

So they would have been pleased that this defeat was followed by a home match with Peterborough. A match where the team showed their mental strength by earning an important 1-0 win. A result followed with an equally important draw away to fellow promotion chasers Mansfield.

This was a season where the high profile games continued to come for the club as the Seagulls next continued their impressive run in the League Cup with a game in the fourth round at home to Derby County, the First Division Champions from two years previous.

Despite the lofty opposition, some were starting to dream of a first Wembley appearance for the club and so it was a game which saw tickets in great demand. So much so that when tickets for the cup match were put on sale at the club’s reserve match with Charlton, that game attracted a crowd of 17.5k, whereas at the time reserve matches would usually attract crowds of less than 1k.

The match with Derby at the Goldstone started well for Brighton when that man again Peter Ward put Albion ahead after only 37 seconds. But Derby’s Welsh international winger Leighton James equalised for the visitors and that’s how it remained, so a replay at Derby’s Baseball Ground was to take place in two weeks’ time.

In the run up to the return match, Brighton won their next three games, the third of which a 4-0 win at home over Swindon. But despite this good form the team failed to repeat their previous heroics when they were beaten 2-1 in a replay despite a goal from Ian Mellor.

Derby were beaten in the next round by Bolton, but their star winger James would go onto feature at Wembley that summer for his country Wales where he scored the winner in a 1-0 win over England in the Home Internationals.

For Albion, their exploits in the cup that season continued with what has become one of the most famous cup ties in the club’s history, when Albion met Crystal Palace in the first round of that season’s FA Cup.

It’s a match that has helped to spawn what has become a vicious and persistent rivalry between the club’s. There had already been animosity between them, notably when on the club’s met on the opening day of the 74/75 season and there was significant crowd trouble between rival fans. Whilst former rival managers Peter Taylor and Malcolm Allison both publicly criticised the other teams style of play after recent matches between the sides. And in the 75/76 season Brighton adopted the nickname the Seagulls after the Brighton fans began signing “Seagulls!” in reaction to the Crystal Palace fans chants of their newly adopted nickname “Eagles!”

But this season would cement the rivalry when the club’s battled for promotion to the Second tier along with a trilogy cup ties, a combination which lead to rival managers Venables and Mullery upping the ante when it came to publicly criticising the opposition in what became a vicious personal duel of words.

The FA cup tie saw the clubs meet in an infamous second replay at the neutral venue Stamford Bridge, after the previous games held first at the Goldstone Ground and then Selhurst Park both ended 1-1. The tie concluded when Crystal Palace scraped a 1-0 win in the second replay, but in controversial circumstances after Albion’s midfielder Brian Horton was ordered to retake a penalty he’d originally scored.

When Horton unfortunately missed the retaken spot kick Brighton’s manager Mullery lost his temper and made a two fingered salute to the Palace fans, for which he was later fined. One Palace fan is then said to have thrown a hot cup of Coffee over Mullery who responded by throwing some loose change on the floor and exclaiming, “You’re not worth that!” Palace won and the teams have hated each other ever since.

But let’s be frank, this story has become so legendary its masks the main reason why the rivalry has persisted beyond this period of fierce competitive and personal rivalry. Hooliganism. Yes, the competitive rivalry at the time fed it too, but most games between the clubs were, and remain to this day, marred by crowd trouble. For example, the original first round cup tie between the sides that season was halted three times by smoke bombs being thrown onto the pitch.

Crowd trouble was becoming common place in English Football at this time and would persist throughout the 1980s. The following summer saw one of the most notable example of over-exuberant football fans causing havoc, when Scotland met England at Wembley Stadium in what was that years Home Internationals decider.

After beating England 2-1 to win the trophy, Scotland’s fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate. One group of supporters snapping the crossbar of the Wembley goal, others tore up the Wembley pitch and many caused further damage to the stadium and throughout London later that night. And it was scenes like these that in part led to the tournament ultimately being removed from the football calendar in 1984.

For the Albion, the cup run had helped to derail their season with that defeat to Palace the latest in a run of seven games without a win in all competitions that included four defeats and exits from both cups. As the match day programme said ahead of the club’s next match at home to Chesterfield: “it never rains, but it pours.”

But the club were still third in the league and only a point off top spot. So when a 2-1 win over Chesterfield meant the team moved up to top of the table ahead of a trip to Portsmouth a week later, the club looked to have turned a corner and got over that slump. But after a surprise defeat saw the club drop to third again, they were required once again to quickly bounce back, which they duly did with a 2-0 win over Northampton to regain top spot once again just after the turn of the year.

From then on, the team built up some much needed momentum and consistency for its promotion push as the season went on, winning five of the next nine in the lead up to a return to Selhurst Park to renew their battle with Crystal Palace.

But there good form counted for nothing as the fifth and final meeting between the sides that season saw a comprehensive 3-1 win for Palace, in which Terry Venables impressed the watching media by showing off the tactical competencies which saw him go on to manage at some of the games great global stages.

But whilst Palace won the club’s individual battle that season, Brighton were still winning the war and quickly regained the momentum of their promotion push by responding to that defeat with an emphatic 4-0 victory at home to Shrewsbury in mid-March and regained top spot in their next match with a 3-1 win at home to leaders Mansfield thanks to yet another Peter Ward brace. The first of four wins in eleven days and five wins throughout April, which put the club on the brink of promotion to the second tier.

Their next match could see Brighton clinch promotion at home to Sheffield Wednesday but they needed to win and hope other results went their way. As such this crunch match saw yet another crowd of over 30k at the Goldstone where a 3-2 win secured the club a long awaited promotion to the second tier after Rotherham lost at home to Reading. John Vinicombe of the Argus said he’d “never witnessed such scenes at the Goldstone before” as the crowd spilled onto the pitch to celebrate after what was a dramatic match.

It looked like it wouldn’t end that way early on when Brighton found themselves 1-0 down at half time, made all the worse by Peter Ward uncharacteristically missing a chance to score from the penalty spot. But Ward finally did equalise for the Albion after the break, who then took the lead through a penalty, this time taken and scored by Brian Horton, and eventually won the game 3-2.

Brian Horton who captained the team that season, was another of Peter Taylor’s astute signings who made over 250 appearance for the club in a five year spell and would be named that season’s Club player of the season despite Ward’s imperious goalscoring exploits. Horton did return breifly to manage the club in 1998 during its exile in Gillingham, but soon realising the task he had on his hands, left to take the Port Vale job later that season.

The season wasn’t over yet though as the title was still up for grabs, but despite Peter Ward scoring in both the club’s remaining two fixtures to set a club record by scoring 36 goals in the season, a defeat to Swindon and a draw to Chesterfield meant the club ended up settling for second behind Mansfield. But the consolation was that they still finished ahead of rivals Palace who sneaked into the third and last promotion place ahead of Wrexham.

As the seventies drew to their conclusion the club continued to reach new heights, achieving promotion to the topflight for the first time in 1979, and remaining there for four seasons before finally succumbing to relegation in 1983. A blow softened by it coinciding with the clubs only appearance in the FA Cup final, which was lost on a replay to Manchester United after the original tie was drawn 2-2.

But whilst there were seasons to come where this team would go onto bigger and better things, when it comes to iconicity, there are few in the club’s history that match 1976/77.

1964/65 – Champions again

In the summer of 1961, Brighton manager Billy Lane resigned, leaving a huge hole for the club to fill. Over the past decade and a bit, he’d transformed the club’s fortunes, achieving promotion to the Second Division in 1958 for the first time in its history, and then keeping it there for the subsequent three seasons.

In his place came George Curtis, who in the face of the very restricted budget that he was given by the board, led the club to relegation back down to the Third Division. And worse was to come in his second season, which saw Albion again struggle. Not helped by the number of experienced names who had left and were being replaced by youngsters. A trend which led to his team being dubbed “Curtis’s Cubs”, but unlike Man United’s “Busby Babes” of the previous decade this Albion side contained nowhere near a comparative level of quality or talent and continued to struggle on the pitch.

As a result the board faced an increasing amount calls to resign, and so the chairman and vice-chairman did just that in November 1962. A new board was formed with Supporters’ club president, Eric Courtney-King at its chair. But despite the new board raising funds to invest in the team, results didn’t improve and Curtis left by ‘mutual consent’ the following February.

By the time he’d been replaced it was too late for the new man in charge Archie Macaulay to turn things around and as a result, the club was relegated to the Football League’s Fourth Division with a game to spare for the first time in its history.

It’s first season at that level was one of mixed fortunes. The club won just one of its first six league matches and worries mounted of yet another season of struggle. But under Macauley, Albion eventually found their feet as the club finished a respectable 8th.

Macauley wasn’t one to always follow the mould. After joining the club he altered the clubs pay structure to be focused more on performance related bonuses, but it wasn’t just pay where his approach was uncommon. Howard Wilkinson, the future Leeds and England manager who played under Macauley at the Albion after signing for the club in 1966, divulged that: “we had some remarkable preparations for important matches and cup-ties. There were liberal doses of sherry and raw eggs, calves foot jelly, fillet steak, and plenty of walks on the seafront where we were taken to fill our lungs with the ozone.”

And under Macauley, with Brighton having now found their feet in the Fourth Division, the club went into the subsequent 1964/65 season with high hopes that the club could win promotion back to the Third Division. Especially with the arrival of England international Bobby Smith.

Bobby Smith was as chairman Courtney-King put it in the programme before the opening game of the season: “one of the big names in soccer”. A signing which he went onto say “shows just how eager we are to climb to our rightful position in the Football League.”

And indeed it was an impressive signing for a Fourth Division team. After starting out at Chelsea as a reserve when they won the First Division in 1955, Smith joined Tottenham. There he spent nine years scoring 208 goals and still stands second in Tottenham’s record books only behind his strike partner Jimmy Greaves.

At Tottenham he was a key part of the double winning team of 1961 and also won the FA Cup in 1962 and the Cup winners Cup in 1963 whilst getting 15 caps for England between 1960 to 1963, his last coming when scored in an 8-3 win for England over Northern Ireland at Wembley.

Some were surprised by Tottenham letting Smith go at all and he felt he still had plenty to offer. Smith is quoted soon after signings for Brighton as saying: “Every time I turn out for Brighton next season I will be determined to show Bill Nicholson how wrong he was to let me go… to show him and Spurs that there is a lot of the old Bobby Smith fire left – and that it is going to be used to help Brighton bid for better things… I’m an Albion man, and great, new experience lies ahead.”

But others were less surprised. Bobby Smith was a player who despite his impressive stats, wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Something not helped by his reputation as an at times overly-relaxed character and a routine gambler. Characteristics that meant whilst at Tottenham, he was judged as not being captaincy material.

There is always one player in a generation who doesn’t get the recognition at international level which they deserve. And Bobby Smith was probably that player for England in the early 1960s, something his 13 goal in those 15 caps attests to.

He was part of England’s 1958 World Cup squad but didn’t play and then didn’t even make the squad in 1962. Had injuries not damaged his progress, maybe he’d not been cast off so early by Tottenham at just 31 and played a part at the 1966 World Cup, a tournament which saw injuries limit the playing time of his former strike partner Jimmy Greaves.

Instead, a year after his last England cap he was lining up for Albion against Barrow at the Goldstone in the Fourth Division. And in his first game all the expectations of Smith leading Brighton to victory were met as he scored two on his debut in a 3-1 win, in front of a crowd of over 20,000.

One of his fellow forwards that day was Jimmy Collins who was a reserve at Tottenham whilst Bobby was there, before joining Albion in October 1962 and was later made captain. Jimmy was partly responsible for persuading Bobby to join Albion and with his old Spurs teammate alongside him captained the side for most of the 64/65 season, going on to play 221 times for the club before leaving in 1967 to join Wimbledon.

But it appeared the club’s inconsistency from the previous season was back as despite remaining unbeaten for the first seven matches, they won just one of those and then slumped as low as 13th at the end of September after successive away defeats to York and Chester.

But the club’s consistency would improve and it was in part down to the development under Macauley of some of the younger players who’d been bought over the last few seasons. No one less so than Norman Gall who came of age this season at centre half.

After joining the club in 1962 Gall was initially unpopular with supporters because he replaced captain Roy Jennings in the team. And the club’s subsequent relegation to the Fourth Division probably didn’t help. But he soon established himself as first-choice centre half and was later twice voted Albion’s Player of the Season in 1971 and 1974. A feat only repeated since at the club by Steve Foster, Danny Cullip, Bobby Zamora and Liam Bridcutt.

For Gall it was a monumental turn around after things had started so badly. Upon replacing Jennings in the team to make his League debut initially under Curtis, the club lost three straight matches and the supporters clearly saw him at fault. As Gall described it himself: “As soon as I went on the pitch they booed and during the kick-about they were on my back. They chanted, ‘We want Jennings.’ I played quite well, but it affected my play a bit and I think it ruined me for the rest of the season. Anyway, I was dropped right after that.”

Us football fans have always been a fickle bunch. Now playing under Macauley and an established first team player, Gall was winning the fans round and success on the pitch followed. The club won the next four in a row to climb the table and remained in the top four promotion places for the rest of the season.

As well as the development of some of the younger players Macaulay made some astute signings including another of Bobby Smith’s former Tottenham teammates Mel Hopkins, who added great experience at full back and thrived alongside talented youngsters like Gall. Hopkins made his debut in the third of those four successive wins, 6-0 over Notts County at the Goldstone. And from then on both he and the club didn’t look back.

And with the club now performing better on the pitch along with the acquisition of some big names, attendances were significantly up. After the season average had fallen to around 9,000 for the previous two season, it would nearly double that in the 1964/65 season at just above 17,000. And with added crowds came added atmosphere, made all the better with Norman Wisdom’s input.

Norman Wisdom, who’d made his name in British popular culture in the 50s for his slapstick comedy joined the club as a director in 1964, a position he’d hold until 1970. And he was making his mark at the club. No more so than introducing a rewritten version of the county song “Sussex by the Sea” at half time of a 5-0 home win over Chesterfield in February. A song now sung before every home game still to this day.

But whilst this was mostly a season of joy and success, there was tragedy with the death of Barry Rees, another one of Macauley’s astute signings who’d only joined the club three months before from First Division Everton.

Whilst enjoying some well-earned time off after a 3-1 home win over Southport that saw the team keep pace with the teams at the top of the league, he was on his way to see his parents in Wales. But after being involved in a car crash with an oncoming lorry, died of the injuries he sustained in the crash.

In the match programme ahead of the next home league match against Tranmere, the club ran a full page tribute to Barry Rees. In it they said they were “devastated” and that in his short time at the club he’d “quickly established himself as a player of undoubted promise and became a firm favourite at the Goldstone.”

But this tragedy didn’t derail the club’s promotion push as they beat top of the league Tranmere 2-1 with Norman Gall turning in a Jimmy Collins corner for the winner. As a result, Brighton went top for the first time all season. And this was where they’d finish with Tranmere ultimately missing out on promotion by a single point after losing on the final day to Doncaster.

In contrast Brighton won three of their remaining four games after going top. And were promoted as Champions after beating Darlington on the final day of the season. With winger Wally Gould scoring the third to secure the win.

Albion finished the season having scored 102 goals, with Bobby Smith top scoring with 19 of them. But this was the end of the road for him with Brighton. At 32 his injuries and his lifestyle had finally all caught up with him.

After he turned up to next summer’s pre-season training significantly over weight, he was first suspended and then later sacked in October 1965 with one newspaper cruelly dubbing him “Blobby Smith”.

A sad end to a great professional career. As his Albion teammate and captain Jimmy Collins said of Bobby Smith’s upon his death in 2010: “[he was] a better footballer than he was given credit for.” Or as journalists Norman Giller said of Smith “If he had been playing today, Bobby – who mixed cruiserweight strength with subtlety on the ball – would have been revered as a player in the Alan Shearer class, and rewarded with the riches that his ability warranted.”

Bobby Smith was one of the greats of his generation. But if he’d managed to reach his full potential, he’d never have signed for Brighton and helped steer the club back into the Third Division. It feels crass to say it, but Bobby Smith’s loss was very much Brighton’s gain, even if it was only for one season.

For Brighton this was the start of a new beginning. The following season the club reverted to type as a Third Division club, where they would remain for the next seven seasons and eleven of the next twelve. A period only interrupted by another brief dalliance with the Second Division in the 1972/73 season. That is until a certain Alan Mullery took over as manager in 1976 and lead the club during a legendary period in the club’s history. But that’s another story.

1947/48 – Brighton Rock (bottom)

After the club struggled at the bottom of the Third Division South during its first two Football League seasons, the rest of the 20’s and the 30’s saw it become more of a force in the division, with the club finishing outside of the top ten just twice in the following seventeen seasons.

By the end of the 1930s Albion were making regular pushes for promotion to the second tier. However, with only the champions promoted from both the regional North and South Third Divisions, chances were limited. So, neither Brighton’s best finishes of 3rd in both 1937 and 1939 or 5th in 1938 were good enough for promotion.

The subsequent outbreak of the Second World War meant the 1939/40 season was cancelled after just three matches being played. And the Football League wouldn’t resume until the beginning of the 1946/47 season in August 1946.

For many, the legacy of the Second World War meant late forties were hard. Like many others, professional footballers had fought in the war, and now had to try to rebuild their lives after it finished.

The ones which returned home that is. That wasn’t the case for everyone of course, like for former Albion player Sam Jennings, who represented the club between 1925 and 1928 110 times. After fighting in the war, Sam died in 1944 after two bouts of Pneumonia which he had contracted whilst on duty.

This was of course a war which had left millions dead and millions more homeless. The European economy had collapsed, and much of the European industrial infrastructure had been destroyed.

And this was very much the case for life in UK after the war. All made worse by the first few post war years seeing poor crop production and industrial action, which combined to mean fierce rationing remained in place, and persisted for some food stuffs until 1954.

Even Bread was rationed for two years after the war, and you weren’t able to buy it until the day after it was baked, with the reasoning being that stale bread was easier to slice more thinly. All measures which would have no doubt made physical preparation for a professional athlete all the more difficult.

Nonetheless with peacetime heralding the return of the Football League, interest in Football continued to rise throughout the 20th century and its teams and their players were under increasing scrutiny.

The 1946/47 season would be manager Charlie Webb’s last in charge of team affairs before he became the club’s general manager and handed over to Tommy Cook, the man better known as Albion’s all-time leading goalscorer still to this day.

This change was due in large part that in Webb’s final season in charge of team affairs he couldn’t replicate the success of the 20s and 30s. The team finished a disappointing 17th, the club’s worst league finish for a quarter of a century. However, worse was still to come the following season with Brighton legend Cook now in charge.

Cook ended his football career with Brighton in 1929 after scoring what is still a club record total of 123 goals. But he continued playing first class cricket for Sussex until 1937 and then moved to South Africa to become a cricket coach for Cape Town.

And he would later serve for the South African Air Force during the Second World War. However, he sadly suffered serious injuries after being involved in a horrific plane crash and was left with long-term health problems. Cook was the sole survivor of the crash and spent months in hospital rehabilitating. No doubt Tommy would have been hoping his move back at Brighton could be a new and successful chapter for him.

The 1947/48 season started well enough after a 3-2 win away to Watford on the opening day, but this was followed by three straight defeats that destroyed any early season optimism. The first of which was an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at home to QPR, which the Brighton Argus’ Victor Champion described as “a great disappointment”, saying that the team were “thoroughly defeated”.

But September offered some hope, with home wins over Swindon and then Norwich as well as two away draws to Swindon and Aldershot giving the club some much needed points.

But a further five defeats in the next six, including four successive home defeats, the last of which a 4-0 home loss to Walsall, left the club with only 9 points and having recorded a whopping 10 defeats from the first 16 games.

Understandably supporters were less than pleased and after the defeat to Walsall 500 Albion fans stayed behind and demonstrated in front of the director’s box. As a result Tommy Cook was relieved of his duties.

So for another Albion legend, this was sad end to his involvement with the club. Outside of the game he never seemed to recover from the mental scars of that plane crash along with the physical scars he’d been left with, and sadly committed suicide in 1950 aged just 49

But as well as being a sad end for Cook, his sacking was also a sign that supporters were becoming more of a force at the club, with the resumption of normal football after the war seeing attendances increase. In 1947/48 the club had an average crowd that season of 11.5k, but whilst compared to the rest of the division this was still relatively low, the club will no doubt have been keen to take advantage of the post war boost and the great potential the club had.

The attendances must have impressed some though as the Goldstone Ground was chosen as a host venue for the London Olympic football tournament later in 1948, where Afghanistan lost 6-0 at the hands of the not so mighty Luxembourg.

The club appointed Don Welsh in Cook’s place with Brighton chairman Charles Wakeling saying in the programme before Don’s first home game against Exeter, that he hoped this would “prove to be the beginning of a new era in the history of the Albion” and that “Don’s reputation was second to none”.

Don Welsh certainly came with a reputation as a successful leader having captained Charlton to the last two FA Cup finals in 1946 and 1947. Whilst they lost the first to Derby County 4-1, Charlton won the later 1-0 against Burnley. But this was his first job in management and considering the circumstances the club were in, his appointment was a risk.

And the change in management didn’t have the desired effect for the club straight away. After already having lost away to Leyton Orient the week before, Brighton lost 1-0 to Exeter in Welsh’s first home game in charge. In fact, the club had to wait a further six matches before the club finally won its next match, a much needed 4-1 win over Ipswich on 24th January, which temporarily lifted the club out of the bottom two relegation places and into 20th.

This win was followed by a good run of form with only one defeat in the next ten games giving the club real hope of avoiding the ignominy of facing a re-election vote at the hands of its fellow Football League clubs for finishing in the bottom two league places.

So much so that in his programme notes before a 3-0 home win over Newport, Don Welsh stated the team were “Gradually moving up”. But whilst he praised the team’s spirit, he did admit that “our mid-field play was not classical”, but qualified this saying “when players have the re-election bogey on their minds, they are apt to hit the ball for safety rather than run the risk of a short pass which might be intercepted.”

And this spirit carried the team to two further home wins at the beginning of April, which kept the club out of the bottom two. But it was all just false hope as no wins in the final six games saw the club slump to the bottom of the league on goal difference, a run which included two 3-1 home defeats, first to Notts County and then to Watford.

It is maybe telling that ahead of the first of those all-important home games Don Welsh praises his team for “playing some lovely football, with for the first time some accurate passes.” It’s never a good sign when you’re praising a team for doing the basics for once. And so it proved.

Ultimately Albion finished bottom of the pile, but it was tight at the bottom with only two points (then the equivalent of a win) separating Swindon in 16th and Brighton in 22nd. As such this only helped Brighton in its application for re-election to the Football League.

As part of the re-election process, a letter sent on behalf of the club from Chairman Charles Wakeling pleaded for the Football League Member’s “confidence and support”. The letter also pointed out the small margin of points that separated Brighton in 22nd and Bristol City in 7th place, as well as pointing to 37 injuries being sustained to first team players in the season and that the club’s record attendance had been broken twice that season, as all reasons to maintain its status.

You may find this system strange compared to the merit based promotion and relegation system that is in place throughout the English football pyramid today, but re-election existed until as recently as 1986 when a direct promotion and relegation place was introduced into the Football League from the Non-League.

As Dick Knight points out in his Autobiography “MadMad” this system rarely led to the League club being relegated as “it was usually a case of Turkeys not voting for Christmas. All the Football League teams ganged up together and decided that they were going to retain the clubs that were in the league already and not bring in outsiders.” For example, Hartlepool faced fourteen re-election votes between 1924 and 1984 but was not voted out of the league once.

Therefore rather predictably, Brighton survived their 1948 vote virtually comprehensively along with fellow re-electees Norwich, Halifax and the now defunct New Brighton (no relation). And this was the last re-election vote it faced before the process was abolished. That is until 1997, when the club faced a vote of expulsion from its fellow Football League clubs for bringing the League into disrepute. But it again survived, but this time by a closer margin of 47 to 17.

The 1947/48 season may appear like a bad start to Welsh’s tenure, but there were signs of improvement with the club picking up on average just over a point a game compared to only just over half a point a game prior to his appointment that season.

The defence-minded coach had stabilised the club, and continued to do so during his time in change. He went about doing so by spending heavily over the summer and it was the signing of a certain Johnny McNichol that was the biggest coup, who became the attacking inspiration for the team during his time with the club in the years to come, but that’s another story.

As for Don Welsh, after leading Albion to 6th and 8th placed finishes over the next two seasons, he would go on to manage Liverpool from 1951-1956, albeit not particularly successfully, taking them down into the Second Division and then failing to achieve promotion back to the First Division. Whilst for Albion, their quest for promotion to the Second division went on.

1920/21 – Brighton’s first football league campaign

The story of the 1920/21 season starts in unusual circumstances at a meeting of Southern League Clubs in Manchester, May 1920. They met to agree the expansion of the Football League from two divisions into three with the introduction of a third division which would encompass the Southern Football League Division One clubs.

This division would become the Third Division South the following season when the Third Division North was created to remove what the Football League members believed to be a Southern bias that had been created, and so a further 20 Northern clubs then joined the Football League from the various regional leagues.

Brighton had spent the early part of the twentieth century in the Southern League, winning it once in 1910, until the break out of the world war led to football being suspended in 1915. During the next four years many of its players, referees and officials would have fought on the frontline, with many of those sadly losing their lives.

But after the war ended in 1919 football restarted and it was now beginning to return to normal. And for the country as a whole, football was a big part of bringing things back to a sense of normality.

As the country began what has become known as the ‘Roaring Twenties’, what followed was a time of prosperity for many in the UK after the hardship of war. With it came an increasing interest in leisure activities, and so the Football League’s expansion to a league that now included teams from all part of England and some of Wales was very well timed. And football continued to harness that interest as the country approached English Football’s glory years of the mid-twentieth century, which would culminate by winning the World Cup in 1966.

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

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

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

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

Under Chapman in the 1919/20 season Huddersfield were promoted to the First Division and reached that season’s FA Cup final, losing to Aston Villa. They then came back the following year and won the final 1-0 over Preston North End and followed that success up with three straight First Division titles between 1924 and 1926, finishing second the next two seasons, by which point Chapman had since moved on to build his lasting legacy at Arsenal. Therefore for Brighton, Charlie Webb was its first contemporary Football Manager and oversaw a period of great development in the role.

Brighton’s Football League journey started as a Third Division club away to Southend United on 28 August 1920, a game which they lost 2-0. The clubs first of 16 away defeats during the season, the equal most in the division and a large reason for their relatively lowly league finish.

But the home form was far better and the club repaid Southend by beating them 1-0 at home the following week. And a 4-0 win over Brentford and a 2-0 win over Bristol Rovers subsequently followed at the Goldstone in the early part of the season.

Whilst Brighton weren’t one of the biggest clubs in the country by any means, their average gate of 9.2k in their first Football League season was a respectable total in the Third Division and meant Webb could hope that their was improvement to come in his side with experience.

But whilst Webb had secured some notable signings, including the former England international forward George Holley the year before for a club record £200. But as the club’s resources were limited signing players could be a struggle. And to make matters worse, soon after he joined, Holley suffered a career-ending injury.

Fortunately, Webb found a capable replacement in Jack Doran who topped scored for Brighton in the 1920/21 season with 22 goals, as he did the following season, scoring a further 23 goals and so earning a move to First Division Manchester City. However, Doran struggled to get game time in the topflight and moved back down to the Third Division (North) to play for their local neighbours Crewe two years later.

Doran’s scoring figures for Albion were particularly impressive consider that this was still four years prior to the change in the offside rule from three opponents needing to be between the player receiving the ball and the goal to two. A change which was brought in to significantly increase the number of goals being scored and the most prominent player to take advantage of it was Dixie Dean who scored what is still a record of 60 goals in a season for Everton in the 1927/28 First Division season and scored an incredible total of 349 goals over 12 seasons after signing for the club in 1925.

Being a lower league club, much as has still been the case in more modern times at the club, the FA Cup was Brighton’s best opportunity for glory. And this season was no different as in Round 1 the club beat First Division Oldham Athletic 4-1, with Doran once again getting on the scoresheet.

However, in the next round they lost to Second Division Cardiff City in a replay at Ninian Park, after an initial 0-0 draw at the Goldstone between the clubs was overshadowed by a career ending leg break to Albion’s Jack Bollington. A player who had only signed for the club earlier in the season after lining up against Brighton for Southend in that season’s opening game.

As the season progressed further league wins did come, mostly at home, but these were spread between a number of heavy defeats. Including losing 5-0 away to Plymouth, 4-0 away to QPR and 3-0 defeats to Swindon, Norwich, Portsmouth and Watford.

Brighton finished the season in 18th place out of 22 teams only just avoiding the prospect of a re-election vote from the other Football League clubs for finishing in the bottom two league places and face the risk of dropping back into the Southern League.

The subsequent 1921/22 season saw another season of struggle with the team finishing in 19th, but in the years that followed the club then became a greater force in the Third Division and regularly challenged for promotion in the years to come. Nonetheless, the 1920/21 season was just the first of a 38-year long spell as a Third Division Football League club.

Brighton vs Man United – A history of contrariety

As Brighton fans in the 1990s were forced to watch on during their club’s much documented struggles, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United were enjoying one of the most successful periods of any club in English football history. As a result if you’d been on mine or any other school playground in Sussex at the time you’d be sure to find plenty who proclaimed to be huge United fans with grandparents from Manchester and struggle to find anyone who’d admit to follow Brighton for fear of fierce ridicule.

After the years of relative mediocrity for United that followed the end of the Matt Busby era at Old Trafford, the nineties saw a return to national superiority for the club. It was a decade which saw them win five of the ten topflight league championships on offer as well as four domestic cups and two European cups. One of those being the famous Champions League Trophy that saw them become the first English clubs to win the treble of the League title, the FA Cup and the European Cup in the same season (1998/99). All this during a time of great growth in world football led to Manchester United becoming the richest club in the world and a dominant figure for many years to come.

In contrast after starting the decade in the second tier of English football and losing the 1991 playoff final to Neil Warnock’s Notts County to miss out a place in the topflight, the nineties was a decade which saw a dramatic demise for the Albion. The following season the club were relegated to the third tier and by 1996 they were relegated again to the bottom tier of the football league before going a game away from falling out of the football league and probable oblivion a year later. All whilst the owners of the club did their best to run the club into the ground. Quite simply there can’t have been two more contrasting clubs during that period.

The first victory

So when on that Friday night in early May 2018 that same Brighton team who were still in fear of a potential relegation in their first topflight season in 34 years hosted a Man United team second in the Premier league, many could be forgiven for pinching themselves to check they weren’t dreaming. And whilst this was a United team with no chance of catching league leaders and cross-city rivals Manchester City, they were still an intimidating opponent.

But it was a night where league positions and history were forgotten as the home crowd at the AMEX roared Brighton to a victory that took the club to mathematical safety and the holy grail that is the 40-point mark against an admittedly below par Man United.

In the club’s last home game of season they secured survival for only their second Premier League season via a Pascal Gross headed goal on the end of a Jose Izquierdo cross, but only after it had been adjudged to cross the line by just 2.8cm by goal line technology.

There was a moment things looked to be heading the other way though, after Man United had a goal disallowed early in the first half with the game still tied at 0-0. Marouane Fellaini was correctly adjudged to be offside when turning home a Marcus Rashford free kick, but this was as close as United came to scoring in a performance epitomised by the England international Rashford’s inefficacy in leading the line. Rashford was maybe suffering under the pressure of the situation, with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez injured this was his chance to show manager Jose Mourinho he could lead the line in the upcoming FA Cup final against Chelsea. Despite his inefficacy he did start that game, alongside Sanchez, a game United again lost 1-0.

In contrast Albion were supreme that night, with wingers Izquierdo and Knockaert both causing the opposition plenty of problems out wide, whilst Gross and Murray again linked up well to cause the opposition problems through the middle of the pitch. Gross scoring was not an unusual sight for the Amex crowd. In his maiden Premier League season, he scored 7 and assisted a further 8 of Albion’s 34 goals, going on to win the club’s player of the season award.

And Hughton’s resilient side held on fairly comfortably to secure a crucial and impressive win. This was possibly the most impressive performance of the whole season, and the timing of it was of huge relief. With the Seagulls final two fixtures being away games at Champions Man City and then finally away to fellow giants Liverpool, there were plenty of Albion fans getting a little worried about the threat of relegation.

Instead it was a night to celebrate, and with the game being on a Friday night plenty of Albion fans did. Once the team had carried out their traditional end of season lap of honour/appreciation, the fans flooded into the bars and pubs around the stadium and the city centre to celebrate achieving another season in the topflight.

The second victory

Later that year in August as the 2018/19 football season got underway Brighton opened their second Premier League season at home with the same home fixture that ended the last, and it was to be the same outcome as before too, with another victory for Albion over Man Utd.

However, it wasn’t all good for the Albion that day, after captain for the day Lewis Dunk was forced to come off injured early in the first half. But fortunately, he was replaced by the new signing and Nigerian international Leon Balogun who was instantly up to the pace and the standard of the Premier League and played well alongside centre back partner Duffy.

With Balogun a more than capable deputy, the Albion were able to press United with gusto, putting them under plenty of pressure. And it wasn’t long before this pressure told, and the Albion got off the mark with a sublime chip from Glenn Murray. This is a goal that has to go down as one of his best for the Albion, whilst it was from close range, the skill and technique to flick the ball up and chip the ball over United ‘keeper David De Gea was a great sight to behold.

With the Albion faithful still in a state of shock to be ahead, a second Albion goal from Shane Duffy sent the AMEX into a state of pandemonium. United allowed Shane Duffy an absurd amount of time in the box to take the ball down and he rifled it home to give the team a two-goal lead.

After Lukaku had pulled one back for the visitors, last season’s match-winner Pascal Gross once again converted, this time from the penalty spot to regain the team’s two goal advantage going into half time.

And as the first half ended it was hard to take stock of what had been a whirlwind of a first half. One where the Albion had played with a level of pace and intensity unrecognisable from the 3-0 defeat to Watford on the opening day of the season just the week before, and to be frank most of the season previous too.

Despite an improved display from United in the second half, they once again on visiting the AMEX rarely troubled the Albion defence. Meaning the late penalty clumsily given away by Duffy and scored for United by Paul Pogba was a meaningless consolation for the visitors leaving Albion 3-2 victors.

To the future, via the past

As well as being a second home win in a year this was in fact the third straight home League win for Brighton against Man United. The first of that run coming 36 years previous when a solitary Peter Ward goal gave Albion a 1-0 win back in the last season of Brighton’s only other topflight spell from 1979 to 1983. In fact despite their contrasting histories Brighton have won a respectable three to Man United’s four of the nine occasions these sides have met in Sussex, with the remaining two ending in draws.

Just a matter of months later after the league season ended with Brighton relegated from the topflight, the clubs met again in the 1983 FA Cup final. After the original tie ended with a memorably entertaining 2-2 draw, United won the replay comprehensively 4-0.

And aside from meeting each other in both the League Cup and FA Cup during the 1992/93 season, they would have to wait 34 seasons to meet again in the league. In fact prior to Albion’s promotion in 1979 the clubs had only met once beforehand in the 1909 FA Cup, when Man United ran out 1-0 winners.

After all those many years apart, this week sees the sides meet again the AMEX, twice! It’s a long way from having to wait another 34 years for the occasion.