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.

Loyalty in football

Loyalty is an often-discussed topic amongst football fans. Be it the perceived loyalty of long-serving players such as Brighton’s former striker Gary Hart or the perceived lack of it from the currently loaned out Brighton striker Florin Andone. Many of Hart’s former managers regularly praised him for his commitment, dedication and work-rate, but despite his evident talent Andone’s behaviour at the club was so divisive that journalist Paul Hayward joked he’d be holding his leaving party in a phone box before his departure to join Turkish giants Galatasaray on loan this summer.

But loyalty isn’t just about being liked by interested parties. The Oxford Dictionary definition of loyalty is “the quality of being faithful in your support of someone or something.”

Whilst it’s easy to see that Hart fits this definition far better than Andone, based on his recent interview with the Athletic the later clearly felt that the club didn’t deserve a faithful dedication to the cause based on how he had been treated. In contrast Gary Hart regularly stated that he expected little and was just happy to be a professional footballer, and his determination was almost undying despite the relatively limited renumeration and training facilities he had at the club during his time. The loyalty of those within a club relies heavily on the environment that exists and modern football has many recent examples like Andone’s that suggest the environment is far from ideal.

Loyalty isn’t just about players though. Whilst fans demand it from their club’s players, many supporters fail to act in a similar fashion.

At Arsenal, led by the YouTube channel Arsenal Fans TV there is a culture of regular and at times ferocious criticism of players and management. And at its heart is the fans YouTube channel which has encouraged the hounding of key figures at the club, no more so than the regular and viscous protests that were held against former manager Arsenal Wenger. A trend continued after his departure with the latest figure of the fans ire Granit Xhaka who’s perceived lack of dedication and loyalty has made him a scapegoat for Arsenal’s recent poor form.

All of these are examples of how the changes in the funding structure of the football industry in recent decades has altered the power of the different stakeholders. The investors and the loyalty of their key revenue source; the TV corporations, are of the upmost importance. In contrast supporters are becoming a marginalised interest group in the sport and an ignored voice. And as such the players are now far more motivated by the loyalty they are shown from the owners of their club and their image in the media as presented by the TV corporations, than their reputation amongst supporters of their club.

When it comes to owners, some clubs are luckier than others and as Brighton fans we are incredibly lucky to have Tony Bloom as Chairman. He’s not just a fan of the club from a young age, but someone whose family has been involved at the club for decades and a person that was on the board at the club long before becoming Chairman. As such the history and identity of the club is ingrained within him and we are unlikely to get the types of missteps that some modern football club investors who have been attracted to English football primarily by the financial possibilities have become notorious for. You only have to compare his reign as chairman to other clubs such as Cardiff, Bury, Sunderland or Hull to appreciate that. Clubs where owners have come in and even if their actions were well intentioned, they have destroyed the harmony amongst supporters and left the club in a mess.

However even with the best possible owner of the club, they don’t always act with the highest levels of loyalty. Take the sacking of former manager Chris Hughton for example. Hughton was the man that led the club to achieve Bloom’s ultimate goal of top flight status, and kept the club there for two seasons. However the perceived lack of entertainment and worrying loss of form meant he lost his job regardless, mainly because the club’s topflight status and the club’s reputation within it are far more important than loyalty to past achievements. The club didn’t want to risk the loss of tens of millions of pounds in TV revenue and slowly getting the reputation as the new Stoke City that neutrals don’t wants to watch, and so sacked Hughton in favour of a more attack-minded and exciting appointment in Graham Potter.

In an industry with a culture where results are expected quickly and progress is expected almost indefinitely, it could easily be argued that the loyalty of people like Chris Hughton should be praised. Instead they have are often roundly criticised by supporters as soon as things go wrong, supporters who perceive themselves as the truly loyal party at the club.

But then again supporters’ voices aren’t listened to much in the modern Premier League era where clubs are driven by the TV corporations who almost entirely fund their organisations. So it’s no wonder that criticism of others arises from a feeling of bitterness and frustration.

Another example of these changes is the FA Cup. A competition steeped in history and tradition, much of which has been undermined in favour of the increased commercial success of the competition in order to keep it relevant to the clubs and so losing those traditions that are important to supporters.

All this is a sign of those whose loyalty in football really matters. The TV corporations are the club’s key stakeholder and so lead those club’s decision-making processes. As such the loyalty in English football is no longer prioritised towards reciprocating supporters’ loyalty towards their clubs but the financial support provided by the TV revenue.

In an industry where TV revenue and success are king, loyalty feels like a forgotten skill and the loyalty of the likes of Gary Hart’s and Chris Hughton’s is no longer as valuable to clubs. And so supporters will have to accept their clubs having less of their like and more talented but unpredictable players and managers of the likes of Florin Andone.