Naivety and Youth

One Sky Sports most prominent pundits Graeme Souness got on his soapbox after Brighton’s 3-1 home defeat to champions Liverpool on Wednesday night calling Brighton manager Graham Potter “naive” for his teams approach in playing the ball out the back. An approach which led to Albion giving the ball away twice and conceding two goals in the first seven minutes. A deficit from which they never recovered.

Souness stated that he thought even Man City who had better players would play more long balls initially against Liverpool and “wait for the sting to go out of the game”. He went onto say that if any team played that approach from the start it would be a “mistake”. Whilst Souness’s co-pundit Matt Murray agreed saying “when you’ve just conceded, just learn from it… I think they’ve got to work it out and maybe play it a little bit longer a couple of times.”

This isn’t the first time these kind of accusations have arisen about Potter’s management. In particular there was the defeat at home to Sheffield United earlier in the season when it seemed that the tide had turned against his approach. It was a game which saw Brighton’s keeper Ryan have 48 touches and an 89% pass accuracy rate. Numbers that demonstrate the intention of passing out from the back but mask the difficult situations the players he was passing to often found themselves in.

Unlike on Wednesday night with an empty AMEX, that day heard a stadium full to the brim with vocal frustrations over the teams over playing in defence, leaving the side taking too many risks at the back and making little progress going forward. Adam Webster in particular received heavy criticism, a player seemingly unperturbed as it was his loss of possession when rashly trying to dribble out from the back through the centre of the midfield, which led to Liverpool’s second on Wednesday night.

The defeat to Sheffield United, and more importantly the fans reaction during it, lead to Potter’s comments in the matchday programme before the next home game against Bournemouth. In which he said: “You will see misplaced passes. But these are all part of the process & the mistakes that we make will be made with the intention of developing our way to play, our identity & our belief. They will also be essential in us getting to where we want to be.”

The home defeats to Leicester, Sheffield United and Palace all brought scorn and concern from the home crowd and have highlighted the weaknesses to Potter’s approach when coming up against an organised counter attacking outfit. Something Man United exposed brilliantly in their 3rd goal of a 3-0 win over Albion at the AMEX recently. But every team has their weaknesses. Whilst managers like Chris Hughton look first to set up to minimise these risks, Potter instead sets up to first maximise the opportunities which the team can achieve. It’s a higher risk approach, but with higher risk comes higher rewards.

Potter also admitted he’s no stranger to Souness’s accusations of nativity saying to The Athletic after the Liverpool game: “I know why he would say that, and I have been called that a few times, and I’ve ended up in the Premier League coaching.” Fighting talk indeed.

Many call for more pragmatism from Brighton, but as Potter pointed out himself after the game, over the past 2 years many teams have played against Liverpool using a variety of different approaches, yet Liverpool have regardless still won comfortably more often than not.

Moreover, the stats suggest Brighton’s approach on Wednesday night was far from useless, with its XG being so high at near 3, only Man City had achieved higher against Liverpool this season. Demonstrating that Brighton had enough chances to level it up despite these mistakes.

This highlights another quirk of the Potter reign. Last season Brighton were converting a high proportion of a relatively low amount of chances, this season they’re converting a much lower proportion of a far higher number of chances. Conversion and creation are both difficult problems to solve, arguably the most difficult things to solve in the game and ultimately come down to the quality of personnel who are making those decisions in the moment.

It was indeed poor decision making and individual errors that cost Albion on Wednesday night. Both in conceding goals and not taking chances, with Dan Burn’s miss at 2-1 down a further example of Brighton’s plentiful missed opportunities to score more goals this season. Whilst Trossard’s goal for Albion was their 36th of the season, their highest total since promotion, it could have been so much higher. Going back to XG, this statistical model shows Brighton with an expected goals total of 8 higher for the season at 44.

So despite the criticism, Potter’s approach should leave us with some optimism, but only if Brighton take the chances they are creating. If you don’t do that, then it makes the risk taken by the defence in playing the ball out short under opposition pressure not worth taking.

Looking forward, we can be confident that from the evidence of the team’s good early season form and the further evidence from its recent good post lockdown form, that the more time Potter gets to put his ideas across on the training ground, the better prepared players are going to be to carry out his ideas. The team have certainly improved since the break, arguably better than any other team in the division, and Potter deserves a lot of credit for that.

The recruitment teams work is also paying off too with the teams previous reliance on Gross and Murray for goals continuing to reduce, due mostly to the continuing improvement of Maupay and Trossard, who’ve scored 14 of Albion’s league goals between them this season. This being the kind of impact the recruitment of Jahanbakhsh, Locadia and Andone was also hoped to have had.

Regardless of this progress, there will still be a need for some summer acquisitions. In particular the need for another striker is evident in order to add competition to Maupay. Especially coupled with the ever wilting performances of Connolly and Murray’s game time still surprisingly limited despite some good performances pre-lockdown.

I suspect there will also be a search for a new left back. Especially considering Gaëtan Bong’s departure in January, along with the minimal game time afforded to Albion’s other recognised left back Bernardo and regular makeshift left back Dan Burn probably hoping to move back to centre back in the long term. And then there’s also the potential prospect of replacing any sold players, with interest in some of the more senior first team player such as Lewis Dunk likely this summer.

That said, Alzate and Connolly have shown the U23s will have opportunities. Players like Alex Cochrane who started in the League Cup against Villa as left wing back, Tudor Baluta who did so in central midfield and Taylor Richards who started on the left side of the attack, will all be hoping they can emulate their former development team colleagues. As will central midfielder Jay Molumby and centre backs Matt Clarke and Ben White, who are all getting good reviews from their loan spells in the Championship this season.

Bringing through more youngsters into the squad certainly won’t help Graham Potter disprove accusations of nativity. But considering the U23 teams continued success and the good performances of many Albion loanees, all those mentioned above plus a number of others will all feel they are both overdue an opportunity to impress in the Brighton first team next season, just as Alzate and Connolly have this season.

Potter’s approach is very different from that of his predecessor Hughton, both in terms of risk taking and the promotion of young players. It has at times rightly led to some calling him out for being foolhardy and hasty in his decision making, I have even done so myself. But to say that he is naive isn’t fair or just. Especially when you consider his record and the resources, he’s achieved all that with.

Time will tell if next season leads to the continuation of the recent progress, or a difficult second season at the club’s helm, but the early signs are good. I for one suspect that this change in approach at the club we’ve seen this season, is one Albion fans will have to get used to for some time to come.

Albion’s impressive and improving defensive record

Throughout the season and throughout the club’s occupation of the Premier League, Brighton’s form has fluctuated, but one constant has been the teams pretty dependable defensive record.

155 goals conceded in 107 games may not sounds impressive, but when you consider many relegated teams in recent years have conceded at an average of around 2 goals per game or sometimes more, and that Albion’s record equates to less than 1.5 per game, it starts to look far more impressive.

Moreover, despite the team’s much spoken about increased emphasis on attack under new manager Graham Potter, the defensive record this season is currently better at 1.32 goals conceded per game compared to both last season at 1.57 pg or the season before at 1.42 pg.

It can’t be ignored that since promotion this defensive record has been the club’s saving grace. With the team also scoring an average of less than a goal a game in both of the last two seasons, it’s that dependable defensive record that has enabled the team to pick up some all-important draws which helped it retain its topflight status over that time.

But this season has been different in that regard, with Potter’s Albion already being one goal off matching its best scoring record since promotion and that’s with 7 games still left to play. Whilst this hasn’t led to an increased rate of wins (7 so far compared to 9 in both the last two seasons), the defeats column totalling just 12 compared to a whopping 20 last season, (which no matter what won’t now be matched), indicates progress.

Statistics can be misleading though if not analyses properly and comparing this seasons stats when we aren’t yet finished to previously completed seasons could be just that. In particular the club’s tough run in should be considered. Especially if Albion concede 4 or more at home to Manchester City and Liverpool in future games as they have in recent seasons, some of those statistics could look far more comparable to last season or even worse.

But the fact that Albion would have to concede at about 3 goals per game between now and the end of the season to even match last season’s goals conceded record, (more than double its current season pg conceding average) shows just how good a defensive job the team have done so far this season whilst also improving its attacking record.

One of the key factors in that success has been the teams improved ball retention and at the heart of that has been Brighton’s captain Lewis Dunk. He was a lynchpin in Chris Hughton’s Albion side alongside Shane Duffy and has since flourished under Potter’s less direct style of play, which has seen him move from the teams heading and blocking defensive battering ram to a key figure in the starting point for much of the teams new found attacking possession based style.

Whilst Dunk has added consistency between the leaderships, one key change that has enabled Potter to enact this evolution in style so effectively has been Adam Webster. His arrival in the summer left many assuming Dunk would be on his way to Leicester, but it has instead seen last season’s Albion player of the season Shane Duffy spend much of the season on the bench.

It is true however that Webster has struggled at times, particularly early on when the sides use of a back three and an overemphasis on playing out from the back left him very exposed. Amongst Potter’s tactical fluidity, the move to a more regular use of a back four and a slightly more risk adverse approach to building out from the back has definitely helped him and the team improve its defensive stability.

Another player who like Dunk has had to similarly adjust to a very different style is Brighton’s goalkeeper Maty Ryan. A player who was equally important under Hughton and has equally flourished under Potter’s passing style. With the statistical swing of his distribution changing significantly from mostly kicking the ball long beyond the halfway line to mostly passing the ball out to one of Albion’s centre backs, he has arguably had to adjust the most.

I wrote earlier in the season that I’d like to have seen Duffy brought back into the team to give the club more defensive stability. And whilst he has come in and played well in some more recent games, blaming Webster individually for Brighton’s problems earlier in the season is too simple, the team’s risky approach simply left Webster often as the fall guy.

The tide really began to turn against this approach at home to Sheffield United in November, a game which saw Brighton’s keeper Ryan have 48 touches and an 89% pass accuracy rate. Numbers that demonstrate the intention of passing out from the back but mask the difficult situations the players he was passing to often found themselves in. That day saw the AMEX faithful frustrated with the teams over playing in defence, leaving the side taking too many risks at the back and make little progress going forward, with Webster in particular receiving heavy criticism.

This was one of many examples of course. Albion’s 2-0 defeat at home to Leicester in November saw Ryan achieve similar passing stats and Webster receive similar criticism after conceding the penalty for Leicester’s second. A penalty that unsurprisingly came after Ryan made a short pass to Pröpper in the teams own third despite him being under severe pressure from the opposition. It was the definition of a “hospital pass” which saw him promptly dispossessed by the opposition and a subsequent hasty challenge from Webster lead to the penalty for Leicester to score their second.

Compare that to the most recent games against Arsenal or Leicester, which saw Ryan achieve lower figures more comparable to last season under Hughton of 37 and 36 touches respectively and a lower passing accuracy of 68% and 63% as the team moved to a more direct style accepting less possession of the ball and taking less risks at the back. This has knock of effects of course, particularly on possession which has been severely reduced. Whilst this was in part dictated by the nature of the opposition, for most of the season Brighton have had more possession than the opposition, averaging 53%, the leagues seventh highest average. But in recent games this has significantly reduced with 41% against Arsenal and 34% against Leicester.

After the defeat at home to Sheffield United left many Albion fans audibly groaning at the teams risky and frustrating possession based approach, Graham Potter said in his programme notes for the next home game against Bournemouth in December that: “mistakes will happen” and that it was “all part of the process”. And whilst the subsequent win that day supported his claim, the recent change to a more risk adverse approach of playing out from the back may suggest the fans did still have a point. And although Maty Ryan’s spot of bother against Leicester shows you can’t remove all risk, moments like this have been less common in recent games.

Funnily enough in this regard, the 3-1 defeat away to Bournemouth in January in particular seems like a turning point in style. And after initial teething problems in the subsequent 3-3 draw against West Ham, the team have conceded only 4 goals in the last 6 games. Including away trips to Wolves, Sheff Utd and Leicester and home matches against Arsenal and Palace. All of whom currently sit in the top half.

Much of the recent talk on social media about Brighton’s defence has been about the future of Brighton’s loaned out youngster Ben White. But with Dunk, Webster and Duffy all playing well and the global transfer market likely to be significantly diminished by the ongoing global pandemic, there is no certainty he’d even be in Potter’s first choice eleven next season with the other options he has available. Add Dan Burn to the mix too, who whilst having played mostly at left back this season is more commonly thought of as centre back, and you have a lot of competition for places. And that ignores the likes of fellow loaned out youngsters Leo Ostigard and Matt Clarke, all making for increased competition in defence at the club.

Brighton’s end of season slump in both the previous two seasons and tough upcoming fixture list will hopefully ensure there is no complacency and that all minds are fully focused on the games ahead. But the recent improvement in its defensive record since the horror show away to Bournemouth along with Potter’s shift to a less idealistic style of play, gives rise to a certain amount of optimism for the Seagulls ahead of the final 7 game run-in.

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.

Brighton vs Man United – A history of contrariety

Whilst 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 on joining Ferguson’s United 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 a Friday night in early May 2018 that same Brighton and Hove Albion (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 that 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 Manchester United.

In the club’s last home game of season they secured survival to secure only their sixth topflight season via a Pascal Gross headed goal on the end of a Jose Izquierdo cross, but only after it had been adjudged to have crossed 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. Thankfully for Albion fans, 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 then stand-in 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 Shane 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.

As the first half ended it gave the crowd time 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 upon 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 six of the eleven 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 now meet for the tenth time since Albion’s promotion to the topflight in 2017. It’s a long way from having to wait another 34 years for the occasion.

The return to Hereford

This weekend provides another stark reminder of the significant rise in status that Brighton and Hove Albion’s mens senior team have achieved over the last decade. As they prepare for a trip to Old Trafford to face the most successful club in English Football League history, many of their former competitors from up and down the country are preparing for FA Cup first round ties.

It’s a round of the famous old cup competition that was until recently a fixture of the football calendar that Brighton fans were all too familiar with and one that for a while was anticipated with dread. One particular FA Cup first round tie that will stick in the memory of those who are old enough is the trip to face Hereford United in the 1st round of the competition in 1997.

As fate would have it, the clubs were drawn together just months after Brighton had survived relegation to the non-league on the last day of the previous 1996/97 season away to Hereford, with instead Hereford relegated after a tense 1-1 draw.

This tale of serendipity is one that cup draws often seem to produce, where naturally emotions were still very raw after the last meeting between the sides, especially for the Hereford faithful. And one that drew the attention of the BBC television cameras for a FA cup Match of the Day special.

With both clubs struggling financially, the chance of a cup run was an opportunity to boost their clubs bank balance with some much-needed prize money. This was demonstrated best by the fact that Brighton had recently transfer listed a number of first team players because the club couldn’t afford to pay their wages, and were facing a Hereford team mostly made up of players signed in the summer after relegation on free transfers.

As the Hereford fan site Talking Bull admitted, “tensions were high”. And after it remained 0-0 at half time it was the home side who struck first to go 1-0 up, through Neil Grayson. But this was not before Albion had missed the chance to take the lead themselves after Paul McDonald’s penalty kick was saved by the Hereford ‘keeper.

But it didn’t take Albion long to level things up, when Stuart Storer converted from a corner after a mistake from the Hereford ‘keeper, (who quickly went from hero to zero for being caught out of position after coming for the corner and missing it) left the goal mouth gaping just four minutes later. An action packed twenty-minute spell came to an end when Hereford again took the lead to take a 2-1 lead through Neil Grayson, this time after Peter Smith had wrestled Ian Foster to the ground in the box to give away the games second spot kick.

And so it ended with the now non-league club gaining some form of retribution for the Seagulls relegating them just a few months before. Something Hereford manager Graham Turner admitted after the game when he said: “There was a lot of pride in the way we played today, and we’ve given the supporters plenty to sing about”.

For Albion however this was just another sorry defeat to a non-league club in The FA Cup. The 1990s saw the club have a spate of defeats to non-league sides in the competition, 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.

This was a run of notable cup defeats that just exemplified the club’s status at the time as the barometer for a poorly run professional football club. Something greatly chronicled in the tales told by Dick Knight’s autobiography “MadMan”. In fact in those barren years for the club between 1993 and 2000 as the club plummeted towards and stumbled along in the bottom tier of the Football League, it failed to make it past the second round, losing in the first round five times and the second round three times.

Things have changed greatly since then. Aside from a freak defeat to eventual National League Champions of that season Lincoln City in 2017, (a game which saw Casper Ankergren’s 67th and final appearance for the club and a calamitous one at that, along with an equally calamitous debut from the now Chelsea and England defender Fikayo Tomori), this was the last time the club had exited the FA Cup to non-league opponents having progressing past 7 non-league sides since then.

In contrast Hereford fans had little to sing about subsequent to that cup match. It took them 9 years of trying to finally retain their Football League status, but they were once again relegated back to the non-league four years later. And after two further seasons they were then expelled from the conference for financial irregularities in 2014 and were wound up by the high court over unpaid debts to HMRC later that year. A new Hereford football club has since been formed that still play at Edgar Street and in the National League North, two leagues below the Football League.

The varying stories of both club’s recent history just show how important that decisive match in 1997 which sealed Hereford’s relegation has been for both clubs. A fact highlighted even more by the cup match which reunited the sides a few months afterwards.

So as Brighton get set to make a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday sitting 8th in the Premier League and two places higher than their hosts, Hereford have a weekend off before they host Alfreton Town in the National League North on Tuesday. And as such, all Albion fans should count our lucky stars that we aren’t instead preparing for another FA cup first round tie with a team full of transfer listed players we cannot afford and journeymen signed on free transfers.

Ian Wright – From Brighton reject to Palace legend

The first football game I ever saw live was Arsenal vs Coventry at the now defunct Highbury Stadium in 1996. My brother and I were taken by our parents and had spent the week prior to the game telling anyone at school who’d listen that we were going. But whilst we were excited about going to the game, we were most excited about seeing Ian Wright.

There is no strange coincidence here. When my brother and I grew up in the 90s and started taking an interest in football, Ian Wright was one of the biggest names around. He was the star striker of Arsenal and he was a huge icon of ours. By the time I started supporting Brighton when the club moved to Withdean Stadium in 1999 he had caught not just mine, but the hearts of the whole nation with his loveable happy-go-lucky attitude and cheeky smile as much as with his goalscoring record. So when I realised he was an ex-Palace player, I was too far down the line with my admiration for him to turn back (and to be honest I never bought into all that ‘we hate Palace’ stuff anyway). And either way it’s hard not to admire his story. A story he documented fantastically here.

In this piece, he speaks about how after a troubled childhood and young-adulthood, he almost missed his chance to make it in the game. And after having spent some time in prison for non-payment of driving fines he temporarily gave up football before being convinced to go back and have a trial with Crystal Palace.

One of the key elements of Wright’s journey into professional football came just before that prison spell and involved a number of unsuccessful trials, one of which was a trial with our very own Brighton and Hove Albion. A period of six weeks that in Wright’s article he referred to as where he “chased the dream”, but ultimately didn’t achieve it, his dream would have to wait.

He spent six weeks on trial with Brighton in the early eighties. It was a period where he thought he’d done well enough in to get a contract saying: “I’d been doing well. I was scoring goals against the first team, and I was actually thinking that I was going to get offered something. They had kept me around for more than a month, so I was thinking I must be doing something right.”

In his Autobiography “A Life in Football” Wright said of his trial at Brighton that he “scored goals everywhere there – I scored goals against the first team when we had to play them.” He mentions one occasion where Brighton defender Chris Ramsey even helped him out by telling him: “I’ll let you go past me a few times, but after that, that’s it.” But it was all to no avail.

Wright states in his book he was even told that he would be offered a deal at one point, but ultimately he wasn’t. It’s a decision that then Brighton first team manager Chris Cattlin referred to on a recent Albion Roar podcast as; “a massive mistake that could have taken this club in a completely different direction.”

This was 1983, Brighton were in the Second Division having been relegated from the First Division the season before and had just lost that years FA Cup final. As a result, they had a squad that was being torn apart and needed bolstering, which meant Wright was in line to do just that. But it was a time of great financial struggle and instability at the club, so it may have worked in Wright’s favour to have missed this particular opportunity.

After 1983 the club began a demise from possibly its greatest day to arguably its darkest days. The club was again relegated to the third tier in 1987 and despite an instant return to the second tier and a brief flurry with the playoffs during a promotion push back to the top flight in the 1990/91 season, the club continued its demise up to 1997 where it was a game from going out of the Football League. In contrast, by this point Ian Wright was a national football superstar.

Unlike now, the club had little resemblance to a top flight club in those years. The Goldstone Ground was a crumbling mess, with sections so bad they were deemed unusable. And the finances were even more of a mess, with the club haemorrhaging money for a number of years and at one point reportedly losing £6,000 a week. So, this was hardly the environment where a rough diamond talent like Ian Wright was likely to flourish, maybe he got lucky.

Wright would also have been competing with some decent striking talent that was at the club at the time. Most notably Terry Connor, who signed for the club towards the end of the 1982/83 season but was cup tied for the memorable cup run of that season and so struggled to get a place in the team until a few months into the following season, when the club found themselves playing in the Second Division. Later that season he starring in a 7-0 win over Charlton and so won over the Albion faithful after they had initially been sceptical of his ability. That game would have been around the time of Wright’s trial with the club, so it’s likely to have made it tougher for Wright to subsequently gain a contract.

Terry Connor flourished at the Albion in the following four seasons, top scoring in all but one. The man who stopped him in that other season was future Welsh international and later to be British transfer record breaking striker Dean Saunders, as the two frontmen scored 35 goals between them, with Connor contributing 16. So, it’s safe to say that Brighton weren’t short of striking talent in this time.

Ian Wright said to Catlin towards the end of his trial “you either sign me or I go”, which was an attitude Cattlin said he liked. However, in part on the advice of his coaches Wright was let go. This was becoming a common story for Wright, who said in his piece for the players tribune, “I blew it. So many times.” As Catlin said, Wright had been to clubs “all over London and nobody wanted him.” This was less a case of a player in demand, and more a case of a speculating wanderer running out of road.

But it appears Brighton Manager Cattlin actually had little involvement in the trial, admitting as much in his Albion Roar interview. And Ian Wright said in his interview with the Players Tribune that it was one of Cattlin’s coaching staff who told him he wasn’t being offered a deal.

This is where the story gets confused chronologically. In Wright’s piece “how I earned my smile” he states he was 19 and it was in fact 1982 when he had his trial at Brighton. But this appears to be an error. In his autobiography “A life in football” he says he was 19 or 20 when he went to prison, and him being 20 would make the timings of Catlin’s version of events work as this directly followed his trial at Brighton. This mistake is particularly evident as Chris Catlin wasn’t appointed Brighton manager until 1st October 1983.

Another reason to believe Catlin’s story of events is that Wright was on trial at the same time as Steve Penney who then signed for the club in late 1983. In fact, even in Wright’s autobiography he references Penney and states the club signed Penney “instead” of him, which further backs up this chronology of events.

Steve Penney is man who is highly regarded amongst many of the Albion fans who saw him play in the stripes. In Spencer Vines book ‘a few good men’, in which he picked Steve Penney in his Albion dream team, he stated that Penney was one of the first names on his team-sheet. In the book Spencer says Steve Penney was: “a breath of fresh air, a flying winger whose close control and devastating pace left opponents and spectators alike lost for words.”

So, with Penney’s talent overshadowing the young Ian Wright in a reserve game and the problems of Wright’s troubled upbringing held against him, Wright wasn’t offered a deal whilst Penney was. So, whilst Steve Penney made his debut for Brighton on 26 November 1983 in a 3-1 defeat to Barnsley, Wright left and it wouldn’t be until August 1985 that he’d sign a professional contract with Albion’s arch rivals Crystal Palace.

It would be wrong not to reference race here too. With Wright being a young Black man who grew up on a South East London council estate, he will most likely have experienced his fair share of discrimination. But whilst the sort of unconscious biases to minority groups that still exist to various degrees in society to this day will likely have counted against him, he admits in his autobiography that he didn’t blame race. Wright instead recognised how easy it was for talented players to be rejected flippantly due to the large supply of young talent that was available to clubs. Either way, it would be wrong to make assumptions on this issue for this specific case without any suggestions that any prejudice was involved in the decision making.

“I was done after Brighton” Wright says in his Players Tribune article, whilst describing how he just wanted to concentrate on working and looking after his family. Whilst in his autobiography he states he “honesty thought it was because he wasn’t good enough.” An understandable reaction to repeated rejection. So, despite his obvious talent he found himself playing for a local non-league team Greenwich Borough. And it was here that he was eventually spotted by Crystal Palace.

And after a trial, he signed for Palace in 1985 but he admits that he “very nearly blew it” once again. Wright nearly turned up late for a reserve game after going to Crystal Palace athletic stadium by mistake and had to run to Selhurst Park to get there just in time for kick off. Nonetheless he came off the bench in that game and impressed enough to earn a contract. The rest of course is Crystal Palace folklore. A heartwarming local South London boy done good story.

Whilst with Palace, Wright had a great deal of success and was ultimately voted the club’s “player of the century” as part of the Centenary celebrations in 2005. He helped Palace to gain promotion to the top flight in 1989, to an FA cup final in 1990 in which they lost to Man United in a replay (welcome to the club), and to a third-place finish in the First Division in 1991 after which he left to join Arsenal.

Whilst at Palace Ian Wright was also involved in a match against Brighton that has gone down as one of the rivalries best. A game which saw five penalties awarded (three of which that were missed), a goal from Wright which he has called “the best of his Palace career” and ultimately a 2-1 win for Crystal Palace in 1989. It would turn out to be the last meeting between the sides for 13 years as Palace flirted with the top flight and Brighton flirted with extinction.

Once with Arsenal he was the First Division top scorer in his first season at the club and went onto become the club’s record goal scorer in 1997 only to be replaced by Thierry Henry just 8 years later. During his time at Arsenal he won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1998 as well as three other cup winning medals and cemented his place as one of the best English strikers of that time, in a period where the competition was plentiful.

Ian Wright is probably the most famous of the subsequently successful trialist Brighton turned down, although this is arguable. Before he signed for Nottingham Forest in 1990 and later became captain of the multiple trophy winning Man United side of the 1990’s, Roy Keane had an ill-fated trial at Brighton too. It had been arranged by then Brighton player and Keane’s former Rockmount football club teammate Paul McCarthy, but the club decided he was too small and rejected him.

I guess these things happen from time to time, but it’s this sort of ‘what if’ story that football is littered with. What if Wright and Keane had signed for Brighton? What if Smith had scored? Unfortunately, we can’t rewrite history, we just have to learn from it.

Nonetheless, would it have worked for Ian Wright at Brighton had he been given the contract anyway? Maybe it was too soon for him, or maybe he would have done for Brighton what he later did for Palace, who knows. But the silver lining of the story is that the investment made by the club’s current owner Tony Bloom, in its training facilities and youth academy means its far less likely to let such talented footballers slip from its grasp again.

As for Ian Wright himself, he is rightly proud of what he’s achieved despite his difficult upbringing. The success that Wright had in the face of multiple rejections amongst an environment of widespread racism and discrimination in English football during the 1980’s is an inspiration to any of us who have faced adversity and failure. As the old saying goes, you can’t trust someone who has never failed. And it appears to me that Ian Wright’s experience of his failure to gain a contract at Brighton helped him to achieve what he did as a professional footballer all those years later.

1983 and all that – a modern day comparison

As Brighton approach only their second ever FA Cup semi final this weekend whilst still in the midst of a relegation battle, the obvious comparisons with the events at the club during the season of 1982/83 have been made, but how close a comparison is it?

At the end of the 1982/83 season, Brighton found themselves relegated from the First Division as the bottom placed club with 40 points from 42 games and runners up in the FA Cup. One of Brighton’s most famous days was that 1983 cup final, a thrilling 2-2 draw with Man United, after which they eventually lost 4-0 in the replay. So whilst the club reached its first, and to date only ever FA cup final appearance, they also ended their first spell in the top flight. A status the club would have to wait 34 years to regain.

In 1983 and in the midst of their iconic cup run Brighton took a modest total of nine points from the last nine league games, which this season would have taken Brighton to a surely unassailable 42 points. But in 1983, with the club already in a difficult position and their last 4 games including defeats to also relegated Man City and bottom half sides Norwich and Notts County, they were relegated as the league’s bottom side.

Whilst we couldn’t go as far as saying this 1983 Brighton side was too good to go down, they were a more established team at the top level than the one of today. After gaining promotion in 1979, they had finished 16th in 1980, 19th in 1981 and a club high of 13th in 1982 (in a 22-team division with 3 teams relegated). As such, they went into the 82/83 season with a reasonable amount of expectation that they would sustain their top-flight status once again. And the subsequent cup run was further evidence of the team’s ability at the time, nonetheless they were unable to consistently reach this level in the league on a weekly basis.

But things weren’t as stable and positive as the previous three years in the league suggests. After 2 promotions in 3 seasons followed by 2 seasons of retaining the clubs top flight status, Alan Mullery resigned as manager after falling out with Chairman Mike Bamber over the club’s transfer policy.

In his place the club appointed Mike Bailey as manager at the beginning of the 1981/82 season. And Bailey set the team up playing a defensive style of football that wasn’t to everyone’s taste, including chairman Mike Bamber. But it at first produced results, with a landmark 1-0 win at Anfield leaving the team 8th in the league, but afterwards a run of ten defeats in the last 14 games of the season meant the club finished in 13th, which whilst a significant fall was still the clubs highest league finish, which stands to this day. 

After the slump at the end of the season and along with the negativity surrounding Bailey’s defensive tactics, the club started the following season in unsettled fashion. This wasn’t helped when club captain Steve Foster handed in a transfer request, telling the press at the time: “It just seems like the chairman doesn’t want to move forward.” Foster would end up staying for the 82/83 season but miss the original cup final through suspension before returning for the replay.

It’s fair to say that Mike Bamber had a lot on his plate, with the club financially unstable and reportedly losing £6,000 a week, he needed to get people coming back through the turnstiles. Attendances at times were falling under 10,000 and as far as Bamber was concerned. “I have been bitterly disappointed at the very poor sale of season tickets and wonder if the Sussex public really want First Division football,” he said in August of that season.

But Brighton’s average attendance wasn’t much lower than the average. With their season average of 14,673 making them 18th of 22-team First Division that season and only 5,500 short of the league average, which is of course inflated by the larger attendances of the Manchester United’s and Liverpool’s of the league. And whilst the club’s attendances were on average 4,000 down on the previous season, taking a few of the larger clubs out of the equation, Brighton’s attendances were in fact fairly normal of the time.

Whilst the football wasn’t necessarily entertaining, the bigger reason for the low gates was that in general, English football was at a low ebb. This was two years prior to the Bradford stadium fire that killed 56, five prior to the Hillsborough stadium disaster that killed 96 and still ten years prior to the beginning of the Premier League that came just after the Taylor report was published which instigated a significant investment in upgrading football stadiums across to country to become all-seater stadiums.

Furthermore, hooliganism was a huge issue and detracted many from going to matches. It’s no coincidence that at this time whilst football was struggling other sports were having their day. For instance, if you talk to anyone old enough to remember and who knows about Snooker, they’ll tell you the greatest World Championship final was the Steve Davis v Dennis Taylor final in 1985. Millions of people stayed up beyond midnight to watch the final frame which was won by Taylor and decided on the final black ball of the final frame. An iconic moment in the sport still to this day, something English football in the 80’s largely lacked from a positive perspective.

The attendances were certainly not because of poor results, Brighton were in fact unbeaten at home in the league until early November that season, including wins over Arsenal and Manchester United in that period. Instead it was their bad away form that was pushing them towards the relegation zone.

Much of this will strike a chord with today, except for one crucial thing, the stable leadership of the club in the modern-day. In contrast to 1983, whilst the club made only its second operating profit last season since the sale of the Goldstone in 1997, the club is now on a stable financial footing thanks to the continued investment of the current day Chairman Tony Bloom.

Furthermore, a typical modern football club’s organisational model allows for whole departments to take care of some tasks that in 1983 would be just one of many areas of the manager’s job description. The people the club have employed such as Paul Winstanley, Paul Barber and Dan Ashworth allow Chris Hughton and his coaches to focus on ensuring the team is settled, happy and well prepared for the next match. A key ingredient to the Albion’s success in recent seasons.

This is demonstrated in the comparison of the current team to Brighton’s record under Bailey that season. Despite their reputation as a defensive side, whilst Bailey remained in charge up to 4th December that season Brighton conceded 3 goals or more on average once every three games. In comparison, in the first half of this season, Brighton conceded three once, in a 3-1 away defeat to Everton. Whilst Hughton’s team can rightly be called defence-minded at times, the record during this period of Bailey’s tenure in comparison makes his side look like a team which was poorly set up defensively.

Back to 1983, it now looked inevitable that with the instability the club had financially coupled with the decreasing attendances that the club were experiencing that it would be panicked into making a change and they did so in December by sacking manager Mike Bailey. Chairman Mike Bamber justified the change by saying: “Our public need to be entertained and our style of play had become too boring”.

In the current day sacking managers is not something Tony Bloom has shown himself to be afraid of, but more important than that is his ability to appoint the right man in their place. Which is something that the almost instantaneous differences between Bamber and Bailey suggest was a skill which Bamber at times lacked. This is not to suggest Bailey did a bad job, he indeed took the club to its highest ever league finish the season before. But quite clearly he wasn’t the man for the brief Bamber was looking for.

In order to turn things around former Liverpool ‘keeper Jimmy Melia was appointed with clear instructions to bring in exciting, attacking football and the cup run was a perfect remedy for that. He won his first game in charge against Norwich 3-0, but aside from the Cup run this win proved to be a false dawn. No wins and just four points from their next 10 games left Brighton bottom of the table. Unfortunately attacking football and an iconic cup run came at the expense of the club’s league form and ultimately, its top-flight status.

Despite a more attacking emphasis in their play and the positivity that came with the cup run, the club couldn’t turn around its poor league form. Then Brighton player Jimmy Case said: “Everyone was lifted by the magic and the dream of Wembley, but against that background, it was difficult to get the team motivated for the never-ending struggle for League points.”

Don’t be fooled though, this team were no bunch of chancers, Jimmy Case was a former multiple time First Division and European Cup winner from his days with Liverpool, Steve Foster had just represented England at the 1982 World Cup and Gordon Smith had signed for the club in 1980 for a then Glasgow Rangers record fee for £440k. In comparison an analysis produced at the start of this season showed how relatively inexperienced the current Brighton squad is compared to the rest of their competitors. Brighton’s squad cumulative experience was the fifth lowest in the Premier League, totalling 563 Premier League appearances, over 1,000 less than next place Newcastle.

That said, the realities for Chris Hughton managing his modern-day Brighton side are very different. Whilst his first eleven may be relatively inexperienced, the squad depth he has available enables him to prioritise the league over the cup whilst still putting a competitive side out in the cup competitions. This is very different to 1983. For example, the man who infamously missed the chance to win the cup final in the 120th minute, Gordon Smith, was more of a right winger but was playing up front as first choice striker Terry Connor was cup-tied, and club-hero Peter Ward’s loan had ended after parent club Nottingham Forest refused to extend it.

Jimmy Melia’s brief when he was brought in as manager was one of playing attacking football but doing so with a side that had been previously set up to defend first feels a bit like not maximising the potential of your resources. And this is an issue the odd new signing was unable to resolve. In contrast, maximising the potential of his available resources is something Hughton has been an expert at doing since joining the club.

Many will talk of the increase in salary of a first team player since 1983 at Brighton, but this is largely in line with the average inflation seen in the English top flight football since then. But the relative riches and competitive status of English club football compared to other leagues across Europe and further afield, means even the lowlier ranked top-flight clubs in England like Brighton can attract players from all over globe. Brighton’s 1983 squad was made up of entirely British & Irish players but now the club has a first team squad containing 15 nationalities across four continents including Davy Pröpper of the Netherlands, Jose Izquierdo of Columbia, Maty Ryan of Australia and Yves Bissouma of Mali.

Nonetheless back in 1983 the club was financially in trouble, a situation that coupled with relegation most clubs can nowadays limit the damage of due to the Premier League parachute payments they receive after relegation, as well as contracted relegation clauses. But in those days clubs had to fend much more for themselves, especially without the level of revenue clubs now generate from TV rights sales, even in the lower leagues of the English Football League.

Whilst 1983 saw arguably the club’s greatest day competing in the showpiece event of the football calendar, it was achieved with all this chaos going on in the background. This along with the emphasis on playing attacking and entertaining football despite difficult circumstances is more reminiscent of Brighton during the Withdean years than of today.

It will come as no surprise to you that subsequent to relegation the squad was dismantled. With first team players including Gary Stevens, Michael Robinson, Steve Foster, Tony Grealish, and Gordon Smith all leaving the club before the end of the following season. Melia resigned in October of the following season after yet another falling out at the club, this time between him and new chief coach Chris Cattlin who subsequently replaced Melia as manager. 

The squad depth of today means selling off the best players would have less of a negative effect. This is shown not just by the success of the fringe players in the cup but also taking into account players who are out on loan and others currently in the successful u23 squad. 

Furthermore, whilst the legacy left of the First Division days was little but memories, today is a very different story. Whereas the 1980’s saw the clubs ground the Goldstone become an ever more crumbling mess. The club now have a plethora of great facilities. Most notably a world-class stadium in Falmer and a training ground in Shoreham that is the envy of many other clubs.

After 1983 the club began a demise from possibly its greatest day to arguably its darkest days. The club was again relegated to the third tier in 1987 and despite an instant return to the second tier and a brief flurry with the playoffs during a promotion push back to the top flight in the 1990/91 season, it continued its demise up to 1997 where it was a game from going out of the Football League. After subsequently spending the next two years in exile ground sharing with Gillingham, the club returned to Brighton at the make-shift location of Withdean Stadium, not moving into a permanent home until the AMEX was opened in Falmer in 2011.

Whilst there are obvious comparisons between the 1983 and 2019 teams, after all these are two of the best sides the club has had in its 118 year history, there are far more differences. Many make the comparison to 1983, in part as it’s possibly the most notable season in the club’s history. But the reality is that modern football has changed considerably and as a club Brighton are a perfect example of how much things have progressed.

Will the club repeat the contrasting feats of the 1983 side this season? It’s still possible, but the club is well positioned to attack the relegation battle successfully with any further progression in the cup a bonus, in contrast to the aftermath of the 1982/83 season. Moreover, even if relegation were the outcome of this season, the club’s stability and infrastructure put in place by the investment of Tony Bloom, means it is well positioned to not continue the fall as seen by the club subsequent to the 1983 cup final defeat.

18/19 season review – halfway

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

Matchdays 11-13 – Frustration and refereeing controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matchdays 16-19 – A winless run – with promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A halfway point summing up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18/19 season review – Ten games in

Ten games is traditionally the point in the season that the league table starts to take shape and become a meaningful barometer of a team’s performance. As such it feels like a good time to reflect on what’s happened so far this season. Brighton sit 11th in the table with fourteen points from those ten games, a points return and league position that is probably better than most predicted, so let’s take a look at how we got there and what it shows us.

Matchdays 1-3 – The bad, the good and the ugly

We started the season with a wave of optimism. Partly because of the number of new signings made over the summer, including record signing and last season’s Eredivisie top scorer Alireza Jahanbakhsh. But partly because of the way safety was secured last season, earning four points in our final two home games against top four sides Spurs and Man Utd, including that unforgettable 1-0 victory over United.

So as we approached the first game of the season away to Watford there was plenty predicting an Albion victory. But instead what occurred was a 2-0 defeat, the Albion’s eighth 2-0 defeat on the road since promotion the year before and the fourteenth time the Albion had lost conceding more than once in the process, all that in only twenty-four Premier League games.

So, as the team lined up at Vicarage Road it wasn’t long before that optimism faded. Bruno was substituted early through injury and replaced by Bong, with new signing Bernardo moving to right back. Subsequently Bernardo had a tough day up against the former Juventus player Roberto Pereyra, who scored both goals that day and whose second was scored after Bernardo was found hopelessly out of position allowing Pereyra to double the Albion’s arrears. Bernardo’s poor performance and Bruno’s injury opened the door for another new signing Martín Montoya to cement a place in the team in the coming weeks at right-back.

I mentioned in one of my pre-season blogs that I thought Bernardo was being lined up as Bruno’s long term replacement. However, given the subsequent signature of Montoya and the subsequent events on the pitch, it appears Bernardo is seen as more of a left-back by Chris Hughton. So, given Hughton’s loyalty to Bong, a players who’s featured in every game this season, it’s likely Bernardo will have to patiently wait his turn to make amends for his poor showing against Watford.

The team didn’t make it a meaningful contest against Watford and despite promising substitute appearances from new signings Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the Albion took few other positives from a terrible display, with Albion manager Chris Hughton describing his side as “off the pace”.

Thankfully this low level of performance didn’t continue. In fact, if this was the bad, the first three games were a case of the bad, the good, and then the ugly.

So, next up was the good and another victory over Man Utd, although it wasn’t all good for the Albion that day. After captain for the day Lewis Dunk came off injured early in the first half, he was replaced by the new signing and Nigerian international Leon Balogun. However, unlike Bernardo, Balogun was instantly up to the pace and the standard of the Premier League and played well alongside 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 De Gea was a sight to behold.

Whilst the Albion faithful were in a state of shock to be ahead, a second Albion goal from Shane Duffy sent the AMEX into a state of pandemonium. With Shame Duffy allowed an absurd amount of time to take the ball down he then rifled it home to give the team a two-goal lead. After Lukaku pulled one back with the Albion conceding another goal from a corner, last season’s Brighton player of the season Pascal Gross converted a penalty to regain the team’s two goal advantage going into half time.

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 defeat to Watford the week before. Despite an improved display from United in the second half they rarely trouble the Albion defence, making the late penalty clumsily given away by Duffy and scored by Pogba a meaningless consolation for the visitors. In contrast to the game against Watford there were so many positives, none more so than the previously mentioned debutants Martin Montoya and Leon Balogun.

Nonetheless the two sloppy goals conceded were a concern. It was four conceded in two now from the Albion and there were more to come.

Which bring us to the Ugly, Liverpool away. Ugly because of the dreadful way the Albion gifted Liverpool the lead via an error from the otherwise impressive Yves Bissouma. After he was dispossessed by the evergreen James Milner in the Albion’s defensive third, Liverpool made no mistake and took the lead which they held onto for the rest of the game to take all three points.

Nonetheless this was a good Albion performance where they minimised Liverpool’s well-known attacking threat (particularly well-known by Albion who lost 4-0 at Anfield as recently as May) and could have nicked a point if Gross or Knockaert had beaten the keeper with good chances to score in the second half.

Matchdays 4-7 – A charitable donation of a 2-0 head start

So, it had been a mixed start for the Albion but one that gave hope for better things to come. But then followed a string of four games where the team gave all their opponents 2-0 head starts and took only two points from a possible twelve.

First up Brighton returned to the AMEX to face a newly promoted Fulham side in good spirits after their first win of the season, a 4-2 win at home over Burnley. But it was Brighton that started the stronger, earning an early penalty, but one that this time Pascal Gross failed to convert.

On this moment the game swung and Fulham took advantage taking a 1-0 lead into half time. Brighton’s defence was again looking shaky and with a newly returned Lewis Dunk looking as if he’d been rushed back too early from injury, the Albion soon found themselves 2-0 down after the aforementioned Dunk was outmuscled by Fulham’s new signing Mitrovic who put the ball past Maty Ryan and into the top corner.

It had been an incredibly frustrating first 60 minutes for the Albion and particularly for last season’s player of the year Pascal Gross. In fact it had been an underperforming start to the season in general for Gross, who was clearly playing through an injury. He was brought off on the hour and hasn’t feature since this season, such is the strength in depth that the Albion now has in its squad.

So Gross was replaced by Bissouma and with some added attacking impetus from his fresh legs and incisiveness, the game swung again as the Albion started an impressive comeback. First after a wonderful run from a reinvigorated Anthony Knockaert, he found Murray in space on the edge of the box to pull Albion back in it. Then after an inexplicable handball from Fulham goalscorer Mitrovic, the Albion were awarded a penalty. One which Murray dispatched to earn Albion a draw.

Next up was Southampton on one of those weird Monday night games Sky Sports insist on organising. And it took Brighton 45 minutes to get their head in the game as what followed was the worst half of football the Albion has produced so far this season. It was reminiscent of many other away performances since promotion, one with poor ball retention, a lack of tempo and intensity in and out of possession, leading ultimately to a lack of attacking intent.

Southampton took advantage, first through a spectacular long-range strike from Hojbjerg. Then after the Albion gifted the opposition another penalty, this time via a clumsy foul by Gaetan Bong, Southampton striker Danny Ings scored to make it 2-0.

So the Albion found themselves once again needing another great comeback and a remarkable improvement materialised. The midfield pushed up, the full-backs made more forward runs and the Albion created multiple opportunities to score. And after Duffy scored again from a set piece, Murray scored a late penalty to make it 2-2 in the second consecutive game.

Next up it was Spurs at the AMEX, who were on a three-game losing streak meaning there was optimism of an upset. But after a third sloppy concession of a penalty so far this season, this time via an inexplicable Murray handball (a matter of feet away from the spot where Mitrovic conceded a penalty via the same fashion as in the last home game) the Albion were 1-0 down at the break. Then Erik Lamela finished off a wonderful team move to give Spurs a 2-0 lead. The Albion rallied and attempted another unlikely comeback but could only muster a late Knockaert consolation goal. If only he’d taken the chance he had from only a few yards out earlier in the second half with the game at 1-0. Ultimately, the game swung on moments of skill and good decision making that goes to show the quality the Spurs squad has in greater supply to the Albion.

A trip to Champions Man City followed where an ever-greater supply of quality players was on offer and it was like Albion were lambs to the slaughter. That said, having put five past Burnley and Cardiff and six past Huddersfield, despite losing two-nil the Albion can take many positives from the performance if not the result. In conceding twice despite having only 20% possession the defence had to dig in and concentrate for long periods to avoid a thrashing, which they did, and it was a sign of things to come.

So although ending match-day seven with two consecutive defeats, the City game was still an improvement on the performances away from home that we’d seen previously given the standard of opposition the team were facing.

In fact considering the calibre of opposition the Albion had faced in the first seven games, (which included playing all of last season’s top 4 and an in-form Watford side) a five-point tally coupled with some good performances against the top teams was satisfying. However, taking account that the only win came against United at home rather than against Fulham at home or Southampton away it suggested a certain amount of missed opportunity and meant the next three games, two at home with the away game to winless Newcastle, had a bit more riding on them than they should have.

Matchdays 8-10 – 1-0 to the Albion, defensive solidity at last!

So if the first seven games showed signs of a team with a habit of conceding soft goals. The next three games that followed demonstrated the team were capable of the exact opposite. There were two 1-0 home victories courtesy of Glenn Murray’s 99th and 100th goals for the club, which were sandwiched between a hard fought 1-0 victory away to struggling Newcastle.

This run made it seven one-nil wins since promotion for the Albion, and thirteenth clean sheets, a good record all things considered. Hard-fought one-nil wins have been a regular feature of Hughton’s tenure at the Albion, with six coming in the promotion season alone.

The first of the three consecutive wins was one of those special Friday nights at the AMEX. A night where we welcomed West Ham, a team the Albion convincingly beat twice last season and a team we would beat once more.

Wins over the teams around you at home is always important in a battle for survival from relegation, but in a game like this where the Albion were under pressure from West Ham attacks for so much of the game it is all the sweeter.

Hughton started with a changed midfield, with Stephens and Gross out, Kayal and Propper started in deep lying central midfield roles and Knockart and Jahanbakhsh played on the wings with Solly March surprisingly getting nod to play in the number ten role in a three behind Murray. And it worked for much of this and the following two games, with Stephens replacing Propper and Izquierdo replacing Knockaert in the following two games.

It was a sign that the impressive player recruitment the Albion have continued to make since winning promotion is paying dividend in the form of options for and unpredictability in Hughton’s team selection. We rotated mainly between the same 15 or 16 players throughout most of last season with no decent back up in many positions. In fact we have already used 18 players this season and whilst this is comparable to the total this time last season, it’s no doubt that the standard of the second-string players has improved significantly. With the remaining players from the squad like Florin Andone and maybe the odd development squad player likely to be used at some point in the near future, there are real signs of the added options and strength in depth available to Chris Hughton.

This is most true in attacking areas and that night against West Ham the adapted system meant the three behind Murray provided lots of threat through runs on and off the ball, with March particularly causing the opposition lots of problems. This left space for others to exploit. Something which Kayal did exactly that for the goal, finding space on the left wing to cross the ball to Murray in space at the back post.

The return of Izquierdo was a welcome positive, but the three games were dominated from an Albion perspective by the return to powering dominance of the centre-back partnership of Dunk and Duffy. Who were no doubt buoyed by the good display in the previous game at the Etihad. Before the West Ham game it was announced they both signed five years deals and if performances like this continue over that period, they should go down as the best centre back partnership the club has ever had.

A week later the team travelled to the North East to face a Newcastle side who’d lost all their four previous home games this season, and Albion would make it five with another hard fought 1-0 win.

After Murray came off injured with a nasty looking head injury, Kayal opened the scoring by deflecting an Izquierdo shot past the Newcastle ‘keeper. What followed was another display of defensive solidly from the Albion as Duffy and Dunk once again showed why the club had just extended their contracts, whilst Maty Ryan made multiple saves to earn his second clean sheet of the season.

Then came the third win in a row and it was becoming a case of Groundhog Day for the Albion. Another 1-0 home win, another Glenn Murray winner, more great defending from Duffy and Dunk, and some reliance on a few top saves from Maty Ryan to keep the clean sheet.

It wasn’t just any old 1-0 win though, Glenn Murray cemented his place as only the second ever player to score one-hundred goals for Brighton. He also becomes the highest post-war goal scorer, taking over from Kit Napier on 99 goals.

And he did it in typical Glenn Murray fashion. He spoke in Nick Szczepanik book ‘Brighton Up’ about how he would often find space in the box by standing still, whilst others moved around him. This day was no different, as the ball fell to Bruno on the right side of the box the Wolves defence shifted in his direction. In the same motion Murray stayed almost stationary but alert to find himself in acres of space at the far post to score his century goal.

But that day and in fact across the last three games it wasn’t vintage Albion. Hughton admitted after the Wolves game that the team were not at their best, citing the problem of poor ball retention that has been a bad habit throughout the first ten games of the season.

As centurion Glenn Murray stated after the win over Wolves it was ‘back to basics’ for the Albion. Keeping it tight at the back by defending deep and not giving too much away to the opposition and then relying on taking the odd chance you get at the other end. Whilst this worked over the past three games and was a system that kept us safe last season, there’s plenty of flaws in this tactic.

For me, the biggest example of this is the amount of draws last season that could have been wins. We entered the final third of last season having been hammered by Chelsea and mainly as a result of all those draws, relying on winning the home games we had left. We did this emphatically and partly through allowing the team more attacking licence and creating more chances to score. Swansea and West Ham at home being the best examples. But given the amount of sloppy goals conceded in the first seven games a back to basics approach was required.

A ten-games in summing up

There is plenty to be pleased with out of the first ten games, nothing more so than the points tally. But let’s not get carried away it’s a tally of 14 not 40, and none of Albion’s wins were emphatic. What the first ten games have shown, as we all knew before the season started, is that there is very little difference between all the teams that will fill the bottom end of the table.

One stat that’s been mentioned a lot since the Albion’s recent run of wins is that the team have conceded the second most amount of shots in the Premier League this season, whilst having the least amount of shots ourselves. But stats are sometimes misinterpreted and given the way the fixtures have fallen and the easier run of games ahead for the team, I suspect that both statistics will revert to a similar level to last season.

As we quickly approach the winter period of the season, one thing that has proved founded, despite the early bump in the road at Watford, is the wave of optimism from back in the summer. Many of the new signings have given the squad a strength and versatility that was not on offer last season. These additions have allowed the Albion to make changes in personnel and tactics more often as well as making changes during games that have helped towards achieving the points total amounted so far.

The idea the team could have coped with the absence of Dunk, Stephens and Gross for long periods in the first ten games, whilst playing such high calibre opposition and find themselves with the outcome they have so far this season, would have been unthinkable this time last season. Whilst this season has been and will continue to be a scrap, the investment in player recruitment made by the club and led by Paul Winstanley and his team in the recent transfer windows, looks to be making the difference for the Albion. Long may it continue…

Brighton’s Women’s team – aspiration and inspiration

With the Brighton starting their first season in the revamped WSL 1 it felt like a good time to write my first blog about the Albion’s Women team.

The story begins in the 1960’s; in those days Brighton was represented in Women’s football by Brighton GPO, a team formed by several workers from the local post office’s telephone exchange. There was no Albion Women’s team then as the state of play in Women’s football was very different. Men’s teams weren’t involved in women’s football due a ban on women’s football taking place at football league grounds that had existed since 1921. And it wasn’t until the formation of an independent body the Women’s FA in 1969 that there was an official national organisation behind Women’s football giving teams like Brighton GPO the opportunity to compete in a formalised national competition.

In 1971 the FA lifted its ban on Women’s football taking place in football league stadiums and in 1983 the WFA became officially affiliated as part of the FA. However, it wasn’t until 1991 that the FA fully integrated Women’s football within its national structure and a national league was formed. Therefore, in 1990 the Brighton Women’s football team was affiliated under the Brighton and Hove Albion F.C. umbrella. This affiliation was funded as part of the Albion in the Community scheme and following this the Albion became a founding members of the Women’s Premier League in the 1991–92 season, starting within the regionalised second tier, the Division 1 South.

Despite this being relatively recent history in the terms of English football, in the early 90s Women’s football was very much in its infancy following decades of oppression from the hands of organisations like the FA deeming football ‘unsuitable for females’. For example it would be another five years until Women’s football would be played at the Olympics during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, despite the men’s tournament existing at all but one Olympics since 1900.

Whilst since the 90’s and particularly the turn of the Millennium women’s football has continued to grow rapidly, there were still limited resources at Brighton to provide much investment in the team. With the men’s senior team struggling to make ends meet at Withdean this left little funds for the Women’s team and left them still reliant on AITC fundraising to support the team. This meant whilst teams like Arsenal were going professional, Brighton were still semi-professional and most fans who went to watch the men’s team were lucky if they saw a page devoted to them in the match day programme or an advert for the odd cup game against a big side to be played at the Withdean Stadium.

There were successes though. In 2001 Brighton won the Premier League South and were promoted to the top-level Premier League National. However, the small semi-pro outfit found themselves out of their depth, and after a season of narrow survival from the drop, they were relegated in their second season with a measly 4 points from 18 games.

They then spent the next decade in the second tier only to be effectively demoted to the third tier, when after the establishment of a breakaway league the WSL, this was incorporated into the football pyramid in 2014 and expanded into two divisions. At the same time the Premier League National was disbanded, and it meant the Albion had to win the Premier League South Division and then a playoff against the winners of the North Division to get promotion to WSL 2.

Whilst during this time the team was a small operation, it would be wrong to write off the good work done by those at the club on a shoestring during those times. The work done by those including many at AITC enabled the Women’s team to exist and compete at a good level within the women’s football pyramid for around two decades. That said, much like I said in a previous blog, whilst in those years the women’s team was an afterthought in the club’s overall strategy, it is now a well integrated and invested-in element of the club.

Tony Bloom’s investment plan after initially taking over the club in 2009 and moving the club into the new stadium at Falmer in 2011, then included ambitious goals for the Women’s team. The club stated in 2015 the aim was to achieve promotion to WSL 1 and qualify for Champions league football in 5 years. But at this point the club was still playing in the third tier of Women’s football, the Premier League Southern Division, along with not so esteemed colleagues like Lewes, Basildon and Forest Green Rovers, making this a bold statement to make at the time, but one that now looks crucial to setting an ambitious mindset amongst the team.

After the club missed out on promotion to WSL 2 via the playoffs in 2015, they were then promoted the following year and started the 17/18 season as a part of the WSL 2. This time winning the playoffs with a 4-2 win over West Bromwich Albion’s Women’s team, then known as Sporting Club Albion. To demonstrate the low level of interest in the Albion Women’s team at this point, such a high profile and historic game in the team’s history managed to gain an attendance of only 648. Albeit that crowd was slightly diminished because the game one-off game was played at High Wycombe, a two-hour drive from either Brighton or West Bromwich.

The Albion’s promotion to WSL 2 coincided with promotion and relegation being suspended for one season to enable another restructuring of Women’s domestic football. This time it was to enable the creation of a ‘franchised’ full-time top-flight WSL 1 league. Something the Albion later successfully applied for a place within for the start of the coming season, but I will come onto this later.

Despite the successes, the progress to date hadn’t been without its bumps in the road. Following allegations of disciplinary breaches made to the Sussex FA about team manager James Marrs, he was sacked in June 2017. But in response the club made its biggest statement to that point by appointing possibly the most experienced British manager in the Women’s game, former England and Great Britain manager Hope Powell. With this appointment, the club started the season in WSL 2, going from newly promoted chancers to suddenly being the team to watch.

And after joining she spoke to the Guardian about her positive experiences at the club and the seriousness with which the club was now treating Women’s football. “We are very integrated. They’re looking to invest in the future which is fantastic – I’m part of that. I’ve met the owner and I’ve met the board members, I’ve sat down in London and they really want to integrate the women.”

Bloom and Barber have clearly appointed the right people in the right areas at the club across the board and the women’s team is no different. For instance, Powell has stated the importance to the team of assistant manager Amy Merricks. Following Powell’s appointment and prior to her formerly beginning work she said: “I was in very close contact with Amy Merricks, who has done a fantastic job and I can’t speak highly enough of her. We were in regular contact once it was announced. She’s done all of the work, she knows the club, she knows the culture.”

Soon after joining Powell was quick to imprint her vision on the club, and one of the first things she focused on was the club’s style of play. “The speed of play is one of the things I really wanted to increase; we need to up the tempo, do everything so much quicker, because that is what they are going to face going forward.” And the Albion game certainly upped the tempo since, finishing second in last season’s WSL 2 in their first season back at that level.

When the WSL 1 licence status was granted for the upcoming 18/19 season last December Albion chief executive Paul Barber said on reacting to the news: “We have always wanted to achieve equal status for women’s and girls’ football at the club and acquiring tier one status will now enable us to make this a reality.”

In comparison to the Albion, Doncaster Belles who finished ahead of the Albion to win WSL 2 last season, decided not to apply for WSL 1 status, citing the costs being beyond their budget. Another key comparison is Man Utd, the biggest name in domestic men’s football who up until this restructure had gone many years without a Women’s senior team, and now have been fast-tracked up the pyramid and granted a place in this season’s WSL 2, alongside our local rivals Lewes.

It says something of the lack of ambition for Women’s football that clubs like United, Spurs, Sunderland and Palace are playing in WSL 2 or in some cases lower. The fact that clubs like those with the brand and infrastructure that they have are only granted equal or in some cases lower status to a small fan-owned semi-professional club like Lewes is telling. Lewes in comparison whose men’s team played in the 8th tier of English football last year, have an average attendance in men’s football of just over 700, which to put that in context is around 1% of that of Man Utd’s average attendance.

The reality is only the established professional clubs can compete at WSL 1 level. As a top-flight club, the Albion will be required to provide players with a minimum of 16 contact hours per week, rising to 20 hours per week by 2020-21. There are also minimum financial investment rules, whilst in conjunction clubs are also be required to meet Financial Fair Play regulations and a squad salary cap. Further rules mean that whereas second-tier sides will have lower requirements such as only being required to run a reserve team, a WSL 1 level club like the Albion will also be required to run a youth academy. Something the Albion already has in place.

Whilst the women’s game has been in a period of growth in general, the domestic club game has been in a period of disorganised flux since the turn of the millennium. This constant flux, typified by the FA and it’s constant need to restructure domestic club football, means even the big clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal and City despite investing large amounts in their Women’s team have struggled to establish a significant match day following. Average attendances for each are incomparable to those of the men’s first team and more similar to those of many non-league men’s first teams.

But Brighton’s manager Hope Powell is behind the current reorganisation plans. “I understand it because a lot of clubs in WSL 2 are saying: ‘If we get promoted there’s every chance we can’t [compete] in WSL 1 anyway so what’s the point?’ So, I think they’ve had to look at it, revamp it, and try and offer it out to those clubs that can afford to be a WSL1 club, fulfil the criteria and meet the needs of being full-time. I think it’s a sensible decision.”.

The one anomaly to this is Yeovil, who whilst have a professional men’s team, are a much smaller club than any of their WSL competitors and have struggled but just about managed to meet the WSL 1 requirements. On being grant status the club stated: “Whilst the last 18 months have been testing for the Ladies both on and off the pitch, the stability of being granted a professional license should allow them to head into their next chapter.”

The Albion will be playing their home games this season at Crawley Town’s Broadfield Stadium. Having previously switched home games between there and Lancing, means the club is currently representing Brighton as a city whilst not playing within it. But as the Men’s team’s current appeal shows, the club is as much a team for the county of Sussex as it is the City is Brighton. That said the Women’s team are yet to gain the same following as the men’s team with attendances last season regularly totalling only a few hundred.

The Albion’s current group of players is most definitely the best in the club’s history. This includes Ini Umotong, scorer of 13 goals in 19 league games last season, she was signed with fellow teammate Danielle Buet from Notts County when the club folded before the beginning of last season. Ini, the Albion’s number 9 is one of the club’s star players and as such features on the poster advertising this season’s home and away shirts at the entrance of the club shop at the AMEX stadium. However, Ini recognises the challenge ahead of the club this season: “It will be a big step up. We have a few girls that have experience of playing in the top flight, but a lot of us haven’t played in the division before now.”

One face most Albion fans will know is that of AITC ambassador and Northern Ireland international Laura Rafferty. She signed for the club in 2017 from Chelsea where she made only one first team appearance. But since signing for the Albion she’s become a regular in an Albion defence that conceded only 26 goals in the league last season – the joint third lowest total in WSL 2 last season. Laura is a regular face in club media output as well as the local news for her good work as AITC ambassador, but she’ll be hoping this season she gets as much coverage for her good work on the pitch as she has previously off it.

However, there are many players like last season’s club captain Vicky Ashton‑Jones who faced the choice whether to commit to the club full-time because of the club’s new-found WSL 1 status. Whilst playing with the Albion Vicky, a police firearms officer by trade commuted 57 miles door-to-door from London because of her job. Prior to the club gaining WSL status she said: “It’s a nice dilemma. Certainly, when I was playing I didn’t have that option; all I wanted to do was be a professional footballer. For me it’s better to have the dilemma than not at all. The opportunities that are ahead of these players now are incredible, the likes of which I could only dream of. It’s going to be difficult for some, we absolutely understand that, but it’s a decision they’re going to have to make.” However, unfortunately for the Albion, Vicky has decided to concentrate on her job in the Police and not continue with the Albion this season rather than going full-time.

With the changes that are taking place at the club over the summer still being managed and the club coming up against a higher level of opposition than ever before on a weekly basis it’s hard to judge the prospects for this coming season, but there is plenty of optimism for the short to medium term future of the team.

That said, despite Albion’s heavy investment in the Women’s team in recent years and the already stated ambitious goals from the top of the club, the team will be judged this season on more than the on-field results. As manager Hope Powell says herself: “I think it’s really important that there are women role models and that people have someone to aspire to.”