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.

Twenty things from twenty seasons (part 2)

This piece is the second part of two blogs. To start at the beginning click here to read part one.

2009/10 – After an underwhelming start to season and with the club still scarred from the horrors of the season before, manager Russell Slade was sacked in November. This was Tony Bloom first sacking as Chairman, and it was proof he had the ruthlessness required for the job. Whilst in hindsight it looks a clear and obvious decision, many of the Albion faithful wanted him to show more loyalty to Slade after the heroics he oversaw as Albion miraculously avoided relegation in the previous season.

This was a level of ruthlessness that it could be said former chairman Dick Knight lacked in his final season. In contrast, the reason Knight gave Micky Adams the job in the first place was mostly through thinking with his heart over his head, then he gave him enough time to disprove the faith shown in him ten times over. Bloom said on sacking Slade: “Russell is a good man, which made it an even harder decision to take, but it is one which has been made in the club’s best interests.”

After Steve Coppell ruled himself out of a return to the Withdean, in his place Bloom appointed Gus Poyet. Gus was a man who unlike Slade and Adams had no managerial experience to fall on despite his high-profile reputation in England from his playing days at Chelsea and Tottenham. As a result of his profile and outspoken nature, Gus was a man who attracted headlines in the national press for good and for bad from the moment he was appointed to the moment he left the club somewhat in disgrace a few years later.

That day at St Mary’s in mid-November started his Albion career with a bang and there were plenty more bangs to come. I wrote more about the game here, but this was a night when in Gus Poyet’s first game in charge of the Albion the team ran out 3-1 winners in a victory so memorable the third goal is often still played in the game opening montage at the AMEX and whilst it took time for Poyet to properly make his mark on the club, this was a sign of things to come.

2010/11 – the following season saw Poyet turn the Albion from a hapless relegation struggler to a F’ing brilliant Championship winning side. One that wasn’t just great, but also great to watch.

A night that personified Gus’s tenure as manager was that famous and frantic night where we beat Dagenham and Redbridge 4-3 to gain promotion to the Championship.

On a night we expected to secure promotion with ease over a Dagenham side that would eventually be relegated, against a Brighton team who’d not lost at home all season were instead staring down the barrel of a defeat when John Akinde gave the visitors the lead after just 1 minute.

However, that lead didn’t last long and a quick double from the Albion via goals from Inigo Calderon and Glenn Murray game them a 2-1 lead at half time.

But it was not to be plain sailing from there as after 3 second half minutes Dagenham equaliser and then after 3 more they took the lead from the penalty spot

But the lead changed hands once again. First Liam Bridcutt fired home from 25 yards to equalise for Brighton and then Ashley Barnes headed in what turned out to be the winner with just under half an hour to go.

This left the reminder of time where the thousands of Albion fans inside Withdean or listening to the radio at home with a long anxious period where Dagenham pushed for another equaliser, but this time the defence stood firm.

What a way to see off the Withdean days, a pitch invasion ensued, the title was secured the following Saturday away to Walsall and lifted at home to Huddersfield the week after, who had to settle for a place in the playoffs, whilst Albion were about to enter an new era in the club’s history.

By now Tony Bloom’s investment was starting to make a mark on the club. After appointing Gus Poyet as manager, at the Poyet’s request he put money into improving the professionalism of the club by paying for services so players could concentrate on the football, for instance so they didn’t wash their own kit. He also began investing more so Poyet could build a team in his vision, one that had gone on to win League One and would experience more success in the Championship.

2011/12 – August 2011 finally saw the first competitive game at Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club’s long awaited, stubbornly fought for and much anticipated new stadium. As the day’s events off the pitch were going to be memorable, the events on the pitch had to ramp it up a notch to have a chance of sticking in the memory too, and how they did.

The game was to be played against the team Brighton had played in their final home game at their last permanent home the Goldstone Ground back in 1997, Doncaster Rovers. And as we walked up the ramp to the stadium and settled in our padded seats in the state-of-the-art stadium, it was hard to reconcile this club with the one many of us had watched play at the Goldstone and at Withdean over recent decades.

After Billy Sharp gave Doncaster an unexpected lead and in doing so scored the first competitive goal at the AMEX, Albion huffed and puffed for a long time to no avail until a late double from Will Buckley saved the occasion from being dampened.

The £1m man Will Buckley was a second half substitute, coming on for the less than effective Matt Sparrow. This substitution was to have an almost instant impact as after a Liam Bridcutt free-kick was headed clear to the edge of the box, Buckley rifled it home to equalise. Cue pandemonium in the stands and almost as if it was choreographed, thousands of Blue and White flags were flown in the air to celebrate. This would have been enough to salvage the momentous day from ending on a sour note, but more joy was to come.

The momentum was with Albion, players streamed forward in search for a winner and indeed it came, when fellow substitutes Craig Noone and Will Buckley combined. A Noone through pass in behind the Doncaster defence found Buckley one-on-one with the keeper, who scored the winner. Cue further pandemonium, flag waving and an incredible outpouring of emotion. Ultimately the result wouldn’t have mattered as it was finally having the stadium that really mattered, but by winning the team had topped off a wonderful day in fairy-tail style.

2012/13 – With the stadium still in its honeymoon period, a feeling of deflation, frustration and torment was about to well and truly kill that off. It was a feeling brought on by losing the playoff semi to our rivals Crystal Palace; and was a result of those the two Zaha goals and the wild celebrations amongst the travelling Palace fans in the South Stand that followed them.

What made it worse is that for the first time I could remember since supporting the Albion, we went into the derby game with the upper hand. Having finished higher in the final league table and beating Palace 3-0 at the AMEX in the league just a couple of months before, this felt like our match to lose. As a result, this coupled with the chance of top-flight football, it was probably the biggest match for the Albion since the playoff final in 2004.

This confidence remained, when after a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park in the first leg, Albion were favourites to progress. And as the tie was still 0-0 on aggregate at half time in the second leg at the AMEX, and with the possibility of a penalty shootout looking more likely, this was tense but exciting.

The second half though, was heart-breaking. We started well and had good chances to take the lead, Ashley Barnes hit the bar with one shot and had another cleared off the line, but this was not to be Brighton’s day.

And as the frustration grew so did the anxiety from the home fans and with twenty minutes to go Zaha scored to give Palace the lead. Then after twenty minutes of fruitless pressure from the Albion, Zaha made it 2-0 and with that ended the Albion’s dream of promotion, for another year at least. And as our pain was Palace’s gain, this made it even worse.

2013/14 – after a long and drawn out suspension and investigation into Gus Poyet’s conduct he was sacked by the club over the summer and replaced by former Barcelona B manager Oscar Garcia Junyent. And after initial concerns following the fiasco which followed the defeat to Palace that the club would take a step backwards, this showed the club were intent instead on continuing to progress. In that vein the club qualified for the end of season promotion playoffs once again, albeit on the last day of the season with virtually the last touch of the ball off Leo Ulloa’s head finding its way into the net.

In the Semi-final Brighton drew Derby County, who finished 3 places and 13 points above the Albion and so were strong favourites. But it was Brighton who struck first when the on loan Jesse Lingard finished a good team move but by half time Brighton were 2-1 down and that was how the first leg ended.

But to say it was a deserved lead for Derby would be untrue. Brighton manager Garcia said the result was “unfair” and that “We were better than them in all areas. I am really proud of our performance.”

But you have to take your chances in knockout football and that was it for the Seagulls, something that a conversion rate of 20% of shots on target compared to Derby’s 200% that night suggested (Derby’s second was an own goal from Albion Keeper Kuszczak which ricocheted in off his back after hitting the crossbar).

What was to follow was 90 minutes of hell at Pride Park in the second leg, as an Albion team already ravaged with injuries lost captain Gordon Greer early on who was replaced by the youngster Adam Chicksen who was making only his fifth appearance of the season to make up a makeshift defence.

That was the telling moment of the game, as Albion went on to be overrun by a rampant Derby side who scored 4 to Albion’s 1, eventually winning 6-2 on aggregate. And that was that for another season. Yet another season of joy, hope and relative success in the context of the club’s history ending in despair.

Context is important though. For a club that for so long didn’t have a permanent home ground and that had spent most its history in the third tier of English football to establish itself as one of the best teams outside the top flight was a testament to Tony Bloom’s investment. But he wasn’t done just yet, not until the club were in the Premier League. Unfortunately, there were a few bumps in the road ahead before that could happen.

Oscar Garcia resigned shortly after the season ended, a resignation the club had apparently expected. In particular it was his dissatisfaction with the club’s transfer policy being cited in some quarters as a reason for his departure. With the situation not helped when Ashley Barnes was sold to Burnley and Liam Bridcutt moved to Sunderland in the January transfer window of that season. A lesson the club would heed when clubs came calling in later promotion battles.

This was the second manager in two seasons resigning because he felt he couldn’t take the club further in the competitive climate the club were competing within. Whilst some criticism was valid, this was an incredibly competitive league, one where a significant proportion of club’s had significantly higher budgets than the Albion. And with the FFP rules to comply with too, the club were in a difficult spot.

Poyet said that it was “Now or Never” to get promotion to the top tier the season before. Whilst this was a typically Poyet-style exaggeration of the truth, there was an element of truth to it. Especially given the financial power that a number of the other teams had over the Brighton; it was going to take a serious defying of the odds to achieve promotion from here on in.

2014/15 – The next season contextualised just how competitive this division was when after former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia was appointed manager over the summer, the club went on a downturn which saw only six wins in twenty-six games. A run which lead to Hyypia losing his job and Albion staring down the barrel at the prospect of relegation back to the third tier.

Not long after assistant manager Nathan Jones took charge as the Albion visited Fulham. That night the Albion put in probably the best performance of the season so far to beat Fulham 2-0. The scenes at the end as Jones celebrated wildly in front of the Albion fans were very special, if it were up to me I’d have given him the job there and then, but that is probably why I’m not in charge of making those decisions and Tony Bloom is. You can tell what that night meant to him too by watching his post-match interview.

Later that week Chris Hughton was appointed manager and Jones was kept on as a first team coach. Hughton in fact was keen to keep him on board and had some nice things to say about Jones on his appointment. “Nathan Jones will very much be part of my first-team coaching staff and he has done a fantastic job here. I’m particularly grateful for the last two results and as somebody from the outside with a keen interest looking in, I was hoping that the last two results would fare well, and he has done very well. I have a lot of respect for him as an individual and also as a coach, so I’m delighted to have him on board.”

The next four and a half years saw Hughton and the team he went on to build cement their names as Albion legends; legends that will be spoken about for generations to come. And once survival from relegation was secured with relative comfort, it was a period where Hughton would begin to build possibly the best side in the club’s history.

2015/16 – but you don’t appreciate joy without having experienced plenty of heartache. And 15/16 was to see an Albion side would experience a great deal of that. After an intense season-long promotion race with rivals Burnley and Middlesbrough went down to the final day, Brighton missed out on goal difference.

It was the nearest of near misses as going into the final day, Burnley were two points ahead of Middlesbrough and Brighton but as Brighton travelled to Middlesbrough on the final round of fixtures, they had already achieved promotion. So it came down to this showdown at the Riverside, with both teams knowing that a win would see them up, but a 1-1 draw meant both finished on 89 points (a points total good enough for automatic promotion almost every other season in recent history) and Brighton missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference by just two goals.

The nature of the miss left everyone demoralised ahead of the familiar and this time less eagerly anticipated playoffs semi-final, which would this time be against Sheffield Wednesday.

It wasn’t just the nature of the miss but also the fact the playoffs hadn’t been kind to Brighton, and the first leg at Hillsborough would be no different as a 2-0 defeat left the Albion with an unenviable deficit to overturn.

It was a game to forget, with Dale Stephens suspended after receiving a controversial red against Middlesbrough, and Lewis Dunk also suspended for the first leg, whilst the returning veteran Bobby Zamora missed the entire run-in through an injury, the team were severely weakened. This injury for Zamora was one that ended up forcing him to retire, ending an enjoyable but short swansong that brought back memories of his first spell. Brighton lost another four players to injury during the first 60 minutes leaving them down to ten. And after Kieran Lee gave Wednesday a 2-0 lead many thought would be unassailable.

And so it proved, but it was not without the Albion throwing everything at their opponents in the second leg at the AMEX. In these circumstances you’d usually say the team threw the kitchen sink at them, well here the Albion threw the whole kitchen at them; washing machine, oven, cupboards and all, but to no avail as Wednesday stood firm.

When Dunk game Albion the lead on 19 minutes it felt like it could be our day, but Wednesday quickly equalised within nine minutes and Albion went on to miss a plethora of chances to make a comeback. 27 shots, 9 on target but only 1 goal to show for it. It was to a degree the same old story, three semi-final defeats in four years, three different managers, but when it came to the crunch playoff game the same old problems.

But this day felt different to the others, gut-wrenching, yes. But not as demoralising. For a start I doubt the atmosphere in the AMEX for that second leg will ever be topped, and to go with it was an inspiring performance of real effort and intent from the Albion players. Despite the crushing miss of automatic promotion and the crushing defeat at Hillsborough this team was still kicking.

2016/17 – the next time we all convened at the AMEX there was a reinvigorated optimism around the place. There had been many good summer additions, including a certain Steven Sidwell, now 33, that we came across back in 2003 during a loan spell with the club as a young up-and-coming player. The club also signed Northern Ireland international Oliver Norwood to bolster numbers in a central midfield that had become over-reliant on the partnership of Stephens and Kayal. Shane Duffy was to sign later that month, a player who would go on to form a formidable partnership with Lewis Dunk at the back. And then there was the return of Glenn Murray. A man who’d left the club in 2011 on the eve of the move to the AMEX to join rivals Palace was back and would quickly win round any remaining doubters with his keen eye for goal.

But more than that, key players had been held onto, Dale Stephens and Lewis Dunk in particular had been subject to fierce transfer rumours of a move away, but both stayed, largely due to the club’s firmness to reject a number of offers. Clearly a sign they’d learnt lessons from the ill effects of the sale of key players in prior transfer windows.

When the first home game came around against Nottingham Forest there was plenty of optimism of the team going one better and finally achieving that coveted goal of automatic promotion to the topflight.

And it was a game that mirrored much of what was good about this Albion team, Anthony Knockaert who went on to win Championship player of the season scored the opener and then the returning Glenn Murray scored his first two goals after returning to the club and was set on his way to scoring 23 that season.

What followed was possibly the best season on the club’s history when it’s comes to pure joy and glory. At times winning felt like an unvarying habit and losing inconceivable.

After unexpectedly losing at home to Brentford in early September the team didn’t lose again in 2016. And aside from that Bristol City defeat at home where the team had already been promoted, only Champions Newcastle took all three points from the AMEX from there on in.

After the win over Forest, Brighton went top that night as a result of playing on a Friday night ahead of the rest of the division. They went on to spend 76% of the season in those automatic promotion places, including most importantly the last one. Premier League here we come!

2017/18 – There were more triumphant days than the 2-0 home defeat to eventual Champions Manchester City, but for me there have been no game which filled me with more pre-match excitement, maybe except from the opening game against Doncaster six years before.

Brighton in the Premier League, that’s right Premier F***ing League! The hairs on the back of my neck were stood up all day with anticipation. Before the game Brighton city centre was packed with football fans of both the royal-blue and sky-blue persuasion and the 5-30 kick off allowed everyone a bit more time for everyone to lap up the atmosphere and enjoy the build-up on a sunny late summer day.

Once you got into the ground you were greeted with the sight of countless TV crews lining the pitch in anticipation of the Premier League’s opening weekend late Saturday kick off, this felt like Brighton were finally box office.

As the teams came out a banner was lifted in the North Stand saying “From Hereford to Here”, the title of a poem written for the occasion by Atilla the Stockbroker which was based around the club’s rise since that win at Hereford in 1997 that kept the club in the football league. For me it wasn’t quite from Hereford away in 97 to here but from Hartlepool at home in 99 to here, but it had still been some rise that I’d been lucky enough to witness the majority of.

At times during the mid-Withdean years when the Stadium planning permission battle seemed endless, it was hard to imagine the club playing in the top flight, but 34 years since the club last reached these height, 20 years since that Hereford game and the closing of the Goldstone and 6 years since the opening of the AMEX it had finally come. Through all the battles with shoddy owners, planning committees and playoff semi-final opponents, the club had finally made it.

The game itself was less important but as brilliant as the day was, City were just as mesmerising, and Albion matched them for large periods. And in fact, Albion nearly took the lead before two quick goals around the hour mark sealed a 2-0 win for City.

This was a lesson in what the step up to the topflight was all about, the ball retention, passing accuracy and constant tempo of the City possession was like nothing the team had seen in the Championship. So, they quickly found out what survival would require and in the coming months Hughton’s men continuously progressed and eventually achieved safety with the relative comfort of two games to spare.

2018/19 – Finally, we come to last season and when it comes to the best moments of that season there are none that beat the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. But rather than focus on the game here I want to focus on the day, and what a day it was.

Yes we lost, but the day was never about the result, it was about the club and its fans enjoying a historic day in the club’s history. Brighton fans filled pubs all over London, from Marylebone to Mayfair, from The Globe in Baker Street to The Green Man in Wembley. And the pre-match the atmosphere in the west end of Wembley stadium was a sight that could have put a lump in the back of the throat of even the less sentimental from within our fanbase.

For me the best moment of the day was still to come. At the final whistle 35,000 Brighton fans stood on their feet applauding and cheering their side. Proud of their efforts and appreciative of what had been a memorable cup run for the club, it’s second best performance in the FA Cup and the best for 36 years.

These were post-match celebrations that will live long in the memory. I, like I’m sure many others, felt quite emotional at the end, maybe it was the weariness from the battle, maybe it was the sound of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” ringing around the Stadium, a song that has become synonymous with the club, or maybe it was sharing such a momentous day with family and friends. Either way it had been a second half performance from the team to be praised. Whilst chances were few and far between, this Albion side had pushed possibly the greatest team in the world right to the end. And after a few post-match drinks to savour every drop of the day we went home satisfied that we’d made the most of it and the team had done the City proud.

Whilst some would criticise this as a typically negative performance from Brighton, including the BBC’s Jermaine Jenas who called it as “missed opportunity” for the club, they were up against a great team. And you only have to look at the final ten minutes where Brighton did throw players forward in attack to see what they were up against, a period in which the Albion managed to create no clear cut chances, whilst City created the best of the game on the break, which Raheem Stirling struck tamely into the hands of Brighton ‘keeper Maty Ryan.

The club hoped this would be a springboard for the two key home games coming next in their relegation run-in, but instead the team lost both games at home to Bournemouth and fellow-strugglers Cardiff and only stumbled to safety when at one point it looked like it would be achieved comfortably. But achieved it was and I go into my twenty first season as an Albion fan supporting a topflight club, which considering all that has gone before is pretty special.

18/19 Season review – The last ten games

Matchday 29 and FA Cup Quarter Final- Two wins that will go down in folklore

The final ten games started with two wins that will go down in Albion folklore. First it was a trip to Selhurst Park for the seemingly unpopularly named ‘M23’ Derby (something Jonathan Pearce pointed out in his Match of the Day commentary), followed by a trip to Millwall for an FA Cup quarter final.

It was an early start for the trip to Selhurst Park, with the game kicking off at 12:30, and it was the first top flight game between the sides that had been picked for live TV coverage. Crystal Palace away is a fixture I have little good memories of, the only time we’ve won there in my memory was in 2005 when I was stuck in a hostel in the Lake District with little communication with the outside world. That was in fact the only win the Albion have experienced over Palace at Selhurst Park since 1986.

It felt like this might be another bad day there for the Albion when Andone, who was picked to start ahead of Murray, was injured in the warm up. So Murray started once again against his old club looking for his 100th league goal for Brighton, but it was the hosts that dominated the early passages and more doom was feared by the Seagulls faithful.

But despite not being the aggressor, Brighton started the game by making sure Palace knew they were in for a battle. And in doing so almost instantly made Milivojevic a marked man. First Anthony Knockaert went in overzealously for a tackle and caught the Serbian studs high in his private area, then just as the pain was starting to subside Bissouma caught him painfully on his ankle.

Whilst this sent a message to Palace that they were in for a battle, with Knockaert and Montoya already on yellows up against Zaha, and Bissouma on a warning the Seagulls were walking a tightrope. But nonetheless they kept Zaha quiet virtually all game. Palace’s star man and top scorer from open play had only two shots, neither of which were on target. Whilst he attempted 9 dribbles only three were successful (a 33% success rate compared to his average of 50%). His passing accuracy was 70% compared to his average of 77%, which included three crosses, none of which were successful.

Many pundits adore Zaha when he’s good, and at the Albion we know to our cost how good he can be. But this was the other side of him, ineffectual, impatient and petulant. Montoya had him under control all game and even when Zaha switched to the right at 2-1 down after Solly March was introduced for Knockaert he was just as ineffectual.

He did create one good moment when one of his crosses was blocked but was deflected back into box to create one of the best chances of the game. But the Albion held firm as Duffy’s headed clearance was followed up by a Dunk block in a moment that personified the Albion back line. Dunk in particular was brilliant that day, as it seems the targeting he got from the Palace supporters from the start spurred him on.

The scoring was opened by that man Glenn Murray to achieve another landmark. After James Tomkins unintentionally flicked the ball into his path, Murray volleyed the ball into the bottom corner with aplomb. This was only Tomkins second error leading to goals this season, both of which he saved for Brighton, cheers James. Aside from these two games, he’s been fantastic for Palace, but such is the way of the football gods that he made his two errors in the two big derby games.

But the Albion would only hold the lead until the 50 minutes mark when Davy Propper gave away a penalty and the Albion’s marked man Milivojevic retaliated by putting it away to draw Palace level.

But the game wouldn’t stay level. And it was a moment of magic from Anthony Knockaert that settled the game with a goal reminiscent of his 2017 Championship player of the season winning form. A goal that would end up winning the premier league goal of month award and the Albion’s goal of the season. As Knockaert ran away in glee Glenn Murray held his hands over his face, presumably to hide the glee and shock of the goal from his former employers and their supporters, but we all knew.

This is one of the moments that would lead to these two games in eight days going down in Albion folklore. And it was a moment that perfectly demonstrated the contrasting elements of Knockaert’s game. One minute his enthusiasm is getting the better of him and he almost gets sent off, the next he wins the game with the goal of the season.

At full time the Albion sat on 33 points and eight clear of the bottom three, which with their far superior goal difference was effectively nine. But in the 3pm kick offs, Cardiff, Newcastle and Burley all won and the gap between the Albion and the bottom three remained at 5 points. There was still work to do but with the FA cup quarter final away to Millwall up next we could all take our minds off worrying about the relegation battle, for now.

Millwall

Then came a game that summed up 2019 for the Albion. At times awful, at times heroic, at times let down by the officials, at times just chaos. But ultimately just about doing enough. The win at Millwall, and specifically the moment Solly March’s overhit cross was dropped into the goal by Millwall’s veteran ‘keeper David Martin will be a moment that will live with all the Albion fans that witnessed it for a long time.

This was an epic cup tie and one where Brighton were on the backfoot from the off. The great Millwall atmosphere was intimidating, which was whipped up by a team huddle at start and continued by the noise created by the Millwall fans that was less a football chant and more a communal grunt. And if the Brighton team weren’t intimidated by then they had to contend with being left to wait on the pitch in the middle of this ferocious atmosphere for the Millwall team to return to the pitch after half time.

This clearly affected the Albion in what was a largely disjointed and timid performance until March replaced Knockaert on 67 minutes. But until then the Albion showed little of their Premier League status Hughton called on them to call upon before the game. A particularly prescient example of this was every time Millwall won a corner, something met with roars of delight from the home crowd and a large degree of panic in the Albion defence of the like seen by the team last season.

And this paid dividends for Millwall when Alex Pearce scored from a corner after being left unmarked at back post when his marker Murray was blocked off during an ever effective Millwall routine.

Knockaert was as poor as any Albion player that day and was clearly affected by the circumstances. Every decision was rushed, lacking composure and it was inevitable he would be replaced. In fact in these last two games Knockaert had played badly in both, and a wonder goal aside left the Albion right hand side quite diminished until Solly March was brought on.

When O’Brian put Millwall 2-0 up with just over ten minutes to go even the most optimistic of Brighton fans wouldn’t have expected what was to come. And as the minutes ticked down all hope seemed lost. And as Jonathon Pearce said in his commentary Brighton were heading out unless there was a late miracle.

But when Solly March’s impact down the right finally paid dividends after he rounded the Millwall defence and found fellow super sub Locadia who swivelled and fired it home to make it 2-1. Then after Brighton won a free kick mid way into the Millwall half, Solly March’s equalised with his miss-hit cross.

From here the Albion had the momentum, and despite having a perfectly good goal disallowed in the dying moments of extra time and then Murray missing the first penalty of the shoot out, Brighton won 5-4 on penalties.

And as the Seagulls fans in South London went mad, so did the team. This truly felt like a momentous occasion. Even Hughton said excitedly after the game “Now the draw has been made we are so excited about a game in which we will obviously be big underdogs, but what a challenge.”

Match day 30 – 33 and FA Cup Semi Final – 5 big games, 5 big defeats

So after two big wins, the Albion entered a key and exiting section of the season with a trip to Stanford Bridge and an FA Cup Semi Final sandwiched in between three important home games against fellow relegation candidates. Five games that promised much but delivered little but heartache.

Southampton

First up was Southampton at home and a 1-0 defeat, which piled the pressure on the team. Some suggested the players had ‘taken their eye off the ball’ due to the FA cup distraction? But this was ignoring the fact that thing hadn’t been going right for the team for a while.

Much like Huddersfield it was a poor first half that Southampton edged. But unlike Huddersfield the second half started much the same and got worse when after Bissouma was caught in possession, Nathan Redmond pounced and drove forward with pace and found Hojbjerg who scored his second goal against the Albion this season.

It was a goal that illustrated the issues with the Albion performance. Too slow in possession and too easily disturbed by the good Southampton press. Southampton, who’s switched from their usual back three to a back four to best combat the Albion’s front three were the better organised and saw out the game with reasonable ease. Whereas Albion were struggling to make their much derided 433 formation work effectively.

It wasn’t until March (for Jahanbakhsh) and then Locadia (for Propper) came on until the Albion looked dangerous. This was another example that without March stretching the defence and another attacker (in this case Locadia) adding an extra penalty box threat, Brighton are too reliant on set pieces and Glenn Murray for goals.

For long periods Murray looked isolated and had to drift wide to find space leaving little to no penalty box threat. This combined with the lack of willingness of midfielders to make forward runs to compensate, then you can see why we only managed one shot on target all game. And this was a trend that continued on this run and the deficiencies that this system caused would be further exposed in upcoming games against the far superior opposition of Chelsea and Man City.

That said, if Duffy had connected with Knockaert’s free kick, or Bernardo had done better when free at the back post from a corner, or Jahanbakhsh‘s shot had clipped the underside of the bar and gone in then it could have looked different. But these are the small margins which games are decided on.

Chelsea

With the trip to Chelsea sandwiched between the Southampton game and the FA cup semi it was almost like the visit to the home of the three times Premier League champions had been forgotten. Somewhat surprisingly for a London away game, the away end didn’t sell out with many Albion fans saving their hard earned pennies for Saturday’s FA Cup Semi Final. And this summed up the feeling around the club since the Millwall win, the focus was all on Wembley.

And with Hughton’s plan for Brighton to shut down Chelsea’s attacking threat and create a forgettable game the ones who stayed away probably made the right choice. But whilst it was frustrating to watch and the 3-0 defeat suggested otherwise, his plan largely worked. A bit of a freak first goal followed by two wonder strikes (one from Hazard, again) won Chelsea a deserved lead but on another night we could have sneaked a draw.

In many ways it was a disciplined and impressive performance, in particular Dale Stephens’ positional awareness was making things tough for the home team. Whilst primarily doubling up with Propper on Hazard. Dale also filled in for Bissouma when required when the Malian tried to drive forward

Dale Stephens always divides opinion. But a look at his stats from that night back him up. Defensively he was good, his tacking was as good as ever. Going forward he was also one of the better ones, with an 88% passing accuracy 5% up on his season average.

Our defensive shape that night was quite good in general and Stephens held it all together. Something we’d need again at the weekend.

Man City

All the defensive shape and discipline practice would come in handy for playing City in the semi final that I described in more detail here. But rather than focus on the game here I want to focus on the day, and what a day it was.

Yes we lost, but the day never was about the result, it was about the club and its fans enjoying a historic day in the club’s history. Brighton fans filled pubs all over London, from Marylebone to Mayfair, from The Globe in Baker Street to The Green Man in Wembley. And pre-match the atmosphere in the west end of the stadium was a sight that could have put a lump in the back of the throat of even the less sentimental from within our fanbase.

For me the best moment of the day was still to come. At the final whistle 35,000 Brighton fans stood on their feet applauding and cheering their side. Proud of their efforts and appreciative of what had been a memorable cup run for the club, it’s second best performance in the FA Cup and the best for 36 years.

These were post match celebrations that will live long in the memory. I, like I’m sure many others, felt quite emotional at the end, maybe it was the weariness from the battle, maybe it was the sound of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” ringing around the Stadium, a song that has become synonymous with the club, or maybe it was sharing such a momentous day with family and friends. Either way it had been a second half performance from the team to be praised. Whilst chances were few and far between, this Albion side had pushed possibly the greatest team in the world right to the end. And after a few post match drinks to savour every drop of the day we went home satisfied that we’d made the most of it and the team had done the City proud.

Whilst some would criticise this as a typically negative performance from Brighton, including the BBC’s Jermaine Jenas who called it as “missed opportunity” for the club, they were up against a great team. And you only have to look at the final ten minutes where Brighton did throw players forward in attack to see what they were up against, a period in which the Albion managed to create no clear cut chances, whilst City created the best of the game on the break, which Raheem Stirling struck tamely into the hands of Brighton ‘keeper Maty Ryan.

The club hoped this would be a springboard for the two key home games coming up against Bournemouth and Cardiff. As Hughton said himself after the game: “To run City close takes a huge effort so it’s a very, very tired changing room. We are happy but on Monday morning we’ve got to get our Premier League heads on. We have got a fight on our hands.”

Bournemouth

But rather than a springboard for that fight, in preceded the most damming week of the season and probably that of the AMEX era. The was on the receiving end of its worst home defeat in 47 years and then lost to their direct relegation rivals Cardiff a few days later.

Tired and drained from the culmination of the cup run? Restrained by a lack of confidence and the pressure of the occasion? Or just out-fought and out-thought? Whatever the reason, Brighton were second best on both occasions.

Albion’s FA Cup heroes returned to the AMEX for Premier League duties knowing that avoiding defeat in both games would likely be enough to see them secure another season in the top flight. But instead they quickly became villains as they were taken to pieces by an out of form Bournemouth and then comfortably beaten by a struggling Cardiff who’d only won twice away from home all season before that win.

For me this was the week that the excuses for the bad performances really had to end. In both games there was plenty of evidence of a placid stand-offish approach from the Albion, which was maybe in part as a result of a hangover of the approach from the Chelsea and City games. But it had become ever more a habit as the season went on and the team’s form deteriorated.

Ultimately you can’t defend in the same fashion against Bournemouth or Cardiff as you do against City and get away with it here. Two sides whose strength lies in fast counter attacking picked off an Albion team caught in two minds of whether to go out and attack or defend in numbers, ultimately managing neither.

The terrible defending for the first goal is an example of this. As a defensive unit they, much like against City and Chelsea, sat deep and let Bournemouth pass around then. But without the same back tracking from forward players and without the same effective defensive shape, Bournemouth walked it though the large gaps in the Brighton defence.

After half time it got worse as Fraser scored a spectacular second when he caught an off-colour Ryan out of position. And it got even worse than that after Knockaert was red carded for an awful tackle. A moment that could be put down as trying too hard, but in reality was a moment stupidity.

After that the team seemed to give up and the third, fourth and fifth goals just added to the embarrassment. As well as the heaviest home defeat since 1972 it was the heaviest defeat under Hughton. As described by the Talk Sport radio commentator that day, it was an “absolute humiliation”.

Such was the humiliation, many fans left at 4-0 with ten minutes to go, early even by AMEX standard. And it’s hard to blame them, after all the talk of creating more chances since the change to a 433, the team had mustered only had 2 shots on target over the last 2 home games.

Cardiff

So with the Albion facing Cardiff on the following Tuesday it felt like a reaction was needed. And the team started like a house on fire, but it was Cardiff who took the lead via a spectacular strike from Mendez-Laing on the break.

It was he who drove the visitors forward with a pace that the Albion lacked, after winning the ball in midfield from Propper, also showing a determination that the Brighton team lacked. With Propper caught out of position, Mendez Laing was given too much space by Stephens and he rifled it into the top corner.

At half time some initial boos were drowned out by cheers and chants of Albion to encourage the team. But what followed in the second half was even worse. In attack the team looked rudderless, whereas Cardiff looked constantly dangerous on the break with the pace of their attack.

And after the returning Pascal Gross gave away a free kick Morrison headed home Camarasa’s cross to give Cardiff an unassailable two goal lead.

As a result of the predicament Hughton brought on Izquierdo and Andone and they showed some intent, but it created little chances on goal and a 2-0 defeat is how it ended. This was now three straight defeats at home to non-top six sides and eight goals conceded without reply.

Whereas this was once a team that whilst struggling to control games were good in both boxes, this was now a team that was seemingly good at nothing and needed to go back to basics to find any kind of winning formula.

This was a run that had tested the squad and that supposed strength we spoke about earlier in the season had been found out as weak, in attacking areas at least. With Murray’s goals drying up and Gross injured, the rest of the team had failed to fill the hole they left and this is certainly something that will need addressing in the summer. And in particular the pressure was now on Jahanbakhsh to show in the remaining games why the club paid so much for a player with so little impact, albeit only in his first season. Pressure that he was struggling under.

Much of the criticism for the last two performances was fair, but to say this team was passionless demonstrates a very short memory considering it’s track record. As Maty Ryan said “We dedicate and sacrifice our lives – not just the players but everyone in and around the club – by working tirelessly day in and day out to maintain our status in the Premier League.”

Many suggested that this result was terminal for Brighton’s survival hopes. And with Cardiff now holding the momentum and a run of winnable games compared to Brighton’s much tougher run-in, there was certainly good reason for concern. But the team reacted with a run of performances that removed any anxiety and answered many of the questions raised over these two games of the team’s attitude and aptitude at least.

Matchday 34 – 38 – Battle, bottle and fight, or crawling over the line depending on your perspective.

Wolves

But if the defeat to Cardiff looked terminal, the draw with Wolves that came next brought the team back to life. If the team lacked passion and battling qualities against Cardiff they were here for everyone to see in this game and it was a point that felt huge with Cardiff losing to Liverpool the following day increasing the gap to three points and with the Albion also having a far better goal difference, it meant Cardiff needed more than one win to go above the Albion even if they gained no more points. The pressure was now truly on Cardiff to get a result.

It was a game where we showed little attacking threat, underling the need to add pace and composure in attacking areas to the squad next season. But, some absolutely brilliant defending brought a well earned clean sheet and the solidity of the defence has ultimately proved our saviour this season.

It was a performance that was just what the doctor had ordered. It was only Brighton’s second clean sheet of 2019 & the second clean sheet away all season. But the only shame is that we had to go back to basics and take a step back in our tactical progression to get it.

Tottenham

And the trip to Tottenham that followed this during the following week was a repeat performance only spoilt by a spectacular if speculative winner from Eriksen to give Albion yet another defeat. It was a second game running playing a very defensive 451 with little to no attacking intent.

However, when the teams were announced many were surprised to see both Bernardo and Bissouma start in a game like this. They’re both more attack-minded than Bong and Kayal who instead started on the bench in a game which the team would be doing a lot of defending. But they wholeheartedly proved us wrong.

Defensively we were very good against a very dangerous team. With Dunk and Duffy doing their usual job of blocking everything coming their way, whilst Bernardo had a very good game at left back too.

But this was more evidence of how the team needed to work on that final ball when they do get in the right areas. Everyone’s latest scapegoat Jahanbakhsh was trying all the right things, but with nothing coming off.

My ultimate feeling was of pride despite the deflation of the late goal conceded. If Brighton were to be relegated from here, it won’t be because of this result. It will be because they haven’t put in a 90 minutes full of that kind of commitment, discipline and resolve enough times since the start of the year.

Newcastle

So then came Newcastle at home. Realistically, the best and possibly only chance of the win that would see off the threat of Cardiff once and for all. But before the game, news came through that Cardiff had lost away to Fulham and unless there was a huge goal difference swing in their favour, they now needed four points from their last two home to Palace and away to Man United to go above Brighton. A win here would therefore all but secure safety, whereas a draw meant Cardiff needed to pull off an improbable two wins.

Following that news there was much relief in the stands at the AMEX. Personally I thought that was it as I couldn’t see Cardiff winning one, let alone both of their final games. But this game still needed to be played and preferably resulting in a long awaited win and morale boosting performance, not to be, certainly in the first half.

Albion started against an already safe Newcastle side with an unusual looking 442. Gross started on the right and Andone and Murray were up top. But after not working well and Newcastle talking an early lead they switched back to the 433, with Andone moving to the right of a front three and Gross into the midfield three. A change which was made little difference to a terrible first half performance. Tactics have been the talk of the terraces since January and after trying it in the second half against Cardiff and then it lasting less than half an hour here, the option of playing a 442 looked as dead as a dodo.

But this was less about systems and more about personnel. In the first half they looked like a set of players scarred from conceding 4 to Fulham, 3 to Burnley and 5 to Bournemouth. Afraid to press, afraid to take the risks required to created chances and devoid of any confidence. As the teams trudged off to a chorus of boos, it was hard to see us turning this around.

Pascal Gross admitted after the game that “not everybody has the biggest confidence.” This is something that’s been evident for a while and especially since that 4-2 defeat to Fulham. The confidence in themselves and their teammates has clearly been diminished and too often the easy option was taken, either when in or out of possession.

But the second half was a much better performance and they did turn it around to get a draw, another example of the team’s great mental strength in adversity. One main reason for the change in performance was half time substitute Solly March, who was the game changer. He gave the team the energy to attack and get the draw which allowed Cardiff a stay of execution.

Another change at half time was to the system (again). Back to the tried and trusted 4411 with Gross behind Murray as the number 10. And who’d have known that playing Gross in the role he was so successful in last season would mean we would create chances to score? This change also helped Murray, who looked so much more effective on his own up top.

And it was these two who combined for the equalising goal. Murray heading down a Bruno cross for Gross to score. And it was almost three points when Murray headed over from a near perfect Knockaert cross in the last minute.

A miss that many wondered whether it would it prove costly with Cardiff still able to go above us with two wins. But as Palace did us a favour and beat Cardiff before we played next, another season in the Premier League was secured, just about.

Arsenal

So the game away to Arsenal which was the Sky Sports Super Sunday game and Arsenal’s last home game of the season as they searched for Champions League football was one with little but pride riding on it for Albion.

But it was hard to tell that after a good first half of football from both teams that was only spoilt by a rash tackle from Jahanbakhsh who gave away a penalty to give the home side a 1-0 lead at the break. Yes, it was a soft penalty but it was a naive tackle from behind from the Iranian, which is always a risk and left few Albion fans arguing with the decision.

Jahanbakhsh was subbed at half time, with Knockaert replacing him. The Frenchman seemingly forgiven for his misdemeanour against Bournemouth. And with that it was same again for the next 45 for the Albion who looked a great attacking threat on the break.

And Brighton deservedly drew level when Glenn Murray converted a penalty given away by Granit Xhaka, another silly tackle, another soft penalty few argued with. This was a landmark goal for Murray, his 200th career goal in his 400th career games. A great return.

And after a number of good chances were missed by both sides the game ended level. This was Brighton’s first away goal in five matches, and it earned them their first point at the home of a top-six team since promotion, a breakthrough moment. It’s just shame it came after the point in the season when it didn’t actually matter.

And despite the impressive performances from the team, on The BBC’s Match of the Day, Jermaine Jenas and Ian Wright were scathing of Albion’s negativity during the season as a whole. With Jermaine Jenas saying that Hughton “needed to show the club and his players that he can do it another way and that they can be more entertaining.” With Wright adding: that Hughton was “very negative”.

They in particular highlighted the fact that Brighton had their most touches in an opposition box away from home all season here (28). But that was in part due to the gung ho approach of the opposition here. For example against a similarly attacking styled team Fulham, Brighton managed 27.

Brighton have been too negative at times this season, yes. But the players deserve as much criticism, if not more, than the manager for this. The players need to show more confidence and be braver at times, this was an example of what happens when they do that. It’s easy to blame Hughton, but it’s harder to recognise that bigger issues exist that are harder to spot by the untrained eye.

That certainly wasn’t the case here as Brighton counter attacked with intent at every opportunity, but why was this game different to recent games such as City or Spurs where they struggled to do so? Despite their 30% possession Brighton had 11 shots, 5 of which on target. Compare this to the recent games with Spurs away 6 shots, 1 on target, Wolves away 5 shots none on target, and City in the Cup Semi 5 shots 2 or target.

The pressure being off will certainly have given the players the confidence to go forward and take risks. Whilst it’s also fair to say that playing a team like Arsenal who will not track back in the numbers that most other teams do would have helped. But another big reason was the good use of the 433, in particular the two central midfielders Bissouma and Gross getting forward to support the attack. Something not seen enough when it was used at other times in the season.

The formation change has come under great criticism in the second half of the season but this performance was in part the fruits of Hughton’s labour in persisting with the change. Whilst nominally continuing with the 433, out of possession it became more of a 451, but in possession it was more of a 343 with Stephens sitting deep to join the back line and the fullbacks pushing up to join the attack.

When we talk about confidence and bravery, this performance was an example of it in an attacking sense. This was a great performance, probably the best away from home since promotion, unfortunately it finally came when the pressure was off, and that is a concern for next season when the pressure will be very much back on.

Man City

With City playing to win the league the Albion played second fiddle in their final home game of the season. And it was an emotional day as the club said goodbye to captain Bruno, retiring after his seven years with the club. And unbeknownst to everyone at the time it would be Chris Hughton’s last game at the club, after he was sacked by the club the following morning after 4 and a half years in charge of the club.

After a lively start it was Albion who took the lead via Glenn Murray’s brave header at the near post from a corner. After he landed in a heap on the floor, maybe slightly bruised but unharmed and clearly showing no hesitation after the nasty head injury he received earlier in the season.

But this only awoke the beast as City went on to justify their Champions status. City’s equaliser came immediately after, 83 seconds after to be precise. It was a wonderful pieces of ingenuity from David Silva to flick it round the Albion defence and put Aguero clear who scored past Ryan

They then quickly took the lead when Laporte headed in from a corner unmarked after leaving Glenn Murray in his wake. Then in the second half they upped their game some more and finished Albion off with a great strike from Marhez from the edge of the box and another from Gundogan from a free kick.

With the game and the season petering out, Hughton made one final substitution, bringing off captain Bruno who received a standing ovation from all four sides of the ground and shared a poignant ‘changing of the guard’ moment when he passed on the captain’s armband to his successor Lewis Dunk.

And with that the season and another home defeat ended. But there was no shame losing to this City team, one of the best club sides English football has ever seen. For the club to be involved in such a game and see City lift the Premier League title gave a shine to an otherwise mostly dreary end to the season. And it was a reminder of the success of achieving Premier League survival.

But we should recognise the failure here too. The win over Palace, was the only league win against a team outside the bottom three in 2019. In fact, Brighton went into 2019 with 26 points from 20 games and then took only twelve from the remaining 18, including only 2 wins. That’s a points average for a team that would be lucky to not finish bottom of the league most seasons, let alone survive relegation.

So in a way losing here was a fitting end to a disappointing second half of the season. Whilst we may have ended the first half thinking we were a mid-table team, we ended the second half just glad to be a top flight team.

And the next day the club announced it had parted company with Chris Hughton. A sad end to a brilliant tenure as manager, arguably the greatest that the club has ever seen. It was a decision Chairman Tony Bloom described as “one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion“.

My initial feelings were that of shock, sadness and a little anger that at least Chris should have been given the send off he deserved, one similar to that of Bruno’s. But, football is an unsentimental business. And if Bloom has proven himself one thing since becoming chairman of the club, it’s a shrewd and unsentimental businessman who knows his own mind.

Summary – A Job well done, just about

So with all that Brighton ended the season 17th with 36 points. All in all a success, but a diminished return from last season’s 15th placed finish with 40 points. And it should be stated that 36 points would only have been enough to survive the drop in 50% of the time since the Premier League changed to a 20 team league in 1995/96. Ultimately we were lucky that Fulham, Huddersfield and Cardiff were as bad as they were.

And there was plenty of evidence that pointed to a year on year demise. The City defeat made it eight home defeats this season, double the total from 17/18. Games at home to Burnley, Southampton, Bournemouth and Cardiff, ones we wouldn’t have lost last season, are the cause of that year on year diminished points return.

Last season we lost at home to three of the top six plus Leicester (and Leicester got lucky that Murray missed a penalty). This season saw defeats to four of the top 6 plus the 4 games mentioned above. A huge negative in the year on year comparison. Add to that the relative lack of progress in the teams away form and the lack of success in the tactical progress that initially promised so much, and you have plenty of reasons to look on this season negatively.

But what is the reason for these problems?

Firstly, this is a very competitive division. Four of that top six are European cup finalists, whilst another accumulated 198 points over the last two seasons. Even relegated Fulham spent £100m on new players before the season started.

But nonetheless, this Albion team had promised so much more in 2018 but all that promise collapsed in 2019. A collapse that coincided with the attempts to play more offensive football since January. Tactics that played against our strengths and it’s clear now that it was done without the required quality in the squad to do so on a consistent basis. This needs addressing in the summer.

This was a team that for a season had been hard to beat, losing only 16 games last season, not bad for a newly promoted side when you consider Fulham lost 26 this season whilst Cardiff lost 24. But Brighton lost a total of 20 games this season, in a season where we were hoping for progression we instead got regression.

The turning point of the season in hindsight looks like when the Albion threw away those two 2-0 leads at both West Ham and Fulham. At the time with the run that directly preceded it they were easier results to write off as bad days at the office. But ever since then the team has looked scarred from those experiences and as a result were frightened to take risks, the sort of risks that are required to be made if the offensive tactics are to work. It was only really since the second half vs Newcastle where that changed, by that point it was ultimately too late to save our season from a feeling of disappointment and Hughton from the sack.

But as Paul Hayward said in the Telegraph: “Those fans who said there was “nothing to celebrate” about the club’s survival may care to reflect that Liverpool and Man City will be traveling to Brighton and Hove again next season. The summer offers hope of a review and improvements. That process would be a lot less fun in the Championship.”

And as Paul Barber pointed out in his Man City programme notes, “we have only played six seasons in our 118 year history at the highest level.” A comforting bit of realism that makes Hughton’s sacking look hasty.

And there are plenty of positives to build on from this season: The improved squad strength is evident, no less shown in that wonderful cup run that papered over the ever growing cracks in our league season. And this is a squad that has been far more tested to its extremes this season with its ability to manage far more injuries & suspensions that have occurred.

Furthermore, the far more consistently competitive performances against the top 6 is also a big positive (Champions City aside perhaps). Whilst in the 12 played the club only accumulated 5 compared to the 7 points from last season, we’ve been in virtually every game bar Chelsea and City away conceding only 22 (27 last season) scoring 9 (6 last season) and picked up the team’s first away point against a top 6 side, at Arsenal.

Many of the signings made have contributed to this progress. At the back Button, Steele, Burn and Balogun were all clearly signed as back up and when asked have done a good job. Whereas Bernardo and Montoya have had largely good seasons and can now rightly be considered first choice full backs going onto next season, an area of the team that needed strengthening.

The club’s problem in the transfer market have instead been in the areas further up the pitch. Whilst Bissouma was signed for a large fee this is in part based on his potential, he’s 21 and the club wouldn’t have necessarily been expecting him to be first choice in his first season. But he has nonetheless shown lots of talent and in the second half of the season has been picked to play in most of the big games, to admittedly varying success.

there is also Andone, who was signed after a great deal of excitement, but injuries have limited his impact. Yet, he’s also done enough to be considered another good addition and would have played more were it not for Glenn Murray’s continued goal scoring form.

But it’s Jahanbakhsh that has received much of the ire and yes he has struggled. As the season has gone on and the pressure to get results has increased his performances were ones which noticeably suffered. Whilst established players like March and Knockaert have shown relatively consistent impacts in the attacking third, Jahanbakhsh has shown a consistent lack of impact.

This coupled with the continued struggles of Locadia and the constant injuries of Izquierdo, one of the key players last season, has made things much harder in this area. Between the three of them they have contributed just 2 goals and 1 assist in the league this season.

It’s easy to criticise the recruitment. But much like with Bissouma, all of these players would be considered players purchased with the future partly in mind as well as this current season. Unfortunately, this progress has been too slow, for Hughton at least.

But it was Hughton who underlined this when asked about the limited contribution of Andone and Jahanbakhsh. Saying: “Sometimes it’s difficult when you’ve brought a player in and you have other options. A lot of players that don’t settle into that first season can or possibly could argue that if they had played more regularly, they would have worked through it. But that’s trying to get that balance between what you feel is your best team at the time. With the players mentioned, I’m sure there will be more from them next season.”

Whilst we used less players this season, 21 compared to 24 last season. There was less reliance on a core set of players. Last season seven players played in all bar three games, whereas this season there were only four. Moreover three players played a part in every game, whereas this season the only man to do that was Glenn Murray, a stat that underlines his importance to the team.

But as well as the above three, it’s also Gross’s injuries that have meant the team struggled in the final third. Compared to last season we lacked both Izquierdo’s pave and Gross’s composure to create chances. Gross in particular, who scored 7 goals and made 8 assists last season, compared to 3 goals and 3 assists, which tells its own story.

This left the team reliant on a combination of Glenn Murray and set pieces for goals. And set pieces are a real area of year on year progress. Last season we scored only 5 times from set pieces, whereas this time it was a total of 14. And this progress occurred at the back too with us conceding just 10 this season compared to a whopping 21 last season. A real sign of the good work Chris Hughton and his team were doing on the training ground.

Whether this was down to a lack of quality in the squad or the players not being utilised to their appropriate skill set, time will tell. But to a degree, this was always the case. The win over Man United, when playing them at a fortunate time, meant we could ignore the terrible performances against both Watford and Southampton it was sandwiched between. And those slightly fortunate three back to back 1-0 wins in matchdays 8-10 have been what gave us the cushion that ultimately kept us above the dotted line all season. A run of wins built on the foundations of our strong defence and won by the clinical finishing of Murray and a slightly fortunate deflected winner from Kayal at Newcastle via one of those a set pieces. The luck eventually evened out and the lack of chances created by the Albion has led to a lack of goals, with only 5 goals scored in these 11 games in league and cup.

And as the season went on not only did the goals dry up, as did the ability to keep clean sheets with only two achieved in 18 league games in 2019. Whilst goals conceded the from set pieces were decreasing, goals from open play were increasing due to a combination of poor defending and individual errors.

A football season isn’t defined by a continuous consistent narrative, but instead in hindsight by a number of moments that explain its conclusion. A conclusion that on paper, I suspect most Brighton fans would have been happy with in August. Survival is a success, however it is achieved.

But it’s a conclusion that leaves questions to be answered and work to be done over the summer. The club has now not only got to add to its limited attacking threat in the squad but now also bring in a manager who can match the growing expectations that ultimately told for Chris Hughton. Expectations that a man considered possibly the best manager in the club’s history could not match, so good luck to his successor.

What next? After a season which saw the club’s 4th highest ever league position and 2nd best performance in the FA cup, a season preceded by the club’s third highest league finish and equal third best FA cup performance, the board of directors decided it was appropriate to dispense with the services of the manager. A manager in Chris Hughton who is admired not just at our club, but across the country.

But, whether to agree with the decision or not it shows an incredible ambition to progress in tough circumstances, but a decision that may yet prove foolhardy if the club appoint the wrong man.

Whatever happens over the summer, I feel that the team and whoever is appointed manager need to hit the ground running. A replication of the performance from the team seen against Watford on the first day of this season could spark another collapse in confidence and optimism in a clearly damaged and fragile squad of players that need to be restored to the much higher standards they set throughout 2018. As well as causing more tension amongst an already strained fanbase.

But despite the negativity. There is room for optimism and joy. We go into this summer of no doubt much flux and uncertainty as a Premier League club. And with many great memories from a season to remember, for both good and bad. That is ultimately what football supporting is all about.

Come August, we do it all again, and I for one cannot wait. Up the Albion.

Johnny McNichol – A legend that comes in threes

Johnny McNichol was a Scotsman who came south of the border to try to make it in a career as a footballer, and succeeded by the bucketload. An inside-forward, he was known for his stylish and exciting attacking-play and as such caught the eye of many a supporter during his time playing for Brighton, Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

However, McNichol’s upbringing is hardly that of your average footballer. Tragedy struck early when his father died when he was only five, leaving his mum to raise all their eight children alone, including one of his sisters who would not survive infancy.

These were sadly common statistics in 1930’s Scotland. The infant mortality rate was around 1 in 10 compared to the rate today of around 4 in 1,000. Furthermore life expectancy for males would have been in the mid-50’s compared to the mid-70s life expectancy of today.

1930’s Scotland certainly were tougher times and they were made even tougher when just after Johnny turned 14, World War II broke out. And during which further personal tragedy struck when his eldest brother was killed during the final days of the war.

Being 14 when the war broke out Johnny was too young to serve initially. Despite this, with the professional football league’s in Britain officially stopping to aid the war effort it made it harder for young aspiring footballers like him to make it as a pro. So he began playing for Hurlford in the Scottish junior football leagues from age of 16 whilst working in a local bus garage as an apprentice mechanic, until he was called up as a mechanic for the Royal Navy with the Fleet Air Arm.

After the war ended he resumed playing for Hurlford until he was signed by Newcastle United in 1946. But despite the then Second Division club seeing enough of him in a trial to sign him, he didn’t play once for the first team. Mainly not getting into the team due to the tough competition of the then England International Len Shackleton.

Whilst at Newcastle, in part due to his reserve team status, he was supplementing the income he earned from football by utilising the skills he had learnt during the war by working as a mechanic for a local undertaker. A trait of supplementing his income with additional work that stayed with him throughout his career and demonstrated a work-ethic that he no doubt earned from his tough upbringing and helped him succeed in his career.

After two years in the North East of England he moved to the South East to play for Brighton. Despite his lack of first team experience the club set a then record fee of £5,000 (equivalent to £180,000 today) before the start of the 1948-49 season to bring him to the club. Brighton were then playing in the third division, a level they had played all their football since the formation of that level of the Football League in 1920. And so this was a bit of a step down for McNichol but one clearly, in part at least, made to get first team football. In fact because of the war and competition for places at Newcastle, he was 23 when he eventually made his League debut with Brighton.

Indeed Brighton were a small club who wouldn’t taste Second Division football until 1958 and First Division football until 1979. And compared to Newcastle who at the time would regularly attract attendances of over forty-thousand and at times even over fifty-thousand, Brighton’s average attendances were in the thousands rather than the tens of thousands. Much less than the reported fifteen thousand Newcastle attracted to a pre-season friendly between the reserve team and the first team back in 1946 that formed a part of Johnny’s trial at the club.

Whilst at Brighton he continued to work as a mechanic, this time at a local garage which was situated conveniently close to the Goldstone Ground. It’s not a surprise given that at Brighton, in no small part due to the clubs relatively lowly status, he earned a £10 signing-on fee and a weekly wage of £12 (equivalent to a £22k a year wage today), in what were tough post-war economic conditions.

Indeed the country in general as well as English football was still recovering from the Second World War, and the Albion were no different. In fact the low attendances already mentioned are representative of the fact that the club was at rock bottom when he signed. Having finished 22nd and bottom of the Third Division (South) at the end of the 1947/48 season, they had to apply for re-election to the league for the only time in the clubs now 118-year history. But as Dick Knight says in his Autobiography “MadMad” that “it was usually a case of turkeys not voting for Christmas. All the football league teams ganged up together and decided that they were going to retain the clubs that were in the league already and not bring in outsiders.”

And that’s exactly what happened, but the Albion still recognised some change was needed and the defence-minded coach Don Welsh was appointed manager. Welsh would go on to manage Liverpool from 1951-1956, albeit not particularly successfully taking them down into the Second Division and then failing to achieve promotion back to the First Division. But he stabilised the Albion during his three-year period in change and went about doing so by spending heavily in his first 12 months in charge. And it was the signing of Johnny McNichol’s that was the biggest coup, who became the attacking inspiration for the team during his time with the club.

After initially taking time to settle into first team professional football, in his second season with the Albion (1949/50), McNichol was the club’s top scorer with nine goals as Albion made an ultimately fruitless push for promotion to the Second Division. Then into in the 1950/51 season whilst the team slipped into the bottom half of the third tier, he stepped it up top scoring again, but this time with fourteen.

In his Autobiography Dick Knight says Johnny McNichol was his “all-time favourite Albion player”. He went onto praise him saying: “He was brilliant, mesmerising. He would show the ball to a defender, nutmeg him, go either way, and he was a goalscorer.”

And it wasn’t just Dick’s imagination he caught with his ability to both score and create goals. Particularly during his later years with the club McNichol really started to catch the eye. Appointed Brighton manager in March 1951, Billy Lane’s attacking style suited McNichol and he was given the captaincy in an exciting team. As such he started to attract interest from many club scouts but stayed loyal to the club turning down First Division Man City because he believed he was better off staying put.

Despite the four years he spent with the club being fairly modest days in Albion’s history, as Dick Knight’s account attests to, McNichol is still remembered fondly by many at the club to this day. And it’s no wonder, as his obituary in the Brighton Argus says Johnny was: “the best and most respected forward [at the club] of that generation.”

But it was a matter of time before McNichol went onto bigger and better things. In the 1951/52 season he scored a hat-trick for Brighton in a 4-1 win against Reading who were promoted to the second division as runners up at the end of that season, whilst the Albion finished a more modest 11th. And it was apparently that game when he caught the eye of Chelsea manager Ted Drake, who signed him for the Blues for £12,000 in the summer of 1952. By the time he left for Chelsea, he’d not only scored 39 goals in 139 appearances, but he’d built a reputation as an Albion great. And the fact his legacy still lives to this day was demonstrated by the fact he was invited to represent that generation of players at the club’s centenary celebrations nearly half a century after leaving the club.

Those who watched him at Brighton wouldn’t therefore have been surprised that when at Chelsea he was most notably a part of their 1955 First Division title winning side. It was the first league title in the clubs history and as it would turn out their only First Division title in the 20th century. And he was a crucial player in that side, playing all but two of Chelsea’s league matches that season. Reports of the bonuses received by the players range from £20-£100 for winning the club its first honour, which whilst a significant sum at the time (and equivalent to £500-£2,600 today), it’s small change compared to the amount the team that won the clubs second top tier title in 2005 would have received.

These were very different times for footballers earnings. Per an article in the Telegraph: “The Professional Footballers’ Association say that in 1957 a top England player would have earned a total of a year £1,677 in wages, bonuses and international match fees. In today’s money that is the equivalent of about £75,000 – the kind of salary a GP or senior manager would earn but also the amount that many average Premier League players would earn in a week.”

Indeed this was still before the abolishment of the maximum wage in English Football, which didn’t come until 1961. Prior to its removal, players could be paid no more than £20 a week in standard wages (excluding bonuses and international match fees etc and equivalent to about £850 a week today). Strikingly low compared to today’s multi-million pound annual earnings, which are common place throughout the Premier League and beyond.

After Chelsea won the title in 1955, they controversially turned down the chance to play in the inaugural European Cup, something Johnny admitted was the “one big disappointment” of his career. And the fact he also never got the call up to represent his country due to them favouring player’s from the Scottish League at the time, shows how much of a big deal for him that it was to him.

According to the Guardian “Isolationist Football League secretary Alan Hardaker “advised” Chelsea against taking part.” Whilst according to Rick Glanvill the Chelsea historian the Football League committee, took a vote and vetoed Chelsea participating in the competition. Hardaker was quoted as saying that the committee saw the European Cup as ‘something of a joke’ and ‘at best, a nine-day wonder’. The irony now is that it’s now become a competition that the clubs at the top echelons of English football are obsessed with, and no club less so than Chelsea themselves.

The 1950’s is often described as the heyday of the nation state and these were days when isolationist viewpoints were common place. And the UK being an island off the mainland of Europe, it was naturally at the forefront of this thinking. But the incredible speed of globalisation from that point up to the modern day is illustrated by this change in attitudes over the last five decades. And football has been a big part of this change, with international tournaments like the World Cup and European Championships shaping the views of the general public and leading the way towards a more integrated and globalised world.

Whilst at Chelsea, Johnny again combined his football with another second job. But rather than staying in the auto-mechanics industry, he bought and worked at his own newsagents in Brighton. Meaning that despite signing for Chelsea he continued to live in Brighton commuting to London on the train. Something that didn’t go down well with manager Ted Drake and that McNichol admitted that: “Ted Drake and I had words about my shop”.

It’s the sort of personal sacrifice that modern day footballers wouldn’t dream of. And given the amount of time that the commute will have taken him, the fact he still manage to work another job before he left for training in the morning and then finish training by 2pm is impressive. What is even more impressive is the success he had at the club despite these challenges of his personal circumstances. And I suspect it was tolerated by the club due to his and the clubs success over that period. Indeed McNichol was a key part of the team which won the League.

In total he made 202 appearances for Chelsea between 1952 and 1958, scoring 66 goals. When reflecting on his Time with Chelsea, McNichol said: “Unlike now, no club dominated the league at that time, and anyone could have won the league each season.” And so this is shown in Chelsea’s inconsistent First Division league positions over that period 52/53 -19th, 53/54 – 8th, 54/55 -1st, 55/56 – 16th, 56/57 – 13th, 57/58 -11th.

After his time at Chelsea he moved to Crystal Palace. With Chelsea replacing him by bringing in a young future England international and would-be member of the squad that won the 1966 World Cup, Jimmy Greaves. Johnny admitting himself that: “there was no disgrace in losing my place to him.” And Greaves repaid the favour describing McNichol as “the best player of the team [that won the 1955 title]”.

At Palace he was a key player throughout his four years with the club. He signed towards the end of the 1957/58 season with the club in the Third Division (South). But with the reorganisation of the football league creating a new national third and fourth tier Palace finished below the cut and found themselves effectively demoted to the Fourth Division.

At Palace he was made captain straight after signing and despite moving to full back during his time there, he adapted well and didn’t miss a game between March ’58 and August ’62. Under his captaincy after three seasons in the bottom division, they achieved their first promotion for 40 years back to the third tier. And he was still a first team regular after promotion, but he retired during the 1962/63 season after a fractured cheekbone and broken jaw.

He later worked for the club in their fundraising department and also owned and ran a newsagents in Croydon whilst still living in his house near the Goldstone Ground. He then once again crossed the ‘M23’ footballing divide and worked for Brighton in a similar fundraising role to that of Crystal Palace before retiring in the early 1990’s. At the age of 81 on Saturday 17th March 2007, Johnny McNicol passed away in hospital of a stroke aged 81.

It says a lot of Johnny that at all three clubs where he spent the majority of his career he is still considered a club legend. Football is not a sport about individuals and as such many footballers of decades gone by are often forgotten, but the fact that he is in fact remembered so fondly at three different clubs is a testament to him.

Johnny was a man who would have gained great perspective from his difficult upbringing and that is shown in the way he lived his life. This attitude coupled with his incredible ability with a football is what gained him such a wide-ranging, well-liked reputation. In fact everything I have found to read about Johnny McNichol was incredibly positive, with words like “gent” commonly used to describe him. And amongst the tribalism that often over-shadows modern English football, stories like that of Johnny McNichol’s which spans three very different clubs, including two arch rivals, all in such significant ways, is a lesson to us all.

Don’t Stand up if you Don’t Hate Palace

As many of you will already know, during the 70’s and 80’s when English football was rife with the issues of hooliganism and violence, Brighton and Crystal Palace developed a particularly fierce rivalry, which still exists today. And whilst it is said to have been instigated by an infamous FA Cup tie and a personal rivalry between then managers Alan Mullery and Terry Venables dating back to their days as teammates at Tottenham, it is a rivalry that has perpetuated until this day, in no small part due to the constant violence and hatred between rival fans, simply for supporting the wrong team.

As I Brighton fan I initially bought into the rivalry, attempting to initiate myself as what I perceived to be a ‘proper’ fan, most importantly by hating Palace. But as time has gone on and the realities of football’s lack of importance in the grand scheme of things has dawned on me, I have continued to realise the facade that it truly is. So full disclosure, I don’t hate Palace, or Palace supporters, I just hate losing to Palace.

Former BBC Match of the Day presenter and Brighton fan Des Lynam shares my disenchantment with elements of the rivalry once saying “Nothing irritates me more at home Albion matches than having to listen to that banal chant of: Stand up if you hate Palace”. Adding that, “hate has no place in football.” This was in 2012, so it’s safe to say that his calls for harmony were ignored and the rivalry continues as fierce as ever.

As well as the hatred, the really detestable element is the violence and intimidation that comes as a part of the rivalry. Rivalries can be fun and so many are a key part of the history of sport, particularly in the UK. But when we glorify the hatred, it gives a certain level of credence to the condemnable intimidation and violence between rival supporters. Despite the fact football has moved on since the dark days of the 70’s and 80’s, the fact these rivalries exist still in such a vociferous form is a result of them being ingrained into football supporters’ beings. After all football in particular has a culture of traditionalism and a slow pace of change.

These rivalries originate for various reasons and are always linked back in some way to social conflicts, be it historic, political or religious tensions, or in this case a mix of hooliganism and a competitive rivalry. But the reality in this case is neither of these scenarios exist anymore, certainly not to the extent that they used to.

That said the ferocious rivalries are a big part of global appeal of English football. With plenty of evidence of fans with no ‘skin in the game’ nonetheless taking sides in the tribal world of football supporting. This development of football’s globalisation creates an awkward situation where football relies on these rivalries for excitement and publicity, but which are becoming about as genuine as a pantomime dame.

Either way, the ferocious vitriolic element of the rivalry isn’t for me. I’m pretty sure if they were honest and gave themselves a moment to be impartial, many fans would say the same. I will go as far as saying there are many things that I quite like about Palace, and as a gesture of my intent here’s some examples:

Ian Wright – when I grew up in the 90s and started taking an interest in football, Ian Wright was one the biggest names around. As such, and particularly given that the first game I went to watch live was at the home of the Arsenal team that he was the star striker of at the time, he was a huge icon of mine. By the time I started supporting Brighton 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 records, which meant when I realised he was an ex-Palace player I was too far down the line of my love affair to turn back. And either way it’s hard not to admire his story, which famously included a failed trial at Brighton. A story he documented fantastically here.

Roy Hodgson – who of us didn’t at least partly love Roy Hodgson as England manager? After building his coaching career in the relative footballing backwaters of Sweden, his is a coaching career that has seen him manage at such esteemed clubs as Inter Milan, Liverpool and Udinese. As well as taking little-old-Fulham to a European cup final, with a team spearheaded by our very own Bobby Zamora. A feat that played a big part in him getting the England job.

When he was in charge of the national team, despite not having a great deal of success he still outlasted many more highly regarded counterparts in no small part due to the dignity in which he carried out the job. Which was with an air of a wise and loveable grandad figure, whilst also creating some of the best football gif’s out there. Furthermore, many including current England manager Gareth Southgate credit him with laying the foundations for the England team that got to the Semi-finals of the last World Cup.

He’s carried this scholared dignity into his work at Palace, where after inheriting an all-mighty mess left over from Alan Pardew’s tenure at the club, he’s turned Palace into a good mid-table side. A job that it’s hard not to respect him for and meant that along with Brighton’s very own Chris Hughton he has continued to be seen as one of the good guys in the English game.

Holmesdale fanatics – Palace’s group of ultra-fanatics are an admirable bunch (in general). The way they express their passion for their club in both a colourful and vocal way has created a consistently great atmosphere at Selhurst Park, for which the club is now nationally renowned for. And it’s no surprise that without them at the start of the season Palace’s home form suffered, picking up 2 points in 6 games. Moreover, they always bring a great support away from home too, consistently being one of the loudest away supports at the AMEX. They’re a credit to their club.

Plucky underdogs – in my living memory and well before that, Palace have constantly been a team that never quite had its day, but has always managed to punch above their weight, fulfilling the loveable English stereotype of a plucky underdog perfectly. This is no better illustrated than their promotion at our expense in 2013, which has subsequently been followed by their continued survival in the top-flight despite seemingly having little of the ‘model club’ vibe, with no long-term strategy, barely any Premier League standard infrastructure, let alone a stable management culture. And this makes what Roy Hodgson and his predecessors have achieved all the more impressive.

Zaha’s cheeky attitude – my final one is not going to be popular with Brighton fans. But whilst Wilfried Zaha’s behaviour sometimes makes even his own clubs fan base admit he can be hard to like; his cheekiness and passion shines through in everything he does on and off the pitch. It’s always good to see a player expressing themselves and their personality on the game, even if it does often occur at our expense. And he plays the villain to the Brighton fans perfectly, every story needs a good villain.

I write this not to ask you to show love for your rivals, but more to demonstrate that we have much more in common with each other and much more admiration for each other than some would like to think. For example, many Palace fans have chosen to live in Brighton and many Brighton fans have in turn chosen to move to South London into Crystal Palace catchment areas. Indeed, I am an example of the former, and in a great interview with Nick Szczepanik, Palace supporter and journalist Dominic Fifield revealed his admiration for his rivals and the fact he indeed lives in Brighton.

For me the way the rivalry manifests itself for most fans is summed up by my Mum’s attitude towards it. As I’ve said before, she’s not a football fan, but takes an interest because of my brother and I’s football fanaticism. She’s also the treasurer of an organisation, the head of which is a Palace fan. And they often share friendly jokes at the others expense when results don’t go one teams way. Moreover, whenever she has to leave documents for her Palace supporting colleague, she ensures whenever possible that they’re delivered in a Brighton and Hove Albion club shop carrier bag, a simple joke which is nothing malicious.

Delve into the darker depths of the World Wide Web, and you’ll find a much more sinister side to the rivalry. An abhorrent level of behaviour that is derived in one way or another from an irrational hatred of a group of people because of the football team they support.

Whilst some form of irrational hatred may have been explained away in the dark days of English football of the 70’s and 80’s as a part of the game. It’s not consistent with the inclusive and family friendly values that the modern football establishment thrives off promoting, whilst at the same time glorifying the irrational hatred of rival clubs that gives credence to the violence and intimidation that comes with in. So, I don’t expect anything will change and so there’s little doubt that the rivalry will continue to include the significant element of detestable behaviour it does today. That said, even though I don’t hate Palace, I hate it when they beat us. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen on Saturday!