This week I will be waxing lyrical about “my club” Brighton & Hove Albion. As a long-term Albion fan and past employee I am relishing the prospect of them playing in the Premier League next season, particularly in the light of the club’s struggles over the past 20 years.
Many have spoken of the despair when the Albion left the old stadium, The Goldstone Ground, in 1997 and home games had to be played at Gillingham; the moment when the club almost found itself sinking out of the football league altogether was also remembered. It was only a vital goal against Hereford that saved them from relegation into the Conference which would most likely been the nail in the coffin for the club. It was widely believed this would have led to the club being folded altogether, particularly as it no longer had its own home ground. From that point forward us fans banded together and waged a long-running campaign to get the club a new stadium at Falmer, with crucial support from people like the iconic Dick Knight and later the man with the big cheque book, Tony Bloom.
We could be playing league games at Wembley against Tottenham and we’ll be having local derbies with Southampton and Bournemouth. To have come from a point where at one stage we were the 92nd worst team out of 92 and to get to where we are now is amazing. It will be weird seeing some of the best players in the world playing at the Albion in an actual league match instead of a pre-season friendly or a lucky cup draw. Former TV presenter and possibly our most famous fan, Des Lynam, said: “The club have been looking good all season and it is great to see them achieve this. I was there when they last went up to the old first division and I remember them having to deal with the increased level of difficulty and the pressures of that. The standard is so much higher.”
I went to my first game in the mid eighties with my junior club “Kingston Kestrels” and I remember wanting to be a mascot at a match. The game was against Everton and losing 3-1 (I think) was devastating. I then went back just a handful of times when football matches were places you went to and took your life in your hands, so I recall my mother not being too keen on my attendance. I remember the protest marches and signed the petitions as we campaigned for the new ground at Falmer. It was always a pipe dream back then as even if somebody allowed a stadium to be built, the club had about £3.28 to spend on it. I think Tony Bloom, the wealthy gambler and property tycoon as a messiah of some kind, as do most other Brighton fans. His money allowed the club to ditch the old athletics stadium at Withdean where the team had, for want of a better word, been squatting for over a decade.
By the time the earth was broken for the new stadium Chelsea legend Gus Poyet was leading the team to League 1 glory. Many a tear was shed as we prepared for a new ground and an all out attack on the Championship. The first game that was played at the Amex was the most memorable for me. The crowds before the game all waving white and blue flags, the pitch looked like it had been manicured to within an inch of perfection, the players looked fired up; and their was a thought in everybody’s mind that ‘we’ would be looking for a place in the top twenty clubs in the country….. The PREMIER LEAGUE! It took a few years and near miss with relegation but the years of waiting for it were over. It wasn’t until well into extra time before ‘we’ scored against Doncaster to win. It was a fairy-tale finish and a moment no living Albion fan will EVER forget.
COMMENTATOR PETER BRACKLEY
“LOOKING back over the last 20 years the club has been through so much and I think that is why this promotion means so much to so many people now. Everyone remembers all those who did what they could to help the club and all the supporters. I remember when we were at the Withdean ground and the boardroom was in a temporary building. It’s hard to believe that when you see how things are now. My son is a Manchester United fan and I am looking forward seeing some great players and matches next season.
“Every game is going to be a big game. The standard is going to be really high and there will be a massive atmosphere. It is a great time for the club at the moment and they have done the whole city proud.”
“I WAS there last Monday and for the last two or three games. The club have been looking good all season and it is great to see them achieve this. I was there when they last went up to the old first division and I remember them having to deal with the increased level of difficulty. The standard is so much higher and they are going to notice that in the Premier League. Two of my closest friends are Tottenham fans and so I’m really looking forward to seeing Spurs against Albion home and away.
“I’ve been involved with the club since I was a boy and was always at the matches. I couldn’t get to go to them so often when I was doing Grandstand and Match of the Day but in later years I’ve been able to see more. I am absolutely delighted for the Albion and I know the club is currently in very good hands.”
As I write this there is every chance that Brighton will be entering the Premiere League as CHAMPIONS! Shunning big name sides like Newcastle, Leeds, Reading and Sheffield Wednesday to finish top of what many say is one of the toughest divisions worldwide to win. 2 games and 3 points needed so let’s hope ‘we’ can do it! Bring on 2017/18 season! Which brings me to our clubs using the facilities at the schools I manage. I know many have had great seasons leading to cup wins and promotions; some of which is down to… and I quote….. “I don’t think we would have won promotion if it wasn’t for the quality of your pitch!” I hope that next season will be a one to remember too.