Brighton and Hove Albion’s bosses thanked players, staff and fans as they accepted the freedom of the city this afternoon (Thursday 18 May).
The football club’s manager Chris Hughton said: “It’s a hugely emotional day for me and my family. It’s certainly something that we didn’t expect.”
At a special meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council he praised “the incredible support” from the chairman and board, support staff and players – and the incredible support from the fans and the city.
And he thanked everyone for “the welcome I’ve received for me and my family from this wonderful city”, adding: “I thoroughly enjoy living in the area.”
It gives a great bargaining power when trying to attract players, he said, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.
And on his honour, he added: “It’s something that’s very humbling for me, particularly for someone who has only been in the area for just under two and a half years.”
Tony Bloom said: “I would like to thank you all very much for this very great honour.”
He paid tribute to his parents and his wife for their love, support and inspiration.
He said: “This award is, I feel, not just for me but for all the amazing hard-working dedicated staff at Brighton and Hove Albion and Albion in the Community and all our amazing fans.”
The promotion parade on the seafront on Sunday “showed just how much this football club means to the people of Brighton and Hove”, he said.
And he was so pleased to realise the dreams of all those who support the club whether they come to the games or not.
He added: “We will do our best to remain in the Premier League for as long as we can. We know what that will mean in economic terms to this city.”
There were cries of “Seagulls!” in the council chamber at Brighton Town Hall and, unusually, groans when the meeting was called to a close.
Mayor Pete West congratulated everyone at the club on their historic achievement, returning to the top flight for the first time in more than 30 years.
Councillor West said: “It’s an honour for us as members of the council to celebrate your achievement in this way.”
Council leader Warren Morgan said: “Brighton and Hove Albion is part of this city’s history. It’s part of the fabric of this place.”
The sea of blue and white during the promotion parade bore testimony to that, he said, adding: “It’s a club my family has supported for almost a century.”
He described Tony Bloom as “a man whose family is steeped in the club” and that rare thing, an owner who is also a “loyal die-hard fan”.
It can be seen when he celebrates goals not just in the directors’ box but at some away games from in the stands.
Councillor Morgan also praised the inspiration provided by manager Chris Hughton and said: “It’s my honour as leader of the council and my pleasure as a lifelong Brighton and Hove Albion fan to propose awarding the honorary freedom of the city of Brighton and Hove to these two men today.”
The honour being conferred on “these heroes” recognised the achievement of everyone at the club.
The outgoing opposition Conservative leader Councillor Geoffrey Theobald said: “This is the highest honour that any city council can make to its citizens.”
Like the council leader, he praised former chairman Dick Knight, who was given the freedom of the city four years ago, and the man behind the stadium, Martin Perry.
Tony Bloom’s uncle Ronnie Bloom, a longstanding servant of the club, was also praised. And Councillor Theobald said: “Tony, you’ve done a fantastic job.”
He praised his work with not just the Albion but also with the club’s charity Albion in the Community.
And he cited a Daily Telegraph tribute to Chris Hughton which described him as a “kind, generous, warm and thoroughly decent man … and the most underrated manager in the country”.
From the town hall chamber’s equivalent of the North Stand, Green group convenor Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, wearing an Albion scarf, praised Tony Bloom’s huge investment in the club, including the training ground at Lancing and the youth set up.
And he praised the huge inspiration provided by Chris Hughton not just to his players but to young fans in Brighton and Hove and further afield.
He said: “This last week has been incredible.”
And the freedom of the city, he added, was an honour that was richly deserved.
Fellow Green councillor Leo Littman spoke about their achievement in winning promotion, saying: “Considering what the club went through between 1997 and 2011, it’s little short of a miracle.”
Councillor Lee Wares said that he was proud to be a long-time fan of the greatest club in the world.
Councillor Alan Robins made a very personal plea: “Going back to the beginning of the 1971 season I had a trial with the Albion but I never actually heard anything back.”
There was laughter as he said that he was ready if needed.