The impossible dream – the sensational rise of Brighton and Hove Albion to the Premier League….

Posted On 20 Apr 2017 at 6:01 am

Brighton & Hove has gone Albion crazy since last Monday 17th April.

But it hasn’t always been like that. As recently as 1998 the then Seagulls chairman Dick Knight had to almost beg the council to lend support to the club. Nowadays of course the council leader Warren Morgan is a Brightonian and of course a huge Albion fan. 

Sadly though in their hour of need the council and the twin towns really rather turned their back on Brighton & Hove Albion. 

To fight the unbeatable foe….….

SWEAT a group of Withdean and Westdene residents who 17 years ago campaigned against the Seagulls moving home to Withdean from Gillingham. On the basis that Albion’s fan to population ratio was not indicative of the upheaval Albion’s tenanacy might create.

And of course the Falmer residents who’s tenacious campaign to stop the Falmer development for many years  did end in tears.  Abley assisted by Lewes Coucil leader Anne De Vecchi and the occasionally annoying nasel drone of of rock superstar, but then Lewes MP Norman Baker.

Baker said lots of negative things about the stadium and offered little to substantiate his claims. He was representing the interests of his electorate he claimed. Most Lewesians couldn’t have cared less. 

Falmer  residents the  Cuttress  family however were appalled. The  Albion were intending to flood their quiet,pretty little village, that the A27 and the Sussex University already discected, with a community football stadium half a mile from their pond. On land owned and bequeathed to the club by the council.

Albion won, twice but not without huge extra financial outlay and another generation of fans almost lost.

With Greggs now the main bakery outlet in Brighton and Hove and Forfars sadly a distant memory. 

To bear with unbearable sorrow.…..

Almost exactly 20 years ago the Albion played their last ever game at the Goldstone. Days later the billdozers moved in. Fans young and old went along to the pay their last respects. In the years that followed in transpired there was no need to sell the stadium. It is likely when Foray 585 was put together as the company Bill Archer and Greg Stanley invested a £100. It is also likely  the long term ideas were  to change the articles of association hope no one noticed. Sell  the Goldstone for a big fat profit whilst accidentally running the football club into the ground. Albion fans had to bear that, move on and continue providing support to the club. Those who did are just as much today’s hero’s as the players and staff who have achieved this promotion to the Premier League. 

To be willing  to give when there’s no  more to give……..

Dick Knight who’s persistence and tenacity without doubt saved the Albion.

Knight negotiated with Archer for months in 1997. And he and his team including Martin Perry put their personal lives and in the case of Knight financies in jeopardy to bring Brighton & Hove Albion back from the brink extinction.

Even after the threat of demotion to non-league and football league expulsion had subsided, Knight had to finance a football club with no assets. Playing 70 miles away from their own conurbation with a fast dwindling fans base. Between 1997-98 the small percentage of young fans wearing Albion tops in the twins towns would have been ridiculed by those dreadful plastic Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United fans we all had to endure. 

Knight nursed the club through the Withdean years. The cost’s of just bringing the club back to Brighton and Hove despite Adrian Newnhams excellent and almost evocative ‘Bring Home The Albion’ campaign, was enormous. With a limit initially of just six thousand seats there was massive financial input by Knight and his board. Plus other supporters thought to include Dave Day, reinsurance genius Billy Brown and Norman Cook.

Frustratingly it wasn’t a case of getting more fans through the turnstiles, it was the fact that the limitations of Withdean meant the usual income streams were capped and ultimately exhausted. The only reason the Albion survived and were ultimately not just competitive and but very successful, was that Knight continually put his hand in his pocket. How do you make a small fortune from running a football club? Start with a large one. 

To be willing to die so that honour and justice may live………..

We must all remember the contributions the late Paul Whelch , Sarah Watts and Roy Chuter to preserving this football club. 

Paul Welch passed away earlier this month. The founder of Seagulls Over London he also ensured some of the more rigid rules of the Withdean occupation were adhered to. By organising the regular  litter collections. Withdean and Westdene really have never looked as tidy ever since. 

But, one act eclipsed this. In 1996 the three Paul’s, Welch, Samrah and Bracchi, identified and challenged the now infamous removal of the non profit clause. There is little doubt that this  interjection was crucial in Albion’s future history.

Roy Chuter was instrumental in the intial fight and campaigns against Archer and Stanley. He was a master of the english language. His infamous reply to Eversheds, the solicitors who represented David Bellotti was classic, and started “I was concerned that someone had broken into your offices and stolen a quantity of your headed note paper, so appalling and basic were the grammatical errors in your latest correspondence” 

Roy died in 2014. 

Sarah Watts was involved in the Albion supporters club for over 30 years. She was also instrumental in the Falmer For All campaign. A movement that gave the club the momentum needed to highlight the case for the stadium to be built. 

Ms Watts passed away in 2015.

To reach the unreachable star….…..

Since 1983 the Albion have gone from the very top to almost the lowest imaginable. 

In the mid to late 80’s they flirted with regaining the paradise that is the top fight. 

The 1991 Play-Off Final  has almost became at catalyst for that period. From the final whistle the club went into unprecedented decline. Both on and off the pitch. 

By 1996, with the Goldstone already sold and Liam Brady,  heralded as the great new hope had resigned as manager. The club were relagated to the bottom tier for the first time since in 31 years. 

What happened next was unexpected and took football off the pitch and to the forefront of the fans personal lives.

By April 1997 Albion were as  far away from the Premier League as they were from Mars. 

The Gillingham years between 1997-99 were a despressing time. Mainly because for the first time in many generations there was no professional football in Brighton and Hove. 

A council sign in Hove Park next to the tennis courts was exceptionally poignant, it simply read  ‘Brighton & Hove – no football’ 

Dick Knight worked wonders getting the club back home to Withdean. 

Things began to improve. The first Trophy since 1965 when Micky Adams team won the 2001 League 2 title was followed by another championship in 2002. 

But the lack of a proper stadium was holding the club back. A couple a seasons in the Championship showed at that level the club were punching well above their weight. 

The negative planning  inspectors report regarding Falmer put the club on the back foot. But the reaction of the fans and the population of the area was the start of the green shoots on the road to top flight recovery. 

Tony Bloom became chairman in 2009 and has had one intention ever since. Whether it be ‘one club one ambition’ or ‘togetherness’ Brightonian Bloom has been determined the Albion return to the top flight. He will have recalled the club playing in the old Division 1 when he was a schoolboy. 

Albion are by no means the biggest spenders in the league. And spending £2m or £3m on player does not guarantee Premier League football. Promotion is a bit like a spacecraft re-entering the earths atmosphere. An extremely narrow window you get few opportunities to penetrate.

But Chris Hughtons team have done it. And in some style. Hughton as we put it to him last week is both a humble and methodical man and expert tactician. His appointment one of the most important decisions in the clubs history. 

Brighton & Hove Albion is once again a recognised name in world football. 

A wet Friday night losing at home to Rochdale is for now, as far away as Mars. 

Next season the millionaire superstars of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea and their legions of fans will be making their way to Brighton & Hove. 

A quite astonishing scenario.

Up the Albion! 

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