I continue to be in both a state of awe and excitement in being invited to contribute to the National Rust. Alan Tanner explained to me that the sports editor Tom Hollingworth believes that real fans know much more about their club, and in some cases soccer, than journalists so if I am a bit fervent for the Seagulls please forgive me.
Brighton was founded in 1901 and despite beating Aston Villa to win an FA cup competition in 1910, in the early years we were very much a lower division team. Under the chairmanship of Mike Bamber and the management of Alan Mullery our fortunes improved in the late 70s. Then we had the likes of Mark Lawrenson, Steve Foster, Peter Ward and Peter O’Sullivan. We achieved promotion to the top flight and in 1983 we both reached a cup final, losing after a replay to Manchester United, and were relegated.
The bleakest moment came in 1997 when the old Goldstone ground was bulldozed and we could no longer play in our city, but 75 miles away at Gillingham. Like most one club cities, we identify strongly with our team. Two years later we were back at the Withdean, an athletic stadium of 6000 capacity. Under Dick Knight and Micky Adams we won the play-offs. For many years Tony Bloom, whose family were long associated with the club, sought planning permission for a stadium at Falmer and eventually this was granted. Tony Bloom invested £93m in a state of art stadium of which we are all justly proud. The fan base mushroomed to over 20000, the seventh highest in the land.
We have reached the play-offs the last two seasons but also lost some of our best players: Bridcutt to Sunderland and Ulloa to Leicester City. We tend to appoint continental managers: Gus Poyet, Oscar Garcia and now Sami Hyppia. Because of this we tend to play a possession game. Goals have been a problem, but we hope now with Mackall-Smith returning to form and fitness and the new signing from Getafe Colunga no longer so. After a poor start, losing our first two games, we have won the next three. It’s eary days but another play-off place seems achievable.
Tony has now funded a training centre at Lancing that is as good as any in the country. Both he and former chairman Dick Knight are immensely popular so when the spat with Gus Poyet turned nasty almost all took Tony’s side.
We are very much a community club. The biggest local employer (American Express) have the naming rights ot the stadium and training centre and the word community appears in the title of both. Because we have now come home, you now see far more kids in Brighton wearing our shirt whereas in the bleak years Manchester United ones were more ubiquitous. We may not be one of the big boys but we are proud of our team and stadium and the role both play in Brighton life.