Back to the Proper Business

After the ‘transition’ season immediately following WW2, football resumed properly on 31st August 1946 after a break of almost exactly 7 years. The general public were desperate to get back to (sporting) normality and Bryon Butler’s Official History of the Football League  said that ‘football offered excitement, a sign of normality and the promise of of a better tomorrow in one heady and irresistible package’.

Albion took their place in Division Three (South) with an opening fixture against Port Vale at The Goldstone. The fixture list was the same as for the aborted 1939/40 season, another attempt to give the impression of normality. The ground was in a sorry state, having suffered bomb damage during the war. Money to make the repairs was in short supply and the club obtained a large amount of government surplus ‘battleship-grey’ paint. This was liberally daubed all round the ground, resulting in the pseudonym ‘HMS Goldstone’

Page 1The programme for the game was an eight-page issue, larger in size than the previous season’s offering. Inside, the content was sparse, evidence that the club had a lot of work to do, building on the post-war positivity seen in the previous campaign.

Crosse & Blackwell were back on the front page but the panel below was blank.  The twin crests of Brighton & Hove appear above a list of club officials, with Charles Wakeling listed as Chairman. Mr Wakeling had steered the club through the difficult war years and he was to continue in the role until 1951. He was a prolific author on football and the money he made from these publications was often used to help the club financially.

Page 2 lists the fixtures for the season, for both the first team and reserves, above an advert for the Brighton Corporation Electricity Department. Their slogan was ‘The Best way is the Electric Way’, in an attempt to modernise the way we ran our homes after the War. The Corporation was based in Electric House, an imposing Art Deco building in Castle Square, now occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland.

Turning to page three, we see the first example of what was to evolve into ‘Club News’ over the years, penned by Victor Champion, the club Press Manager. Mr Champion opens with a note of real positivity, saying New hopes arise in the hearts of Albion supporters this afternoon, there is a feeling of confidence in the Albion camp”. The previous season had been spent assembling a squad of permanent players, to replace the wartime system of ‘guest’ players. With another game coming up four days later, Mr Champion ends his article by saying These two matches so close together should give home supporters some concrete idea of what the season holds for them”. The War had decimated the numbers of young players available and for the opening game, we fielded a line-up which was the oldest in the history of the club, with an average age of 31.

Page 4-5The centre-pages are a familiar sight. The teams are laid out in the centre of the page, surrounded by a number of adverts for local companies. These include FryCo, the soft drink manufacturer based in Portslade. Founded in 1984, the company had moved to Victoria Road in 1920, manufacturing a large range of ‘Delicious Squashes and Table Waters’. To encourage the football fan to buy their products, Fryco offer ‘Half Time refreshers’ and ‘Full Time favourites’. They were to become a stalwart advertiser in the programme in seasons to come.

Page 7The back half of the programme was almost completely blank, with each page urging prospective advertisers to take up space. One of these slots was ‘reserved for C Baker & Co Ltd of Portslade’. A wholesale tobacconist, with a factory in Portslade and a shop in St Georges Place, Bakers obviously ran out of time when it came to submitting their advertising copy!

As the season wore on, advertisers returned to the club and by the time Exeter City visited in December 1946, the programme was looking much healthier. The game against The Grecians took place on Christmas Day and is the last time we played at home on December 25th.

The blank panel on the front cover of the programme was taken up by The King Alfred Restaurant, offering ‘Luncheons, Teas and Dinner. Dancing Wednesdays and Fridays’. The King Alfred complex was started in 1938 but as war intervened, the building was requisitioned by the Admiralty as a training complex and became HMS King Alfred. The building was eventually finished after the War and was opened for public use in August 1946. The King Alfred was to become a regular fixture in Albion programme for years.

BHA v Exeter 25 Dec 1946 1The Brighton Corporation still believed in the benefits of electricity and enhanced their adverts with drawings of the latest state of the art gadgets, which included cookers, kettles and water heaters.

Mr Champion was at his festive best, passing on ‘All the Very Best’ from the club; The Albion Directors extend to the players, the Executive Staff, the ground Staff and the Sport-Minded folk who consistently support the Club, the compliments of the season”. He goes to provide a mid-season update and we are told “Barracking does not affect players”; “The Board can take all the criticism that is coming to them”; and “‘HMS Goldstone’ will shed its battle-ship grey when controls are removed”. 

The Evening Argus push their Saturday Football Special underneath Mr Champion’s article, who also writes for the paper under the name ‘Crusader’. Blank advertising spaces were filled by more local companies, including Moody’s Motors of Davigdor Road, Hove.

In the spirit of post-war togetherness and re-building, C Baker & Co used their space in the programme to ‘Offer this space, gratis, for the purpose of advertising any charitable function that may be held during the football season’.

The programme ends with yet more adverts. The Restaurant Imperial near the Clock Tower in North Street promises to ‘Cater for any Party, large or small’ with a Dinner Dance available for 5/- (25p) inclusive. Underneath this was further evidence that electricity was the way forward. Page & Miles Limited at 60 Western Road is the place to go ‘for EVERYTHING electrical’.

Page 3The penultimate programme of the season, for the game in April against Bristol was almost identical to the Christmas Day offering. No-one had come forward to take up the offer made by C Baker & Co and the format of the programme had settled down, much like life after the War. Mr Champion talked to us about International players at The Goldstone. The England team had used the Goldstone’s “Virgin turf” to help them prepare for the forthcoming match against Scotland at Wembley. We are told that “They were greatly impressed with the condition of the pitch and not one of them had seen a better conditioned ground this season”Mr Champion puts this down to the land being originally used for sheep grazing, a practice that continued until after the First World War. The secret, we are told, is “the wonderful fertilising characteristics” of the animals.

Albion fans didn’t exactly flock back to The Goldstone. The average crowd for the 46/47 season was 8,217 and they saw just eight wins in the 21 games. Things had to improve the following season.

Thanks for reading. These blogs will form the basis for what I hope will eventually turn into a book on the Post-War history of the Albion programme. Any feedback is gratefully received.

Ian

Acknowledgements:

My own programme collection is the main source of information for these articles. For the seasons immediately following the War, I am indebted to the help provided by the Albion Collectors & Historians Society, who have lent me programmes from their stock for me to scan. I am particularly grateful to Society member Peter Irvine, the real Albion programme ‘guru’, who sent me scans of the Christmas Day 1946 programme.

Other information was obtained from:

“Seagulls!”The Story of Brighton & Hove Albion FC” by Tim Carder & Roger Harris. Online, Judy Middleton’s blogs on the local area have been invaluable, especially when looking at the history of the companies that advertised in the programme.

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Post-War Recovery

This is the start of a series that will (hopefully) result in a post-war history of Albion’s programme. I would love it to turn into an actual book but that needs my enthusiasm for the Brighton & Hove Albion football programme to be shared by quite a few other people! We will see, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy.

I should say at this stage that all the comments and interpretations are my own, and may or may not be representative of the views of others. Where I have referred to other publications I have tried to give the correct reference. I apologise in advance if this is not the case.

So, starting with a brief look at Albion during WWII…………….

The Second World War affected nearly all aspects of life in Britain. Families were split up, homes destroyed, workplaces disappeared and at times, it felt as if there was no way back.

In times of adversity, people tend to take solace in the things that make them happy and football was one of those things. Wartime football was nothing like what had gone before but it provided an outlet and an antidote to the misery of the conflict.

Albion competed in the Football League (South) from 1939 until the end of hostilities. When Germany surrendered on 7th May 1945, it wasn’t long before thoughts turned to the re-establishment of proper league football. With men scattered all over the World, it wasn’t thought possible to make an immediate return to the pre-war league set-up, so a transitional season was agreed. Albion played in the Third Division (South) Southern region.

Page 1Post-war rationing meant that many things continued to be in very short supply, including paper. For this reason, Albion’s programme was a small affair. Measuring just over 4inches wide and 5inches tall, it was roughly the same size as a postcard. The club decided on an 8-page programme as we kicked off the season against Reading on 1st September 1945, almost exactly six years since the last non-war-time fixture.

The cover showed the badges of Brighton and Hove above a graphic of some white cliffs with seagulls gliding around. A very British image was completed by an advert for Crosse & Blackwell Foods, along with a plea for people to ‘Visit the Grand Theatre – Brighton’. Crosse & Blackwell were to stay on the cover of Albion programmes for the next nine seasons, a stalwart of the post-war years.

One of the things I love about programmes from this era is that it’s not just about the football. Each programme provides a unique snapshot of life in Brighton at the time of the match. The majority of adverts were for local companies and give a clear picture of what life was like for Brightonians at the time.

In that first post-war season, there is clear evidence of the overwhelming desire to return to some form of normality, with local firms eager to persuade punters it was ‘business as usual’. In the programme for the game against Bournemouth (or Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic as they were known then), this is clear as soon as you open the programme.

Page 2-3The season’s fixtures are on page two, above an advert for Tamplins Ales. The strap-line on the advert is ‘Still Winning’, a clear reference to the fact that life (and especially beer drinking) must go on. Founded in 1821, Tamplins was a stalwart of the Brighton pub scene until it’s acquisition by Watney Mann in 1953. The Tamplins name lived on for a while after that and was a regular in Albion’s programme throughout the 1950s.

 

On page 3, five of the six small adverts are for Brighton pubs. At The Golden Cross in Western Road, ‘mine host’ I.B. De Costa states that ‘Besides good beers, wines and spirits – there are excellent and tasty sandwiches’. This theme is continued with other adverts. The Old Ship Hotel in Kings Road invites you ‘down the stairs on the left to that comfy little saloon’. Dick Roberts at The White Horse Hotel in Rottingdean says that ‘Sportsmen still call’ and ‘even in the black-out there is that congenial and happy atmosphere’. The Volunteer, on the corner of New Road and Church Street (now The Mash Tun) is ‘still the house for snacks’.

Page 4-5The centre-pages contain the staple of programmes from the 40s and 50s, the team listings. Laid out in the ultra-traditional 2-3-5 formation, there is not a squad number in sight. You don’t even get first names for the players, with Albion’s team listed as Baldwin, Risdon, Longdon, Darling, Trainor, Whent, Munro, Wilson, Moore, O’Donnell and Stephens.

The adverts surrounding the teams continued the theme of ‘back to normal’. Miller’s Pies urges everyone to ‘d’you remember our slogan – “The Pie with the Meat in”‘. They go on to say that ‘It’s still difficult, but we manage it!’. I’m wondering what they filled the pies with, in the absence of meat. Sawdust? Who knows.

The Grand Theatre in North Road was another sanctuary for Brighton folk throughout the war and beyond. In October 1945, it was all about the Variety Show, with performances at 6pm and 8pm.

Page 6-7One of the adverts on page 6 gives a handy list of ‘Mine Hosts’ that welcome darts players to their establishments. These include Jack Burchell at the Hartington Hotal in Whippingham Road, ‘Slosh’ Hoad at the Freshfield Inn and Billy Wells at London Road’s Branch Tavern.

One feature of life in the 40s and 50s was the country-wide obsession with smoking. It was almost seen as a badge of honour back in those days, with many prominent sportsmen advertising the ‘benefits’ of smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars. C.Baker & Co, ‘The South Coast Wholesale Tobacconist’ from Portslade, indulged in a piece of post-war propaganda. They are proud that ‘throughout the six years of war we did our utmost to provide good service for our hundreds of clients’. This may sound a little strange within the context of what we now know about the dangers of smoking, but these were very different times.

Page 8On the back page, was the only written reference to the football match that was taking place. Penned by Victor Champion, who also wrote under the name of ‘Crusader’ for the Brighton Evening Argus, he welcomes ‘our old and friendly seaside rivals from Bournemouth’, in a perfect illustration of the camaraderie that existed just after the War.

 

The final word goes to the last advert in the programme, for Mr S Cowan, a certified masseur and ‘trainer to Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club’. Mr Cowan offers a number of services, including the intriguingly-named ‘Medical Electricity’ treatment. I’m struggling to get rid of an image of a poor unfortunate patient, wired up to numerous electrodes while a mad professor-type rushes around throwing switches and laughing manically as the current arcs across the electrodes.

So there we have it, a look at what the Albion programme looked like in the first season after the Second World War. As you can probably gather from the way I’ve written it, I absolutely love these little glimpses of life over 70 years ago. In case you were wondering, we beat Bournemouth 4-2 that day. Maybe the medical electricity treatment did the trick!!

References:

The programme I talk about isn’t mine. The scans were very kindly provided by Albion fan Mick Wright. I’m very grateful to Mick for sending this through, as I am to anyone who provides images of old Albion programmes.

As always, any piece on any aspect of the history of The Albion needs reference to “Seagulls! – The Story of Brighton & Hove Albion FC” by Tim Carder & Roger Harris

Further material sourced from http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk , arthurlloyd.co.uk , pubshistory.com , mybrightonandhove.org.uk

Albion v Arsenal in 1942

Last weekend, Albion beat Arsenal in the 17th competitive meeting between the clubs. This was our third victory against them, following the Division One wins in April and September 1982.

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Albion v Arsenal January 1934

We first played the Gunners in January 1934 in the FA Cup. The programme from that game shows one of Albion’s most iconic programme designs and is one of my great favourites. The 17 ‘proper’ games over the years doesn’t tell the full story. I also posted on twitter (@SeagullsProg), some covers from other games against Arsenal, mostly friendlies in the 1980s, but even this leaves some gaps in the story of our games with Arsenal. My programme collection is almost exclusively from the post-war years but as a result of all the activity surrounding the game last week, I was sent a fantastic old programme, from March 1942.

This was, of course, in the middle of World War Two. Various league and cup competitions took place during the conflict but are usually excluded from official club records because of the number of ‘guest’ players that took part. This was due to clubs taking players from the ranks of servicemen stationed close to grounds, and Albion were no exception. We came perilously close to liquidation in the early stages of the war, finding it difficult at times to raise a team.

The organisation of football at that time was haphazard to say the least and at the start of the 1941/42 season, a huge row was brewing between the Football League and the London clubs. This came to a head when the fixtures were published for a South Regional competition. The London clubs were unhappy with the arrangements and broke away to form their own competition. The geographical isolation of Albion, Portsmouth, Aldershot and Reading, meant that we were almost forced to join the rebels. This, in turn, led to our expulsion from the (official) league, although we were welcomed back the following April.

The season’s fixtures were therefore in the London War League, which included Crystal Palace, Spurs and Arsenal. The Gunners played their wartime games at White Hart Lane (imagine that happening now!), as Highbury was being used as a first-aid post and air-raid patrol centre.

Page 1 resizedOn 14th March 1942, we travelled to Tottenham for the game against Arsenal and a 2-page programme was issued for the fixture. Another feature of Wartime football was the use of ‘guest’ players, a system Albion relied on quite heavily.

The team listings on the front page of the programme illustrates this very well. At left-back for Albion was Cyril Tooze, who was actually registered to Arsenal! He made a number of appearance for us but as a serving soldier, he took part in the commando raid on a German Radar station at Bruneval in Normandy just weeks before his run-out at White Hart Lane.  Cyril was sadly killed in February 1944, while serving in Italy, the victim of a sniper’s bullet.

Up front on that day in March 1942 was listed ‘Eastham’. This could have been George, an England International who played for Blackpool. As well as Albion, he guested all over the country during the War. It could also have been his brother Harry, another who played for a number of clubs but turned out 50 times for Albion in the War.

Page 2 resizedPage 2 of the programme carries the fixtures for both North London clubs, as well as an article entitled ‘items of interest’. This listed a number of players who had departed the clubs for wartime activities. It also served to highlight the tragic aspect of things, when mourning the loss of Pilot Officer WW (Bill) Parr, ‘a loveable fellow, who won the hearts of all our Highbury family’.

This was the second of four fixtures against Arsenal that season, all four ending in defeat for Albion. The match in March 1942 was lost 4-2, with Albion’s goals scored by Risdon (penalty) and Morgan. A crowd of 7,500 watched the game.

Although it’s only 2 pages, this is a magnificent programme. I’m always amazed that items like this survive for so long and I’m hugely grateful to Albion fan Mick Wright, who very kindly supplied scans of the programme.

You can see this and loads more of my Albion programmes at Seagulls Programmes

References:

Seagulls! – The Story of Brighton & Hove Albion FC – Tim Carder & Roger Harris                                                 Albion A-Z – A Who’s Who of Brighton & Hove Albion FC – Tim Carder & Roger Harris

Rollercoaster? Not even close!

In April 1997, Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club was staring into the abyss.  Rooted to the bottom of the football league, with asset-stripping bastards in charge off the pitch.  We arrived at games back then, with no clue as to where the club was going.  All we wanted was for Archer & Bellotti to leave, so we could re-build and consolidate.

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Albion v Doncaster Rovers 26th April 1997 – last game at The Goldstone

Our ground was about to be bulldozed, meaning our shrine to the Albion, which had stood for nearly 100 years, was being taken away.  “Homeless, broke – the Board’s a joke!” read one of the many banners on display at the various marches that had taken place in the the two years previously.

In one of those curious little coincidences, Just 20 short years later to the month, that same club, my club, stands on the brink of promotion to the top flight.  On Monday, we play Wigan Athletic and a victory means that, barring a statistical freak, we will celebrate the ultimate footballing redemption.  34 years since relegation from the old Division One, Albion will return to lock horns with the big boys and I cannot wait.

The irony is that these past 20 years have seen much success, with four promotions (and two relegations), a play-off final win (and three unsuccessful tilts at the end-of-season lottery) and numerous days of drama, euphoria, heartbreak and despair.  The biggest journey however, has been the transition from the rubble of The Goldstone, to the shiny new cathedral of football that is The American Express Community Stadium.  This is the real story, the one of relentless toil by so many people, all of whom believed that one day, Albion would rise again as a footballing force.

On the pitch (not counting the 4 we have left this season), we’ve played 916 league games since the breathless last-day survival at Hereford in 1997.  The first 92 of those were at Gillingham, 75 miles away from Brighton.  This was the horrendous consequence of the systematic rape of our club by Archer & Bellotti.  The first season was awful.  We won just SIX games all season and our points tally of 35 would have been enough to send us down, if it wasn’t for Doncaster Rovers, who were, amazingly, even worse than us.  A degree of recovery was seen in the 1998/99 season, when we found out that a return to Brighton was on the cards.  I didn’t go to Gillingham as much as I could have (or even should have), but the times I did go, it was a bleak, brutal experience, with Albion fans rattling around Priestfield Stadium, desperately trying to rally the demoralised troops.

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Albion v Mansfield Town.  First game at Withdean Stadium, 7th August 1999

 

The return to Brighton became a reality in August 1999, when we ran out for the first league football match at Withdean Stadium.   The residents of the leafy suburb, quickly nicknamed ‘The Theatre of Trees’ tried their best to prevent it, but the hard work by new Chairman Dick Knight and his team, made it happen.

A season of consolidation came and went, and then we signed Bobby Zamora.  I was now able togo to more and more games and as the 2000/01 season wore on, it was clear that we were heading for something special, spear-headed by the goal-machine that was Bobby.  He propelled us to the Division Three title and we left that division after 184 games.  67 wins, 48 draws and 69 defeats made up that time.  We scored 234 goals and conceded 213.

The next three seasons were brilliant, with two more promotions, either side of a relegation, following a very brief flirtation with the second tier.  The mid-to-late-noughties were strange times.  We flirted with success, finishing seventh in 2007/08 as well as with danger.  May 2009 saw us escape relegation back to the fourth tier on the final day, Nicky Forster scoring the vital goal at Withdean.  This was my son Fraser’s first ‘proper’ season and he loved it, despite the many soakings on the open seating in the Family Stand.

Autumn 2009 saw the arrival of Gus Poyet.  His first game was away at Southampton, who were themselves recovering from off-field turmoil.  St Marys played host to just over 2,700 Albion fans, including me and Fraser.  It was a short trip for us, about 5 miles, and although we were a bit apprehensive, we were hoping the team would do us proud.  A 3-1 win did that in spades.

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Fraser at Aston Villa – Jan 2010

Fraser was able to go to School the next day and hold his head high.  That was the real tipping point for him in terms of his Albion support.  You always hope your kids will listen to sense and support the same team as you.  In 2009/10 Fraser really got the bug.

The following season it all came together in glorious style.  We won League One, playing some of the best football many supporters had seen for a long, long time.  At the same time, our brilliant new stadium was rising from the Sussex downland and we had a new man at the helm in the Boardroom.  Tony Bloom was in charge, the latest in a long line of Blooms with an association to the club.  Many of the objections to Falmer surrounded the ‘spoiling’ of an area of outstanding natural beauty.  What a load of old rubbish.  The stadium IS an area of outstanding natural beauty.  Biased?  Not me.

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Albion v Doncaster Rovers.  First game at The Amex. 6th August 2011

So there we were, back in The Championship with a new ground.  The Manager and team seemed capable of holding their own, despite the loss of Glenn Murray to Crystal Palace.  The first season at Falmer ended with us in 10th place but the following season, it all stepped up.  Me and Fraser were season ticket holders in the North Stand and were absolutely loving it.  A 3-0 win at home against Palace was the high point, with some absolute scenes being witnessed when David Lopez smashed in a free kick just before half time.  Play-off heartbreak then followed and it’s still difficult to talk about it, even now, mainly because it made Fraser cry.  A 2-0 defeat was bad enough but when we saw the Palace players celebrating at the end of the game, that was hard to take.

The following season brought more play-off nightmares, but at least we could say we lost to the better team in Derby County.  2014/15 started with a new man in charge (Sami Hyppia) but any hopes that his playing pedigree would translate to success on the pitch were soon well and truly dashed.  We were shit, really shit.  The low point for me was the Millwall game just before Christmas when we were woeful.  Fighting is never a good thing to see at football but to witness our fans scrapping with each other was tough.  Thankfully, Tony Bloom put him out of his misery and brought in Chris Hughton.  The rest of course, is history.

The quiet assurance of Hughton is a joy to watch.  He never seems to get over-excited and in front of the camera, he is always cool, calm and collected.  The disappointment of 2015/16, first at Middlesbrough then at The Amex with Sheffield Wednesday beating us in the play-offs, was very, very hard to take.

Many fans, me included, thought a good, consolidating, mid-table season would be classed as a success, with perhaps a flirt with the play-offs thrown in at some stage.  That prediction went well!  We are not flirting with the play-offs because for nearly all of the season, we have been in the top-two!

So here we are, twenty years on from the dark days of 1997.   The 917th league game since 1997 could bring final redemption to this brilliant football club.  The record at the moment stands at P916, W350, D266, L300, F1161, A995.  We’ve taken 1,316 points in that time.  Three more and it’s party-time.

It would seal the fifth promotion in 20 years, and certainly the hardest.  By nature I’m an emotional person so if we pull it off, I am going to be a blubbering, drunken wreck.  But who cares.  This is what being a football fan is all about.  We go through the lows in order to experience the absolute highs.  Fraser will be with me on Monday and part of my emotion will be seeing the joy on his face.  He’s 16 years old and wasn’t even born when we were in the depths of League Two, let alone the last time we were in the top flight.  He is beside himself with anticipation and despite having gone through this all before, so am I.  I can genuinely say that in nearly 48 years of supporting Brighton & Hove Albion, I’m just as excited as I was when I saw promotion in 1977, at a similar age to Fraser.

I’ll leave the final words to Danny Baker, with one of the greatest football-related quotes I have ever read:

“Football, fucking football.  Imagine not being into it.  Those poor, poor half-alive bastards”

Pies Pints & Programmes

I’ve always wanted to write a book.  Not a novel, I don’t have that kind of imagination, but something factual.

It’s taken me a long time, but I have come to realise, in the last few years, that my (working) life should have taken a different turn.  Back in 1977, instead of taking the £ and starting work for Midland Bank, I should have gone to University and got a degree.  Then I might have ended up as a Sports Journalist.  Not one of those investigative chaps, who revel in digging deep into the darkest secrets of footballers.  I wanted to travel the country (and the World) reporting on things that actually happen, the matches, the tournaments, the agony and ecstasy, promotion, relegation and all things in between.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a great time and there isn’t too much about my life I would change.  My children have long been asking me to write down my story, but I’ve always thought ‘who would read that?’.  I now realise that I should be writing the book for me – if anyone else reads it, well that’s a bonus!

So what’s the subject?  My life has been great but that’s viewed through my eyes.  If I’m going to write about my life, I need something else to bring people into my World.

I obviously love football, and have done for pretty much as long as I can remember.  This love affair has taken me to incredible highs and ridiculous lows and through it all, I’ve seen some pretty amazing things.  Come to think of it, that’s pretty much a summary of my non-footballing life as well, so maybe there IS a link between the two after all.

The main focus of my footballing devotion is Brighton and Hove Albion, The Seagulls.  They say being a football fan is like being on an emotional rollercoaster.  That’s fair enough, but the Brighton version of this isn’t a gentle little slow-motion roundabout.  It’s a full-on, maximum intensity, strap-me-in, pass the sick-bag experience.

I popped into the World at the end of the 1950s.  I crept in by three and bit months, but my children revel in telling me I am a child of the first rock’n’roll era.  More of that later, but since then, my life, and that of my beloved Albion, has been a glorious mixture of joyous celebration, utter desolation and pretty much everything else in between.

I’ve seen promotions, relegations, an FA Cup Final (and a replay), two play-off finals, last-minute winners, unspeakably boring 0-0 draws, last-day survivals, pitch invasions, four home grounds, peaceful (and not quite so) protests and loads of unbelievable goals.  Countless players have come and gone, along with a succession of managers, all trying to bring glory to our fantastic club.

Would I have changed any of this?  Any football fan knows the answer to this.  Of course not.

A big part of this footballing odyssey has been my need to collect football programmes.

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Cover from 1945/46

Like many children growing up in the 60s and 70s, I was obsessed with collecting things.  I dabbled with stamps, train tickets (and numbers), bubblegum cards, as well as many other, pointless, things, but always I came back to football programmes.  I grew to love these beautiful snapshots of our past.  In the 1950s, with their grainy photographs and precise, formal words, then through to the 60s, 70s and 80s when publishing techniques and the thirst for knowledge brought ever-larger programmes.  Right through to the present day, when the beautifully produced matchday magazines face a constant threat to their existence from the internet.  The Albion programme has grown from a 4-page information sheet to a near 100-page monster that takes up so much space in my house!

 

They may be more magazine than team sheet these days, but they provide a fascinating insight  into the life of the football club at any given time.  Managers and players come and go, but the programme is a constant, feeding our insatiable thirst for statistics, random facts about our favourite players and the Managers’ thoughts on that day’s

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2016/17

opponents.

 

So, my book is going to be a chronicle of my journey through life, using the Brighton and Hove Albion programme as my reference point, celebrating the joys in my life and commiserating with my when things go wrong.  The Albion programme has been there, helping to define and recount the milestones in my life that have helped shape who I am.

This blog will be the mouthpiece for my (and Albion’s) rollercoaster.

I hope you enjoy the ride.

 

Oh the tension!

This Saturday, it’s the winner-take-all showdown at Middlesbrough.  If we win, we go up into The Premier League.  Anything else and it’s the play-offs.

The game is huge, massive.

Sky would have you believe that the £200million showdown, to enter ‘the greatest league in the World’, is without compare in global football terms.  If you are a bean-counter or someone who has no appreciation of the history of our glorious game (that’s YOU, Sky Sports), then you are probably right. But a sunny day in May 1997 ticks all the boxes for Albion’s biggest ever game.

After two years of relentless struggle against unscrupulous bastard owners, we journeyed to play Hereford United on 3rd May with a simple equation written down.  A draw would keep us in the league by virtue of a better goals-scored tally.  Anything else and The Conference beckoned.  More importantly for Albion, relegation would probably mean the club going out of business.  That might sound dramatic, but that was the stark reality.

There are lots of magnificent football books in circulation but for a ‘from the heart’ Build a Bonfireaccount of how fans campaigned, protested and (literally at times) fought for the survival of a Football Club, then you need to track down a copy of ‘Build a Bonfire’.

Compiled by Steve North and Paul Hodson, both big Albion fans, it documents, in the words of those at the heart of the struggle, how the ruthless, greedy, selfish owners attempted to sell and profit personally from the sale of the club.  They tried to do this without a single thought for the 95-year history of the club, or the thousands of fans who had poured through the turnstiles over the years.  This will probably be familiar territory for fans of Blackpool and I truly hope they rid their club of the Oyston parasites.

It’s a tale of a ceaseless fight for justice, of a single-minded determination to rid our club of a toxic regime.

The details of the story have been told many, many times, so I won’t go over it again but really, find that book, it’s brilliant.

In December 1996, 030Albion were rock-bottom of Division Three (League Two for the youngsters), nine points adrift of Hartlepool United, and ten behind Hereford United.  We had just sacked Manager Jimmy Case, an inevitable decision given the shackles (financial and otherwise) he had to work with.  Steve Gritt came in with the club at it’s lowest ebb.  We were terrible.

That first game for Gritt brought about a 3-0 win, our first for eight games and only our 4th all season.  We had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Sudbury Town and crowds were hovering around the 3,000 point.  A win in a Manager’s first game is usually put down to ‘players impressing the new Gaffer’ syndrome and sure enough, we didn’t win in the league again, until January 25th.  By that time, the deficit was somehow down to 7 points, due to a few scrappy draws.

We took to field against Rochdale with 10 home games to go.  Steve Gritt had identified our home form as crucial to our (miniscule) survival hopes, but that’s without taking into account the toxic atmosphere among the crowd, brought about by messrs Archer and Bellotti.

Then something extraordinary started to happen.  The Rochdale game was won 3-0 and that was followed by two more wins and a draw.  This included an incredible game against Hartlepool United, the ‘Fans United’ game.  This is another chapter in our history that has seen hundreds of thousands of words written so I won’t add to them, but the atmosphere and sense of togetherness shown that day, was another vital cog in our oh-so-complex survival machine.

I wrote earlier that Steve Gritt targetted our home form.  Our last 10 home games were: Rochdale (WIN), Hartlepool United (WIN), Exeter City (WIN), Swansea City (WIN), Northampton Town (WIN), Leyton Orient (DRAW – that doesn’t tell even half the story!), Cardiff City (WIN), Barnet (WIN), Wigan Athletic (WIN), and an unforgettable game against Doncaster Rovers, the last at The Goldstone Ground (WIN).

Extraordinary statistics that took us to Hereford seeking the final piece of the impossible jigsaw.  A draw for survival.

The added tension (not that any extra was really needed), was that our main rivals for the drop were………… yes, you’ve guessed it, Hereford United.

I didn’t/couldn’t go and to this day, it’s one of those games where, with hindsight, I wished I had done more to secu56 - 3 May 97 v Hereford Unitedre a ticket.  Or even gone without one.

The troubles were reaching a climax off the pitch, with a new consortium, headed by the charismatic Dick Knight, looking like they were going to take over.  Relegation to The Conference, though not a deal-breaker, would have made Dick’s job that much harder, so it was all to do for Steve Gritt’s men.

One-nil down at half time, one-nil down with half an hour to go, and I was by now pacing around my local Marks and Spencer, sick with tension and a transistor radio glued to my ear.  The rest, thanks to Robbie Reinelt, is history, and that day provided a springboard for the gradual re-birth of a club.

The fans weren’t done, as more relentless campaigning, this time for a new stadium, came to bear fruit in August 2011.  Five years into life at our new stadium (when do we stop calling it ‘new’ by the way?) and 19 years nearly to the day, since that game against Hereford United, we stand on the brink of a return to the top flight.

It’s a huge game and I will be paralysed with apprehension, come 12.30pm on Saturday, but the biggest game in our history?

Not even close.

I love football!

This summer, I will have been supporting Brighton & Hove Albion for 48 years.   Here’s the cover of the programme from my first game, on 28th August 1968.  It’s pretty irrelevant to this post, but I love football programmes, so here you go!

Page 01 torquaySince that warm summer evening at the end of the swinging sixties, we have been promoted eight times and relegated seven times.  We have reached an FA Cup Final (twice if you count the replay!), got to two play-off finals and have been 28 minutes away from going out of the league altogether.  We have sneaked into the play-offs with injury time goals, escaped relegation on the last day of the season, and enjoyed countless days of excitement, misery, expectation and despair.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that after all that, a possible promotion run-in would be easy to deal with.  After all, we’ve been there before, loads of times.  We know what to expect, right?

Wrong!

Danny Baker once said; “Football, fucking football.  Imagine not being into it, those poor, poor, half-alive bastards”

He is, as per usual, absolutely spot on.  Football consumes you, attacks your emotions, plays with your mind and then spits you out, anywhere between abject misery and all-consuming euphoria.  And I love it.

Brighton have been playing with my emotions for nearly half a century and despite this preparation, I am here in 2016, riddled with expectation and hope.  Albion stand on the brink of another promotion, this time to the bloated cash cow that is The Premier League.  But forget all the talk of multi-million pound players and obscene wages, this is about football, pure and simple.  We go to watch our team win and if we win enough games, promotion is the result.

In just over 24 hours time, we will run out at Nottingham Forest, knowing that a win will keep us in third place, a point behind Middlesbrough and two behind Burnley.  With those two still to play each other, and our final game away at Middlesbrough, the simple equation is, win all six remaining games and we are promoted.  Easy! 

It certainly won’t be easy and there will surely be a good few twists and turns to come, but Chris Hughton and the boys are in a fantastic position.  Yesterday’s results mean a play-off place is all but guaranteed and that’s great, but do we really want all that extra mental torture?  Our four previous flirtations with this amazing end-of-season lottery has brought mixed results.  In 1991, we eased past Millwall before being undone by Tommy Johnson and his Notts County team at Wembley.  In 2004, the semi-final against Swindon Town took us through the complete emotional spectrum, before a trip to the Millenium Stadium brought joy, thanks to Leon Knight.  2013 and 2014 delivered semi-final misery, against Crystal Palace and Derby County.  The play-offs are great, but only if you win!

The next four weeks will take me and all Albion fans on yet another glorious roller-coaster of emotions.  I have a feeling that this particular ride won’t be one of the gentle little trips you see at seaside funfairs.  This one promises to be a full-on inverted-loop, upside-down, legs-dangling, blood-curdling ride of terror.

I literally can’t wait!

Eight to go and it’s twitchy-bum time

I don’t write this blog nearly as often as I would like.  Unfortunately, work gets in the way and on the basis that I get paid for that, but not for this, it’s a no-brainer.

As I sit down now however, it’s Easter Saturday and, weirdly, there isn’t a programme of football.  Well, there is, but not in the top two divisions.  Instead, I will sneak a peek later, at England’s latest attempt to convince us we’ve got a chance at Euro 2016.  I’m not holding my breath but I am a confirmed super optimist so we are clearly going to hammer Germany  by three or four.

The real business starts again next week, with Albion’s game against Burnley.  This is a proper ‘top of the table clash’, as we are second, just 4 points behind The Clarets.  I said above that I am a super optimist and I am, but I just haven’t been able to get too crazily optimistic over Albion this season.  This is despite the fact that compared to the carnage of last season, we have been nothing short of unbelievable, even allowing for the blip in December and January.

So, with eight games to go, there is a real chance we could be promoted to The Premier League.  If we beat Burnley next Saturday, in front of the cameras (again), can we really start to believe?  You know what, I think we can.  Disappointment goes hand in hand with a life as a supporter of Brighton & Hove Albion, and I think it’s this that keeps me from going too overboard when my friends ask me ‘are you going up then?’.  But I really think it’s on this season.

So, make no mistake, next week’s game is massive, but it’s just another massive game in the list, since we moved to Falmer.  It’s pretty hard to believe that we are coming to the end of our fifth season at The Amex, so how many ‘massive’ games have we had in that time?  The answer, of course, is ‘lots’, but I’ve picked out four that have defined our time at Falmer.

1.   6th August 2011 v Doncaster Rovers – W 2-1

Well, yes, obviously.  I’m assuming that everyone who reads this blog will be aware of what it meant to us, to see the team run out after 14 years without a ‘proper’ ground, so I won’t dwell.  It’s enough to say that as emotional moments go, the 97th minute Will Buckley winner, was right up there with anything I’ve experienced in my football-supporting life.  It was great for me personally, because I was there with my son Fraser, who was aged 10 at01 - 6 Aug 11 v Doncaster Rovers the time.

He went to his first game as a 6-week-old baby, on 10th March 2001. Albion 3 Hull City 0 at Withdean, if you’re interested.  As he grew up, the parental responsibility of drip-feeding my allegiance into his mind gathered pace.  The turning point was 15th November 2009 when, aged 8, we watched Gus Poyet’s men run riot in our home town to beat Southampton 3-1.  He had major bragging rights at school on that Monday.  Anyway, here we were, me and Fraser, watching The Albion, under cover, in a fantastic shiny new stadium.  And I cried.  A lot.

 

2.   28th January 2012 v Newcastle United (FA Cup) – W 1-0

Earlier in that first season we had played Liverpool in the Carling Cup.  We lost 2-1 but it didn’t feel like a massive game.  We were almost expected to lose and the atmosphere didn’t quite have the edge is should have done.

After str20 - 28 Jan 12 v Newcastle Uniteduggling past Wrexham in the 3rd Round, the draw paired us with Newcastle United at The Amex.  They were struggling and although a Premier League Club, we felt we could turn them over.  And we did.  It was that man Buckley again, with a deflected shot in front of us in the North Stand.  We had beaten a top-flight side in the FA Cup and THAT definitely DID mean something.

Fraser loved it as well – it was his birthday and they read his name out at half-time, before playing The Who over the PA.  The whiole day was a massive WIN.

 

3.    17th March 2013 v Crystal Palace – W 3-0

Oh.  My.  Word.  Crazy scenes.  We went into the game on the back of two defeats and a draw, with the dream of a place in the play-offs starting to recede.  Nearly 28,500 in the ground, including loads from them up the road.  It was tense, for 43 minutes an21 - 17 Mar 13 v Crystal Palaceyway.  Then Leonardo Ulloa scored in front of the Palace fans to give us the lead.  1-0 at half-time – thanks very much, that will do nicely.  A good few people left their seats to join the queue for a pie and/or a pint.  We then got a free-kick on the edge of their box, which David Lopez stepped up to take.  Just get it on target and we can go in and re-group.  Well, he got it on target, and some.  A gasp of disbelief was quickly followed by absolute delirium.  A one-goal half-time advantage had been doubled and it went absolutely mental in the North Stand.

A further goal from Ulloa followed, early in the second half and we saw out the game in style.  Afterwards, the club let us take our beers out onto the seats and we enjoyed some quality banter with the Palace players as they warmed down.  Winning this game told us we could do it, and this made play-off defeat to Palace just two months later, even harder to stomach.

4.    8th May 2014 v Derby County (Play-Off Semi-Final 1st Leg) – L 2-1

In March 2014, I was in Hospital, having an operation on my ankle.  After years of football injuries and post-football hobbling, I had an ankle fusion.  I was in a cast for 11 weeks and this coincided with us sneaking into the play-offs under Oscar Garcia.  I nearly ruptured myself as Ulloa headed that goal in at Forest  This brought us to another play-off semi-final, this time against Derby County.  They were flying, but we all thought that the momentum gained by our heroics at Forest, would carry us through against what was probably the best side in the division.

Not a chance.  We lost 2-1 at The Amex, 4-1 at The I-Pro, Garcia resigned and we entered the dark days of Sami Hyypia.

Onwards and Upwards

The 2014/15 season brought no massive games.  At least not of the type we enjoy.  The Millwall game just before Christmas was massive, but only because it featured fighting amongst our own fans (as well as the obligatory Millwall neanderthals causing mayhem).  I left that game, thinking ‘where do we go from here?’.  It was the most disappointed I have been after a game for a long, long time.

Into January 2015 and Chis Hughton came to the club.  We survived, just, and pretty much everyone viewed 15/16 as a season of consolidation, with Hughton building a squad capable of challenging (hopefully) in 16/17.

That’s all a load of bollocks – this is Tony Bloom’s club and we don’t do consolidation.  Twenty-one games unbeaten at the start of the season, the usual blip in December/January and here we are, 2nd in the league and on the verge of something pretty crazy.

A win next week against Burnley and we will be in dreamland.  Me and Fraser will be there, daring to dream.

I can’t wait.

The Curse of October, or Oktoberfarce as it should be known

On 3oth October 2010, Albion destroyed Peterborough United 3-0, on our way to promotion and the glorious transition from The Theatre of Trees at Withdean, to the magnificent cathedral of football at Falmer.

Here we are, nearly 5 years on from that day, with Albion not having won a single game in the Halloween month.  This extraordinary run stretches for 20 games, during which we have seen 13 draws and 7 defeats.  Goals have been a rare commodity, with our strikers netting just 12 times in those games, whilst our back line has leaked twenty-two times.  All but one of the games have been league encounters, with just one match (against Tottenham Hotspur in 2014) in the League Cup.  Why has this happened?  Even by the weird standards of the usual Albion inconsistency, this is a strange one.

In 2011, the euphoria surrounding the move to Falmer was just beginning to evaporate.  After a confident start, that saw us top by the end of a frantic August, September brought us back down to Earth.  A reason for the Oktoberfarce in 2011 may possibly be seen in the freak nature of the fixture calendar at the end of September, allied to the malevolent influence of Sky Sports, able to move games at the slightest whim.  On Wednesday 21st September, our League Cup game against Liverpool was chosen by Sky as a live game.  We gave it our all and despite a stirring second half performance, Liverpool went through 2-1.  Just TWO days later, we (and the Sky cameras) were back at Falmer for a league game against former ‘Champions of Europe’ Leeds United, no doubt in response to the millions of global fans they have, demanding more coverage for their perennial underachievers.  It was another thrilling game.  2-0 down at half time, Craig Mackail-Smith played like he was supposed to and we went into second-half injury time 3-2 up, only to be denied when Casper Ankergren (ex-Leeds United goalkeeper, although that is clearly an irrelevance……….), decided to throw one in his own net, right in front of the Leeds fans.  Oh well.  Two games in three days, but the real test was to come on the following Tuesday, 08 - 27 Sep 11 v Crystal Palacewhen we welcomed the real enemy from just up the M23.  It was the first time we had played Crystal Palace since 2005 and we were DESPERATE for a result, for so many reasons.  It was not to be.  Palace won 3-1 and to add insult to injury, their 3rd goal was scored by Glenn Murray, who had crossed the divide after contract negotiations broke down in the summer of 2011.  So this run of 3 games in 6 days was surely a good reason for what followed in October.  A 3-1 defeat at Ipswich Town, followed by draws away at Hull City and at home to Millwall, set the tone.  For me, the most disappointing game was against the hoofball hooligans of the East End.  Newly relegated from the Premier League, Sam Allardyce brought his neanderthal group of over-bulked monsters to Falmer, with clear instructions to get the ball forward as quickly and as aerially as possible.  Our brand of Poyet-inspired tippy tappy was good enough to give us over 70% of the possession, but we were undone by one slip at the back, letting in Kevin Nolan, who slammed the ball into the North Stand goal, and then set off on his trademark duck/twat (delete as appropriate) celebration in front of us.  1-0 to 19th Century football (copyright J Mourinho) and we ended the month with another insipid goalless draw, away at Birmingham City.

Twelve months on, into 2012/13, and another fine start had only been (slightly) halted by a 1-0 defeat at home to Birmingham City.  Perhaps the curse was carried over from the draw against the same opponents at the end of October the previous year?  We certainly couldn’t blame a fixture pile-up courtesy of the League Cup.  Swindon Town had taken advantage of early season lethargy to dump us 3-0 before a ball had even been kicked in anger in the league.   Perhaps our monthly ration of goals had been used up?  We scored 15 goals in September 2012 and the return of 2 (yes, TWO) in the 5 games in October would suggest there is some merit in this.  Whatever happened, we were pretty shit, with scores of 1-1 (home v Ipswich), 0-0 (away v Derby), 0-1 (home to Middlesbrough), 0-1 (away to Leicester City), and 1-1 (home to Blackpool).  What a transformation, from the free-scoring cavalier football we saw in the previous month.  The cracks were beginning to show in Gus Poyet’s brand of football and the grumbling had started.  We (obviously) went unbeaten in November and the season ended brilliantly, although the final tactical shitstorm against Palace 06 - 20 Oct 12 v Middlesbroughin the play-offs, was undoubtedly a factor in Poyet leaving the club.  I can’t think what else it might have been……..

2013/14 came and new manager Oscar Garcia arrived with a Barcelona-based CV and a calm, measured approach to his job.  Two close defeats at the start was halted by a recovery at the end of August and into September but once again, a defeat at the back end of that month, set us up for another run from hell.  Our three home games in October yielded two draws and a defeat, with the solitary away trip, to Yeovil, providing more ammunition for the doubters, as our inability to do anything of note in the final third, brought yet another 0-0 draw.

The appalling run of form carried on into November 2013 but we at least recovered to scrape into the play-offs, thanks to Leonardo Ulloa’s stoppage-time heroics at Nottingham Forest.  It was a false dawn, because we were absolutely torn apart by Derby County in the play-offs.  Oscar Garcia decided enough was enough and left his post, to be replaced for the 2014/15 season, by ex-Liverpool hero Sami Hyypia.7 - 18 Oct 14 v Middlesbrough

Even the mention of his name makes me twitch in ways that are not in any way good.   The season started with two defeats, then two wins.  That was it really, and we ended September with a 1-1 home draw to Cardiff City.  So, no defeat going into October.  Surely this was time for the hoodoo to be broken.  Forget it.  October started with an away draw at Watford and ended with an away defeat against Bournemouth.  Both these teams ended up being promoted, but we seemed to be getting further away from the promised land, rather than closer.  In between those games, we had our usual sequence, defeat, draw, draw, with a League Cup reverse at Spurs thrown in.

Hyypia was a dead man walking and after some pretty abject performances, particularly a game just before Christmas against Millwall, he left the club.  That Millwall game was one of my lowest points watching Albion.  This says a lot, bearing in mind I’ve been watching us since 1968.  At least when we were really shit, we were all in it together.  At that Millwall game I saw fans of the same club fighting each other.  Depressing.  Also depressing, but strangely inevitable, was the sight of the knuckle-draggers from Millwall behaving in their customary manner in the South Stand.  Hey ho.

So, this season.

Albion unbeaten, top of the league, and a manager in Chris Hughton who seems to have the right balance between gritty determination, organisation throughout the team, and no short measures of flair.  Surely, this will be the time to lay the hoodoo and break a sequence of results that becomes more remarkable as each season goes by.

Someone should have mentioned this to skipper Gordon Greer.  Picture the scene.  1-1 against a decent Cardiff City side that we had out-played but not put away (sound familiar?).  In the 94th minute, the ball comes across the six-yard box and Gordon manages to miss the target from a yard.  And so it goes on.  P20, W0, D13, L7, F12, A22

On Saturday we play Leeds United at Elland Road.  They are again threatening a season of mediocrity but this is October so who knows?  We then play Bristol City (at home) who are also struggling, then Preston, also at home, who are having problems with life in the parachute-payment rich Championship.  We finish the month away at Reading.

Surely, surely we are set to win in October at some stage over the next 19 days?

My World Cup journey – the misery of being an Englishman

I was nearly seven when England won the World Cup. Ever since that day in 1966, I have approached each tournament with gradually reducing levels of expectation. Will we ever lift the ultimate football trophy again? Will I ever experience the utter euphoria of being a World Cup winner? The anticipation of this summer’s tournament is high, in terms of the fact that it’ great to have a months-worth of football every day. It’s not so high when we look at the prospects for the three lions, but what of the eleven other tournaments that have passed since the summer of ’66?

My memories of the win are very sketchy. I know we were at my Uncle John’s house, but I can’t remember any dancing around the garden, drunken revelry and general lunacy, ALL of which would be by evident if we pulled it off in Brazil! It was all very low-key, 48 years ago, but in 1970, I thought we would win it again. Nearly 11 years old and a nearly-full Panini sticker book took me into the tournament. I also had an official programme, which was to be filled with my unique spidery hand-writing as the competition progressed. England were in a group with Romania, Chezchoslovakia and the mighty Brazil.