Monthly Archives: July 2013
After the horrendous 45 minutes of football we had to witness on May 13th, followed by the off-pitch shenanigans afterwards, it seemed impossible that I could look forward to this season with something approaching confidence. Happily though, things are looking up and I literally cannot wait for it all to start again.
This got me thinking about what an amazing thing football is. It can be intensely cruel and unbelievably uplifting, sometimes within the space of 90 minutes, but we always, always, come back for more. In July every single year, the excitement starts to build and the team we support, despite anything that is going on behind the scenes, is surely going to get promotion, win the FA Cup and thrill us in every game.
As a Brighton fan, the roller coaster comes from a Six-Flags Theme Park, rather than a gentle children’s play area because over the years, we have seen some incredible extremes of highs and lows. It’s not all that long ago that we were staring the Conference full in the face so preparing for a campaign that could end in promotion to The Premier League, represents the other end of the Richter scale.
In my last blog, I looked at the rise of the club under Gus Poyet (who?) and why a 4th place finish in The Championship was seen by many as a failure. Anyone looking in would think that progress of that nature is a fantastic achievement, but that would be missing the whole point of football. It’s all about raw emotion, tribal loyalties and a blind optimism that borders on the lunatic. Last season we were magnificent at times, but the single half of football that saw us concede 2 goals to our most bitter rivals, meant tears of grief instead of joy. Our whole season, and indeed the whole career of Gus Poyet, defined by 45 minutes. Ridiculous isn’t it?
We now have a new man in charge of essentially the same group of players, but the initial worry over the transition has been replaced by anticipation. On Saturday we play Villareal in a friendly, another sign of how far the club has come. The following Tuesday Norwich City and Elliott Bennett come to The Amex and then on 3rd August, we go to Leeds United, where Oscar Garcia’s preparations will be put to the sternest of tests. It then starts all over again, with last season consigned to the history books.
Talking of history books, the last 20 years have seen four promotions, four relegations, three moves of ground, a couple of flirtations with insolvency, some last-match escapes, a lot of amazing football, an equal amount of absolute dross but woven into that, 20 years of unswerving loyalty. Players have come and gone as have managers. The game of football has changed almost beyond recognition, with the involvement of Sky Sports, among others. The game still lasts 90 minutes though and it’s still 11-a-side with a goalkeeper. We must never forget that the thing we love most of all, the game itself, is the same.
My Albion ‘career’ is coming up for it’s 45th anniversary and I’m just as excited now, as I was in 1968. The stakes are much higher now but at the root of it all is a game that we all love.
Bring it on!!!
Into The Chamionship
After storming to the League One title in 2010/11, Albion and Gus Poyet faced a whole new set of challenges the following season.
Not only were we returning to The Championship after an absence of five years, we were doing so in our magnificent new stadium. The pressure was on Poyet to produce a team capable of consolidating and challenging at the top of one of the most competitive leagues in Europe.
We arrived at the first game at the new stadium on a tidal wave of emotion, fuelled by 14 years of battles with the Planning authorities. The first opponents were Doncaster Rovers, who, coincidentally, were the last team to visit The Goldstone Ground. We were actually spending money as well, as we welcomed new record signing Craig Mackail-Smith. Another new signing, Will Buckley, was on the bench. Doncaster threatened to spoil the party when Billy Sharp scored early on but two goals, including the 97th minute winner, from Buckley, ensured that we would go home with great memories from the day.
Five wins and a draw in their our 6 games, sent Us top, and even at that early stage, fans were thinking of higher things. A run of three massive games at the end of September however, gave an inkling of what was to come, and sparked frustration. First up were Liverpool in the Coca-Cola Cup and Poyet’s first big test against quality opposition. We were given the runaround in the first half and found ourselves 2 goals down as Craig Bellamy ran amok among our defence. Bellamy also rattled the bar from a 35-yard freekick that was struck so powerfully that the bar was still shaking a minute later. The second half was a different story but all Albion’s pressure was not quite enough and Ashley Barnes’ penalty came too late.
Next up were Leeds United in a Friday night and a real thriller ended 3-3, with Leeds equalising in injury time at the end of the game, after Casper Ankergren decided to throw one in. Two goals for Mackail-Smith showed what he was capable of and although we didnt pick up the three points, it set us up for the following Tuesday, and a renewal of hostilities with Crystal Palace. The rivalry with Palace means so much to us and we were hoping that Gus Poyet would feel the same.
It was not to be however, as Palace scored three goals in the last 10 minutes, as Albion failed to build on Mackail-Smith’s opener. To rub salt in the wounds, one of the Palace goals was scored by Glenn Murray, sold in the summer to make way for the man from Peterborough. FFS Murray! I guess it was that game that first started rumblings about a possible tactical limitation in Poyet’s thinking. We had a seemingly potent striker in Mackail-Smith, who had scored over 30 goals the previous season, but we didn’t seem to be playing to his strengths. Gus’ stock was high though, and although losing Palace was hard, we still in a pretty good place.
A dismal October followed and Poyet started to come under more pressure from the fans, although it’s fair to say the doubters were in a significant minority. Mackail-Smith was mis-firing and the home form of August deserted the Seagulls. Just four wins in the rest of 2011, including a capitulation at Southampton, sent Albion to 16th. Was the dream about the unravel for Poyet? The first game of 2012 saw the return game against Southampton, and another chance for my work colleagues to give me stick. They were coping with life in The Championship much better than we were and were top of the league and gloating. The train to Brighton from Southampton was interesting for me and Fraser, with a mixture of decent fans happy to have a discussion about football, and complete and utter plebs, whose main concern was whether they were going to be raped as soon as they set foot in Brighton. The ‘banter’ we get from opposing fans is mainly just that, and quite funny at times, but some people are complete Neanderthals, who shouldn’t be let loose in modern society. Anyway, enough of that.
As so often happened in Poyet’s time in charge, the team team stepped up the mark with a brilliant team performance. the game had it’s moments though. In the first half, a clearance off our line that was at least a foot over, was not spotted by the officials (goal-line technology – no thanks!), and in the second half, Southampton lost Rickie Lambert to a red card for a brutal assault on Adam El Abd. well, maybe a slight slap, but Adam went down like he had been hit with a hammer.
A terrific FA Cup win against Newcastle at the end of January set up a 5th round tie against Liverpool at Anfield and 6,000 fans travelled in the hope that the heroics of 1983 could be repeated. Liverpool brought us firmly down to earth with a 6-1 hammering, not helped by the three (yes, three) own goals that we gifted them, and our season was once again in the balance.
Inconsistency was the theme for the remainder of the season and a final position of 10th, although it represented progress, was a disappointment after the early-season promise. Fans were frustrated at the way the team was set up at times, and Mackail-Smith’s first season on the south coast did not produce the goals that were expected. Could Poyet move the team on in 2012/13 and get the best out of his talented squad?
The Summer transfer window saw a lot of activity at The Amex, with some additional Spanish flair added. David Lopez and Bruno Saltor came in but more controversial, was the return of Dean Hammond on a season-long loan from Southampton. The PR machine went into overdrive, as his antics when scoring against Albion at Withdean, were brought up once again.
The season again started well, with a run of 5 wins in a row in September. This again brought hope to Albion fans and the team seemed to be playing with a freedom that was lacking in some of the previous season’s performances, with Bruno, the rampaging fullback, prominent both in defence and attack. Once again though, October and November were bleak, with just two wins, including some fairly bland home performances. December was even worse, starting with a 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace and ending with a 3-1 home reverse against Watford. As if losing so feebly to Palace wasn’t bad enough, the Watford game was particularly depressing, as the Hornets gave Poyet’s men a lesson in slick passing and swift counter-attacking football. Home form was a cause for concern and Poyet was drawing criticism in some quarters for a lack of attacking intent.
2013 started well, with a good performance at Ipswich, but the old problem of inconsistency was still re-surfacing. Poyet showed a reluctance to play Vicente, despite his game-changing substitute performance against Hull City and a master class against Blackburn Rovers. Into March and although we were well-placed, it seemed likely that the play-offs would again elude us. The FA Cup brought another good performance in the 3rd Round against Newcastle, then a 3-2 defeat against Arsenal. Albion matched The Gunners until 15 minutes from the end, when Arsene Wenger’s was able to bring on game changing substitutes in Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott. The game was significant because it was the debut of another high profile signing, Leonardo Ulloa. The Argentinian front man made an immediate impact with a diving header to make it 2-2 against Arsenal – maybe he could fire us into the play-offs………………..??
So to March, and a run of 11 games without defeat was brought to an end by consecutive losses at Bolton Wanderers and Barnsley. Next up were Palace, 4 places and 14 points ahead of Albion. Poyet’s men needed a performance to restore their hopes of reaching the play-offs and restoring some faith in the system. This was duly delivered as Albion thrashed their rivals 3-0 with a performance full of verve, flair and passion. David Lopez scored a magnificent free kick and Ulloa scored twice as we blew Palace away. Poyet himself was in an effusive mood after the game, proclaiming himself a fan of the club and finally understanding the rivalry.
Four draws after that game were not enough to halt Albion’s charge to the play-offs and we finished in 4th place, their highest finish for 30 years. Our opponents in the play-offs? Crystal Palace.
The first game at Selhurst Park ended in stalemate and we were hopeful that a 30,000 full house at The Amex would roar them to Wembley. The dreams of the season were unravelled however, in a catastrophic 45 minutes that saw Wilfried Zaha score twice to ruin the dreams of Poyet’s men. I still can’t bring myself to talk about this game in detail. Suffice to say, at the final whistle my son was crying.
Some ill-advised post-match comments hinted at unrest at the club and subsequent events that resulted in the suspension of not only Gus Poyet, but his back room staff, gave credence to this. His sacking, some three weeks later, brought to an end a three and half year period of progress, excitement and success for My club. Despite the circumstances surrounding his sacking, Gus Poyet will be remembered for taking Brighton from the prospect of relegation to League Two, to the brink of promotion to The Premier League. He leaves behind a legacy of a style of football that many supporters had never seen before. Brighton are now well placed to push on and make that final leap into the top flight.
Thanks for the memories Gus.