Fifty Years a Seagull!
On 28th August, I will reach a pretty crazy milestone in my support of Brighton & Hove Albion. Back in 1968, for my 9th Birthday, my Dad took me to The Goldstone Ground to see Albion play Torquay United in Division Three. Five decades later, I’ve seen nine promotions, seven relegations, an FA Cup Final, two play-off finals and countless moments of drama. We’ve played at four grounds, in all four divisions, I’ve cried with joy and with anguish. Would I have changed any of it?
Not. A. Chance.
The irony of my first game being against the other Seagulls, is that, according to the doctrine that you should support your local team, I should be a Torquay fan. I was born in Newton Abbott, Devon, just a few miles from Plainmoor. My Mum and Dad were both really sporty and my dad was a PE teacher at the local Grammer School. We moved to Sussex when I was three, where my sporting education continued. By this time, my dad was a Lecturer at a Teacher Training College, in the PE department. We also lived on campus, which meant my holidays were completely dominated by sport. We had the run of all the facilities and it was fantastic.
My Dad was a Rugby man but I loved football. Me and my brother played whenever we could, which was basically all the time. When I wasn’t playing football, I was reading about it, via the pages of magazines like Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly and later, Goal!
My earliest real football memory was the 1966 FA Cup Final. We were decades away from the wall-to-wall TV coverage we have today and Cup Final day was a real feast of viewing. Everton won that day, 3-2, with two goals from the brilliantly-named Mike Trebilcock. A couple of months later was the World Cup but as a six year old, my recollections are very vague.
Over the next couple of years my thirst for the game increased and I was introduced to something that is still a huge part of my life today. I started collecting football programmes. These wonderful publications, unique to each club, captured my imagination and started me on a journey that I’m still on. Many programmes in the late 60s carried an additional magazine in the form of The Football League Review. The FLR was a way for programme editors to pad out the content in their programmes but for me, it was an incredible source of information on clubs the length and breadth of the country.
In the summer of 1968, there was another reason to watch the TV because an English team was in the final of the European Cup. Manchester United won, beating Benfica 4-1 and after watching George Best strut his stuff across the Wembley pitch, I couldn’t wait to go to an actual real-life football match.
My Godfather was a man called Peter Stubbs. He was my Dad’s best friend and responsible for much of my football education. He was a Queens Park Rangers fan and his brother Robin was a professional footballer, who played for Torquay United. Peter turned up at our house for my birthday, bearing a handful of tickets to Torquay’s game at Brighton the following day. I was beside myself with excitement.
I was allowed to take a friend so sharing in my excitement was my best mate Craig. Dad drove from our home in Bognor to Hove, parked up and walked up Old Shoreham Road towards The Goldstone Ground. It was late summer and beginning to get dark. The sight of the strange floodlight pylons, angled in over the pitch, was absolute heaven to this 9 year old. I couldn’t wait to get into our seats and for the game to start.
To be honest, I don’t remember too much of the game. It was a 1-1 draw and John Templeman scored Albion’s goal. This was a great thing because at the time, John Templeman lived in Yapton, about 3 miles from where we lived. The game may have been less than memorable, but in terms of cementing my love for the game in general and Brighton & Hove Albion in particular, it absolutely did the trick.
From then on, I was pestering my Dad every week to take me to a game. He was brilliant and despite his leaning towards the oval ball, he happily took me to Hove. In the weeks Albion were away, we sometimes went to Fratton Park, or Nyewood Lane, the home of Bognor Regis Town. But my heart was firmly pledged to Brighton.
When I was 13, I was finally allowed to travel to Hove with my friends, without Dad. Promotion in 1972 was an incredible experience, tempered by relegation from Division Two the following season. We were promoted again in 1977 and then again in 1979, this time to the First Division. By this time I was playing Saturday football so the home and away trips of 77/78 and 78/79 gave way to midweek trips and the occasional Saturday.
When we reached the FA Cup Final in 1983 I was working in Jersey, and watched the game with a slightly bewildered group of friends in one of the Hotels on the Island. The end of the 1980s marked the start of the great decline of the club but despite the nightmare that was unfolding within the club I loved, my unwavering support continued. This is no different from the thousands of other Albion fans who went through the same torment and it was that collective tidal wave of support that dragged us from the Abyss in 1997.
Trips to Gillingham were followed by the move back to Brighton and the amazing ‘Theatre of Trees’, AKA Withdean Stadium. Watching football there was an horrendous experience but ironically, we enjoyed a period of great success in the suburbs. Withdean hosted four promotions and a whole load of memorable moments. The Swindon play-off game in 2004 and the League Cup win against the Manchester City millionnaires immediately spring to mind.
Life comes full circle and it was during the Withdean years that I started taking my son to games, in the same way my Dad had done in the 1960s. Fraser loved everything about his trips to the football although looking back, he didn’t really have much choice.
Life at Withdean ended with a promotion back to Division Two (The Championship) and also a move to our brand new stadium at Falmer. I’m not going to dwell on the emotions surrounding the first game at The Amex – there has been plenty written about that – but it was amazing to be able to celebrate it with Fraser, who was then 12.
In April 2017, the two of us journeyed to the game against Wigan Athletic, knowing that we were almost certain to be playing back in the top flight. The players duly did their bit and despite 49 years of support, I completely lost my mind at the final whistle. Drink had been taken and things got very messy.
We safely negotiated our first season among the money of the Premier League and I’m now looking forward to our second season. I can honestly say I am just as excited about watching my team as I was all those years ago. Danny Baker had it right when he said “Football. Fucking football. Imagine not being into it. Those poor, poor half-alive bastards”.
Football has changed, almost beyond recognition, in those 50 years. But underneath all the TV hype, the money, social media and other random nonsense, it’s still a massive buzz watching those men in stripes. Win, lose or draw, I (along with thousands of others) will be back week after week.
We are Brighton, super Brighton from the South.
Here’s to the next 50 years!