Spending a Penny for the Albion

THERE is nothing quite like having an intimate moment with your heroes.

And it was so unexpected.

I have been an obsessive fan of Brighton and Hove Albion since I was a small child and watched many victories and defeats over those years.

My baptism as an 11-year-old was standing in the North Stand at the Goldstone Ground on a sunny Saturday in September 1967 to see this team in blue and white beat Bury 1-0, with a goal from my soon-to-be hero, Kit Napier.

The chanting, bustle and atmosphere immersed me. I was hooked and soon queuing after training sessions to obtain the autographs of these footballing gladiators: Charlie Livesey, Norman Gall, Wally Gould, Nobby Lawton and of course Christopher Napier.

I can still smell the Bovril and cigarette soaked air of my first evening game one year later and taste the pride and disappointment of the 1983 FA Cup Final.

So I cheered on my heroes from the legendary Peter Ward to icons such as Brian Horton, Steve Foster, Bobby Zamora and Jimmy Case.

Yes, Brighton and Hove Albion are, and have always been, an integral part of my life.

But nothing prepared me for that moment on the M1 motorway, on Friday 28th March 2008.

My Aunt Val had died suddenly, and as next-of-kin I had driven to her home in North London to sort out her affairs. Her death was unexpected and I guess my mind was focussed on getting everything right.

After dealing formalities with her solicitor and the funeral celebrant I hopped into my car to make the long journey back to my home in North Wales.

I stopped at the M1 Toddington Services, just north of Luton, for petrol, a coffee and a toilet break.

I was vaguely aware of a smart coach pulling in next to me in the car park.

The loo called first, so I made my way to the gents. I stood by the urinal trough and was just about to relieve myself when more than a dozen guys in dark blue tracksuits walked in.

They assembled in various positions to answer the call of nature. As I started to pee I looked up at the guy next to me. He had a Brighton and Hove Albion badge on his tracksuit top. I silently gasped and looked along at the rest of the guys… it was the entire Brighton first team squad.

That was the OMG moment and I got instant water retention.

I was peeing with my heroes… or in my case not! I had to stop looking or they might get the wrong impression!

As I exited the service station toilets I turned to the player next to me – our full back Andrew Whing – and politely asked: “What are you guys doing in Luton?”

“We are on our way to Leeds, we play them tomorrow,” was the reply.

“Do we?” I answered stupidly, still desperate for a wee.

Stopping the Wrecking Ball at Wrexham

AA Wrexham 3

Since my first game in 1967, I have witnessed many highs and lows following my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion.

And, like most clubs we have had our share of heroes and villains.

Kit Napier was the first of many heroes – far too many to name.

But the true villains in our club number just three: former club owners Bill Archer and Greg Stanley along with chief executive David Bellotti.

And as most readers will know, the 1996/97 season became one of football’s great displays of non-violent direct action, as we staged a desperate fight against these three men, who were stealing our club from under our noses.

That season included the first Fans United Day, when on 8 February 1997, supporters of clubs across the UK and Europe shared the Goldstone terraces in solidarity with the Albion fans.

We eventually succeeded in our battle to save our club. But the victory came too late to save the Goldstone Ground.

Over the ensuing years the story of asset stripping football club owners was replicated far too many times for comfort.

By the time I became involved in a similar battle, seven years had passed.

I was living 300 miles away on Tyneside and by a quirk of fate was unexpectedly thrust the mantle of Fans United organiser for Wrexham FC.

The supporters were battling their club owner Alex Hamilton, who had threatened to bulldoze their ground for a housing development. But they were facing an uphill battle for anyone outside North Wales to recognize their plight.

I guess with 20 years of PR and newspaper experience and family connections to North Wales, I had found a strange niche.

Weeks of phone calls, radio and TV interviews and bombarding other football clubs’ message boards (this was before the days of Facebook and Twitter), and another Fans United Day arrived.

Saturday 20 November 2004, was a football day I will never forget.

More than 1,000 supporters of other clubs descended on Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground that afternoon for a routine third tier match against Bristol City.

The weather was wintry and cold, but that did not dampen the shared spirit.

As part of a small group of Brighton fans I entered the famous old ground and made my way to seats on the left side of the home stand.

Wrexham’s average home gate had been 4,500 and even at 2.50pm it was clear that there were many more than the average.

Everywhere we looked fans were filling the seats – even the terraces at Wrexham’s Kop seemed full.

Our small group was soon augmented by more friends. We stood 16 strong and knew other Brighton supporters were elsewhere in the ground. Around us we met fans from Sunderland, Cardiff City and Swansea, Stoke City, Stockport County, Northampton, Everton, Wolves, Telford, Bury, Donny Rovers and even Chester City (Wrexham’s bitter rivals from 10 miles up the road)

Suddenly a chorus of “We love you Brighton” echoed from our left. A group of Wrexham fans were looking in our direction, singing and smiling broadly.

A chill ran down my spine, I looked around as thousands of people rose to their feet and applauded. More choruses of “We love you Brighton” rang from all sides of the ground.

I glanced at my good friend Ian. “Glad you’re here?” I asked.

“Too right, I wouldn’t have missed this for anything” he replied.

The ground was full as the first half passed in repeated choruses of singing and chanting.

Then a few minutes before half-time a senior steward told us: “You can carry your banner around the pitch at half-time.”

Dazed by the offer, a handful of us followed the steward down the steps as people stood and began applauding. This was unreal.

Around the pitch side we continued. The game was still in progress, but as we walked, each section of the ground rose to their feet and cheered and clapped – it was as if what was happening on the pitch was inconsequential.

Our collective hands were freezing but the adrenalin was rushing as we began a procession along the touchline – our Save the Racecourse banner held aloft to the crowd. Spontaneous “We love you Brighton” echoed again in our ears. Fans leant over the hoardings to shake our hands.

As we reached the Kop there was gathered on the pitch about 200 Wrexham fans holding their own Save the Racecourse banner. We walked past, spontaneously shook hands, embraced and shared smiles that will last many lifetimes.

I moved across to Ian and said: “This surpasses anything I have ever been to in football… only the last game at the Goldstone comes close”.

Ian smiled broadly. “It is simply amazing” he replied.

We made our way back to our seats, shaking more hands along the way. But as we approached the entrance at the end of the main stand a hefty and serious looking man in a red Wales shirt stood in our way. He looked menacing. I looked at him closely and there were tears in his eyes.

“I just want to say thank you,” he said.

He thrust his giant hand into mine and shook firmly, and proceeded to ensure he shook all our hands.

On the way back to the seats we stopped to ask a steward about the attendance. She replied: “At least 10,000!”

Wrexham lost the game 3-1, but that did not seem to matter to anyone.

Sometimes the bigger picture is more important.

Wrexham eventually won their battle, but not before the club was placed into administration and eventually relegated from the football league.

Twelve years later Wrexham FC are still languishing in non-league football, but the club is now owned by the fans as a community venture and never again will they be victim to a rogue or greedy asset stripper.

 

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

(to the tune of Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart)

The moon is rising over Ashton Gate

I feel the breath of a storm

Something’s gonna happen tonight

You go inside and stay warm,

Sidwell will score from 50 yards

I can see it in his stare

And they’ll raise his shirt up high

To show how much they care

 

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

You, you, you, you

Yeah, you can’t stop Knockaert

 

Remember that time in the city of steel

When the Wednesday hoodoo crashed

Knocky mesmerized the full back

The Owls knew that they’d been thrashed,

No one thought it would happen like this

When Norwich came to town

Murray helped himself in a game of bliss

And Knocky chipped their clown

 

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

You, you, you, you

Yeah, you can’t stop Knockaert

 

A low strike against Rotherham and Reading

The winner against Huddersfield

Just like a party at a wedding

When Knocky made Forest yield,

Some say football is important

More than your seat in the stand

But those words they are transportant

As together we hold his hand

 

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

There’s no-one who can stop Knockaert

You, you, you, you

Yeah, you can’t stop Knockaert

 

 

 

A song for the Goldstone

Kit Napier in the wind swings the ball in

Cha Cha Cha Livesey we all sing

Big Alex rises in the fog of the night

And his power header takes the game out of sight

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Tiger Tawse races down the left wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”

 

Sully intercepts a long floated pass

He plays it wide on the Sussex grass

Beamish races towards their box

And tucks the ball away as the South Stand rocks

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Tony Towner surges down the right wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”

 

Lawro takes the ball from under the stand

Horton signals a move they’ve already planned

Passes to Ryan who chips it to Ward

The PA announces it is Ward who has scored

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Teddy Maybank sprints down the right wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”

 

Jimmy Case lines up a 30 yard free kick

Steve Foster stands like Fletton brick

The ball’s chipped over and Smith must score

But it’s Robinson’s goal and the fans want more

Give me a sight, give me a sound

Sweet memories of the Goldstone Ground

 

Gary Stevens runs down the left wing

Now you can hear the North Stand sing:

“It’s Brighton Hove Albion

Brighton Hove Albion FC

We’re by far the greatest team

The world has ever seen”