A day and a life following the Albion – with a little help from a friend

Albion cover

IT was 50 years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… and exactly 50 years since my very first Albion game.

Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds, but at the end of the so-called Summer of Love I was about to begin a love affair that would give me greater highs than any acid trip.

I was a wide-eyed 11-year-old kid when a neighbour in my home village of Mile Oak offered to take me to my first proper football match, at a place I had only ever seen from the top deck of a bus on the Old Shoreham Road.

David Knott was 32, and as an Albion nut he seemed cursed to have a daughter who hated football. So I became his Saturday surrogate son, at least for the purposes of having someone to take to matches at the Goldstone Ground.

My first Albion game was on a bright and sunny Saturday, 2 September 1967; and it was a trip into dreamland as I witnessed a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd.

I stood with David near the front right of the North Stand and watched in awe as these 22 men battled it out on the sun-kissed grass.

I soaked it all in, including the fact that Bury were captained by Scottish international Bobby Collins, who was hard in the tackle and ran the show from midfield, until we scored.

Our scorer was a tousle-haired inside forward named Kit Napier. He became my immediate hero, and along with Brylcreem-blonde crowd favourite Charlie Livesey, they remain personal Albion legends.

Others in our team that day were the solid Norman Gall, John Napier (no relation to Kit), George Dalton, the emerging midfield dynamo John Templeman and two wingers Wally Gould and Brian “Tiger” Tawse, who would match Knockaert and Skalak for trickery, but maybe not pace!

So I was hooked for life and began a routine of a bus ride on the number 26 from Mile Oak to the ground for a home match every fortnight, and a Football Combination (reserve game) on alternate Saturdays – the matches when you got to talk with the keeper during the game!

Then there came the waiting-in-line at the North-West corner gates for players’ autographs after training, during the school holidays, scrapbooks of match cuttings from the Argus and the obligatory club scarf and a matching Subbuteo team.

It was an all-consuming schoolboy passion.

And a passion, which over these 50 years has endured living in Scotland, Yorkshire and the North East, the hellish fight for the survival of our club in the mid-1990s, the Gillingham and Withdean years and at last the glory of the Amex and our promotion to the promised land of the Premier League.

In 1967, England were World Champions, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the newest must-have car was the Ford Escort, mods still fought rockers on Brighton beach, man had yet to land on the moon and colour TV was still just a dream.

Yep, times have changed…

My return bus journey to the Goldstone in 1967 was 8d (about 3p), admission to the North Stand was 2s 9d (13p) – a lot less for the reserve games – the match programme was 1s (5p), a cup of Bovril 2d (1p) and a bag of crisps the same!

So to travel and watch my heroes every Saturday, and enjoy a half-time snack cost a stately 22p!

To put things in perspective: in 1967 a man’s average annual wage was £900, the average mortgage was £80 a year and a loaf of bread was just 5p… a season ticket to watch the English champions Manchester United was £8.50.

To allow for inflation, £1 in 1967 is worth £16.80 today, so I’ll let you do the maths and comparisons.

Now, aged 60 and sitting in front of a state-of-the-art PC with Sergeant Pepper’s playing on iPlayer, the years come tumbling back and memories of that sunny Saturday in 1967 will never leave me.

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Half a century following the Albion

Knockhaert

THIS year I am celebrating 50 years supporting the Albion. Now with our promotion to the Premier League achieved, I thought it might be a time for a snapshot of 10 of my personal highs and lows following our team over that half century.

 

2 September 1967

The Goldstone Ground

League Division 3

B&HA 1 Bury 0

My first Albion game. I witnessed in boyish awe a 1-0 home win against Bury in front of a bustling 13,413 crowd with Kit Napier scoring the only goal. Two weeks later I was back to watch us lose by the same score to Torquay. But I was already hooked!

 

13 August 1969

The Goldstone Ground

League Cup 2nd Round

B&HA 1 Portsmouth 0

My first night game against 2nd Division giants and fierce rivals Pompey. Standing in the middle of a packed North Stand I sucked in the pungent air of cigarette smoke and testosterone. On the pitch Alex Dawson scored our winner and Kit Napier had his shirt ripped off his back by Pompey full-back Eoin Hand as he raced towards their goal.

 

1 December 1973

The Goldstone Ground

League Division 3

B&HA 2  Bristol Rovers 8

Brian Clough had just been appointed manager and Albion euphoria was at a new height… but it didn’t last long! Hot on the heels of a 4-0 defeat against Walton and Hersham in the FA Cup, we faced high-flying Bristol Rovers. Smash and Grab strikers Bruce Bannister and Alan Warboys did the damage; and 44 years later I have not since witnessed such an Albion humiliation.

 

5 May 1979

St James Park

League Division 2

Newcastle United 1 B&HA 3

I wrote about this game extensively in TAM#4. What else is there to say, except I was there, and prior to the promotion clinching win against Wigan last month, this was my most exciting moment, supporting the Albion.

 

29 November 1980

Elland Road

League Division 1

Leeds United 1 B&HA 0

I hate Leeds United and I hate Elland Road. I have so many bad memories of the place, including almost being maimed for life as Leeds thugs hurled house bricks at me and friends after a Newcastle United v Bolton League Cup replay in 1976. This game was little different as we were huddled in caged open terracing and spent the whole game trying to dodge coins and other metal objects being thrown at us by Leeds supporters.

 

10 November 1981

Oakwell

League Cup 3rd Round

Barnsley 4 B&HA 1

I was teaching in Barnsley and my 5th form class persuaded me into to going to the game and standing with the home supporters. Gatting scored for us in the second minute and I jumped around like a demented monkey. I was soon put in my place by the surrounding Barnsley supporters and the four goals which followed. I had to put up with ridicule from my pupils until well after Christmas.

 

3 May 1997

Edgar Street

League Division 4

Hereford United 1 B&HA 1

I had lived near Hereford for seven years during the 1980s and knew the town and the Edgar Street ground well; so by hook and crook I managed to get a ticket. At half time we were staring oblivion fully in the face. And we all know what happened next. The defining moment as an Albion supporter.

 

21 April 2001

Brunton Park

League Division 4

Carlisle United 0 B&HA 0

The first and only game I ever took my two daughters to. Basking in sunshine and with hundreds of blue and white balloons we watched and ate crisps as the Albion held out for drab goalless draw and promotion out of the bottom division for the first time since before Bellotti and Archer! Two years later was the last time I ever saw my daughters.

 

14 February 2004

Blundell Park

League Division 2

Grimsby Town 2 B&HA 1

This was the day we delivered a huge Valentine’s card to John Prescott’s office in Hull as part of the Falmer for All campaign. I then drove across the Humber Bridge for a routine league game against Grimsby. It was cold and wet and with no parking close to the ground I was already soaked to the skin by the time I had walked five streets and bought my first Bovril. We lost thanks to two goalkeeping howlers by our young third choice keeper Stuart Jones. This was the match where I came closest to dying of hypothermia!

 

7 January 2012

FA Cup 3rd Round

The Amex

B&HA 1 Wrexham 1

This game – and the replay at the Racecourse – will always stay with me. I developed a close bond with Wrexham FC during their battle against their asset stripping owners in 2004-05 and as a result ended up living in the town for eight years. The love and bond between the two clubs endured, and after our promotion was secured last month, I was showered with ‘well-done’ and ‘thanks’ messages from Wrexham supporters.

 

Stars for a minute

skysports-brighton-and-hove-albion-dale-stephens-championship-football_3816005

HOW narrow is the dividing line between being a professional footballer, seeking the best salary for your ability, and being a self-seeking prima donna?

That line has been firmly tested over the past couple of months.

First we had the one man strike at West Ham by their star play maker Dimitri Payet, demanding he be sold for a mega million fee.

Then we had striker Chris Martin do much the same at Fulham, although on this occasion he simply wanted to return to his parent club Derby County.

And then we saw striker Ross McCormack conduct a one man training strike at Aston Villa. His actions forced Villa manager Steve Bruce to publically reveal that the Scot had been dropped from the first team squad for “continually missing training”.

But these examples are not a new capitalist madness in the beautiful game we all love.

Back in 1998, Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk staged a very public one player strike, claiming Nottingham Forest had made “broken promises” to sell him if he helped them earn promotion from Division One.

And more recently in September 2011, during a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, Argentine star Carlos Tevez ignored Roberto Mancini’s orders and refused to come on as a substitute for Manchester City.

Crazy eh!

So how refreshing is it that one of our own stars has the dignity and professionalism to show others how to behave.

The transfer speculation surrounding Dale Stephens dominated the Albion’s close-season.

The Seagulls turned down several bids of up to £8million from Premier League side Burnley for the midfield star.

Then as the transfer window closed, Stephens took to Twitter to explain that although he had been “reluctant” to submit a transfer request, he wanted an opportunity to play in the top flight.

“I’m 27 and recognised this could by my final opportunity to do so, which is why I feel disappointed my chance was taken away,” he posted.

Many Albion fans feared that Stephens might sulk, rebel or simply refuse to train as a result of his rejected transfer.

But how wrong they were.

Since last August, Stephens has proved to be one of our key players. His work ethic is exemplary and his importance to the team is pivotal.

Small wonder that the Albion have not lost a game this season, when Stephens has been in the team.

On 22 October, after scoring the winner for the Albion against Wigan, he underlined his professionalism saying: “I enjoy playing for this club and enjoy playing for this manager and I remain fully committed until the end of the season.”

But Dale Stephens’ situation opens up a reality for many professional footballers, and maybe casts some light on the actions of Payet, Martin and McCormack.

It has always been the case that the career of a professional footballer is short.

For while many may sign for a club as a schoolboy, their proper career doesn’t usually take off until they turn 20. And for most it is all over by the time they reach 35 – Inigo Calderon, Bobby Zamora and Gordon Greer are good recent cases in point.

So what do they do for the next 30 years of a normal working life?

Some stay with the club in an executive or coaching capacity (Guy Butters and Paul Watson) and some take up TV or radio punditry (Adam Virgo), but for others the future is less clearly defined.

For all players the onus is to earn as much as they can, while playing at their top level, to pay for a lengthy retirement.

Last season, average Championship earnings were £6,235 a week (£324,250 a year) while in the Premier League first-team average salaries were around £1.7 million.

Meanwhile, the average basic pay in League One was £69,500 and £40,350 in League Two – not much more than the national average.

That means top-flight players earned over five times as much as Championship players, almost 25 times as much as League One players, and around 42 times as much as League Two players.

Small wonder that players like Dale Stephens want to play in the Premier League before age and declining fitness determines that their career is over.

Thirty years ago, a top-flight footballer earned on average £25,000 per year, or just two-and-a-half times as much as the average household income of £9,788.

By 1995-96, a top-flight player earned six-and-a-half times as much as an ordinary family, and by 10 years ago it was more than 20 times as much, or £686,000 versus £33,000 per year.

Now it’s more than 40 times as much.

So spare a thought for my boyhood Albion heroes of the late 1960s.

Charlie Livesey was already a star with Chelsea when he joined the Albion in 1965. He was the Dale Stephens type dynamo of that era.

At the time the average weekly wage for a footballer in the third tier was just £20.

In his four years with the Albion, Livesey made 146 appearances, scoring 37 goals, before being released aged just 31, in April 1969.

He finished his career at Crawley Town then returned to the East End of London where he became a humble painter and decorator. Charlie died in 2005, aged 67.

Nobby Lawton was a similar midfielder – ironically born in Newton Heath, Manchester, just a few miles from where Dale Stephens later grew up.

He began his football career as an amateur with Manchester United. Following the Munich air disaster in 1958, he gave up his job with a local coal merchant to sign professional forms.

By the time he signed for the Albion from Preston North End in 1967, aged 27, wages had climbed to £30 a week.

Lawton was Livesey’s natural replacement at the heart of midfield and scored 14 goals in 112 appearances before dropping down to the Fourth Division to play for Lincoln City in 1970, and retiring two years later, aged 32. He returned to Newton Heath in 1977 to work for an export packaging firm.

Nobby Lawton died in April 2006, aged just 66.

Today, while Dale Stephens will hope for a much longer and healthier life, his career expectation is the same as it was for Charlie Livesey and Nobby Lawton, all those years ago.

It’s a long retirement.

 

A Sublime Day in May

newcastle1

MY paternal grandfather’s abiding passions were his vegetable garden, barley wine, horse racing and Newcastle United Football Club – not necessarily in that order.

But one thing was certain, enter his living room any time after 4.40 on a Saturday afternoon – once the BBC tele-printer was running – and there was complete silence, as he waited for the Newcastle result to come in.

Grandfather, or Pop as he was known, was born and raised in Throckley, seven miles west of Newcastle upon Tyne, the son and grandson of coal miners at the village’s Maria Pit. He was Geordie to the bones.

He had moved south in 1933, during the Depression, with my gran, my dad and his three siblings, to find work and a better life.

With his health failing, aged 86, he returned north early in 1979, following the death of my gran. He wanted to live out his final years on his beloved Tyneside.

All my life he had regaled me with deep passion about the pre-war Newcastle teams (particularly the 1926-27 First Division champions) and the three times post war FA Cup winners, with the legendary centre forward Jackie Milburn – the uncle of Bobby and Jack Charlton.

So we come to the evening of Friday 4 May, 1979, and I am sipping a large whisky with Pop at his comfortable new home on Tyneside and talking excitedly about the reason I am staying with him for the weekend.

I am enthusing about my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion and their end of season fixture at St James Park against his beloved Magpies.

He smiles, asks me to pour him another whisky – this time with a splash of ginger wine – and whispers: “Don’t get carried away lad, your team haven’t done it yet, they still have to encounter the Mags on God’s own soil.”

I went to bed that night with a huge grin on my face.

Saturday 5th May was our big day.

But strangely, it wasn’t the last day of the 1978/79 season.

A snow laden winter had left many clubs playing catch-up with their remaining fixtures, and we were going into our last game at Newcastle, at the top of a remarkably tight Second Division table, with just one point separating the top four clubs.

A win would secure us promotion to the First Division for the first time in our history against a Newcastle side in ninth place, with little to play for, bar pride.

So that morning, in bright sunshine, but with a chill wind in the air, I hopped the local train into the city.

At the station I met an old friend Pete – a Geordie with whom I had gone to many Newcastle games, while we were at university together in West Yorkshire. He had a black and white scarf wrapped around his neck and was grinning widely.

“Why aye, Nic, let’s do some beer,” he enthused, “There are quite a few pubs that open at 10.30.” And so we began a two man pub crawl for the short distance between the city station and the Newcastle ground.

We eventually reached The Strawberry, an infamous drinking hole outside the Gallowgate End of St James Park. It was (and still is) a pub for home supporters only.

“Keep yer trap shut inside,” Pete winked, “Or I am not responsible for taking you to hospital!”

The Gallowgate End or “Gallows Hole” was an historic place of public execution in Newcastle. In 1650, 22 people – including 15 witches – were hanged in one day.

The last hanging took place in 1844, only three decades before the first ball was kicked inside St James Park!

So I drank my pint quietly, to avoid becoming a 20th century execution!

Then, merry with beer, Pete and I shook hands and wended out respective ways to either end of this legendary football stadium. What followed, was the stuff of real legends.

The weather was sunny and dry as the game kicked off, in front of 28,434 fans.

The first 10 minutes was all Brighton as we attacked the Leazes End, where our 2,000 plus fans were gathered. We were dominating, and suddenly from a left wing Williams’ corner, skipper Brian Horton snuck between the Newcastle defence to bullet a header into the net. (1-0 Albion).

With Rollings and Cattlin immense in defence, Horton running the midfield, and Peter Ward inspiring, Albion began bossing the game. A few minutes later Ward let Maybank in with a clear shot on goal, but Teddy shanked it wide.

That was the key for Newcastle to up their game, and they twice came close to an equaliser.

But they hadn’t counted on Peter Ward, whose sublime mazy run through their defence and a directed shot, which somehow managed to cross the goal line, doubled the lead. (2-0 Albion).

Our football was expansive as the rain started to team down.

It was end to end stuff, before Ward fired at goal and Gerry Ryan poked in the rebound from a Newcastle defender. (3-0 Albion).

But the Magpies were not about to give up and they began to put steady pressure on our goal before the half-time whistle blew.

We were almost there… just 45 minutes to make history.

The second half was rocky in comparison as Brighton nerves made their way around St James Park. But the clock was ticking and when Alan Shoulder pulled one back for Newcastle, it was too late for a comeback.

As the final whistle blew, the moment (and the game) was savoured. We went wild as our heroes in yellow ran towards us, manager Alan Mullery ran onto the pitch, hugged Horton and joined in the celebrations.

Tears flowed, voices shouted, cheers echoed, hugs were exchanged and smiles enveloped every face.

We were promoted to the top flight for the first time in our history!

But it had gone to the wire: with a game in hand, Palace won the title with 57 points, we were second on 56, just ahead of Stoke on goal difference and Sunderland fourth on 55 points.

After the game I tried to find Pete for a celebratory pint, but in the days before mobile phones, and amid thousands of cheering supporters, the task was impossible.

A few days later, he telephoned me at home to say; “Where were you afterwards? We were all waiting for you in The Strawberry!”

But later that sublime Saturday evening I arrived back at Pop’s home, to be greeted with a smile, a handshake, a “well done, lad” and a very large whisky.

Pop sadly passed away, two years later.

I will never forget him, or that day.

 

Fans United Will Never Be Defeated

AA Wrexham 3

Ken Richardson’s fire

Stoked the Doncaster ire

It only took a spark

To ignite his moment in the dark

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the fuckin same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Bill Archer made a killing

From his crooked Goldstone shilling

But the battling Seagulls now fly

Under a blue and white sky

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the fuckin same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Alex Hamilton’s wrecking ball

Swung the Racecourse call

As the evil ball came down

Wrexham’s fans saved their ground

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the fuckin same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Roland Duchatelet’s sleight of hand

Unites the Valley stand

The fans now deal their own CARD

As they clear him from their yard

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the fuckin same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Karl Oyston sues football fans for fun

But his regime is now undone

Under the famous Blackpool lights

Here come the Tangerine Knights

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the fuckin same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Fans United Will Never Be Defeated

Ken Richardson’s fire

Stoked the Doncaster ire

It only took a spark

To ignite his moment in the dark

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the bloody same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Bill Archer made a killing

From his crooked Goldstone shilling

But the soaring Seagulls now fly

Under a blue and white sky

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the bloody same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Alex Hamilton’s wrecking ball

Swung the Racecourse call

As the evil ball came down

Wrexham’s fans saved their ground

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the bloody same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Roland Duchatelet’s sleight of hand

Unites the Valley stand

The fans now deal their own CARD

As they clear him from their yard

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the bloody same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Karl Oyston sues football fans for fun

But his regime is now undone

Under the famous Blackpool lights

Here come the Tangerine Knights

 

They can’t understand

In their money-grabbing hands

When they try to steal our game

They are all the bloody same

We will not be tamed and seated

Fans united together

Will never be defeated

 

Socialism Meets Soccer

Your shoes, they were bought in Boohoos

Your dress is from Taiwan

Your bedding’s from Malaysia

Your ruck sack’s from Amazon

That skirt you wear comes from the Philippines

And the phone you use is a Lumia Grey

It was put together in Chengdu

By a girl making seven Yuan a day

 

Well, it’s sundown on the Goldstone

West Pier and the Corn Exchange

A train ride to the Amex

Where no-one thinks it’s strange

Thirty-six quid for a football match

You play their game and pay

Sure was a good idea

Until greed got in the way

 

Well, your dress is made in Suzhou

And all our cars are from Japan

Your silk scarf was bought in Primark

The Fat Face jeans from Pakistan

All the furniture, it says “Made in Brazil”

Where a woman, she slaved for sure

Bringing home 60 pence a day to a family of twelve

You know, that’s a lot of money to her

 

Well, it’s sundown on the Goldstone

West Pier and the Corn Exchange

A train ride to the Amex

Where no-one thinks it’s strange

Thirty-six quid for a football match

You play their game and pay

Sure was a good idea

Until greed got in the way

 

You know, capitalism is above the law

Because “It don’t count unless it sells”

When it costs too much to build it at home

You just build it cheaper somewhere else

Democracy doesn’t rule the world

That’s something you need to understand

This world is ruled by bankers

Who use politics as a sleight-of-hand

 

Well, it’s sundown on the Goldstone

West Pier and the Corn Exchange

A train ride to the Amex

Where no-one thinks it’s strange

Thirty-six quid for a football match

You play their game and pay

Sure was a good idea

Until greed got in the way

 

(With thanks to Bob Dylan for the original idea)