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 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 62 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.

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.