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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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”

 

Poem: Goldstone memories

Kit Napier in the wind swings the ball in
Cha Cha Cha Cha Livesey we chanted
Big Alex rises in the fog of the night
A goalbound header he glances
Tiger Tawse races down the left wing
Behind him 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
Ball played wide as Mellor advances
Beamish races towards the goal
And tucks away the sweetest of chances
Tony Towner surges down the right wing
Behind him 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 the edge of the box
Horton signals a move they have planned
Passes to Ryan who chips it to Ward
And he scores in a Goldstone wonderland
Teddy Maybank sprints down the right wing
Behind him 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”

A Jimmy Case thunderbolt bulges their net
Steve Foster ploughs through the sand
The ball swerves forward and Smith must score
But it’s Robinson’s shot they can not withstand
Gary Stevens runs down the left wing
Behind him 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”

Brief Encounter #11

Ovett
Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe’s granny
AS supreme middle distance runners in the late 1970s and early 1980s Steve Ovett and Seb Coe were inseparable.

Now, as subjects for this Brief Encounter, I have brought the duo together again… the encounters were separated by 15 years and in Coe’s case, his granny will have to suffice.
A bit of a tentative link, but journalists are always looking for an angle to a story!
The first part of this story lies on an Inter City train journey from Leeds to London.
It was the spring of 1977 and I was travelling home from university to see mum and dad, who lived on the south coast near the seaside town of Worthing. It was a hot day; thankfully the train carriage was only half full and I had a front facing seat to myself. But as the express pulled into Doncaster station, it started to fill up with others heading south. I glanced up to see a smart but elderly lady take the seat opposite me. She was struggling with her suitcase, so I jumped up and helped her store the case in the luggage area behind her.
As the train pulled out on its continued journey to London, I relaxed back into my seat to continue reading the paperback novel I had bought at the WH Smith store on Leeds station concourse. The lady opposite was glancing at a broadsheet newspaper and looking wistfully out the window at the passing countryside.
About 20 minutes passed before she suddenly asked where I was from and where I was going. I explained that I was a student going home for a weekend with my family. The lady asked about my university course and said she too was going home after visiting her son in Sheffield. We struck up a conversation, which lasted almost an hour and helped the journey pass more quickly. The lady told me she had been recently widowed and lived for visits to see her son and grandchildren. She said her grandson was at university at Loughborough and she saw less of him now he was away from home. She said he did a lot of running and was becoming quite good at it.
Before long the train had pulled into Kings Cross station. I lifted my rucksack onto my back and offered to carry the old lady’s suitcase along the platform. She thanked me warmly. As we said goodbye on the station concourse I glanced down at the luggage tag on her suitcase… it said simply: Violet Coe.
In 1977 Sebastian Coe was already becoming a top British 800 metre runner. Three years later he won 1500m gold at the Moscow Olympics… a feat he repeated at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
I had spent a memorable two hours with his proud granny.
My liaison with his rival Steve Ovett was much more straightforward.
Steve and I are the same age. We both grew up in the environs of Brighton and Hove, on the Sussex coast. In 1967 at age 11 we both began at high school. I went to the old fashioned – almost Victorian – Hove County Grammar School for Boys, whereas Steve started at the more modern and trendy Varndean School. My only brush with Steve at this time was in an inter-schools cross country race where I finished 37th and Steve probably won or came second!
Years later he became one of my two lifetime sporting idols – the other was former Brighton footballer Kit Napier – as he scorched the track to become (in my eyes at least) our greatest ever 1500 metre runner.
As the track rivalry between him and Sebastian Coe developed in the late 1970s and 1980s, my support was always 100% for Ovett. Not only was he a Brighton lad, but his anti-establishment air was the perfect rebuff to Coe’s smug arrogance, both on the track and in post-race TV interviews.
I leapt off the sofa, punching the air when Ovett won the 800 metre gold medal at the 1980 Olympics and sulked when he only took bronze at his favourite distance, the 1500 metres, a few days later.
When he retired from international athletics after his 5,000 metre gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, he was firmly established as a personal hero.
So when I was given the chance to interview him in 1992, it was an opportunity I would not miss.
At the time I was living and working in Mid Argyll on the west coast of Scotland and Steve had been invited by John Holt, the retired general secretary of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, to start a half marathon to help raise £500,000 to build a local swimming pool.
After the race, I joined Steve and John in the bar of a hotel in Lochgilphead for a pint and an interview.
Apart from a few smile lines and his rapidly disappearing hair, Steve hadn’t changed much in appearance since his glory years. He talked in detail how following his 1980 Olympic triumph, his 1982 season was wrecked by injury. When out training on the streets of Brighton in late 1981, he glanced across the road and ran into some railings at St John the Baptist Church on New Church Road and badly twisted his knee. It was a road and location we both knew well. He also talked about how bronchitis ruined his chances of any success in the 1984 Olympics.
But he was glad he had achieved so much in sport and when I asked him if he had any political ambitions like Sebastian Coe, he laughed out loud and said: “What do you think?”
He showed me his bandaged left thumb. “I did that last weekend with a bloody hammer, while renovating a cottage at our home,” he said, “That’s the limit of my ambitions! Although I am doing some TV punditry for Sky TV at the moment,” he added with a grin.
The formal interview lasted about 15 minutes before I mentioned to Steve where I grew up. We then spent another 45 minutes chatting about Brighton and Hove and mutual friends from our years as kids.
Steve was effusive and told me to pop by for a cup of tea, if ever I was passing his home near Annan, in south west Scotland.
As we shook hands to say goodbye I told him he was my hero. He almost blushed as he looked me in the eyes and said: “Thank you… but what a load of rubbish. I was born with an ability to run, that’s all, I am not different from you or anyone else in this pub.”

Brief Encounter #9

Brighton badgeBrighton and Hove Albion

THERE is nothing quite like having a pee with your heroes!

And it was so unexpected.

I have been an avid fan of my home town football team Brighton and Hove Albion since I was a small child… 46 years to be precise. I have watched their victories and defeats over those years and the club’s near extinction in 1997.

My baptism as an 11-year-old was standing in the North Stand at the much missed Goldstone Ground on a sunny Saturday 2nd September 1967 to see this team in blue and white beat Bury 1-0.

The chanting, bustle and atmosphere immersed me. I was hooked and had my first childhood heroes: the effervescent Kit Napier and the midfield maestro Charlie Livesey.

I can still smell the Bovril and cigarette soaked air of my first evening game one year later and 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 an integral part of my life.

But nothing prepared me for that moment on Friday 28th March 2008.

My dear Aunt Val had passed away and I had driven down to her home in North London to sort out arrangements for her funeral. Her death was unexpected and I guess my mind was focussed on getting everything right for her.

So after dealing with formalities with her solicitor and the funeral celebrant I hopped in my car to make the long journey back home – then in North Wales – via the M1 motorway.

I stopped at 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!