Half a century following the Albion

Knockhaert

This season I am celebrating 50 years supporting the Albion. Now with our first season in the Premier League almost finished, 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.

 

 

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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.

Fans United will never be defeated

AA Wrexham 3

ON 8 February, 1997, fans of Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Charlton Athletic, Preston North End, Crystal Palace, and countless other English football clubs, mingled with Real Madrid, Eintracht Frankfurt and Red Star Belgrade supporters – all in their team colours – on the crumbling terraces of the Goldstone Ground.

They had travelled from across the UK, and beyond, to watch visitors Hartlepool United take on Brighton and Hove Albion, then rooted firmly at the very bottom of the Football League.

But, more importantly, they were there to stand side-by-side with beleaguered Albion fans, as our club teetered on the very edge of extinction.

With supporters fighting a bitter war against the club’s despised owners, home games in the 1996/97 season had been played in front of ever-dwindling crowds, and in an increasingly desperate and hostile atmosphere.

But this was different.

Despite the cold and damp of a foggy afternoon, this felt like a carnival.

The Albion players rose to the occasion, thrashing Hartlepool 5–0.

“We’d like to thank you for coming,” sang the Albion faithful to the many guests.

The story of the Brighton and Hove Albion’s fight against their rogue owners has been well documented previously, both by myself and others.

But the Fan’s United Day, was the sole inspiration of one person, a 15 year-old Plymouth Argyle fan, Richard Vaughan.

His simple message on a fledgling Albion message board, was the trigger:

“It makes me sick what is happening to your club, and it’s an insult to your fans. I’m a Plymouth fan and I think that one week when we’re away, I’m going to come up and support your protest. I think it would be a good idea if loads of fans from different clubs turned up at Brighton (with their shirts on) and joined in. It would show that we’re all behind you 100%”

Anyway, that was then, and this is now… well not quite!

This is a transcript of an interview I did with Richard Vaughan for BBC Radio Five Live’s Victoria Derbyshire Show, back in April 2005.

The transcript has remained buried on an old external hard drive, and the 20th anniversary of that Fans United Day, reminded me where I had left it.

This is the first time it has ever been published.

Apologies to Richard – who is now a married father of three – for the 12 year delay!

What are your memories of watching your first ever football match?

Compared to most other people I was quite a late starter getting into the beautiful game. It was Christmas time 1993, I was 12 years-old and the match was Argyle v Fulham at Home Park.

My dad took me, and my cousin came along who was down visiting from north Wales. Walking into the stadium for the first time I was really taken in by the whole occasion and was completely hooked.

What have been the highs and lows of following Plymouth Argyle?

There’s been a lot of highs and lows following Argyle over the last eleven and a half years, but never a dull moment. The first season in 93/94 we played some excellent football and really should have been promoted. It all came down to the last day of the season but unfortunately results didn’t go our way and we missed out on automatic promotion by just three points.

We then suffered the fate of so many other teams that have finished third, losing in the play-offs to a Burnley side who were a staggering 12 points behind us! I remember feeling completely cheated and thinking this complete miscarriage of justice shouldn’t be allowed to happen, it was the first time I cried at football!

The biggest highs of following Argyle would obviously have to be the three promotion seasons.

The first in 95/96 we were promoted via the Third Division Play-Offs. The semi-final second leg against Colchester at Home Park is still the best game I’ve ever been to. We were trailing one nil from the first leg so the pressure was really on. We scored the decisive goal with just five minutes to go which prevented the game from going into extra time and for the first time in their history sent Argyle to Wembley.

The whole place erupted at the end with everyone running on the pitch to celebrate with the players, I’ve still never seen a better atmosphere at Home Park. We took around 36,000 fans to the final at Wembley to see the Greens beat Darlington one nil, a very proud day.

The Paul Sturrock era at Home Park has to be the biggest high the club was ever been through. When he took over in 2000 we had fallen to our lowest league position in the clubs history. The crowds were at an all time low and were heading for the Conference.

Paul worked miracles without spending hardly any money at all he created two championship winning squads over just three and a half years! The first Third Division winning season would have to be my favourite out of the two as it was so unexpected, we actually won something!

At 15 years-old, how did you become aware of the situation at Brighton and Hove Albion?

I remember listening to Radio Five Live one afternoon back in 1996 and hearing about the York game when people ran on the pitch and broke the goal posts. I then started following the club’s fortunes every week and started reading the fans views on the internet.

Where did the idea for Fans United come from?

One evening I was browsing through the Brighton fans’ website which I had been keeping up to date with on a regular basis since the York match.

The whole Archer situation had really come to a head and things really did seem bleak for the club.

There seemed no way out and I just couldn’t quite believe that a club like Albion with so much history and fantastic support could cease to exist. Browsing through the web site there was an overwhelming amount of anger, sadness and support expressed from supporters of clubs all over the world.

It seemed to have touched every real fan in some way and something big really had to be done to make people stand up and notice how money a greed were killing this great club.

What sparked you to write the message?

I was so wound-up with everything that was going on that I stated on the message board that I was going to come along to an Albion match wearing my own colours to show my support for the cause and that others should join in too. As there was so many messages of support from other clubs it seemed the best way we could all show the football world that fans were united in their support for the Albion.    

What are your memories of the Fans United Day?

I was really overwhelmed with the immense support of unity shown on the original day, it was action packed from start to finish. We met up mid-morning with a few of the main organisers on the green opposite the Goldstone Ground.

Crowds were already starting to form everywhere, including people from all walks of the media. AFC Bournemouth were themselves in financial trouble at the time and there was also a group of fans from the club doing a collection of their own.

I thought this was really good as it showed what Fans United was all about, truly a day for all fans of football. It was amazing seeing so many teams colours, I think all of the 92 league clubs were easily represented, quite a few from Europe and a fair few from non-league as well.

The turnstile queues around the ground were huge, it was quite a wait to get into the ground. One of the funniest moments I remember was an Albion fan opening one of the emergency gates in the ground and shouting to people in the queue “Quick come in this way, Archer won’t get any more money of us then!”

A good few hundred fans managed to get in for free, nobody cared as this was all part of what the day stood for. The atmosphere behind the goal was immense before kick-off and didn’t let up at all throughout the game. It was really heart-warming to see so many groups of fans all mixing together and all in good nature, I think I even had a chat with an Exeter fan!

Did you follow Brighton and Hove Albion’s fortunes closely in the immediate months and years following February 1997?

Since Fans United I have always made a point of checking the results to see how Albion are getting on every week. I was really nervous listening to the Brighton v Hereford game on the final day of the Fans United season, I was going through the motions as if it was my own team playing!

The worst Albion moment was seeing you guys get promoted at Home Park it was horrible! Although we made up for it by winning the league the following season so I’ll let you have that one. I’ve also been keeping up to date with the ground situation at Albion. It’s an utter disgrace they still haven’t been given the go head to build a new stadium. The Withdean is no way near good enough for a club like Brighton. They could easily be attracting crowds in the region of 15 to 20 thousand and the current capacity is tiny.

I was annoyed with one of the Talk Sport presenters the other morning as he was trying to put Albion down for getting such low home gates, typical I suppose of the ignorant Premiership worshipers!

Have you followed/been aware of the financial crises facing many other football clubs during the past few years? For example: Bradford City, Notts County, Exeter City, Wrexham and Cambridge United.

It’s really sad there seems to always be a club in the news these days that’s in financial trouble. Something drastic really needs to be done soon or we’ll be facing a situation where the country only has two or three professional leagues.

There’s so much money being thrown around by the bigger clubs it seems crazy, Wayne Rooney’s wages over two weeks would probably be enough money to save one of the struggling clubs. One the best ideas I heard once would be to bring in a transfer tax in the Premiership whereby one or two percent of every transfer fee is kept by the FA and put into a kitty. This money could then be distributed around the lower leagues to keep the smaller clubs going.

What are your views on the financial structuring of professional football in this country?

The television money from Sky was improved recently but I still don’t think we all get a fair share of it. If Sky chose to show so many games in one league per season then I think each club should get their fair share of appearances.

It’s also quite worrying how expensive it is to get into a grounds these days. If prices continue to spiral our of control the way they are now the normal man on the street won’t be able to afford to go anymore which is a tragedy. This is one of the reasons the atmospheres in Premiership grounds with the exception of the newly promoted clubs seem to be non-existent as the real fans just can’t afford to go.

What are your views on the whole Fans United movement and how it has developed?

I have mixed feelings that Fans United is still going strong today. One side of me is very proud that fans are still coming together to try and fix the wrongs of the beautiful game, which is great to see. I still have to pinch myself sometimes that all this came about from one of my teenage rants one night over the internet!

The other side of me is quite sad that we still have to go to these lengths to save the clubs that generations have supported all their lives. It’s now a regular thing in the news to read about a club going into financial crisis. It’s now just a case of which one next. In an ideal world there would be no more need for Fans United but unfortunately with the way things are going this isn’t the case.

Do fans have the power to make real changes in the game?

Yes definitely, without the fans football is nothing. We’re the reason football is here today and the people making money out of it should try and remember that sometimes.

How does it feel eight years later?

It still feels very surreal that all of this came about from one night’s ranting over the internet. As I said before I have mixed feeling that it’s still going but it makes me very proud that fan power is alive and well.

  • Thank you, Richard. Thanks too, to Warren Christmas for the introductory few paragraphs, taken from his wonderful blog: The inside story of Fans United – How Danny Baker helped to save Brighton & Hove Albion FC