Small Screen Seagulls; 1996/97 Season

Brighton on TV

The 1996/1997 season was Brighton’s final one at their home of 96 years – the Goldstone Ground. The off-pitch battles were fierce, difficult and extremely fraught. Excellent articles and books, such as Build a Bonfire, have been written documenting the entire battle to save the ground, save the club, oust the board and keep Brighton in Brighton, which I won’t go into on here. Instead here are some brief snippets from the media coverage of the 96/97 season, where for the first real time since the 1983 FA Cup Final, Brighton were the subject of media attention (albeit for truly terrible reasons). Screenshots are provided from various clips of news and highlights coverage by ITV Sport, Meridian, Sky News and BBC South.

 


South Today, BBC South (16th October 1996);

Brighton 0-1 Hereford, 15/10/96 – Division Three

Protest presenter 1 Protest presenter

Brighton fans had already had to protest, invade the pitch and cause an abandonment, in the 1995/96 season plus one just a couple of weeks before this match, to get their story heard amidst an ongoing battle with the board – namely chairman Bill Archer and chief executive David Bellotti. They had planned to ease the club’s mounting debts by selling the Goldstone Ground, however there was no new home lined-up and it was revealed they had changed the club’s constitution in an effort to profit from such sale. In order to get this story nationwide, fans organised a series of protests for publicity. At the time of this report on local news bulletin BBC South Today, there was a blueprint for ground-sharing with Portsmouth from the following season. This of course never materialised and Gillingham were instead landlords for the two seasons after this one. Regular presenters at this time in the region were Harry Gration (above left) and Roger Finn (above right).

Protest fireworks Protest outside

Fireworks in the 75th minute provided the cue for much of the 3,500 Seagulls supporers to walk out of the ground in protest, with around a thousand congregating outside the stands and by the directors’ entrance. “We’re just sick to death of what’s going on down there, it’s ridiculous. We just want Archer out” one fan commented. As the game drew to a conclusion with more fans outside the ground than in it, the Albion lost one-nil to Hereford; a team who would crop up again in an absolutely pivotal way later on this season.

Protest reporter Protest baine

The report was compiled by Sean Killick, long-time BBC South Today ‘Sussex reporter’ who chatted with fans and protesters. “It’s gonna carry on and carry on until he goes cos there is no future for this club with Bill Archer here and everybody agrees with that. There isn’t one single person in the whole of Sussex who supports him!” said John Baine of the Brighton Independent Supporters Group. Baine is better known as punk poet Atilla the Stockbroker, one of the leaders in the fans campaigning and later one of two voices over the PA at our time at Gillingham and Withdean Stadium. Whilst the message was being heard loud and clear inside and outside the ground, as well as starting to filter around the rest of the country, the football on the pitch was still dreadful. The defeat left Jimmy Case’s Brighton bottom of the entire Football League, four points adrift with little sign of improvement.


Meridian Tonight, ITV Meridian (4th December 1996);

Brighton 2-3 Darlington, 03/12/96 – Division Three

Case sacked presenters Case sacked protest

Meridian Tonight reported on the surprise sacking of manager Jimmy Case the morning after a midweek defeat to Darlington at home. Main presenter Fred Dinenage was in conversation with sports presenter Andy Steggall on the local news bulletin. Steggall began by not messing his words one bit; “I think it’s extraordinary. I don’t know what the directors are playing at. They haven’t got a friend in the world, the fans hate them,” before confirming that the FA and Football League are investigating them too. This match was seen as a must-win for Brighton, as most were, as Darlington were just one place above the Seagulls ahead of the match, with Brighton still at the foot of the table.

Case sacked board Case sacked quote

The protesting began just three minutes into the match, as Chief Executive David Bellotti was chased out of the directors box followed by a small group of fans running onto the pitch and crossing stands. Steggall went on to point out how strange the timing of the decision to get rid of Case was, having stated in the programme notes only the night before how everyone should “get behind Jimmy and the players… Jimmy and the team deserve better than this.” They really did. Then came the statement thanking Case for his efforts and urging supporters to get behind the new incumbant. Case left the Albion after almost a year exactly, having took charge of 59 games with just nine wins. He acknowledged before this decision that things were “going steadily down hill… I’ve learned to put up with a lot… But I still want to see it through.” The club would face an even bigger uphill battle now without a manager, losing to their nearest rivals and sitting glumly at the bottom of the entire Football League without a home to play in next season. It would take a minor miracle to turn this around in 1997.


Sportsline report, Sky News (27th April 1997);

Brighton 1-0 Doncaster, 26/04/97 – Division Three

Goldstone sky news host Goldstone sky news reporter

Before the Sky Sports News 24 hour rolling channel existed, sports news on Sky came via the Sky Sports Centre, a pre-cursor to SSN with excellent daily bulletins, or from Sky News regular updates in Sportsline. The latter is where we saw a report on Brighton’s last ever match at the Goldstone Ground. Chris Skudder hosted from the Sky News centre, with Pete Barraclough reporting from Brighton, both long-standing members of the Sky reporting team.

Goldstone sky news pub Goldstone sky news invasion

Barrclough’s report began by mentioning the National Lottery funding granted to Brighton’s West Pier to prevent it crumbling further into the sea, before moving down to the Hove Park Tavern, a couple of minutes walk from the Goldstone. The pub exterior still looks the same twenty years on as it did in 1997, the difference being how much more populated it was back then. After a quick chat with a couple of fans in buoyant mood, including one who had travelled back from Washington DC for this, it was onto match action. This was slightly spoiled by the caption for Brighton manager Steve Gritt flashing up instead as “Stuart Storer Brighton Goalscorer”, whose interview was yet to come. After showing the goal, we saw the scenes of elation at the final whistle as the players ran off and the fans ran on, eager to claim their little souvenir from the soon-to-be demolished stadium.

Goldstone sky news goal Goldstone sky news storer

Stuart Storer’s name would never be forgotten by Albion fans for his decisive goal to secure the win against Doncaster and keep Brighton in with a fighting chance of avoiding relegation against all odds. The ball was headed onto the crossbar and fell to Storer’s feet five yards from goal to blast home on the half-volley above the multiple bodies on the goalline. Brighton had done it, the fairtytale ending to 96 years at the grand old stadium, in doing so meaning survival was then in their own hands ahead of the final day showdown at Hereford the following Saturday. “We didn’t play very well,” Storer began after the match, “but at the end of the day the result matters and a lot of people have gone home very happy but probably with a tear in their eye as well.” This time the correct caption was put up! The final shots of the report showed the fans knocking out the old wooden seats to take home with them, as the demolition work effectively began.


Nationwide Football League Extra, ITV (5th May 1997); 

Hereford 1-1 Brighton, 03/05/97 – Division Three Final Day

Football League Extra Titles FLE Gabriel Clarke

Gabriel Clarke hosted the weekly Football League highlights programme from Hereford on the final day of the season, broadcast late Monday night networked across the ITV regions. Football League Extra was a popular review programme featuring all the goals from all three Divisions, a nostalgia section looking back at a classic match, and a club feature or interview. The show came about during ITV’s exclusive coverage of the Football League and continued after they lost Live rights to Sky in 1996; FLE ran from 1994 to 2004, replaced by Sunday morning show The Championship on ITV. This particular match was absolutely huge, effectively a play-off to decide who gets relegated to the Conference. Brighton went into it knowing that if they avoid defeat they’ll stay up, Hereford had to win or they would go down. “There has never been a last day scenario quite like the one played out at Edgar Street this weekend. Hereford and Brighton met for a match guaranteed to span sports emotional extremes. At the end of Saturday, one of them would be dropping out of the Nationwide League,” Clarke opened the show.

FLE Steve Gritt FLE Fans

“There’s an awful lot at stake, really it’s not worth contemplating relegation really because it will mean so much to everyone connected to the club to stay in the league,” were the pre-match thoughts of Brighton boss. Steve Gritt joined the club in December 1996 when the Albion were bottom of the table and needed results fast. It was already some achievement, given what was going on around him off the pitch, to have put Brighton with their fate in their own hands on the last day in 23rd position, level on points with the home side both on 46 points. The sharp plummet of Hereford to the foot of the table had been overshadowed somewhat as a result. They were in the play-offs the previous season.

FLE Kick off FLE one nil

Gabriel Clarke voiced an extended report at the top of the programme incorporating the highlights, devoting the first seven minutes of the 40 minute programme. The rain fell before kick off to make the playing conditions even trickier. The home side were able to adapt better quicker and dominated possession early on. It took just 21 minutes for the breakthrough to come. Tony Agana found a bit of space in a crowded box and hit a cross-shot towards the centre of the six yard box and turned into his own goal by 19-year-old local defender Kerry Mayo. It would’ve been more before half time if it weren’t for Brighton’s resolute defending throwing bodies on the line. Some things never change.

FLE one one FLE chance

This continued into the early stages of the second half, where Hereford were unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty. The decision mattered even more in the 62nd minute. Craig Maskell shot on the volley and was millimetres away from writing his name into Brighton history, instead the honour going to Robbie Reinelt. Maskell’s shot hit the post, with the goalkeeper scrambling around to get back on his feet the rebound fell to the inrushing Reinelt to calmly slot the ball home from seven yards out. Brighton were level with one of the most important goals in the club’s history. Instantly there was a role reversal, it was Hereford who were now on the back foot and looking nervy and tired. Chances still fell, with Agana’s header inches wide as Brighton ‘keeper Mark Ormerod failed to punch clear. Disaster almost, and definitely should have, struck in the final minute as the Albion defence were caught wide open. Hereford striker Adrian Foster was in on goal with just Ormerod to beat but the shot fell straight into his arms and that was almost it.

FLE Dick Knight FLE Reinelt

Robbie Reinelt said in his interview after the game it was “probably the best moment of my career. I’ve been at Gillingham when they nearly went out of business, I was with Aldershot when they out of business, Colchester nearly out of business. So today I break my duck!” What were Brighton thinking signing such a jinx! Having led the fan charge to take over the club from David Bellotti and Bill Archer, local businessman Dick Knight was chairman for the final two games of the season, seen by many as one of the saviours of the club. Knight was quoted on the show as saying it was “tense, nailbiting… and that was just the kick off!” After 46 games and 47 points for both Brighton and Hereford, the Albion survived by virtue of a better goal difference of just two goals. The tightest of margins.

FLE Final whistle FLE Hereford

What a contrast of emotions at the final whistle. Steve Gritt and his staff were of course jubilant. Nobody wanted the Brighton job before he was appointed in December with the club twelve points adrift at the foot of the entire Football League, he did a remarkable job to lift the players, lift the fans and grind out those all-important results. It is widely believed that the club wouldn’t have survived in the Conference, probably having to go part-time playing their games miles from home without their own stadium. Debt, a player exodus, a disengaged fanbase; it doesn’t bare thinking about. For Hereford that was their reality – relegation out of the League after 25 years. They were to remain a full-time club but their problems would begin as soon as the final whistle blew. Manager Graham Turner, shown with his head in his hands above, immediately offered his resignation. Over the summer his resignation was rejected and he ended up staying with Hereford for a further 12 years, eventually guiding them back up into the League and then a further promotion to the third tier whilst also being a major shareholder in the club. Whilst he was the man that took the club down he was instrumental in saving and rebuilding them and deserves a lot of credit.

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

3 Responses to Small Screen Seagulls; 1996/97 Season

  1. Pingback: Small Screen Seagulls; 1996/97 Season pt2 | Mark O'MEARA

  2. Pingback: #6: Leyton Orient 2-0 Brighton 22/12/1996 | Mark O'MEARA

  3. Pingback: Small Screen Seagulls; FA Cup in the Nineties part 2 | Mark O'MEARA

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