Small Screen Seagulls; Play Off Final v Bristol City, 30/05/2004

Small Screen Seagulls 2000sThe story of Brighton and Hove Albion around the turn of the Millennium was of a club finally on the rise again. After a disastrous decade in the 1990s – losing at Wembley in a Play Off Final, embarrassing exits in the FA Cup to non-League teams, almost becoming one of those non-League teams but for the skin of our teeth at Hereford and, of course, corruption in the boardroom leading to the sale of the Goldstone and nowhere to call home – the 2000s began with back-to-back titles flying up the Football League. By May 2004, still homeless and fighting, Brighton had the chance to enjoy a moment in the spotlight in the Nationwide Division Two Play Off Final. It was the opportunity for the Seagulls to take flight into the second tier, win a trophy, play at a National Stadium and, most importantly, champion the Albion cause in public. The match was Live on Sky but for those at the game or who didn’t have digital telly, ITV in the Meridian region broadcast a full thirty minute highlight programme.


Brighton 1-0 Bristol City, Play Off Final; 3pm, Sun 30th May ’04

POFHL Titles

Meridian Broadcasting gained the ITV franchise for the South and South East from 1st January 1993, taking over from Television South (TVS). Since then the ITV regional programmes for that part of the country fell under the Meridian (or ITV Meridian) branding. What this meant in terms of the football coverage, not much changed initially. TVS did not have their own production for the Live matches involving the regions Football League teams once ITV lost top flight rights in 1992. Instead they showed the networked or LWT (London) productions. When Meridian took over this continued until the beginning of the 1994/95 season, when weekly highlights show The Meridian Match was brought in. Every Sunday afternoon, Andy Steggall would round up the weekend’s action from our local Football League teams; Portsmouth, Reading, Bournemouth and Brighton as well as Southend and Swindon who were on the edges and also covered by other regions. Southampton were predominantly a Premiership club during this period but would often be spoken about and featured whenever rights permitted. The Meridian Match would also feature occasional Live matches up until 1997 and then again in 2001/02, where highlights of the other teams would fit around. When Sky gained exclusive Live Football League rights, the regional programme would continue with half-hour highlights shows instead. Supplementing The Meridian Match on Sundays would be a midweek version; Meridian Soccer Night, also usually hosted by Steggall. This afforded the regions clubs regular exposure and highlights on the main commercial network and was how the majority of fans would view their team goals. For matches of significance, a special edition of the programme would air. When Reading reached the Play Offs in 2001 this was the case, and it was repeated in May 2004 when Brighton and Hove Albion travelled to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to take on Bristol City. At stake was a place in the second tier – to be renamed the Championship from August. Having followed Albion closely all season on Sunday afternoons, it was only right that Meridian got their chance in the Cardiff sunshine to see how it all ended.


Soccer Night, ITV1 Meridian, 11.45pm (Monday 31st May 2004)

POFHL Ident

A thirty minute highlight programme in the Meridian region was slotted into the late night Bank Holiday Monday ITV1 schedule to cover Brighton’s Division Two Play Off Final with Bristol City. Monday nights were football nights on ITV that season, with the regular edition of The Premiership on Monday chaired by Matt Smith and his panel of experts from 11pm. This was followed into the early hours of Tuesday morning by Nationwide Football League Extra, ITV’s weekly round up of all the goals from the three lower Leagues and voiced by the trio of Tom Skippings, Trevor Harris and Tony Jones on a whistlestop tour of goals and features. UEFA Champions League Weekly was also part of the late night/early morning three course football feast, as the best of the action from the continent’s premier competition got an airing. But on this particular Monday night, with the regular League seasons done and dusted, it was here where ITV1 Meridian could broadcast Soccer Night, showcasing the action and reaction from the Albion’s final match of a long season, complete with the regional ident featuring long-serving Meridian Tonight news presenters Debbie Thrower and Fred Dinenage.

POFHL Semi Final 1 POFHL Bristol Semi POFHL Semi Final 2

The programme began by having a quick recap of the Semi Final matches for both Brighton and Bristol City, seeing how they got to this stage. Fourth placed Brighton’s journey began away at fifth in the table Swindon Town on a very sunny Sunday afternoon in mid May. Richard Carpenter’s deflected goal the difference as the Albion claimed a one-nil victory. Bristol City, the highest placed side in third, secured a one-all draw away at Hartlepool in their first leg thanks to Tony Rougier’s opener after just five minutes. In the second leg it took two late, late goals to overturn the ‘Pool lead given to them midway through the second half. First Goodfellow in the 88th, then Christian Roberts in stoppage time saw the Robins of Bristol progress to the Final in dramatic circumstances. However, the Seagulls showed them what drama really was the following evening in their second leg! Sam Parkin’s goal ten minutes before the end of the ninety meant Extra Time was required. Rory Fallon then gave Swindon the advantage overall until that Adam Virgo header in the last minute of Extra Time dragged the Albion level once more and headed for a penalty shoot-out. With Mooney missing, Virgo put Brighton in the ascendancy meaning Andy Gurney had to score or Swindon were out. The crash of the ball against the crossbar sent Brighton fans running onto the pitch, boss Mark McGhee sprinting for his safety to avoid a mobbing and, most importantly, set up this Final clash with Bristol City at Cardiff’s magnificent Millennium Stadium.

POFHL Steggall

Familiar face to the Meridian region for ten years, Andy Steggall presented from pitchside at the Millennium Stadium. Steggall’s career in broadcasting began in local radio for the BBC in Leicestershire having studied at university there before moving to Southern Sound – the precursor to Southern FM in Sussex. He transferred into sports television in the local area with TVS for eight years from 1984 as well as working for Channel 4 on their daily breakfast show at the start of the 1990s. After a year doing the sport for GMTV, in 1994 he moved into the role he’s had to this point; presenting the sport for Meridian. This incorporated news programme Meridian Tonight as well as weekly highlights show The Meridian Match. During the early part of his time with Meridian he presented Live Football League matches when ITV held the rights from the studio in Southampton. The region’s highlights show has seen him travel the country following the exploits of the likes of Reading, Bournemouth, Pompey and the Albion through real highs and desperate lows. He introduced this programme before handing straight up to the action with our match commentator.

POFHL Kick Off POFHL Commentator

Voicing the best of the action from the gantry was Phil Duffell. He had long been ITV’s voice of football in the West (HTV) region, commentating on their version of Soccer Sunday (The West Match) regularly from around 1995. These commentaries would then be heard across other regions on occasions, and even the main networked highlights show Football League Extra. During the 2001/02 season, he got the opportunity to commentate on a Live match for HTV West, as Bristol Rovers took on Plymouth, when the various ITV regions were able to broadcast occasional Football League matches as part of Soccer Sunday Live. For today’s Play Off Final, he was primarily there commentating for HTV covering Bristol City, with Meridian opting to use the commentary too. During the regular campaign this season on Meridian, the usual commentator was Ross Dyer. If he wasn’t around, Andy Ford would voice the goals. The pair took over from John Roder who had been a mainstay of The Meridian Match since 1997, including the couple of Live outings in 2001/02. Roder benefitted during the 2003/04 season from British Eurosport having the Live rights to Serie A, meaning his association on the South Coast came to an end. With Premiership highlights returining to the BBC from the upcoming 2004/05 season, Roder would become one of the new voices on the programme.

POFHL Brighton

Mark McGhee made one change from the last Brighton match; the topsy-turvy Semi Final Second Leg with Swindon. In came Gary Hart as Paul Reid made way. Captain Danny Cullip was named in the PFA Division Two Team of the Season whilst centre-back partner Guy Butters was voted the fans Player of the Year. Hero of that Swindon night Adam Virgo took his place at right-back with another local lad on the left; Dan Harding. Welshman Nathan Jones joined Englishmen Richard Carpenter and Charlie Oatway in the middle of the park. Club top scorer Leon Knight wanted to add to his tally of twenty-five goals. The big man/little man striking combination was completed by Chris Iwelumo. His victory in this game for Stoke two seasons ago made the big Scotsman the only Albion player to have featured on this Millennium Stadium surface before today.

POFHL Bristol City

Ex-Albion midfielder Danny Wilson brought his Bristol City side back to this Cardiff pitch for the second time having secured the LDV Vans Trophy last season. Three of his starting eleven were named in the PFA Divisional Team this term; Steve Phillips in goal, Louis Carey at the back and Brian Tinnion in the middle. Striker Tony Rougier made a handful of appearances for Brighton towards the end of the last campaign. Scottish forward Lee Miller played in the majority of the club’s matches but had only netted eight goals thus far. Christian Roberts was born in the host city. Refereeing the clash was Richard Beeby.


POFHL Roberts flap POFHL City chance

Story of the Match: The prize was spelled out by commentator Phil Duffell right at the start of the match. “It’s five years since Bristol City last played in Division One. Brighton’s exile at present stands at just one season. In ninety minutes time, maybe more, one of these teams will be mixing it with the likes of Leeds, Sunderland, West Ham and Wolves. It’s a cast they all want to join.” The first action shown was a nervy moment for Albion ‘keeper Ben Roberts, who flapped at a cross as he dropped it onto Guy Butters before bravely throwing himself in the way of any follow up as the stripes were able to clear. Moments later he again failed to clear danger from a ball into the area, as big City centre half Tony Butler got in his way. The ball dropped to Butler who blazed way over, with the linesman’s flag only slightly sparing his blushes. It wasn’t the brightest of starts for the man who had performed so well between the posts all season. Bristol City were considered by many as favourites for this match and they began accordingly.

POFHL Knight crossbar POFHL Half Time

Brighton’s first chance of note came when Leon Knight took a free kick from just outside the box. Welsh winger Nathan Jones, playing in the National Stadium of his home country for the first time, was tripped at speed by the smallest of contacts to earn the foul. Up stepped Brighton’s top scorer to curl the set piece towards the goal. It had Steve Phillips scrambling on his line to get there but he was assisted by the crossbar. It was a terrific effort to get it up over the wall and back down from a relatively short distance but just didn’t quite have enough to sneak in. But it was a warning shot that the Albion weren’t here for a day out. The first half lacked quality from either side as the tension of the occasion perhaps got the better of one or two, and the first half highlights came to a close with the score goalless.

POFHL Iwelumo shot POFHL Caught in possession

The match continued to be too close to call, with nothing able to separate them as the second half wore on. Both were restricted to half chances at best, with long range efforts and weak attempts on goal. As soon as one team had the ball, the other would win it back shortly after but not able to do much with it before being dispossessed. It would not be one of the famous Play Off classics, that’s for sure! An excellent crossfield pass from Semi Final hero Adam Virgo found Chris Iwelumo who took it on his chest. He created space and had time, more time than he perhaps realised as he rushed into a volley some thirty yards out which skipped off the turf and bounced well wide. Brighton almost created a problem for themselves out of nothing at the other end when Butters was caught in possession on the edge of his own penalty area. The ball was being casually played around the back line and goalkeeper when the former Gillingham defender was guilty of being too relaxed. Tony Rougier charged him down but the dispossession took the ball flying out behind for a goal kick towards the corner flag. One mistake was probably going to be all it took to decide this, as the ninety minutes drew closer and Extra Time loomed large.

POFHL Sub POFHL Iwelumo header

It’s never a good sign on a highlights programme when a substitution being made is shown in full. That’s how light we were on match action I’m afraid! But John Piercy came on to replace Jones, who had enjoyed a little bit of rare success on the day and was unlucky not to last the full ninety. Piercy was involved straight away and it was his cross from the left which saw an Iwelumo glancing header drop just wide of the far post as Phillips gathered before it fell behind the line. The Seagulls supporters sensed an opportunity and sung loudly to galvanise the side to get it done within the regulation time. And they were right to lift those spirits as, with time running out approaching the final five minutes, Brighton rewarded them with the crucial breakthrough.

POFHL Foul POFHL Penalty

Adam Virgo gathered a loose ball on the half way line and chipped it down the line for Iwelumo to chase. The big Scotsman held it up whilst support moved ahead of him. He shrugged off one challenge before dribbling the ball forward towards the area. Faced with two red shirts he pushed it through for Leon Knight. The diminutive striker couldn’t quite collect the pass under the challenge of Danny Coles but Iwelumo had continued his run. Just as he got his foot to the ball and looked like he was about to unleash an effort to trouble Phillips, Coles took a big swipe in an attempt to hoof the ball away but Iwelumo was too quick for him and ended up being scythed down. It was a definite penalty, for which referee Richard Beeby had no doubt. Up stepped Knight to coolly slot the spot kick home and Brighton had the lead! “One nil Brighton and Hove Albion! Who else but Leon Knight has the goal which has Brighton one step nearer to Division One. The shirt’s off, the celebrations have started,” was the call from our commentator Phil Duffell. The seconds ticked away before the full time whistle had blown. Brighton were back in the second tier at the first time of asking.

POFHL Scoreline


“There goes the final whistle. Brighton and Hove Albion are back from whence they came last season. It’s Division One for the Seagulls thanks to Leon Knight’s penalty. It’s Knight’s day in Cardiff,” commentator Duffell exclaimed. The twelve minutes or so of match highlights that ITV Meridian had managed to scrape together during a tight, turgid affair had came to an end and the result was that it would be Brighton going up, with Bristol City suffering Play Off heartache for the second successive season. Before the interviews and celebrations could begin, it was time for the advert break so the final ten minutes of the programme could be spent basking in Albion’s jubilation.

POFHL Full Time POFHL Medal POFHL Trophy Lift

The celebrations began with the trophy lift. Manager Mark McGhee led the players up the platform on the pitch to collect their winners medals, followed by everybody involved from Nathan Jones and Chris Iwelumo through Gary Hart and Charlie Oatway right up to Adam Virgo and, of course, captain and Man of the Match Danny Cullip. A sea of blue and white remained in the Albion end, with the contrast shown over in the City side where the pain was very real once more. Cullip lifted that lovely looking trophy to signify once and for all that the Seagulls were soaring up to Division One!

POFHL McGhee POFHL Knight

Andy Steggall conducted the interviews with the winning team, beginning with the gaffer. McGhee began by stating the importance of the victory in the wider context; “It means so much to us not just about playing in the 1st Division, about playing at Molineux, The Den and Walkers Stadium, the Stadium of Light instead of some of the places we’ve been this year, but also about our own stadium. This is a demonstration to anybody why we need a ground.” Goalscorer Leon Knight was up next, who admitted his penalty didn’t need anything special just do the job. “It weren’t well hit but it was in the corner and that’s the main point and it went in the back of the net”, having described it as the best penalty of all his.

POFHL Dick Knight POFHL Fans

The chairman was just an important role in the recent successful years at Withdean as much as any of the playing staff. Dick Knight heaped praise on the squad as well as sending out the rallying cry in the need for Falmer’s permanent home. “A wonderful achievement by our players and Mark McGhee. But it also makes such a strong statement about the incredible support that we have. We brought nearly 30,000 people here today so, frankly, they’re chanting behind me ‘We want Falmer’, they deserve Falmer.” Nobody had featured more or done more in the campaign for the new site than Mr Knight himself; always there, always ready with a soundbite and fought the Albion cause so, so well.

POFHL Virgo POFHL Oatway

Sussex born Adam Virgo held the trophy in his hands as he was interviewed by Steggall. We’ll gloss over the fact Meridian captioned him as Gary Hart though! With the backdrop of the ecstatic fans over his shoulder, Virgo gave credit to his fellow players for their efforts and talked about the emotions of the day. “I was in the hotel room, so excited to get out it was like Christmas Eve! I just wanted to get out and play and if I wanna play at the top I’ve got to play under the biggest pressure.” Midfielder Charlie Oatway, who had been in and out of the side all season, discussed his part in it all. “You can’t bottle what this club has got. For me personally it’s been up and down, but I’m so pleased it’s finished up with a high.” The interviews were interspersed with shots of the crowd celebrating and the other players lifting the trophy. It was a joy to watch all connected with the Albion having the day out they deserved. Danny Cullip had the Nationwide promotion flags wrapped around him and a big blue and white soft hat on, beaming with his winners medal around his neck.

POFHL Goodbyes POFHL Endboard

And with that, presenter Andy Steggall stood pitchside and rounded off the final programme of the season for Brighton and indeed the other clubs in the Meridian region. “As Fatboy Slim nearly said,” he began to close, “First Division football starts right here, right now. And what of the future? Well, on a personal basis thankyou for all your support, your letters, your questions – no, this isn’t a perm! Thankyou to all of your teams who’ve supported me so well throughout this season. On behalf of all the production team, we couldn’t do it without you, we wouldn’t want to. From all of us, for another season goodbye.” The credits rolled to an Oasis cover of David Bowie’s classic “Heroes” and the curtain came down on a successful season for Brighton and Hove Albion – going back to the big time.

POFHL Celebrations

Full report on the Sky Sports Live programme covering this Play Off Final is available HERE.

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

One Response to Small Screen Seagulls; Play Off Final v Bristol City, 30/05/2004

  1. Pingback: #18: Brighton 1-0 Bristol City 30/05/2004 | Mark O'MEARA

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