Small Screen Seagulls; Play Off Final v Notts County, 02/06/1991

Brighton on TVEight years after slipping out of the top flight and reaching the Wembley Final of the FA Cup for the first time, Brighton were poised for a return to the big time. The club were ninety minutes away from getting back into Division One, all that stood in their way were Notts County in the Barclays League Division Two Play Off Final. This was the Albion’s first visit back to the National Stadium since the 1983 Cup Final Replay defeat to Manchester United. Since then, Barry Lloyd had rejuvenated the club and snuck into the Play Offs in sixth position in the Second Tier. Highly rated Neil Warnock was the County boss aiming to thwart Lloyd’s plan. A Sunday out in the Wembley sunshine in June determined the victors. Would the Seagulls fly high again or was it the turn of the Magpies to perch on the top branch? ITV’s South and Central regions were there to see.


Notts County 3-1 Brighton, Play Off Final; 3pm, Sun 2nd Jun ’91

91POF Titles

The Football League Play Offs were introduced in 1987 as a way of determining the final promotion place in Divisions Two, Three and Four. As of 1990, they were contested by the four teams finishing just outside the automatic spots and consisted of two two-legged Semi Finals and a one-off Final held at the National Stadium of Wembley. The Play Offs were credited as being a huge success in harbouring excitement for special occasion of a showpiece Final, as well as ensuring many more meaningful and competitive games towards the latter stages of the campaign as more teams had things to play for. ITV held exclusive television rights to the entire Football League from 1988 to 1992, with regular networked Live matches from Division One as part of The Match presented by Elton Welsby or Jim Rosenthal mostly on Sunday afternoons. The regions were sometimes utilised for highlights programming, showcasing the goals from the local games, but Live games took priority. With the Play Offs still in its infancy in 1991, this match between Notts County and Brighton was not broadcast Live. As a somewhat rare treat, thirty-minute highlights were shown later that Sunday night in both the Central region and TeleVision South.

91POF Table

The final Division Two table saw Oldham promoted as champions along with West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday. Missing out by just two points were Notts County who had to settle for fourth and a place in the Play Offs in their first season back at this level. They gained promotion via the Play Off Final in 1990, defeating Tranmere by two goals to nil to take the Third Division trophy. Manager Neil Warnock was being touted for the vacant Chelsea job ahead of this match but had a job to complete; back to back promotions. They dispatched of seventh-placed Middlesbrough to reach this stage, as a Paul Harding goal with twelve minutes to go in the Second Leg made the difference. They drew the First Leg at Ayresome Park one-all. Brighton meanwhile did the double over Millwall to book their spot at Wembley. A comprehensive four-one win at the Goldstone on the Sunday set them in great stead for the trip to The Den. Mark Barham’s equalising goal just before the break was followed by a quickfire three further in the space of seven second half minutes as Mike Small, Clive Walker and Robert Codner all added their names to the scoresheet. The rematch three days later saw Millwall take the lead early on, as they did in the First Leg. But goals from Codner and John Robinson in the second half ensured a fantastically comprehensive six-two aggregate win. This was in stark contrast to the regular League results, where there was a stalemate at the Goldstone and then a three-nil defeat in South London. It was a similar story against Notts County, again a goalless draw at home was paired with an away defeat. It would be a close Final to call.


Television South & Central Sport Special, ITV (Sunday 2nd June 1991)

91POF TVS ITV Central 91

The ITV region serving Brighton and the South Coast was TVS; TeleVision South. They took over the franchise from Southern on New Year’s Day in 1982. The flagship broadcast of the station was Coast to Coast, the daily regional bulletin which won the RTS award for Best News Programme in both 1989 and 1991. Faces of the South included Fred Dinenage and Fern Britton, whilst the famous logo on the ident featured a six-coloured symbol rotating. For the ITV network, it produced such hits as gameshow Catchphrase, classic kids favourites Art Attack and Finders Keepers, and part of long-running morning talk show The Time, The Place. TVS improved the regional sport programming launching with their own weekly football highlights show in ’82, Sunday Sportshow and latterly The Saturday Match, whereas Southern had often just simulcast LWT’s The Big Match. The likes of Dinenage, David Bobin and Gerald Sinstadt were involved over the years before the main highlights were networked across the country from LWT. Both TVS and Midlands region Central broadcast thirty-minute highlights of the showpiece Play Off Final here.

91POF Newbon

Commentary on Notts County versus Brighton was provided by ITV’s main voice, Brian Moore. Joining the broadcast in 1968 for the launch of LWT and The Big Match, he established himself as a personable frontman and outstanding commentator covering all the showpiece occasions at home and abroad. Interviewing the players and managers was reporter Gary Newbon. He had a long history with the midlands, working as a reporter for ATV in the 1970s (ITV’s first midlands region) before holding the position of their Controller of Sports for more than two decades as well as presenting the local Central sports news and shows. He worked on football, darts and boxing for ITV Sport and was the touchline reporter on Live football from the 1980s onwards. For today’s broadcast, he introduced the programme for Central viewers with a brief piece to camera pitchside before handing over to Brian Moore.

91POF Brighton

Moore talked us through the team news, starting with Brighton. Barry Lloyd joined the Albion as Alan Mullery’s assistant in 1986 and took over the main job the following January. He couldn’t do enough to prevent the second relegation in five seasons though. An immediate return to Division Two came about in his first full season in charge, finishing second behind Sunderland. Lower half finishes in 1989 and ’90 were forgotten about when he guided them to this Play Off spot and just one game away from the promised land of the top flight. He made just one change to the starting line-up that defeated Millwall in the Semi Finals, Clive Walker returned to the fold having had stitches in the First Leg when colliding with an advertising hoarding. Perry Digweed in goal joined a decade earlier from Fulham. Also joining the club in 1981 was defender Steve Gatting from Arsenal who, unlike Digweed, played in the ’83 Final the last time Albion were at Wembley. The club broke the record transfer fee for a non-League player when Nicky Bissett joined from Barnet for £20,000 in March ’88. Colin Pates concluded his loan spell from Arsenal. This was Dean Wilkins’ second spell at the Albion, having played a handful of times in the 83/84 season. Midfielder Mark Barham won two international caps with England in the eighties. Winger Clive Walker was most known for his eight-year spell with Chelsea, a club synonymous with defender Gary Chivers who spent his first five professional years there. Romanian Stefan Iovan recently joined from Steaua Bucharest where he played for more than a decade. Mike Small was the top scorer this campaign with twenty-one goals in his debut season at the Goldstone. He partnered Robert Codner up top. Options on the bench were defender Ian Chapman and Republic of Ireland international striker John Byrne.

91POF Notts County

Notts County managed by Neil Warnock were an industrious, hard-working side. The world’s oldest Football League club named talented young midfielder Mark Draper and twenty-year-old striker Tommy Johnson in the starting eleven. The pair graduated through County’s youth system. Goalkeeper Steve Cherry hadn’t missed a game in the previous two campaigns. An experienced defence included ex-Peterborough right back Alan Paris and former Hull man Charlie Palmer. Centre back Craig Short was a signing from Scarborough in 1989. Midfielder Don O’Riordan scored a cracker against Spurs in the FA Cup Quarter Final back in March, ultimately losing two-one. Dean Thomas spent five years in Germany with Fortuna Dusseldorf. Phil Turner established himself as a stalwart of the County side over the previous two years. Striker Dave Regis was the younger brother of Cyrille and cousin of sprinter John. On the bench was Paul Harding, whose winner was the decider against Middlesbrough in the Semis, and forward Kevin Bartlett, who scored when the two sides met on New Year’s Day. Refereeing was Harrow schoolmaster David Elleray.

91POF Tunnel 91POF Warnock tunnel 91POF Referee 91POF Kick Off

Brighton wore their change kit, the so-called ‘Chewit wrapper’, of red and white. Notts County kicked the match off in their familiar black and white stripes, shooting from right to left in the first half. Neil Warnock emerged from the tunnel in the suit before dashing off to change into the tracksuit just as the game got underway following referee Elleray’s signal. The Albion had the first real chance of the match, beginning brightly. Dean Wilkins corner from the right was swung towards the back stick. A flick on saw the ball fall at the feet of Clive Walker. His shot almost snuck through the legs of goalkeeper Steve Cherry and in, instead deflecting it narrowly wide. The resulting corner was cleared all the way up the other end and almost presented County with a great opportunity, but for the alertness of Digweed to smother. He was forced off his line when a proposed backpass from Barham didn’t quite have the legs after it deflected off Gatting, Tommy Johnson not quite able to nip in. Cries from the Seagulls supporters of “There’s only one Perry Digweed” rung round loudly.

91POF Corner. 91POF Opening goal

However the opening goal came shortly after, with Notts County the ones celebrating and cheering. It came about after a dubious corner was awarded the Magpies way. Albion defender Gary Chivers was adamant the final touch did not come off him but Elleray disagreed and awarded the corner. Replays suggested that Chivers played it onto the foot of Dean Thomas. That was played short before being whipped in by Phil Turner from the near side. Tommy Johnson ran across his marker and glanced the header home from the six-yard line. There was very little Digweed could do about that one from such close range. The delivery was excellent and Johnson just needed a slight touch to guide it in for one-nil just before the half hour mark.

91POF Small 91POF Brighton bench 91POF Post 91POF Half Time

As Barry Lloyd, Martin Hinshelwood and co watched on from the bench unlucky to see Brighton behind, Clive Walker almost came up with the goods to equalise. He was the width of the post away from doing so just a minute before the break. Barham crossed from the right and Walker flew across the box to meet the delivery with his head, very unlucky to see it crash against the post (above, bottom left). This encouraged the crowd once more. “Seagulls! Seagulls! Seagulls!” On the break, Notts County created a half chance for Johnson which was comfortable for Digweed and so it remained one-nil to the black and white stripes at half time.

91POF 2nd Half 91POF Crossbar

Brighton got the game back underway after the break, trailing by that Johnson goal. They began the second half much like the first; well. Having struck the post earlier, it was now the turn to strike the crossbar (above right). Dean Wilkins floated a lovely ball towards the net from a free kick some thirty yards out. It beat Cherry in goal but didn’t quite dip enough and bounced off the top of the bar right in front of many of the travelling Albion faithful. But County always posed a threat and went close again through an excellent chance for Johnson. A terrific through ball from Thomas sent Johnson clear goalside of his marker. He took the shot early on the edge of the area but dragged it wide of the post.

91POF Johnson 2nd 91POF Subs

A quarter of an hour into the second period brought about the second goal, also for Notts County. Strong work by Regis on the far side to hold off Bissett was supported by Johnson nearby, County’s biggest threat. He got his shot away low, hard and, crucially, early from the far corner of the box. It flew in, beating Digweed’s hand to nestle into the bottom of the net. As commentator Brian Moore pointed out, there looked to be no danger until it was too late; “Played in by Dave Regis, taken by Tommy Johnson, wallop! And that’s two-nil.” This brought about a Brighton double substitution almost immediately, with Byrne and Chapman coming on for Iovan and Gatting.

91POF THAT Kit 91POF 3rd goal

It’s worth taking a closer look at that kit! Above left, Gary Chivers is sporting the incredible ensemble sponsored by Nobo, the office supplies company. With just under twenty minutes remaining, sub Ian Chapman scythed down Turner just outside of the right-hand side of the penalty area. The resulting free kick was curled in to the far side of the box by Mark Draper. Up jumped Dave Regis who gently cushioned the ball into the goal off his chest from six yards. An unconventional finish but an effective one none the less and that put the game out of Brighton’s reach, if it wasn’t already.

91POF Replay 91POF Mid game interview

From a coverage viewpoint, even though the match was not televised it had the unusual distinction of replay transitions. These came in the form of a picture flying into the centre with a yellow border, then flying back out again when it’s finished. Another peculiar part was when reporter Gary Newbon interviewed County boss Neil Warnock on the bench just after the third goal went in! Warnock remarked “Brighton have never worked as hard all season and I think it’s been a cracking game.” That feature was probably not going to catch on, with Warnock surprisingly accommodating despite being in the midst of a Wembley Final.

91POF Wilkins goal 91POF Brighton fans

The match wasn’t quite over as there was still time for an Albion consolation. After some terrific work from John Byrne, jinking into the box from near the left touchline he squared it. Barham let it run through for Dean Wilkins to finish first time (above left). His left footer sent the ball through the legs of defender Craig Short and out of reach of Cherry. It was celebrated in true consolation style, with little more than a handshake and a trot back to the centre circle with the game already up. But at least it gave those travelling Seagulls supporters something to cheer about. Just shy of half the 59,940 in attendance at Wembley were pleased with that last-minute strike.

91POF Trophy

There it was, the final whistle blew and Notts County were promoted back up to the top Division. Two goals from Tommy Johnson and a third from Dave Regis were the difference, with Wilkins adding no more than a personal highlight at the end. It was the black and white stripes who climbed the Wembley stairs up to the Royal Box to receive their trophy. Commentator Brian Moore crowned the moment; “Out of the Second Division and into the First by way of a Play Off victory at Wembley this season. Phil Turner raises the trophy, Notts County are back in the First Division.” Congratulations to the club and Neil Warnock, who was interviewed more traditionally by Gary Newbon to close the programme in the dressing room, followed by goalscorer Tommy Johnson. Brighton were so close but fell at the final hurdle. The top Division suddenly seemed a long way away again now.

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

One Response to Small Screen Seagulls; Play Off Final v Notts County, 02/06/1991

  1. Pingback: Small Screen Seagulls; The Rise and Fall of Gus Poyet | Mark O'MEARA

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