Small Screen Seagulls; The Rise and Fall of Gus Poyet

Small Screen Seagulls LogoGustavo Augusto Poyet Dominguez, or Gus Poyet to you and me, made a name for himself as a talented midfielder for Zaragoza, Chelsea and Tottenham. The Uruguayan spent seven years in the Premier League picking up the FA Cup, Charity Shield, UEFA Super Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. At international level, although he didn’t earn too many caps, he did lift the Copa America in 1995. Affectionately nicknamed “the radio” due to his incessant talking, there was no doubting he would go into coaching. Not many would have earmarked League One Brighton and Hove Albion as the club to give him his first managerial break. In November 2009 that’s exactly what happened, as Poyet brought a South American touch to the South Coast. 


Gus Poyet Brighton Manager 10th Nov 2009-23rd Jun 2013

Poyet's first game interviews (1)Gus Poyet had been assistant manager at Tottenham, Leeds and Swindon but now was given the top job for the first time. It was undoubtedly a gamble from new chairman Tony Bloom, but he was no stranger to playing the odds. Having taken over from Dick Knight in May, Bloom arrived as Brighton had just saved their skin on the final day with victory over Stockport at Withdean meaning they would remain in League One for another season. But the following campaign saw more misery at the start and Russell Slade’s short tenure was over. After Slade’s dismissal, Bloom said he received lots of applicants for the vacancy but when Poyet’s name was thrown in, he became ‘very interested’ before adding, “His reputation as being a top quality coach shone through, as well as being a top man… I am certain he will be a big success at the Albion.” Poyet certainly agreed, stating in a BBC Sussex interview “This is another challenge for me to take the club where everybody in Brighton wants to be and that’s in the Championship… Being realistic I think eighteen months is possible. If that is the goal of the club, it’s no problem.” He signed an initial contract until the end of the following season, which would be Albion’s final one at their makeshift home of Withdean. There was an immediate interest in the club from the media and it just so happened that Poyet’s first match in charge would be televised Live five days after taking charge. As a well known player in the Premier League, he scored some fantastic goals and assisted many more. As assistant coach he worked alongside big names, the likes of Juande Ramos and Dennis Wise. He was well used to lots of attention, but Brighton were not. The main focus in the spotlight was usually about the club’s fight for a stadium, a battle which dragged on for over a decade. Now, with Gus at the helm, there was an increase in coverage purely to see how the Uruguayan would be getting on. It turned out to go rather well.

Poyet appointedClimbing the table and building his own style was the first aim for Poyet. Results started to arrive and the style of play was overhauled. It was about getting the ball on the floor, playing out from the back, enjoying possession and passing the ball as much as possible. It was his philosophy and he only wanted to play one way. The club finished thirteenth in League One in May 2010 and sights were set on the top six. Poyet’s free-flowing Brighton side went even better in the 2010/2011 season, Poyet’s first full campaign, as they stormed to the top of the table and ran away with the title at a canter, soaring to the top of the table in September and never letting up. The club played some of the best football the supporters had ever seen. It culminated with a whopping 95 points to be crowned Champions as they bid farewell to life at Withdean and welcomed in the new stadium in Falmer with Championship football after five years away. In the process, Poyet earned the PFA League One Manager of the Year award and went on to claim the Outstanding Managerial Achievement prize at the Football League Awards. Praise was flying in from everywhere and the momentum continued in the second tier. His Seagulls narrowly missed out on the Play Off places in the 2011/2012 season as they took naturally to the higher League. One big push the following year saw them finish fourth and reach that end of season showdown for the first time at this level since 1991. That time it was ended at Wembley by Notts County, but for Gus it was Crystal Palace who did for us in 2013. And everything immediately fell apart in the days and weeks that followed. It ended with a bitter public fallout in which Poyet lost his job and Brighton had to start again. Here, we take a look at some of the media appearances Gus Poyet made whilst in charge of Brighton. A natural in front of the camera, he interviewed with passion and honesty and was a favourite in the studio. It all began by taking his new side along the South Coast for a birthday to remember.

 

First Match in Charge; v Southampton (A), 15th November 2009

#28 Southampton 15/11/2009 Table on Poyet's arrival

Five days after signing on at Brighton, Gus Poyet took his new club along the Coast to Southampton for a big clash at the foot of the League One table. Sky Sports couldn’t believe their luck, having already chosen this match in advance for Live television coverage over the international break weekend. Having a high-profile new manager in charge, and on his birthday, was the icing on the cake. Brighton sat 20th and in need of a rethink having shipped four goals in the previous match at Wycombe. In contrast, Southampton were in great form yet propped up the table for most of the season so far due to a ten-point deduction owing to financial irregularities but a win would take them out of the drop zone and above Albion. Sky Sports reporter Greg Whelan spoke to Poyet before his debut in charge and began by asking how much he was looking forward to the challenge. “We’ve done everything possible, because it’s only three days normally you have normally have a month of pre-season but, like I always say, I don’t complain at the situation and we have to accept it.” He spoke of the “talent and quality” of the squad he inherited but emphasised the need to shore up the back line, which he immediately tried to address by dropping captain Adam Virgo from the starting XI. The match couldn’t have gone any better, a full report is available here, as Brighton surged to a terrific three-one away victory with goals from Andrew Crofts and a Glenn Murray brace. Afterwards, a slightly hoarse Poyet spoke again with Whelan. “The lads were superb. We had two or three days to train, they adapted themselves to the situation very well.” He was pleased with the effort from the defence and debated whether the Southampton goal from the penalty spot should have been given in the first place. His focus was now about taking it game by game whilst he worked out exactly what to do with this squad and where strength was needed. “We need to think about keep improving as a team, keep working hard, keep believing in the strength of the team and work hard on the weakness.” In the studio, host George Gavin and pundit Peter Beagrie predicted brighter things for the Albion. “It’s a big task for Gus but I think, because you’ve got somebody with such kudos attached to it, I think he’s gonna be given time to build something at Brighton,” Beagrie said. That time spent during the rest of the 2009/10 campaign was enough to lift the club up the table steadily and with an attractive, open style which was enough to secure thirteenth place the following May, well clear of the relegation zone this time. Times certainly were changing.

SOU Poyet SOU Studio


Football League Weekend studio appearance; Sky Sports 2, 21st October 2011

FLW Titles FLW Poyet

In Poyet’s first full season in charge, Brighton were unstoppable as they stormed their way to the League One title. He built an exciting, attacking team dominating possession with free-flowing, passing football. The 2010/2011 campaign would be remembered amongst the greatest in Albion’s history as they took on and defeated all comers. The championship was secured in the final season at Withdean with four games to spare and ensured the opening of The Amex in Falmer would be as a second tier club again. A massive ninety-five points were obtained along the way, with Poyet named LMA League One Manager of the Season earning him huge acclaim. He strengthened over the summer to twice break the club’s transfer record – first on Will Buckley and then Craig Mackail-Smith – and began life in the Championship in superbly dramatic style with a last-gasp two-one opening day win over Doncaster. However, form over the next couple of months had stalled after positive opening weeks. Sky Sports had selected the home match against West Ham for Live television coverage on the Monday night. To preview that and the rest of the weekend’s fixtures, Gus Poyet was invited into the Football League Weekend studio to accompany George Gavin on the Friday evening. He admitted that he found the step up in League “very hard, very competitive” citing more power, strength, quality and experience in the Championship. After a dozen matches the Seagulls sat in tenth place on nineteen points going into this weekend. Poyet’s achievements so far earned him a contract extension beyond the original eighteen months and boasted a terrific win ratio of more than 50% over a century of matches. The stats were looking fantastic.

FLW Studio FLW Record

Gavin and Poyet discussed the move from Withdean to The Amex and how that impacted the club. Gus made his feelings clear about the old athletics ground; “I know people love it but I don’t. I’m the only one at Brighton who said that it was one of the horrible places to play football!” Of course by contrast he loved life in Falmer; “It’s totally the opposite – it’s massive, it’s comfortable, even the seats now!” He made a number of improvements on the playing staff too, bringing in the likes of Mackail-Smith, Buckley and Vicente as well as younger talents like Will Hoskins and Romain Vincelot. Poyet singled out Scotland’s newest striker Mackail-Smith for his outstanding workrate; “He’s the type of player that, when you are a defender, you don’t want against you. He’s quicker than what people think, he’s always running, desperate to play”. The Tuesday before the show, Brighton drew one-all away at Millwall which featured one of the weakest penalties in club history from Ryan Harley. Poyet’s response; “I was not a penalty taker so I’m not gonna blame anyone who takes penalties.” Without a win in six, form had gone off the boil having not lost in the opening six matches. A tough period was ahead for Poyet as clashes with West Ham and Southampton were coming up but Poyet was in buoyant mood. “I look at that as a manager, as a player, the fixtures – where is West Ham? There. Where is Birmingham? There. That’s the games you want to play… I love it.” Poyet talked through his own methods of coaching. On his preparation, he said “I’ve done everything possible to win this football game… I’ve done my job, then it’s up to the players” He didn’t join in playing during training whereas assistant Mauricio Taricco did. And the programme drew to a close with a quick mention of the success in League One; “I think it’s incredible what we did last year… The way we played we surprised people early doors and got points ahead and it was difficult for them to get back.” His aim of a top ten finish was in sight. “We’ll see.”

FLW Signings FLW Fixtures


Football League Weekend interview; Sky Sports 1, 2nd March 2012

FLWI Forster Poyet's Office

After a bit of a blip, Brighton were firmly back on course in the Championship. By March the club were on the fringes of the Play Offs in their first season back. Sky Sports preview programme Football League Weekend sent their reporter and former Albion striker Nicky Forster to the manager’s office to catch up with the boss. This was a particularly enlightening interview, given what we know subsequently. It began by discussing the situation at the time; Brighton were in seventh place level on points with the final Play Off team and thirteen matches remaining. Poyet admitted that placing was “just a little bit better than expected” as he was “expecting to be in the middle really”. He continued to play things down, saying “I don’t think we should be real contenders but I think we’ve got a chance because we are a little bit different.” To give a real insight into the mind of Poyet, Forster questioned him on the inevitable links to bigger clubs that come when a manager does as well as Gus had done thus far. “It’s good because that means we’re doing something right. I try to wait for the time it happens, I try to live with it. Sometimes it’s a shock and it’s crazy for a few days but I’m lucky.” The attention feeds into a crucial part of the man; his ego. The success in League One earned Poyet a new long-term contract but, he said, “at the same time, like any other job, there is a time frame that you need to set up… depending on how we do, you can stay forever or not.” He then spoke of some of the positives of the future, with the academy on the horizon and a plan in mind but didn’t want to commit to too much detail for fear of everything changing and then “looking stupid”. Perhaps this attention from other clubs and talk about promotion was a bit much as things quickly began to go off the boil. After this interview, Brighton won just two of the thirteen matches to drop down to tenth. Was their eye taken off the ball and heads were allowed to turn, we’ll never probably know. But what was known amongst the footballing community was how good a job Poyet was doing. The studio team of host George Gavin with Simon Grayson and Phil Brown echoed that afterwards, demonstrating it with the excellent results since the New Year.

FLWI 2012 Results FLWI Presentation team


Football League Award Winner; BBC One South East, 12th March 2012

LKO Titles LKO Award

Gus Poyet’s great work at the Albion was recognised by the Football League at their annual awards dinner in March 2012. He was honoured with the Outstanding Managerial Performance across the three Divisions for transforming the Seagulls from relegation candidates to League One Champions within eighteen months of taking charge. BBC regional magazine show Late Kick Off reported on the event the following evening. The Brighton area was now served by the “London and South East” BBC region, meaning a new line up for the 2012 series of Late Kick Off, with Football Focus presenter Dan Walker at the helm as the Albion shared the spotlight with the clubs from the capital. Walker was joined in the studio by former Charlton and Wimbledon striker Jason Euell and ex-Crystal Palace front man Mark Bright. Poyet said of his award; “I’ve been lucky to be at the right club at the right time… The key is the players. If you make sure you get the right players, you convince them, you make sure they want to play for the football club and they believe in what we do… you got a chance.” By the time the gong was handed out to him, Brighton were sat fifth in the Championship table with ten matches of the season to go, such was the lateness of this award we had almost completed the following season. In fact, Poyet was doing such a great job to carry on the momentum of promotion into the higher tier and in the new stadium, he wouldn’t have looked out of place on the shortlist for the award for this 2011/2012 campaign either. In the studio, Mark Bright was full of praise for the job done by the former Chelsea midfielder. “The move into the new stadium was fantastic for the Brighton fans and for the team. But the style of football they play, they’re now looking at back to back promotions – and seriously as well – I think they are big contenders. There was a lot of respect in the room for Gus Poyet.” The final few matches of the season saw the Albion tail off and miss out on the Play Offs but over the course of Poyet’s first two seasons in charge he won plenty of plaudits for the open, attractive passing style of play and were candidates to go one step further into the top six the following season.

LKO Poyet LKO Studio


Last Match in Charge; v Crystal Palace (H), 13th May 2013

PAL Titles PAL Poyet

The club missed out on the Play Offs in 2012 having dropped too many points in the final third of the season and winning just one of the last ten. Poyet signalled to the board that, in order to go one step further, investment was much needed. Tony Bloom answered by providing funds to bring in top class players such as Tomasz Kuszczak, Bruno, Wayne Bridge, Andrea Orlandi and David Lopez over the summer. The squad was sharp and solid. The Albion even led the Championship briefly in September. Too many draws cost us in November and December as Brighton slipped down the top half. Leonardo Ulloa and Matthew Upson were brought in to add even more quality in January and result picked up again for Poyet. Just one defeat in the first eleven matches of 2013 saw the club back in the Play Off pack and an unbeaten last nine games cemented fourth place in the second tier, the highest finish for thirty years since relegation from the old Division One. It set up a crunch clash with Crystal Palace in the Play Off Semi Finals and, after drawing the away leg nil-nil on the Friday, it was all down to this Monday night in May at The Amex. Brighton were favourites and dispatched of their rivals three-nil as recently as March here. Gus Poyet was one match away from a Wembley Final. It turned out to be a dreadful night. Palace won the game two-nil and went on to gain promotion with a Final win over Watford. An incident in the away dressing room prior to kick off enraged their boss Ian Holloway and fired up the Palace players.

After the televised match, Poyet spoke to Sky Sports reporter Jonathan Oakes in a conversation which fuelled speculation about the Uruguayan’s future with the Albion and saw him lose the support of the chairman and board. It began with Poyet’s summation of the campaign; “You have a very, very good season, better than expected. You done something very good and then because of this Play Off you go home with a terrible feeling and I’m really sad.” Over the course of the two Legs, Poyet thought Brighton should have edged it. He praised the First Leg performance in particular, dominating that first half but not getting the reward. But complained of his side’s poor showing in this match; “We were not ourself, too much tension, too much responsibility… That is not us.” The damning moments came at the end of the interview when asked about recovering from this and his future with the club. “I don’t want to make any decisions or any comments right now because the feelings are not the best so I will sit down, check properly everything… Where is the roof? Did we hit the roof today and there is nothing above? What is going to be the situation next year? But we’ve got time.” Asked if he would be here next season he replied, “I need to analyse my personal diary.” Emotions played a big part of Poyet’s success, being fiery and passionate and feeling all the highs and lows. But when it came to interviews, particularly just after a defeat or if something hadn’t gone his way, Poyet showed his managerial immaturity too many times. It wasn’t his place to question the ambitions of the club in the minutes after a heart-breaking defeat in this manner. Blame was being placed at everyone else’s door instead of his own. Brighton’s squad was better than Crystal Palace’s but he couldn’t get past them. And for that he should have faced up to it. It was silly to talk about ‘hitting the roof’ and touting himself as available for other jobs in such a manner. This was noted immediately by the board, who acted to suspend him from his job pending an internal inquiry in the subsequent days. Poyet was in danger of undoing all the great work he put in to this club and it was his own fault for the bitter ending.


TV Pundit Poyet dismissed by Brighton; BBC Three, 23rd June 2013

TV Studio TV Poyet

Never one to go quietly, the manner of Gus Poyet’s eventual dismissal from Brighton following a period of suspension caused headline news. Not necessarily for the sacking itself though, more for the way the news reached the public domain. On Sunday 23rd June 2013, Poyet was working as a pundit on BBC Three’s Live coverage of the FIFA Confederations Cup match between Nigeria and Spain. Sat in the warm Salford studio alongside fellow guest Efan Ekoku and host Mark Chapman, the news was delivered to the viewers at home during the half-time break that Gus Poyet’s contract with Brighton had been terminated with immediate effect. Chapman began the coverage by announcing, “We will look more at that first half during half-time, but we’re gonna start half-time by talking about Gus because it’s been a slightly odd first forty-five minutes for those of us in the studio and particularly for Gus because after three-and-a-half-years as Brighton manager, whilst we’ve been on-air this evening Gus has been told that his contract has been terminated.” The official statement, below, issued by the football club on the Seagulls website was read out. Poyet insisted that the first he heard of the decision was when a member of the BBC production staff printed out the statement and handed it to the studio team whilst the match they’re covering was in play. Brighton and Hove Albion refute these claims.

TV Statement

Poyet began by saying, “I think BBC have got a great story forever, really. Because a manager getting information that he’s been released from his employment by the BBC during the time of a programme is quite surprising.” He said he did not receive any form of communication from the club prior to this statement being released. He added a veiled barb towards the Albion hierarchy by saying, “I think everybody, the viewers and everyone, can take their own conclusion about the way that I’ve been informed.” He confirmed that he intended to appeal the decision and had already spoken with his lawyers around the next steps but was limited in what he could say right now. He was most sad with the fact that during the suspension period, lasting for over a month until this point, Poyet had not been allowed any form of communication with his players or staff for legal reasons. After the match, they returned to the subject of Poyet’s dismissal to delve a little further and reiterate the news to any latecomers. Chapman asked him if he was now on the job market again, to which he replied, whilst reaching for the piece of paper in front of him, “From what I read from the statement is that I am unemployed.” If he genuinely didn’t know about this before coming on-air then he handled it brilliantly. If he did know, it was a masterclass in hamming it up and feigning surprise. Given the nature of his fiery personality on the touchline, you tend to think that he would have been a bit more outspoken if this was genuine news to him. He did look rather emotional though as the questions wore on. Gus Poyet’s time in charge of the Albion concluded with the following message at the end of the programme; “First I would like to thank every single Brighton fan for being so patient with me, supportive. They’ve been outstanding. I know how difficult it was in the beginning to change a way of understanding football and they’ve been excellent with me all the time. They were patient, they believed, they got convinced and I’m sure they are proud of the football club and the team they’ve been watching over the last three-and-a-half-years.” Gus Poyet did not go through with his appeal and his tenure at Brighton came to a sad end after such highs.

TV Chapman TV Studio 2


The relationship between Brighton and Hove Albion, the supporters and Gus Poyet completely broke down after that terrible Play Off night in May 2013. Poyet was soon suspended by the club, along with coaches Mauricio Taricco and Charlie Oatway, pending an inquiry after comments made after the Crystal Palace match. The full truth probably will never emerge about exactly what happened behind the scenes there but it was all rather unsavoury. When he was dismissed from the club in June, Poyet insisted the first he heard of it was when he was making a punditry appearance Live on the BBC, who broke the news to him on-air. The club statement said Poyet was already aware of their decision. Whatever happened, it was a very sad ending to what had been a fantastic period for both Poyet and the Albion. He oversaw the move into the new stadium with a seamless transition from Champions of League One at Withdean to promotion candidates in the Championship at the new home of The Amex. He transformed the playing style of the club, moving away from long-ball plodders struggling at the foot of the third tier to an attractive, flowing passing philosophy knocking on the door of the Premier League. He was at the helm for almost two-hundred matches emerging the victor in eighty-six, that’s a win ratio of 44.3%. Too many draws cost him a Play Off spot in the 2011/12 campaign but it still built up the points, losing just forty-nine matches in charge. As far as first managerial jobs go, Poyet had a stormer and was highly sought after and respected in the wider football community, both at home and abroad.

Poyet Manager

Defeat in the Play Offs to your biggest rival and then a bitter fallout with the club hierarchy did mean that Poyet was enemy number one amongst sections of the Seagulls support for a time after his sacking. But to gloss over the fantastic achievements he had with the club would be foolish. Without Poyet, Brighton could well have begun life at Falmer in the bottom Division of English football and going nowhere fast. It wasn’t just results he was able to get, but he improved players too. The best example was probably with local lad Adam El-Abd, who was transformed from a big bruising old-fashioned centre-half into a ball-playing modern defender. Poyet’s fiery style and passionate displays didn’t endear him to everyone and several high-profile names fell foul of him. Nicky Forster and Glenn Murray’s partnership didn’t last nearly long enough. But he was able to attract a whole new calibre of player, the likes never seen before in Sussex. Former Valencia playmaker Vicente was somehow convinced to join and, in the limited game time he got, showed glimpses of brilliance. Kazenga LuaLua flourished. A host of other top Division players dropped down to the Championship to earn their stripes with the blue and whites. Gus Poyet was a huge factor in that. He gave us a glimpse of the potential this football club had now the stadium and training facilities had started to take shape.

Poyet Memory Lane

In his final post-match interview, he questioned if we’d ‘hit the roof’. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The foundations were laid, they just needed someone to crank it up a notch. Should Poyet have been the man to have taken the club into the Premier League? Possibly. It may have been a case of trying to go too far too soon. Brighton were not a top level club in 2013 and had overachieved to get within 180 minutes of making it. Allowing Glenn Murray to slip away for nothing in 2011, and to end up at Palace, was a terrible error of judgement and his goals we struggled to replace for a long time. Poyet’s passion would sometimes boil over into petulance, he received his marching orders from the touchline and saw rage transfer to his players on the pitch too often. Establishing the club in the second tier soon attracted interest from bigger clubs and Poyet didn’t exactly hide his delight at that. For a while it seemed we were destined to lose him to the Premier League as former stomping grounds Chelsea and Tottenham sniffed around. As much as his philosophy brought huge success, it could sometimes be stifled in the Championship as clubs learned how to counter it and frustrate Brighton. Plan B was rarely in the offing and this harmed the promotion charge in both second tier seasons. His ego got the better of him and when the final, crucial battle was won by Ian Holloway’s Palace, blame lied everywhere except at the manager’s door. In the end it became a tussle between manager and board and there would only ever be one winner. Poyet paid the price.

He was responsible for the best of times as an Albion fan. We were making headlines for the attractive football and fantastic facilities, showcasing the club and the city to the world in the process. Players flocked to Falmer from far flung corners of which Poyet was usually a big factor. We came so close to achieving the dream of top flight football, but just fell short. Poyet questioned if that was as far as the club could go. But as far as he could go with the club, come June 2013 it was adios, Gus, and thanks for the memories.

Huddersfield Poyet

Small Screen Seagulls; The Dignity and Class of Chris Hughton

Small Screen Seagulls LogoChris Hughton is often referred to as one of the nicest characters in football, and rightly so. His pre and post-match interviews are conducted with honesty, respect and always amiable. In an industry increasingly full of loud, brash, soundbite-grabbers, Hughton is a charming contrast. He is a quiet, intelligent thinker and as such doesn’t tend to be at the forefront of media coverage. Punditry appearances are rare, long-form magazine programme interviews infrequent. His television opportunities are largely centred around press conferences and matchdays. That’s not to say that he didn’t feature from time to time. During his tenure as Brighton manager he became an ambassador figure for the city, particularly as the achievements on the pitch began to mount. He was bestowed the freedom of the city by the Council following promotion to the Premier League in May 2017. The University of Sussex awarded him an honorary degree in January 2019, citing ‘considerable success in his field despite barriers’. This was in reference to being one of a very select few managers in the English game at the time coming from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, for whom Hughton could be seen as a role model. This post takes a look back at some of the features the boss was a part of around his time at the Albion. The two stand-out themes throughout were dignity and class.


Chris Hughton, Brighton Manager 31st Dec 2014-13th May 2019

Chris Hughton
Chris Hughton with Ciaran Moynan and myself in 2015

The morning after Brighton and Hove Albion’s second Premier League season in succession came to a close, with Manchester City clinching the title at The Amex in front of the watching world, our manager Chris Hughton was relieved of his duties after four and a half years at the helm. I think ‘relieved’ is an appropriate word in this story. After a catastrophic collapse which saw the Albion freefall from mid-table at Christmas down to just two points off the drop come the final day, there was huge relief for the fans that nearest survival rivals Cardiff were not good enough to claim the necessary points to overtake. Brighton survived due to others incompetence as opposed to hauling themselves out of danger. There was relief from the Owner and Chairman Tony Bloom that his team would still be in the top-flight next season when at times it looked precarious. And perhaps there may even be a modicum of relief for Chris Hughton himself, that he exits the club as one of the most successful managers the Seagulls have ever seen, having done the jobs he set out to do upon appointment on New Year’s Eve 2014.

It’s debatable how much further he could have taken the club and, unlike his time at Norwich, he departed on good terms with the fans. He was able to see out the full season and achieve the primary objective of staying up. It’s very unfortunate that it had to end in this way – he couldn’t finish it on his own terms – because Hughton conducted himself admirably at all times and got the results on the field. His tenure will never be forgotten by the Albion faithful and we will always owe him a huge debt of gratitude for salvaging a bit of a mess under Sami Hyypia, rousing the troops to keep an underperforming squad in the Championship when a place in League One was calling. In his first full season the transformation was underway; the club started the season with a record unbeaten run which saw the Seagulls sit amongst the top three or four clubs from the beginning to the end. It wasn’t quite to be, missing out on automatic promotion on goal difference to Middlesbrough, but that did not halt the charge. The following season the promised land of the Premier League was reached in style, Brighton blew away the rest of the chasing pack and finished behind only his former side Newcastle to take their place amongst the country’s elite. The honour had alluded the club for thirty-four years. The achievement in itself was huge, perhaps no better day was had under Hughton than when it was finally secured on Easter Monday against Wigan at The Amex. The manner of the victories, with exciting attacking football and high-scoring victories, brought about excitement and interest from the rest of the country.

Hughton Promotion

Ahead of his Premier League challenge, the squad was strengthened significantly. Home form was crucial as Fortress Falmer stopped all but the biggest teams from claiming victory. A win over Manchester United had fans pinching themselves as another season in the big League was clinched with time to spare. The second season in the Premier League began with more expectation but double the pressure as big spending teams came up from the Division below. The first half of that campaign saw similar results, home form claiming wins over Everton, West Ham and – once again – Manchester United. But the tide turned after Christmas. Certain sections of the home support were getting restless about a negative approach that was adopted in order to counter the undoubted superiority many top flight teams had over us. Goals were hard to come by, players were under-performing and Chris Hughton changed tactics in a bid to improve. The change in formation from a flexible 4-4-1-1 in 2017 to a rigid 4-5-1/4-3-3 this time was plainly not producing the desired effect. The lone striker was isolated, as support from the wing was restricted due to a defensive, negative set up. The dreadful run of form in 2019 saw Brighton freefall down the table to the point where, for the first time, questions were raised about the security of his job. The lowest moment of his time in charge came when Bournemouth put five past us on the Saturday followed by the team hot on our heels – Cardiff – striking a further two goals without reply just three days later. Morale had hit rock-bottom but Hughton remained calm and managed to steer the ship to safety with two games of the season still to play. Despite this and reaching a first FA Cup Semi Final since 1983, Tony Bloom’s mind was made up and the parting of the ways came on Monday 13th May 2019.

Hughton Manager of the Month

Chris Hughton’s level-headed, conservative nature was in step with his solid, defend-from-the-front football. He was extremely likeable, had time to stop and chat to everybody and was always an absolute credit in the way he conducted himself at the Albion. His achievements surpass any manager the club has had in the modern era; only Jimmy Melia had taken Albion to a Wembley in the Cup before, and only Alan Mullery had won promotion to the top flight some, forty years ago. Hughton became the first BAME boss to win the Premier League’s Manager of the Month Award when he picked up the honour in February 2018. And he created a family atmosphere and togetherness within the club which was never more abundant than when the entire squad flew to France for the funeral of Anthony Knockaert’s father in November 2016. The win ratio of 41% under Hughton is particularly impressive given almost half of that time was spent in the Premier League, highlighting just how good a job he did. Let’s take a look at some of the standout appearances he made on our television screens, beginning with his reaction to being linked to the job in the week that Sami Hyypia left.

 

Goals on Sunday, Sky Sports 1 (28th December 2014)

GOS Studio GOS Hughton

Chris Hughton was a guest on Sky Sports long-running morning review show Goals on Sunday just after Christmas in 2014 alongside fellow job seeking manager Uwe Rosler. Hughton had been out of work since being dismissed by Norwich back in April, with the club in seventeenth position coming towards the end of their second Premier League season. In the period since, he was offered jobs as an assistant to other top flight clubs but was holding out for the main job. With Crystal Palace sacking Neil Warnock the day before this programme, Hughton was linked with that as well as being named by some bookmakers as the favourite for the Brighton job. When hosts Ben Shephard and Chris Kamara put this to Hughton, he replied “The good thing for myself is when a job becomes available, I’m still getting linked with these positions.” He went on to explain that when in situations such as this, he believed it to be the club that should make any further comment and drive the negotiations forward; “If you’ve been linked and have spoken to a club, then I think the onus is on them to make that known as opposed to yourself. So yes I want to get back in at the best level possible.” When pressed which of Palace and the Albion he’d prefer, Hughton remained ever the diplomat; “I think on their own merits they’re both very good jobs.” He did, though, point out the great facilities in Sussex; “Brighton have a wonderful structure, a wonderful stadium, new training facility and, of course, they are a side that have been very close to the Play Offs in two previous seasons.” And three days later, Chris Hughton was appointed the permanent manager of Brighton and Hove Albion on an initial three-and-a-half-year contract with the club twenty-first in the Championship table.

GOS Presenters GOS Guests


My Icon: Chris Hughton, Sky Sports Mix (13th October 2017)

My Icon 2017 ICON Hughton

During every day of October 2017, Sky Sports released a new episode of the series My Icon, which was a collection of short ten to fifteen minute films interviewing stars from the world of sport of a BAME background. Such participants included the likes of Thierry Henry, Rachel Yankey, Anthony Joshua and Maggie Alphonsi. The fourteenth episode of the series was with our very own Chris Hughton, with the programme synopsis stating he “discusses the individuals that have inspired him during his life and career.” Hughton enjoyed a successful playing career, especially at Tottenham where he won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup. He became the first full international player for the Republic of Ireland to come from a black background. In this film he spoke of the racism that he and other players had to endure on an all-too frequent basis from opposition supporters during his playing days; “It was something that we, and I, experienced on a regular basis… I don’t think any black footballer growing up and playing in the late ’70s and ’80s would not have experienced it.” At the time of the interview, Hughton was one of a very tiny few managers in the English game of black origin and repeated calls were made to change that to make coaching and jobs of authority in the game more inclusive. Hughton explained; “I don’t think that there’s anybody in football that doesn’t want to see a diverse game. A diverse game means not only of course on the football pitch where the makeup of what plays on a football pitch, that means in managerial level, that means in boardroom level, that means in other aspects of football in higher positions.” He called for people already representing the sport to use their platform to encourage others; “I think it’s the responsibility of us in the game, for the stakeholders in the game, to not only show enthusiasm, but to put that enthusiasm into action.”  Chris Hughton is a fantastic role model for all footballers, not just minorities, with what he has achieved as a player, an assistant coach at Tottenham and Newcastle and of course his three Premier League promotions thus far as the gaffer. The manner in which he conducts himself should be seen as a blueprint for others. He speaks with authority, passion and decency on sensitive issues like race and diversity, as demonstrated during this film.

ICON Interview ICON Dressing Room


The Premier League Show, BBC Two (27th September 2018)

Premier League Show titles PLShow Training ground

To coincide with a new broadcast rights deal, the BBC launched an additional regular weekly magazine programme called The Premier League Show at the start of the 2016/17 season, focussing on all matter top flight. It gave them an extra flexibility to discuss matters off the pitch in greater detail and in longer form. When Brighton gained promotion to the elite League in 2017, a report was shown about the club’s journey. And the BBC Sport cameras returned during the opening weeks of the 2018/19 campaign as Match of the Day host, and former Tottenham colleague, went to the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre in Lancing (AKA the training ground to you and I) for his first visit to discuss a whole host of topics with Chris Hughton as he embarked upon his second Premier League season with the Albion. The report began with Lineker and Hughton embracing in his office whilst various members of the club, such as captain Bruno and Chief Executive Paul Barber, gave glowing reports of the manager’s characteristics. “Chris’s stock is as high as any manager that we’ve had here in the club’s history and long may that continue” Barber noted. A glowing tribute was also paid by the club’s Football Admin Manager Suzi Swadling, saying “He’s very personable with all of us. He knows everyone by name from everyone he works close with down to the cleaners.” This would’ve come as little surprise to any Albion fan, he made time for the lot of us. Lineker asked Hughton if he was ‘too nice’ to be a football manager; “In as many situations as possible I’m fair, that’s what I’d like to think. But you can’t be nice all the time… We have to make so many tough decisions.”

PLShow Interview PLShow Hughton

Along with Sean Dyche of Burnley and Eddie Howe of Bournemouth, Chris Hughton was amongst the longest serving British and Irish managers in the Division. When asked if he would prefer to be managing the Champions League teams, he responded “I generally only think of the job where I am at the moment. My ambitions are not to manage at the top clubs, my ambitions are to do the very best job that I can in the job that I’m doing.” Many others would have used that question to berate his lack of opportunities for himself or British managers, like Sam Allardyce has in the past, or use it to launch a personal bid to get a bigger job, in the way Jose Mourinho has. That wasn’t on Hughton’s radar. The question of race naturally came up, as it did during his appearance on My Icon. The progress slowly being made, with conversations at the very least being had, encouraged Hughton; “We are at a different phase at the moment. There’s no doubt there’s a huge imbalance… [In the past] Black players were seen as good athletes, good forward players but not captain material, not managerial material. I think it persisted because of society.” Similar subjects to the previous film were touched upon here, as he told of having to put up with racist abuse from opposition players and fans; “You had to work through it really on your own. Although you had a supportive team behind you, you generally didn’t talk about these issues.” Looking at his own club Brighton, Hughton saw changes at the grass roots level where lots of players from all backgrounds would be training and progressing but the changes weren’t replicated at the highest levels of the game.

PLShow Barber PLShow Embrace

The report concluded by discussing Hughton the coach. “I like a team that’s organised and prepared to work hard for each other. If you are able to bring in gifted players, it’s more about making sure them gifted players fit in to what we do here.” When mentioning teams that played a more expansive style, Lineker asked if that would be a recipe for disaster for Brighton. “For us, yes. I think for those that do play that way with the players that they’ve got it’s wonderful to see… At this moment we’re playing in the top League, we’re playing against teams that have spent more money, have better players than us so they’re great challenges.” So, when the time comes around and he beats a team like Manchester United, as the Albion did a few weeks before this interview, it’s all the more special for Hughton; “It’s what you work for and for a club like this, that feeling lasts for a while.” An extended version of the broadcast interview can be viewed below.


BBC South East Today, BBC One South (13th May 2019)

SET Titles SET Presenters

On the early evening of Monday 13th May, local BBC news programme South East Today reported on the news that Chris Hughton had been dismissed from Brighton after four-and-a-half-years in charge. The feature was the second story of the bulletin hosted by regular presenters Rob Smith and Natalie Graham. As of the digital switchover in 2012, BBC viewers in Brighton and Hove began receiving the South East version of the programme, replacing the old South Today which would continue to serve West Sussex and beyond. Our hosts introduced the report by listing a number of achievements – good and bad – during Hughton’s reign; “In total he was in charge for 215 games and had a win rate of almost 41%. But this season the Seagulls fell rather flat, winning just three of their last twenty-three games in the League.” They also cited chairman Tony Bloom’s comment about it being “undoubtedly the most difficult decision” he’s had to take before playing out Ian Palmer’s report. This began with footage from the previous day’s final match of the season, with Hughton speaking with the Match of the Day reporter in the tunnel. He spoke of the year ahead and how the job was getting increasingly tougher, clearly unaware of the news to come. “We want to be better next season and we will need to be because, if anything, this Division is getting more demanding”.

SET Studio SET Hughton

Palmer’s report outlined the season just gone, with the positive mid-table start deteriorating after the New Year particularly away from home before narrowly surviving ahead of the nearest rivals. Journalist and club website contributor Nick Szczepanik was interviewed with the stadium in the horizon. He told how close the relegation battle ended up being; “The actual margin of safety ended up being only two points over Cardiff City in the end. That all hinged on one result which was out of Brighton’s hands – Crystal Palace winning at Cardiff.” We then heard brief soundbites from local residents, perhaps fans, who gave the usual mixed reactions of ‘disappointed’, ‘shock’, ‘a shame’ and ‘maybe it’s time for a change?’ As insightful as any vox-pop has ever been. The report concluded with shots of departing captain Bruno now being followed out the door by the manager. Reporter Ian Palmer remained nearby to The Amex in the blinding sunshine for a Live link-up with the studio. He was able to give further context to the recent reactions of some supporters stating; “There has been a lot of disquiet amongst some fans for quite some time, particularly on social media. A lot saying that Chris Hughton’s tactics were negative, they were defensive and frankly some had become rather tired of watching that style of football.” Whilst this was true, I think there were still large sections of the support who were behind Hughton, but this wasn’t really covered. He ended by shoehorning in a bizarre and quite unrelated comparison to the leadership of the Conservative Party, whereby changing the person at the top doesn’t necessarily change the numbers of the vote or something along those lines – basically suggesting a lot of money would be required on players over the summer and the right appointment would be crucial. It didn’t quite work but you could kind of see what he was hinting at. Little was made of the togetherness, overall record and fantastic times Hughton brought to the club, instead concentrating on the poor run of form in recent months. Perhaps if the story was covered by the dedicated sports reporter more would have been made of this as Hughton deserved plaudits for the fantastic job he did.

SET Szczepanik SET Reporter


BT Hughton

Whilst Hughton’s personal appearances in the mainstream national media were all too sparse, he was in charge when Live match exposure had never been greater for the Seagulls on the small screen. Of the 215 matches he was at the helm for, 66 of them were broadcast Live in the UK with even more made available around the globe. His televised win ratio was just shy of his overall record – with 34.85% or just over one-in-three. A quarter of them were draws, as his safety first approach at the top level paid dividends. Some of his highest highs were in front of the cameras, with back-to-back victories over Manchester United, beating Crystal Palace home and away, a penalty shoot-out win at Millwall to set up a Cup Semi at the National Stadium, comprehensive Championship triumphs over Leeds, QPR, Nottingham Forest and Brentford amongst others, whilst crucial points were picked up twice versus Arsenal, at home to Spurs and the goal that all but secured survival second time around against Newcastle in his penultimate Amex match. The club goals of the season from Knockaert at Palace in 2019 and Steve Sidwell from the half-way line in Bristol back in 2016 were both Live and the rarity of a match having to switch channels occurred when the West Brom Cup Replay went into Extra Time on BBC One then Two! Chris Hughton’s calm, measured interviews were a staple of these broadcasts. He never got too carried away or ahead of himself, he maintained the quiet dignity and class for which the title of this post is all about. The Chris Hughton we saw week in, week out on the touchline came across well on the screen. He brought tremendous success to the South Coast at a tricky time. He leaves with his head held high as he no doubt walks quickly into another job. He restored immense pride to the city. For all that and much, much more, I cannot thank the gentleman enough. There’s only one Chrissy Hughton.

Sky Hughton

World Cup 2018: #4 England Review

“To take the second youngest team in the tournament and the least experienced team in the tournament and break through so many historical barriers has to be a brilliant achievement for the team.” [Gareth Southgate on ITV’s ‘World Cup: Summer of Love’, December 2018]

The year of 2018 will be remembered in England as one of the worst, most chaotic and confusing years the country had seen in a long, long time. Government ministers provided shambles after shambles with the ongoing Brexit saga. The nation was divided and at each other’s throats. Debate was disappearing, with people refusing to engage with anybody who disagreed with their opinion online. The football World Cup in the summer was being treated with fear, trepidation and a lack of enthusiasm the likes our team hasn’t seen for at least a decade.

Six months on from Russia 2018, it was that tournament which provided an all-too-brief respite from the horror back home. That team, led by that manager, were the beacons of light in a dark, dark time. Gareth Southgate, BBC Sports Personality Coach of the Year, had achieved the most difficult of tasks; getting the country to unite behind a common cause. Not only that but he also inspired people to believe in the England team again. To get behind them. To will them on. It was a wonderful time to be a football fan again. And this resulted in a semi final place and fourth overall at the World Cup; our best achievement since 1990. Imagine if we’d have won the bloody thing!

Southgate's World CupBBC Sports reporter Gabby Logan interviewed boss Gareth Southgate in December to reflect on the World Cup summer

 

Monday 18th June, 7pm. Volgograd. Group G; ENGLAND 2-1 Tunisia

The draw for the group stages had been kind to England; the beatable Tunisia and Panama in with tricky Belgium. The aim was always to get out of the group and realistically in 2nd place behind Belgium, who were many people’s tip for the whole thing. We wouldn’t play Belgium until last so it was quite conceivable that we’d qualify for the knockouts before that match, all we had to do was win the opening two games. This Monday night in Volgograd saw England face Tunisia for the first time since a 2-0 win in France 1998, coincidentally that was also the opening group match. England had an inexperienced squad led by an inexperienced international manager but expectations before the tournament were low. This was only going to be a benefit to them. The way they were open with the media in the build up to the tournament was impressive. It allowed the characters in the squad to shine through without a filter or another agenda. It was a masterstroke from the FA. By the time the opener kicked off England seemed ready and raring to go, demonstrated by the fantastic start made. Inside the opening eleven minutes England took the lead. An Ashley Young corner was thumped goalwards by the head of Harry Maguire. It crashed off the goalkeeper’s claw to land at the feet of poacher Harry Kane just three yards out to tap home. However the lead only lasted twenty minutes. Kyle Walker used his arm to shepherd an attacker out of the way from an in-swinging cross, which the referee decided was a foul. Sassi converted the penalty right into the corner despite Pickford’s best efforts and the game was level. England pushed and harried for a winner but it was just not there. We had to wait until stoppage time at the end of the match for the decisive action. Another corner, this time from Kieran Trippier, was floated in to Maguire. His knockdown fell at the back post to an unmarked Kane who expertly guided his header into the goal from five yards to snatch it. England had done it! “There’s no doubt scoring that late goal and being patient enough to do it I think was a big moment in the tournament for us,” Gareth Southgate told Gabby Logan during her retrospective review “Southgate’s World Cup” in December.

 

Sunday 24th June, 1pm. Nizhny Novgorod. Group G; ENGLAND 6-1 Panama

Again speaking to Gabby Logan for her review, Southgate explained the opening win “definitely meant that the atmosphere around the whole training camp and for our fans and everything else was more relaxed. You buy yourself another five days before the next game.” That next game being England’s biggest ever tournament victory. Set pieces continued to be a major part in England’s success. Another Ashley Young corner found an English head unmarked in the centre of the area, this time John Stones, to take an 8th minute lead. The lead was doubled through Harry Kane’s penalty after Jesse Lingard was shoved over. Kane’s kick absolutely flying into the top left corner, unstoppable. It was Lingard’s turn next after he played a neat one-two and unleashed a fabulous curling effort into the corner from outside the box. It was four in the 40th minute through a cleverly worked free-kick routine. Henderson flicked the ball up, it was headed across goal by Kane where Raheem Sterling was waiting. His header was saved by the goalkeeper but Stones was waiting to pounce on the rebound from less than two yards. And the scoring continued just before the half time whistle when another penalty was given, this time for practically an assault on Kane right in front of the referee whilst waiting for a cross to be delivered. Tunisia had got away with a few rough holds in the first match but Panama certainly would not here. Up stepped Kane to blast it the exact same way as his first to make it five-nil England. What an incredible first half of football. He got his hat-trick in the second half via a fortunate flick off his heel from a Ruben Loftus-Cheek effort, and in doing so became only the third ever Englishman to score three in a World Cup match – joining Sir Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker. Panama did pull a consolation goal back with around twelve minutes remaining from Beloy, which gave their fans something to cheer about for the first time in tournament history, but the day was all about England and their march through the group. Suddenly the fans started to believe this year would be different. The squad was playing with freedom, scoring goals and creating chances. Banana skins were avoided, six points from six achieved and the top scorer in the Cup was one of our own. Gareth’s waistcoat attire quickly became elevated to iconic status levels, fans were singing his name, cheering his players and witnessing great things on and off the pitch. Yes it was “only” Tunisia and Panama. But in 2010 it was “only” Algeria, in 2014 “only” Uruguay and Costa Rica and 2016 “only” Iceland. And we didn’t win any of those matches. Whatever happened afterwards, this would always be a match and a performance to savour for the fans.

 

Saturday 7th July, 7pm. Kaliningrad. Group G; ENGLAND 0-1 Belgium

With objective one achieved, qualification to the knockout stages, the final group match against Belgium was a bit of a dead rubber as they’d also made it through. The only thing left to decide was which of the two would top the group. Usually that would mean a more favourable path in the next round however this tournament was all over the place in terms of upsets and the reality was that second place in this group would probably be a better route to take. Neither team would ever throw the match of course, but it was used as an opportunity to give game time to some of the personnel who so far had not featured and those players could look back and say they had played in a World Cup; all invaluable experience for next time. “We knew that actually one half of the draw looked stronger than the other. We knew that the most important game was the knockout game and we had the chance to keep the basis of what we saw as our first team, at that moment, fresh,” the boss outlined to Logan in December. The match itself was largely forgettable, with the pace being slightly slower than in the opening games, and neither team wanting to put too much at risk as they looked ahead to bigger things. Former Manchester United striker Adnan Januzaj got the only goal of the game six minutes into the second half. Consequently Belgium won the group whilst England were runners-up and not many people back home were too disappointed with that outcome. Belgium’s potential route to the Final would feature the possibilities of Japan next, then Mexico or Brazil in the quarter finals with France, Argentina, Portugal or Uruguay in the semis. By contrast, England’s 2nd place spot meant it would be Colombia next then either Switzerland or Sweden with potential semi final opponents being Spain, Croatia, Denmark or Russia. On paper you would definitely select the half of the draw England were now in, but it’s never as simple as that as Southgate pointed out once again to Gabby. “Whoever we played in the second round, frankly if we had an easier semi final, we hadn’t won a knockout game since 2006 so let’s not worry that far ahead. How do we give ourselves the best chance of winning the knockout game?” He wasn’t allowing himself to get too carried away, but for us fans we really believed now we could go far here.

 

Tuesday 3rd July, 7pm. Moscow. Last 16; ENGLAND 1-1 Colombia (AET, 4-3 on penalties)

With second place secured, the first knockout hurdle England had to face was in the shape of South American tricksters Colombia. We had previous with them. France 1998, group stages; England won 2-0 then thanks to Darren Anderton and David Beckham’s goals up against the likes of Carlos Valderrama. But they were a far better team now with household names all over Europe. It proved a tough match, both mentally and physically. Following on from the pushing and shoving against Panama and Tunisia, this too was a bruiser. It boiled over in the 57th minute when England were awarded a penalty after Harry Kane was bundled to the ground by Carlos Sanchez from a corner. It took around two minutes between the kick being awarded and Kane converting it due to various protestations from the Colombians, including scuffing up the penalty spot with their studs. But this was 2018 England, not 1998. We wouldn’t let that distract us. Harry Kane certainly wouldn’t and calmly slotted the ball home straight down the middle as the keeper dived to his right. The lead would last all the way until the third minute of stoppage time when a corner was swung in, with every other Colombian in the box including the goalkeeper, and Yerry Mina’s header bounced up and over Kieran Trippier on the goalline. Equaliser. And you just knew it would be the inevitable penalty shoot-out that would follow. It just had to be; for Gareth Southgate, for England, for the World Cup. The preparation had been done months in advance, players knew who would be taking the kicks and Jordan Pickford in goal knew where he needed to be diving to save them. The first five taken were all scored; Kane and Rashford for England, Falcao, Cuadrado and Muriel for Colombia. But up stepped Jordan Henderson who saw his shot saved, with England 3-2 down. We needed a hero. Pickford became that hero. Uribe hit the bar and the balance shifted back our way. Kieran Trippier scored in the top-left corner and we were all square again. Back came Jordan Pickford, who saved magnificently with a solid left-hand to deny Bacca and put England in the driving seat. Amazing! Eric Dier was next up and he made no mistake; low, hard and towards the left corner of the goal. England had won their first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out at the fourth attempt, managed by a man whose most infamous moment in international football thus far was missing a penalty in a shoot-out twenty-two years prior. Redemption. The tables had turned, the belief grew further. Whatever happened after this, that moment on that night had given us England fans so much joy, so much relief and so much belief.

 

Southgate conductingGareth Southgate emerged after concluding his various media duties to conduct the jubilant England fans in celebration following the Quarter Final win

 

Saturday 7th July, 3pm. Samara. Quarter Final; ENGLAND 2-0 Sweden

England had reached their first quarter final since 2006 and the Germany World Cup. That summer we played, and drew with, Sweden in the group stage. This summer we played them in the knockouts. The belief back home was definitely this would be ours to lose today, Sweden were OK but no more. Even Gareth Southgate was confident; “I knew if we played the way that we were capable then our system in particular would cause Sweden problems. So the 3-5-2 against their 4-4-2 gets us in pockets of space that really is a problem for them,” he later told Logan. The truth turned out to be exactly that. Nerves were settled after half an hour when our set piece dominance showed once more. Ashley Young’s corner was angled towards the big, powerful head of Harry Maguire (Slabhead to his mates) arriving on the penalty spot and flew into the net. Maguire was in the stands as an England fan with his mates just two years earlier at the Euros in France, now he was scoring in the World Cup quarter final, his first England goal. Raheem Sterling would go close and Jordan Pickford would have to produce some fantastic stops during the match but it was all settled just before the hour mark. Trippier pulled the ball back for Sterling to loop up into the area. Waiting at the back post unmarked was Dele Alli. He had beaten the offside trap enabling him to head straight through the Swedish goalie and double England’s advantage. Pickford again had to make some further outstanding stops but by this point there was never any doubt. The belief that was so lacking in previous years was there for all to see. There was only ever going to be an English win from that point onwards and so it proved. After the stress, the emotions, the exhaustion of the penalty shoot-out last midweek, this match was relatively plain sailing. England marched on to the World Cup semi finals four days later and the entire country was talking about it. Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat look had become iconic; he had a lookalike in the crowd, a song of his own sung by the fans and a National Waistcoat Day established to support the team. Every interview he gave, every match we played, we impressed so much, he impressed so much. The clichéd ‘zero to hero’ tagline was spot on for this case. He inspired his players, the fans, the nation, with his calm demeanour and classy attitude. The whole of England would be watching on Wednesday.

 

Wednesday 11th July, 7pm. Moscow. Semi Final; ENGLAND 1-1 Croatia (1-2 AET)

The big match was here. This was the side of the draw we wanted. The big teams were all falling by the wayside; Italy and Netherlands didn’t even make it, holders Germany eliminated in the groups, Spain and Argentina out in the next round, Euro champs Portugal too, Brazil, Belgium and France were on the other side of the draw meaning we were left with just Croatia to beat to reach our first World Cup Final since the boys of ’66. And it began oh so well. In the fifth minute, Kieran Trippier secured his place in the Team of the Tournament by scoring his first international goal with a wonderful free-kick from just outside the box which flew into the back of the net. Cue delirium both at home and in Moscow! His deliveries, his work rate, were all so impressive this summer. England were dominating the match and a golden chance fell to Harry Kane who was miraculously thwarted by the goalkeeper Subasic (and a combination with the post) not once but twice in the same move when it looked certain he would score. As the game went on, the pressure grew. The enormity of the situation perhaps began to dawn. Fans were nervous, players were anxious and, most importantly of all, Croatia began to get better. In the 68th minute they equalised. Vrsaljko’s cross from the far touchline was met by the outstretched boot of Ivan Perisic who nipped in ahead of the defence to stab home. He went on to hit the post as Croatia really pushed for the winner but it wasn’t to be and extra time would again be necessary. The experience showed, they got stronger as we got weaker. Modric, Perisic, Rakitic and Mandzukic showed off their ability. In the 109th minute of the match the fatal blow came. Kyle Walker’s half clearance only put the ball onto a Croatian head. That header went over the right back and suddenly Mario Mandzukic was in the clear out of nowhere, sharper than John Stones to the danger and able to fire towards goal past Pickford from just a few yards out. We couldn’t say it wasn’t coming, but when it did come it was so, so heartbreaking. For the first time in that tournament it looked like we didn’t believe any more. It wouldn’t be coming home. The players had given everything and more, they made us so proud. It was a joy to watch the England team at that tournament but it would be the semi final stage and no further.

 

Saturday 14th July, 3pm. Saint Petersburg. 3rd Place Play Off; ENGLAND 0-2 Belgium

The emotions were still very raw just three days on when England had to complete their tournament in the Third Place match. The country was of course disappointed not to be playing in that Final on Sunday, some genuinely believed “It’s coming home!” and all that. It was hard not to be upset by the semi final, going so, so close. There was a connection between the fans and players for the first time for years, even decades. We bought into this group, led by an impressively calm and sensible leader who said all the right things at the right times. So that bond amplified the feeling of disappointment not just for us but for them too. We were so proud of them, indeed are so proud of them, for their achievements and that will always stay with so many. Just like when we played Belgium three weeks earlier, this match had the strange feel of a friendly. Unlike that match though, where only five players across both teams had played their previous match, today the line ups were pretty much full strength. When England were last this far into a World Cup in 1990 we lost the Third Place Play Off to Italy in Bari. And it would be a similar outcome in 2018 against the Belgians, losing two-nil in Saint Petersburg. They took a fourth minute lead with a goal assisted by the Premier League; with Manchester United’s Lukaku passing for West Brom’s Chadli to provide the crucial cross into the penalty area. It was finished by Thomas Meunier who wasn’t picked up quick enough in front of goal by England’s Danny Rose. England came closest in the second half when Eric Dier was put through by Marcus Rashford but his chip over the onrushing ‘keeper didn’t quite have the legs to make it over the line and a covering defender cleared off the line. The bronze medal was sealed with eight minutes remaining Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was found by Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne to run in behind the England back line and sidefoot past Pickford for two-nil in typical fashion his fans are used to seeing. And that was that. Belgium recorded their best ever finish at a tournament whilst England had their best for 28 years. The impact on English football domestically that Italia ’90 had was enormous, the aim after this summer would now be to maintain the connection, the passion, the performance levels and everything that was so great about this England squad as we look ahead to future tournaments.

 

The feel good factor of the World Cup certainly continued in the months afterwards for England. The newly established UEFA Nations League, replacing international friendlies and providing competitive football to international matches outside of Qualifiers, helped the momentum. England were drawn in a tough group with Spain and Croatia but came out on top, advancing to the inaugural tournament finals to be played in June 2019. And the terrific atmosphere from the World Cup was present in those matches. Wembley was absolutely bouncing for the final Nations League group stage match against Croatia. The new version of the stadium had never heard anything like it at the highest level. England did the business again in the most incredible year for a long time. Gareth Southgate was universally praised and, more importantly, respected. Harry Kane was the World Cup golden boot winner, our first since Gary Lineker in 1986. The players enjoyed playing for their country. They bonded with their teammates, had the press and fans on their side and this youthful, exciting and engaging team were only just getting started.

I never quite thought I would see England in a semi final of a World Cup, certainly not so soon and absolutely not at this tournament. Everything done in the previous two years was with the mindset of doing well in the 2022 World Cup. Gareth’s reflections with Gabby were “of course an opportunity missed which would always be there. But also a large feeling of that’s maybe an experience we had to go through because normally teams that win – France lost a European Final at home, Germany had semi finals before they won their tournaments – it’s very unusual to come from 15th in the world where we were a few months before, to being a team that are ready for semi final, Final and winning a tournament.” Yet here we were in the semis four years ahead of schedule. After the disappointment of Brazil 2014, crashing out after just two group games, and the embarrassment two years later against Iceland, international football was so low down the English pecking order. It was seen as a nuisance when the international breaks came. A team full of overpaid underperformers in a soulless ground with no pride or passion. A lot of that thinking was eradicated in one glorious summer in Russia.

“Whether it’s the opportunity of a lifetime is up to this group of players and this group of staff,” Gareth Southgate told ITV’s ‘World Cup: Summer of Love’ documentary which aired in December 2018. He continued “To take the second youngest team in the tournament and the least experienced team in the tournament and break through so many historical barriers has to be a brilliant achievement for the team. What’s hit me since we’ve been back is that that’s probably been the most rewarding part. People felt they enjoyed the summer and there a reconnection with the team. For me that is a massive step for us moving forward.” And that sums it all up. It’s easy to overplay and overstate the importance of football to its community but when they get it right and it goes your way the effect is enormous. Gareth Southgate was rewarded for his efforts with an OBE in the New Year’s honours list. This summer changed perceptions of so many; the sceptical media, the club loyalists, the casual fan and even the anti-football brigade. They all saw something during the tournament in the summer from that young, united England team which will stay with so many people for a long, long time to come.

FansFans erupting in celebration in a show of unity behind this exciting England team

A Century of Seagulls on the Small Screen

d286abd2-a714-4082-be70-ea951db75053The FA Cup match against arch rivals Crystal Palace on Monday 8th January 2018 marked a hundred live Brighton and Hove Albion games broadcast in the UK. In these televised matches, a total of 263 goals have been scored, live on 5 different television companies, playing on every day of the week in every division. We’ve seen relegations, revivals, promotions and survival. Cup shocks, bad knocks, a pitch invasion and pure elation. Late, late drama with Ulloa or Virgo, Sidwell from the half-way line and Smith must… oh no! Lua Lua, future stars, beating Palace and VAR. Gaining leads, beating Leeds, a ‘derby’ with Bournemouth and the Premier League. The television cameras have seen everything! Plus five nil-nil draws thrown in for good measure. To borrow from our own Fatboy Slim, we’ve come a long, long way together!

1983 tunnel

Jimmy Melia and Ron Atkinson leading the 1983 FA Cup Final teams out

When Jimmy Melia led the Albion team out at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 21st May 1983, it was a landmark day for so many reasons. Whilst the result wasn’t quite to go our way in that FA Cup Final against Manchester United, it set the ball rolling with the club’s first live UK televised game. Almost 35 years later, the century of live broadcasts is up.

 

Since Melia in 1983, fifteen different managers have taken charge of matches live in front of an expectant nation. During promotion campaigns with Peter Taylor and Mark McGhee, through survival under Steve Gritt, kick-starting Gus Poyet and Oscar Garcia’s new eras, right up to current boss Chris Hughton; who’s taken charge of the club in an impressive 43 of the 100 live matches so far.

 

The Albion has been particularly popular with broadcasters in recent seasons thanks to the excellent form of the team and the fantastic facilities the American Express Community Stadium has to offer. A club on the up, a Premier League outfit-in-waiting for so long, this was perhaps recognised early on as Brighton has been chosen for live coverage every season since 2001. In this time we’ve seen a relentless fight for a home, having to make ends meet in a temporary athletics stadium, proving ourselves against higher league opposition in the Cup and, finally, the dream move to a permanent abode and plying trade in the top flight for the first time since our live coverage began.

 

It took a while to get going before Paul Kitson’s late winner at Reading in April 2003 saw the first televised league win. The likes of Bobby Zamora, Danny Cullip, ‘Coca-Cola Kid’ Colin Kazim-Richards, Vicente and Glenn Murray have all got their name on the scoresheet in front of the live cameras since. Nicky Forster and Steve Sidwell have scored both for and against us on TV. Who could forget Michel Kuipers memorable double-save at Wolves in 2002, or Adam Virgo’s last-gasp diving header in extra time of the 2004 play-off semi-final 2nd leg at Withdean to ensure the game against Swindon went to penalties? We all know how that finished. Leon Knight etched his name into the club’s history in the Division Two Play-off Final by converting the penalty kick at the Millennium Stadium to fire Brighton’s promotion dream. The following season a one-all draw with Ipswich on the final day saw Virgo again net to stave off relegation, to the relief of the fans following on the small screen at home. Final day drama was repeated in 2014 as Leo Ulloa’s injury-time header from a Craig Mackail-Smith cross won the game at Nottingham Forest to catapult the Albion into the Championship play-offs at the expense of the prematurely-celebrating Reading in a game many fans will always cherish.

 

Brighton has also played a part on momentous days for the opposition. Peter Shilton’s 1000th league match was shown live, as he kept a clean sheet for Leyton Orient in their two-nil victory in 1996. Watford’s win in an early kick off at the Amex in April 2015 saw them promoted to the Premier League that day. During a season in which a record-breaking unbeaten start to the league campaign came to an end live on Sky at home to Middlesbrough in December 2015, the final game of the season was the reverse fixture. This was also televised, an effective play-off match for automatic promotion. It wasn’t to be that season for the Seagulls, but this was rectified in an incredible ride the following year.

 

As the fanbase of the club has grown, so has the popularity with the broadcasters. More matches than ever before were afforded live coverage during the promotion campaign of 2016/2017; a total of 17 in fact. Whilst this can sometimes be an inconvenience for supporters, the stats show the club doesn’t fare too badly on TV. Of the first century of games, 32 have been won, with another 32 draws and 36 defeats. 15 of the 100 have been in the FA Cup, where we have a win ratio of 40%, including knocking out then-higher division opponents in Newcastle twice (2012 and 2013) and Liverpool (1984). Having been featured live on all seven days of the week, data proves the most successful is by far a Friday, winning 11 of the 23 live fixtures. Beware the Albion curse of a Thursday night though, having failed to win in all six matches to be televised, including the 1983 FA Cup Final replay, and shipping a total of 16 goals.

Bournemouth protest

Fans invade the pitch to protest for the first time publicly against the sale of the Goldstone Ground

Bournemouth has provided the on-screen test the most often, with seven live head-to-heads. The Albion is yet to beat the team from along the South Coast in any of these. The first opportunity came in September 1995 in a game more remembered for Seagulls fans protests on the pitch against the then-owner’s plan to sell the Goldstone ground. Using the live TV opportunity ITV Meridian provided, supporters highlighted the struggles publicly for the first real time. Both clubs are unrecognisable from that day, rising to the top division to battle it out most recently in an entertaining two-all draw on New Year’s Day in front of the watching world.

VAR

Live match #100 vs Crystal Palace was the first club game in England in which VAR (Video Assistant Referee) could be used

So as the Seagulls reach a century on the small screen, here’s hoping to more excitement and drama in the next 100.

Match of the Day; 50 Not Out

When starting something new you don’t normally look too far in the future. Thoughts rarely turn to how this might look in five years time. They never imagine it five decades on. From humble beginnings on 22nd August 1964, a brand new programme on a brand new channel launched. It was soon to become a firm favourite across all ages and go on to establish itself as a broadcasting institution. Match of the Day celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2014 and, in typical TV love-in self appraisal, it did so with much fanfare.

Kenneth Wolstenholme opened the very first show at Anfield as Liverpool hosted Arsenal in the First Division. Extended highlights of the home side’s one-nil win were broadcast to the small audience capable of tuning into the newly-arrived BBC Two. The apparent aim of the programme was to assist the public in catching what is now known as ‘World Cup fever’, with the tournament to be played in England two years later. Weekly highlights of a top game, indeed the match of the day if you will, were set to go out on Saturday nights for fans to obtain their football fix. So worried were the suits at the top division about attendances, they didn’t allow the BBC to announce which game it would be covering in advance in case fans didn’t bother to turn up, instead choosing to watch a shortened version later on at home. And so began a long mistrust and misunderstanding of the life and soul of the game, the supporter, by the authorities.

They had nothing to worry about. People turned up at the stadium, people watched on the gogglebox. Fifty years have passed and that’s still the case today. It will still be the case for the next few years at least as BBC Sport has just signed a new deal which will see Premier League highlights on MotD until at least 2019. In August 2014, a special anniversary edition of the show aired on BBC One which was pretty much the same as every other week but included a few montages and a very special one-off return. Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace, is an old-fashioned football ground with facilities that could easily pass for being untouched since the 70s. West Ham were accused by Jose Mourinho of going further back in time with their ’19th Century’ playing style. Appropriate then that for this celebratory reflectory show the bosses decided to jazz up Palace v the Hammers with retro graphics and the voice of one great man; Barry Davies.

He last commentated on the programme a whole 10 years previous but this was a very welcome return, albeit for just one week. Davies was, and indeed is, unique amongst his peers. His style, delivery and persona has always been to let the pictures do the talking, embrace silence and add words when necessary. A case of quality over quantity. His commentary was met with such a warm welcome in the few days leading up to the game as well as once the show had aired too. His memorable, understated lines live long in many a memory; during Olympic hockey “Where were the Germans? And frankly who cares?!’, Franny Lee’s wonder strike “Interesting… very interesting! Look at his face, just look at his face!” and on Maradona’s incredible goal against England in 86 “You have to say that’s magnificent’. In isolation these don’t read as much but when he delivered them, in his way, they were brilliant. He even managed another pearler during the anniversary game; West Ham’s Mark Noble scored from outside the box – “Noble… And so was that!” There will never be another Barry Davies.

With MotD’s simple format of goals and talking points from the weekend’s football the essentials of the show have remained a constant throughout the half-century. But there has been one significant adaptation which came in 2004 after re-gaining the Premier League rights from ITV. The change from selected match highlights plus a goals round-up of the other games, over to highlights with commentary of EVERY match has been both a positive and a negative. With all games being treated equally it makes it a lot easier for the running order to truly reflect the best games in the right order. For some reason lots of fans seem to believe in a perceived bias against their team and choose to ‘always be shown last on Match of the Day’. It is of course nonsense but don’t let that stop them believing in it. There are plenty of posts online about this elsewhere. However because they all have proper edits it means even matches as dull as Stoke 0-1 Hull sounds get a good few minutes of air-time, at the expense of a more entertaining match getting one or two minutes more. It was calculated that on a regular January edition of the show lasting 85 minutes and featuring 7 matches, 51 of those minutes were spent showing the actual match footage. This equates to an average of just over 7 minutes on each game, which is great for the smaller games but perhaps more could have been devoted to the bigger games. It’s a tough one to judge because nobody would like to go back to the old format but certainly there is room for improvement in the current state. Everyone seems to have a view on the show but personally I think it is currently in magnificent shape.

Established Premier League names from yesteryear have jumped at the chance to be associated with the programme. Danny Murphy, Philip Neville, Jermaine Jenas and Ruud Gullit are all excellent studio analysts that are tasked with a small amount of time to cram in what the goal was, why the goal was scored and what this means for the wider perspective. It isn’t easy but on their day they are all excellent. In between the forensics, the match commentators come from a very talented pool of around 15 or so voices. Guy Mowbray, Steve Wilson, Simon Brotherton and Jonathan Pearce have been BBC staff for a long time, over a decade, and have established themselves as very solid, if sometimes unspectacular,       broadcasters. All four could lay claims to be number one, but for live games it was Mowbray who took over from John Motson in 2010. Motty still appears regularly on highlights edits along with the likes of Martin Fisher, Steve Bower, John Roder, Dan O’Hagan and Alistair Mann. The freelancers ably support a very good bunch and, given the format, regularly get their chance to shine first on the programme straight after the news. Few may struggle to tell them apart but they each have their little quirks and phrases which make them all a pleasure to listen to. And isn’t that just splendid, Jonathan Pearce?

The man in the hot seat since 1999 has been striker-turned-pundit-turned-presenter Gary Lineker. He’s grown into a likeable, professional and able host with a dash of humour and an ounce of humility. It’s hard to imagine the show now without him, which is a testament to how good he is. This is just another in a series of first-rate anchors. Preceding Lineker was, amongst others, Des Lynam, David Coleman and Jimmy Hill. I saw the MotD host likened to the Doctor Who role; everyone has ‘their’ generation’s host. Mine was Lynam. It also helped that he’s a big Brighton fan, I’ve met him and he is very much a local hero. He was seen by many as the best host; warm, personable, witty and authoritative. He involved the viewer without the need for social media gimmicks. Ever prepared with the right line for the right occasion; like in the 1998 World Cup when England v Tunisia was an afternoon kick off – “Shouldn’t you be at work?” – a great opening line.

Alongside the host there’s been many a former pro in the pundits seat. Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer most recently, back through Mark Lawrenson and Trevor Brooking of yesteryear and all the way back to Jimmy Hill (him again) and Terry Venables before them. I’m too young to recall any prior to this. The pundit’s role on the show is a very difficult one to judge. Viewers tune in for the goals and highlights, not for the chat in between. With on-demand content and PVRs readily available many aren’t watching the programme live, they just skip through the analysis to get to the match action. Many of those that do watch in full are left unsatisfied, either through too much waffle or not enough insight. My take has changed over the years.

Match of the Day has nearly always managed to remain a popular and relevant part of a football fan’s weekend. I say nearly because there have been times when it’s been left behind the rest. It’s faced several challenges to its crown as the biggest footy show on the box. The recent documentary on BBC One – MotD at 50 – understandably blew smoke up the show and featured many a showbiz name drooling over clips they’ve been told how to remember just moments before. Many an article has also inflated the ego and massaged the importance of a mere 90 minutes of football. There’s no doubting it was vital to the sustained success of televised football pre-Sky. Along with The Big Match on ITV, the show was the home of domestic football week in week out during an age when live football was rarer than a law-abiding Radio 1 DJ. With football now televised every single day from somewhere in the world, the iconic brand of Match of the Day is arguably more important than ever before. It is vital that this remains on free-to-air terrestrial television to give everybody the opportunity to watch. It has a regular slot and a loyal and demanding audience. Our national game should never go the way of other sports by having it all on pay TV.

Sure, there are other outlets for football. Dedicated sports channels have helped the game and its coverage improve dramatically in the past 25 years. MotD’s big task now is remaining the place to go to for the best match action. We already know it’ll make it to 55 years not out with the new contract. If they carry on the way they are and manage to keep improving there’s no reason why we wont be seeing a similarly affectionate tribute to welcome in the 75th and 100th anniversaries in years to come. Saturday nights just wouldn’t be the same without it.

The Pre-Season Training Camp 2015

The end credits of a television programme in 2015 will whizz by without most people taking any bit of notice. Continuity announcers will talk all over them. Promos will pop up telling you what to watch next before you’ve even finished this programme. There is barely time to breathe before being force-fed your next bite of the telly pie. You are constantly ‘consuming’, whether consensual or not. This is not exclusive to the small screen, this is now our way of modern life. We are always looking at what is next.

There was a time when football was reserved for August until May and that was that. Every four summers there would be a wonderful feast called the World Cup in between seasons. Then along came a treat of a European-only competition. The gap between one campaign and the next has steadily been closing. This summer it possibly has reached its nadir. My last game of the old campaign was on Sunday 7th June. My first game of this campaign began just 26 days later. That’s only if you take into account games I’ve attended, as during those lean days there was still a whole host of live football broadcast including the UEFA Under-21 tournament which England crashed out in the group stages, the Under-20 tournament in Toulon, and the Women’s World Cup in Canada. I enjoy the women’s game, I make no qualms about that. I went to the Cup final in 2011 in Coventry and regularly tune into the WSL on BT Sport. England achieved the unthinkable; performing well at a major tournament. Mark Sampson and his Lionessses went all the way to the semi final, losing agonizingly in the last minute through Laura Bassett’s unfortunate own goal. They went on to beat Germany in the Third Place Play-Off And secure a fantastic bronze medal and become overnight stars. It somewhat captured the nations attention, mainly through hard work, teamwork and a terrific ethic. It was a joy to watch.

#1 West Ham v FC Lusitans

My 2015/2016 season began in East London on Thursday 2nd July with a Europa League 1st round 1st leg qualifier. West Ham beat FC Lusitans 3-0. The Hammers qualified for this through the Fair Play league so understandably have the hardest path through to the proper competition. They would ultimately crash out in the third qualifying round before the league season had even started. When I was there there was pretty much a full house. It showed a great appetite for European football, indeed summer football. I had a seat at the very back with a great view of the Bobby Moore stand to my right and a lovely skyline to my left. This is the final season at Upton Park before moving to the Olympic Stadium so I wanted to revisit this old ground one more time.

#2 Arsenal v Liverpool Ladies

Ten days later I was back with further live football. With the Women’s World Cup done and dusted a few days earlier, and the heroics of England still fresh in people’s minds, I went along to Borehamwood to see Arsenal v Liverpool. Some of the national stars were in action, including Alex Scott and Fara Williams. The crowd was more than double the average attendance, and this was replicated across the country. The ground is easy enough to get to, having been in the area before for TV recordings of Room 101 and A League of Their Own. The ground is a short 10 minute walk from the station and easily accessible on a warm Sunday summer evening. The match itself was nothing to write home about, with Liverpool winning 2-1 to go top of the table. It was surprising that it had taken me this long to attend a women’s league match but I was glad I had and have pencilled in another here for next month.

The BrewDog pub

Despite the off-season becoming increasingly shorter, games are still not quite thick and fast so my final match in July came two weeks later on Sunday 26th July in Scotland. Aberdeen, to be precise, as Brighton played in a testimonial match for the home side goalkeeper Jamie Langfield. I’d never heard of him either but a new ground and an exciting trip was too good to turn down. Myself, Ciaran, Dean and Mark Raven (all now regulars on the England away trips) got a taxi in the early hours of the morning up to Gatwick to board the easyJet flight to Aberdeen and arrive nice and safe for just after 9am. We were inside the Wetherspoon for breakfast for half nine but were met with gasps when we were told they didn’t serve any alcohol until 11am! After a quick food break we, alongside several members of the famous GDC who arrived at similar times, were off on a pub crawl round many fine local pubs including the famous BrewDog.

#3 Aberdeen v Brighton

The game was a drab, dull one-nil defeat with nothing to write home about despite me doing that very thing now. It was an extremely cold and windy day and being on the coast amplified this. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a colder ground than that, with the wind swirling in off the North Sea through the big gaps between the stands. Of course on reflection it was a fantastic one to tick off but at the time the game was getting in the way of a very nice day round the city. The trip was made all the more adventurous when we arrived at the airport as our 9.05pm flight home was delayed by a couple of hours. They kept the airport bar open to serve us dinner and further drinks and we also managed to grab a quick word with Albion boss Chris Hughton, as the squad were also flying home that night. Sensibly they were on a different flight to us so we waved them goodbye without controversy. Although assistant manager Nathan Jones did have to suffer the embarrassment of a full bag search.

Albion boss Chris Hughton

After landing around half-past midnight we then had a long wait to get a bus across form one side of the airport to the other, before heading onto the train home. Ciaran and the others headed down south, I went back up to London. I made it home to Ealing via a night bus just after 4am. It was a long, tiring, drunk day but a fantastic experience to really whet the appetite ahead of the rapidly-approaching new season.

Waiting for our delayed plane

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a quick glance round some other sports. I’ve tried several times to replicate what I go through during football with something else but ultimately nothing can replace it. Darts is probably my second favourite sport, closely followed by athletics, cricket and rugby. Honorary mentions for snooker, pool, boxing and the occasional tennis match too. Next summer there is the Olympics, of which I adore. Ahead of that I went to the British Championship Athletics in Birmingham for my first trip to the Alexander Stadium. It’s a fine venue and very easy to get to via a bus from the New Street train station. The days was beautiful, the crowd was enthusiastic and the overall experience was a very good one for my first UK Athletics meet.

Birmingham’s Alexander athletics Stadium

I then attended the Anniversary Games and Diamond League meeting at the Olympic Stadium for my first visit back there since my Gamesmaker stint during London 2012. I do love that place. Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis Hill and Mo Farah were all in action despite a horrible downpour for much of the afternoon and early part of the night. The two men both won their races and showed why they are so loved in a London. It’s still a bit of a nightmare to get away from the stadium but it will forever hold such incredible memories that I’ll overlook that aspect.

Back at the centre of the London 2012 Olympics

With The Ashes currently moving towards its climax, and with England going great guns, I decided to go back to live cricket. I made my first venture to The Oval where Surrey destroyed Northants in a One Day Cup match. I made the mistake of not bringing much cash so I had to forego the expensive beer and food for just a solitary burger all day. I also booked a trip to Edgbaston for the fourth day of the third test. However, England had such an incredible time the match finished on day three so I was left with just a refund rather than a great day out! I don’t think anybody could’ve predicted that.

A small crowd at The Oval, Surrey

My summer break from football incorporated going to cricket and athletics, as well as being glued to an excellent Tour De France (and outstanding coverage on itv4 from Gary Imlach and Ned Boulting) on TV, but the focus was always on football. Signings, transfers, fixtures, new shirts; it ultimately never really stops. The new season is nearly upon us and we’re opening the show live on Sky on the Friday night against Forest. It’s high time we started booking these trips and planning these weekends. I barely had time to read through the name credits of the editor and production assistant before the executive producer and Roman numeric year info appeared. The next programme is just days away now.