Small Screen Seagulls; The Record Unbeaten Run 2015

Small Screen Seagulls LogoAs a dismal season was drawing to a close, which included a change of manager half way through, little did any Albion supporter know about what the following campaign had in store. We set off for home after the final match of the season; a long, tiring journey from Middlesbrough for a 12.15pm kick off in May 2015 having witnessed a dull goalless draw. Approaching Christmas some twenty-one games later, the Seagulls had set a new club record having incredibly not lost a League match in that time, since before that ‘Boro trip. Chris Hughton had brought Brighton back into contention again in his first full season. Here is the lowdown of that run, including some of the key matches detailed through clips from new rights holder Channel 5.

FLT Unbeaten BrightonSaturday 2nd May 2015 saw the end of the BBC’s tenure as highlights partners, bringing the curtain down on six seasons of The Football League Show with Manish Bhasin. The best of the action from the three Divisions was moving to Channel 5 and with it a primetime Saturday evening slot. Brighton bid farewell to the Beeb signing off with a nil-nil draw at Middlesbrough. The result saw ‘Boro drop from third to fourth in the Championship, sending them to Brentford in the Play Offs.

GAME H/A DATE FIXTURE RESULT
#1 AWAY SAT 2ND MAY MIDDLESBROUGH DRAW 0-0

Whilst Albion had already stuttered to Championship survival, the stalemate saw them close the 2014/15 campaign in twentieth position, six points above the relegation zone. By some weird twist of fate, this unbeaten run would start and end with Middlesbrough. But before all that, I’ll detail how the 2015/16 season unfolded, after Channel 5 are put in the spotlight with the launch of their new highlights programme.

FLT Titles

Channel 5 wrestled rights to Football League highlights away from the BBC, with the promise of a primetime 9pm Saturday night slot believed to be part of the decision to sway. When the channel launched in 1997, to a blaze of Spice Girls publicity with Tim Vine fronting programming, they nabbed any football they could get their hands on, from pre-season friendlies, the Confederations Cup, Scottish League Cup and even a handful of England away internationals. It was their long-standing relationship with the UEFA Cup that was the most consistent pull but after losing those rights in 2012, Football on 5 came to an end after fifteen seasons. Three years later, the Football League highlights contract was won and the brand was revitalised.

Under the programme title of Football League Tonight, Channel 5 opted for a studio-based programme like their BBC predecessors. But instead of sticking it on after Match of the Day around midnight, they broadcast before it. The show went out Live in a ninety-minute slot from 9pm each week. There was a studio audience present to give it the Saturday night feeling, using Sky Studios as the initial location. The theme tune was provided by a band called Childcare with their single Diesel Therapy. It was appropriate that the Albion performed well during Channel 5’s tenure, as part of the title sequence was filmed at The Amex. The stadiums shots where the fans had been making their way to during the early seconds of the sequence was Falmer dressed down without the Brighton branding! See if you can spot specific areas in the clips below.

Upon the show’s launch, it drew criticism for gimmicks and pointless use of an audience and underwent a relaunch after Christmas 2015 to drop much of the early stuff, becoming a more straight programme. And it changed presenter line up with each season! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, this piece is specifically about the Albion’s unbeaten run in 2015 and Channel 5 covered those highlights.

FLT Presenters

Presenting Football League Tonight’s debut season were Kelly Cates and George Riley. Cates was already a well-known figure and vastly experienced. She began her telly life with the launch of Sky Sports News in the late 1990s where she became a key presenter. She joined Setanta in 2007 to be pitchside reporter on their new English Premier League and FA Cup rights before moving to ESPN when they took over two years later. In 2010 she went to the World Cup in South Africa reporting for ITV and kept links with the channel the following season on the Champions League coverage. She also covered the hugely successful 2012 London Paralympics on Channel 4 as their breakfast presenter.

George Riley was better known for his radio work with BBC 5 Live, where he first began in 2004. He was the Breakfast show’s sports correspondent from 2011 and covered a variety of sports including Rugby League, snooker and darts as well as football. He also covered these on television, hosting the BBC’s Super League Show and presented Late Kick Off in the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire region in 2013.

As well as Cates and Riley, regular guest pundits would appear on the programme. Ex-Albion man Adam Virgo was used most weeks in the show’s first season and would often appear alongside less experienced pundits such as Clinton Morrison and Chris Iwelumo. And current players would pop-in to the Live studio after playing locally, as we’ll see a guest appearance from our old favourite Craig Mackail-Smith later on. A couple of key games received commentary edits each week, with the rest being rounded up by voiceover reports. The early format of the show saw the running order flip between the three Divisions but as it progressed, they settled more with the traditional Championship followed by League One then League Two way of reviewing the day. Here we go then, season 2015/16 starts now.

FLT Studio


#2 HOME FRI 7 AUG NOTTINGHAM FOREST WIN 1-0
#3 AWAY SAT 15 AUG FULHAM WIN 2-1

The Seagulls kick started the entire SkyBet Football League season with a Friday night match at The Amex, Live on Sky Sports. Nottingham Forest were defeated one-nil thanks to a Kazenga LuaLua strike early in the second half. The following week saw a trip to the capital as Fulham awaited. Sam Baldock’s goal on the half-hour mark was cancelled out just before half time by Tom Cairney for the hosts. But, deep into second half injury time, the Albion were awarded a penalty. Up stepped summer signing from Almeria, Israel international Tomer Hemed, to tuck away the spot kick to give the visitors all three points and seal another memorable win at Craven Cottage.

#4 AWAY TUE 18 AUG HUDDERSFIELD TOWN DRAW 1-1
#5 HOME SAT 22 AUG BLACKBURN ROVERS WIN 1-0

The first midweek fixture of the campaign was a long trip up to Huddersfield. It took midfielder Beram Kayal just fourteen seconds to break the deadlock and put Brighton in the lead. Jacob Butterfield’s second half goal earned the Yorkshire side a point, bringing our 100% start to an end. Next up at The Amex were Blackburn Rovers. Like Forest on the opening day, they were dispatched one-nil thanks to a LuaLua goal to make it three wins and a draw from the opening four. Our overall unbeaten run stretched to five matches.


#6 AWAY SAT 29 AUG IPSWICH TOWN WIN 3-2

IPS Tribute IPS Fixture

The top two went head-to-head at Portman Road in the final match before the first international break of the season. Ipswich led the way thanks to a better goal difference, with the experienced head of Mick McCarthy taking on his former Republic of Ireland teammate Chris Hughton.

Whilst things were looking great on the pitch, off it the club was affected the previous week by the Shoreham Air disaster; a plane crash which took the lives of eleven people. Amongst the victims were Seagulls supporters Matt Grimstone and Jacob Schilt, two young footballers for Worthing United who were on the way to their match. Grimstone had also worked as a groundsman for the Albion in recent years. Before the Ipswich game, Albion ‘keeper David Stockdale wore a top bearing their names in tribute and the players donned black armbands.

IPS LuaLua IPS Hemed goal

Brighton wore this season’s luminous yellow away kit against the blue of Ipswich. Highlights were shown as the main game on Football League Tonight with commentary by Paul Walker. The Seagulls again got off to a flyer, with Kazenga LuaLua firing home in the tenth minute on a beautiful sunny day in East Anglia. A long ball chipped over the top from new left back Gaetan Bong sent LuaLua on the chase. Outrunning two Ipswich defenders, he hit a fierce left foot shot low and hard into the far corner. Cue his trademark gymnastic celebration.

Albion made it two-nil just two minutes later when Tomer Hemed got the faintest of flicks with his head from a teasing free kick by Dale Stephens. It was a dream start which could have got even better when another long ball from Bong caught out the home defence. Sam Baldock at the stretch couldn’t quite get the angle right and his shot trickled a foot wide of the far post.

IPS Hemed second IPS Hemed interview

The attacking threat continued into the second half, with Dale Stephens crashing his shot against the post from the edge of the box. Ipswich should have been cut adrift by now but instead the clawed their way back into the match. Freddie Sears tapped home a rebound after Brett Pitman hit the post nine minutes into the second period. And they equalised from the penalty spot with twenty-five to play after Bruno clashed legs with Ryan Fraser. David McGoldrick squeezed the kick past Stockdale to level things up.

But Brighton didn’t let heads drop and just two minutes later were back in the lead through Tomer Hemed again. LuaLua’s deflected cross from the left looped up and Hemed jumped highest to get his head to it and take it past Dean Gerken in the net. A thrilling game ended Ipswich two, Brighton three and the Seagulls sat atop the Championship table. In his post-match interview, Hemed confirmed that he did touch the ball for his first goal from Stephens’ cross, though he would of course say that!


#7 HOME SAT 12 SEP HULL CITY WIN 1-0
#8 HOME TUE 15 SEP ROTHERHAM UNITED WIN 2-1
#9 AWAY SAT 22 SEP WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS DRAW 0-0

Tomer Hemed was back on the scoresheet for the Albion after the international break, netting the only goal of the game in a one-nil win over Hull. His strike five minutes in downed the Tigers who themselves had begun the season brightly and sat second ahead of the match. It was four wins in a row the following Tuesday when Hemed and Dale Stephens scored against Rotherham, Jonson Clarke-Harris getting the visitors consolation in a two-one result. A further point was added to the tally in a goalless draw at Wolves.

#10 AWAY SAT 26 SEP BOLTON WANDERERS DRAW 2-2
#11 HOME SAT 3 OCT CARDIFF CITY DRAW 1-1

Such was Albion’s fine start, that two more draws were enough to keep the Seagulls at the top of the table going into the next international break in October. An eventful two-two at Bolton saw Dale Stephens add another to his tally, but it was a mixed day for Jamie Murphy. The Scottish winger joined from Sheffield United in August and scored his first goal to put Brighton two up. Neil Danns pulled one back before half-time but Murphy was involved again with a quarter of an hour left. He received a red card for a heavy tackle on Danns. Ten-man Albion conceded the equaliser four minutes into stoppage time when Gary Madine rescued a point for the struggling side.

The following week at home to Cardiff, Brighton fell behind for the first time this season when Joe Mason scored after five minutes. Dale Stephens leveller seven minutes before the break ensured Brighton remained the only unbeaten side left in English football’s top four Leagues.


#12 AWAY SAT 17 OCT LEEDS UNITED WIN 2-1

LEE Fixture LEE March goal

Next up was a trip to Elland Road to face Leeds. Football League Tonight opened the show with the highlights, commentated on by Paul Walker. The first meaningful attack brought about the opening goal for Solly March on fourteen minutes, with the Albion again sporting that hi-vis shirt. Beram Kayal burst through a couple of challenges in the middle of the park and played a neat ball through for March to chase. His pace was no match for defender Scott Wootton, and March calmly slotted the ball across Marco Silvestri and into the goal.

Leeds were only behind for around eight minutes before Liam Cooper equalised. He glanced on Alex Mowatt’s cracking free kick delivery after Lewis Dunk’s foul on one-time Albion forward Chris Wood. Speaking of which, Wood had a terrific chance to nod Leeds ahead from a similar free kick position, instead putting it wide from close range and unmarked. In the second half, former Leeds season ticket holder David Stockdale in the Brighton net almost gifted his boyhood team a goal. Alex Mowatt charged down his kick only to see it bounce just wide of the post. A couple of let offs for the visitors.

LEE Zamora goal LEE Zamora interview

Solly March looked in good form, not afraid to cut in from the flank. He did so on one occasion which resulted in his shot from just inside the box thumping against the crossbar. An injury to Leeds scorer Liam Cooper left them no option but to play the final ten minutes or so with just ten men, having made all three subs. And Brighton capitalised with one left of the ninety, as returning hero Bobby Zamora scored a sublime dinked finish over the onrushing goalkeeper to steal three points at the death.

Zamora, signed on a free from QPR at the start of August, scored his first Albion goal in 4549 days having left for Tottenham back in July 2003. His previous goal was in a televised match at Grimsby where a point wasn’t enough to avoid Division One relegation. Today, it was enough to keep top spot in the Championship with another victory. Zamora was interviewed in the tunnel afterwards, delighted to have provided the winner. “Pleased to get that goal, you know. A lot of people have been asking, ‘When’s it gonna come?’, but pleased to score.”

LEE Mackail-Smith LEE Table

In the studio, hosts Kelly Cates and George Riley were joined by two former Albion players; regular guest Adam Virgo and Craig Mackail-Smith, who joined Luton after his Brighton contract expired in July. Of Zamora, Mackail-Smith said, “He’s a massive legend there. In the four years I was there, there were pictures of him everywhere, they were talking about him all the time so for him to go back to the club it’s fantastic.”


#13 HOME TUE 20 OCT BRISTOL CITY WIN 2-1
#14 HOME SAT 24 OCT PRESTON NORTH END DRAW 0-0

Three days after the Leeds win, Brighton made it six points out of six with a two-one home victory over Bristol City. Bobby Zamora was again on the scoresheet late on, though not quite as late as before, coming in the eighty-second minute. This was after Sam Baldock cancelled out City’s Derrick Williams first half opener. It was goalless at The Amex as Preston held firm in a game of little quality.

#15 AWAY SAT 31 OCT READING DRAW 1-1
#16 AWAY TUE 3 NOV SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY DRAW 0-0

Two more draws followed, both on the road, as Reading and Sheffield Wednesday were equal to the points. Despite being outplayed for much of the first half at the Madejski Stadium, Brighton took the lead early in the second period through Jamie Murphy. But with twelve minutes to go, Matej Vydra scored to make it one-one and keep the home side on the verge of the Play Off places. The stalemate at Hillsborough three days later cost Brighton top spot. The club slipped to third after three draws in succession, as Hull and Burnley both joined us on thirty-one points at the summit, though with better goal differences.


#17 HOME SAT 7 NOV MILTON KEYNES DONS WIN 2-1

MKD Fixture MKD Goal and reporter

The win over Milton Keynes Dons set a new club record of seventeen games without defeat, beating the previous one set back in 1931. All the action came in the first half, as rounded up on Football League Tonight by voiceover reporter Sue Thearle – a familiar voice to BBC Match of the Day viewers around the turn of the century as well as sports bulletins on BBC News. Solly March smashed home a terrific first-time strike from twenty-five yards after just five minutes. It flew into the top corner in style.

MKD Murphy goal MKD Full Time

Jamie Murphy doubled the lead a quarter of an hour later. Sam Baldock’s pass deflected through the legs of Dons defender Dean Lewington and into Murphy’s pass. His instant shot into the bottom corner of the net beat David Martin for two-nil. Pace and power was also how the visitors got their goal when Nicky Maynard thundered in a fantastic strike from almost thirty yards after rolling defender Lewis Dunk. Later on, Dunk looked like he’d given away a penalty when he slid in on Samir Carruthers but, to the bemusement of MK boss Karl Robinson, referee Dean Whitestone gave nothing and it finished two-one to the Albion. Brighton’s first win in four put the club in second place, behind Hull only on goal difference.


#18 AWAY SUN 22 NOV BURNLEY DRAW 1-1

A televised trip to Burnley was next, in which the entire action came and went within the first four minutes of the match. Bobby Zamora poached from close range inside the opening sixty seconds after Tomer Hemed’s shot hit the bar. But Burnley were awarded a spot kick three minutes later after Michael Keane’s shirt was tugged by Lewis Dunk. Their £6million signing from Brentford, Andre Gray, tucked away the penalty and it remained one-all; a result which kept Albion second and Burnley two points and three places behind.

BIR Unbeaten Run

#19 HOME SAT 28 NOV BIRMINGHAM CITY WIN 2-1

BIR Unbeaten clubs BIR March goal

Football League Tonight highlighted Brighton’s magnificent club-record unbeaten run ahead of the Birmingham match, of which highlights were called by Paul Walker. Of the eighteen games without defeat thus far, nine were wins and nine draws. The show also drew comparisons with other European Leagues, showing PSG behind on fourteen games undefeated and Bayern Munich on thirteen. Great to be in such fine company.

To the match action, and it took Solly March seventeen minutes to break the deadlock as he fired past ex-Albion stopped Tomasz Kuszczak. Jamie Murphy did well in the midfield, skipping through the middle of two challenges before laying it out wide for Liam Rosenior. His cross found March in the area; whose first time shot with his left was blocked by his own man Hemed. He made no mistake with the rebound though, blasting it home for one-nil.

Birmingham equalised four minutes later when space was exploited in the Albion back line. Jacques Maghoma struck from the right of the box, stinging the palms of David Stockdale. His parry went straight to the head of Jon Toral, who guided it into the empty net for one-one.

BIR Zamora goal BIR Hughton

Two minutes after the break, Brighton regained the lead through Bobby Zamora being in the right place at the right time. Jamie Murphy ran at the Blues defence on the left of the area and drilled a cross in low to find March. His shot was just about kept out by the goalkeeper, but the ricochet fell to the feet of Zamora who tapped home from three yards out on his first start at home for the Albion in a dozen years!

Youngster James Wilson joined on loan from Manchester United in the week and almost scored on his debut, flashing a shot just wide of the far post as he replaced Zamora after sixty-six minutes. He went even closer after that when put through one-on-one by Kayal. The shot agonisingly smacked the post and back into the grateful arms of Kuszczak. It finished two-one as Brighton got back to winning ways.

Despite continuing to set a new club record and returning to the top of the table, Chris Hughton’s feet remained firmly on the ground at this stage. “It’s a wonderful achievement, so far. I’m not saying we haven’t deserved this because I think our level of performance has been good. Generally, the League table doesn’t lie.”


#20 HOME SAT 5 DEC CHARLTON ATHLETIC WIN 3-2

CHA Virgo CHA Virgo and Cates

Regular studio pundit and former Brighton defender Adam Virgo provided Football League Tonight with analysis and comment on the key incidents across the Leagues, but also talked through one or two of the matches at first look on the screen instead of using a voiceover reporter. In December, Virgo and Kelly Cates discussed the Albion’s match with Charlton where the unbeaten run almost came unstuck. This format works well enough if you have a decent pundit like Virgo who describes and analyses seamlessly, but can be frustratingly lacking if a weaker pundit is used.

Charlton stormed into a two-goal lead after just five minutes. Ademola Lookman nabbed the first after just over a minute’s play as Brighton were countered. Winning the ball back just outside their own box, it took the visitors just three passes to get Lookman to drive to the byline before lashing a shot past Stockdale, defeating him at his near post and in. Virgo blamed Brighton’s lack of pace across the back line as a weakness for counter attacks.

The second came from Reza Ghoochannejhad and, again, resulted from a failed Albion attack, clearing it up the other end and scoring. A corner that wasn’t a corner was kicked away by the Charlton defence, two headers later they were breaking with pace. The ball eventually found its way to the back post where the goalscorer finished well to strike first time into the roof of the net from six yards. Two-nil at the break.

CHA Wilson goal CHA Zamora equaliser

Brighton pulled one back through James Wilson five minutes after the restart. Virgo believed the difference in character this season from last was leadership. With players such as Stockdale, Greer, Kayal and Zamora that had improved. The goal came about largely thanks to perseverance from both Stephens in the midfield driving the ball forward, and also from Wilson in the box. He kept going, dribbling past a couple on a mazy run, before hit shot squeezed through the legs of the goalkeeper and in.

The turning point came when defender Patrick Bauer was shown a red card for a last man foul on Zamora right on the edge of the area. Down to ten men for the final half an hour, Charlton tried but failed to hold out. Bobby Zamora bagged an equaliser with seven left on the clock, another case of right place, right time for the front man. After a couple of blocks from close range, the ball squirmed out to Zamora six yards out. He doesn’t miss from there.

CHA Hemed winner CHA Full Time

The winner came from Tomer Hemed just two minutes after getting back level. Dutch winger Rajiv van La Parra joined from Wolves on a five-week loan at the end of November and came on to provide the assist for the winner. His cross from the right found the head of Hemed, who flicked goalwards. Goalkeeper Stephen Henderson made a great reaction save to push it up but, unfortunately for him, the ball looped over and bounced into the net despite desperate efforts to claw it away.

As Virgo pointed out, “When you’re at the bottom of the League, that spins past the post. When you’re at the top of the League, Kelly, that tends to spin in. It’s a real dogged performance, second half, from Brighton.” Virgo also praised Hughton for changing tactics to three at the back after the red card and really going for the win, as an abundance of chances fell. The Seagulls remained top.


#21 AWAY SAT 12 DEC DERBY COUNTY DRAW 2-2

An entertaining contest in Derby’s four-hundredth match at their iPro Stadium as they shared the spoils with the Albion. James Wilson put the visitors ahead when his outstretched leg got the crucial touch to poke goalwards from Jamie Murphy’s cross on the left. Four minutes before half time, Derby got back on level terms through a powerful Bradley Johnson header. Substitute Rajiv van La Parra scored his first goal for the club with a quarter of an hour to play with a lovely finish to almost burst the net. But the win was denied with two minutes to go when a harsh penalty was awarded for Greer’s challenge on Johnny Russell. Chris Martin converted and Albion had to make do with a point.

#22 AWAY TUE 15 DEC QUEENS PARK RANGERS DRAW 2-2

Brighton raced into a two-nil lead shortly after the half-time break at QPR, in a midweek match televised Live on Sky Sports. Dale Stephens opened the scoring with a fabulous overhead kick from seven yards following a knockdown from a corner. Two minutes later, Rajiv van La Parra scored his second for the club to double the advantage. But Charlie Austin inspired the Rangers comeback, scoring either side of a Lewis Dunk dismissal for his second yellow card late on. The equaliser came just two minutes from time to make it two-two, both for the second game in a row, as Brighton slipped to second in the standings on goal difference.


END HOME SAT 19 DEC MIDDLESBROUGH LOSE 3-0

MID Fixture MID Two nil

The top two met in the lunchtime kick off at The Amex as leaders Middlesbrough were in town for another Live Sky Sports match. Football League Tonight led with highlights of this match and shared the Sky commentary from Bill Leslie and Don Goodman, as Channel 5 did with all televised Football League matches. ‘Boro got off to a flyer, taking the lead after four minutes through Kike. His strong header from Adomah’s cross was past Stockdale before he knew it.

On the stroke of half time it was two-nil. Grant Leadbitter’s corner was headed into the mixer by Daniel Ayala. Albert Adomah, standing just a couple of yards in front of the ‘keeper in a congested area, diverted the ball in past Stockdale’s despairing dive. The unbeaten run was under serious threat.

MID Full Time MID Virgo and Riley

Jamie Murphy had a couple of attempts in the second half to get Brighton back in it but is just wasn’t to be. With less than half an hour to play, Middlesbrough got their third courtesy of Christian Stuani. Starting with a corner on the far side, it fell to Kike in the area. His left footed curling effort was headed home by Stuani from just a couple of yards to complete a miserable afternoon for the Seagulls. Three-nil the final score, the unbeaten run ended after a record-breaking twenty-two matches. Aitor Karanka’s side secured the Championship Christmas number one.

In the studio, former Brighton defender Adam Virgo was looking to take the positives now that the run had ended. “I just think one or two performances this season, maybe around the seventeen, eighteen game mark where they were drawing, and I just thought the performances in the last twenty minutes was a little bit negative and they had this unbeaten record in the back of their mind.” He was critical of the Albion defending from crosses and set pieces which cost them the game but praised ‘Boro as a terrific side; “If you finish above Middlesbrough in the Championship, you’re going into the Premier League.”

MID Table


With Derby winning, the Middlesbrough result meant Brighton moved down to third in the table approaching the halfway point as the long unbeaten run came to a sticky end. But to go a whopping twenty-two games, and almost seven months of footballing action, without defeat was an incredible achievement. Even more so when you consider the dismal campaign the Albion had the previous year, stumbling over the safety line finishing twentieth in the League. Nobody had them down as promotion candidates. A summer of shrewd recruitment with a manager who knew how to get the best out of players and teams at this level were both vital components to this success.

Whilst the season didn’t go on to end as well as it had started, missing out on automatic promotion by goal difference alone before losing in the Play Offs once more, this set the marker for the following season. Keeping Brighton up last season was Chris Hughton’s primary objective. Getting them to become challengers for a place in the Premier League in his first full season in charge was perhaps too much too soon. He brought the good times back on the South Coast, and it all began here with the club record unbeaten run.

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.