Withdean on Screen; Milestone Matches part 1

Small Screen Seagulls 2000sThe media spotlight didn’t often shine on the Albion. Outside of the glorious run to the FA Cup Final, and Replay, in 1983, appearances on the television were rare. Goal clips were shown on the news and, if you were lucky, the Brighton game might have been selected for extended highlights on Match of the Day or The Big Match. Live games were even rarer, with the Seagulls on screen just three times in the 1980s and four in the 1990s. The satellite television boom didn’t really reach the South Coast until the 21st Century. The story of the club’s homelessness, two-year exile to Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium and twelve year stay at Withdean did garner some attention. Television helped play its part in this. This piece remembers some of the milestone matches Brighton played at their temporary abode. Our story begins on a sunny Saturday afternoon back in August 1999.

SUN Commentary Box

OPENING IN STYLE (7th August 1999) Division Three

Soccer Extra, Sky Sports 2; Brighton 6-0 Mansfield 

Mansfield Titles Mansfield Lorenzo

The long-awaited first League match back in Sussex could not have gone any better for Brighton and Hove Albion and their supporters. The two years sharing with Gillingham saw a continuation of the poor performances on the pitch, finishing 23rd and 17th at the foot of the English League structure. There was hope upon moving to Withdean that this would galvanise the fans and the team and finally start to turn the fortunes around. This six-nil thumping of Mansfield poured fuel to those fires. In the 1999/2000 season, lower League highlights were shown in the middle of Monday night on ITV’s Nationwide Football League Extra, regionally on the local ITV station on Sunday afternoons and on the Saturday evening news bulletins depending on how quick they could turn it around. Sky Sports held the exclusive Live rights, and with that they could show goals from all the other matches too. This took the shape of a weekly Football League Review studio show and Sunday morning goals round-up Soccer Extra, essentially the forerunner to what became the Chris Kamara-fronted Goals on Sunday. In this clip we have the goals from Soccer Extra presented by former ITV World Cup anchorman Matt Lorenzo, back on Sky fronting all sorts of magazine shows and the odd Live match, having rejoined in 1997. Nick London voiced the goals report.

Mansfield Intro Mansfield Lynam Mansfield Freeman first Mansfield Thomas

New ITV signing Des Lynam was in attendance (above, top right). His transfer away from Match of the Day meant he could now attend more Albion games with his Saturday afternoons freed up. The visiting team got off to a dreadful start when David Kerr was sent off after eleven minutes for use of the elbow in a challenge with Jamie Campbell. The rest of the day’s headlines were stolen by new boy Darren Freeman, who would forever be remembered for this debut hat-trick. His first came two minutes after the red, when the ball dropped nicely for him on the edge of the six-yard box following a free kick. He lashed it into the roof of the net from close range (above, bottom left). His second goal six minutes later came after a defensive mix up enabled him to nick the ball and get behind them. He rounded the goalkeeper for a cool finish. Into the second half, Rod Thomas made it three with a superb strike just inside the area (above, bottom right). The winger was signed ten months earlier from Chester after fans contributed money towards a ‘Buy a Player’ fundraiser.

Mansfield Freeman hat trick Mansfield Six

Freeman got his hat-trick after a neat through ball left him one-on-one with goalie Richardson. As he came rushing out, Freeman kept his nerve to slide it past him and hurdle the challenge. The covering defenders could only run back and watch as the ball rolled into the far corner for four-nil (above, left). The scoring didn’t end when Freeman was replaced, as substitute Aidan Newhouse bagged a brace in the final quarter of an hour. Newhouse joined from Swansea in the week of the game on a monthly rolling contract and wasted no time in opening his account. David Cameron battled on the far touchline to win the ball back and burst into the box. His cut back was hit first time into the roof of the goal for five. And the rout was complete when the same pair combined for Newhouse’s header to loop up over the goalkeeper and in. Six-nil! What an incredible result for Micky Adams and his men. They went on to finish eleventh in Division Three that season, the highest since relegation to this level in 1996. It was dubbed ‘the season that ended too soon’ though, as a push for the Play Offs was left just too late. As the profile grew, fans of many other clubs soon got to see for themselves the charms that Withdean had to offer during a march up the Divisions.


2

SECURING THE LEAGUE TITLE (1st May 2001) Division Three

Football League Review, Sky Sports 1; Brighton 1-0 Chesterfield

Chesterfield Intro Chesterfield aston

In Brighton’s second Withdean season, the club kicked on from the good end to the last campaign to surpass even the most optimistic of supporter’s expectations. After an indifferent opening month, a six-two victory over Torquay was the catalyst for a ten match unbeaten run. In fact, the only defeat in nineteen matches came at the hands of Chesterfield when a last minute goal sunk ten-man Albion. Form in the New Year continued well, with just one defeat in each of February and March, and the club found themselves in with a shout of one of three automatic promotion places available at the top of Division Three. Chesterfield and Cardiff were also going very well. Promotion was secured on Easter Saturday with a two-nil victory at Plymouth, now the Seagulls set their sights on the title. Brighton and Chesterfield had battled it out all season at the summit, forming a rivalry this campaign. However the Spireites were docked nine points and fined £20,000 for breaching financial regulations over the transfer of striker Luke Beckett from Chester. The deduction was applied in late April, taking them off the top of the table to be replaced by Brighton. On the Tuesday before the final weekend of fixtures, the top two met at Withdean in a match which would decide, once and for all, the destiny of this year’s Division Three championship. The Albion also wanted to prove a principle that they didn’t require the points removal in order to win the trophy, they wanted that gap to be more than nine points. Going into this clash, the final match of the year at Withdean, Brighton sat top on 88 points with three games left whilst Chesterfield were second on 86 and two to play, but that would go down to 77 points when the penalty’s taken into consideration.

Chesterfield Goal Chesterfield Scoreline Chesterfield trophy Chesterfield celebrations

Rights holder Sky Sports rounded up all the final midweek action with their Thursday night magazine programme Football League Review, which was voiced out-of-vision by number one Live match host Marcus Buckland. The reporter for Brighton versus Chesterfield was Nick London. Brighton were romping home, unbeaten in ten with seven of those as wins, and on course for more than ninety points. Stark contrast to just three years earlier when consecutive 23rd placed finishes made for drab viewing and on the verge of going out the League at the other end. They found things a little tougher up against Chesterfield in this match, with Bobby Zamora unable to take a couple of decent chances. Kerry Mayo also went close to a collector’s item goal after a mazy run from the halfway line. Step forward Danny Cullip to secure the win when his powerful header went in (above, top left), via a deflection off Chesterfield’s David Reeves, with twelve minutes left on the clock. They’d done it, Micky Adams and his men could celebrate promotion and the League title to boot. The trophy was presented there and then on the Withdean pitch, our first silverware since winning the equivalent Division in 1965! What a fantastic achievement for the Seagulls, flying high once again.

Chesterfield Adams Chesterfield Goalscorers chart Chesterfield final table

Micky Adams was full of praise for his squad afterwards, telling Football League Review; “Give them the credit they deserve because they’ve worked their socks off.” Bobby Zamora in particular did, ending up the Division’s top goal scorer with thirty-one in League and Cup. The final League table the following Saturday confirmed Albion’s place at the very top of the League for all the history books to show, and they did finish more than those nine deducted points ahead of Chesterfield, legitimising the win further. They ended up third some twelve points back, with Cardiff sandwiched in the middle. An average of exactly two points per game for the Albion is a phenomenal record and a real confidence booster for the players and supporters who were languishing around the mid-to-lower half of the table for the previous few years. Perhaps this temporary home was going to be alright. The momentum gained from this outstanding season was carried over to the 2001/2002 campaign where back to back championships were secured. Even a change of manager, with Micky Adams departing for Premiership Leicester early on to swap the South Coast with the departing Foxes boss Peter Taylor, couldn’t hamper the Albion’s rise up the Leagues. Extended highlights of the match with Swindon, and the subsequent title party, when the Division Two title was secured twelve months later is covered in a separate post. Within three Withdean years, Brighton had jumped from fourth tier to second and a place in Division One awaited in the 2002/03 season. The next aim was to stay up there.


3

AVOIDING AN UNWANTED CLUB RECORD (2nd November 2002) Division One

Football League Extra, ITV1; Brighton 3-2 Bradford City

Bradford Titles Bradford Division One

Following a season of exclusive Football League rights belonging to ITV Digital, it all ended rather sour. The company went into administration at the end of the first of a three-year deal, meaning emergency contingencies had to be put in place. This hugely impacted the finances of many lower League clubs who were banking on the vast amounts of money ITV had promised but would never materialise. Consequently on the broadcasting side, Live rights transferred back to Sky Sports and we were without a highlights deal for the first three months of the 2002/03 campaign. Brighton had won back to back League titles to rise from Division Three to Division One here but got off to a disastrous start. After a fantastic opening day win away at Burnley, things went from bad to worse to the verge of an unwanted milestone. A draw in the first home match of the season was followed by an incredible twelve League defeats in succession, culminating with the worst of the lot – a five-nil scoreline at arch rivals Crystal Palace in midweek, the first meeting for thirteen and a half years. Saturday 2nd November saw the visit of Bradford City to Withdean, where another defeat would be a club record. Manager Martin Hinshelwood paid the price for the poor form early on, with former Palace and Manchester United boss Steve Coppell now in charge at the Albion on a one-year contract. This was his third game at the helm.

Bradford Scoreline Bradford Penalty  Bradford Rodger Bradford Foul

This match marked the start of a new highlights deal which saw the welcome return of ITV’s middle-of-the-night goals programme Nationwide Football League Extra, which had covered the best of the action in a concise forty-minute slot since 1994. For this return, Tom Skippings led the voiceover round ups of our match and the rest of the second tier; assisted by Tony Jones and Trevor Harris each taking one of the other two Divisions. Brighton made a dream start when Bobby Zamora tucked away a penalty in the tenth minute. Gus Uhlenbeek tripped Paul Brooker in the box, allowing Zamora to convert low to the goalkeeper’s right (above, top right). Albion raced into a two-goal lead three minutes before the break. Zamora laid the ball off for midfielder Simon Rodger to hit a scorcher from twenty-five yards (above, bottom left) which flew into the top corner of the goal. Into the second half, the dream start got a bit nervier when Andy Gray halved the deficit with a stooping header from Paul Evans’ inswinger. Just six minutes later the two-goal cushion was restored, courtesy of Wayne Jacobs’ foul on Albion’s on-loan striker Graham Barrett (above, bottom right).

Bradford Kuipers Bradford table

Up stepped Zamora to convert another spot kick for three-one. This was the sixth penalty Bradford had conceded in their last six games, with ‘keeper Steve Banks saving one in each of the previous two games. He had no chance with this one, Zamora sent him the wrong way. In the final minute of the match, the man between the Albion posts rushed out of his goal all the way to the edge of the box and upended Stephen Warnock to give Bradford a penalty (above left). Kuipers received his marching orders from referee Brian Curson, with Andy Petterson coming on to keep goal. He couldn’t stop Andy Gray’s penalty to make it three-two. The Seagulls survived stoppage time to finally put that record behind them and begin to pick up Division One points again. Further joy came against Preston, Derby and Live on Sky against Wolves as the gap at the bottom started to close. However, by the end of the season it was just a little too much to do and the club were relegated back to Division Two on the final day following a draw at Grimsby, also Live on Sky. It was a topsy-turvy few years for the club as we yo-yoed around the Divisions but it was certainly never dull!


4

BEATING YOUR RELEGATION RIVALS (4th December 2004) Division One

The Championship, ITV1; Brighton 1-0 Rotherham

Rotherham titles Rotherham Intro

Mark McGhee took over as manager in October 2003 after Steve Coppell’s departure to Reading. In that season McGhee guided the club up via the Play Offs with a Final victory over Bristol City Live on Sky to gain entry to the newly rebranded Championship. The new name brought with it a new highlights programme to accompany Sky’s Live coverage, with ITV again the broadcaster. Their programme, imaginatively named The Championship, was broadcast at 10.30am on Sunday mornings and consisted of one featured match, usually two additional reports and a goals round up of the rest of the Leagues at the end. Brighton started life back in the second tier much better than when we were last at this stage in 2003, with four wins in the opening two months. Form in October and November had dipped and the club found themselves in the (realistic) position in the bottom third of the table. We would be in for another relegation battle this season but with that bit more experience, things were hopeful of turning out differently. And they didn’t come much more experienced than thirty-eight-year-old striker Steve Claridge, who joined the Albion on a month’s contract. Prior to this he had been player-manager at non-League Weymouth after a long playing career which dated all the way back to 1983 and Fareham Town. He enjoyed spells at Cambridge, Birmingham and Portsmouth as well as linking up with McGhee at Millwall where they missed out on Premiership promotion in the Play Off Semi Finals in 2002. His move to Sussex garnered the interest of ITV’s highlights show, which sent Andy Townsend down to Withdean for his first visit. Regular presenter Matt Smith hosted the show from the main game at the Stadium of Light – for Sunderland against West Ham – and linked to our report after highlights of that clash.

Rotherham Townsend Rotherham Claridge Rotherham McGhee Rotherham Claridge playing

Townsend’s report began in the temporary stand behind the goal at Withdean as he introduced the piece before zooming out to reveal just a handful of fans dotted around him. The main focus was on Steve Claridge, whom he interviewed first in the tunnel. The pair had a chuckle at the surroundings before Townsend asked Claridge if he still felt the same about the game or if it had started to wane; “I don’t see how it ever does if you’re fit and you can play and can do a job, just take the enthusiasm for granted because I don’t think that ever goes.” Manager McGhee told Townsend that Claridge was “one of the fittest players you’ve ever seen, either as a player or as a manager… He’s made a big difference.” They touched upon the contract situation, with him only signed up for a month which was due to expire after the match the following week. McGhee stated he wanted to extend it but the club may say otherwise due to the costs and the financial constraints the stadium situation placed upon them all. Before showing the best of the action, we returned to Claridge who outlined the importance of this match; “We’ve lost a couple recently, it just puts a bit of difference between us and the bottom three if we can win today.” You have to beat the teams around you in relegation battles and failure to do that cost the Albion last time in this League.

Rotherham Harding Rotherham scoreline

Rotherham were right down at the foot of the table, with just one win in the last twenty-one matches. That came in the previous game so were in buoyant mood ahead of this crucial clash. Townsend voiced the footage which used pitch-level cameras and jaunty angles, a trademark of this type of report on The Championship. Townsend highlighted Claridge’s first half performance as the biggest threat, constantly looking lively and dangerous as we saw two of his shots saved by goalkeeper Mike Pollitt. Into the second period it was Leon Knight who looked liveliest now, having an effort cleared almost off the line by Ronnie Moore’s defence. The clock ticked away quickly with neither side quite doing enough. That was until the 82nd minute when left-back Dan Harding netted his first for the club (above left). A free kick bounced around the area before dropping to Harding on the left of the box to strike from seven yards. It crept into the far corner for a priceless goal and all three points. The VT ended with Claridge explaining his final match for Brighton was due to be in the upcoming Millwall trip but he was on his way in to see the manager now for clarity. It turned out that his contract wasn’t extended. But that was not the end of his Football League career as, remarkably, he went on to play for a further seven League clubs over the course of the next three years! The result sent the Seagulls seven points clear of the drop zone, now a few games past the half way stage of the season.

5

AND AGAIN (26th December 2004) Division One

The Championship, ITV1; Brighton 2-1 Gillingham

Gillingham titles Gillingham Smith

Three weeks after the victory over bottom of the table Rotherham came another crucial clash in the relegation battle; Gillingham were the visitors to an icy Withdean on Boxing Day 2004. The Gills were below the Albion in the standings but Brighton suffered back to back defeats following that Rotherham win. A two-nil loss at Millwall was followed by Stoke claiming all three points on the South Coast. As the country suffered another cold wintery Christmas period, Withdean was usually one to fare particularly badly. A number of games had been postponed since arriving at the athletics track in 1999 due to the weather, with rain causing waterlogs and ice or snow taking its time to clear. Presenter Matt Smith was wrapped up warm with a big coat and scarf as he introduced the day’s festive football from the featured match Coventry versus Sheffield United. Voicing the goals and incidents in our match was fellow Brighton fan Dave Beckett, who sounded a little bunged up no doubt due to the weather.

Gillingham intro Gillingham Crofts Gillingham Carpenter equaliser Gillingham Virgo winner  

The report began by mentioning Stan Ternant’s Gillingham side’s cause for concern about the state of the pitch, with a white sheen present brought about ice. But it was they who broke the deadlock thanks to future Seagull Andrew Crofts. He latched onto Nicky Southall’s cross, appearing to burst in from nowhere and more determined than anyone. His header burst the net and flew through goalkeeper Kuipers, Crofts leaving his marker Paul Reid flat footed (above, top right). It looked like it was going to be a frustrating Christmas for Seagulls supporters all the way until the 78th minute when up stepped Richard Carpenter. As a headed clearance fell to him, he took one touch to set himself before hitting a divine half-volley from almost thirty yards (above, bottom left) which skipped off the turf and slid right into the bottom left hand corner of the net. A fantastic way to equalise but more was still to come. A Mark McCammon header was saved well by Paul Gallacher. But he wasn’t to deny Adam Virgo, who turned home the winner three minutes from time. A long throw in was flicked on by McCammon with Virgo arriving in the centre. He made connection before his marker and struck past Gallacher, who managed fingertips to it (above, bottom right).

Gillingham scoreline

Another terrific result for Brighton who were managing to get the better of the teams around them at the bottom. This ensured they did the double over the Gills and entered the New Year a whole seven points clear of the drop zone. The form continued into January taking ten more points from the next six unbeaten matches. A fantastic victory over leaders Sunderland followed in February, as featured as the main game on The Championship, and come the final day of the season just a point was required to maintain their Championship status. That’s exactly what happened when Adam Virgo netted in a Sky Live one-all draw with Ipswich in May. Brighton would remain in the second tier for another season under Mark McGhee. Though the 2005/06 campaign fared much worse and Brighton were relegated finishing bottom of the table, the more important result came off the field when permission for the new stadium site in Falmer was initially given the go-ahead by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in October 2005 and, after another legal challenge delaying the saga further, the stadium finally could at last begin building work in the latter half of the noughties with the club consolidating in League One.


This look back over Albion’s tenure at Withdean Stadium continues with part two which can be accessed HERE.

#13: Grimsby 2-2 Brighton 04/05/2003

#13 GRIMSBY 2-2 BRIGHTON Division One
Sunday 4th May 2003 Image result for

GRI Titles

PRESENTER George Gavin GUEST Brian Little
COMMENTATORS Ian Crocker & Alvin Martin REPORTER Fraser Robertson
1.30pm Kick Off; Blundell Park, Grimsby     1-3.30pm Football League Live on Sky Sports Extra

GRI Promo GRI SponsorGRI Intro

Context of the Match: And so it all came down to this. A season’s work would be defined by one Sunday afternoon in May as Brighton’s position in Division One hung in the balance. Nothing but a win would do for the Seagulls if they were to avoid the drop away at already-relegated Grimsby. Even then, that may not be enough as a win or draw for Stoke City at home to Reading would send the Albion down and keep them up regardless of the scoreline here at Blundell Park. Brighton of course were no stranger to final day drama, in even more apocalyptic circumstances. In 1997, a last gasp showdown away at Hereford United decided which of the two teams would drop out of the League altogether. Robbie Reinelt’s equaliser at Edgar Street ensured Brighton’s Football League status on goals scored! At the time goal difference was not the primary decider, had it been then Brighton would have gone instead having picked up just six points on the road all season before that match. Nothing perhaps would ever beat that day for a sheer rollercoaster of emotions for the Albion faithful but this match would be sure to put them through the ringer once more. It was some achievement from Steve Coppell’s men to have even taken their fate to the final day, given the appalling start. Twelve defeats on the bounce left Brighton floundering at the foot of the table by the time Coppell had replaced Martin Hinshelwood in the dugout back in October. Form picked up ahead of our first Live television appearance of the season, a very creditable one-one draw away at Wolverhampton Wanderers, who would be taking part (and winning) in the Play Offs once today was done and dusted. Form was inconsistent and we could never really get a sustained unbeaten period, not managing more than four in a row. But three wins in February and two more in March gave Brighton real hope by the time our next Live appearance came round, away at Reading in early April. A quick-thinking free-kick and an extremely rare Paul Kitson goal gave the away side all three points and suddenly the great escape was on. Defeats to mid-table Preston and promoted Leicester put the brakes on the mini temporarily. The final two home games produced four further points as fellow relegation candidates Sheffield Wednesday were held whilst Watford, clearly already on the beach with nothing to play for, were blown away by a four-nil demolition; the biggest win of the season in more ways than one. Which took things to today, the final Sunday of the season. All matches would kick off at 1.30pm, with two Live on Sky. The title was already decided, that went to Harry Redknapp’s runaway Portsmouth side, with Leicester joining. The four Play Off teams were also known; Sheffield United, Reading, Nottingham Forest and Wolves. Grimsby would finish bottom and Sheffield Wednesday were confirmed as down too. So it was between Stoke and Brighton to determine which of the two would go straight back down having moved up from the third tier together. Sky’s main focus on Sky Sports 1 was at the Britannia Stadium as Stoke, three points and one place ahead of Brighton but with a worse goal difference, took on Reading, already assured of a top six finish. Whilst over on Sky Sports Extra, Blundell Park was in the spotlight. With only a win and a prayer to hope for, let the games begin!

GRI Grimsby GRI Brighton

The Teams: Veteran goalkeeper Dave Beasant, an FA Cup winner fifteen years earlier, continued to be between the sticks for Steve Coppell’s Seagulls. This was his sixteenth start since coming in during a ‘keeper crisis in February. In front of him were the experience of Dean Blackwell and captain Danny Cullip. Blackwell missed much of the first half of the season through injury and only began to get a consistent run in the side from February. Having missed the previous televised match at Reading and the following game against Preston, the former Wimbledon defender was back for the final weeks of the season. Paul Watson missed just one League match all season, back in December due to suspension. Left back Kerry Mayo started each and every game since the end of September and even managed a goal in November’s one-nil victory over Derby. Another February recruit, Ivar Ingimarsson, played in every match since signing. Shoreham born Simon Rodger scored on his debut in the first Division One win at Withdean, versus Bradford. Nathan Jones had almost as many appearances off the bench as he did starts on the wing this term, he hadn’t started since February. Gary Hart was the second longest serving player after Kerry Mayo, the pair were the only ones to have played over 200 times for the Albion. Bobby Zamora looked to add to his vital thirteen goals and he was supported by Paul Kitson, the man who got the decisive touch in April’s televised victory at the Madejski for his only Brighton goal. Arsenal and Ireland forward Graham Barrett and tricky winger Paul Brooker were amongst the attacking options on the bench, whilst if anything happened to Beasant it would be Will Packham’s job to keep goal. The twenty-two-year-old made just two League starts for the club, the last of which was on the final day this time last year with the title and promotion already in the bag. Grimsby’s player-manager – thirty-seven-year-old Paul Groves – picked himself in their starting eleven, having been in charge since December 2001. Their first win of an unsuccessful campaign came, of course, at Withdean when goals from Darren Barnard and Alan Poulton but neither were available this afternoon. Goalkeeper Danny Coyne was the only Mariner to play every match across all three competitions. Defender John McDermott had been on the books here since 1985. George Santos was one of three Sheffield United men to be sent off in an infamous match with Burnley last year when, coupled with injuries, an abandonment was enforced. His red card for a two-footed lunge came just seconds after joining as a substitute and boss Neil Warnock never selected him again. Stuart Campbell was the club’s joint top-scorer with six goals, sharing the spoils with loaness Steve Kabba from Crystal Palace and Sunderland’s John Oster. Kabba’s form was enough to earn him a move to Sheffield United in November but nobody was able to outscore him in the remaining months. Young Irishman Michael Keane wasn’t enough to save Grimsby from relegation when he moved temporarily from Preston on the March transfer deadline day. The referee for one last match this season was Clive Wilkes.

GRI Gavin GRI Little GRI Studio GRI Reporters

Presentation Team: Sky’s number one Football League presenter George Gavin chaired coverage of this final day special, with Gavin having presented virtually every Live broadcast from the three Divisions this season. In addition to that he also hosted the weekly Football League Review and early rounds of the FA Cup. The majority of Live League games were hosted from pitchside or in the stands at the stadium this year but as two matches were being covered simultaneously here, the studio was Sky’s base this afternoon. Joining Gavin was Brian Little. Born in Newcastle with a gentle North-East accent, the former striker spent his entire professional playing career with Aston Villa as well as a solitary appearance for the national team. After retiring he stayed with Villa as a youth team coach before moving into management with a brief caretaker spell at Wolves. He spent a couple of years at Darlington before enjoying his first success in charge of Leicester whilst still in his late-30s. After successive defeats in Play Off Finals, he finally gained the Foxes promotion to the Premiership in 1994. This led to him moving back to Aston Villa where he kept them up in the top flight and later went on to win the League Cup and qualify for Europe. After nearly three-and-a-half years in the Midlands he resigned. In recent seasons he spent around a year at Stoke and West Brom before dropping down to Division Three with Hull City where he came unstuck in the Play Offs once more but resigned last February with the Tigers well placed for promotion. Since then the media was where Little spent much of his time and forged a good partnership with George Gavin on the Review show. Despite Stoke being the main match today, Sky’s number one Football League commentator, Ian Crocker, was at the Albion’s match. This allowed former lead voice Rob Hawthorne an opportunity to cover the League again, as he and Ray Houghton were on the gantry for Stoke versus Reading. Hawthorne had recently helped share the load in a couple of Live Football League double-headers over Easter and would feature in the upcoming Play Offs too, with he and Houghton covering the Division Three Final and Reading’s Division One Semis. Ian Crocker was joined at Blundell Park by Alvin Martin. The former defender made his name playing for West Ham where he spent all but one of his twenty-one professional seasons, the other being at Leyton Orient. Martin also won seventeen caps for England in the eighties. After retirement he was Southend’s boss for two seasons at the end of the nineties. Since then he has been a regular commentator on Talksport and this season on Sky’s Football League broadcasts, behind Chris Kamara in the pecking order. Crocker and Martin would reunite for the Division Two Play Off Final later in May. Completing the line-ups were todays pitchside reporters Fraser Robertson and Guy Havord. Robertson became the main League reporter back in November and also covers the Republic of Ireland internationals for Sky. He was at Stoke today with Havord in Grimsby. Today was Guy Havord’s first appearance on a Live match back on Sky, having spent last season on the ITV Sport Channel as their lead voice of the Football League. He’s more familiar as a commentator there and prior to that for Sky on their Live Spanish football and non-Live 3pm Premiership highlights. He voiced a couple of clashing group matches for ITV at the 2002 World Cup before becoming a victim of the ITV Digital closure. Havord featured reporting on Sky Sports News on occasions before joining Sky here and becoming a part of their touchline reporting roster.

GRI Great Escape GRI Great Escape Brighton GRI Who Will Escape GRI Stoke intro

The Coverage: For the first time in the First Division, two matches on the final day were shown Live simultaneously. This allowed Sky to cover every eventuality from this relegation showdown, whichever team survived. The main focus on Sky Sports 1 was Stoke City’s match as the Potters had their destiny in their own hands. Should they slip up and lose then Brighton could take advantage with a win at Grimsby, and that was shown in full over on Sky Sports Extra. This channel was only available to Sky Digital viewers, meaning cable customers (such as I) were left viewing the encounter at the Britannia. Pre-match build up was hosted from Sky’s Isleworth studio and covered both matches, before splitting off and handing over to the two commentary teams five minutes before this 1.30pm kick off. Host George Gavin was joined by Brian Little, a regular in recent months on the Football League coverage having been out of management since leaving Hull in February of last year. The pair came on air thirty minutes ahead of the match, giving plenty of time to summarise the situation for both teams as well as a quick general overview of the Division as the regular season came to a close this afternoon. As soon as the titles were over, the introductory VT, which you can view at the foot of the page, paid homage to 1963 film The Great Escape, with either Stoke or Brighton completing that very thing by the end of the broadcast. The familiar soundtrack blared out over action shots of the two teams, culminating with the two managers and a caption of “Who will escape?”

GRI Fans GRI Final Day Fixtures GRI Havord GRI Robertson

The Albion fans shown queuing to get into Blundell Park were in confident mood, chanting “We are staying up!” but, as George Gavin pointed out, it was a tough ask; “They’ve got to win and then to hope.” Guest Brian Little explained how relegation on the final day was the hardest to take of all; “It really is a heartbreak day. Teams have known for a week or two, or more in some cases, that they’ve gone down and you learn to live with that towards the end of the season. But this today is a real tearjerker.” He believed how much more remarkable it would be if Brighton pulled off the ‘Great Escape’ given the positions they’re both in before this match, plus the awful start Coppell inherited from Hinshelwood. The League table outlined how tough it would be. The rest of the Division’s fixtures saw Champions Portsmouth travel to Bradford, Play Off candidate Wolves host Leicester and Sheffield United travel to Watford. With the scene set, it was time to head to the two grounds for some team news. Sky Sports reporters were present at both, with Guy Havord at the Britannia and Fraser Robertson in Grimsby. We headed to the Potteries first where it was blowing a gale, Havord’s hair flapping in the wind whilst delivering Brighton fans the good news that Nicky Forster had shrugged off injury to start for Reading. It was a much warmer day for Fraser Robertson as he delivered the Seagulls team sheets. Brighton were unchanged from the biggest win of the season the previous week whilst the Mariners made five changes to bring themselves back to full strength. Robertson said he spoke to some of the 2,500 travelling fans as they were arriving, many in confident mood but acknowledged that it was out of Brighton hands. He also spoke of how the Brighton fans associations were unhappy that additional tickets weren’t passed over with Grimsby failing to sell out the home ends. An extra three or four thousand Seagulls supporters were expected to make the journey without tickets, so it really could have been a full house on the coast.

GRI Manager records GRI Coppell GRI VT GRI Split Screen

Both Stoke and Brighton had employed a new manager partway through the season after struggling at the beginning, with the Potters bringing in Tony Pulis for Steve Cotterill. The two were brought in as rescue merchants to salvage the campaign and got similar results, winning just under a third of the League matches in charge. Little spoke of how good a job Coppell had done to drag Brighton off the bottom and within ninety minutes of survival; “After twelve games everybody thought they were well and truly in the Second Division so to have a chance today shows the sort of job that he’s done. Both lads have done terrific and unfortunately one of them’s going to be very sad by the end of the evening.” The centrepiece of the pre match build up was a VT featuring both managers discussing their chances. On survival, Coppell said “A few weeks back, and at various stages this season, we’d have given anything to be in this position,” whilst Pulis was confident that it was in his team’s hands. In terms of the overall season, if planning permission for the new stadium didn’t get the green light and relegation happened, Coppell saw it as a failure and a major issue but predicted brighter things if Falmer gets a ‘Yes’; “If they get the planning permission for the new stadium, this club will become a yo-yo club between the Premiership and the First Division.” He also stressed he was not interested in following the Stoke scoreline on Sunday “because all we’ve got to do is look after our own part of the equation”. Well that and a bit of hope, Steve! After a little more studio chat and an advert break it was time to make your choice; stay on Sky Sports 1 for the Stoke v Reading game in the company of Rob Hawthorne and Ray Houghton, or switch to Sky Sports Extra for Grimsby against Brighton with match commentators Ian Crocker and Alvin Martin. The Stoke match would have updates at the bottom of the screen with scores from the non-televised matches, whilst both games would show the goals of the other one shortly after they went in. Whatever happened, viewers would be kept fully up to speed with this final day decider. After the game there was only time for a very brief round up of the scorelines and the final table before switching to coverage of the day’s Premiership match between Arsenal and Leeds from 3.30pm. A one hour highlights show was broadcast after that, showing the best of both Stoke and Brighton’s matches as well as a couple of interviews with the key men involved as the regular Football League season came to a close.

GRI Kick Off GRI Comms GRI Harsh penalty GRI Zamora goal

Story of the Match: Albion wore their change kit of all red on the day they aimed to get out of the red zone and up to safety. They kicked off the first half shooting from left to right, attacking the goal in which the travelling support were situated behind and who made all the early noise. Gary Hart showed real pace in the opening exchanges to drive forward in search of the Brighton goal to calm the nerves. For Grimsby, striker Darren Mansaram was causing problems for the back line, needing a combination of Nathan Jones – sporting a bright blonde mohawk – and Kerry Mayo to wrestle the ball away from him in a dangerous position. The first chance fell the way of the black and white stripes, as Dave Beasant was forced into a smart low stop to keep Tony Gallimore’s deflected free kick out, whilst the rebound was blazed high over the top. In the twenty-second minute, the worst happened for Brighton as referee Clive Wilkes awarded Grimsby a penalty. Kerry Mayo, no stranger to final day relegation drama as his own goal at Hereford six years earlier showed, failed to control the dropping ball over his head which allowed Chris Thompson the opportunity to nick it past him. Mayo’s outstretched leg was a desperate attempt to salvage the situation but it was mistimed and a foul. However, the replay showed the contact was outside the box and should have actually been a free kick rather than a spot kick, to add to the Albion’s woes. Michael Keane, on loan from Preston, stepped up after a delay due to encroachment to send Beasant the wrong way and see the ball slide into the bottom left hand corner of the net for one-nil. As Alvin Martin pointed out on co-commentary, the positive was it was still early enough in the game to turn things around, with no news of a breakthrough in the other match either. As the end of the first period approached, Brighton gave themselves a lifeline through another penalty. No doubt about this one, as Gary Hart’s positive turn and push forward brought a rash challenge from Steve Chettle near the edge of the box (but definitely inside the area!). Hart was just able to get a touch on the ball to take it past Chettle who was committed and running at the Albion man with pace. The referee had no hesitation. Up stepped Bobby Zamora to coolly stroke the penalty low to his right, sending the ‘keeper in the other direction. One-one the scoreline at the break in Grimsby. At half time at the Britannia, Stoke were doing their job as they and Reading were playing out a goalless draw. The best of the action was in the Royals goalmouth but Stoke only enjoyed half chances, if that. They looked the more positive and from their point of view it was so far, so good.

GRI Cullip Goal GRI Radios GRI Stoke goal GRI Grimsby equaliser

With more work to do in the second half, Brighton began it as they ended the first – on top. Simon Rodger took a pop from long range which deflected behind for a corner early on. Rodger took the resulting set piece which found its way through a sea of bodies to bounce off Ingimarsson for Zamora to shape up on his favoured left foot. That hit a defender but fell kindly for Danny Cullip to swivel and shoot on the turn unmarked six yards out. His effort went through the defender’s legs on the line and in for a remarkable Albion turnaround two minutes after the interval. It was a really nice finish from the centre half, a captain’s goal on a day of huge importance for the club. Brighton were doing their job, they just needed Reading to do theirs down in the Potteries. The joy, and probably the hope, was short-lived though as news soon filtered through of the unthinkable. Final day wouldn’t be final day without fans glued to their phones and radios getting updates about another match. And sure enough, a difficult task just became nigh-on impossible for Brighton. Stoke had taken the lead against Reading ten minutes after the break. A free kick on the half way line from James O’Connor sent Lewis Neal to the byline. He crossed into the area first time where Ade Akinbiyi met it with a bullet header to fly past Marcus Hahnemann in goal. Stoke got their breakthrough, Brighton now needed a miracle. The atmosphere in Cleethorpes soon died down as Albion fans resigned themselves to the inevitable. The misery was compounded with just over half an hour to go when Grimsby got a slightly fortuitous equaliser. Stuart Campbell’s deep cross was hit back towards goal on the volley by Keane. Beasant palmed away but straight onto Richard Hughes who was lurking just a couple of feet away. He was in the right place at the right time as the ball ricocheted off his thigh and in for two-two.

GRI Final Whistle GRI Cullip

The final thirty minutes of the season was played in a flat atmosphere, as both teams knew they’d be meeting again next year in a lower Division. It almost got worse for Brighton when Chris Thompson crashed one against the crossbar after neat work from Campbell. If there was a moment to sum up how things went it came when Dean Blackwell’s attempted left footed cross was sliced horribly wide and into the Grimsby fans behind the goal, to huge ironic cheers all round. It just wasn’t to be today. In the end it finished at the Britannia with Akinbiyi’s strike the difference, ending one-nil. Congratulations to Tony Pulis and Stoke City, who survived their first year back in Division One. Full time then came at Blundell Park to close the Seagulls campaign with a two-two away draw and relegation at the first time of asking after fast tracking their way up the Leagues with two successive titles. A mini pitch invasion from the Brighton fans ensued, all good natured with promises to the cameras that we’d be back. Captain Cullip was mobbed as he went over to thank the supporters. Reporter Fraser Robertson spoke with him afterwards, broadcast on Sky’s highlights show after the Live Super Sunday match. He confirmed the disappointment; “To take it down to the last day, when a lot of people wrote us off in November, was testament to the players and staff at the football club.” Cullip relayed manager Steve Coppell’s words in the dressing room; “Get your heads up, he said ‘you’ve given it a good go’, go and relax over the summer and come back firing for next season.” Cullip believed there was enough there to bounce back next season but wasn’t going to be drawn about the futures of either Coppell or leading scorer Bobby Zamora – linked with a move to the Premiership for a long time – passing Robertson away saying he’d have to ask them that question. A quick look at the other scores on the final day saw Sheffield Wednesday beat Walsall to leapfrog Brighton into twenty-second in the table, as confirmation of Stoke’s win saw them secure safety. Champions Portsmouth signed off in style with a five-nil away win whilst Ipswich hit Derby for four. None of the four Play Off teams picked up a victory, with Wolves and Nottingham Forest drawing and Reading and Sheffield United losing. The final Division One table didn’t make for great reading for Brighton fans but there was enough on display from November onwards to give the supporters that little bit of hope again that next year maybe our year once again.

GRI Final Scores GRI Table top GRI Table bottom

GRIMSBY 2 BRIGHTON 2
Keane, Hughes Zamora, Cullip

GRI Replay GRI Goal

 

EXTRA; ITV held terrestrial rights to highlights from the three Divisions after securing a deal back in October of this season. This mean the return, after a few months off air, of their much loved round up show Football League Extra. This originally ran from 1994 until May 2002 when ITV Digital had to hand back Live rights as they went into liquidation. Whilst the dust settled on that and Sky Sports swooped to pick up the Live games at a knockdown price, there were no terrestrial television highlights of any Football League match for the first dozen or so matchweeks. Football League Extra was originally presented by Gabriel Clarke from the featured match that week, whilst voiceovers reported on the rest of the games. In the latter years of the nineties that role was filled by Dave Beckett and Angus Scott before Matt Smith took over for the 2001/2002 campaign. When it was recommissioned this season, the show featured three regular voices out-of-vision to link together the show; namely Tom Skippings, Trevor Harris and Tony Jones. However, for the final day of the season here, we got a rare treat; in-vision presenting from Skippings. The show’s usual slot was late Monday night slash very early Tuesday morning, once top flight and European highlights had been shown in the forms of The Premiership on Monday with Matt Smith and UEFA Champions League Weekly. For this edition, Tom Skippings hosted from Exeter City ahead of their fight to retain League status. The programme first focussed on the fight to avoid relegation in Division One, where Trevor Harris talked us through the key moments of the afternoon from both Stoke and Grimsby.

FLE Titles FLE Skippings FLE Harris FLE Zamora goal

The goals from the two crucial games were shown chronologically, intercut and with the minute of the match. Grimsby struck first with the penalty that shouldn’t have been. “It looked outside, referee Clive Wilkes thought differently” Harris said diplomatically. As the Seagulls were worrying, it cut to the jubilant Stoke fans celebrating that twenty-third minute opener from some 115 miles South-West. Next; “a pressure penalty for Bobby Zamora. No problem! Utter delirium on the terraces.” Danny Cullip’s strike to turn the match on its head shortly after half time gets better with each viewing. For those eight minutes, Brighton were just a Reading goal away from safety. But the killer came in the fifty-fifth at the Britannia; “Lewis Neal’s cross bulleted in by Ade Akinbiyi. The same Akinbiyi laughed out of Leicester, the same Akinbiyi vilified by the fans at Palace. But now an all-conquering hero to the vast majority of a twenty-thousand crowd.” The Seagulls fans had their heads in their hands and when Grimsby got a scrappy equaliser, the game was up. Harris summed it up when he said “They’d come in hope and they sung their hearts out but the damage was done early in the season. Four points from twelve games before Coppell arrived.” A couple of quick interviews aired with the key men, Tony Pulis at Stoke whilst we heard from both captain and goalscorer for the Albion; Cullip and Zamora. Steve Coppell was apparently too upset to speak so we didn’t get his thoughts on either the Live broadcast on Sky or any highlights shows. Bobby Zamora answered the question that had long been asked about his Brighton future; “I’ve got three years on my contract and if Brighton find it right to sell me and the right situation comes along then maybe things might be different.” Sure enough the great man was sold to Premiership Tottenham for £1.5million in July. The Albion would have to start again in August in Division Two.

FLE Stoke winner FLE Heartbreak FLE Cullip FLE Zamora

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Small Screen Seagulls; 1996/97 Season

Brighton on TV

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

 


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

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

Protest presenter 1 Protest presenter

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

Protest fireworks Protest outside

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

Protest reporter Protest baine

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


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

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

Case sacked presenters Case sacked protest

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

Case sacked board Case sacked quote

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


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

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

Goldstone sky news host Goldstone sky news reporter

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

Goldstone sky news pub Goldstone sky news invasion

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

Goldstone sky news goal Goldstone sky news storer

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


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

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

Football League Extra Titles FLE Gabriel Clarke

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

FLE Steve Gritt FLE Fans

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

FLE Kick off FLE one nil

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

FLE one one FLE chance

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

FLE Dick Knight FLE Reinelt

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

FLE Final whistle FLE Hereford

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