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.