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.

Small Screen Seagulls; 2012/13 Season part 1

Small Screen Seagulls LogoBrighton settled into life back in the second tier of English football, and at their new home in Falmer, with a very impressive campaign last time out. The Seagulls surprised most with their form as they narrowly missed out on a top six finish. But this season those Play Off places were a legitimate and realistic target. With Gus Poyet still at the helm and a squad full of talent, the mood was quietly confident on the South Coast. One of the improvements needed was to convert draws into wins. The Amex Stadium had been expanded to include an upper tier in the East Stand and further developments in the offing. It was a year that promised so much yet would all end in bitter tears.

Here are some of the features and coverage during the Albion’s highest placed finish for thirty years. Screenshots are provided from various clips of coverage by BBC Sport and Sky Sports. This is part one, the second part is HERE.


Craig Mackail-Smith phone interview

The Fantasy Football Club, Sky Sports 1 (28th September 2012)

FFC Titles FFC Hosts

For this season, Sky Sports introduced a new weekly programme on Friday evenings to replace football quiz Take It Like A Fan, called The Fantasy Football Club. This was based on the popular fantasy football game where competitors picked a ‘dream team’ comprised of players from a variety of top flight clubs. This studio show was again presented by John Fendley, AKA Fenners. Joining him was former Arsenal and England creative midfielder Paul Merson, part of the Soccer Saturday panel working with Jeff Stelling. The set was decorated out like a changing room and each week a guest would join them and a Live studio audience to talk through the game, their career and culminated by picking their ‘One2Eleven’; a starting line-up made of the best eleven they ever played with. As with most Sky magazine shows, there were also games, challenges and features to fill the hour, as well as a Fantasy Football Club scarf up for grabs for the viewer who picked the best fantasy team of the week.

Part of the show’s title sequence was filmed at The Amex, with them using the tunnel area before running out onto the turf. On Friday 28th September, Brighton’s Craig Mackail-Smith was interviewed on the phone to chat about his season so far. And, along with loan signing Wayne Bridge, he would be going head-to-head with Fenners and Merse in a round of the fantasy game. This was a regular feature, with the pair taking on Norwich’s John Ruddy and Anthony Pilkington the previous week. The Norwich duo scored more points which led Merson into the forfeit of wearing a full replica kit for the start of this week’s programme. They were also joined in the studio by West Ham midfielder Matt Taylor.

FFC Head to Head FFC Mackail-Smith on the phone

The phone interview kicked off with Mackail-Smith joking about how confident he was of beating the hosts after their recent form. Talk turned to a potential forfeit, with the striker offering Fenners the chance to come down to the Albion and train with the squad; “Maybe at the end stick you in goal and have a bit of shooting practice against you!”

Attention then turned to real life football, with Fenners reminding Mackail-Smith of the “dream start” this season; top of the Championship with Craig scoring six in seven so far. “I’m catching my target from last season quite quickly”, he said. Merson asked what had been different this year, to which Mackail-Smith responded; “Last season we kept the ball a lot and we didn’t really penetrate teams so well. I think this season with Bridgey and Bruno left and right wing back, we’re getting higher up the pitch and probing, getting more shots away.”

FFC Overhead kick FFC Oatway

They talked through his spectacular overhead goal against Burnley from the start of the month, where Albion went on to win three-one at Turf Moor. It was also pointed out during the celebration that Ashley Barnes got a bit carried away with the knee slide, careering straight into the goalscorer, giving him a bit of a dead leg in the process. They also discussed his rather unusual athletic prowess growing up; the pole vault. In typically modest fashion, he said; “I went and had a go and I wasn’t too bad at it and did it for three or four years”. On that note, the interview was concluded with results about the fantasy challenge to come the following week.

So, on Friday 5th October, Fenners was back to see which pairing came out on top. Points were awarded for players in the fantasy team that scored goals, provided assists and defensively for clean sheets, whilst yellow and red cards were punished as were goals conceded. The Brighton boys scored a total of eighty-two points between them, a whopping thirteen more than the hosts, meaning it was the Seagulls who defeated Sky in this challenge. First team coach Charlie Oatway, never one to stray away from the limelight, send the show a video message from the team bus implying they didn’t know what they were talking about and needed to “watch a proper game, like us.” He was right, Brighton’s season had begun so very well.

FFC Results


2

Brighton 0-1 Middlesbrough Report

The Football League Show, BBC One (20th October 2012); Championship

MID Titles MID Clem

BBC highlights programme The Football League Show returned for its fourth season, and the first of a new broadcast contract, for the 2012/2013 campaign. There were a couple of changes; where previously the BBC held ten Live Championship fixtures and three League Cup games, it was now just highlights for the next three seasons. For this late October edition, regular host Manish Bhasin was joined in the studio by pundit Leroy Rosenior. Reporter Mark Clemmit was dispatched to Brighton to get an insight into how things had progressed during this second Amex season, ahead of a visit from fellow promotion candidates Middlesbrough.

Last season the format was tweaked slightly to drop the, admittedly unnecessary, viewer emails and texts read out by the likes of Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes and Jacqui Oatley. This year saw further amendments. The theme tune was changed to now use an actual piece of music! Out went the drum beating, crowd noise style opening replaced by Snow Patrol’s In the End. The title sequence featured football freestylers doing tricks and flicks in front of a brick wall. The wall was decorated with various Football League bits and pieces which then flew from the wall to become highlight clips from years gone by before bringing us up to date. It was an improvement on the previous sequence, for sure.

MID Poyet MID Building site

Mark Clemmit’s report began with a quick reminder of Brighton’s stadium saga; saying it “shaped a generation of supporters who were as familiar with land wrangles as football formations.” With development work done over the summer to increase capacity of The Amex from around 22,000 up to more than 27,000 now, with a further increase by the end of the campaign to sit at an incredible 30,750. Such was the demand for tickets so early on, the folk of Sussex couldn’t get enough! With things never better off the field, Clem explained that the next challenge was to re-write the history books on it. “Since their formation in 1901, Brighton have been in the top flight for only four seasons.”

He spoke with manager Gus Poyet near the dugouts in the empty bowl, the calm before the matchday storm. They talked through the fantastic facilities and the change in such a short space of time to when they last were together on this site, two years ago during the construction stage. Poyet told, “Last year it was spectacular, great football days here. And then I found out we were putting an extra five, six-thousand seats and I’m thinking ‘More pressure for the manager!'” But he said he loved the pressure, as long as there were no upper limits to where it could take us; “If we don’t hit the roof, if there is no roof and we can always go and improve, then I will stay here for long.” That ‘roof’ word would come back round a couple more times during the campaign when Poyet spoke of frustrations.

MID Barber MID Fatboy Slim

Changes were made to the Albion at boardroom level during the summer of 2012 as Paul Barber was appointed Chief Executive. The businessman moved from North American side Vancouver Whitecaps, where he oversaw two stadium moves in a short space of time. Prior to that he was Tottenham’s Executive Director, running the club’s day to day operations for five years from the mid-noughties. Perhaps his highest profile, and most successful, job came at the English FA where he worked for over a decade as their Commercial Director. This was during highly controversial times; appointing England’s first foreign manager, rebuilding Wembley and moving international matches and Cup Finals all around the UK. He arrived in Sussex with an impressive CV. Speaking with Clemmit in the hospitality lounge, Barber confirmed planning permission had been granted for a state-of-the-art training ground in Lancing; the next step on the way to attracting and attaining the best young players.

One of the biggest criticisms when a club moves stadium or makes major changes it that the ‘soul’ of the club is lost. Superstar DJ, Seagulls supporter and Falmer campaigner Norman Cook, AKA Fatboy Slim, confirmed that was definitely not the case here. “It’s just got very bigger, very quickly. When we first got here, you had to pinch yourself, because we gone up the Division and were still playing well.”

MID Comm MID Goal

Next came the brief highlights from the match. Defeat on the opening day at Hull for the Albion followed an embarrassing Capital One Cup First Round exit to lower Division Swindon Live on Sky. Things were back on track by the end of August, with a five-one thumping of Barnsley which started a run of five consecutive victories. September ended with defeat at home to Birmingham to set off a three-match streak without a win, ahead of this clash with Middlesbrough. The Albion sat in fifth place at the start of the day, whilst Tony Mowbray’s ‘Boro were down in eleventh after a stop-start, inconsistent beginning.

Commentary was provided by Paul Walker. As well as commentating now, Walker was previously more familiar in a reporting role voicing the round-ups. He came from BBC Radio Sheffield where he hosted phone-in shows, Live football on Saturdays and covered other sports such as ice hockey and boxing.

The first piece of action shown was the goal, which arrived on twenty-one minutes through Marvin Emnes. The Dutchman was provided the ball on the right by Grant Leadbitter. He travelled ten yards forward to the corner of the penalty area, where he struck for goal. It took a huge deflection off Gordon Greer on the way through to wrong-foot summer signing Tomasz Kuszczak in goal, send the ball the other way and sneak in.

MID Full Time MID Studio

Brighton created several opportunities for the likes of Ashley Barnes, Will Buckley and Craig Mackail-Smith but they weren’t taken. ‘Boro goalie Jason Steele kept out a header from Barnes but Mackail-Smith really should have buried the rebound. Instead, he blazed over from five yards. Leadbitter tried one from range for the visitors which didn’t trouble Kuszczak too much but at the final whistle, it was the team in red who took all three points to leapfrog Brighton in the table.

Speaking with Clemmit after the game, Gus Poyet told of a couple of things his side needed to get used to if they were to go one further and make the Play Offs this time. As well as the increased crowds at home, Poyet said; “Second one is how the opposition is going to play here, how difficult they’re gonna make it for us.” Taking chances was crucial. Back in the studio in London, host Manish Bhasin surmised the team were being targeted for the success of late, whilst pundit Leroy Rosenior said “They’re being shown the respect they deserve. I saw them early on this season and was very impressed.” That result made it three home games in a row without a win for the Seagulls, as players adapted to the extra noise and pressure from the expectant crowd.


3

Blackpool 1-1 Brighton Highlights

The Football League Show, BBC One (27th October 2012); Championship

BLA Titles BLA Comm

The Albion were the featured match on The Football League Show the following Saturday, as the Seaside trip to Blackpool came calling. Host Manish Bhasin described it in the intro as; “Two ambitious clubs with realistic prospects of automatic promotion, but they share the same problem – lack of consistency.” Ian Holloway’s Blackpool finished fifth last year in their first campaign since Premier League relegation but ultimately lost in the Play Off Final to West Ham. After starting this season with four wins out of six, form dried up with five defeats from their last eight. The Albion followed up last Saturday’s Middlesbrough loss with a midweek defeat at Leicester to slide to ninth in the table and just a point above today’s hosts.

Steven Wyeth was the match commentator. Like Paul Walker, he was previously a long-standing local radio employee having worked at BBC Manchester since 2000 specialising in covering Manchester United. He went freelance in September to commentate across a wider variety including The Football League Show and European matches.

BLA Blackpool BLA Brighton

Blackpool welcome back French winger Elliott Grandin back for his first start in ten months, having joined Nice in January. He returned earlier this season but was left out altogether for the past five games and trained with the development squad for a perceived bad attitude. Striker Gary Taylor-Fletcher scored the club’s first ever Premier League goal on the opening day of the 2010/11 season. Attacking player Tom Ince started his career at Anfield but failed to break into the first team before moving to the Seaside in 2011. He’s the son of former England midfielder Paul Ince. There was a heavy Scottish presence in the side, with goalkeeper Matt Gilks, defenders Stephen Crainey and Kirk Broadfoot, making his home debut, and midfielder Matt Phillips all starters.

Gus Poyet made one change from the midweek defeat as Gary Dicker dropped to the bench for Dean Hammond to come in. Hammond returned to the Albion where he began his career after four years away, joining on a season-long loan from Southampton. Another loanee for the year was former England and Chelsea left-back Wayne Bridge, dropping down from Manchester City. Andrew Crofts also made a comeback to Sussex, re-joining from Norwich after two seasons. Right-back Bruno transferred in from Valencia on a free. Craig Mackail-Smith top scored with six thus far, whilst Ashley Barnes netted three. On the bench sat striker Stephen Dobbie, who had two loan spells with Blackpool in the last two years. He joined on transfer deadline day from Swansea.

BLA Barnes goal BLA Grandin goal

The early chances fell Blackpool’s way, with Kuszczak denying Ince and Taylor-Fletcher narrowly heading wide from a corner. Centre-half Alex Baptiste was in the thick of Brighton’s half too, trying a shot from long range which went wide of the target. The Albion offered very little in the first period and went in goalless at the break.

That changed eleven minutes into the second half when Ashley Barnes nabbed the scrappiest of goals. A long ball from Adam El-Abd on the halfway line was flicked into the area by Mackail-Smith to Crofts. In battle with Broadfoot, the ball bounced around the penalty box. Gilks came out of goal to claim but instead tangled with the pair and the ball broke loose. Standing next to them was Barnes who was able to instinctively stab home into the empty net from six yards.

The opportunities were still falling the home side’s way, with Ince guilty of missing a golden chance with the goal gaping five yards out. With father Paul watching on in the stands, Tom Ince couldn’t adjust his body to turn the ball home and instead scooped it over the bar. Brighton were soaking up a lot of pressure again. But with less than twenty minutes to go, the equaliser finally came. Elliott Grandin provided the home relief, diving in for a header six yards out to connect with Matt Phillips’ perfect delivery.

BLA Full Time BLA Claridge

Kuszczak had to fly around his goal to keep Grandin from scoring again a minute later as Blackpool didn’t want to rest on their laurels. Another great chance had to be denied when substitute Nathan Delfouneso failed to connect properly central to the goal. The stripes too had their moments, including an attempt at an overhead kick from Mackail-Smith. The bounce unfortunately took the ball up and over the crossbar. When the full-time whistle arrived, it was a relief that the Seagulls clung on to the draw, finishing one a piece.

Gus Poyet summed it up well by saying; “The effort was there, desire was there. Quality was missing today.” Ian Holloway was frustrated by the missed chances and the “calamitous” goal they conceded but was pleased with the domination overall. First choice FLS pundit Steve Claridge analysed the Albion approach in the studio; “They just slightly tinkered and changed the emphasis on the way that they play. I look at the midfield; Buckley who can play a little bit, then you’ve got Hammond, you’ve got Crofts, you’ve got Bridcutt who are all players who are renowned for their defensive qualities. So there’s a little bit of an emphasis change there… bit of resilience.” He pointed out that just nine goals conceded shows an improvement in that area.

Both this game and the Middlesbrough one highlighted the difficulties faced in the Championship. Despite outplaying the opposition, Brighton came away empty handed last week. This week, they got an undeserved point on their travels. If the Play Offs were to be reached this season, there needed to be an upturn in consistency and winning whilst on top.


4

Craig Mackail-Smith and Charlie Oatway on the sofas

Soccer AM, Sky Sports 2 (3rd November 2012)

SAM Titles SAM Hosts

Sky Sports Saturday morning football and entertainment show Soccer AM was by now in its eighteenth season, fantastic for a low budget satellite programme. From the 2008/09 season it was hosted by Max Rushden with Helen Chamberlain. The latter had been there since the first season back in 1995, working first with Russ Williams, Jane Hoffen and Gary Stevens before Tim Lovejoy took over and shaped what the show was to be recognised for. When Lovejoy left with most of the established crew including Fenners, Andy Goldstein came in for a season before ex-BBC London and radio presenter Rushden got the gig and had to move the show into a new dawn.

The show received an overhaul, with new graphics, titles and studio set as well as features and games. The duration was cut from three hours to two in 2010 in a bid to improve quality, now airing from 10am until midday. Entertainment always remained at the heart of it, with certain features standing the test of time, such as Taxi, Showboat, Third Eyes, Goals of the Week and the famous kicking the ball through a hole in the carpark, whilst others fell by the wayside as society moved away from the laddish nineties.

SAM Green Room SAM Walk On

On Saturday 3rd November, Brighton striker Craig Mackail-Smith and first team coach Charlie Oatway journeyed to Osterley in West London to Sky HQ to adorn the famous orange sofas. The last time Brighton had anyone from the club on this programme, Oatway was still a player and joined Nathan Jones and Leon Knight back in December 2004! Things had changed a lot since then. Now, with Albion playing the night before Live on Sky against Leeds, a rare Saturday off gave them the chance to join Max, Helen and the gang in the studio. Although, it was supposed to be Gus Poyet joining Oatway. He decided against it late on so sent Mackail-Smith instead. And completing the line-up were Suggs and Woody from the band Madness. The fans of Blackburn Rovers provided the noise in the Luther Blissett Stand, supported by a Live studio audience.

SAM Guests.JPG

Charlie Oatway’s cheeky nature was a good fit for a show like Soccer AM, where he could fit in with the mickey taking and show off. The previous night’s Leeds game was talked through, ending in a two-two draw with Mackail-Smith bagging both Brighton goals. Rushden said the Albion were “miles better” than their opponents, with Oatway adding “If it was a boxing match it would’ve been stopped”. Unfortunately Mackail-Smith saw his penalty saved to deny him the hat-trick and all three points. Having already scored from the spot earlier in the game, he was asked if it was mentally tough to take two penalties in a game. “Sometimes you change your mind, I thought I hit it really well.” Oatway joking; “Didn’t hit it well enough!”

SAM Leeds game SAM Studio

Having started the season so brightly in the first two months, form dropped off in October and the Albion pair were asked if that was a concern. Oatway batted it away saying performances were good; “I don’t think you really have to worry yourself, just keep going with what you’re doing and how the boys are playing.” Mackail-Smith’s form over the past eighteen months earned him a Scotland call up by manager Craig Levein, which Oatway also joked about. It backfired when Mackail-Smith enquired about Oatway’s international cap tally but, as always, the Londoner had the last laugh; “I’d rather none than play for Scotland!”

On a more serious and worthy note, they discussed Oatway’s testimonial year with the club. Having joined in 1999 from Brentford, he played for the Seagulls until 2007 before professional retirement. Then when Poyet was put in charge in late 2009, he rejoined the club on the coaching staff, with the combination of roles taking him to the tenth year with Brighton. With half of the earnings going towards Albion in the Community, the club’s charitable arm, he outlined what was in store; “We’ve got a game next year, we’ve got a golf day, we’ve got other events…”

SAM Bugs SAM Oatways Ordeals

He also explained the concept of ‘Oatway’s Ordeals’, in which he completed a series of challenges decided by a vote, all designed to play to his weaknesses and fears. He said he had fears of flying and being stranded in water, amongst others, so obviously they were going to be two of his challenges upcoming. Another was eating insects and, through the magic of television, Helen Chamberlain unveiled an ‘I’m A Celebrity’ style plate of bugs for him to try Live on the show. Mackail-Smith dived in to eat one first, before Oatway and Rushden joined. Suffice to say they didn’t recommend them to us. In return, Oatway’s testimonial events would be plugged on the Soccer AM website.

SAM Hairy Strikers SAM Sausage smashing

The main interview had concluded by the boys would stick around for the rest of the show. One of the Live studio sketches for the season was ‘The Hairy Strikers’, parodying its name from the Hairy Bikers television programme. The skit involved crew members Dave Morgan and Rocket Long dressed as hairy strikers Andy Carroll of West Ham and Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, as well as two of the sofa guests taking part in a game or challenge. For this edition falling during National Sausage Week, Craig Mackail-Smith and Suggs had to smash as many raw sausages with a mallet as they could in thirty seconds. And why not, all part of the fun.

SAM Carpark Game.JPG

The traditional culmination of the show took place outside in the Soccer AM car park with the end game featuring the Fans of the Week. The aim was always for them to kick a ball through a hole and score as many as possible within the allotted time. This season saw a variation on the format with five holes to choose from, as they had to progress in turn from the biggest – League Two – up through the Divisions to the smallest hole – the Champions League. After the fans had their go, it was the turn of the guests. Unfortunately for Suggs, Charlie Oatway was around and threw a football at his when he was about to strike. The Blackburn fans reached League One whilst none of the guests could get their effort on target. And once everyone was back inside, it was time to end another fun-packed programme as our Seagulls were once again in the TV spotlight.


This is the first part looking back at Season 2012/2013. The second part is available HERE.