Every couple of weeks I introduce you to an English football club which I assume you (my non-English readers) don’t know much about. In other words, you won’t be reading about Man U or Chelsea in this space.
This week we head south of London to the coastal town of Brighton, home of an up-and-coming club which I think we’ll be seeing in the Premier League next season.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton, on the coast about an hour south of London
Brighton, as they are usually called, is a club that most Americans will not have heard of, which makes sense because they have hardly ever appeared in the top league – and not at all since 1983. But they are well on their way to the Premier League for 2017-18, and Brighton is a great place to visit, so let’s learn some more about them. By the way, Hove is the town next door, so it’s kind of a miniature Minneapolis-St. Paul. And Albion is an old, old word for Britain. There are a few teams around with that word in their name.
The Championship (second tier)
Third in the Championship (only on goal differential), lost in the playoff semifinals to Sheffield Wednesday; 3rd Round FA Cup, 2nd Round League Cup
The fancy new Amex Community Stadium, with 30,750 seats, five miles from the center in the suburb of Falmer. They have played there since 2011. Back then it had 22,000 seats, but it’s been expanded a few times. It has a somewhat unique and modern design that puts almost all the seats on the sides, as opposed to in the ends.
Brighton were founded in 1901 and bounced around the lower leagues until 1979, when they made the top division for the first time, staying there for four years. In 1983 they made the FA Cup final and drew with Manchester United, 2-2 – a game which is most famous for a moment when Gordon Smith had a shot to win it in extra time but was denied by the United keeper. The moment lives on because (A) it was a heartbreaker and (B) the announcer famously said, “And Smith must score!”
United won the replay, 4-0, and Brighton were relegated, as well — proving that football is utterly cruel.
By the mid-90s they were in real trouble, sitting at the bottom of the lowest division of the Football League, and were in such bad financial shape they had to sell their stadium. In the last game of the 96-97 season, they needed at least a draw at Hereford to even stay in the league. At halftime they trailed 1-0. Enter the hero, Robbie Reinelt:
From there, Brighton began a long rebuilding process, but not before having to play two seasons at the Gillingham FC stadium 75 miles away. They then spent 12 years at a local stadium about the size of some Texas high school places, and in the mid-2000s, to get out of financial trouble, the Board had to pitch in 7 million pounds, with another 2.5 million raised from, among other things, re-recording a hit song called “Tom Hark” by the Piranhas. You might think you don’t know this tune, but see if you recognize it. You will certainly know the melody if you’ve been to a few games in England. This is the Brighton version, called “We Want Falmer,” referring to the new stadium.
Another thing they did to raise money: Nude Christmas cards with the players. I’m serious.
They have been in the second tier ever since, but one incident does have to be mentioned. (Any Brighton fan reading this is now cringing). Under manager Gus Poyet, they made the 2013 Championship playoffs and drew their biggest rivals, Crystal Palace. After a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park, somebody thought it would be funny to take a crap all over Palace’s dressing room before the second game in Brighton. Again, I’m serious. Palace won the game, 2-0, and Poyet and his whole staff were sacked a month later – for (allegedly) unrelated gross misconduct and breach of contract.
(Years later, I would see Poyet manage for Sunderland at Palace, and the Palace fans sang a song about him shitting on the floor!)
Brighton barely missed promotion last year, and seem well positioned as of this writing to get automatic promotion for next year. And when they do, a lot more people will know about an exciting club to go see in a wonderful coastal town near London.
None that I noticed.
Their anthem, the one they play when the teams come out, is an old marching tune called Sussex By The Sea. Here’s a kind of official version:
As you can see (from a game I went to) not everybody really gets into it:
The lyrics are
Good Ol’ Sussex By The Sea,
Good Ol’ Sussex By The Sea,
Oh We’re Going Up To Win The Cup,
For Sussex By The Sea,
By the way, I came across more than 4,000 of their fans at Fulham in early 2017; they won the game in pretty dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes — the kind of game a team pulls out when they are on their way up. Here is the first one, a penalty in front of their fans. If only I had kept the camera going! They got the winner about a minute later.
Crystal Palace … which is odd, because they are 45 miles apart. 45 miles, in English soccer, is a long way. So why do they hate each other? It goes back to the 1970s, when their two managers carried on an old rivalry from when they were teammates at Tottenham, and in one season they played each other five times, including a double FA Cup replay that was settled, by all accounts, by a terrible referee decision, which in turn led to a Palace fan throwing coffee on the Brighton manager, who in turn threw some words and hand signals back … you get the idea. It’s been tribal ever since.
What else to do in town:
Brighton is a fantastic place to visit. It’s about an hour by train from Central London (take ThamesLink from London Bridge or the Southern Service from there or Victoria), and it is very much an old school coastal town. Among the things to see:
The famous Brighton Pier
The famous and very weird Royal Pavilion, built as a seaside retreat for the royalty starting in the 18th Century.
The Lanes, a web of narrow streets filled with artisan shops and cafes and cool art
The chocolate paradise called Choccywoccydoodah.
The Brighton Dome, a multi-faceted performing arts center in an iconic building
The British Airways i360, a glass ball that goes 531 feet above the beach … where I screwed up my video. It was a foggy day, anyway, but still. Annoying. I realized it at the top and did this time lapse with my iPhone on the way down:
The nearby, wonderful historic town of Lewes, which actually works well for before the game, as getting from there to the stadium involves fewer people.
Why you should check them out:
Because Brighton is a cool town – an easy day trip from London, but also a very pleasant and worthwhile overnight. The stadium is modern and nice, the team is on the way up, the fans are excited, and there’s a decent chance that starting in the fall of 2017 you’ll be able to see Premier League games there. Of course, that makes tickets a lot harder to get, but that’s the world we live in.
What I have written about them
So far, all I have written about them is the time I saw them play on Boxing Day 2015 at Brentford.
Other “Get to Know” Features:
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