22 September ~ It is to the credit of the Brighton regime – manager Gus Poyet and chairman Tony Bloom – that it revives memories of the Alan Mullery/Mike Bamber partnership that gave the Albion their only spell in English football’s top division. In the late 1970s Brighton rose from Division Three to Division One, and lasted four seasons among the elite. The 1983 FA Cup final became the club’s one major contribution to football mythology. To regain this status, Bloom has made three major investments. First, Poyet himself, who is quite clearly one of the best up-and-coming managers in the game.
Second, and most dramatically, the excellent Amex Stadium. But we shouldn’t underestimate the significant size of the third principal investment, that which has been made in the playing staff. Before this summer, the Albion’s record for a transfer fee paid had been set in 1982, for Andy Ritchie. It was broken for Will Buckley from Watford, Brighton’s first million-pound player, but that record only lasted a couple of weeks before last season’s League One top scorer, Craig Mackail-Smith, was bought from Peterborough for a fee said to be ultimately worth upward of £3m.
You have to say that everyone, players and fans, have settled in pretty well. The Albion sit third in the table, having topped it until last week’s defeat against Leicester. Premier League Sunderland have been defeated at the Amex, and last night, after a torrid first half-hour, the Seagulls acquitted themselves well against a strong, and impressively committed, Liverpool side.
Therein, however, lies a potential random factor: tomorrow night’s game against Leeds is Brighton’s second in 48 hours. The club, plausibly, claim that Sky’s money will pay a player’s annual wages. More importantly, and less cynically, there is a great sense of occasion around the Albion once more. Two home games, sell-outs, against big-name opposition (with arch-rivals Crystal Palace still to come in the next home game) – it has not been since the 1980s that we have been the centre of media attention.
Could Brighton go up this season? Yes, but then again so could Leeds. And as recent years have proved, so could Burnley, Blackpool, Hull or someone else – Southampton, for instance. Should they go up? Risking the disapproval of fellow Seagulls, probably not this year. But soon: why not? The Amex is a potential Premier League ground and the Sussex fans would welcome it just as they did under Alan Mullery. Drew Whitworth