In this book, journalist and Brighton & Hove Albion fan Nick Szczepanik tells the story of two seasons: 2015-16, which ended with Brighton missing out on promotion to the Premier League on goal difference, then failing in the play-offs; and 2016-17, which saw them secure promotion to the top flight for only the second time in their history.
To fully appreciate the Albion’s recent success one needs knowledge of the struggles that preceded it, but these stories have already been well told in books by Paul Hodson and Stephen North (Build A Bonfire and We Want Falmer!) and former chairman Dick Knight’s autobiography Mad Man. Brighton Up never quite hits the same raw emotional triggers as these works, as Szczepanik offers a straightforward narrative of the two seasons, with only sporadic deviations into the background, and the book is not necessarily going to tell Brighton supporters much they did not already know.
The main insights gained are, first, how hard the club fought to keep together the squad that just missed out in 2015-16, turning down multiple bids for players such as Lewis Dunk, Anthony Knockaert and Dale Stephens. Second, the value of the £30 million training complex at Lancing, one of the best in the country, which the book frequently cites as a key factor in allowing the Seagulls to attract players of the quality needed to secure promotion.
Szczepanik recounts how player recruitment at Brighton is driven by the aim of building a unified squad rather than pursuing marquee signings, and this theme of togetherness runs through the book, and indeed the club. Brighton remain locally owned, with chairman Tony Bloom representing the third generation of his family on the Albion board, and links between club and community are strong. The book is dedicated to fans who led the campaign to drag Albion out of the 1990s mire and see the Amex built, but who died before promotion was achieved.
Chapter two recounts the tragic Shoreham airshow crash on a matchday in August 2015 which took 11 lives, including Albion groundsman Matt Grimstone, the disaster becoming a locus of club/community interaction. The triumph of 2016-17 is one that can be as much credited to work off the pitch as on it.
The final pages are inevitably deflated by the Albion’s surrender of the Championship title to Newcastle after gaining only one point from the last three games. And books like this come with a risk of pathos, if the team struggle in the higher division. At the time of writing, Albion sit 16th in the Premier League after a satisfactory start to 2017-18. So Szczepanik, and sources quoted in the final chapter, seem correct in saying that despite the disappointment of finishing second, this was ultimately irrelevant to the bigger story.
Like Huddersfield, also successful in 2016-17, it is hard to find much to resent about Brighton’s promotion and they deserve a tilt at the top flight. Brighton Up is a worthy record of two remarkable seasons for Sussex’s premier football club.