Two decades after Brighton & Hove Albion had to leave the old Goldstone Ground and nearly dropped out of the football league, the club is going up to the Premier League. It’s a wonderful story of redemption and a symbol of hope for other clubs on the brink.
I first went to the Goldstone Ground in the 1990-91 season. Brighton & Hove Albion was in the second tier of English football and in competition for promotion to the top flight.
I went to a midweek FA Cup replay against the last champion Liverpool team with Steve McMahon scoring the winner in extra time. I was just five metres from John Barnes as he took a corner. It was both marvelous and surreal: This great Liverpool side playing champagne football in this concrete and rusting iron shed battered by the cruel Atlantic winds.
I was at Wembley for the play-off defeat to Notts County that season too. So near and yet so far.
After that, it all went south. The Goldstone – the club’s home since 1902 and, interestingly, where David Beckham made his professional debut in a 1992 League Cup tie – was sold in 1997 and is now a retail park. I last went in the mid-90s when the club was sponsored by Sandtex and I think it cost a fiver to stand. I can’t remember whom they were playing.
Via nomadic stints at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium, more than 70 miles from Brighton, and the tiny Withdean Stadium (capacity 8,800), the club finally got its much-debated Falmer ground and the wonderful Amex was opened in summer 2011.
With a capacity of just over 30,000 the stadium has already hosted a Rugby World Cup fixture (that Japan win versus the Springboks) and England women’s internationals. It’s ready for the Premier League and holds more than many top flight grounds, including Bournemouth, Stoke City and – whisper it – Crystal Palace.
Seagulls in the Premier League means the return of one of English football’s least likely rivalries, the “M23 Derby”. Yes, Brighton v Palace is quite a big deal.
Brighton’s promotion to the Premier League means the club is in the top flight after an absence of 34 years. It has only ever been in the top division for four seasons previously, all in the late ’70s, early ’80s, so hopefully the platform is there to make a longer stint of it.
Brighton fans are great; they create a Bundesliga-like atmosphere at the Amex and travel in good numbers. For a city of nearly 300,000 people plus the surrounding areas it deserves a club of Premier League status. Visiting fans will relish an away day on the south coast’s main party town too.
I’m elated that Brighton & Hove Albion is back in the top flight. It’s a wonderful story and I will try to improve on the three matches a season I get to catch home or away.
For the likes of Charlton Athletic – who know what it’s like to lose and regain a home – and other struggling clubs like Leyton Orient, there is hope, and the Brighton & Hove Albion story is the proof.