Here is a summary of Brighton & Hove Albion's club history, told by club historian Tim Carder. To learn more about the club's rise to the Premier League, visit the Albion Museum at the Amex Stadium - CLICK HERE to buy your tickets.
Brighton and Hove are twin towns, now combined as one city, on the South Coast of England in the county of Sussex, and are well known as tourist destinations.
Professional football in the area was the brainchild of Edgar Everest, a Sussex Football Association official who founded Brighton United in 1897. Playing at the Sussex County Cricket Ground, the club collapsed in 1900. A high-class amateur side, Brighton & Hove Rangers, was formed in its wake but also folded after just one year.
But the will to provide the towns with a successful club was already strong. The former manager of Brighton United, John Jackson, was the driving-force behind a third club, Brighton & Hove United, which was formed as a semi-professional outfit on 24 June 1901 at the Seven Stars, a pub in Ship Street. The new concern changed its name to Brighton & Hove Albion before a ball was kicked because of objections from Hove FC.
Quite why “Albion” was chosen as the new suffix is not known. West Bromwich Albion certainly set a good precedent, but there are no known connections between the two clubs at the time.
Albion’s first season, 1901/02, saw them play at the County Cricket Ground in Hove, in the Second Division of the Southern League (which was then a rival to the Football League as the top league in England). However, the best football ground in the area was the Goldstone Ground, the home of amateur side Hove FC. They could not afford the rent on their own, so they invited Albion to share the ground from 1902. The arrangement lasted for two years before Hove departed, leaving Albion to lease the ground themselves. In 1930 they purchased the Goldstone outright, and remained there until 1997.
In 1903, Albion won the Second Division of the Southern League alongside Fulham, and earned promotion to the First Division with a play-off win over Watford. After one year in the higher grade the club converted to a limited company, and introduced a new playing strip in place of the all-blue shirts: blue and white stripes, which became Albion’s traditional colours. (However, all-blue, blue with white sleeves, and even all-white strips have also been worn in some seasons).
Seven years after making their First Division debut, Albion won the Southern League title in 1910. Guided by manager John Robson, the team secured first place with a home win over their only rivals, Swindon Town, on 23 April, a triumph that was marked with the now-traditional pitch invasion by supporters at the final whistle.
Securing the Southern League title also earned Albion a match against Aston Villa, the Football League champions, for the FA Charity Shield (now the Community Shield). Winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC) with a goal from Irish international Charlie Webb, Albion were dubbed “Champions of England”.
Around this time supporters began to adopt, and adapt, a popular song of the day, Sussex by the Sea, as their own. A rousing march written by William Ward-Higgs, it remains the club’s traditional theme song to this day – played as the team runs out, and sung with gusto by fans.
It was also sung in the lanes of France and Flanders by British soldiers during the First World War. Hostilities broke out in 1914, but a full season was played amid great controversy before professional football was abandoned. Most Albion players joined the Army, and the club closed down in 1915 for four years. Four players including long-serving goalkeeper Bob Whiting, plus the groundsman and many supporters, lost their lives in the conflict.
When the war ended, the Goldstone Ground was restored and normal football began again in 1919. However, 1919/20 was the last season of the Southern League in its prime form, and the First Division clubs were taken on by the Football League to form a Third Division (South) in 1920.
It took Albion 38 years to win the section and secure the one promotion berth available. Much of the interest between the wars was therefore reserved for the FA Cup. The club became renowned giant-killers, defeating First Division sides Oldham Athletic, Sheffield United, Everton and Chelsea in front of large crowds at the Goldstone Ground; and winning away at Grimsby Town, Portsmouth and Leicester City. A 1933 cup game against West Ham United brought 32,310 spectators to the Goldstone, a record that lasted 25 years.
Albion kept playing throughout the Second World War and never failed to fulfil a fixture, but it was a struggle to survive. The directors of the nearby greyhound track took control of the club in 1940 to stave off financial ruin, while the German Luftwaffe did its best to disrupt proceedings. Three games at the Goldstone Ground were abandoned because of air-raid warnings, and the North Stand was bombed in August 1942 (but no one was hurt).
Under the wartime regulations, Charlie Webb, who was manager from 1919 until 1947, called upon players of other clubs serving with the Army in the area, and even had to draft soldiers from the crowd on occasion to complete an eleven.
The resumption of normal football after the war saw attendances escalate to unprecedented numbers. In 1947/48, Albion finished bottom of the Football League for the only time and had to be voted back into the competition by their fellow members, but the average gate was over 11,000, a record. The following season it rose to more than 17,000.
Throughout the 1950s the club played attacking football, attracted big crowds, and made several bids for promotion under manager Billy Lane. In 1955/56 they won 29 league games, scoring 112 goals, but could still only finish second to Leyton Orient.
The breakthrough finally came in 1957/58 when Albion needed a draw in the last game of the season to finish as champions. A 20-year-old reserve forward, Adrian Thorne, scored five times as the team thrashed Watford 6-0 at the Goldstone to ascend to the Second Division (now the Championship) for the first time.
Their debut in the higher grade came at Middlesbrough – and they lost 9-0! However, the team slowly recovered and finished the season twelfth of twenty-two clubs. The average gate soared to more than 22,000. On 27 December 1958 the largest home crowd in Albion history, 36,747, packed into the Goldstone Ground for the visit of Fulham.
But the place in Division Two could not be sustained. In 1962 the club finished bottom – and then fell straight through the Third Division (now League 1) and into the Fourth (now League 2).
Albion and their supporters needed inspiration, and found it in the form of Bobby Smith, the Tottenham Hotspur and former England centre-forward who signed in 1964. His presence brought in thousands of extra supporters, and the gates averaged almost 18,000. A 3-1 win over Darlington in April 1965 in front of more than 31,000 fans secured the Fourth Division title, the team scoring 102 goals in the process.
The club then spent seven years in the Third Division before securing promotion to Division Two for a second time in 1972, finishing runners-up to Aston Villa, but the adventure was soon over and they were relegated after just one season. It seemed as though the club was destined forever to be Third Division “also-rans”.
In 1973, however, the new chairman, Mike Bamber, signalled his ambition for the club when he secured Brian Clough as manager. The appointment of one of the most prominent figures in football thrust Albion into the spotlight – which was awkward as they lost 4-0 at home to amateurs Walton & Hersham in the FA Cup and then 8-2 to Bristol Rovers! Clough didn’t stay long, but his former assistant, Peter Taylor, assembled a good side including inspirational captain Brian Horton and a new young star in striker Peter Ward.
In this period there also began a great rivalry with Crystal Palace who, although some 40 miles away, were Albion’s nearest league neighbours. Having not faced each other for some time, the pair’s fortunes now coincided for several years, and a number of controversial clashes stoked the increasing rivalry.
Indeed, it was Palace’s nickname of “Eagles” that prompted Albion fans to retort with a chant of “Seagulls!” The new nickname took off at a game between the two in February 1976 when more than 33,000 fans crammed into the Goldstone Ground to see Albion win 2-0, and has been in popular use ever since.
In 1976, Taylor resigned and was replaced by Alan Mullery, who took the team to promotion in his first campaign thanks largely to the 36 goals of Peter Ward, a club record for one season. But this time, rather than fight for Second Division survival, Albion challenged for a second promotion and bought impressive new players like Mark Lawrenson for more than £110,000. The average gate rose to more than 25,000 as fans flocked to the Goldstone to witness the attempt, but Albion were denied on goal difference by Spurs on the last day of the season.
Mullery and his team renewed their efforts in 1978/79 though, and secured a place in the First Division (now the Premier League) on 5 May 1979 with a 3-1 win in their final game, away to Newcastle United – a momentous day in the club’s history that was celebrated wildly on the 350-mile trip home.
After a summer of expectation, the first match in the top flight, a home game against Arsenal, was lost 4-0. Albion looked out of their depth and fell to the bottom of the table. But then a win at Nottingham Forest, the champions of Europe, in November 1979 restored confidence, and they went on to finish four places clear of relegation.
A year later the team struggled throughout, but won its last four games to avert relegation on the last day. In 1981/82, under manager Mike Bailey, they finally made an impact at the other end of the First Division table and challenged for a UEFA Cup place for a time before falling away to finish thirteenth. Playing highly defensive football, they gained victories at the likes of Liverpool, Southampton and Spurs.
However, the team made a poor start to the 1982/83 season and were soon in trouble. Bailey was replaced by Jimmy Melia, but the side went from bad to worse and were relegated after four seasons at the top table.
While league form fell apart under Melia, Albion made it to the FA Cup final in 1983. Beating Newcastle United and Manchester City, Albion then won 2-1 away at Liverpool – one of their greatest performances ever – thanks to goals from Gerry Ryan and Jimmy Case, to reach the last eight for the first time. Case then scored the only goal to defeat Norwich City and set up a semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Arsenal’s old stadium at Highbury.
Now Case hit a thunderbolt from 35 yards, and Michael Robinson netted from close range to give Albion a 2-1 win and earn a final against Manchester United at Wembley.
On 21 May 1983, Albion hoped to become the first relegated side to win the cup in the same season. Despite taking the lead through Gordon Smith, they went 2-1 down in the second half. With only a few minutes remaining, Gary Stevens equalised to force extra time. In the 120th minute there was a great opportunity for Albion to score the winner. “And Smith must score,” declared the radio commentator, but the shot was saved and the game ended immediately thereafter at two goals apiece.
The teams returned to Wembley for a replay five days later. This time United won easily, by four goals to nil. Nevertheless, the 30,000 Albion supporters present, so proud of their team, sang their hearts out for their heroes.
Now back in the Second Division, Albion came close to securing promotion back to Division One in 1985, but were then relegated to the Third Division two years later. Under manager Barry Lloyd they came straight back, thanks largely to the 32 goals of Garry Nelson, but struggled for a couple of seasons before rather unexpectedly securing a place in the 1991 play-offs. After defeating Millwall over two legs, the Wembley final was lost 3-1 to Notts County and the dream of a return to the top flight was dashed once more.
Relegation followed a year later, and the club was beset with financial problems as years of spending beyond its means finally took their toll. Six times Albion had to fend off winding-up petitions in the High Court, with only the sale of goalkeeper Mark Beeney to Leeds United in April 1993 averting closure as the fee received was quickly passed on to the Inland Revenue.
A boardroom takeover in 1993 provided some breathing space, while new manager Liam Brady was a popular appointment. The long-term solution was seen in the provision of a new multi-purpose stadium to provide greater income than the ramshackle Goldstone Ground could hope to generate – but there was no obvious or agreed site for such a project. In the meantime supporters were asked to help secure planning permission for retail warehouses on the Goldstone site to increase the club’s borrowing power – and they were assured that there would be no sale of the ground until an acceptable alternative was available.
But in 1995 the board of directors did sell the Goldstone Ground, despite having nothing to offer but a groundshare at Portsmouth nearly 50 miles away. That sale was exposed by supporters, along with changes to the club’s constitution that did nothing to reassure them that those in charge had Albion’s best interests at heart. Feeling utterly betrayed and desperate to secure a future for their club, the fans waged a bitter struggle against entrenched directors.
In April 1996 the board looked set to reject the offer of one extra season at the Goldstone from the ground’s new owners. Angry supporters, at the end of their tether, invaded the pitch in what was believed to be the final game at the ground, against York City, causing it to be abandoned. Three days later, just minutes before the deadline expired, the board announced that it would accept the offer of another year.
Now a new hero appeared on the scene. Liam Brady, who had resigned as manager, persuaded a local Albion-supporting businessman, Dick Knight, to challenge the board for control of the club – and Knight had the determination and financial clout to make the difference.
Desperate to see a change in the boardroom, supporters began a year-long campaign to have Knight’s popular consortium take control of their club. There were marches through Brighton, Hove, London and Lancashire (where the chairman, Bill Archer, lived). There was a petition to the Football Association, match boycotts and walk-outs. There was another pitch invasion (which cost the club two points). And there was a wonderful “Fans United” day on 8 February 1997 when supporters of other clubs flocked to the soon-to-be-closed Goldstone Ground to give their backing to the Albion fans in their plight.
On that memorable day Albion thumped Hartlepool United 5-0, a result which reinvigorated the team and its supporters. Amid the chaos, Albion had been relegated to the lowest tier of the Football League in 1996, and were a long way adrift at the bottom of the table throughout most of 1996/97 – not helped by that two-point deduction. A new manager, Steve Gritt, brought organisation and confidence back to the team. With supporters also sensing a revival – especially with that 5-0 result – they cheered their side on to catch the other teams in an attempt to avoid relegation from the Football League.
On 26 April 1997, the last-ever game was played at the Goldstone Ground. Stuart Storer scored the only goal against Doncaster Rovers to lift Albion off the bottom of the table for the first time in seven months thanks to a better goals-scored record than Hereford United. As fate would have it, the final game of the season was away at Hereford – and Albion needed a draw to stay in the Football League and send their opponents down instead.
Hereford took the lead in the first half, leaving Albion’s travelling fans staring into the abyss. With no place in the Football League and only a groundsharing option with Gillingham on the cards, the future of the club was anything but certain. But a second-half goal from Robbie Reinelt – perhaps the single most important strike in the club’s history – secured the draw needed at the expense of the host club. Survival was celebrated like a title-winning triumph.
In the week before the last Goldstone game an agreement was reached between Dick Knight and Bill Archer for control of the club thanks to professional mediators brought in by the Football Association. Knight and his colleagues had taken their seats in the directors’ box for the match, but in fact the deal wasn’t legally enacted until September 1997.
By then the Goldstone Ground had been demolished, and Albion had survived a vote to expel them from the Football League. Now the team was playing games 75 miles away at Gillingham where the crowds were pitifully small, averaging just 2,300 in 1997/98. The performances were terrible, far worse than in 1996/97, and only three “home” games were won; but Doncaster were even worse and occupied the one relegation place to preserve the Albion’s Football League status once more.
The 1998/99 season was better, but the priority was to get the club back to Brighton if it was to survive. A fans’ campaign to “Bring Home the Albion” supported an application to use Withdean Stadium – primarily an athletics track – as a temporary home pending the construction of a new stadium in the Brighton area. The campaign succeeded despite some local opposition, and Albion moved into Withdean in 1999, thrashing Mansfield Town 6-0 in the first league game there.
Withdean had severe limitations. There was only one small roof to keep spectators dry, so most fans sat in temporary stands beyond the running track, exposed to the elements. The initial capacity was just 6,000, but additional seating was provided over the years and the highest gate recorded was 8,729 when Manchester City were beaten in the League Cup in September 2008.
It was never a “proper” football ground, but Withdean kept the club alive for twelve years – just as Gillingham had for two years – and it proved to be a pretty successful venue for the Albion. In 2001 (the club’s centenary year) they were Third Division (now League 2) champions, claiming their first title for 36 years, and followed it by winning the Second Division (now League 1) the following year. Key to the success was the form of Bobby Zamora, a young striker who hit 63 goals in those two seasons.
Relegation followed straight away as Albion struggled against clubs with much greater budgets. But they bounced straight back to the Championship via the play-offs, beating Bristol City 1-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2004. And this time they survived at the higher level on the last day of the 2004/05 season before being relegated again in 2006.
While Withdean provided breathing space, all efforts were concentrated on a site on the edge of Brighton at Falmer that the club – and the local council – identified as the best for a new stadium, given its ready access to public transport and its partly-developed nature. Masterminded by chief executive Martin Perry, the plans would give the club a bright future, but first permission had to be secured from the city council and then, because of the sensitive nature of the site, from the Government.
Once again, the club’s supporters undertook a lengthy campaign to back the plans and win over the politicians. In May 1999 they secured a 68% vote in favour at a local referendum, and followed it with a 61,000-signature petition and some intense lobbying.
The opposition was also determined though, and a public inquiry lasting many months was held, but the results were inconclusive. However, a second inquiry concluded that Falmer was the only viable location for a stadium in the area, and the Government decided that the development was in the public interest because of its social and economic benefits for the more deprived areas of Brighton.
A flaw in the process delayed the final permission until 2007 – ten years after the site was first identified. Now came the task of funding the construction. Tony Bloom, a long-term supporter of the club, stepped up to take over from Dick Knight and provide around £100 million for the new stadium; and then another £30 million or so for a new training complex at Lancing.
In the meantime, Albion nearly fell into League 2, but they rallied to secure their status on the last day of the 2008/09 season. Gus Poyet, the former Uruguayan international, became manager later in 2009 and introduced a new style of possession-based football that took League 1 by storm in 2010/11 to secure Albion’s third title triumph at Withdean.
And so the club moved into the new American Express Community Stadium (“The Amex”) as a Championship side, beating Doncaster Rovers 2-1 in the first league fixture at the new venue on 6 August 2011. Will Buckley, the club’s first million-pound player, scored both goals.
Initially built with a 22,500 capacity, the Amex Stadium was expanded to 30,750 seats in 2013 as Albion reached the play-offs, only to lose out to their fierce rivals Crystal Palace.
Poyet left the club acrimoniously in the wake of that play-off defeat and was replaced by Spaniard Oscar Garcia. Again, the club reached the play-offs but lost out in the semi-finals, this time to Derby County.
After half a season of struggle under Sami Hyypia, Chris Hughton was appointed manager right at the end of 2014 and proceeded to stabilise the club. In 2015/16, Hughton’s side challenged at the right end of the Championship table once more, establishing a club-record 22-match unbeaten run in the league in the process. In a three-way battle with Burnley and Middlesbrough for the two automatic promotion places, Albion travelled to Middlesbrough on the last day of the season needing to win to go up, but could only draw. Perhaps drained by that effort, they then lost out to Sheffield Wednesday in the play-offs.
But, just like 1978/79, Hughton and his team renewed their efforts in the 2016/17 season and, in tandem with Newcastle United, dominated the Championship campaign. Promotion to the Premier League was sealed on Easter Monday, 17 April, amid scenes of unbridled joy from the supporters, the players, the directors and the staff. The average number of tickets sold per match was 27,995, an unprecedented figure.
Albion thus return to the top flight 34 years after they last played in it. Those three decades and more have seen the club plunge to unprecedented depths, but the determination of the club’s supporters – on the terraces, in the seats and in the boardroom – to see it survive and thrive has shone through. There are very few, if any, clubs in England where the bond between the supporters and their club – forged in the most adverse of circumstances – is as strong as at Brighton & Hove Albion. This was shown when over 100,000 supporters flocked to Brighton seafront for the club's open-top bus parade on Sunday 14th May, which marked a final celebration of the club's promotion to the Premier League.
With a superb stadium (voted the best new stadium in the world in 2012), a world-class training facility, a multi-award-winning charitable arm (“Albion in the Community”), and exceptional club and team management, the future looks bright. No one knows what it will bring – but we know it won’t be for the want of trying.