A Knight to the rescue

A Knight to the rescue

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.