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.