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.