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Pride in the shirt: 1998/99 with Kerry Mayo

Not a shirt or a period in Albion’s history that will go down as remotely memorable, the 1998/99 season saw the club spend a second season ground-sharing with Gillingham, ahead of a move back to Sussex in the summer of 1999.

By Kieran Cleeves • 08 September 2019

By Paul Hazlewood
The home shirt Albion wore for the 1998/99 campaign at Priestfield

The club’s supporters had to endure another campaign of 150-mile round trips to watch their beloved team over the border in Kent.

Despite this, and after losing the opening two matches of the season on the road [actual away games], Albion went unbeaten in their first three league matches at Priestfield that season, taking seven points off Chester City, Torquay United and Swansea City respectively.

But the difficulties of playing home matches far from home and in front of sparse crowds began to show as the season progressed. Albion lost their next four Priestfield games, including three consecutive 3-1 defeats, and as Kerry Mayo recalls, it was a testing time for the club’s players, staff and supporters.

“Playing our games at Priestfield was really tough,” recalls the popular full-back. “The club started putting a coach on and a pre-match meal in Rochester, but it literally felt like every game was an away fixture. They stopped that after about two or three ‘home’ games and promoted car sharing instead.

By Bennett Dean
Albion in action against Barnet at Priestfield in 1999.

“The opposition would have been staying down the night before, in a hotel with a pre-match meal and everything. They wouldn’t have to drive 75 miles to then get out the car and play a game of football.

“But we were professional; we knew the situation, the job in hand, who the opposition were, their strengths and weaknesses. We worked on our game plan throughout the week and just focused on the match come Saturday.

“We finished 17th that season and kept our Football League status before returning back to Brighton, but without a shadow of a doubt, that season certainly had more lows than highs.”

The Seagulls found themselves in 12th position on Christmas Day, but manager Brian Horton left the club in January, leaving Jeff Wood, who was his assistant, to take charge until the end of the season – but it didn’t quite work out that way, after taking just one point from ten league matches between February and April.

Micky Adams arrived from Nottingham Forest to replace Wood, and Albion limped over the finish line ahead of the move to Withdean. Mayo, who grew up an Albion supporter, sympathised with how the club’s supporters must have felt during a difficult season both on and off the pitch.

By Bennett Dean
Goalmouth action at Priestfield

“I used to go to games at the Goldstone before I became a professional,” he added. “But to be totally honest with you, as much of a committed fan as I am and was, I don’t think I would have travelled to Gillingham too many times, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t have boycotted the games, but I would have been reluctant to drive a 150-mile round trip to watch Brighton play in the lowest division.

“It wasn’t an enjoyable season by any means, fans coming a long way for home games. Obviously when we got a result, it was a nice journey home for them, but if we lost, it was one hell of a journey to get back – it would have been miserable.

“You have to take your hat off to the fans, they were absolutely fantastic. Fair play to them for having the desire and commitment to come and support a club that wasn’t doing particularly well in the league or financially.

“You look back now and it makes you realise just how dark those days were. What we’ve achieved between then and now is nothing short of a miracle. If it wasn’t for the supporters, the club wouldn’t be where it is now.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Albion fans celebrate the club's return to Sussex

The season couldn’t end quick enough, with the move to Withdean. Yes, it was an athletics stadium with no roof, with temporary stands and seats that were removed every summer, but it was somewhere to call home again, at least for a while [12 seasons!].

“It was nice to come back home, there was a buzz around Brighton & Hove again,” Mayo continued. “The club was on the way up again, even though it was a temporary ground, but we were in talks about Falmer and it was an exciting time for everyone.

“We’d gone through the dark days and come through it together, and it showed the strength and unity of the community and everyone involved with the club. If you pull together, you’re going to get results, and that’s exactly what we did.”

*Shirt provided by www.oldfootballshirts.com

Check out numerous Pride in the Shirt feature interviews throughout the season in our matchday programme, priced at £3.50.

Click here to purchase any home programme from the season so far.

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