There would be plenty of bumps in the road, with the club’s status only secured on the final day of the season against Ipswich Town, but there were 13 league wins along the way – the most eye-catching being a 1-0 victory at promotion-chasing West Ham.
The Hammers, under Alan Pardew, boasted the likes of Don Hutchison, Steve Lomas, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Sergei Rebrov and a certain Bobby Zamora that afternoon, yet came up against an Albion wall ably marshalled by Guy Butters and Danny Cullip, likewise Michel Kuipers between the posts.
A more one-sided game you’d find hard to recall, as the Seagulls withstood wave after wave of attacks, to the point where heroism turned to humour as the game reached its final stages.
“It was like the Alamo, they were absolutely battering us,” smiles ‘Butts’. “I remember when the ball went out for a corner, after yet another chance for them, a few us were just giggling about it.
“We were a Dad’s Army outfit and they were all over us. I remember on the day that a few players didn’t feel well either and Danny Cullip actually threw up in the dressing room prior to kick-off, so how we were still in the game I’ll never know!”
Harewood and Etherington came closest to breaking the deadlock for the hosts but with 68 minutes on the clock, Albion launched a rare foray forward down the left flank.
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“If we were going to score, it was going to be from a set piece,” Guy adds. “We had Steve Claridge on loan – who was probably about 63 at the time! – and I remember Chippy [Richard Carpenter] played a short free-kick into him. Claridge played it back and then the ball’s been whipped into the box. I remember re-adjusting my run to free up space to attack the ball. I hung above the defender’s head and thought, ‘I’ve got this!’
“When it hit the back of the net the Albion fans erupted behind the goal, it was just unreal. I just remember running towards them as we all lost our heads for a few seconds – one of those magic moments.
“The realisation soon set in that we had more than 20 minutes left and that helped refocus the minds quickly. West Ham had so many quality players and I think they had four or five strikers on at the end, but we somehow weathered the storm.
“It was one of those games where you come into the dressing room afterwards and just can’t put into words how you feel. We all just sat down and started laughing – what else could we do! We couldn't believe that we’d won and neither could my dad. He’s a West Ham fan, so I think he felt like he’d lost a tenner but found a fiver, it was one of those days.”
Albion’s 1-1 draw on the final day at Withdean saw the side finish in 20th place, bringing the curtain down on what was a successful season, given the budgets of many other teams in the division.
“We were not the most technically gifted side in the league but the spirit was magnificent,” Butters points out. “It was like the old Wimbledon ‘Crazy Gang’ with this never-say-die attitude and plenty of banter around.
“I remember Bob Booker was a big part of that, a constant presence despite managers changing, and he was a great link between management and players. He knew when it was time to make us work but was also a great laugh.
“The banter in that dressing room was different class and there was no hiding place for anyone. I have so many stories down the years which are definitely unprintable! The best way to describe my Albion career is that it was like having a PE lesson for a few years. It was hard work but there were some great laughs.”
While he started out Tottenham Hotspur and had extended spells at Portsmouth and Gillingham, Butters’ heart remained with the Albion, and having brought the curtain down on a six-year playing career on the south coast, he quickly rekindled his association by working for Albion in the Community alongside Cullip.
“To work for Albion in the Community is a great honour and it’s absolutely fantastic to see what the charity does for the area,” he states. “Me and Danny Cullip work well as a team, both on and off the pitch. We’ve got the same morals and ideas and believe there’s a certain way of doing things and treating people.
“I like meeting people, talking to people and hearing their stories. Being on the ground and seeing the results of all the fundraising and where the money goes, it’s tremendous. The charity works with more than 40,000 people each year and I’m chuffed to be a tiny part of the success. Long may that continue."