As far as memorable seasons go, the 2010/11 campaign one is right up there for Albion fans. Not only was it the club’s last season at Withdean before the hugely-anticipated move to the Amex Stadium, it was also one that would end with silverware – the League One title to be precise.
The Theatre of Trees couldn’t have wished for a better send-off but even before the season got underway there was a sense that a promotion push was in the offing.
“We had assembled a good group of players and we’d only lost a couple of our last dozen games the previous season,” recalls left-back Marcos, who had put pen to paper that summer following a successful loan spell from Swansea City.
“We knew the Amex Stadium would be ready by the start of the following season and that we wanted to be going there as a Championship club so that was an added incentive for us all, definitely.”
Not that it would be an easy task by any means, with the likes of Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic all sharing similar ambitions. While an opening-day 2-1 win at Swindon Town provided the perfect start, the first real test came at Hillsborough, ending in a 1-0 defeat. It would, however, be the side’s only loss until Hartlepool in mid-November, and Painter sensed a real belief growing as the weeks went on.
“I just remember us going into every game with the confidence that we would win,” he recalls. “Even if we went behind it didn’t faze us as we knew we had the players and the desire to get the three points.
“You take it for granted at the time but it was only when I left did I realise just how good that group of players were, with the likes of Glenn Murray, Elliott Bennett, Tommy Elphick, Ashley Barnes, Liam Bridcutt and Chris Wood all going on to play at the highest level.”
There were plenty of highlights along the way, with a 4-0 win at the Charlton in October laying down a real marker that the side were in it for the long haul. A hard-fought Tuesday night draw at Southampton the following month also showed Albion’s mettle, but it was games against some of the division’s lesser lights which Painter also recalls vividly.
“I remember going down to Exeter City, which was always a difficult place to play, and we went a goal behind early on,” he said of the 2-1 win in early January. “But, like I said, we knew we could get back in the game and we went on to win it thanks to a 90th minute winner from Ashley Barnes.
“Another game that stands out was the 4-3 win at Withdean against Carlisle [in early March] when they equalised in injury-time, only for Liam Bridcutt to score with the last kick of the game – the scenes were incredible!
“Then of course there was the promotion-clinching night against Dagenham & Redbridge [Albion winning 4-3]. The celebrations were brilliant in the changing room afterwards and went on long into the night. You don’t savour those moments enough and it’s only when you look back that you realise what an achievement it was.”
Albion clinched the title in the very next game, a 3-1 win at Walsall and, to cap a perfect ending, the trophy celebrations were held following the final game at Withdean against Huddersfield Town. It was a case of history repeating itself for Marcos, who had also lifted the same trophy at the same stadium with the Swans.
“It’s funny how things work out,” he smiles. “I’ve got pictures of me standing on the podium and lifting the trophy in front of the Swansea fans, and then doing the same in front of the Albion fans three years later. I loved playing at Withdean and those fans on the open seating would always make a noise, especially in the night games.
“It was a lot different to the Liberty Stadium or St Andrew’s [Birmingham City were Painter’s first club] but it was unique and the club obviously had a lot of good times there. For us, it was a season to remember and a summer of anticipation as we got ready for life at the Amex.”
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Painter went on to make 22 appearances during the club’s debut campaign at their new home and the opening two fixtures remain the most vivid for the former left-back.
“It was great to walk out there for the first time in that friendly against Tottenham,” he recalls. “It was emotional for everybody who had been on the journey, especially the fans.
“It was a big occasion, so was the opening league game against Doncaster. You just knew you were part of something special, that you were making history, and I’ll never forget the crowds that day with the flags and, of course, we had a perfect end to a perfect day.”
Sadly, the injuries began to mount up for Marcos, who made just five appearances the following campaign. Departing for League Two Portsmouth in the summer of 2013, he would remain a regular at Fratton Park until February, where a 5- defeat to Scunthorpe would be his last appearance as a professional footballer.
“My problems started when we played Coventry in the November of that first Amex season,” he recalls. “I pulled up early with a hamstring injury and it was the start of a spell when I just couldn’t stay fully fit. I’d suffer with thigh and muscle strains and, although I’d be playing, I was struggling to get through 90 minutes on a regular basis. It was frustrating but I only played three more games that season.
“I always gave 100 per cent but you’re no good to a manager if he can’t rely on you and the following season we brought in Wayne Bridge. When I did get back in the side, I played three games then felt my calf go at Bristol City. You then start doubting yourself even more. I was out for a further three months, and things were only heading in one direction, sadly.
“I knew I could still play in League Two and Portsmouth was a great club with great support, but unfortunately the same problems occurred and I had a decision to make eventually.
“It was sad moment but I could look back on a career where I’d played Premier League football with my home town club Birmingham and been part of special times at Swansea and Brighton.
“It’s nice to think that I played my part in Brighton’s rise to where they are now and I get a great sense of pride in that. They were great times and great memories!”