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Albion Rewind: Navarro played his part in a new era

After years of campaigning, Albion finally moved into the American Express Community Stadium in the summer of 2011 and they did so as a newly- promoted Championship club.

By Luke Nicoli • 17 May 2020

By Paul Hazlewood
Alan Navarro in action against Ipswich during the 2011/12 season.

There was, naturally, a real buzz of excitement around the city that summer but for defensive midfielder Alan Navarro, who was just short of reaching a half-century of appearances, it was a fretful time where his involvement in the club’s exciting new beginning was shrouded in doubt.

“I injured my cruciate knee ligament during the final season at Withdean and was out of contract that summer,” he recalls. “I remember we went away to Marbella for a training camp because the league had already been won and while we were out there the gaffer said to me, ‘I need you to get fit, come back for pre-season and hopefully we can sort something out’.

“But he also said to me: ‘This isn’t a charity, I want you back fit and ready to work’. The injury was a kick in the teeth because I knew there was no way of getting another club at my age after being out for nearly all of the season with such an injury. But I was determined to get back into the squad and I got my head down that pre-season and things worked out for me.”

After Tottenham Hotspur visited for the stadium’s official opening, Albion hosted Doncaster Rovers for the opening league game of the season on 6th August. Billy Sharp’s 39th-minute goal for the visitors subdued the party atmosphere that day and with the clock ticking towards full-time nobody was fully prepared for the events that followed as Albion stormed back to win 2-1 in the eighth minute of stoppage time.

Summer signing from Watford, Will Buckley, came on with 15 minutes remaining to grab both goals and Navarro, who was also on the bench that day, admits the winger got the side out of jail.

By Paul Hazlewood
Will Buckley celebrates his late winner against Doncaster Rovers.

“For 80 minutes we were rubbish, absolutely rubbish!” he reflects. “But what happened towards the end was just an unbelievable experience. When ‘Bucko’ came on he changed the game completely. That ten minutes at the end, with the two goals, was just amazing. It was something none of us – players, fans or staff – who were there, will ever forget.”

After a number of substitute appearances, Navarro made his first Championship start of the season at Ipswich Town in October and it proved to be a pivotal month as he went on to make 38 league appearances that season.

“Gary Dicker broke his leg against West Ham at home and that helped me,” he recalls. “He’s a good friend and obviously I would never have wished that on him, but it meant I got more opportunities. It happened the season before when I got injured – it provided opportunities for other players. That’s the way football works.”

While Doncaster will always provide the most evocative memory of the Amex’s first season, there were other stand-out games including the 1-0 home defeat against Eddie Howe’s Burnley, in which Romain Vincelot and Ashley Barnes were sent off inside the opening 12 minutes.

“We were just defending, the crowd kept us going and we nearly snatched an equaliser,” Navs remembers. “While we lost the game it actually felt like a win given the shift we’d put in with nine men against a good team. We were unlucky not to get at least a point and that said so much about the team spirit we had at the time.

By Paul Hazlewood
A special atmosphere greeted the players when the Amex hosted its first Championship game against Doncaster Rovers

“Another game that stands out was Sunderland [a 1-0 win against Premier League opposition in the Carling Cup]. We battered them and deserved to go through.”

Despite reaching top spot in the table after taking 16 points from the opening five matches of the season, a nine-game winless run saw the Seagulls slip down the table and the side would eventually finish in a respectable tenth position.

As far as the cup competitions went, Albion bowed out of both at the hands of Liverpool – Navarro’s hometown club and the place where he started his
career.

He said, “The FA Cup match at Anfield was a good experience but a shocking defeat [1-6]. The first 15 minutes, Liverpool were just unbelievable. They were so sharp and we couldn’t get near them.

“In the League Cup [1-2 at the Amex], again we just couldn’t get hold of the ball which was new territory for us because we usually dominated possession at home. We started believing in ourselves as the match went on though, and we came off the pitch at the end thinking we could have taken something. It was great to start both games given the opposition. They were up there with the top moments in my career, definitely.”

Navarro left the Seagulls that summer to join Swindon Town, after three years with the club, but injuries continue to blight his progress and he made just 12 league starts for the Robins. Today he runs a life and critical illness company but looks back with pride at his time with the Albion.

“They were great times and I met some great people, great team-mates,” he points out.

“It was a successful time in the club’s history and to be a part of the move to the Amex was fantastic for all of us that were part of it.

"It’s great to see the club now in the Premier League, and to have seen a number of my old team-mates having gone on to play at that level.”

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