The word ‘legend’ is often over-used within football, but when it comes to Martin Perry and the contribution he has made to our football club, one certainly wouldn’t be accused of hyperbole or exaggerating the truth.
Perry was instrumental in Albion’s protracted battle to gain planning permission for the £120 million American Express Community Stadium, and had overall responsibility its design and construction – likewise the state-of-the-art £32 million American Express Elite Football Performance Centre at Lancing, with both delivered on time and within budget.
While a lifelong fan, his personal journey with the club stretches some 24 years and began as a result of his work as special projects director for construction company Alfred McAlpine, where he helped deliver Huddersfield Town’s new stadium in the early Nineties.
Indeed, Martin was introduced to Dick Knight in 1996 by then-Hove Borough Council leader Ivor Caplin. He had been due to go sailing that Saturday morning but instead took a phone call that would open a new chapter on his life and help secure and shape the future of the football club.
Knight and Perry arranged a meeting which took place in then-manager Liam Brady’s living room, in the presence of Bob Pinnock, and the meeting of minds provided a clear strategy moving forward.
The first step was for Dick to take the reins as chairman of the club, with Martin prominent in the protracted negotiations with reviled former chairman Bill Archer. The takeover was announced in the week before the final Goldstone game against Doncaster Rovers on 26th April 1997, with the club rock bottom of the Football League. Seven days later the Seagulls would secure their status with the dramatic draw at Hereford – some introduction to life at the sharp end of football, that’s for sure!
That fateful last day at the Goldstone began Perry’s involvement as an acting director, with Knight the chairman-in-waiting. The takeover was finally concluded on 2nd September with both having tried to secure temporary refuge at Millwall and Woking that summer. As it was, ‘home’ would be 70 miles away in Gillingham before a return, to Withdean Stadium, in 1999.
The move back to Brighton coincided with Perry’s appointment as chief executive, likewise one of the most purple periods in the club’s history, yielding back-to-back title wins in 2001 and 2002. A League One play-off victory followed in 2004 and, following Tony Bloom’s appointment as chairman, as successor to Knight, a League One title success in 2011, prior to the move to the Amex Stadium.
Before moving to the ‘Theatre of Trees’, Martin and his team had carried out analysis of various sites and he did the same exercise in the search for a new stadium. It became very clear to Martin, even at that stage, that Falmer was the best site with the railway station, road link and two universities nearby.
What he never anticipated was the level of opposition, but helped by the club’s supporters, a series of lengthy campaigns, a petition, some intense lobbying and three public inquiries, planning permission was eventually secured from the city council and Government.
It was an exhausting time; Martin was running the club while preparing the inquiry documentation. He was called as the first witness at Hove Town Hall, a daunting experience, then later repeated the exercise at a second inquiry at Brighton Town Hall. Then it was back to the North Road offices in the evenings to answer calls, emails and continue with the day-to-day operations.
The club finally received the glorious green light for the new stadium on 23rd July 2007, three days after Martin’s birthday. However, given the task that now lay ahead, Ken Brown came in as manager director to help ease the personal burden.
Backed by Bloom’s drive, inspiration and financial backing, Perry was able to channel all his energies into the stadium project – ably assisted by Derek Chapman, who did a fine job overseeing its construction – and so began a process that would see the club’s wonderful new home emerge, sitting comfortably alongside the rolling Sussex countryside.
The keys were finally handed over in the summer of 2011 and it was an emotional Perry, Knight, Bloom and Chapman who led the sides out for the official opening of the stadium – a pre-season friendly against Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham Hotspur.
Yet the work didn’t stop there for Martin; there was the stadium’s expansion – most notably the East Upper Stand – to work on, while in January 2012, he confirmed that the club, now looking to acquire a training ground fit to match its new home, had requested planning permission to build a new training facility at New Monks Farm, Lancing.
Permission was granted that October and Perry – who had now become executive director of the club – led the team that designed and built the state-of-the-art complex, which opened in June 2014. He has since helped push through plans for an additional £25 million investment in the training ground, which will include new improved sports science facilities for the first-team squad, the club’s women and girls’ programme, and a ‘club-hub’ facility for Albion in the Community.
Martin is also the chairman of trustees for AITC, and has helped the club’s charity arm evolve from just two people to 60 full-time and 120 part-time staff members, while reaching out to more than 46,000 people every year, using the power of football and the popularity of the Albion to deliver high-quality, accessible opportunities that improve the health and wellbeing, education and aspirations of our community.
Martin had already contributed to the local community as a past chairman of City College and chair of Albion’s women’s team, and served on the Board of Governors of Falmer High School for seven years until it became the Brighton Aldridge Academy.
This immense contribution to the club and wider community has also been recognised with a series of accolades in recent years, which include a University Fellowship from the University of Sussex for an ‘outstanding contribution to the community’, and the award of ‘Outstanding Brightonian’ at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards.
Martin leaves us with an unquestionable legacy and his absence as an ebullient and much-loved member of staff will also leave a huge hole. On behalf of everyone associated with the Albion and the wider community, thank you for everything you have done. We salute you. We admire you. We will miss you. Enjoy your much deserved retirement and we hope to see you back at the Amex Stadium very soon.
In recognition of his services, Martin is being made an Honorary Life Vice President and is continuing in his role as chair of the board of trustees of Albion in the Community.