It’s been some 15 years since Brighton & Hove Albion defeated Bristol City 1-0 at the Millennium Stadium to secure promotion to the second tier, and former defensive duo Danny Cullip and Guy Butters reflected on that Play-Off Final victory.
An 84th-minute penalty won the contest for the Seagulls in the Welsh capital, and Cullip, who lifted the trophy as club captain, shared his memories of the experience from start to finish.
He said, “We took a never-say-die attitude into the final at the Millennium Stadium, and if you could guarantee a way to go up, that was it, through the play-offs.
“I had a massive coachload of people come down from where I’m from. It was a brilliant day - what dreams are made of.
“It was like the FA Cup, we did all the television interviews in the week building up to the game, we got our suits made and all that sort of stuff.
“We had suits and Bristol City had tracksuits on, and the matchday coordinator for Sky said to me before the game, ‘I fancy you lot today, you look the part and look up for it’.
“Those psychological factors made a difference in his thinking. We were focused anyway but how you carry yourselves does play a part.
“It was an amazing feeling to win that game and lift the trophy in front of more than 30,000 Brighton fans - it was a day I’ll always remember.”
But getting to the Play-Off Final was no simple task, following a penalty shootout victory against Swindon Town over two legs, and Butters was the most relieved man at the Withdean Stadium after Andy Gurney’s miss from 12 yards.
“We always knew going away to Swindon would be a tough battle,” Butters said. “They hit the woodwork twice and it was a bit one-sided for long periods of the game, but up popped Richard Carpenter with a great goal.
“Winning 1-0 away from home, you thought you were almost there, but obviously we had to play the home game a few days later. It went into extra time and they took the lead on aggregate, and it looked as if our season was over.
“Quite a few players’ contracts were up and you were thinking ‘is this my time up at the club?’ as the minutes passed. One or two of their players started celebrating as if they were through, but obviously Virgs came up with that dramatic goal.
“I’d taken a few penalties when I was at Gillingham and missed one in the Play-Off Final, so I vowed to never take a penalty again.
“Everyone stepped up who wanted to take one but people were saying ‘what if it goes to sudden death?’ and I thought I better take some responsibility. I was just praying that it didn't go to sudden death!”
Butters partnered Cullip in the heart of Albion’s defence for all three play-off matches, and the former Tottenham Hotspur defender thoroughly enjoyed the season-defining trip to the Millennium Stadium.
“What a fantastic stadium and build up — it was a great day! I’ve got a massive panoramic picture at home of the teams lined up on the pitch, and that takes pride of place on my wall.
“It was a dull affair with few chances, but we managed to score a penalty to win the game. The celebrations afterwards were brilliant.”