'I loved the club, and the fans were incredible'

Former defender Colin Pates recalls some happy times at Albion after starting his career with Chelsea.

By Luke Nicoli • 20 April 2021

By The Argus
Colin Pates initially joined Albion on loan in 1991, before re-signing in a permanent deal in 1993.

Colin Pates captained Tuesday’s opponents Chelsea before having two spells with Albion, where he finished his career in the mid-1990s. We caught up with Colin ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of two of his former clubs.

Having come through the ranks at Chelsea and cleaned Ron Harris’s boots – who would certainly know if you’d not done a good enough job! – I was handed my professional debut by Geoff Hurst at the age of 18.

It was certainly an occasion to remember as we won 7-3 against Orient at Brisbane Road [in 1979], in a real end-to-end game. It felt like every time there was an attack, there would be a goal. It was a big step-up from what I had been used to, but I soon found my feet and became a regular in the side.

It wasn’t a golden era for the club; there were financial difficulties following the building of the East Stand in the mid-Seventies, Ray Wilkins had been sold to Manchester United, we couldn’t buy players and were stuck in the Second Division.

While we had our ups and downs, I was handed the captaincy, which was obviously a proud moment as a Chelsea fan, and under John Neal we were building something special again. The likes of Kerry Dixon, David Speedie and Pat Nevin were brought in – fantastic players – and we won promotion back to the First Division in 1983/84. It really was an honour to captain that team.

We also went on to win at Wembley [Pates becoming the first Chelsea captain to lift a trophy at the Twin Towers, against Manchester City in the Full Members' Cup Final] and they were great days back playing at the highest level, but by 1988 Bobby Campbell was manager and looking to build a new team.

The defender had spells with Chelsea, Charlton and Arsenal during his playing career.

I was allowed to leave and did so with a heavy heart as I wanted to stay, but I had a good couple of years at the top level with Charlton, as their skipper, when Arsenal manager George Graham came in for me. It was a move, at that stage of my career, that I couldn’t turn down. I’d joined a team that had just won the league, that would do so again in 1990/91 and they had the fabled back four – the best defensive unit in world football at the time.

I knew I would be signed as a back-up defender and so it proved. I think I made 21 appearances in my three years at the club but was a part of cup final squads and scored in the European Cup against Benfica.

I first came to Brighton on loan in February 1991 when the club had an injury crisis, and although I was dropping down a division it didn’t matter to me – I was just happy to be playing football. I immediately struck up a partnership at the back with Gary, and it was like the good old days at Chelsea again.

I spent three months at the club and I loved every minute; I loved the area, the Goldstone, the club, the fans and, of course, we went all the way to Wembley that season in the Play-Offs – where the turnout from our fans in the final was incredible. We lost to Notts County, which was one of those games where it just wasn’t meant to be.

Unfortunately the club couldn’t meet Arsenal’s asking price for me that summer so I returned to Highbury, but when my contract expired in 1993, there was only one club I wanted to be at… Brighton.

I saw out the final two seasons of my career there, in what is now League One, but I really enjoyed it, playing mainly at left-back It was a great family club and I made a lot of friends there along the way.