Smith: Signing for Albion changed my life

Former defender reflects on Albion's great escape 25 years ago today.

By Charlie Hanson • 03 May 2022

By Paul Hazlewood
Peter Smith was a part of the Albion squad that avoided relegation from the Football League in 1997.

The question of professional football or completing university would probably be quite a straightforward answer for a student these days, but for former Albion defender Peter Smith it took an intervention from a lecturer for him to pursue a playing career.

Smith was studying at the University of Greenwich when he was offered his chance with Albion in 1994 and he hasn’t looked back.

“I spoke to Gerry Ryan who was (manager) Liam Brady’s assistant. He invited me to the pre-season tour in Ireland for a trial and when I got back I spoke to my lecturer who said ‘what have you got to lose? Take a year out and if it doesn’t work out just come back to university.’

“I went for it. I had a great season and got another two-year deal at the end of it.

By Paul Hazlewood
Peter Smith chats to Paul McDonald and Gary Hobson at the 25th Anniversary Dinner last month.

“I think it was the best decision I ever made and I am still in the game as a result. It has taken me around the world, I have looked after some really interesting players and managers like Chris Wilder and Mick McCarthy in my role as an agent, so getting that opportunity changed the course of my life.”

Smith’s time with Albion coincided with a period of instability at the club which reached a climax at the end of the 1996/97 season, when Albion needed a point on the final day at Hereford United to save their Football League status.

“There was quite a lot going on in the background with the ownership of the club. We didn’t know what was going to happen to the Goldstone and we were facing relegation,” Smith reflects. “The turning point was Steve Gritt coming to the football club, he galvanised the squad and gave us a bit of clarity as to how we were going to win games and not concede goals.

“I was speaking to the lads at the anniversary dinner. You look back now and realise we were under massive pressure.

“Brighton is a big football club and if we lost that day we wouldn’t be where we are at now.

“It was a tough season for all concerned, Steve Gritt and (assistant manager) Jeff Wood made the difference in the end. We never had any issues with the fans and they never had any with us, it was with the board and the people above. It was a tough, but memorable year and we did what we had to.

By Paul Hazlewood
The former defender dropped out of university to become a professional with Albion.

“I didn’t play against Hereford and I was gutted. Steve [Gritt] went with John Humphrey. I’d only been in the game for two years and John was a seasoned pro, probably not as athletic as me but he had the experience to get him through difficult situations. I understood the decision. I was in the dugout kicking every ball but I wished I was playing.”

While Albion’s difficulties off the pitch are well documented, Smith felt that Albion’s struggles on the pitch weren’t a reflection of the quality of player in the dressing room.

“We had a half-decent squad of players but that brought pressure on us because everyone wanted to be the team to beat Brighton. We had the likes of Jeff Minton, Kerry Mayo, Gary Hobson, John Humphrey, Robbie Reinelt."

The 52-year-old grew up in the Midlands but he sees Brighton as his club.

“I’ve always had a strong connection with the club, I know Tony Bloom and his family and I am a Brighton supporter, it’s my local club now.

“I got the opportunity to play here which was a fantastic experience. I loved playing in front of the Brighton fans who stuck with us whether we were good, bad or indifferent. It’s been a great journey.”