Brighton: Stand or Fall, is a feature-length documentary set for global release later this year, charting the club’s epic journey from the brink of extinction to established Premier League club. We caught up with producer Matthew Lorenzo to find out how the story went from football pitch to film…
So Matt, was this a documentary you’ve always had in mind?
I’ve known Paul Barber for years and really like him – he’s that rare combination of good businessman and a thoroughly decent person. Anyway, he emailed me to let me know that he loved the film that I made on Manchester United and Eric Cantona last year. I emailed back, as a retort, to say that I’ll do one on Brighton some day. Paul then replied to say that now just might be the time, given the 25th anniversary of the Goldstone closing and the Hereford game were fast approaching on the horizon. This was last May, so we got talking and he explained his wish to present a gift to the fans, to tell the story of the past 25 years, and things went from there.
It’s a very emotive story, that’s for sure...
When you make these kind of documentaries, you’ve got to find more than the football. You’ve got to find the emotion and the human side, and there’s a very real human side to the Brighton story. It quickly became evident that this was a story about the fans and we’ve interviewed as many as we could. They’re an eclectic bunch but the passion is remarkable. We interviewed Paul Samrah and Attila the Stockbroker in the same room and you couldn’t get two more diverse characters, but they dovetailed brilliantly.
There are plenty of characters which helps, right?
Dick Knight was great, a huge part of the story, and we interviewed him at Norman Cook’s house. Norman is such a lovely fella; we spent seven hours there and he made us tea and brought us food from the cafe. When we were packing up, he had to shoot off early and just told us to make sure the cat was in and to lock up behind us! All through the process we met these lovely people.
Does the story focus more on what happened 25 years ago?
That period is obviously important but it’s a story of two halves – the Dick Knight era and the Tony Bloom era. Dick was heroic in the way he galvanised the fans; he used this phrase, ‘I want to use the fans as a resource’ and recognised all these different characters he could involve. With Tony, it wasn’t just a case of him putting in the money – he had a vision for this football club. He knew the style of play he wanted to see, the type of manager he wanted, and he went after Paul Barber because he knew the type of CEO he wanted too. It didn’t just happen by accident; it’s been beautifully planned – and that comes across in the documentary. You also sense that in the earlier days, there was a lot of fun despite what was happening: the Skint sponsorship, the Valentine’s Day cards sent to John Prescott… then, when Tony gets hold of it, it becomes far more professional, which it needed to be, and it’s worked out wonderfully well.
Has the community element come out in the documentary as well?
A lot of clubs pay lip service to the idea of community and charity work, but Brighton have got it in the naming of the stadium, while the work Albion in the Community do is remarkable. We interviewed Jadey Yesilada and he is a beautiful example of an individual who attended sessions and who is now employed by AITC. He tells a lovely story of a lad who has the same disability as him and the great satisfaction it has given him to turn that person’s life around. We also cover Shoreham, and what the club did was remarkable.
We have spoken to the parents of Matthew Grimstone and Jacob Schilt who wanted to take part to put on record what the club did to help them get through the worst thing any parent can ever go through.
You’re a West Ham fan, so was it important to lean on people at the club for help?
You do a lot of research on your own, which is when it becomes obvious who you should be talking to, but Paul Hayward and Paul Samrah were very helpful, while Paul Camillin has been immense. I love the fact that he was a fan and is now head of media at a club he helped save. In fact, everyone at the club has been so professional and helpful. It’s not a puff piece; there’s light and shade, but the club has been open about who we talk to, how we tell the story, and it’s worked out well.
The trailer was launched recently. What’s the response been like?
To be honest, it’s shocked me. I didn’t realise it would get the response it’s had, which has been very encouraging. The trailer has also coincided with the turnaround in form, what with the wins at Arsenal and Spurs, then the 4-0 win against Manchester United, which was fantastic. It has turned out to be a great season and having picked up a record Premier League points haul, it has created a nice symmetry to the film. It’s all worked out very well.