THE SOARING SEAGULLS
Considering it happened less than 30 years ago, there is every chance that plenty of the fans who are in attendance at the Amex Stadium on Thursday night to see Brighton host AEK Athens in their first ever European match will have taken part in the York City “riot” of 1996. More genteel pitch invasion than violent disturbance, it made global headlines when supporters attending what they presumed to be the final game at their club’s then home, the Goldstone Ground, convened on the pitch in protest at having their home for the previous 95 years sold out from under them by unscrupulous club owners. “Rampaging fans turned Brighton into a war zone yesterday in sickening scenes that shamed soccer,” harrumphed the next day’s News of the World, failing utterly to capture the peaceful mood of an occasion in which the only knack inflicted were on both sets of goalposts.
Allowed to soldier on at the Goldstone for one more season, avoiding relegation and the almost inevitable extinction of their club that would have come with it on the final day, Brighton endured two years of homelessness, kipping on Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium couch, before renting their own digs at the local Withdean Stadium. Originally saved by lifelong fan D1ck Knight and thousands of concerned fans, the club is now owned by Tony Bloom, a professional gambler who – unlike those of us who like a bet – is actually very good at winning money. Along with local superstar DJ Norman Cook, the man they call “The Lizard” has played a major role in helping to propel the club to the stratospheric heights of the Big Vase group stage.
Brighton will become the 38th English club to play in European competition, when they host the Greek champions down on the south coast. “We have the ambition to become better and better, step by step in every competition and in every game,” teased their head coach, Roberto de Zerbi. “The way how we will play and can compete can give us an upgrade – but when I am speaking about ‘We are Brighton’, it is because we cannot forget where we have started and who we were. We cannot lose our DNA – because if we think, ‘we are better’, then we make a big mistake.”
While one suspects De Zerbi might have been harking back to something slightly more recent than the halcyon days of snapped crossbars and civil unrest among the otherwise genteel local residents of this seaside resort, it seems unlikely that older fans among the crowd at the Amex will ever forget who they once were. With Brighton now a blueprint for how every club should be run, they can look forward with excitement to what they might realistically become.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Join Stuart Goodwin and Rob Smyth for hot clockwatch coverage of all the Big Vase action, kicking off at 5.45pm BST, including Brighton 2-0 AEK Athens, Lask 0-2 Liverpool, West Ham 2-0 Backa Topola and Rangers 1-2 Real Betis.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“If sport washing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then I will continue doing [it]. I don’t care … I’m aiming for another one and a half per cent. Call it what you want, we’re going to get that one and a half per cent” – Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, says the quiet bit out loud.
FOOTBALL DAILY LETTERS
Re: Harry Kane (yesterday’s Football Daily). Surely Harry is more like a cane toad than a hungry caterpillar? Caterpillars may have many legs but they don’t move very quickly nor do they gobble up much. Whereas his namesake toad is voracious and can get round most prey’s defences. A pest, no offence Harry” – Jim Arrowsmith.
Re: Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s hindsight over Cristiano Ronaldo (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs, full email edition). Hiring a club legend company shill to manage one of the best-supported football clubs in the world ‘felt right but was wrong’” – Harriet Osborn.
Send your letters to email@example.com. Today’s winner of our letter o’ the day is … Harriet Osborn, who wins a copy of The Blizzard: Issue 50. Readers can get £3 off and free shipping for the print edition with the promo code FD3, while those who would rather get the digital version can get £1 off with code FD1. We’ve one more to give away so get tapping those keys.
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