Chris Hughton has dedicated Brighton & Hove Albion’s promotion to the staff and supporters who came through “the difficult periods” after victory against Wigan Athletic ensured his team returned to the top flight after a 34-year absence.
Albion, who almost went into non-league and liquidation in 1997 and have been beaten play-off semi-finalists in three of the past four years, can claim the title with a win at Norwich on Friday but third-placed Huddersfield Town’s draw at Derby on Monday evening guaranteed elevation.
There was a full‑scale pitch invasion from delighted fans at the end and another by the few thousand still present after the final whistle at Derby, with Albion’s owner, Tony Bloom, conducting the crowd from the stand.
Hughton, initially reluctant to celebrate publicly until his team’s promotion had been arithmetically determined, ended up having a barrel of iced water poured over him by the players Lewis Dunk and David Stockdale while he conducted post-match interviews. There were more scenes of celebration in the players’ lounge later in the evening.
“I’ve been here for two years and four months but there are supporters out there who have been through all the difficult periods, supporting this club for 20 to 30 years,” Hughton said. “All those memos we put out asking fans to stay off the pitch didn’t really do the job but I can understand their emotions. If I was part of that group of supporters, I’d be out on the pitch screaming and shouting as well.
“I know the history of this club. I’d played at the Goldstone Ground and I remember the times [ground-sharing] at Gillingham. But the good thing about this club is there are a lot of people still involved who were around through those tough times. But it still takes an investor like Tony [Bloom]. So it’s a wonderful feeling for myself but more for a group of supporters and a club when you have a local investor who is prepared to put his own money into a club. Particularly in an era where most of the big investors are from overseas or consortiums. For one individual, a local man, to invest in this club is outstanding.”
Bloom has spent around £250m during his eight years with the club, building the Amex Stadium and Brighton’s sparkling training facility at Lancing, but has had to be patient before seeing his side reach the elite. “Days like this are never inevitable,” he said. “You can get close six or seven times on the spin and not make it and it gets tougher every year. There are more owners coming in, spending a lot of money. After getting so close last season, the day after the Sheffield Wednesday defeat [in the play-off] wasn’t easy. We had a board meeting planned but that became the first day of the new season.
“Everyone at the club has been working very hard ever since to get to this position. It’s so well-deserved. Chris has been here for two and a half seasons and done a magnificent job. We were in a bad position when he came in. The first stage of what he needed to do was get us to stay up [in the Championship]. He did that. It wasn’t pretty or easy, but you have that in football. Even the biggest clubs in the world have bad seasons. We’ve recruited very well, the team spirit is fantastic and he has done remarkably well in a very tough league. It’s thoroughly deserved. Things are magnificent.”
Hughton’s side missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference last season, despite accruing 89 points, and rallying the group after the disappointment of defeat in the play‑offs counts as another impressive performance. “We actually started the season in a very good position, having good players,” the manager said. “That’s a good start. We knew what we’d achieved last year and we recruited well – not many, but we started the season with a better team and squad. But it wasn’t just about missing out last year. I think the team really enjoyed being at that end of the table, and winning more games than we lost. They made up their minds they wanted more of it. Would I have expected to be in the top two for more or less all season? Probably not. But I did think we would compete.
“This is an incredibly well run club, with a wonderful support base, a great training facility that the players really appreciate ... it was a question of doing things I felt could get some results and then it’s down to a recruitment process. We did that really well in the summer, bringing in good stable individuals to help the team, and they’ve [all] grown since then. This is their reward.”