At the end of ‘Up, Up And Away,’ John Vinicombe’s account of Brighton’s promotion to the First Division, he paints a rosy picture of the relationship between chairman and manager in 1979:
It took the arrival of Mike Bamber to bring about a new era, for, without Bamber, there would have been no Mullery – no promotion. They are twin architects of Albion’s success and the key to their thinking can be seen in Bamber’s motto on the wall of his Goldstone office – “they can, because they think they can”:
(In the photo above, from ‘Through Open Doors’ by Brian Radford, you can just about see the slogan).
However, by 1981, things had turned for the worse. Manager Alan Mullery resigned after disagreeing with Mike Bamber about the chairman’s plans to reduce the size of the coaching staff and how to resolve the Mark Lawrenson transfer saga. Mullery had cut a deal with Manchester United that involved cash plus a part exchange of a player, but Bamber had already set his sights on a money only £900,000 deal with Liverpool. Mullery decided it was time Bamber found a new club manager.
From Alan Mullery – ‘The Autobiography’ (2007):
That’s how I felt in the days after I left Brighton. I thought I’d achieved more than any previous manager at the club. I’d started with a decent Third Division team and developed it into a Division One side filed with top-level players – Mark Lawrenson, one of the best defenders of modern times; John Gregory, Steve Foster and Gary Stevens, all of whom went on to play for England; Michael Robinson of Eire; Neil McNab and Gordon Smith, both Scottish internationals.
Plenty of that calibre would never have dreamed of joining Brighton and Hove Albion before I took over. My credibility helped me to sign them. I’m not saying I deserve all the praise for the rapid rise the club enjoyed during my five-year stay, but I sure as hell played my part. Our two seasons in the top flight were tough, there’s no denying that, but any club should expect a similar period of transition.
If I had continued to enjoy the backing I’d received while Harry Bloom was alive, I’m sure we could have consolidated our position as a First Division club. Instead I was out of the cold and Brighton went on to be relegated just two seasons later.
Did I regret walking out after my confrontation with Mike Bamber? Was I too headstrong? The honest answer is yes, I was fiery and prone to rush into emotional decisions. I should have taken my time to think things through before resigning, but it wouldn’t have changed anything in the long term. If I had backed down over the Lawrenson transfer, I believe Bamber would have walked all over me from that moment on. And my pride was too strong to allow that. Our split was inevitable.
As Mullery departed from Brighton & Hove Albion that summer, “the truth was,” he later wrote, “my best days as a manager were already behind me.”
Correction: Although Mullery cites Neil McNab as a Scottish international, he played for the Under 21s rather than the full international side.