This blast from the past is a spectacular illustration of how high hopes from pre-season can prove wildly off the mark.
Look at these two daft-looking chaps with Argus banner rolled around their heads. They’re clearly imbued with the kind of elevated expectations that hadn’t yet been ground down by decades of disappointment as a Brighton supporter!
In the pre-season to 1991/92, manager Barry Lloyd, although hatless, was also very optimistic about the season ahead. As John Vinicombe wrote:
Albion embark on their fourth successive season in the Second Division after going so close to promotion only two months ago.
This campaign, the Seagulls aim to recover the championship place they lost in 1983 by gaining an entry place outright instead of an ordeal by play-off.
“It is more important now than ever before to get into the First Division,” says manager Barry Lloyd.
“I believe that, in the not to distant future, some clubs will not be able to keep going, and will drop out of the Football League through shortage of money. Very few clubs these days have got any cash to spare, and even some of the big ones are having to count their pennies and make cuts. The First Division is the only real place for us and our supporters, and we will be giving it our best shot.”
Brighton certainly didn’t need the Play-Offs this time around – they were relegated! In 1990/91, the final home league match against Ipswich secured Brighton’s Play-Off position. A year later, the final away match against Ipswich secured Brighton’s relegation, and to rub Albion fans’ noses in it, it was also celebration time for Ipswich Town who had achieved the dream that continues to elude the Seagulls – promotion to the Premier League.
How is that a club that had previously reached the Play-offs, now found themselves relegated? On the outset, many supporters point to what a fluke the 1990/91 season really was as Albion conceded more goals than they scored in the League and yet were almost promoted. Even so, a side that gave Liverpool such a run for their money over two FA Cup games must have had something going for it. Yet once star strikers Mike Small (to West Ham) and John Byrne (to Sunderland) departed the Goldstone in 1991, there seemed to be only one direction for Brighton to head, and that was downwards. The less-than-stellar performances of their replacements Mark Farrington and Raphael Meade did little to halt the slide.
Nevertheless, Barry Lloyd still proved himself capable of unearthing a gem of a signing on occasion, such as with Mark Gall, a £45,000 bargain from Maidstone United, who rewarded his manager with his skill and strength, not to mention fourteen goals. However, when Lloyd was appointed to the Board as managing director in December with the task of the day-to-day running of the club, it most certainly took his eye off what was happening on the pitch. It also led to Martin Hinshelwood’s influence on first-team matters increasing. A recipe for disaster?