Storybook start for new-look Albion in 1974

Ian Mellor's left foot flashes and the winner is on its way. Two Palace defenders are left struggling

Ian Mellor’s left foot flashes and the winner is on its way. Two Palace defenders are left struggling

Here’s a classic John Vinicombe match report on the opening day of the season in August 1974. It was Peter Taylor’s first competitive match in charge of the Albion and he saw the Dolphins record a sweet 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace. Back then, the rivalry was hotting up. The bumper attendance giving a good indication of the interest from each set of supporters:

Never in the 74 years history of the club, have Brighton and Hove Albion made such a momentous start to a season. A 26,235 crowd paid £11,000 to see virtually a brand-new team defeat superior Crystal Palace by an Ian Mellor goal in the 69th minute – the first time in ten seasons that Albion have started with a win.

On two counts Albion can feel a high degree of satisfaction: The team displayed sterling character to beat Palace, who were playing in the First Division two seasons ago; and the attendance was bettered by only eight turn-outs in Division One.

The last time Albion kicked-off with a win was season 1964-65 when Barrow were beaten 3-1 before a 20,058 Goldstone gate. Bobby Smith pulled the crowds in and obliged with two corking goals. Albion remained unbeaten at home in going to win the Fourth Divison championship.

The Argus public respond quicker than most to the big occasion, the opportunity to relish flair, and until half-time they were still coming in dribs and drabs to swell the shirt-sleeved throng.

Palace, of course, were attended by a large crowd, despite the misfortunes of the past two seasons, and the inevitable clashes in the North Stand where police did a splendid job in keeping rival factions apart.

This is the ugly side of football, the tedious side of the game that only deters decent spectators from enjoying a match. Given the same set of circumstances 10 years ago, before violence became a way of life for a vicious minority, there would have been 30,000 for the start.

Overall, Football League attendances were down on the corresponding time last season. But Albion, as usual, are very, very far from being an average club. The directors hoped for 25,000, and were not disappointed. They badly need money after massive expenditure of the past few months and happily the public responded by keeping their side of the bargain.

From a playing point of view, one should not expect too much. There will not be many cleverer sides in the Third Division than Palace, nor do I expect to see teams capable of generating industry on the Brighton side.

Peter Taylor and trainer-coach Gerry Clarke have quickly assessed the strengths and weaknesses – hence great emphasis in pre-season training on work rate. It will take time to achieve a blend of skill, and Taylor only knows this too well. But every crowd loves a trier, and Albion had eleven who never knew when they were beaten.

Any doubts about Peter Grummitt after the Ipswich game were dispelled. he kept superbly. Explained Taylor: “Under the amount of pressure to which we were subjected, it was a tremendous show of character on our part. We were outplayed for long spells. But I saw nobody hide. I was waiting for the first one, and he would have been off. Peter Grummitt kept us in the game. He never mishandled, or put a foot wrong, and inspired the back-four. We played, and beat, the best side in the Third Division, make no mistake about that. That’s why we have such good prospects. All we are lacking is know-how. I wish we could have had Ernie Machin on when we scored, somebody to control the game our way.”

Malcolm Allison talking to Taylor in his office afterwards, was remarkably restrained, considering the number of chances wasted by his feeble attack. The bitterness was unmistakable as he recalled the Mel Blyth goal disallowed by referee Robert Perkin. “There was no way that goal could have been offside, no way. Alan Whittle headed on to the bar, and the ball went back out to Mel and he knocked it in. Whittle wasn’t interfering with play.”

From the sidelines Blyth’s shot looked perfectly legal, but Mr Perkin indicated that Whittle was the offender, and after 37 minutes Albion were let off the hook for the umpteenth time. Mick Hill had missed a couple, Whittle and Don Rogers squandered equally good chances, and when Allison was asked the answer, he retorted “Rodney Marsh and Francis Lee.”

The fact that Mellor netted the winner was not lost on Allison: “I remember Spider when I was at Manchester City. I didn’t want to see him leave for Norwich. Directors force you to do that sort of thing, then they sack you. Spider was a late developer, but his timing is so good now.”

It is not surprising that the owner of such long legs and thin frame as Mellor should be dubbed as Spider by his mates. He is a player of deceptive pace, and is at his most dangerous off the ball. The goal was created out of nothing.

Fred Binney flashes a header wide after beating Derek Jeffries.

Fred Binney flashes a header wide after beating Derek Jeffries.

Around him vigorous Ricky Marlowe and busy Fred Binney put in an unselfish 90 minutes, and the transformation promised in Peter O’Sullivan was there for all to see. There is far greater urgency about O’Sullivan, as Taylor has promised.

Elsewhere the theme was work, and not once did a player lose control when confronted by higher skills. Rogers often threatened, but the old hands were not far wrong in saying that he seldom has a good match against Albion. For me, Whittle was the chief danger in a side that badly needed power.

Let Allison have the last word: “I cannot remember Brighton having a chance. The goal wasn’t a chance, but they kept battling away, and I give Brighton’s front players full marks for fighting against the odds.”

Albion: Grummitt, Piper, Wilson, McEwan, Rollings, Govier, Welch, Binney, Marlowe, Mellor, O’Sullivan. Sub: Towner.
Crystal Palace: Hammond, Mulligan, Jump, Johnson, Jeffreys, Blyth, Whittle, Lindsay, Hill, Rogers, Taylor. Sub: Swindlehurst for Hill (58 minutes)
Referee: Mr R. N. Perkin (Stafford)
Bookings: Taylor (foul)
Attendance: 26,235

Crystal Palace goalkeeper Paul Hammond misses his punch and the ball runs down between him and Albion's Andy Rollings as Fred Binney and Ricky Marlowe move in following a corner at the Goldstone.

Crystal Palace goalkeeper Paul Hammond misses his punch and the ball runs down between him and Albion’s Andy Rollings as Fred Binney and Ricky Marlowe move in following a corner at the Goldstone.

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