The Albion directors sue Gull’s Eye fanzine


I think this is from When Saturday Comes. Atilla The Stockbroker had been kind enough to give me permission to reprint this article by him:

I suppose it was going to happen to some fanzine or other eventually, but it still feels very strange. As Gull’s Eye editor Peter Kennard and myself met up with FSA lawyer Peter Jackson on the steps of the High Courts of Justice in London, I could hardly believe it could come to this, even more so as we sat in the stiffly formal atmosphere of Court 14 as a public apology was made on behalf of the fanzine while Brighton and Hove director John Campbell looked on. The ponderous sledgehammer of the British libel laws descended with all its force on, well, a nut: sixteen sides of erratically typed A5 sold by a bunch of enthusiasts outside the Goldstone on alternate Saturdays.

The judge certainly felt the occasion worthy of humorous comment: “We don’t need the jury, do we?” he smiled as the court rose after the proceedings, total duration around two minutes. The court reporter was grinning too. Rather less funny, though, was the cost for £6,000 in legal costs…

That was the final act in a long-running saga, an apology in open court being just one of the conditions imposed on Gull’s Eye as of an out-of-court settlement, leaving the fanzine’s co-editors, Ian Hart and Peter Kennard, to pay the legal costs of the Brighton directors.

The libel consisted of a series of allegations about the directors’ activities, couched in humorous language but taken oh, so seriously by the board; better leave it there, I am advised, although I was not aware that my phrase “there is a stench of decomposing flounder in the air” could possibly be viewed as libellous. It is certainly true that, these days, an ancient and dilapidated flatfish would make a far more appropriate symbol for our beloved Brighton and Hove Albion than the soaring seagull of popular legend.

There can be no doubt that the club has enormous potential. In the 1970s, as the Seagulls hovered near the top of the Third Division with Peter Ward and Ian Mellor leading the line, crowds of over 30,000 poured regularly into the Goldstone. Just two years ago, when the club bounced back from relegation to the Third Division at the first attempt, 20,000 people saw the final game of the season against Bristol Rovers. All it takes is a sniff of success for the crowds to start pouring in – and this is hardly surprising since Brighton is the only League club in Sussex, one of the largest (and wealthiest) counties in England.

However, such sniffs have been few and far between since Gordon Smith’s famous 1983 Cup Final miss, and now gates are averaging well below five figures, with debts of over £3m. As usual, the powers that be refuse to discuss the clubs financial position with supporters, and appear unable or unwilling to attract new faces onto the board. Huge debts continue to be cited as the reason for Brighton going absolutely, and spectacularly, nowhere.

All very frustrating – and that’s where Gull’s Eye comes in. They have consistently campaigned for a change in regime and for a dialogue with supporters (personally I’d like to see the club taken over by Brighton Council a la Halifax, but anything is better than the present situation). Gull’s Eye is caustic, passionate and occasionally way over the top, but its editors have spoken out in a way which has certainly struck a chord with the fans (average sales are currently around 2,000 per issue). It is without doubt a thorn in the side of the board, and this ridiculous libel action is a clear attempt to intimidate it out of existence.

The action of a bunch of wealthy businessmen who seek to squeeze £6,000 out of a couple of young fans, one of whom is currently unemployed, leaves a very big nasty taste in the mouth indeed; and I am sure directors of other clubs are following the case with interest.

So please support the Gull’s Eye Fighting Fund. And if you’re a band, comedian, Lithuanian nose flute virtuoso or other top entertainer willing to perform at a benefit concert, please get in touch also. We need all the support we can get; and remember, an injury to one is an injury to all. Fanzine readers of the world, unite!

Happily, the matter was resolved speedily. As Lenny Rider said on North Stand Chat a couple of days ago:

Our readers rallied round: bucket collections, benefit gigs, the odd dinner and a charity auction including donations from Robert Maxwell and Stuart Hall, proving there’s a little bit of good in everybody. Paid it all off inside 18 months, but a lesson in life learnt: it’s not about whether you are right or wrong. It’s about who’s got the most money. Nearly a quarter of a century later, if TSLR got sued, if I believed what they were writing was true, I would back them every way possible.


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