Ritchie’s got a Brighton future

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Until Brighton & Hove Albion signed winger Will Buckley from Watford for £1 million in June 2011, Andy Ritchie was still the Seagulls’ record signing. Astonishingly, and as indication of the club’s financial health, it took over two decades of football to smash the £500,000 deal that took Ritchie from Old Trafford to the Goldstone Ground in 1980.

Albion fans never fully warmed to Ritchie, even though he was voted Rediffusion Albion player of the season in 1981/82.

His twelve League goals made him the club’s top scorer and it was hoped that he could continue his form to establish Brighton as a top club in the First Division. In Shoot Annual 1983, it charts his progress from teenage prodigy to a leading goalscorer:

Local-born Andy Ritchie always dreamt that one day he would pull on the light blue shirt of Manchester City. Instead, the talented striker was eventually signed by arch rivals United.

“I was a regular visitor to Maine Road as a kid,” remembers Ritchie. “I went along with friends who were City fans.”

While playing junior football, Ritchie started to impress as a striker and it was not long before the scouts started to watch him with more than a passing interest.

“It was while I was playing for Stockport Boys that I first realised I had a chance of a career as a professional footballer,” he says. “I was selected for the England Under-15 side and played at Wembley Stadium.

“The first was against Wales. We won 4-2 and I scored a couple of goals. I then scored another when England beat France 6-1. They were great moments for me and my family.

“Appearing for England was definitely the highlight of my young career but I also enjoyed playing for Stockport and in local Sunday football.

“I played for a team called Whitehill, who were sponsored by Manchester City. It was then that I realised I could play for the Maine Road club.

“I had trials with Leeds United, Burnley and Aston Villa, but I only wanted to play for City.

“Then Manchester United approached me and my dad, Jim, advised me to listen to them.

“I wasn’t interested but agreed to follow my dad’s advice and go for a trial period. However, it didn’t take me very long to soak in the atmosphere and appreciate the tradition and name of Manchester United and in the end I was quite happy to sign for the Old Trafford club.”

Ritchie was 15 years-old when he put pen to paper. Three years later he pulled on the red shirt of United in a senior game.

Recalls Ritchie: “It was in a friendly against St Etienne of France during the 1977/78 season.

“Stuart Pearson, a £200,000 signing from Hull City, was out injured and I replaced him and played in the next four League games.”

When Pearson recovered, however, Ritchie found himself back in the reserves.

“I was naturally disappointed. I believed because I was a local lad, and the club had paid a late fee for Pearson, that as soon as he was fit he would automatically be recalled.”

Although Ritchie did well in his first team appearances, he failed to establish himself in the First Division with United.

The time had come for him to seek a future elsewhere.

“I didn’t want to leave Old Trafford,” says Ritchie. “It was certainly a wrench to leave but I needed regular first team football.

”Although the manager Dave Sexton assured me I had a future at Old Trafford, I decided a move was right because I needed to further my career.

“Both Newcastle and Chelsea made good offers for me but with respect to both clubs I was confident that I could still perform regularly in the First Division.” Brighton then stepped in and after talks with manager Alan Mullery, Andy signed for the Seagulls.

“Alan Mullery certainly sold Brighton to me,” recalls Ritchie. “He loved the club and made a big impression on me.

“Even when Alan left and moved to Charlton, his replacement Mike Bailey didn’t take long before he felt the same way.

“I believe the club is on the right lines and are ambitious enough to compete with the Liverpools of this world.

“I think we proved that point when we travelled to Anfield during the 1981/82 season and beat the famous Reds 1-0.

“Although Alan Hansen deflected my shot, I was credited with the goal and it was one of my highlights as a professional footballer.

“It was also the first time in the history of Brighton that we had won at Anfield.

“After struggling for a couple of seasons after promotion, Brighton have now established themselves and could be one of the leading clubs in the Football League.”

And looking at their results last season when they took points off leading clubs like West Ham, Tottenham, Southampton, Arsenal and Liverpool it is easy to realise why Andy is enjoying life on the South Coast.

If the former Manchester United striker can continue his run as a top goal-getter he may even force his way into the full international reckoning.

Things didn’t go to plan, and despite the fact he could take a mean, curling free-kick, he hit just five goals in 24 League appearances for relegation-bound Albion in 1982/83 before moving to Second Division Leeds in March 1983 in an exchange for Terry Connor.

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