Thirty years ago today, on 19 October 1983, Jimmy Melia resigned as Brighton manager. With Cattlin succeeding Melia, in its opinion piece ‘Shoot View!’ in its 12th November issue, the magazine characterised the decision as a ‘Dark deed at Brighton’:
Yet another League club has had its grubby internal affairs aired in public.
And once more, the great game of football is the loser as the fans are given another full-frontal peek at soccer’s sordid side.
This time Brighton have become embroiled in a distasteful episode that would not look out of place in television’s “Dallas” and “dynasty” programmes.
The plot is familiar: Boss, Jimmy Melia, is instructed by the board that his chief coach, Chris Cattlin, is charged with the duty of picking the Brighton team every Saturday.
That arrangement is a little like Margaret Thatcher having to take orders from one of her underlings. Not unnaturally, Jimmy Melia found it hard to take just five months after guiding a modest Brighton team to their first F.A. Cup Final.
And so it was inevitable that 47-year-old Melia, a proud Liverpool-born man with a deep-seated love of the game, would quit only ten Second Division games after dancing for joy across the Wembley grass.
Few episodes of “Dallas” have been more cruel than this real life football drama.
Cup Final manager one moment; having his team picked by a member of his staff the next.
Melia packed his bags and said simply: “The appointment of Cattlin as coach produced a personality clash and I simply found I could not work in the conditions. He has even been picking the team.”
Jimmy Melia might not have been the world’s greatest manager, but he was as good as some and better than others.
We offer our best wishes to Mr Cattlin. He became an unsuspecting pawn in a rather grubby Goldstone game. Let’s hope he’s treated a lot better than his predecessor.
Despite the ‘Melia in, Bamber out!’ chants at the time, thirty years on, you’d struggle to find an Albion fan who still regrets Melia making way for Cattlin. Despite Shoot! magazine arguing that ‘Jimmy Melia might not have been the world’s greatest manager, but he was as good as some and better than others’, it is clear that Melia have a rotten League record as Brighton manager. The FA Cup run should not have camouflaged that to a magazine that still had pretensions of serious analysis. Despite the struggles that Mike Bailey faced in 1982/83, it is worth remembering that his side stood in 18th position, outside the Division One relegation zone, when Bailey and his coaches John Collins and Brian Eastick left on 6th December 1982. By the end of the season, under Melia and George Aitken, the Seagulls had slumped four more places to bottom of the the First Division.
In the summer, with the euphoria of the FA Cup Final still fresh in the memory, it would have taken a very brave Albion board to sack Melia. Perhaps this is why they chose to appoint Cattlin, to provide some much needed discipline and rigour, while stitching up Melia to some extent by putting the new coach in charge of team selection.
With ten Division Two games gone in 1983/84, after a 5-0 pasting at Grimsby Town, the club stood in 14th position and in real danger of a second successive relegation battle. The unhappy arrangement was not to last. Despite Melia making a surprise appearance, being held shoulder-high in the North Terrace by supporters in the next match, a 3-1 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, from then on it was most definitely the Chris Cattlin show.
As a young manager who eschewed the razzmatazz of his predecessor, Cattlin put the Brighton team’s affairs back in order with some shrewd signings, such as Steve Penney, Chris Hutchings and Danny Wilson. He was able to turn the Seagulls into serious promotion candidates in the Second Division over the following few seasons before he also came a cropper, sacked in the summer of 1986.