It is forty years to the day that Pat Saward was sacked as Brighton manager, on 22nd October 1973.
Three days later, John Vinicombe wrote an outstanding piece in the Evening Argus, lucidly summing up the situation and Saward’s rollercoaster reign at the club:
The world that Pat made came crashing down about his ears this week. Saward’s career as Albion’s manager is in ruins. The club is struggling for Third Division survival and inside the plush, new offices that Pat helped build, stands a big, black empty swivel chair.
It is the Goldstone hot seat, vacant at the moment, but for how long? Until Albion appoint a new manager, the playing side of the club will be run by trainer Glen Wilson with chairman Mike Bamber very close to his elbow.
Rumours about Saward’s successor buzz… will it be Steve Burtenshaw.. could the club afford Brian You-Know-Who?
The insatiable seekers for an answer to the burning question are unlikely to be satisfied in the near future. Having sacked one manager, who must be compensated for three-and-a-half years unexpired contract, the board won’t be in rush into a snap decision.
Those who might agree with the board’s decision in parting company with the manager must be somewhat puzzled at the timing of the act.
Barely a fortnight before the directors made their minds up to dismiss Saward because they felt he could no longer motivate the players there had been every appearance of a happy family atmosphere at the Goldstone.
At the beginning of this month, joint chairman Len Stringer resigned. He had made no secret of his opposition to Saward. Mr Stringer simply disagreed with the manager on more or less everything, and when he left Saward heaved a sigh of relief.
Mr Bamber was in complete control, and it was to him that club captain Eddie Spearritt went with a message from the players pledging their solidarity behind the manager.
This was received by a delighted board, and within a few hours of the meeting Albion shook off their worries to win impressively at Oldham.
Nevertheless, the chairman made a meaningful remark at the time. “All that has been lacking is confidence at home. We must find a way to spark it, but this will come. It must.”
But it didn’t… Albion went to Blackburn and lost 3-1, dropping their heads after scoring first. Then came the shuddering home defeat against Halifax.
Afterwards Mr Saward confessed: “I haven’t any more answers. I am in a fog.”
Directors interpreted this as loss of confidence. They believed the manager was losing his grip, and so last Saturday while Saward was catching a cold in more ways than one at Crewe they decided to sack him.
As the board sat in sombre session Mr Saward was homeward bound in a wet suit. He had watched Bryan Parker, Crewe’s 18-year-old goalkeeper, from behind the goals in each half, scorning the pouring rain.
By Monday morning he had a sore throat. Come lunchtime he was choking… news of his sacking had been delivered straight from the chairman.
They had been golfing partners for quite a while, discussing club business over 18 holes at The Dyke on Monday afternoons. When Saward got the final message from Bamber he went home to Shoreham Beach. The chairman proceeded to Willingdon for a golfing appointment.
He saw no good reason to change his routine. The deed was done. There could be no turning back.
Saward will bounce back in the game. He is a compulsive and persuasive influence, and life with him was never, never dull at the Goldstone. His regular column in the Evening Argus attracted a love-hate readership.
He used to say: “I don’t mind my backside being kicked. That’s what I’m there for. Management is a vocation.”
There are some who might say the timing of the whole operation was off-key, and the board should have taken such a step during the close season.
Then the ashes of defeat were still bitter in the mouths. Thrust back into the Third Division after one season in the Second… the frustration was almost too much to bear for some directors.
And one can readily see their point of view… suddenly, and quite by chance, Albion found themselves reaching out towards First Division football with the arrival of season 1972-73.
Then the image of the crock of gold crumbled, and Saward stood indicted among the shattered remains of the dreams he had cherished.
Big money has been in short supply since he was appointed in June 1970, and my estimate of fees spent come to around £150,000. This is based on the following transactions:
Barry Bridges (£29,000)
Ken Beamish (£25,000)
George Ley (£25,000)
Graham Howell (£17,500)
Lammie Robertson (£17,000)
Brian Bromley (£14,000)
Bert Murray (£14,000)
Willie Irvine (£7,000)
Bertie Lutton (£5,000)
Alan Dovey (£1,000)
During his term of office Saward transferred:
Kit Napier (£15,000)
John Napier (£10,000)
Bertie Lutton (£12,000)
Brian Bromley (£8,000)
Willie Irvine, Bert Murray and Dave Turner for undisclosed fees that are thought to have been nominal.
That Albion were promoted was a piece of pure luck, plus a good deal of hard work. That has always been the inside view. The club never expected to go up, and consequently the necessary preparation was not there.
Then one day Albion woke up and found themselves in the Second Division. The players Saward bought, however, did not set the Goldstone on fire.
Instead, Albion got a bad name for borrowing and Saward was dubbed the ‘Loan Ranger.’
The total reached nearly 20, and of that number only seven became contracted players. The list is imposing, and includes no fewer than five goalkeepers:
Ian Seymour (Fulham)
Alan Dovey (Chelsea)
Peter Downsborough (Swindon)
Tommy Hughes (Aston Villa)
Steve Sherwood (Chelsea)
Ian Goodwin (Coventry)
Wilie Irvine (Preston)
Bert Murray (Birmingham)
Stan Brown (Fulham)
Hohn Moore (Luton)
Brian Bromley (Portmsouth)
John Boyle (Chelsea)
Colin Dobson (Huddersfield)
John McGrath (Southampton)
Henning Boel (Aberdeen)
Bertie Lutton (Wolves)
Ray Crawford (Colchester)
Much happened during Saward’s reign to improve the ground and, after all, he is only the second manager in the history of the club to take the club into the Second Division.
When Pat arrived the awful collection of old builders’ huts that served as offices were still under the West Stand, and the urinals were positively prehistoric. There was woodworm in the dressing rooms, and the boiler must have been designed by Stephenson!
Promotion made ground improvements possible, and Saward leaves a vastly improved scene. Now Albion have facilities to compare with most grounds. The Goldstone is no longer a footballing slum.
But the big black chair is empty. It will take a big, big man to fill it.
Hmmm… any guesses?