Thirty-four years ago today, centre-back Peter Suddaby made his Brighton debut in the famous 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. In this interview from Shoot! Magazine (6 January 1980), he lifts the lid on turning from a reserve in the Third Division to first choice in the top flight:
Peter Suddaby can’t thank Blackpool manager Stan Tennant enough – for dropping him!
For when Suddaby moved into the reserves to make way for Jackie Ashurst, Brighton manager Alan Mullery couldn’t move quick enough to snap up the commanding centre-half.
“Looking back, I suppose it was a blessing in disguise,” said Suddaby. “My career wasn’t going anywhere, and a move to the First Division was the perfect remedy.”
Suddaby’s arrival at the Goldstone Ground had an immediate impact on Brighton’s previously unhappy first season at the top. In his first game he helped Brighton end Nottingham Forest’s 51-game unbeaten home League record, and successive victories during the Christmas period against Wolves and Crystal Palace took the club out of the bottom three for the first time this season.
“I tried getting Peter last season to help our promotion bid,” Mullery explained. “He’s a tremendous winner and is just the sort of player we needed.
“But Bob Stokoe wouldn’t let him go which is why I was delighted when he suddenly became available in November.”
Suddaby admits that he has always been impressed with Brighton’s potential, and wanted to play in the First Division since Blackpool lost their place in the top flight.
“Obviously it wasn’t easy to adjust after playing two games in the reserves and I was sad about leaving Blackpool. But it was made clear to me that I was fourth in line for the centre-half position, so I made up my mind to move if the opportunity arose.
“Coming to Brighton cost me a testimonial,” Suddaby continued, “but this didn’t mean as much to me as Blackpool thought it might.
“I wanted a challenge and still felt I had something to offer which is why it didn’t worry me to join a struggling club. There’s still plenty of time for Brighton to move out of trouble which is what I think will happen as there’s a superb spirit in the club,” Suddaby commented.
Suddaby admits that life in the Third Division had proved hard for Blackpool. “The boardroom troubles inevitably rubbed off on the players and gave the club an unsettled atmosphere. The trouble is that neither the players nor the public have come to terms with the fact that Blackpool are a Third Division club,” Suddaby pointed out.
“When we were relegated it was only through a series of freak results which is why last season was something of a settling-in period. Even though there aren’t many medals in the club’s cupboard there’s a lot of tradition and people still talk of the team in the 50s.”
Suddaby modestly refused to accept that his move was a significant factor in Brighton taking what could be ten crucial points out of 14 in their battle for First Division survival.
“Forest are a very good side, but we defended well against them and had that little bit of luck we needed. But I thought that everyone in the Brighton side buckled down and gave everything that day.”
Suddaby’s fun loving approach to life, which makes it hard to believe he became a bookworm to study for a University honours degree, not only explains his long stay at Bloomfield Road but also why he bears no bitterness towards his former club.
“I desperately hope they do well as I had such happy memories but I would like to think they’ll miss me,” he added.
“Certainly, things are beginning to click at Brighton, and I’m sure we will survive this season. Alan Mullery has given me a chance to prove myself in the best League in the world, and i certainly do not wish to let him down now.”
Suddaby definitely didn’t let Brighton down. His strong, determined tackling and ability in the air at the heart of defence was an important factor in moving Albion up the table. It also released Mark Lawrenson to play in midfield. However, in May 1980, Suddaby slipped a disc and, as a result, was released by the club. Had he been able to continue First Division football, perhaps 1980/81 would have been not have have been a campaign of so much struggle.
He briefly returned to the Goldstone in 1986/87 as chief coach under Alan Mullery and held onto his position until the end of the season, even when Barry Lloyd took over.