Over the years, Nick Szczepanik has established himself as a respected sports writer for The Guardian, The Times and Sunday Times. He now mainly contributes to The Independent. However in November 1980, before he had made his name as a journalist, this Brighton & Hove Albion supporter was out of work. It gave him time to write this passionate piece to Mike Bamber, the Albion chairman, about the sharp drop in attendances at the Goldstone during the 1980/81 campaign. The letter later appeared in the Brighton v Sunderland programme on 6th December:
Dear Mr Bamber,
The people of this area have been accused in the past of being negative – but now it seems to me that people are making ridiculous excuses to justify their own apathy and defeatism; thankfully, not everyone feels the same way, but having read today’s Evening Argus, I felt I had to let you know that SOME people remain, and intend to remain, loyal Albion supporters.
I have followed the club since the late 60s – even then, in my early teens and with the value of money as it was, if anyone had promised me Division One soccer at the Goldstone for £2.00 per match, I (and others no doubt) would have considered it cheap at the price – but how some people can forget how far we have come so soon baffles me as I’m sure it baffles you.
Although currently unemployed, I managed to afford a Terrace Season Ticket this year, and have no difficulties or worries about taking my eight-year-old godson along when he wants to come. Those people who are full of excuses about inflation, hooliganism and other largely mythical evils, are in my opinion, beneath the contempt of genuine supporters -and there are 12,000 of us at least. Obviously we’ll have a moan sometimes (unlike many of the team’s and manager’s stay-away critics, we’ll have earned the right with our £2.00) but we’ll BE THERE and probably as frustrated as you at all the people who aren’t.
While I am writing, perhaps you could convey the best wishes and appreciation of my friends and myself to John Gregory. His decision to stay with the Albion was a great thing for the club and we hope he will play for us for many seasons to come; unlike some so-called supporters on the SW Terraces we think we recognise a player of First Division class and quality when we see one! (And the next Captain, perhaps?) Keep up the good work.
The novelty of First Division football had appeared to wear off for many Albion supporters in 1980/81 as they faced up to the reality that Brighton were no longer almost invincible at home.
The drop in attendances at the Goldstone was sharp. For example, in 1979/80, when Brighton played Middlesbrough, Ipswich and Manchester United at home, the gates were 20,427, 23,608 and 29,670. When they played the same opponents in 1980/81, in November, home attendances fell to 12,112, 17,055 and 23,277 respectively.
As if to add credence to the issue, just 13,903 supporters watched Michael Robinson score the opener in Brighton’s 2-1 victory over Sunderland in early December:
With such a massive decline in gate receipts, it was no surprise that Albion could not hold on to players of the calibre of John Gregory for much longer. This was especially after the substantial outlay at the start of the season. The financial bubble was about to burst, and Albion would need all the loyal and resilient supporters it could get.