Brighton are on their way back to the First Division – and when they get there this time, they mean to stay there.
So says journalist Tony Pullein, writing for ‘Football Monthly’, the world’s greatest soccer magazine, according to its strap line, in February 1986. He was convinced of this view after speaking with Albion chairman Bryan Bedson and manager Chris Cattlin, as the season entered spring and the Sussex club dreamed of promotion.
“All our planning over the past couple of years has been geared to putting Brighton into the First Division and establishing the club at that level,” explained chairman Bryan Bedson.
“When the club previously reached the top, they did it with quite a few expensive signings. But those players grew old and were worth very little in the transfer market.That was one of the reasons why the club was so heavily in debt. When I took over, we had 32 players on our books, many of them being paid far too much.I can tell you that I took over enormous debts. We had to take care of these and now, they are being carried by the directors. We had to trim the staff and get the housekeeping right. We have spent a lot of energy on our lottery scheme, which is now one of the most successful in the country. We have new completely restructured the club financially and are very optimistic for the future.”
Brighton have a good chance of winning promotion this season but, should they miss, there is little doubt they will make it next term.
Visiting the Goldstone Ground recently, I could sense the feeling of optimism around the place. With five wins in their previous six games including that fine 2-0 F.A. Cup success at Newcastle – the feeling was that they have got it right this time.
“The pleasing thing for me,” smiled manager Chris Cattlin, “is that we have won four of our last five away games.” That was no surprise to Brighton’s travelling supporters, who have become accustomed to seeing their side attack the opposition both at home and away.
“My policy is to go at the opposition right from the start,” explained Cattlin.”I don’t care whether we are home or away. Our tactics are the same. The important thing for us all is that the game is made entertaining. We have to put the game before individual club ambitions. Football has had many problems. One of the reasons is that it has not been marketed in the right way. We have got to make people want to come to the ground to see a good game. There is too much talk about sponsors. As far as I’m concerned, the only sponsors I want to see are fans pouring in through our turnstiles. That’s what the professional game is all about,” added Cattlin.
Certainly, there has been a tremendous transformation at the Goldstone Ground since Cattlin took over as manager in November, 1983. The Seagulls were third from bottom of the Second Division at the time. Though few people realised it, the club was on the verge of closure.
“That’s right,” shrugged Cattlin. “If we had gone down again, we might have become another Swansea or Bristol City. It was as serious as that.” “Brighton were saddled with too many old players, many earning far too much money for what they were contributing. I sold an old team and have bought a new team of my own. I had to pick them up from the lower divisions and from reserve teams. But I chose players with the right attitude and players who would be proud to play for Brighton.
“I set myself two targets. One was to ensure the club survived. The other was to set up a youth policy that would provide players for the future.”
The latter will probably prove to be the most important contribution made by Brighton’s live-wire manager in the long term. Few local-born players have made the first-team in modern times and the whole of the current first-team squad came from other clubs.
George Petchey was brought in as youth development officer to set the scheme in motion and is still in charge of recruitment, though he is also coach to the first-team. John Shepherd, the former Millwall, Brighton and Gillingham player, runs the yeuth team on a part-time basis.
“Of course, it will be some time before we see real results,” says Cattlin. “But I am hopeful that we shall find many first-team players from this source in the future.”
At the moment, Cattlin still has to find his players elsewhere. Last summer, he sold Nell Smillie to Watford for £ 110,000 and bought Justin Fashanu from Notts County for a similar fee.
“I also signed my old Coventry friend Dennis Mortimer on a free transfer. He is such a fine player with the right attitude,” said the Seagulls boss.
“I got Dean Saunders from Swansea on a free, so my summer dealings cost the club nothing. I would dearly have liked to have signed John Gregory from Q.P.R. and Fulham’s Ray Houghton. But the fact was, we couldn’t afford them,” shrugged Cattlin.
“I was disappointed because, at the moment, I am £300,000 in credit on my transfer transactions. But, besides being a football manager, I am also a businessman and I accept that the board has had to make cuts – just like the Government!”
Cattlin spent his distinguished playing career With Burnley, Huddersfield, Coventry and Brighton. A leftback, he also won England Under-23 honours. When he retired in 1979, he left the club to go into business locally. He later returned to the Goldstone Ground as coach and in November, 1983, he became manager.
“It has been difficult at times,” he admits. “In the old days when the club went through a lowspell, they would spend £400,000 on a new player. I can’t do that. This season, we have been crippled by injuries. Strikers Gerry Ryan and Terry Conner both broke a leg. Fashanu had a knee operation, Steve Gatting a pelvic injury. Chris Hutchings broke an arm and now he’s out with a cartilage injury. In the circumstances, it’s not suprising we received a few set-backs during the early weeks.”
At the turn of the year, Brighton were fielding a settled team for the first time. And it showed in results.
Of the game generally, Cattlin feels football needs to take a good look at itself.
“We have got to market the game and we needed TV to help. We’ve got to run our clubs on a businesslike basis and, most important of all, we have to examine the product we are selling football. I’m absolutely convinced that football has a great future. We have to stop being too cautious. Here at Brighton, we are all willing to have a go. To take chances. All right, we shall make mistakes. But the game is about winning and that means you have to attack.”
The Seagulls’ boss is confident his side can succeed this season. “In the Second Division, we want to win the Championship,” he emphasises. “We enter the F.A. Cup because we want to win it. We are going for both this season.”
Cattlin concedes that Portsmouth and Norwich seem likely to take two of the promotion places. “It looks that way at the moment, but there’s a long way to go. I’m proud of my team. They are all playing for Brighton. Playing to win every game. Of course we can win promotion.”
Will the current side be good enough to hold its place if it does go up this year? Cattlin is realistic: “I think we would have to spend a bit to strengthen it. The youth policy has not been going long enough yet to provide First Division players. But if you look at the First Division, there are about seven really outstanding clubs. I’m sure we can survive among the others when we first go up. It’s really a question of organisation, of using your assets to the best advantage.”
It seems clear that when Brighton do regain their First Division status, they will not again have to live on a clay-today basis, hoping for survival.
Now, they know their future is in good hands.
In the end, Brighton did not achieve promotion and Cattlin got the sack in the summer of 1986.