It was boss Mike Bailey out, Jimmy Melia and George Aitken in, come December 1982. Having previously served as chief scout and chief coach, Brighton’s temporary managers helped to lift the gloom over the Goldstone Ground, caused by poor results, falling crowds and growing disharmony within the side:
Brighton are fighting for First Division survival after the departure of manager Mike Bailey. What hope for the club that brought football glory to Sussex by climbing from the Third Division to the First in three years but have since fought desperately to avoid relegation. SHOOT investigates Brighton’s catalogue of problems and turns the spotlight on Mike Bamber, the chairman who wants to be manager as well.
When Brighton were promoted to the First Division three seasons ago it seemed like a Iicence for the club to print money.
They had been magnificently supported, but the crowds melted away as two gritty battles against relegation were fought by Alan Mullery.
Then, last season under Mike Bailey, Brighton appeared to have turned the corner in finishing a respectable 13th, the highest position in their history.
Now, following Bailey’s departure early last month, Brighton, amid falling gates, are fighting all over again to establish themselves.
Alarmingly, there are cracks appearing in the Goldstone structure, and some disgruntled fans have even said they’d be better off in the Third Division.
It is a fact that Brighton have never attracted 30,000 crowd since they went up, yet there is well-heeled catchment area that hasn’t been visibly hit by the recession.
The season was only a few weeks old when two key international players, Steve Foster and Michael Robinson, asked for transfers. Then Nell McNab said the chairman’s involvement extended too far. McNab alleged that he picked the team.
The fuss died down, and Foster and Robinson later said they were willing to stay. McNab, who is also on a lengthy contract, turned down a move sending him to Newcastle on loan, and has since joined Leeds United on a temporary transfer.
While the basis of Foster’s gripe was money he considered a rise was due after getting into England’s World Cup squad, Robinson’s quarrel, besides being financial, raised other questions.
He accused the club of lacking ambition, and this was triggered when Bamber refused to back Bailey up in giving Charlie George a month’s trial.
It was Robinson’s opinion that the chairman should also have given Bailey a contract. After putting his cards on the table, it looked as though Robinson would leave.
But he declined a berth at Sunderland, and was later wooed by Arsenal and QPR.
Foster’s dispute had been settled previously, and he did not identify with Robinson all the way. But McNab’s bluntness in challenging his chairman was a blockbuster.
Bamber brought about the return of Peter Ward, Brighton’s former record scorer, on loan from Nottingham Forest.
He saw him as not only a vital crowd-puller, but the man to link-up best with Robinson.
Brighton have only got him until the end of next month, but he did the business by scoring the winner against Manchester United on November 6 when the gate was a satisfying 18,398 – an increase of 8,000. The inclusion of Ward put Andy Ritchie’s nose temporarily out of joint, Brighton’s most expensive signing at £500,000 from Old Trafford stayed in the reserves for six weeks and only re-appeared when Bailey left.
And another big-money player, Gordon Smith, who cost £400,000 from Rangers, went back to Glasgow on a temporary transfer.
The principal reason was to help Rangers in the Scottish League Cup Final against Celtic. But all Smith got was a runners-up medal that was stolen the same night when his car was vandalised.
Smith, like most Brighton players, is also on a long engagement. But he’s in a whirl.
“When I get back to Brighton, I’ll have to introduce myself as a new signing.”
Perhaps Brighton’s biggest mistake was signing Mickey Thomas from Everton. Over £400,000 was involved, and the Wales international couldn’t put a foot right.
He gave domestic reasons for several acts of truancy that held Brighton up to ridicule. Fines and suspensions didn’t bring him into line. But once transferred to Stoke, Thomas showed his real worth.
Then he relaxed, and said: “Joining Brighton was the worst period of my life. Last season was just a horror story for me. I felt trapped there. They were in such a hurry to sign me, and soon everything got me down. And the system they played was so defensive that I got bored. I admit I was out of order in taking time off, but I should never have gone there in the first place.”
Brighton cannot afford another mistake like that, and it is very doubtful they will be able to recoup anything comparable to the fee paid for Smith.
Bamber disclaims responsibility, saying the down-turn in the market has put many clubs in trouble, and Brighton are no exception.
He is hoping that Jimmy Melia, in temporary charge, can lift the side…
The Melia era got off to a glorious start with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Norwich City on 11th December 1982, a win that suggested the side, now more attacking, had turned over a new leaf in the League. Here you can enjoy highlights from this match, Albion’s biggest victory in Division One that season:
Enjoy Jimmy Case’s rocket with his left foot, the close control and creative play of Peter Ward, and Andy Ritchie’s curling free-kick.
Unfortunately, it proved a false dawn. Albion failed to win their next ten League matches, a poor run that plunged the club from 18th to bottom of the division by the start of March. By then the media circus over the FA Cup run gripped the club and First Division survival became of secondary importance.