Danny Wilson is back today as manager of Championship bottom club Barnsley. Of course, it’s not the first time he’s been in that position in the league, having played for the imploding Second Division Brighton side in 1986/87.
A year before, he was far more optimistic of the Seagulls’ fortunes. In January 1986, with Shoot! Magazine, the talk was on promotion under Chris Cattlin:
Don’t ignore Brighton! That’s the warning from Albion skipper Danny Wilson.
“Everyone is talking about Portsmouth. Brighton don’t seem to attract much publicity these days, yet we are capable of joining our South Coast rivals in the First Division next season,” Danny declares.
“The side is packed with pace and class. We made a strong run last season and just missed. This time, all of Brighton are determined to reclaim the First Division status lost after the 1983 F.A.
If they and Pompey go up together they will join Southampton in a three-way South Coast combat in Division One next season.
“I’ve not seen a better equipped Second Division side than us,” says Wilson. “What is more, we believe that we will be im proving steadily right through the season.”
For this battling midfielder, it is a personal challenge.
“When I left Nottingham Forest, it hurt. I had not fulfilled the ambitions I set myself in the First Division,” he reveals.
“Brian Clough insisted on using me as a wide player, virtually a winger, which I am not. I didn’t play welt consistently enough and was low on confidence. When I left Forest for Brighton, I felt as if I had failed. Going back to the First Division with Brighton – this time as a central midfield player – would compensate for all my disappointments first time around.” Danny, who has skippered both Bury and Chesterfield, slotted into the leadership role at Brighton when Jimmy Case left for Southampton.
Manager Chris Cattlin has put together a new strike partnership: Mick Ferguson, who had never been out of the First Division until joining Brighton, and ‘unknown’ free tran sfer signing Dean Saunders.
“Everyone knows what Mick can do from his appearances for Coventry, Everton and Birmingham but Dean has come out of the blue. Frankly, I knew nothing about him until he arrived from Swansea City.”
The son of 1950s Liverpool wing-half Roy Saunders promised briefly with sharply taken goals for The Swans, but became a victim of the South Wales soccer slump. Chris Cattlin moved in swiftly when The Swans needed him off their wages bill.
Now the 20-year-old has a booming new career, playing wide to the experienced Ferguson and prompted by the midfield guile of Danny plus former Villa ace Dennis Mortimer.
“But Dean’s progress is matched by Steve Jacobs who has virtually taken over Jimmy Case’s role in midfield,” says Danny.
“Steve is a real ball-winner and typifies the new spirit down here at the Goldstone ground.”
Despite losing the FA Cup Quarter-Final at the Goldstone to Southampton in March, Brighton rallied to win their next three League matches, against Stoke, Blackburn and Millwall. Wilson hit two goals in those matches as his side, in fifth position, looked a good bet for promotion. However, Albion faltered thereafter and ended the season in a very disappointing 11th position.
Hampered by injury the next season, Wilson still managed 35 League matches although he was not in the best of form. He could not prevent the Seagulls’ slide towards Division Three and joined Luton Town in July 1987 in a £150,000 deal. There, he finally proved himself as industrious and inspiring First Division midfielder.