In May 1972, Brighton needed just one point against Rochdale to return to the Second Division. Those who complain that Southampton and Spurs stitched up the Albion in 1978 perhaps need to examine the final game of the 1971/72 campaign more closely!
Before a Goldstone crowd of 34,766, Pat Saward’s men got off to a great start against the Dale after four minutes when John Templeman got the opener. As the Daily Mirror reported it at the time:
Ken Beamish, standing on the edge of the Rochdale penalty area, got the ball from skipper Brian Bromley and pushed it back to the unmarked John Templeman. From about twenty-five yards, Templeman unleashed a drive without leaving the ground – and sent the crowd into ecstasies.
Rochdale were under constant pressure but they handed the Goldstone a shock on 59 minutes when Peter Gowans gathered a cross from Malcolm Darling and lashed in a 25 yard special that gave Albion keeper Brian Powney no chance.
And then the drama suddenly petered out. As Ken Beamish recalled in ‘Match of My Life: Brighton & Hove Albion’:
With about 20 minutes to go, the game suddenly died a death. As things stood we had the point we needed and they were safe from relegation. With hand on heart I can say it was never in our plans just to play the game out; it just materialised. Neither side had a shot on goal in those final minutes; nor did either team look to penetrate each other’s defence. It probably wouldn’t happen nowadays because the final matches of the season are all played on the same day, but back then we were playing after the end of the season and so both knew what we had to do.
A similar tale is told by his striking partner Willie Irvine in his autobiography ‘Together Again’:
We’d played this game at 100 miles an hour until the score became 1-1. At this point I’d noticed Saward and the Rochdale manager talking on the touchline. Somehow the game seemed to slow down dramatically except for me putting in an almighty challenge on their centre-half and almost scoring. “Bloody hell”, he said, “don’t you know we’re playing for t’draw now?” No I didn’t, nobody had bloody told me.