On the eve of Brighton’s baptism in the top flight in August 1979, Graham Nickless of ‘Football Weekly News’ interviewed Alan Mullery:
The First Division welcomed back Alan Mullery on Saturday in Brighton’s historic meeting with Arsenal at the Goldstone Ground.
Muilery, a battling midfieid player for England, Spurs and Fulham, returns to the top flight as one of this country’s most exciting young managers.
And Sussex club Brighton and Hove Albion can count themselves extremely lucky that Muilery’s rise to fame in the managerial world started with them.
For Brighton have experienced phenomenal success under the cigar-smoking manager, who has achieved more for the Seagulls than any other manager – including Brian Clough.
Saturday’s clash with FA Cup winners Arsenal was a significant milestone in the club’s 79-year-old history, for it was Brighton’s first match in the First Division.
“The potential has always been here at Brighton but there has been no one to tap it until now,” says Muliery, who was awarded the MBE for services rendered to soccer three years ago.
“Brian Clough and Peter Taylor tried but failed,” he adds with a smile.
The Seagulls, promoted from the Third to the First Division in three seasons are riding on the crest of a wave but are now treading unfamiliar territory.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge but it’s like going into the unknown,” the manager continued.
“We don’t know what to really expect even though we know so much about the clubs we shall meet this season.
“I’ve only got three players with First Division experience — but I’m not frightened by it. There’s only one division to play in, I’ve told my players it’s the only place to be for a player and a manager.” Mullery’s personal dream has certainly come true, and he more than anyone else connected with the ambitious seaside club, is looking forward to the challenge of playing in the hardest league in the world.
“I’m delighted to be back,” he said.
“Nothing has hindered me here at Brighton.
The directors are first class, they’ve been absolutely marvellous.
At the top
“I’m sure that success starts at the top and works down.”
The stocky boss nearly took Brighton up into the First Division in his first season at the club but saw his old club, Spurs cruelly rob his team of promotion by goal-difference on the last day of the 1977-78 season.
Now, just over a year later, Brighton are where they belong and ready to do battle for more honours to keep their incredibly loyal fans satisfied.
In preparation for the club’s biggest task to date the one-time England star, who once marked the famous Peie out of a World Cup match, has signed three new players – John Gregory (from Aston Villa), Steve Foster (Portsmouth) and Tony Knight (Dover).
“I have 17 to 18 players chasing 11 places and that suits me,” Mullery states confidently. “One more player could make it better, hut that will come in time.” And one player of whom the First Division may get a glimpse, and who Mullery rates as a brilliant young prospect, is defender Gary Stevens, 16.
“He’s a gem,” says Mullery. “He has a real big future in the game. Gary’s a good reader of the game, has lots of ability and can tackle hard. He is also the best header of the ball in the club.”
But will Gary break into the first team this season? “There is a possibility but I shall not rush things.”
Mullery, despite a daily round trip to Brighton from his Epsom home, has a deep sense of pride for his club who have never known life so good.
“Last season,” he reflects, “was the first time that Brighton had managed to keep their place in a higher division for more than one season. [not actually true. Also achieved after the 1957/58 promotion season]
“They were notoriously susceptible to going straight back down again a year after gaining promotion – now we’ve set a precedent at the club I intend to keep it that way,” added the man who certainly means business for Brighton and Hove Albion this season.