Charlie’s away day in Brighton…

hirst

Total Football magazine launched in September 1995 as a laddish competitor to FourFourTwo. In May 1997, in its ‘away days’ feature, Charlie Hirst revisited the doomed Goldstone Ground, where he had seen his first ever match in 1982.

The match was a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City, but for anyone who was pubbing and clubbing in Brighton in the 1990s, the mention of the nightspots afterwards will probably stir even bigger memories:

The classy seaside town of Brighton has been hit by deepening despair over the running of its football club. It’s well documented, but they’ve been dealt football’s roughest hand and there’s still a chance that The Seagulls might go out of business due to crass mismanagement, lack of interest from the local council and an apparent disregard by the FA for one of its members’ fortunes.

Total Football sped down to the crisis club with a couple of exiled Seagulls fans to join over 9,000 other supporters – the biggest gate in Divisions Two and Three – to lend its support to Brighton’s cause. And, of course, to sample the town’s hospitality. The first game I saw as a kid was at the Goldstone Ground, Forest beat Brighton 1-0 in the old First Division. Dizzy days indeed.

So it was with fond memories that I journeyed back to the South Coast.

With just three games left at the condemned Goldstone Ground, passions were running high at the match with Cardiff.

We arrived early, looking to mix in with a pint or two outside the ground. The obvious stop-off point was the Hove Park Tavern, on the corner of the Old Shoreham Road.

It was heaving with Brighton fans and before long we were enjoying a bit of banter with the locals. Several jars later and the atmosphere was warming up. The cry of ‘Give us an S’ went up and the letters to ‘Seagulls’ were bellowed out. The Cardiff corner responded, but seemed to lose their way by the time they reached ‘D’. Hopefully more to do with alcohol consumption than falling educational standards in Wales.

As 3pm approached, we downed our drinks, made our way to the ground and sat among the families and gentle folk in the South Stand. The massed ranks of fans on the North terrace looked mightily impressive.

Bdgriton started the game looking eager, lifted by the terrific home support. Pressing the Cardiff defence back, they won a penalty for a blatant push. “Hit in the onion bag,’ was the helpful advice of a chap sat in the row behind – who proceeded to give us a running commentary on the game. Paul McDonald duly despatched the spot-kick and Brighton led. The game then deteriorated into a midfieid scramble, but as my bruv reminded me, this was a real “battle at the bottom,” so style had to be compromised.

However, in the 44th minute a well worked move down the right culminated in a neat cross which was cracked in by lan Baird – 2-0 to Brighton! The home fans managed a rousing chorus of: ‘There’s only one Stuart Storer,’ and we weren’t about to argue.

Half-time brought on a feast of entertainment. The public announcer excelled himself by delivering the interval scores from around the country, went on to announce the birthdays and introduced the Under-12s penalty competition. This was the cream of Brighton’s youth production line and it wasn’t until the seventh strike that anyone hit the target. Finally the deadlock was broken by young Harry Birmingham, who neatly slotted away his spot-kick much to the approval of the North Stand.

Bobby ‘The Fish’ Bish excelled himself in goal, denying many a young lad their dream of scoring at the Goldstone.

The second half never really got going like the first, with the kiddies in the South Stand often out-singing their deeper-voiced comrades in the North. There were a few shaky moments in the Brighton defence, but Steve Gritt’s boys locked out the pride of South Wales, earning three valuable points in the process. The inanely grinning linesman on the nearside caused a few moments of humour to distract us from the mind-numbing action on the pitch, but with Cardiff looking utterly impotent, the points were safe.

The Hove Park Tavern wasn’t open for business after the game, so we strolled off to Hove station and took the five-minute ride into Brighton. And now we made the only, but major, mistake of our trip. Eager for beer and the sights and sounds of the town, we ignored our need for a night’s lodging and set off with a carefree strut in our quest for entertainment. Fish and chips were consumed on the Palace Pier, more for their romantic value than any palatable purpose, and a rendezvous was set for the Smuggler’s pub on Ship Street, where we shot some pool and basked in Brighton’s win.

It must have been 8pm before there was any mention of finding a B&B and, confident in my local knowledge, I volunteered to guide the party to safety.

One-and-a-half hours later, we were still roaming the outer streets of Hove, like Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, banging on inn keepers’ doors only to be told ‘no room’. A sprightly Cockney taxi driver (who supported Man Utd) offered to drive us to the heart of the B&B area – directly opposite to the way we had walked. By the time we found the veritable jungle of B&Bs they were all fitted with ‘No Vacancy’ signs.

Left in a quandary, we slipped into The Lion to mull it over with a drink.

Buoyed after a whisky or five, we decided that the best course of action was not to think about
lodgings and turn our attention back to hitting the town. Without a thought for our future well-being, we meandered into the centre.

Ship Street was our destination again, although we didn’t know it at the time. We wandered through thefamous Lanes, all posh jewellery and lingerie boutiques, only to come out opposite the Black Lion. We were welcomed by the stench of cheap aftershave and a series of elbows to the ribs as we squeezed in through the crowds. This was not the sort of place where you could spill someone’s pint and get away with it. We found a corner and tried convincing ourselves that we were comfortable – but forever in the knowledge that the clock was ticking, we decided to press on in true adventurian spirit.

Pushing our way back through the sweaty punters, who were dribbling on about John Hartson’s brace for the Happy Hammers against Coventry, we stumbled out into the sunny streets, wobbled back through the Lanes and arrived at the Clock Tower. A public house called The Quadrant took our fancy, so we slipped in for one. Cosy, comfortable and friendly we settled in for the evening.

Purveyors of the distinctly fine Hoegarden Belgian White Beer and playing top tunes on the jukey, this was indeed a cracking pub.

They finally chucked us out at about 11.45pm with instructions to head for the nearest club, The Gloucester. We boogied and bopped the night away and rounded it off with a slap-up fried concoction in the famous all-night cafe – the Market Diner – down the road and round the corner from the Royal Pavilion.

Over our Mixed Grills and Veggie MegaBusters we gassed to Simon and Matt, a pair of drunken munters who reckoned they were mates with Neil Heaney and Paul Dickov.

Suitably unimpressed, we headed back to sleep in the car, the Hotel Laguna, which boasted shower facilities if you opened the sunroof when it rained.

It was a cracking day out, with a fantastic set of fans in a beautiful seaside town. Long live Brighton And Hove Albion.

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