Sean Coleman – a reader meets Brighton’s Peter Ward

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Top Soccer magazine may not have lived long in the memory of many supporters, but the edition from 15th December 1979 certainly gave Seagulls fan Sean Coleman, then 11, one of the best Albion-related childhood stories of the glory years:

If people paint a room in the colours of their favourite soccer team then they must be close to being fanatical fans!

That can certainly be said of young Sean Coleman’s family after their kitchen received a blue and white coat of paint in honour of Brighton F.C.

That fact persuaded us to grant 11 year-old Sean his wish of meeting his idol, Peter Ward.

Sean was so excited at the prospect that he couldn’t sleep the night before and woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning.

He met Peter outside the Goldstone Ground with his kit bag at the ready.

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Within a couple of minutes, he was achieving his greatest goal by running out of the tunnel in his ‘Seagulls’ strip.

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Sean could hardly believe it when Peter gave him a few priceless tips on the game then autographed his football for him.

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Then it was over to the dugout where Peter took it easy for a cup of tea while Sean got on Alan Mullery’s ‘hot line’ to the director’s box… to talk about the colour scheme at the Goldstone, no doubt.

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Marvellous! 36 years on, I wanted to see if Sean was still supporting the Seagulls. After a bit of detective work, via North Stand Chat, I managed to track down Sean to ask him about his great day at the Goldstone all those years ago. Bet it must have been strange to see your name discussed on NSC!

“I got a message from a friend about it and I thought you’re having a laugh,” Sean says. “Didn’t seem quite real to be honest. I had a look at it and so here we are.”

So what is the story behind your appearance in Top Soccer magazine? “My dad used to buy Top Soccer magazine and, unbeknown to me, wrote to them saying I was a fan of Peter Ward and that would like to meet him. One day, he said, ‘Get in the car with your football kit on. We’re going for a drive’ and we ended up at the Goldstone. I met the whole team, including Brian Horton, Mark Lawrenson, Andy Rollings, Gerry Ryan, and went down the tunnel and there was Peter Ward on the pitch. I was blown away, really.”

Sean had been watching the Albion since he was five. He remembers going to see them play Southampton at the Goldstone Ground in his first game, in August 1972, when Saints fans climbed the floodlights. He was hooked. “I also went to Norman Whiteside’s first ever game for Man United. He came on for the last few minutes,” he adds. “I used to go regularly every week, home and away until I was 17 or 18. Then I got married and things changed. However, I did get a season ticket for the first season at the Amex, but now my work stops me going on a Saturday. I go as and when I can.”

And then things turned full circle.

“Funnily, about three years ago, I went to a signing at the club shop and Peter Ward was there. I was with my youngest son. I told him Peter Ward was the man I had idolised. My son’s hero at the time was Mackail-Smith as he was such a big signing at the time.”

Finally, is it true your kitchen was painted in blue and white? The answer is yes, thanks to his father, a man of many Albion-related surprises: “My dad came home with two pots of paint and began to paint the kitchen in Albion colours and my mum never let him live it down. That was quite something.”

And his current place? “My wife would never let me do that!”

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Eric goes back to school

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From Shoot! magazine in 1979:

The morning training session is over. Eric Steele, Watford’s £100,000 goalkeeper sits back in a comfortable chair and enjoys a refreshing cup of tea. But you won’t find him idle for long!

He’s too busy settling in at his new club, getting his own career back into top gear, and planning how best to continue the schoolboy coaching he built up so successfully in Brighton.

But there is time to look back on the move that took him back into the Second Division, in October.

“I didn’t want to leave Brighton,” he says. “That’s the first and most important point. It wasn’t my decision, it was Alan Mullery’s. I think he was wrong and I’ll be proved right in time. Once he’d made up his mind, I had to resolve myself to leaving.

“But it hurt. It took me a long time to get to the First Division and I think that in the ten games I played, I proved I was good enough to keep my place at that level. But once I knew I was on the move, I wanted to get away as quickly as I could.

“I went on the list on a Thursday and Watford came straight in for me the next day. I’d signed for them within a week. I was very happy to join such a progressive club. I would never have come here if I didn’t believe we would be a First Division side in a couple of years.

“Since I arrived at Vicarage Road, I’ve been impressed with the whole set-up. I like the way people look at the game. I’m sure I’ve made the right move. Some people may wonder why I went to a Second Division club. My answer is, I’ve taken one step back to take two forward. I’ll return to Division One, with Watford.”

At Brighton, Eric filled much of his free time by coaching schoolboys and helping handicapped people. He intends to carry on the good work in Watford as well as keeping an interest on the South Coast.

“I’ve been interested in coaching ever since I left school,” he explains. “I was going to train as a teacher, but then I got the chance to join Newcastle United and I took it. But I never lost my interest in coaching.

“The main idea I want to get across to the lads is that they should enjoy their football. Professional players have to live with pressure, but while you’re at school it’s fun. If any of the kids think they’re good enough to earn their living from the game, they should work hard on their skills. But they should try to get some qualifications behind them first.

“If they’re good enough to make the grade at 16, they’ll still be at 18. Football is a very insecure business. You’ve got to have something to fall back on.”

Eric has seen the cruellest face in football. Young apprentices of 17 or 18 who have failed to live up to their early potential. They’re on the list, with nowhere to go. They feel washed up, before their young lives have really begun.

“That’s why I tell the lads to work hard at their school work, as well as their football.”

Eric did just that, when he was a lad, up on Tyneside. He left school with three ‘A’ levels, but still found plenty of time to play football.

“I played three games, every weekend,” he smiles. “I’d finish my school match on Saturday morning, then dash off to play for Wallsend Boys Club. A lot of good players, like Ray Hankin and Chris Waddle, came from there. On Sunday mornings I had another match and every Sunday afternoon… I died!”

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Eric’s enthusiasm for the game always comes across when he coached schoolboys. But would he like to see more stars taking the time to give something back to the game, at grassroots level?

“A lot of people say players are too selfish to give up their free time, but I don’t think that’s the reason so few do it. SHOOT readers might be surprised to hear me say this, but a lot of professional players lack self-confidence. The thought of standing up and talking to a crowd of youngsters brings them out in a cold sweat.

“Every player has his own personality. Some are good at talking to people, some aren’t. But the ones who are shy often enjoy coaching, once they’ve got over the first ten or 20 minutes. I noticed that when Brighton had a sponsored scheme last year. Every week, two players would go out to a local school and talk about the game.

“Some of the players weren’t too keen, but they all relaxed and enjoyed themselves in the end. Now, at Watford, people at the club seem to think along the same lines as me. People are encouraged to work and get involved with the local community. I think that’s the way it should be.”

Watford’s soccer stars of the future will be getting plenty of sound advice from Eric in the months to come. Talented youngsters need help. And who better to give that help than the local soccer stars?

“Professionals do have a fair amount of free time on their hands. I think it should be used to put something back into the game. Coaching can be hard work, but when you see your idea getting across to the players, it’s very satisfying too.”

If more thought like Eric Steele, the future would look brighter for British soccer. And after the controversy and disappointments of recent months, Eric’s future looks rosy again, with Watford.

“The club’s only going one way,” he says, finally, “and that’s up.”

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We can see you holding hands

A sweet image of Gary Williams from Shoot magazine in 1979:

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And Smith did score!

From Gordon Smith’s autobiography:

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There were 100,000 cheering fans in Wembley that day and we certainly silenced the Red Army when I scored in fourteen minutes.

Gary Howlett fired a diagonal cross towards the far post and I drifted in behind their defence to head the ball back across goal, beating Gary Bailey at his left-hand post to score the opener. Yes, folks, Gordon Smith did score at Wembley in the FA Cup final! We were well organised that day and, at half-time, we were still one up. As we trooped off the park, I looked at the giant Wembley scoreboard, saw my name as the scorer and thought that maybe, just maybe, we could pull off a shock result and I would be a hero for scoring.

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Robert Isaac interview: Have You Ever Had It Blue?

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After getting stabbed by rival supporters and leaving the club you support, the last thing you’d want are injuries, relegation and bust-ups with the boss. But that was the way of things for Robert ‘Bob’ Isaac, a promising defender who helped the Seagulls return to the Second Division in 1988.

As a Chelsea apprentice, he appeared on The Sun front page after he was hurt by Millwall hooligans going to a match. However, there was much better news on the pitch. The Hackney-born youngster played for the reserves aged 15 and broke into the first team in March 1985. It was doubly sweet as he supports the Blues:

‘We lived in Chelsea and my great grandfather went to the first ever match at Stamford Bridge. My family have been going to matches home and away since. I went to see Chelsea play Stoke in the League Cup Final aged six. The hairs on my neck stood up just walking up Wembley Way. I went with my granddad and stood on a wooden stool. Shame about the result!’

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By contrast, he tasted victory on his Chelsea debut in the First Division some thirteen years later. His speed and aerial ability helped secure a 3-1 victory at Watford: ‘It sounds soppy but I was welling up in the warm up.’

He did fine but all was not well at Stamford Bridge: ‘The management was losing support of the players. I asked for a transfer as I wanted regular first team football. When I joined Brighton in February 1987 they were in freefall. The dressing room was even more at odds with the manager than at Chelsea. Barry Lloyd dropped Dean Saunders, our only hope of surviving the drop. I found Barry rather rude. He’d blank me in the corridor and make me train on my own.’

Robert missed his team’s two victories at the end of the miserable 1986/87 season and was injured for much of the following campaign when Garry Nelson’s goals lifted the side. Indeed, it took fourteen months for Robert to experience his first victory in an Albion shirt, against Notts County in April 1988. Sensationally, captain Doug Rougvie had been dropped in March in favour of Isaac: ‘I don’t think big Dougie took it well but we’ve seen each other since and he holds no grudges.’

Isaac played in the final six matches, with Albion winning five times to win promotion on the last day against Bristol Rovers to euphoric scenes: ‘The run-in was something else. We felt unbeatable. It was such a contrast from the previous season.’

The following 1988/89 campaign, back in Division Two, Albion got a rude awakening, losing their first eight matches.

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This was stemmed with a welcome 2-1 victory over Leeds United but then disaster struck: “I got injured at Leicester. I didn’t feel it until the next day and then it really hit me. My knee just blew up. Come Monday morning I couldn’t even walk.’

In August 1990, Robert was forced to call it a day. Since retiring, he has worked as a chauffeur for the Maktoums, the ruling family in Dubai, before becoming self-employed with his own vehicles.

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Grandmaster Fash

Here is mascot Gavin McLean, then 12 years old, posing with new Brighton striker Justin Fashanu on the opening day of the 1985/86 season, before the 2-2 draw with Grimsby Town at the Goldstone in August:

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Fash had a fine spell with Notts County in 1984/85, leading to considerable interest from the likes of Manchester City, Norwich, Chelsea, Birmingham, Oxford and Oldham. In Jim Read’s superb biography of Justin Fashanu, he provides a vivid anecdote:

Also interested in Justin was the manager of another Second Division team, Chris Cattlin of Brighton & Hove Albion. Feeling he might be a difficult player to manage, Cattlin decided to invite Justin to stay at his house for four days so they could get to know each other. They obviously hit it off and the transfer was agreed.

Catlin explained: “Justin had a reputation of being a bit of a problem player with his other clubs but that is all in the past. In my dealings with him I’ve found him to be a smashing person and the sort of player our supporters will take to.’ He told the Evening Argus that Justin was ‘a dedicated player who has been asleep for a couple of years’, adding ‘I’m sure, with us, he will bring his talents to fruition’. For his part, Justin told The Times: ‘I only took this step after a good deal of thought and prayer. I am convinced Chris Cattlin can get the very best out of me.’ He described the move as the most important of his career. He must have felt it was his last chance to regain the form he had shown at Norwich and in his first few months at Notts County.

He signed in June 1985 for a fee of £115,000 given a generous three year contract, reported to be around £45,000 a year. He had passed his medical but there was an exclusion clause on his troublesome right knee. It would only be covered by insurance after he played 12 consecutive League games.

There was some lingering ill-will from supporters over various incidents when he had played against them including the injury to Jeff Clarke the previous season. When still at Norwich, he had broken the nose of Brighton’s defender, Andy Rollings, who was then sent off after swinging a punch at him.

Dismissing the broken nose as arising from an accidental clash of heads, Justin claimed: ‘I think I have become more subfie in my game. I would really hurt people in the past but that is all behind me, now.’ But, as one Brighton supporter put it: ‘He was the kind of player you couldn’t stand because you thought he was dirty, then he comes to play for you and you think he’s brilliant.’

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Arsenal in disguise

Here’s the Brighton & Hove Albion team photo for 1971/72:

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Back row: Ian Goodwin, Willie Irvine, Steve Piper, Terry Stanley, Stewart Henderson, Brian Powney, Alan Dovey, Alan Boorn, Peter O’Sullivan, John Templeman, Alex Sheridan, Kit Napier.

Middle row: Glen Wilson (trainer), Norman Gall, Eddie Spearritt, John Napier, Pat Saward (manager), Dave Turner, Alan Duffy, Bert Muray, Mike Yaxley (coach)

Front row: Ricky Sopp, Kevin Worsfold, Stephen Barrett, Julio Grato, Tony Paris, Tony Towner, Mark Douglas, Billy Wylie, John Rodkin.

The image has been colourised superbly by George Chivers. One of the most striking aspects of this team photo is the red away kit, based on the blue home version that was used for much of the 1960s. When I first saw the black and white original, I assumed it was the home shirt with blue body and white sleeves, but on closer inspection, the tone looks different from the blue on the stripes.

According to North Stand Chat forum user El Punal: “The only time that I can remember the Albion ‘Arsenal’ kit was the 4th round FA cup tie in 1967 against Chelsea. Even though it was a home tie both teams had to change. Chelsea played in white shirts and blue shorts.”

Another NSCer, going by the name Freddie Goodwin, confirms the colour, as seen in an away match with Bristol Rovers in 1971/72, who played in plain blue shirts at the time: “We did play in an ‘Arsenal’ kit and very smart it was too. I was also at that Bristol Rovers game at Eastville. It was a very northern division with no London teams and was one of only three away games I could manage, the others being Bournemouth & Villa. The picture shows John Napier up (or defending) a corner. It was an entertaining game but Willie Irvine had a mare, until scoring in the last min! We scored so many last minute goals that season and won 12 away.”

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Sadly, Rothmans Football Yearbook was not always very accurate with its listing of second choice club colours, as Ian Hine (of http://www.seagullsprogrammes.co.uk) has found:
70/71 – All red
71/72 – All red
72/73 – All red
73/74 – All red
74/75 – All red
75/76 – Yellow Shirts, Blue Shorts, Yellow Socks
76/77 – Green Shirts, White Shorts, Green Stockings
77/78 – Red or Blue Shirts with White trim, White Shorts, Red Stockings
78/79 – Red or Blue Shirts with White trim, White Shorts, Red Stockings
79/80 – Yellow

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Frankie’s fire

Here’s Arsenal’s Frank Stapleton at the Goldstone Ground with its prominent white Townsend Thoresen advertising in the background:
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The photo was taken just before Brighton’s first ever match in the top flight, in August 1979. Frank, one of Europe’s most feared strikers at the time, holds the distinction of scoring the first ever goal in the Seagulls’ four year stay in Division One. He beat Eric Steele with a thunderous shot from 20 yards in the Gunners’ 4-0 victory.

Two season later, in October 1981, and by then a Manchester United player, Frank partnered Michael Robinson up front in the Republic of Ireland’s famous 3-2 victory over France at Lansdowne Road. Here is Robbo giving a clenched fist just before kick-off:

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The Eire team also featured Lawrenson and Liam Brady in midfield as well as current Brighton boss Chris Hughton at left-back.

Suffice to say, had Robinson and Stapleton played together up front for Brighton at the time, the team would have finished considerably higher than 13th in that 1981/82 season. As it was, both strikers were on fire that day and scored in a magnificent performance:

The following 1982/83 campaign, Stapleton’s eye for goal proved a considerable thorn in the Seagulls’ side at Wembley, bundling in Manchester United’s equaliser in the first match.

Frank’s career subsequently took him to Ajax, Anderlecht, Derby, Le Havre, Blackburn, Aldershot, Huddersfield and Bradford. After being sacked as player-manager of Bradford City, he joined Brighton to help out his ex-Gunners team mate Liam Brady in 1994/95.

Considerably past his best, the Irish marksman made his Seagulls debut as a substitute at the Goldstone against Bournemouth in a 0-0 draw in November 1994, before starting up front against Cardiff in a 3-0 defeat. Here he is in a Brighton shirt:

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You can see match highlights from his last ever match as a professional player here:

While at Brighton, Frank applied for the vacant managerial post at Oldham. He then became QPR’s reserve team coach under Ray Wilkins before resigning in February 1995. After that, Stapleton was appointed head coach of New England Revolution, in the new American Major Soccer League, but resigned that summer. Frank currently works as assistant manager of the Jordan national side, as number two to Ray Wilkins.

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A point at Villa

Norman Gall, amongst others, helps Brighton defend a corner at Villa Park in September 1972:

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The Division Two match was a reunion of the sides that had gained promotion from the Third Division in magnificent style and to huge crowds in the previous campaign; Villa taking the Third Division championship on 70 points and the Albion as runners-up on 65 points.

Having lost 2-0 at Villa Park twelve months previously, Brighton made a better fist of it here as Peter O’Sullivan’s goal helped Pat Saward’s side to a 1-1 draw. It was the first away point of the season. The match also marked the debut of Barry Bridges:

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Brighton stood in 19th position after the result, but were to sink in Division Two, finishing bottom by the end of 1972/73, despite gaining goalkeeper Tommy Hughes on loan from Villa in February. As for the Villans, they found the waters of the Second Division were to their liking. Vic Crowe’s side finished 3rd, one place off promotion back to the top flight, although they were nine points adrift of QPR as runners-up.

Still, it was a magnificent achievement for the Midlands club. A sign of the changing fortunes of the two promotion rivals of 1971/72, came in the match at the Goldstone Ground in January 1973. Alun Evans gave Villa a half-time lead before his side went on to secure a 3-1 victory thanks to further goals by Ray Graydon and Jimmy Brown. The win took Villa from 5th to 3rd. A dispirited Brighton, who scored via a John Brown own goal, had to face up to their twelfth successive defeat, and remained in 22nd place.

Sleeping giants Villa eventually rejoined the top flight in 1975 and, in a rapid revival, Brighton followed four years’ later.

The Seagulls’ first away game in Division One? Yes, at Villa Park in August 1979. But despite losing 2-1, Mullery’s men had the know-how and ability to adapt to playing in a higher division.

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Obscure Albion kits: 1974/75 Brighton away shirt on eBay

There is an interesting jersey on eBay at the moment:

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This is the away shirt worn by Peter Taylor’s men in the difficult 1974/75 season. Unlike the rounded collar of the home kit,this one has a flappy collar with a triangle at the bottom. I’m not quite sure of the technical term.

The item was originally listed as a Southampton away shirt but further research suggests it wasn’t worn by the Hampshire side.

Paired with blue shorts, you can see it worn in the Huddersfield v Brighton match in October 1974:

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Presumably, the Admiral logo transfer wore off by March 1975:

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