It’s not just Manchester United’s David Moyes that has had to deal with messages in the sky undermining his managerial reign. Chris Cattlin faced the same issue in November 1985 during Brighton’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City at the Goldstone when a Cessna flew from Shoreham Airport calling for him to be replaced. Here’s how John Vinicombe from the Evening Argus reported it:
Albion chairman Bryan Bedson today slammed the West Stand season ticket holders who hired an aircraft to advertise their call for a return of Alan Mullery to the Goldstone.
“It was absolutely stupid – I presume people in our stand are supporters, not knockers.
My directors feel the same way. They all said it was a ludicrous thing to do and a complete waste of money.” The plane, hired from Air South at Shoreham, circled the ground twice just before the Norwich game trailing a streamer bearing the words: “Come back Mullery all is forgiven.”
It cost £200 to hire and 20 West Stand season ticket holders were responsible and went to extraordinary lengths to keep their identities secret. Staff at Air South said the money was paid by a man who insisted thai no name appear on the invoice,
Manager Chris Cattlin did not see the stunt. The canopy of the stand also prevented many occupants reading the message. Those on the terraces who did, gave it a chilly response.
John Vinicombe was also negative about it:
My first reaction to the couple of circuits of the Goldstone as the players came out was what had Mullery to be forgive for. Anyway, the exhortation fell flat. There were boos from the crowd, an odd handclap here and there, and the kite buzzed off. As a piece of agitation, it was a flop.
I had received a telephone call during the morning saying what was in the air and that the object of the tasteless exercise was to draw attention to the directors that Mullery would be welcome back.
Not for one minute do I think the skywriting coincides with the publication of Mullery’s autobiography. Mullery wouldn’t dream of being party to anything like that. He said as much yesterday and sympathised with Cattlin who was a player in his promotion team.
“I was going to the game,” he said. “But then we decided to visit friends instead. Then early in the evening, a friend came up from Brighton and told me about this aeroplane. I needed that like a hole in the head. I have been in a similar situation myself the night I got the sack from QPR with people chanting for me to leave, was terrible. It is a difficult time for a manager especially when you are doing your best. I feel very much for Chris in this position.
“Somebody must have money to waste, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I found it hilarious when I read about it in all the papers.”
Having come so close to promotion back to the top flight the previous season, Albion looked out of sorts in 1985/86. At the time of the draw with Norwich, they stood in eighth position, six points off a promotion spot. In their previous three matches, a leaky defence had shipped thirteen goals, losing to Charlton (3-5), Oldham (0-4) and Liverpool in the Milk Cup (0-4).
Although only one above the Seagulls in Division Two, Norwich looked a cut above the Albion in terms of quality. Future Seagulls Ian Culverhouse and Mark Barham were mere youngsters then. Yet they were showing promise in a City packed with outstanding players, such as Chris Woods, Steve Bruce, Mike Phelan and Dave Watson (the one who eventually played with Everton). Supported by the potent strike force of Kevin Drinkell and Wayne Biggins, the Canaries then powered up the table, starting a sparkling ten match winning run later that month. Ken Brown’s side were crowned Second Division champions by the end of 1985/86, with an impressive seven point margin.
As for Brighton, Cattlin’s men did rediscover their form, and looked outside bets for promotion, before tailing off towards the end of the season. Cattlin was sacked after Brighton lost 2-0 in the penultimate match at relegation-bound Carlisle. In the summer of 1986, Bedson sought Alan Mullery as the successor. Through the power of suggestion, perhaps the banner was not as big a flop as Vinicombe had surmised. Nevertheless, anger at the banner and the departure of Cattlin still exists to this day.