By the second half of the 1980s, the Brighton & Hove Albion matchday programme had become incredibly dull. Save for its colour cover, the rest of the publication was looking increasingly stale. Black and white action shots previously seen in the Evening Argus, lots of unimaginative PR stories (some business chap holds cheque in front of camera alongside a club rep), Tony Pullein’s summary of news in the division and a page where the manager (Barry Lloyd) excuses last week’s unlucky defeat while urging fans to get behind the boys today. You know the score.
The formula had barely changed since the start of the decade, but at least then it was fresh, it had the sparkle of Tony Norman’s photo-journalism and the lustre of First Division football as its subject matter. Now, the bland, lifeless writing and page layout perfectly reflected a club where the likes of Dudley Sizen, Greg Stanley and Bryan Bedson were running the show.
Yet an incendiary letter found its way into the letter’s page in November 1988. Here, for your perusal:
Although the official match programme hasn’t yet admitted it, there is now a lively unofficial rival called ‘Gull’s Eye”. Perhaps the Editor hopes it will go away! In fact its existence should be a reminder to those who produce Seagull Review that they are missing out on genuine controversy regarding the performance of the team, its players and manager. The topics dealt with in your letters’ columns are dull and of secondary importance. The fencing, the public address system and hospitality to visitors to the ground are not subjects to stimulate our interest. What is needed is constructive comment on club policy, tactics and performance, with replies from the Chairman, Manager and Chief Coach where appropriate. I do not believe in hounding unfortunate players who are out of favour with a section of the crowd, but we the supporters, many of whom are players, past or present, pay the wages of the Club’s employees and should be treated as intelligent and knowledgeable.
Gull’s Eye is brash and a bit brutal. It lacks intelligent comment on skills and tactics, but it is never dull and tries to come up with the behind the scenes news which we really should be reading in Seagulls Review. I challenge the people with authority at the club to allow genuine debate in the pages of your magazine and to reply to the questions the supporters really want answered. Will you print my letter, and will my challenge to debate the issue publicly or privately be taken up?
Steve Rooke, the programme editor at the time, replied: “That’s exactly why this page was put here, John, and it’s up to fans like yourself to respond.”
By the following season, 1989/90, the colour content of the match programme dramatically increased, and its design was spruced up, perhaps in a bid to see off the challenge of Gull’s Eye. It never did become the irreverent publication full of debate that was desired by some fans, hardly surprising considering the increasing chasm between supporters and the Board as the nineties rolled on.