Tag Archives: kit napier

Albion have never had it so hard

From the Evening Argus on Friday 24th July 1970:

Dave Armstrong (now with Dover) leading Howard Wilkinson up 'The Hill'

Dave Armstrong (now with Dover) leading Howard Wilkinson up ‘The Hill’

Albion players were unanimous: “We’ve never trained like it before… never.’ That was all they had breath for, and it was back to the start line for another race up a 90-yard one-in-four gradient at Stanmer Park, writes John Vinicombe.

This is what they call ‘The Hill.’ When manager Pat Saward first set them pounding up, many collapsed afterwards, several were physically ill.

This has been part of the training for several days now, and the times are getting faster. Some, like young Martin Tew and John Templeman, can make it in 12 seconds. Others take 15 – and several minutes to recover.

A session on ‘The Hill’ means six or seven dashes, and results are carefully noted and times posted for all the players to see.

Said Saward: “The lads are giving me 120 per cent. They’re putting everything into it, and training is going very well indeed.”

Geoff Sidebottom has collapsed, while Dave Turner (right) and Kit Napier sink to their knees.

Geoff Sidebottom has collapsed, while Dave Turner (right) and Kit Napier sink to their knees.

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A shock for Villa in the crunch game

Albion's new skipper, Brian Bromley

Albion’s new skipper is the influential midfield man Brian Bromley

Having suffered defeats to Oldham and Bradford in the run up to the clash with Division Three leaders Aston Villa on 25th March 1972, Brighton boss Pat Saward made some brave changes. Out went Stewart Henderson and captain John Napier, and in came Bert Murray and Ian Goodwin. Brian Bromley was installed as the new skipper.

The changes paid dividends, and the promotion push was back up and running thanks to a famous 2-1 victory. Here is how the Sunday Mirror reported it:

Brighton manager Pat Saward bounced to the edge of the pitch at the end of this ding-dong Third Division promotion battle.

And he ordered his Albion troops: “Get back into the middle and take a bow. You deserve it.”

Saward’s tribute to his swashbuckling side was deserved. They fully earned a victory which takes them one step closer to Second Division soccer next season and which dented ambitious Aston Villa’s own title chances.

It was the long, frizzylocks of Kit Napler which nodded bubbling Brighton to victory six minutes from time,

Villa ‘keeper Jim Cumbes should have cut out a left-wing centre from Peter O’Sullivan.

But he missed it, Napier didn’t, and Villa were beaten for only the second time in their last twenty-one League outings.

Villa boss Vic Crowe took defeat with a philosophical shrug of his shoulders. “They plaved out of their skins,” he sald.

“Yet we might well have got a point. Jim Cumbes says the sun got in his eyes when they grabbed that late winner.

“Still, I think we can go top and I don’t care who goes up with us.

“Brighton play Bournemouth next-Saturday, and as far as I’m concerned they can both lose.”

Villa were dodgy at the back. And stodgy up front.

Brighton looked the likelier Championship bet all through.

Said Saward: “Tremendous, tremendous. We tore them apart in the first quarter of an hour of the second-half.”

He was not exaggerating.

In that spell. Villa’s £275,000 centre half Chris Nicholl twice had to scoop what looked like certain scoring-chances off his own goal-line.

The first was from Ken Beamish and that was followed by another from Napier.

But Brighton began tearing Villa apart as early as the sixth minute when Willie Irvine shot them into the lead with as good a goal as anyone will see this Season,

Beamish launched it. John Templeman drove, a magnificent pass with surgical precision diagonally through a floundering Villa defence.

And Irvine finished it off with a searing shot from the edge of the penalty box.

Villa looked like salvaging a point when skipper Bruce Rioch rifled a fifty-fifth minute equaliser which was every bit as good as Brighton’s opener.

Willie Anderson. who looked such a weary Willie until that moment, sent Charlie Aitken sprinting along the left.

The full back’s cross was played back into the middle by Ray Graydon and Rioch met it on the volley to almost burst the Brighton net.

Rioch’s joy was shortlived. He was booked in the the seventy-seventh minute after a clash with rival skipper Brian Bromley.

Referee Norman Burdenshaw had no alternative but to take Rioch’s name.

Others were more fortunate, avoiding a similar fate in this beefy promotion battle.

The Midlands’ moneybags have now taken only one point fronx their last three outings, and the promotion boat is beginning to rock.

But Brighton look if their Second Division intentions are honourable, Seldom has any side have run Villa so ragged.

The Sports Mirror editorial also spotlighted the crucial match:

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Hands all those who deserve an ice lolly! Brighton’s team will probably get the freedom of the town’s ice cream parlours after licking Aston Villa 2-1. This happy threesome are Peter O’sullivan, Willie Irvine and Kit Napier after Irvine had fired Br!ghton’s first goal in the sixth minute at sunny Hove. And by the look of him he wouldn’t swap that moment for all the pebbles on the Brighton beach.

Cut open any Aston Villa player this morning and it wiil probably say “Brighton” all the way through.

Villa, with tradition a mile high and just as long on optimism about playing in the Second Division next season, found it was too hot by the seaside yesterday.

Brighton and Hove Albion, to name just one side, have never hit the heights. And apart from one stay in the Second Division, have never reached for them.

Yesterday afternoon Brighton took Villa apart. They won 2-1 with goals by Willie Irvine and Kit Napier, Napier leaving the fans biting their fingers until six minutes from the end when he popped in the winner.

It was a shock to Vllta’s sophisticated system.

Irvine cheekily nosed Brighton in front after six minutes. And it was another fifty minutes before Bruce Rioch put the leaders level.

Villa still head the table but they are now only one point ahead of second-placed Bournemouth who dropped a point at Rochdale.

BournemouttL who have played two more games than Villa or third-placed Brighton, had a lucky escape when Gowan missed a penalty for Rochdale,

Our forecast of next week’s hottest soccer spot must be Bournemouth, Brtght0n are the visitors and they want to cut two more points off that four-point gap between them and Villa.

Eddie Spearritt challenges for the ball with Villa's Ray Graydon

Eddie Spearritt challenges for the ball with Villa’s Ray Graydon

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With Wolves visiting, Cup fever grips Brighton

The League Cup captured the imagination of Sussex in the autumn 1969. In August, Freddie Goodwin’s side put one over south coast rivals Portsmouth, with Alex Dawson getting the only goal, Then the Albion toppled First Division side Birmingham City, 2-0, in front of 24,232 supporters to set up a mouth-watering third round tie with mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers on 24th September.

With Brighton going well in Division Three, the level of interest in the floodlit match was such that the Evening Argus produced a four page A3 colour supplement as a preview to the game:

Back row: Mike Yaxley (coach), Terry Stanley, George Dalton, Barrie Wright, Bobby Smith, Mike Everitt, Dave Armstrong, Ken Blackburn, Joe Wilson (trainer); Middle row: Tom E. Whiting (chairman), Brian Powney, Andy marchant, Stewart Henderson, Dave Turner, John Napier, Norman, Gall, John Templeman, Paul Flood, Geoff Sidebottom, Harold Paris (vice-chairman); Front row: Howard Wilkinson, Alex Dawson, Kit Napier, Eddie Spearritt, Freddie Goodwin (manager), Nobby Lawton, Willie Bell, Allan Gilliver, Brian Tawse. Sitting: Martin Tew, Keith Watkins, Michael Stanley, Garry Parsons.

Back row: Mike Yaxley (coach), Terry Stanley, George Dalton, Barrie Wright, Bobby Smith, Mike Everitt, Dave Armstrong, Ken Blackburn, Joe Wilson (trainer);
Middle row: Tom E. Whiting (chairman), Brian Powney, Andy marchant, Stewart Henderson, Dave Turner, John Napier, Norman, Gall, John Templeman, Paul Flood, Geoff Sidebottom, Harold Paris (vice-chairman);
Front row: Howard Wilkinson, Alex Dawson, Kit Napier, Eddie Spearritt, Freddie Goodwin (manager), Nobby Lawton, Willie Bell, Allan Gilliver, Brian Tawse.
Sitting: Martin Tew, Keith Watkins, Michael Stanley, Garry Parsons.

Rather generously, the back page was mainly devoted to a colour photo of the visitors:

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As you can see, Wolves’ skipper was Mike Bailey, who would go on to lift the League Cup trophy four and half years later, in an entertaining 2-1 victory over Manchester City in 1974. Unfortunately, injury kept him out of this match. Had he travelled to the Goldstone, he would have seen a huge crowd of 32,539 supporters. What a contrast to the falling gates when he took over as Brighton boss in 1981.

In John Vinicombe’s match report, the Argus writer declared:

Albion should have beaten Wolves out of sight at the Goldstone last night. For close on 70 minutes they were Wolves’ masters and thoroughly deserved a 2-1 lead with Hugh Curran, the player Albion tried hardest to subdue, won the game with a two-goals-in-eight-minutes burst. So Wolves entered the fourth round of the Football League Cup when it looked for so long like a major upset before a 34,000 crowd that set up a floodlit ground record.

The 3-2 skin-of-the-teeth success was highly flattering to a side standing fourth in the First Division. But in the final analysis they displayed their class by twice coming back to steal a place in the last 16. They owed it all to Curran whose stealth stamped him as a superb turner of half-chances into goals.

Yet Wolves were given a tremendous fright by an inspired Albion, and were unable to find their bearings without Mike Bailey supplying the drive and Derek Dougan his own brand of inspiration.

Napier (left) and Gilliver rise to head...

Napier (left) and Gilliver rise to head…

Dawson holds his hands aloft as Gilliver tumbles between the defenders, with ball in the net

Dawson holds his hands aloft as Gilliver tumbles between the defenders, with ball in the net

On nineteen minutes, Albion took the lead when Kit Napier’s inswinging corner was missed by Wolves keeper Parker, who seemed more worried by big Alex Dawson. He seemed to push Dawson, which may have warranted a penalty, but Allan Gilliver showed his goal touch to squeeze the ball home at the far post.

However, Wolves hit back twelve minutes later when Wagstaffe intercepted Nobby Lawton’s pass. The Wolves player ran on and on, and it became one on one with Geoff Sidebottom once John Napier slipped. He then fed Woodfield who slotted home the equaliser.

Eddie Spearritt plants his head onto the ball...

Eddie Spearritt plants his head onto the ball…

...which disappears in a mountain of toilet roll in the back of the net.

…which disappears in a mountain of toilet roll in the back of the net.


On the stroke of half-time, though, Brighton delighted the home crowd by retaking the lead. Kit Napier’s free-kick found Eddie Spearritt who guided a header just under the crossbar.

With Albion dominant, an upset was on the cards. But Wolves were not finished, and Hugh Curran raced on to a huge defence-spliting goal kick from Parkes to equalise with twenty minutes to spare. Curran then broke Albion hearts on 78 minutes, making the most of a mix-up at the far post. Sidebottom and Turner had left it for each other to deal with Wagstaffe’s harmless looking cross, allowing Curran to nip in.

Even so, Albion played stoutly during the evening, none more so than Stewart Henderson who had a storming match.

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Henderson, a small and classy right-back, would go on to be voted by supporters as their Player of the Season.

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Kit Napier gets back among the scorers

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Kit Napier is rightly considered an Albion legend. He was a ball-playing attacker, skilful with both feet, and with tremendous talent for goalscoring. At the Goldstone, Napier’s class and quick-witted play endeared him to the crowds. After being top scorer for the Albion in four of the previous five campaigns, Napier again was having a prolific season in 1971/72 as the Albion flew high in the Third Division.

From Goal magazine on 18th March 1972:

While Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Notts County have been stealing the promotion headlines this season, Brighton, strugglers for part of last term, have slid quietly into a threatening position and are poised for a takeover bid that could shoot them into the Second Division.

Much of the credit for the Hove team’s confident aspirations must go to manager Pat Saward, the former Coventry coach. Saward worked himself to a standstill last season to make the players believe in themselves.

Now his determination and drive have brought their own reward. His players have responded to his inspiring example and are playing the best football the team has produced since Albion were promoted from the Fourth Division in 1965.

One player to benefit from Saward’s hard work is 27-year-old striker Kit Napier. The player who has played over 200 first team games and scored more than 70 goals is once again among the club’s leading scorers.

His goals could be instrumental in bringing Second Division soccer to the Goldstone Ground for the first time in 10 years. Kit has spent only five of those years with the club, but he believes that the club is now ready to leap into Division Two and stay there.

Says Kit: “There isn’t a better team than us in the Third Division and I really fancy our chances of going up. Once we get there I don’t think we’ll have trouble staying up.

“The standard of football we are playing this season is so high that if we were in the Second Division now we would probably be pushing for promotion.

“We would not have any trouble with the financial burden of playing in a higher division either. Brighton has a a tremendous crowd potential as was proved by that 30,000 crowd we had at Christmas against Bournemouth. If we were in the First Division I’m sure we could get gates of 40,000 regularly.

“Possibly the only trouble with our fans is that they are a bit fickle. We have a few bad results and they start to stay away. But they come round in the end. Ad for myself, they’ve always treated me fairly.”

That is why northerner Napier, who was previously with Blackpool, Preston, Workington and Newcastle is so happy down south.

“Brighton are the best club I’ve been with,” says Kit. “My wife and I are happy. We never had any bother settling down here. It is such a nice town. I much prefer it to living up north.

“The only regret of my career is that I never had more of a chance in the First Division when I was at Newcastle. I only played nine games for them.

Having played for five clubs Kit has a vast experience of the wide differences and he believes that the third Division is the hardest to play in.

“In the First Division you have time to play the ball,” explains Kit. “but in the Third Division you don’t have that time.

“But the quality of the football is definitely improving.

“You’ve got good teams like Aston Villa coming down or Bournemouth coming up. And of course the referees clampdown has helped things as well. It has certainly helped me my play. Now he is determined to achieve his ambition – to win something. “All the clubs I’ve been with before Brighton have never done well,” says Kit, “So I’d be happy and satisfied just to win promotion with them.”

The way he and his team-mates are playing, Napier could be in the Second Division next season.

By the end of the 1971/72 season, Kit Napier was top scorer once more with sixteen League goals, although this feat was equalled by Willie Irvine. Albion won promotion, as runner-up after a phenomenal season of attacking play.

In the Second Division Division the following season, Napier’s optimism was dashed as Brighton’s campaign was unhinged by lack of funds and his falling out with manager Pat Saward. Made just three appearances before being sold to Blackburn Rovers for £15,000 in August 1972.

kitnapier2

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Book of Football: Part 69 (Brighton)

As covered in a previous post about the life and times of Norman Gall, the Book of Football was a weekly partwork from the early 1970s, building up to an authoritative encyclopaedia of the game over the course of 75 weeks. I bet, if you around then and had collected every issue over a year and half, you’d quite rightly have been very satisfied with yourself. And wouldn’t think anything of it as you proceeded to bring all six volumes down the pub and proceeded to bore your friends with your newly acquired knowledge on football tactics, club histories and goalscoring feats…!

Nearing the end of the completion of Marshall Cavendish’s series, came Part 69 which featured Peter O’Sullivan, Willie Irvine (face partially concealed) and Kit Napier, three happy men in their running shorts, celebrating an astonishing team-goal in March 1972.

bookoffootballbrighton

As the inside cover says:

One of the highlights of the 1971-72 season for Brighton. Kit Napier congratulates Willie Irvine after his goal which gave Brighton the lead in the vital promotion match against Aston Villa. Brighton won 2-1 and Irvine’s fine goal was featured on Match of the Day.

And what a diamond of a goal it was!

Inside we are treated to another colour photo (of Kit Napier, number 8, and Ken Beamish, on the floor) plus a potted history of Brighton & Hove Albion. Written very concisely, it charts a local Brighton college’s acceptance of the Rules of Association Football in 1872 (yes, the dark ages before Brighton & Hove Albion were formed), through to the creation of the club, the Southern League days, Brighton winning the Charity Shield (also against Villa), through to victory in Division Three (South) in 1958, to Pat Saward’s then current struggles as his charges flopped in the early months of Second Division football in 1972/73.

bookoffootballbrighton2

There are also some excellent illustrations of the coat of arms the club used in the 1960s and early 1970s, as well as some mostly accurate drawings of the home and away kit (persnickety alert: the only omissions were the red lettering on the home shirt and some white hoops from the away socks). Together with Brighton’s season-by-season record in the League and FA Cup, it all makes for a splendid portrayal of what the Albion was like back then and its relative stature to other club within the football world. And if you want more, there’s all the other 74 parts you can read too!

bookoffootball2

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Willie Irvine: How Promotion Was Won in ’72

willieirvine

In ‘Together Again,’ the autobiography of former Burnley, Preston, Brighton and Halifax hotshot Willie Irvine, he recounts the story of how Albion’s scintillating all-out attacking play achieved promotion from Division Three in 1971/72. Alongside the equally prolific Kit Napier, his sixteen League goals made him the club’s joint top scorer. Irvine’s strikes against Torquay, Halifax, Walsall (FA Cup) and Bristol Rovers were all in the dying minutes, earning him the nickname ‘Late Goal Willie.’ He also scored this incredible goal against Aston Villa:

More on that later!

Unusually, but effectively, the classy Northern Ireland international reminisces about the famous season through the context of a booklet from those times:

Among my few bits and pieces of memorabilia is a torn, battered, moth-eaten copy of a little programme-sized souvenir booklet produced by Chris Bale, who was sports editor of the Brighton and Hove Gazette. It’s a story in pictures of that memorable season, one of the happiest and most rewarding I spent.

72-1

I look at it now and all the best memories come back as if the 30 years and that have passed by since that year have melted away. It says on the blurb it was the most exciting season since Albion had won promotion from the Third Division 14 years earlier.

I flick through the pages and am reminded of the chairman Tom Whiting, Pat Saward’s right-hand man Mike Yaxley, Ray Crawford the coach, and a bloke called Joe Wilson who had been at the club in one capacity or other since Noah’s Ark first hit the waves.

The pages of the booklet aren’t even numbered but there I am on the first page that hits you, scoring against Bradford City, soaring like an eagle, eyes on the ball, shirt flapping, hair flying. Bang, back of the net, bloody magic.

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Next page, scoring the winning goal on our home ground, seizing on a faulty back pass and going round their keeper to make sure it goes in. “Willie’s coolness in these situations shows his international class”. Chris Bales’ words, not mine.

72-3

Next page: two pictures of me, one back to the camera, slim, muscular, striped shirt, number 9 big and bold on the back, Bertie Lutton slamming the ball home. Under that one is me talking a pot shot, great picture, almost horizontal above the ground; damn, missed.

72-4

Next page, after 7 games, seventh in the table, five points behind Bournemouth at the top, Albion’s most unusual goal comes next and I’m responsible for it; a goalmouth scramble, me in the middle of it, the Chesterfield goalkeeper thinks I have fouled him and stops playing and puts the ball down for a free kick. He walks back a couple of yards to take the free kick and everyone bar just one player walks back to take up new positions. But that’s just one problem. The referee hasn’t blown for any foul so Kit Napier, cool as you like, puts the ball into the back of the net. Mayhem, stunned Chesterfield players. Stunned Brighton players for that matter; Albion 2 Chesterfield 1. Who gets the other? Me.

72-5

Nearly half-way through the booklet: 22 games played, Brighton fifth, five points behind Notts County, Brian Bromley scores; me, arms raised in joy, and a dejected Mansfield number 5.

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The middle pages of the souvenir have us all smiling and holding champagne glasses. I’ve wangled myself a position in the centre of the picture, hair all over my face. Pat Saward, just to my left, looking cool and calm as if this kind of thing happens every day, but as a former male model this could be his photograph face. Good-looking fella.

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Page whatever it is – it’s a bugger they’re not numbered – and we go second: Albion 3 Wrexham 2, one from me.

72-8

And then the big one, the promotion crunch game, at home to Villa. It was a win that really made us think and believe we could do it: win promotion and get our names into Brighton history books. There were a few drinks that night. The BBC cameras were there for that game and there, next to the Villa page, there’s a picture of me scoring and the goal was voted by BBC viewers into Goal of the Season runners-up.

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Next page, Ken Beamish is pictured with a flying header. He was a £35,000 bargain and demonstrated that the saying “the early bird catches the worm” is absolutely true. Pat Saward left Brighton at 5am one morning to sign him. I’ve half an idea he signed him from Tranmere, who we played the next day.

72-10

Albion 3 Blackburn 0 and I scored. I always seemed to score against Blackburn so when I see their old centre half Derek Fazakerley, I always say, “You won’t recognise me now, will you?” He always asks why. “Because all you ever saw was my back and you could never keep up,” I reply.

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Now here’s the back end of the booklet. Did we by some quirk play Rochdale twice in the final two games?

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The final table reads: Aston Villa top with 70 points and then us in second place with 65 points, just three ahead of Bournemouth. Absolute jubilation.

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It’s a priceless memento – in spite of my ridiculous Mexican bandit moustache, plus the obligatory ’70s hairstyle. Eat your heart out, Omar Sharif. We all had those big hairstyles then. I just wish I had some left today and didn’t look quite so old.”

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Such was Willie Irvine’s tremendous form in 1971/72 for the Albion that he fought his way back into the Northern Ireland team in the summer of 1972. Here, he gets an assist for Terry Neill’s winner against England at Wembley in the Home Internationals:

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