“I’m slightly torn between two teams that are very close to me. In a way I’ve got to be happy if either team goes through. I had great memories at the Albion, but Derby is where I grew up and my home town.”
So says Vaughan Woolley, a reserve centre-back on Brighton & Hove Albion’s books between 1975 and 1978.
He has Derby County partly to thank for his most unforgettable experience in Albion colours. In the League Cup in 1976/77, Alan Mullery’s high-flying Brighton first team had knocked out Ipswich Town and West Bromwich Albion, both formidable First Division sides at the time. In the fourth round in October 1976, the Third Division outfit faced a star-studded Rams team featuring seven internationals including Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Charlie George and Leighton James.
With demand for cup tickets running high, the Albion’s marketing team came up with the novel idea of making them available at the reserve match with Charlton that month. In all, 17,554 watched as Brighton reserves ran out 3-0 victors against the Addicks’ reserves.
“We only used to get around 800 to 1,000 fans for normal reserve matches at the Goldstone, but they were selling cup tickets for the Albion match against Derby County,” Vaughan says. “When I ran out the ground looked full. The Argus published an article about me in 2009 about the match and the fact that so many fans went to see the reserves when the first team at Withdean was only getting around 8,000.”
And to cap it all, Vaughan got on the scoresheet and spectacularly dived into the fans! “Chris Cattlin, who latterly became the Seagulls manager, also scored one. I remember mine clearly. It was just before half-time. I was playing left side midfield on that occasion. We won a corner. Tony Towner took it, and I rose high to head into the top right corner. I was ecstatic, so I just continued running past the goal and lunged into the celebrating fans. Great memories, I just loved playing at the Goldstone Ground.”
Not that left midfield was his normal position: “I came to Brighton as a centre-back. I remember Peter Taylor who was the manager of Albion at the time told me that he wanted to build the future Brighton team around me and Robin Madden, another reserve team player from the Worthing area. It didn’t work out unfortunately for either of us.
“I was quite versatile as I could kick as well with either foot. So I ended up playing in midfield as well. I was gutted in a way when Albion signed Mark Lawrenson as he played in my position, plus he was a record signing at the time so it made things difficult for me.”
Peter Taylor and Brian Clough both knew Vaughan from Derby as he was captain of Derby Boys when at school. Another Brighton reserve, Stephen Ward, and Vaughan grew up together, went to the same school, Noel-Baker, and played for Derby Boys at the same time. Vaughan reminisces: “Steve Ward was my best friend at school. He was very skilful but not the quickest of players. He went on to play for Halifax Town and Kettering Town. I lost touch with Steve in recent years as he moved out of the Derby area.”
“Steve joined Albion in June 1975. As for me, I was originally asked to go on trial at Brighton for six weeks that August. After the first week I was asked to sign as an apprentice. Of course, I said yes and loved every minute of it. Moving to the south coast was possibly the toughest thing, moving away from my family and not able to travel home that often. I guess I was a little home sick.”
You must have encountered the subsequently more well-known Ward, Peter (no relation to Steve!), in the reserves, just before he broke in the first team?
“I loved my time at the Albion and frequently in training had the pleasure of marking Peter Ward. I thought I always did quite well in marking him but his history speaks for itself. He was certainly a legend of the club. I used to get on with Pete really well. He was also from Derby. I saw Pete several times in Derby in subsequent years and since then I bought and read his autobiography. Very interesting!”
Vaughan believes he also got close to making a breakthrough: ‘I think I was being thought of for first team, I had scored the home reserve game the week before the Charlton game. We played Northampton Town and I scored a header in a 2-2 draw. I also played in Brighton & Hove Albion ‘Select’ 11 when we played local town teams in the Sussex Cup matches. As well as this, I also played in a behind closed gates friendly against Fulham. This was mostly consisting of first teamers and I started the match. It was unfortunately marred when Sammy Morgan went into a tackle with the Fulham left-winger and unfortunately broke the lad’s leg. It was a nasty compound fracture.”
Apart from the two Wards, which other reserve players does Vaughan remembers most vividly? “There was a decent young lad join as apprentice from the Brighton area, Glen Geard. He went to school in the Brighton area. He was a real laugh, a bit cocky and full of himself but genuinely a nice lad. I think he might have gone on to play for the firsts. There was also Mark Elliott, a Welsh lad, really nice. He made his debut but didn’t play much. After I left, another of my friends from the Derby area joined the Seagulls, a lad called Tony Vessey. He was a centre-half who made an appearance for the first team. Not sure where he ended up afterwards. Might have gone to the States to play!”
Well, Tony Vessey had an illustrious non-league career with Crawley. He also played for them against Brighton in the FA Cup 3rd Round at the Goldstone in January 1992. To which, Vaughan replies: “Crawley, that’s interesting because I was in digs or lodgings in Portslade by Sea with two other guys, Eric Steele who helped teach me to drive. Now he’s the goalkeeping coach at the Rams. Also, a lad named Carmine Porpora, He also played for Crawley. He was released by the Albion after his apprenticeship. I met up with him and my old landlady for a meal down at the Marina a couple of years back. ‘Pop’ as he was known played for time in Italy, in their second division, I think. He played in same team as Claudio Ranieri apparently. He went on to play for Crawley Town in the 80s, I believe.”
Sadly, Vaughan Woolley didn’t make any appearances for the Seagulls’ first team: “I made a decision to leave Brighton in the summer of 1978. On reflection I was foolish but I had no agents, mentor or father figure to guide me. I asked Mr Mullery to pay me more otherwise I would have to leave. He said he wasn’t paying me any more, so I’d set myself up. I wished I hadn’t.”
After Brighton, Chesterfield were interested in signing Vaughan. However, he became disillusioned after leaving the Seagulls and really wanted time out: “I signed for a local team and played in the East Midlands Regional league mainly playing teams in Derbyshire and Notts area. I enjoyed my football and was with my old friends. I think, on reflection, I needed guiding by someone but that didn’t happen. I was basically on the dole. I joined Rolls-Royce and have worked there ever since. It’s all history. As I say, you have to accept what you do and the decisions you take in life. But if I have one regret it is leaving Brighton. If I could have played the way I did in the years following my departure, who knows what might have happened?”
How did you develop as a player after leaving the club? “I matured in the years after that and became a better and stronger player,” Vaughan contends. “However, I seriously broke my leg in two places in 1984 and that finished my playing career, aged 25. Oh well. I cannot get too regretful as many lads just don’t get the chances that I did.”
Have you been back to watch Brighton & Hove Albion? “I have been to the Amex, I went to one of the first games there with my son against Gillingham. I would have played to have played there. What a stadium! But it doesn’t hold the memories of the Goldstone. Anyway, I look forward to watching the Play-Off semi-final game this next week and hope whoever wins go on to promotion.”
Any predictions? “I think it will be 1-1 at the Amex and 2-0 to the Rams at the iPro,” Vaughan reveals. “Sorry to all Seagulls fans, but my head is ruling my heart. Best of luck to all involved, though.”