Brighton and Hove are twin towns, now combined as one city, on the South Coast of England in the county of Sussex, and are well known as tourist destinations. Professional football in the area was the brainchild of Edgar Everest, a Sussex Football Association official who founded Brighton United in 1897. Playing at the Sussex County Cricket Ground, the club collapsed in 1900. A high-class amateur side, Brighton & Hove Rangers, was formed in its wake but also folded after just one year.
Manager Chris Hughton
- Current Team
- Brighton & Hove Albion
- November 12, 1958
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Brighton and Hove are twin towns, now combined as one city, on the South Coast of England in the county of Sussex, and are well known as tourist destinations.
Professional football in the area was the brainchild of Edgar Everest, a Sussex Football Association official who founded Brighton United in 1897. Playing at the Sussex County Cricket Ground, the club collapsed in 1900. A high-class amateur side, Brighton & Hove Rangers, was formed in its wake but also folded after just one year.
But the will to provide the towns with a successful club was already strong. The former manager of Brighton United, John Jackson, was the driving-force behind a third club, Brighton & Hove United, which was formed as a semi-professional outfit on 24 June 1901 at the Seven Stars, a pub in Ship Street. The new concern changed its name to Brighton & Hove Albion before a ball was kicked because of objections from Hove FC.
Quite why “Albion” was chosen as the new suffix is not known. West Bromwich Albion certainly set a good precedent, but there are no known connections between the two clubs at the time.
Albion’s first season, 1901/02, saw them play at the County Cricket Ground in Hove, in the Second Division of the Southern League (which was then a rival to the Football League as the top league in England). However, the best football ground in the area was the Goldstone Ground, the home of amateur side Hove FC. They could not afford the rent on their own, so they invited Albion to share the ground from 1902. The arrangement lasted for two years before Hove departed, leaving Albion to lease the ground themselves. In 1930 they purchased the Goldstone outright, and remained there until 1997.
In 1903, Albion won the Second Division of the Southern League alongside Fulham, and earned promotion to the First Division with a play-off win over Watford. After one year in the higher grade the club converted to a limited company, and introduced a new playing strip in place of the all-blue shirts: blue and white stripes, which became Albion’s traditional colours. (However, all-blue, blue with white sleeves, and even all-white strips have also been worn in some seasons).
Seven years after making their First Division debut, Albion won the Southern League title in 1910. Guided by manager John Robson, the team secured first place with a home win over their only rivals, Swindon Town, on 23 April, a triumph that was marked with the now-traditional pitch invasion by supporters at the final whistle.
Securing the Southern League title also earned Albion a match against Aston Villa, the Football League champions, for the FA Charity Shield (now the Community Shield). Winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC) with a goal from Irish international Charlie Webb, Albion were dubbed “Champions of England”.
Around this time supporters began to adopt, and adapt, a popular song of the day, Sussex by the Sea, as their own. A rousing march written by William Ward-Higgs, it remains the club’s traditional theme song to this day – played as the team runs out, and sung with gusto by fans.
It was also sung in the lanes of France and Flanders by British soldiers during the First World War. Hostilities broke out in 1914, but a full season was played amid great controversy before professional football was abandoned. Most Albion players joined the Army, and the club closed down in 1915 for four years. Four players including long-serving goalkeeper Bob Whiting, plus the groundsman and many supporters, lost their lives in the conflict.
When the war ended, the Goldstone Ground was restored and normal football began again in 1919. However, 1919/20 was the last season of the Southern League in its prime form, and the First Division clubs were taken on by the Football League to form a Third Division (South) in 1920.
It took Albion 38 years to win the section and secure the one promotion berth available. Much of the interest between the wars was therefore reserved for the FA Cup. The club became renowned giant-killers, defeating First Division sides Oldham Athletic, Sheffield United, Everton and Chelsea in front of large crowds at the Goldstone Ground; and winning away at Grimsby Town, Portsmouth and Leicester City. A 1933 cup game against West Ham United brought 32,310 spectators to the Goldstone, a record that lasted 25 years.
Albion kept playing throughout the Second World War and never failed to fulfil a fixture, but it was a struggle to survive. The directors of the nearby greyhound track took control of the club in 1940 to stave off financial ruin, while the German Luftwaffe did its best to disrupt proceedings. Three games at the Goldstone Ground were abandoned because of air-raid warnings, and the North Stand was bombed in August 1942 (but no one was hurt).
Under the wartime regulations, Charlie Webb, who was manager from 1919 until 1947, called upon players of other clubs serving with the Army in the area, and even had to draft soldiers from the crowd on occasion to complete an eleven.
The resumption of normal football after the war saw attendances escalate to unprecedented numbers. In 1947/48, Albion finished bottom of the Football League for the only time and had to be voted back into the competition by their fellow members, but the average gate was over 11,000, a record. The following season it rose to more than 17,000.
Throughout the 1950s the club played attacking football, attracted big crowds, and made several bids for promotion under manager Billy Lane. In 1955/56 they won 29 league games, scoring 112 goals, but could still only finish second to Leyton Orient.
The breakthrough finally came in 1957/58 when Albion needed a draw in the last game of the season to finish as champions. A 20-year-old reserve forward, Adrian Thorne, scored five times as the team thrashed Watford 6-0 at the Goldstone to ascend to the Second Division (now the Championship) for the first time.
Their debut in the higher grade came at Middlesbrough – and they lost 9-0! However, the team slowly recovered and finished the season twelfth of twenty-two clubs. The average gate soared to more than 22,000. On 27 December 1958 the largest home crowd in Albion history, 36,747, packed into the Goldstone Ground for the visit of Fulham. But the place in Division Two could not be sustained. In 1962 the club finished bottom – and then fell straight through the Third Division (now League 1) and into the Fourth (now League 2).
Albion and their supporters needed inspiration, and found it in the form of Bobby Smith, the Tottenham Hotspur and former England centre-forward who signed in 1964. His presence brought in thousands of extra supporters, and the gates averaged almost 18,000. A 3-1 win over Darlington in April 1965 in front of more than 31,000 fans secured the Fourth Division title, the team scoring 102 goals in the process.
The club then spent seven years in the Third Division before securing promotion to Division Two for a second time in 1972, finishing runners-up to Aston Villa, but the adventure was soon over and they were relegated after just one season. It seemed as though the club was destined forever to be Third Division “also-rans”.
After half a season of struggle under Sami Hyypia, Chris Hughton was appointed manager right at the end of 2014 and proceeded to stabilise the club. In 2015/16, Hughton’s side challenged at the right end of the Championship table once more, establishing a club-record 22-match unbeaten run in the league in the process. In a three-way battle with Burnley and Middlesbrough for the two automatic promotion places, Albion travelled to Middlesbrough on the last day of the season needing to win to go up, but could only draw. Perhaps drained by that effort, they then lost out to Sheffield Wednesday in the play-offs.
But, just like 1978/79, Hughton and his team renewed their efforts in the 2016/17 season and, in tandem with Newcastle United, dominated the Championship campaign. Promotion to the Premier League was sealed on Easter Monday, 17 April, amid scenes of unbridled joy from the supporters, the players, the directors and the staff. The average number of tickets sold per match was 27,995, an unprecedented figure.
Albion thus return to the top flight 34 years after they last played in it. Those three decades and more have seen the club plunge to unprecedented depths, but the determination of the club’s supporters – on the terraces, in the seats and in the boardroom – to see it survive and thrive has shone through. There are very few, if any, clubs in England where the bond between the supporters and their club – forged in the most adverse of circumstances – is as strong as at Brighton & Hove Albion. This was shown when over 100,000 supporters flocked to Brighton seafront for the club’s open-top bus parade on Sunday 14th May, which marked a final celebration of the club’s promotion to the Premier League.
With a superb stadium (voted the best new stadium in the world in 2012), a world-class training facility, a multi-award-winning charitable arm (“Albion in the Community”), and exceptional club and team management, the future looks bright. No one knows what it will bring – but we know it won’t be for the want of trying.
Source: Brighton & Hove Albion