As I sit and observe the morning sun on the garden, my eyes are drawn to a framed photograph. It was taken after Brighton and Hove Albion performed the biggest magic trick ever – the great escape at Hereford United on 3rd May 1997. I shall return to that momentous day later.
My Albion journey began aged 11 in 1983. Surrounded by the building excitement of the FA Cup run, it was difficult to ignore this game I’d previously exit the front room to avoid on the tellybox. Sussex was ‘cup crazy’. Towns were buzzing, players were allocated to towns to sign the classic Cup single and meet the fans….. I got a kiss from Gary Stevens – nuff said… Glued to Grandstand on the big day, I watched the team have their breakfast, interview badly and lounge in their natty tracksuits at the hotel.
With big sis unable to go to Wembley first time, I was lucky enough to be taken to watch the helicopter return. WOW! Sis got a kiss from Jimmy Melia, we were in touching distance of these heroes. The dye had been cast. Fast forward to the following season post-relegation, my first mantotty crush had taken his grin to Liverpool, but I had just begun my first real season of Albionitis. Shoot magazine purchased, sticker swapping in the playground with the lads, flimsy cardboard league ladders religiously moved every Sunday, radio commentary on every match – I was hooked. Christmas 1984 saw the best present ever….a scarf, a teddy I named Fozzie and the promise of my first match. Blackburn Rovers at the Goldstone. A draw. Tony Grealish on the programme cover. East Stand terrace. AMAZING! Then….we were drawn against Liverpool in the FA Cup at the Goldstone. A chance to see Michael Robinson in the flesh. Just needed to pluck up the courage to ask bis sis and Neil if they would take me – took me ages, but YES! Michael knew I was there; he could feel the love.
Progression to the North Stand over the years, the removal of the metal fencing and a new crush – Steve Penney. And there is another story. (Thanks Alan Wares!)
Student life meant working on a Saturday and moving away to college, to live by The Dell in Southampton. I never went to see the Saints play until the last ever match played there versus us after we had won the Div Three title.
Once I had become a worthwhile member of society and earning a wage, I wanted to go back to the Albion. It was 1995 and we were in the doom years. No one I knew wanted to go. I didn’t want to go on my own. So, ever resourceful, I resorted to bribery and pity. “Come with me and I’ll buy you dinner afterwards,” was the usual mantra. It sometimes worked. Then, on a second date with a Sunderland fan, I found a footy buddy and a long-term partner. We sat on the North Stand terrace to watch matches as there was no one to interrupt our view. We protested. We wrote letters, we marched, we battled. We were there. It was all-consuming, but it was important. The BHA family was strong. York CIty postponement. Fans United will never be defeated. The second to last match at the Goldstone against Wigan – can we really do this? The Donny match. In my head, the weather in the last few games matched the sombre mood of our predicament – dull, moody and miserable. We may have lost our home, but we had hope. We had light at the end of the boardroom – the enemies were withering, our Knight in shining armour had arrived complete with Gritt and determination.
We come to Hereford. THAT day. THAT day I will never forget. Parking the car with local ‘yoofs’ asking for protection money for the car. Getting in the ground very early. Police telling us they had been told to make friends with the fans so that we’d be less inclined to cause trouble later.
The Bull….what the…..! Sunshine. It was a sign. We were at the front. I have never felt so knotted inside. This match meant more than anything. It was our death sentence. We had a noose around our neck awaiting the stay of execution. Half time….I drank from my fizzy drink bottle and the drink reemerged as I was soooo tense.
The rest of the match is well-documented. The words ‘batshit mental’ spring to mind. A love-in ensued. We had done it… we’d only gone and bloody done it!
“Hey, nice copper, could you take our photograph please?”
As I sit here thinking back 20 years, I am grateful to all those who I have met on my Albion journey over the past 34 years. Big thanks to big sis and Neil who are still home and away regulars from deepest, darkest Somerset. Immense appreciation goes to those who were at the forefront in saving our club and those who worked tirelessly to get us back from exile. Love in abundance to the money men – Dick Knight, Tony Bloom and others who put their money where their hearts were. To all our fellow football fans who have understood what we faced over the years and offered support, either practical or ethereal. To the players who have given me headaches, adrenalin-rushes, joy, sadness and passion. PRIDE. To the hordes of children who I have taught who were subjected to total and blatant indoctrination into the ways of BHA FC. To the people who never made it……we have all lost loved ones during the battle years. I look at that Hereford photograph and I stare at one of those. We did it Tim. We are on the cusp of our dream.
To everyone who bleeds blue and white – THANK YOU x
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY