A High, a Low and a Close One: Brighton’s First Top-Flight Adventure

The 2017/18 Premier League season will be Brighton’s first in the top flight since 1982/83. Back then, Margaret Thatcher was preparing to embark on a second term of office, Spandau Ballet’s True sat proudly atop the charts, and a future king was only just learning to walk. Although 1983 signalled the start of a drab era in the club’s history, the previous four years had been a very remarkable story of defiance.

Having been tipped for promotion last year by Sports Predictor, Brighton & Hove Albion (if nothing else) already boast a story which has produced material perfect for a pub quiz. To that end, three events from the club’s first top flight adventure stand out prominently from the rest…

Between the Goldstone Ground and the Falmer Stadium, Brighton played at the Withdean Stadium, which has become synonymous with some of the club’s darkest moments from the past three decades.

  1. The opening act

Brighton are scheduled to open the club’s second top-flight adventure with a home match against Manchester City. The two-time Premier League champions are the bookies’ favourites to lift the domestic game’s biggest trophy again, and as such, there are distinct echoes back to Brighton’s very first top flight season. Alan Mullery’s men opened the 1979/80 First Division with a match against giants Arsenal at the Goldstone ground – and duly received a 4-0 roasting.

Difficult though the 1979/80 proved to negotiate, Brighton’s first ever away win in the top flight came against none other than reigning European champions Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.

  1. Anfield rapped

The Seagulls held their own in the interim years, but by the 1983 New Year, Brighton were in the throes of a dismal season that would end in relegation. Unsurprisingly then, nobody gave Brighton a prayer when a beleaguered squad travelled to Anfield in February 1982 to take on reigning league champions Liverpool. Then managed by the apparently invincible Bob Paisley – who was, in fact, six months from handing the reins over to Joe Fagan – the Reds dominated proceedings. However, the day would be Brighton’s.

By now under the stewardship of Jimmy Melia, Brighton performed with the sort of spirit that had been sorely lacking in the league. A Kop End goal from Gerry Ryan gave Brighton the lead, before Craig Johnston equalised. In a perfect climax, former Anfield hero Jimmy Case leathered the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar for the winner.

Brighton’s FA Cup adventure of 1983.

  1. Wembley heartache

High on the pomp that only a win at Anfield can ever create, Brighton dispatched Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday to set up what remains the club’s most recent cup final to date. Brighton’s opponents were Manchester United, and though the Red Devils were not yet the colossus they would become in due course, they were nonetheless heavy favourite to lift the cup.

In a spirited performance worthy of the Rocky film franchise, the blue half of a 99,000-strong Wembley erupted into raptures when Gordon Smith opened the scoring on 14 minutes. Goals from Frank Stapleton and Ray Wilkins put Manchester United ahead, but Gary Stevens equalised just three minutes from time to take the final to a replay.

No doubt exhausted by their superlative exploits, Brighton were collectively crushed in the replay, going down 4-0 with two goals from United captain Bryan Robson. It was a sad, and perhaps unjust, end to a season that would precipitate 34 years of misery and frustration in the wilderness of English football.

Unsurprisingly, upon supporting their side to promotion this year, the Brighton faithful beheld their club’s return to the English top flight with tumultuous adulation, showing in no uncertain terms that they are ready to leave the past exactly where it belongs.

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