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The 200% Podcast 12 – General Election Special
Saturday Night On Channel Five For The Football League
The Decline & Fall Of Leyton Orient
Rape, Disrespect & Fury: The Oyston Family & Blackpool FC
Is It Time For A New Football Club For Newcastle?
Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
As Brighton & Hove Albion and Plymouth Argyle took the pitch for their League One match last night, the immediate prognosis for the two clubs couldn’t have looked more different. While Plymouth have just been deducted ten points (which has sent them plummetting to the bottom of the table) and are set to enter into administration unless they can find a new buyer in the next couple of weeks, Brighton are sitting pretty at the top of the table and are set to move into their 22,000 capacity new stadium at Falmer during the summer. On the pitch the two clubs’ differing fortunes were concisely played out as Albion won by four goals to nil, but the match was particularly notable as being an opportunity to thank one particular Plymouth supporter for a suggestion which inspired a very unique protest when it was Brighton that were the club in a state of crisis.
The asset-stripping of Brighton & Hove Albion during the mid-1990s was one of English football’s most shaming episodes of the decades. As David Bellotti and Bill Archer systematically ran the club into the ground and evicted it from The Goldstone Ground, the authorities stood idly by. Supporters of other clubs, however, were appalled by what was going on at Brighton and this was articulated by one Richard Vaughan, a fourteen year-old supporter of Plymouth Argyle, on a Brighton forum in December 1996:
I see the scum FA have now taken 2 points who do they think they are they wouldn’t do this to Man United. It makes me sick what is happening to your club and it’s an insult to your fans. I’m a Plymouth fan and I think that one week when we’re away I`m going to come up and support your protest. I think it would be a good idea if LOADS of fans from different clubs turned up at Brighton (with their shirts on) and joined in it would show that we’re all behind you 100%
The post was impassioned enough to form the seed of an idea in the minds of Brighton’s supporters and campaigners. The team’s form had been predictably dismal and the atmosphere at The Goldstone Ground for every match was a fog of despair and anarchy, but the idea of trying to co-ordinate a day of protest against the treatment of Brighton & Hove Albion by the game’s authorities as well as the club’s owners seemed like something that might just work. So it was that a home match against fellow strugglers Hartlepool United was selected and, on the 8th of February 1997, English football saw its first Fans United day, as thousands of supporters from the length and breadth of the country – as well as a party from the German club Eintracht Frankfurt – descended upon the south coast.
The atmosphere inside The Goldstone Ground that afternoon had an electrifying effect upon the home players, and Brighton won the match by five goals to nil. The battle to save The Goldstone was lost – the deal had been done, and Brighton would spend the next two years ground-sharing at Gillingham before returning to their home town to play at The Withdean Stadium – but other battles were won that day. Brighton stayed up on the last day of the season on goals scored, thanks to a draw against Hereford United. The margin that kept them up was… three goals. That win and those five goals against Hartlepool United turned out to be very valuable indeed. Moreover, although there had been successful protests at clubs before – the combined protest between the supporters of Reading and Oxford United over Robert Maxwell’s proposal to merge the two clubs as Thames Valley Royals in 1983 spring immediately to mind – but this was something quite different: a show of solidarity and disgust on the part of all football supporters at what had happened and been allowed to happen at Brighton.
Fourteen years on, some Brighton supporters still remember Richard Vaughan and his contribution to their club’s survival and a message on the Plymouth forum managed to track him down. The short notice and the fact that the now twenty-eight year-old Vaughan has children and work commitments meant that he was unable to attend the match between the two sides last night – such irony that the last match between the two clubs before Brighton’s return to a true home of their own should come in this of all weeks – but he did send Brighton a message that was read out at half-time last night and was warmly received by the Brighton crowd.
Subsequent Fans United days have never quite managed to hit the undoubted highs of that first one at The Goldstone Ground in February of 1997. At the time of the Brighton protest, English football was approaching the height of its first generation of financial madness, yet the lower divisions were being run to rack and ruin by a generation of asset-strippers, fraudsters and hucksters. It felt as if no-one cared, but Richard Vaughan did, and the thousands that travelled to The Goldstone Ground on a foggy day in February 1997 did as well. It is to be hoped that, even if there is no protest of this nature for Plymouth’s supporters or for those of other clubs that find themselves in a predicament due to the mismanagement or avarice of those that choose to use the custodianship of football clubs as a trough from which to feed themselves, as many people feel this empathy as did in 1997. After all, there bur for the grace of God go the rest of us.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
There’s one group who don’t look back on that day fondly, and that’s the Hartlepool United fans – of which I am one. I suppose it had to be against somebody, but the fact that it was against us – a team with a long history of financial struggles and even a risk at one point of being the first Franchise with talk of the club being moved to Scarborough in the early 80s, to general indifference from the football world of the time, often means that some at Pools have little sympathy for the likes of Brighton. “Where were they when we were in trouble” is the usual cry…. we had not long since got rid of the hated Garry Gibson who had run us into the ground, and so the fact that just a couple of years later there was this huge campaign on behalf of Brighton left a sour taste. Sadly, the Internet was still in its infancy during our travails, and there was nowhere like 200% to shine a spotlight on things…..
Albert – no doubt what you say (about ‘Pools fans’ feelings in 1997) is true. But I hope you’ll agree that, once the principle had been established in ’97, Brighton fans have paid back the solidarity of Fans United in spades ever since. Just ask fans of Bury, Wrexham, Doncaster, AFC Wimbledon …
Brighton fans were fantastic for us while we were in trouble last time. The Fans United day at the Racecourse was pretty special.
Saw this recently on a Brighton messageboard about it.
Brighton fans deserve the success they’re now enjoying for the solidarity they showed with fans of other clubs over the last few years.
Sadly the Brighton FC ‘Save the Racecourse’ banner is currently getting a bit of a re-airing.
Great article. I hope BHA will invite Richard to be there at the first game at Falmer, that would be a great tribute.
Good luck Plymouth.
In many ways we have been… fortunate? in that our ownership has been stable and benevolent over the last 15 years (a local man made good and undoubted fan in Harold Hornsey, and then a company based in the Oil trade who have had us for more than a decade and seem happy to fund our losses through conversion to shares), and maybe if we hadn’t been we would have seen the support of other clubs. In some ways it’s one of the things that the Internet makes a lot easier – suddenly there were places to organise from, and the message became easier to share with fans of other clubs as well. Maybe Brighton just struck it at the right time and became the first to use the Net to organise effectively. The problem is that to a number of HUFC fans it felt that this was a team that in part because of their media contacts (don’t forget Des Lynham was one of the biggest names on TV at the time) and location got the sort of coverage that has been denied to other sides in the past. Fair? Probably not, and I don’t mean either to diminish the scale of misdemeanour by Belotti and Archer. Just don’t expect Pools fans to look back on the day with any great delight – it’s like the child’s answer to the question of “Who was least happy when the Prodigal Son came home” – “The fatted calf”. That day, we were the sacrificial lambs.
I don’t doubt that Brighton fans have supported others in their similar campaigns since – the Clubs in Crisis website shows that (albeit now having reached the end of its life). Hopefully my team will never have to find out whether other clubs would support us in similar straits!
The tragedy is that Brighton have only been saved by yet another billionaire and his cash has made the already inflated transfer and players’ wages market worse.
At least he’s a fan I suppose.
[…] show a beating heart at the centre of a club that was, at the time, being torn limb from limb. The Fans United day, a day of demonstration and solidarity held on behalf of the supporters of all clubs early in 1997, […]
Brighton were not saved by a billionaire. Bloom took over the club quite recently. It was Dick Knight who saved the club and we got by by selling players such as Zamora and Virgo for big fees.
[…] against Rochdale,” said Celia Ellacott of Argyle Fans’ Trust. “It’s a variant on the Fans United day which was done to help Brighton 15 years ago – initiated, as it happens, by a 14-year-old […]