After several years of success the likes of which the club hadn’t seen for three decades or so, it has been a difficult couple of months for all involved with Brighton & Hove Albion. Promotion into the Football League Championship and moving into a new stadium was followed by consolidation in the second tier, a couple of cup wins against Premier League opposition and, last season, a run of form that took the club into a play-off places with a sense of belief that a return to the top flight of English football was on the cards for the first time since 1983. Suddenly, though, and largely without warning, the feelgood factor that had been hanging around the club over the last three years or so has come crashing down in recent weeks.
The team’s form going into its playoff semi-final against was good, but against Crystal Palace the team was, after a reasonable enough performance to get a goalless draw in the first leg at Selhurst Park, completely outplayed in the return match and deservedly beaten, and any disappointment that hung over the club was compounded by the small matters of, to try and put this tactfully, a faecal deposit being left in the away changing room on the evening of the match and some injudicious comments made by manager Gus Poyet in a post-match television interview. It was an evening that began with high hopes but ended with the sting of defeat in such an important tie at the hands of such bitter rivals only being compounded by the manner of the defeat and what followed it.
Nobody, however, seemed to be particularly well-prepared for what happened next, not least, it has looked from the outside, the club itself. Many Brighton supporters had anticipated that there would be a time when Poyet left the club, but those who did had expected that he would leave for a better offer, most likely in the Premier League. What actually happened was that Poyet was placed on gardening leave and banned from entering club property. It might have been hoped that a speedy resolution would be brought about to this. After all, the pre-season is seldom a time for managers to relax and put their feet up and the clock is running down for next season’s Albion manager, whether that turns out to be Poyet or somebody else altogether, to have to make whatever changes are necessary in order to tune up the first team squad before the start of the new season.
Instead what has come about has been a month’s worth of radio silence, but it was expected that some sort of progress might be made today, with a meeting scheduled between Poyet and the club to discuss his future there. On the BBC last night during their Confederations Cup coverage we might have been forgiven, from Poyet’s demeanour, for believing that all may be quiet and calm between the manager and the club, but when today’s meeting came about Poyet didn’t turn up, with legal advice cited as the reason for this non-appearance. The club itself quickly posted a statement to its website confirming this, but otherwise – as it has been consistently over the last few weeks – details on what has been going on there have been scarce to non-existent, with most comment on the matter giving the impression of being an exhortation to read between the lines and little else.
This may be understandable for legal reasons, but the circumstances that have come about are starting to feel like something that the club may come out of with less credit from than the – presumably soon to be ‘ex’ – manager. It is possible, of course, that the club is the wronged party in this case, and that Brighton & Hove Albion has been wronged by its manager, but it if this were to be the case, it wouldn’t be first time that it has happened and it certainly won’t be the last. In the absence of any solid information on the subject, however, conjecture has become king around the club, with idle speculation and gossip, that most unreliable of news sources, filling the vacuum left by an absence of anything more concrete to go on. Perhaps the most solid tidbit of information recently, however, has come from the League Managers Association, which has issued the following harshly worded comment on the matter which read as follows, and provided a little context which hasn’t done the club’s angle on things too many favours:
Brighton & Hove Albion FC ordered Gus Poyet to attend a crucial disciplinary hearing today, despite the fact that he only returned from annual leave yesterday and the charges were not particularised until 13th June. Further, the very lengthy appendices to the initial report comprise around 500 pages and these were also only delivered recently. Clearly Gus needs to have a fair and reasonable opportunity to respond to what we believe are unfounded charges against him.
Also, it has repeatedly been made clear to the club that Gus’s LMA representative, Richard Bevan was not available to accompany him today, but was available to attend on Thursday 20th or Friday 21st June as well. These two dates fall within the five working day period for an employee to offer alternatives to the original date set by the club as set-out in the club’s own handbook.
We believe that our members are entitled to the same legal protections that other employees enjoy. Football clubs need to observe basic employment rights like any other employer in our view. Just to be clear, however, we are confident that Gus will demonstrate there is no case to answer in this matter.
Notwithstanding these important points, the club decided to go-ahead with the hearing in the absence of both Gus and Richard Bevan. Late this afternoon the club agreed to adjourn and reconvene the disciplinary hearing to Thursday 20th June 2013. The LMA is pleased that the club has agreed to an arrangement whereby Gus and his chosen representative will be able to attend.
All the time, meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking down. This summer may be longer than most in the football calendar, but the close season has already diminished to a mere couple of months and with every day that passes the likelihood of the club being able to better or match the achievements of last season starts to feel increasingly fanciful. Bearing this in mind, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the best resolution to whatever this dispute might be about could be to lock all concerned in a sealed room with some sort of head smacking together machine. As things stand, Poyet’s bridges with the club have clearly been burned beyond recognition, and the sensible course of action would have been for this to be cleared up behind closed doors without the club’s reputation being dragged through the mud. The boat on this happening, however, may already have sailed and if the club has called this wrong, the heat could be too much for its chief executive Paul Barber to bear. At the moment, the fire under his feet seems to be getting increasingly hot.
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