Seagulls have come a long way on route to top flight
PUBLISHED: 20:00 19 April 2017 | UPDATED: 21:22 19 April 2017
We could see the title won at Carrow Road tomorrow night.
Last August, most would have assumed we would be the ones celebrating an immediate return to the top flight.
But it’s Brighton who have already secured promotion. And they thoroughly deserve it – not just for this season but for the way they have bounced back from near oblivion.
I have a vested interest in the Albion. My mother was nominally a Norwich fan, simply because I was. But in the 1990s, she met a Brighton season ticket holder, married him and became a Seagulls fan for the last 10 years of her life. As a result, I’ve had a ringside seat for what they’ve endured.
It was 20 years ago when Brighton scraped a 1-1 draw at Hereford to stay in the league on the last day of the season on goal difference. Relegation would almost certainly have been fatal because their owners were about to sell their ground.
A few weeks earlier, Fans United had been held at the Goldstone Ground. Supporters from across the country turned out to stand with the Brighton fans and show solidarity. I was proud that Norwich had one of the largest contingents that day. Hartlepool were dispatched 5-0, which as well as giving Brighton three points also crucially boosted their goal difference.
But, despite avoiding relegation, it was still touch and go for Brighton. They were forced to play their home games at Gillingham. In terms of travelling time, that is like Norwich playing our home games in Colchester.
There was much relief when Brighton moved back to Sussex, to the Withdean Stadium. I was lucky enough to be there for their first game – a 6-0 win over Mansfield – in their ‘temporary’ home, which doubled up as a local athletics track.
But wrangling over plans for their new permanent stadium meant that what was supposed to be a short stay ended up a 12-year residence. It was better than Gillingham, but many fans were on the verge of giving up hope that they’d ever have a proper ground again.
They now have the Amex, of course. Although Brighton fans are cock-a-hoop at what they’ve achieved this season, completing that move in 2011 was as big a deal as winning any promotion. The misery they’d been through for so many years is something that no supporters should endure.
It was that 5-0 win at Fans United in 1997 that was my greatest day watching Brighton. In a strange twist, it was a 5-0 at the Amex this season that was one of my most depressing days in recent years as a Norwich fan.
Our hammering in October was significant in that it proved our early-season confidence was misplaced. It was as equally significant for Brighton, proving their near-miss last season was no fluke.
And so we come to an irony about tomorrow’s game – that our former boss Chris Hughton could secure the title here at Carrow Road.
Brighton fans don’t understand why most Norwich supporters wanted him to leave. But our second campaign under Hughton was grim. The football was the worst we saw here for years, and a number of people stopped coming and never returned.
What was bizarre, though, was the timing of his sacking, as we were already all but relegated. If the Championship really is his level, as his detractors point out, surely we should have kept him for our upcoming Championship campaign?
But that’s history, and it’s all been Brighton’s gain.
My mother loved watching the Albion, even though she never really did grasp all the detail. She’d shout “Shoot!” whenever any Brighton player got the ball, anywhere on the pitch, and she never understood the difference between a corner and a goal kick. But she’d have loved this.
And while Norwich fans have endured a miserable season, chock full of underachievement, none of us can begrudge Brighton’s success.