Steve Bailey: Albion’s last 20 years would make a great film!

Albion's players and fans celebrate promotion. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Albion's players and fans celebrate promotion. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
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If script writers in Hollywood are searching for a movie storyline, they need look no further than the past 20 years in the history of Brighton & Hove Albion.

If the story of Jamie Vardy’s career is worthy of making a film about, then so is the uplifting, emotional, up and down times of the Seagulls.

It was 20 years ago this week that the club stayed in the Football League when they avoided defeat with a 1-1 draw at Hereford in the final game of the season. Defeat in that game could well have spelled the end of the Seagulls. With no home ground and playing home games 75 miles away in Gillingham, things would have been very bleak.

The club spent two years at Gillingham, before returning home to the city to play home games at the Withdean Stadium, a converted athletics track.

A 6-0 win in the first game back, with a local lad – Darren Freeman – scoring a hat-trick would almost be beyond the realms of possibility for a movie script.

Fast forward a couple of seasons and back-to-back titles and you’re getting to the stage of ‘this storyline just isn’t believable’. But it’s what happened, inspired by the goals of Bobby Zamora and a strong team spirit, Albion went from Division 3 to Division 1 in the space of two years.

As with every film, there needs to be a time for reflection and reality and that comes in the way of the Seagulls being relegated straight away – but they bounce back into the second tier immediately, winning the play-off final in front of 30,000 of their own fans at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.

They then survive in the Championship on the final day of the following season, before dropping back down and a couple of relatively quiet seasons, finishing 18th then seventh in League One.

Viewers at this point are maybe thinking the film isn’t going anywhere, so you need a bit more drama – how about knocking Manchester City, a Premier League club, who have just spent £32m on a Brazilian international (Robinho) out of the League Cup on penalties.

Then, in that same season, collect an unlikely return of 13 points from five games to stay up when all hope appeared to be lost.

The good times continued with Gus Poyet leading the side to promotion into the Championship, before an emotional day with the club playing its first game at their new state-of-the-art stadium, 14 years after they left their last permanent home.

Obviously, everyone likes an underdog story in a film. After all that has gone on before, it seemed football fans across the country would not begrudge Albion a place in the Premier League.

But for three years out of four, they fall just short – including in agonising fashion when they have a player harshly sent-off in their promotion decider and then suffer four injuries in the first leg of their play-off tie. An unrealistic story? For a film, maybe, but it happened.

Now, the scriptwriters really earn their money. The film needs a happy ending.

So, the Seagulls storm into the Premier League – sealed with players and fans celebrating on the pitch and in the city centre long into the night. What a story and what a film it would be. The title this Sunday would just put the icing on the cake!

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