By Ian Hine
Everton have been a top-flight side for all but four seasons, since they became founder members of the Football League in 1888.
It is perhaps no surprise therefore, that Brighton have played them just 15 times. Their first encounter with the Toffees was as far back as February 1913 when, after a 0-0 draw at The Goldstone, they lost 1-0 in the replay at Goodison Park.
Eleven years later they were again paired together and a record crowd of 27,450 in Hove saw a thrilling 5-2 victory for Albion. Everton boasted no less than six internationals in their line-up but our Third Division (South) team, led by captain George Coomber put in a memorable performance.
Tommy Cook scored a hat-trick and manager Charlie Webb described the game as “the best Cup exhibition of any Albion team under my management”.
Following promotion to Division One in 1979, Albion renewed their rivalry with Everton, but had to wait until February 1982 for a victory. Mike Bailey’s team were 8th in Division One and dreaming of a top-half finish, despite some sections of the crowd showing their displeasure at the manager’s tactics.
Bailey defended his pragmatic, defensive style in his ‘From the Manager’s Chair’ column. “You don’t build a skyscraper from the top, you start with the foundations”. He pointed to recent success for teams like Nottingham Forest who, when they won the European Cup against Hamburg in 1980, “were able to cope with pressure for much of the game but their defensive organisation allowed them to win a trophy.
Perhaps summing up his attitude, Bailey says “I am prepared to put up with some criticism, but I am not looking for a ‘one-off’ season. If we went out in every game and attacked non-stop and were relegated, we would get no thanks from anyone”.
To reinforce this, he opted for his settled line-up for the game against The Toffees. Graham Moseley was the rock in goal, behind Gary Stevens, Sammy Nelson, Steve Foster and Steve Gatting. In midfield, Jimmy Case and Neil McNab provided the steel, with Gerry Ryan and Tony Grealish completing a strong quartet. Up front, Gordon Smith and Andy Ritchie provided the spearhead to a powerful Albion line-up.
Crowds were on the decline for a number of reasons and just over 16,000 turned up for the game, which could have seen Albion move up to 5th. The ever-present threat of hooliganism had affected gates all over the country and in an attempt to make a better environment for fans, Albion applied to have the perimeter fence in front of the West Stand replaced with less intrusive bars.
Those that did turn up, on a cold crisp afternoon, were rewarded with an excellent performance by the Seagulls. Despite his defensive duties, Tony Grealish found time and space to open the scoring and we went in at half-time with a slender advantage.
The second half was all Albion and although Everton scored early on, goals from Gerry Ryan and Steve Foster gave them the three points and a 3-1 victory.
Other results that day meant Albion remained in 8th place but their remaining 19 games yielded just 4 victories and 12 defeats. This still led to their (to date) highest ever top-flight finish, but the style of play and worsening financial issues left fans feeling frustrated.
Everton went on to finish in 8th and over the next few seasons were to enjoy the most prolific period in their history. Mike Bailey lasted until December 1982 when he was replaced by Jimmy Melia.
Albion fans are currently enjoying the attacking style of play introduced by Graham Potter. Back in 1924 Brighton thrilled the crowd with a magnificent display of energetic football, so let’s hope Albion can invoke the memory of that February afternoon and deliver only their fourth ever victory against Everton.