Steve Bailey: The dark days make promotion so special

What a feeling on Monday! It's been a remarkable 20-or-so years for Albion and the hard work of so many people has  now been rewarded with promotion to the Premier League.

Albion fans celebrate promotion. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Albion fans celebrate promotion. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

When the club were struggling in the dark days of the Goldstone Ground, winning anything seemed a long way off. Just keeping the club going was enough of a battle and a victory in its own right.

Next week marks the 20th anniversary of the final game at the Goldstone Ground and at that time, there was a real danger of the club dropping out of the Football League.

I’ll never forget travelling back from a 1-0 defeat at Scunthorpe in April, 1997, which left Albion five points from safety at the bottom of the Football League, with four games to go.

I thought at the time ‘that was it’, I couldn’t see the club turning things around. Luckily, Steve Gritt kept Albion up with a return of eight points from the final four matches, culminating in that never-to-be-forgotten 1-1 draw at Hereford.

There were times during the two years at Gillingham where I wondered if I’d ever see Brighton win a league, promotion, cup, anything.

Since then, there have been so many highs. The Division 3 title success was followed by winning Division 2 the following year. Taking more than 30,000 fans to Cardiff and beating Bristol City in the play-off final, the penalty shoot-out victory against Manchester City, lifting the League One title in the final season at Withdean, the first game at the Amex.

I could go on and on but I don’t think anything will ever top Monday afternoon. To watch thousands of fans and the players celebrate together was an amazing sight and one which carried on long into the night.

The emotion of 20 years ago came out in a lot of supporters. From Tony Bloom swinging his blue and white scarf around his head, to the players’ celebratory singing in the press area and the fans celebrating on the pitch. They are all memories that will last a lifetime.

Dick Knight deserves a lot of praise and credit for saving the club, winning three promotions as chairman in a converted athletics track at Withdean and getting planning permission for the Amex.

Bloom has taken the club on to the next level. He has pumped in more than £200m and a return to the top flight of English football for the first time in 34 years is his reward.

While winning the Championship will be the immediate goal, what does the longer term future hold for the Seagulls?

Who will they sign? Who will leave? Will they stay up? Can they establish themselves in the Premier League?

So many questions and, as yet, no one knows the answers. One thing is for sure, in Chris Hughton, Albion could not have a better manager to lead them in the top flight.

He’s a proper gentleman and will now forever be remembered as a Albion legend for being just the second manager in the club’s history, after Alan Mullery, to take them up to the top tier of English football.

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