The Saturday before the Cheltenham Festival in 1997 Brighton & Hove Albion were staring oblivion in the face, not at the foot of the queue at Alton Towers, but in reality at the foot of the old
In those dark days they were soon to be evicted from the Goldstone and the prospect of having to beg the authorities, to be allowed in the Conference Premier was a stark reality.
15 years later it's Cheltenham time again and the Seagulls are fifth in the old First Division. In with a real shout of making the play-offs and an outside possibility of automatic promotion.
Last Saturday against Portsmouth, a player of such sheer ability and class took to the pitch for the Albion, that he made the team of 97 look like Hangleton Rovers reserves.
Vicente Rodriguez the fabled ‘Dagger’ of Valencia scored twice for the Albion and stroked the ball around with such ease, it looked like he was taking a yo-yo
out of his pocket and was teasing a dog with it.
I have never seen so much pointing going on in a back four – "you mark him" "no he’s your man" "I don’t understand- no English" "you must speak some, you’re from Chelmsford" were some of the
conversations I picked up from the Pompey defence. So desperate were the back four to delegate the marking to each other. David Norris came back to
help out in the end, and the rest is history.
Vicente not only scored a super free kick, but delighted a lady near me who threw her knitting in the air when he peeled off his top in celebration. It landed in the North Stand and is now a vital
piece of NSK kit.
Vicente also scored the second and hundreds appeared to be delighted, as they ran for the only train that ever leaves Falmer Station on a Saturday afternoon – the 16:48 to Brighton - all stations
except Moulscoombe and London Road.
I managed to grab a couple of words with Vicente after the match through a translator of course.
He likes Brighton and Hove, (who wouldn’t?) "But it’s cold," to which I gave out a raucous laugh.
No else laughed, but Vicente did flick me a smile, but probably thought why is that funny. And to be fair he has a point.
He also said in response to my hastily thought questions, that although he is comfortable here, but we eat too early.
I was going to respond, that I eat too early, too late and probably too much. But thought that might take too long to translate wasn’t funny, relevant, or of any interest to anyone.
So I sloped off.
Many thanks to the lady translator who works for the club on match days and did a grand job in helping us all communicate with the great man.
So the Albion have a player who was selected in a Champions League Final squad and was touted to be worth 30 million Euros when Manchester United and Barcelona showed an interest back in 2006.
They play in arguably the most modern stadium in the Championship and they have an exciting young manager, who was once and not so long ago the most prominent midfielder in the Premier League.
They have every chance of making the Premier League this year and do all they can in the community of Brighton and Hove.
So why? Tell me why? We still have people walking around Brighton & Hove in Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal tops.
They usually parade around in these replica’s (which are generally a season or two out of date) as they run for their transport when they leave their central Brighton pub of choice early, after the
Sky broadcast has finished.
I think WE’LL be alright once Torres starts finding the net I overheard one "Chelsea" fan say. I know him and he’s never been further than Hollingdean.
I offered one "lifelong" Arsenal fan who lives in Hove a ticket for Emirates that I managed to get hold off a while ago.
Oh no mate he said, do you know how far it is? And don’t you know, it’s on the telly!
It was as if I had offered a free night at Chilli Pickle without considering that his local take away delivered for free.
It’s not the fact these armchair fans don’t follow their local team that annoys me, but the fact that they belittle the Albion despite all their achievements on and off the pitch.
How will these "armchair" or "office show off" ever experience the type of pride and excitement me and thousands of other Seagulls supporters experience every other Saturday at the Amex?
A great sense of local pride and community. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps ignoring the Albion through the dark times, now almost self excludes these people.
Well they can come back and embrace Brighton and Hove Albion now; there will be plenty of room next season.
Forget the fact that you haven’t missed a Chelsea match at the Crown and Anchor this season, or that Robin van Persie is your screen saver.
Every person in Brighton and Hove should be dead proud of the Albion at the moment.
Many other towns of green with envy. Though perhaps not envious that we are green!