The level to which Albion were reduced after being relegated from the Second Division in 1962 may be judged by the attitude of the directors to Tony Nicholas's request for a pay rise.

"More money, Nicholas?" they chorussed. "What a nerve. The players have taken the club down and you come in here asking for an increase. No. There isn't any."

In the autumn of 1960, Billy Lane persuaded his board to sanction a club record £15,000 to Chelsea for Nicholas, who had fallen out with Ted Drake. The season went badly for Albion. While the ebullient Nicholas boosted the attack, Dennis Windross's move from Middlesbrough to the Goldstone left the crowd unimpressed. Relegation seemed a distinct possibility.

Off the field, chairman Alec Whitcher also felt a chill wind blowing down his neck. A takeover bid by Reggie Coleman-Cohen, the big cheese at the Alliance Building Society, was repulsed. A substantial section of Albion's following thought a good opportunity for the club to receive a necessary cash injection had been missed.

However, the pressure led to Whitcher stepping down because of failing health and Gerald Paling succeeded to the chair in an atmosphere of growing discontent among supporters who vented their spleen on the players, particularly poor Windross, who had difficulty in hitting the barn door from the proverbial five paces.

But there was no lack of resolve among the players. On the contrary, Albion obtained sufficient breathing space on the field and, with two matches remaining, Nicholas proved what a good signing Lane had made.

The last home game against Huddersfield saw Nicholas score both goals in a 2-1 win after Albion had trailed at half-time. This put Huddersfield in deeper trouble but Portsmouth, beaten 3-0 at home by Middlesbrough, were relegated. Come the last game, at Stoke, and another brace of goals from Nicholas enabled Albion to finish 16th. This brought Tony's tally to 13 in 27 League outings, making him top scorer, one ahead of Adrian Thorne.

A few days later, Lane put his hand up for the poor season and, after ten years in the job, he resigned. The players were not happy to see him go. Petty differences were forgotten. They feared for the future.

During the summer, George Curtis arrived and senior players like Nicholas started to express reservations about his management technique. Nicholas remembers the time well and recalled: "I like to think that I had helped keep Brighton up. When George came he only bought one player. George's idea was to make world beaters of people with little or no ability. I had got on well with Billy Lane and found him to be a gentleman.

"There is a complete difference between managers and coaches and George was definitely a coach. When George took over he told all the players, 'any problems, don't see me, see Joe Wilson'. George just didn't want to know. Once, when I went to see him for the refund of a taxi fare of 9s.6d., he handed me a ten shilling note. I started to walk out of the office and he called me back and asked for the change. He wasn't joking.

"Don't get me wrong, George was a charming chap, a gentleman and a good coach, but a dead loss as a manager and I think he knew it. The trouble was that we needed new players but there wasn't sufficient money. We needed two or three good 'uns. Yet the only player he bought was Joe Cavan and I reckon Brighton got done paying £15,000 for him. He came with a reputation of being a free-scoring centre-forward and didn't get one for us. If we had had another two or three players we could have done quite well instead of finishing bottom."

The Goldstone crowd liked Nicholas's strong running and tremendous enthusiasm. He believed in saying his piece and was outspoken at Chelsea, where there were no shortage of sparks with manager Drake. Talking to Chris Westcott in his newly published, Upfront with Chelsea, Nicholas looked back on his move to Brighton.

"When I went there it was on a two year contract. After the first year the maximum wage had been abolished and when that changed so did the contracts. The first team players were on £20 a week. I thought I should get more, but the board turned me down in no uncertain fashion. In the end I got £28 to go to Chelmsford in the Southern League."

He was only 24 and on his way out of the limelight. If Albion were short of money then Harry Ferrier, the Chelmsford manager, had no difficulties in that department. What does Nicholas think now?

"There had to be something radically wrong for that situation to come about. After all, Brighton had been a Second Division club the previous season."

Low self-esteem was not a failing with Nicholas. "Nobody at Brighton could say I didn't give 100 per cent and the crowd liked me. I thought, 'Why should I be stuck at the same pay level as some that weren't so good?'. Ian McNeill was of the same opinion and I don't think we were the only ones."

It is a mystery why such a talented and wholehearted player as Nicholas bowed out of big-time League football so early in a career that began brilliantly at Chelsea. Now he has been retired for seven years and lived in Chelmsford for the last 30 and has a house of distinction halfway up the first fairway at the local golf club which may explain why he plays off eight.

Darlene, his wife, also plays while sons Tony and Kevin run the interior design business, Nicholas Anthony, which has a showroom in Chelmsford and outlets in Colchester and Wigmore Street, London. When Tony packed-up playing he went into the DIY business which, speaking as a small operator, was great "until the big boys moved in."

Nevertheless, at 63 he is comfortably off and not short of happy memories of his playing days. After two seasons at Chelmsford, he had spells at Orient, Dartford, Folkestone and Gravesend. Folkestone was his last club at the age of 36.