Their name could not be more appropriate. To bloom, the dictionary tells us, means to flower, to flourish.

The Bloom family has been an integral part of the Albion hierarchy for almost 40 years and their influence continues to grow as the club heads for Falmer.

Three generations of the football-crazy clan have supported the Seagulls, both emotionally and financially. Father Harry was vice-chairman for seven years during the heady 1970s, when Albion rose from the old Third to the First Division.

Ray, the youngest of Harry's four sons, has been a Board member and minority shareholder for the last 24 years apart from a brief split (more of which later). Tony, the son of one of Ray's brothers, Ronnie, is the power behind chairman Dick Knight's throne and, as a major shareholder, a potential successor.

Harry, a motor trader and hotel owner, could never have envisaged the impact the family would have on Albion's fortunes when he left Worthing as chairman to join the Board in December 1970. He helped bring Brian Clough and Peter Taylor to the club from Derby three years later and went on to act as a buffer between flamboyant chairman Mike Bamber and an ebullient young manager, Alan Mullery.

Ray said: "My father got on very well with people. He came from east London and moved to Brighton after the war. Mike, Alan and my father used to meet every morning and he would balance out the differences that occurred between them from time to time."

Harry died of a heart attack on the team coach on the way to a game at Stoke in October 1980, aged 71. "Of course, it was a great shock but maybe it wasn't a bad way to go," Ray said. "He didn't suffer and he was doing what he loved with the club.

"My great feelings for the club emanated a great deal from his period there, which was a fantastic period to be involved."

Ray followed in his father footsteps. After nine years at Worthing, he resigned as managing director to join a new-look Albion Board under Bryan Bedson in the summer of 1984, a year after the FA Cup final against Manchester United.

The Bamber era was over. He departed following a stormy meeting with his fellow directors in which he cited "major and mutual disagreements on policy". Relegation from the top flight in the same season as reaching Wembley proved costly. The Seagulls were £1.3 million in debt and losing £13,000 a week.

Over the next decade Albion consolidated in the Second Division under Chris Cattlin, then went down and back up under Barry Lloyd and almost back to the top flight following a brief and unhappy return for Mullery.

Ray, like his dad before him, stayed in the background. He has never courted publicity but became embroiled in controversy during the vilified regime of Bill Archer and Greg Stanley.

He reportedly refused to sign a joint statement by other disaffected directors condemning Archer, which led some supporters to believe he was party to the plan to sell the Goldstone. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ray breaking his silence on the subject 12 years on, revealed: "What I do know is that I stayed involved longer than the others, trying to stop the ground from being sold.

"I had lengthy discussions at the time with Hove Council, who we were trying to get to help with funds. I was also being misled by Bill Archer, who was telling me the ground wasn't being sold when, in fact, he had done a deal. It was only when I knew about that that I resigned from the Board. The other directors had loans in the club and every one of them took their money out.

"It was a matter of principle for me not to take anything out from the proceeds of the ground. I would rather have lost it. The loss of the ground was the saddest thing, not only in my period at the club, but in the club's history."

Bloom, his fortune made primarily in the exhibitions industry, did not hesitate when invited back onto the Board by Knight two years later. The £90,000 he left in the club has increased since the Gillingham groundshare and through the Withdean era to hundreds of thousands for a minority shareholding.

"I didn't even have to contemplate it," Ray said. "It was an honour to be invited back. I think it is a very well run Board. Everybody has their say. We have good and lengthy meetings - it is very democratic.

"Dick's role over the last ten years would be impossible to exaggerate. He has ensured the survival of the club, with others like Martin Perry and Bob Pinnock, who came in at the same time.

"Dick has achieved that by working closely with the supporters, constantly having to bring investment into the club, by bringing in good managers and working very closely with them and making the club attractive to be at, considering the circumstances.

"When you take into account the difficulties the club has faced playing at Withdean and its limitations, both in gate capacity and facilities, I think this has been a hugely successful period. We had one of the best strikers in the club's history in Bobby Zamora. We've also had some tremendous managers and I am delighted that Micky Adams is back with us now.

"None of us could have known when we moved into Withdean that a few years later we would be playing in the Championship. Then, of course, we become used to it and get disappointed that we are not in the Championship now, so we are trying our best to get back up there.

"Dick's unshakeable belief that we were going to get permission for Falmer and to build Falmer, again with others, will go down as the greatest achievement of all."

Ray, now a 61-year-old father of two grown-up daughters, cannot wait for the day when his three grandchildren will be watching the team in the new stadium.

His 38-year-old nephew Tony, a poker player and football betting expert and wealthiest of all the Blooms, currently divides his time between England and Melbourne with his Australian wife and their baby son. Once Falmer is up and running he is likely to become more hands-on, with his uncle providing family support.

Ray said: "I regard our involvement as a privilege. I am thrilled every day to be involved with this great club. We are a football crazy family and huge Albion fans.

"I am very proud indeed of what others in the family have done, of my father's achievement during his period, and I am delighted to have been on the Board for so long. I cannot predict the next 20 years but I have every intention of staying. I have no feelings of ending my involvement in the near future.

"I really don't know whether Tony will eventually become the chairman.

What I am very confident of is that the support he has given the club will continue long into the future.

"Like all Albion supporters, we are looking to the day we move to Falmer. That will be a kind of day of destiny for so many of us."

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