Brighton are performing brilliantly under Chris Hughton in the Premier League, but it could have been so different. MICHAEL KENNARD fondly recalls a famous goal that saved the south coast club.
It was 3 May and the final day of the season in the old Division Three (League Two as it’s known now). It had been a turbulent season for Brighton having lost the battle to remain at the Goldstone Ground, which brought them national attention. Their fall from grace off the pitch had seen their results on the field follow suit.
The season would come to a dramatic end following a 1-0 win in their last game at home with a special goal by Stuart Storer, the last ever scored at the Goldstone, and one which is still played on the big screens before kick-off to this day. That goal was scored in a scrappy goalmouth scramble with the ball looping back off the bar, before Storer cooly drifted into the box to volley it home. This was the first of two special goals that would keep Brighton in the football league, a little over twenty years ago now.
The day would start with both teams on 46 points, with the loser facing relegation out of the Football League. Hereford had also seen a dramatic downturn in their fortunes, having reached the play-offs the season before as well as enjoying a glamour tie in the FA Cup against Tottenham Hotspur. Brighton had battled back, having been thirteen points adrift at one stage and having been hit with a two-point deduction for crowd trouble to set up this tie.
The stage was set for an all-at-stake match that would be given the cliche ‘Cup Final’. The feel amongst the fans was one of hope, yet nervousness. A pre-match rain shower at Edgar Street made the pitch a bit boggy and Hereford, being the home side, adapted better to the conditions. They looked the more composed in the opening exchanges and things went from bad to worse for Brighton as hometown youngster Kerry Mayo put the ball into his own net. Hereford continued to press but Brighton’s defence battled valiantly.
The big moment came in the 62nd minute when Craig Maskell struck from distance only to see his effort rebound back, but Robbie Reinelt swooped in ahead of the onrushing defence and showed good composure to slot the ball in and put Brighton back in the tie. This was truly the golden goal and certainly a defining moment. One that epitomised the fighting spirit of the club, one that would serve them well on what would be one hell of a journey. A draw would be enough to keep Brighton up and potentially keep them in the league due to goals scored.
Hereford had quite a few opportunities to add a second and steal the win, but luckily for Brighton their inability to put the ball in the back of the net was what had got Hereford into this position. Brighton goalkeeper Mark Ormerod was able to stand up to whatever they produced on the day.
The final whistle saw the stark contrast of jubilation and inconsolable grief. The Brighton boss Steve Gritt had done the near impossible and kept The Seagulls up after taking on a job that nobody wanted.
In hindsight this was more than a goal, it was a moment that kept homeless Brighton afloat. Had they gone down there was a real possibility that the club could have gone out of business. They went on to ground-share with Gillingham before returning to Brighton at a temporary athletics stadium. Brighton turned Withdean – fondly remembered as the ‘Theatre Of Trees’ – into a fortress for fourteen long years while battling to secure a permanent home, before finally moving into the Falmer Stadium (currently called The Amex due to sponsorship reasons). It would only take a further six years for Brighton to reach the heights of Premier League football playing in the new home, twenty years exactly after almost dropping out of the Football League entirely.
This new chapter for Brighton began with Reinelt’s goal and the determination of the staff, players, fans, and new owners. This is a tale that should serve as a beacon of hope to the many clubs that are currently suffering at the hands of unscrupulous owners that anything is possible.