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It’s been a long road for Brighton and Hove Albion.
“You’ve come a long way, baby,” as the team’s old sponsor and supporter Fatboy Slim might point out.
In 1997, the Seagulls were in the absolute pits; stadium-less, as their historic home the Goldstone Ground was being demolished. Languishing in the very lowest reaches of the Football League. Owned by men – Bill Archer and David Bellotti – who seemed to have done a deal with the Devil to do Brighton in.
It took a real white Knight – Dick Knight, to be precise – along with an immense fan-led effort to save the club. Brighton fans did not sit on their hands as their club burned to the ground: they rattled buckets, recited poetry, built bonfires.
It was a truly, deeply, remarkable effort.
And it paid off.
Sure, it took more than a decade of struggle and serenading John Prescott, but finally the Albion received planning permission to build their own new home, what became eventually known as the American Express Community Stadium.
It is stunning.
From crowds that sometimes even struggled to get into four figures, the Albion have now been consistently drawing 20,000+ since the Amex opened.
Just as importantly, on the field, the investment in the team is finally paying off. After reaching the playoffs for two consecutive seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14, losing to Crystal Palace and Derby County respectively, Albion struggled last season, bringing in Chris Hughton for a successful battle against relegation.
The Championship is possibly the hardest division in the world to win for a team on the rise – 46 games, filled with clubs still swimming in parachute money from the Premier League’s television riches, and a style of play that is fast, demanding yet high quality.
Brighton, though, have so far this season navigated it in style, unbeaten in the first ten games and top of the table with 22 points. The quality has been there, and the Seagulls are perhaps just a top class finisher short of being a dominant force in the league.
You’ve come a long way, baby!