Fluctuating fortunes for Guy Butters after beginning alongside Spurs stars

GUY BUTTERS saw plenty of highs and lows in a 20-year playing career that started with great promise at Tottenham Hotspur and included six years at Brighton, where he still works.

Butts coaches for Albion in the Community, he’s scouted players, hosted hospitality lounges and still turns out to play in charity matches, not to mention sharing a constant flow of corny jokes with his 3,600+ followers on Twitter! [Follow him @GuyButters].

Promotion via the play-offs at Cardiff in 2004 and being chosen as player of the season would be up there in terms of highs with Brighton.

My personal favourite came on 13 November 2004, when Butters scored the only goal of the game as Albion committed daylight robbery in front of 29,514 packed into West Ham’s Boleyn Ground.

Brighton were up against it going into the game and had taken veteran Steve Claridge on for a month to help them out of a striker crisis. Hammers threw everything at the Albion that afternoon but somehow the Seagulls kept the ball out and, on 68 minutes, Butts, up for a Richard Carpenter free kick, got his head on the end of it to send the ball into the back of the net in front of the Seagull faithful.

Even after versatile Adam Virgo and Hammers’ Haydn Mullins were sent off for a scrap on 74 minutes, and West Ham bought on substitute Bobby Zamora, the scoreline remained 1-0 to the Albion.

A couple of months later, it was obviously a special day for Butters when, on 8 January 2005, he was given the captain’s armband to lead the Albion in their third round FA Cup tie against Spurs at White Hart Lane.

  • A programme portrait and skipper for the day in the FA Cup at White Hart Lane.

The matchday programme recalled how Butters “was very much the discovery of the 1988-89 season when manager Terry Venables lifted the tough tackling former Spurs trainee from our reserves to the first team to play alongside Gary Mabbutt and Chris Fairclough in a back three.

“Guy was also in there alongside such names as Paul Gascoigne, Chris Hughton, Chris Waddle, Paul Walsh, Terry Fenwick, Paul Stewart, (former Brighton Cup Final hero) Gary Stevens and Paul Allen. And he kept his regular place the following season when Gary Lineker was added to the squad.”

Born on 30 October 1969 in Hillingdon, he made his debut shortly after his 19th birthday in a League Cup game against Blackburn, and suffered the agony of scoring an own goal. But on his full league debut as a sub against Wimbledon on 12 November 1988, he made amends with a goal in the right end.

“We won that one 3-2 but it’s probably better remembered by Spurs fans as the game in which Gary Stevens was injured following a tackle by Vinnie Jones,” Butters told the Spurs programme.

“I’ve got great memories of my time at Tottenham but, looking back, I recall spending much of my time trying to avoid Gazza who was always up to something! But it was the players around me that I will never forget – I was in there with men who had appeared in World Cups, and that’s my abiding memory.”

The year after his Spurs debut, Butters also earned international honours. In June 1989, he was involved in three England under 21 tournament matches in Espoirs de Toulon matches.

He started in the 3-2 defeat to Bulgaria on 5 June, and was replaced by substitute Neil Ruddock. Two days later, he came on as a sub for Dean Yates in England’s 6-1 thrashing of Senegal in Sainte Mazime. Two days after that, he came on as a sub for Ruddock, as the under 21s drew 0-0 with the Republic of Ireland in Six-Fours-les-Plages.

Of that side, Carlton Palmer, David Batty and David Hirst went on to gain full England caps, but those three games were Butters’ only representative appearances.

After limited game time at Spurs in the 1989-90 season, Butters went out on loan to Fourth Division Southend United, scoring three times in 16 games.

Steve Sedgley, Fenwick and Gudni Bergsson were all ahead of him as potential partners for Mabbutt so, on 28 September 1990, he was transferred to Portsmouth for a fee of £375,000, having made a total of 35 league appearances for Tottenham.

At Pompey, he played at the back alongside Kit Symons and colleagues included Mark Chamberlain on the wing and Warren Aspinall up front, together with his ex-Spurs teammate Paul Walsh, now better known as a Sky Sports pundit.

But there were mixed fortunes for Butters at Pompey, which he spoke about in a November 2016 interview for the Portsmouth website. He was there six years and enjoyed some good times when Jim Smith was manager.

guy butters YouTube

He had a brief spell on loan with Oxford United in 1994 and he eventually realised his time at Fratton Park was up when a regime change saw the arrival of Terry Venables, who was the Spurs boss when he was sold to Portsmouth.

Tony Pulis signed him for Gillingham for £225,000 on 18 October 1996 and, in six years at Priestfield, one game in particular stands out for the unfortunate pivotal moment Butters played in it.

It was 30 May 1999, the Football League Second Division play-off final to determine the third and final team to gain promotion and Gillingham were up against Manchester City, remarkably, at that time, struggling to get out of the third tier of English football.

Goals from Carl Asaba and Bob Taylor on 81 and 87 minutes looked to have given Pulis’ side victory. But Kevin Horlock had pulled one back for Joe Royle’s City and, as normal time expired, former Albion loanee Paul Dickov equalised for City in the fifth minute of added on time to level the scores at 2-2.

With no further scoring in extra time, it went to penalties. City scored three of their first four; Gills had scored only one of their three. So, the pressure was on Butters, the fourth penalty taker, to bury it to keep the Gills in it.

When Butters stepped up and hit it low to ‘keeper Nicky Weaver’s left…. it was within the 20-year-old’s reach, and he pushed it away. Cue wild celebrations as City won the shoot-out 3-1.

“Missing that penalty was one of the worst moments of my life but you have to move on and I am not afraid to have another go,” Butters told interviewer Alex Crook in an article for the 2004 Division Two play-off final match programme. “At the time, I just wanted the ground to swallow me up but nobody blamed me because it was just one of those things.”

Consolation for Butters came the following year when Gillingham returned to Wembley and on that occasion won 3-2 in extra-time against Wigan Athletic. As with Pompey, Butters had six years in total with the Kent club and played 159 league games before being released in the summer of 2002.

The 2002-03 season was already under way by the time Butters joined Albion on a free transfer and, in the September, he was doing his own personal pre-season workout programme in a bid to get fit.

“When I first came here I had to do a lot of extra work with Dean White,” Butters told Brian Owen, of the Argus. “It was a case of trying to cram a lot of stuff into a little space of time. I wasn’t really getting too much time to recover after it.”

The managerial change from Martin Hinshelwood to Steve Coppell didn’t do Butters any favours either. Virgo and Butters were the centre back pairing for Coppell’s first match – a 4-2 home defeat to Bristol City – and both were then discarded into the wilderness.  Virgo went on loan to Exeter and, after Coppell brought in Dean Blackwell to play alongside Danny Cullip, Butters was sent out on loan to Barnet.

But when injury meant Blackwell’s career was over, the door opened again for Butters and he seized the opportunity to such an extent that as Albion won promotion back to the second tier via the play-offs, he was voted player of the season.

GB potseas by Bennett Dean• 2004 Player of the Season pictured by Bennett Dean.

In fact, it was the arrival of Mark McGhee to succeed Coppell that was very much a turning point in Butters’ career because he had previously been considering hanging up his boots.

In Match of My Life (www.knowthescorebooks.com), he said: “Mark was a real breath of fresh air as manager. Straight away he helped me with a special diet and fitness programme aimed at improving my general match fitness, but, more importantly, helping me work towards prolonging my professional football career.

“He was the first manager to do that and under his guidance I began to thrive and really enjoy my football again.”

As the Argus previewed the 2004-05 season with a special publication, they declared: “Buoyed by a great run of form in last season’s run-in and looking in good shape in training, Butters is ready for another stab at the second tier of English football.”

And Butters said: “This year I did a bit in the summer when I was on holiday and the gaffer put us through our paces so I’m sure that when the season starts I’ll be pretty match fit.

“It’s a big step up but, if we can get a few results away from home, not too many of those big teams are going to fancy coming to Withdean.”

  • The Argus spots a lighter refreshing moment!
  • Butters and Cullip were opponents when the Seagulls won at Sheffield United, another moment captured by the Argus.

Three years later, at the age of 37, Butters was still with the Seagulls and looking forward to what would ultimately turn out to be his last in the stripes.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it last year,” Butters told Andy Naylor. “It is probably one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had.

“I missed out on pre-season last year through injury. The gaffer was amazed I played as many games as I did.

“I cannot see why, with a decent pre-season under my belt and, as long as I look after myself, that I cannot do the same again.

“I just want to go on playing as long as I can and along the way enhance my CV with coaching badges.”

Manager Dean Wilkins finally released Butters at the end of the 2007-08 season, during which he had been sent off for the first time in his career.

He’d played a total of 187 games for the Seagulls and carried on playing with Havant & Waterlooville briefly plus a seven-game spell on loan at Lewes before trying his hand at management with Winchester City and Eastleigh.

Guy + Nick

  • I got the chance to meet Guy when he kindly presented an award at an event I was involved in organising: what a great bloke!
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Saint Dean a sinner in some Albion fans’ eyes

HASTINGS-born Dean Hammond enjoyed two spells with the Albion having joined the club aged 11 and was also captain of Southampton as they rose from League One to the Premiership.

However, it’s a pretty surefire bet to say fans would be divided if asked to judge his contribution.

An over-the-top celebration in front of the Albion faithful after scoring for Southampton at Withdean made him public enemy number one in many people’s eyes.

The way he left the club under a cloud, suggesting they lacked ambition, was another catalyst for rancour.

Personally, I struggled with his penchant for missing some unbelievable, gilt-edged chances to score. There was one away at Leicester (one of his future employers) – a proverbial ‘easier to score than miss’ – that was particularly galling in a game that finished 0-0.

Putting all these things to one side, there is no denying that he ultimately enjoyed a decent career and, while his most successful years were spent in the second tier of English football, he also got to play at the highest level.

Albion have struggled for a good many years to bring through promising local talent from schoolboy level but Hammond was one of the few who made it.

Born a couple of months before Brighton’s 1983 FA Cup Final appearance, he made his Albion bow in December 2000 when former Saints full-back Micky Adams put him on as a substitute in a 2-0 Football League Trophy win over Cardiff, but it was only when former youth coach Martin Hinshelwood briefly held the first team manager’s role that he got his next chance.

That came as a substitute in a 4-2 defeat at Gillingham in September 2002 and 10 days later he scored his first Albion goal in a 3-1 League Cup defeat to Ipswich.

When Hinshelwood was sacked, new boss Steve Coppell opted for experience over youth and Hammond’s next competitive action came during two spells out on loan in 2003 – at Aldershot (seven games) and Orient (eight games).

In an Argus interview in November 2006, Hammond said: “It’s been up and down for me at Brighton. I loved it when I came through the youth team and then broke into the first team at quite a young age.”

Hammond watched from the sidelines at the Millennium Stadium in May 2004 as the Albion won promotion to the Championship via play-off victory over Bristol City. A couple of months later, the Argus was reporting how he had been given three months to prove he had a future with the club.

 

He did enough in a handful of games to be offered a contract until the end of the season and, although he was mainly used from the bench between October and March, by the season’s end he was playing a pivotal role in helping to steer Albion clear of the drop zone, scoring the equaliser in a 1-1 draw away to Burnley and getting both goals in a vital 2-2 draw at home to West Ham.

Before the 2006-07 season got under way, manager Mark McGhee obviously felt players like Hammond needed toughening up and sent him and a few others to some boxing sessions with former world heavyweight title contender Scott Welch, from Shoreham, at his Hove gym.

Hammond told Andy Naylor of the Argus: “When the gaffer mentioned it, I think the boys were thinking ‘Boxing? How is that going to help us’. But he worked on the mental side, as well as the power and strength stuff.

“If we felt tired or felt we couldn’t go on he was pushing us and he said it would help us in a game. I think he’s right. When we went back for pre-season training you tended to push yourself that bit more, so I think it will help in the long run.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t help enough because the season saw Albion relegated back to the third tier. It wasn’t long before former youth coach Dean Wilkins was installed as manager and youngsters were given a chance to flourish in the first team, with Hammond appointed captain.

 

“I would say it is the best time of my career and I am really enjoying it,” he told Naylor. “It’s brilliant at the moment.”

In the same interview, however, there were perhaps the first rumblings of his discontent with the progress of the club.

“I’ve been here since the age of 11. I’m like every other player. I’m ambitious and I want to do the best I can in my career and play as high as I can. Hopefully that will be with Brighton.”

A career-ending injury to Charlie Oatway and Richard Carpenter’s departure from the club in January 2007 led to Hammond taking over the captain’s armband and 2006-07 was undoubtedly his best Albion season. He finished with 11 goals from 39 appearances and the award of Player of the Season.

It was in the 2007-08 season that it turned sour between player and club, even though before a ball had been kicked he told the Argus he thought Brighton had it in them to make the play-offs.

“We can beat anyone in the division. It’s just about being consistent. Realistically we can push for the play-offs,” he told Brian Owen.

Considering he had been at the club from such an early age, what happened next clearly rankled with chairman Dick Knight, who talked about it in his autobiography, Mad Man: From the Gutter to the Stars, the Ad Man who saved Brighton.

Knight accused Hammond’s agent, Tim Webb, of touting his client around Championship clubs while there was an offer on the table from the Albion that would have made him the highest paid player at the club.

“Hammond kept telling the local media that he wanted to stay and sign a contract, but I think he was being told to hold out for more money,” said Knight.

Because Hammond could have walked away from the club for nothing at the end of the season, the pressure was on to resolve the situation one way or another by the close of the January transfer window.

All the off-field stuff was clearly affecting Hammond’s head and I can remember a game at Oldham in the second week of January when he lunged into a reckless challenge after only nine minutes which certainly appeared to be a deliberate attempt to get himself sent off. That early dismissal was his last action for the Seagulls until his return to the club in 2012.

“I didn’t want to sell Dean but I was forced to,” said Knight, who persuaded Colchester United to buy him for £250,000, with a clause added in that Brighton would earn 20 per cent of any subsequent transfer involving the player. “In normal circumstances, I might have got more, but time was running out,” Knight added.

The move to Colchester wasn’t an unbridled success because his arrival couldn’t prevent them being relegated from the Championship, but, with Paul Lambert as manager, Hammond took over the captaincy in December 2008 and by the season’s end was voted Player of the Season.

Throughout the season there had been speculation that Southampton wanted to sign him and a deal duly went through in August 2009. At the time, Alan Pardew was the Saints manager and Hammond’s former Albion youth team coach and first team manager, Dean Wilkins, was Southampton first team coach.

As had happened at his previous two clubs, it wasn’t long before Hammond was taking on the captaincy and he got to lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley on 28 March 2010 when Pardew’s team beat Carlisle United 4-1 – the first piece of silverware Saints had won since the 1976 FA Cup.

When Albion travelled to St Mary’s on 23 November 2010, the matchday programme inevitably featured their captain and former Seagull. It said: “Hammond was barely out of nappies when he first started supporting the Seagulls. He can even recall the days they played in front of 20,000 crowds at the old Goldstone Ground.

“The new Brighton stadium will hold just over 22,000 and the Saints midfielder said: ‘There’s no doubt they’ll fill it, certainly for their early games. That’s just about the size of their fan base and, if anyone deserved a bigger ground, it’s them’.”

Reflecting that he had certainly made the right career move, Hammond said: “I’ve developed as a player. I have a slightly deeper midfield role which means I pass the ball more and get involved in the game more.”

After two seasons in the third tier, Southampton famously finished runners up to Brighton in 2010-11 to regain their place in the Championship. Hammond was a regular throughout the 2011-12 season, although at times contributing from the bench, as Saints won promotion back to the Premier League, runners up behind Reading.

However, manager Nigel Adkins obviously didn’t see Hammond as top tier material and on transfer deadline day (31 August 2012) the midfielder agreed a season-long loan deal back at Brighton.

By then 29, Hammond told the Argus: “It’s a different club now. The stadium is amazing and I can’t wait to get going.

“I saw the plans when I was 15 and it’s amazing to see it come to life. It will be a dream to play at this stadium as a Brighton player and I have been dreaming of that since a boy.”

Hammond made 33 appearances plus five as a sub during that season, alongside fellow loanees Wayne Bridge and Matt Upson, but was allowed to return to parent club Southampton as manager Gus Poyet departed the club in the wake of the play-offs loss to Crystal Palace.

In August 2013, Hammond signed a two-year contract with Championship side Leicester City, manager Nigel Pearson telling the club’s website: “We’re really pleased to be able to add a player of Dean’s quality and experience to the squad.

“As well as having played a considerable number of games in his career, he also arrives with promotion credentials and will be a very positive influence on the squad both on and off the pitch.”

DHLCFC

Hammond added: “Once I knew of Leicester’s interest I wanted to come. My mind was made up. There was some interest from other clubs, but once Leicester was mentioned and I spoke to the manager, I wanted to come here.

“It’s a massive football club. They came close last year in the play-offs and they’ve got a good history. It’s a club that’s going places and wants to push to the Premier League. It’s very exciting to be here.”

While facing midfield competition from Danny Drinkwater and Matty James, Hammond nevertheless played 29 games as Leicester were promoted and he finally got to play in the Premiership, albeit competition and injury restricted his number of appearances to 12.

Not all Saints fans felt it right that he had been abandoned as soon as the club reached the Premiership and, on the eve of his return to St Mary’s as a Leicester player, Saints’ fansnetwork.co.uk considered supporters might like to “thank him for his contribution to our resurgence in the game …. without Dean Hammond perhaps none of what they are enjoying in the Premier League would have been possible”.

Although Hammond earned a one-year extension to his contract in July 2015, he was not involved in the side that surprised the nation by winning the Premier League.

He had gone on loan to Sheffield United, then managed by his old Saints boss Adkins, and made 34 appearances for the Blades by the season’s end. However, he didn’t figure in new boss Chris Wilder’s plans and left the club in the summer of 2016.

Russell Slade gave him a trial at Coventry City in January 2017 but he didn’t get taken on and eventually he returned to Leicester to work with their under 21s. He is now loans manager for the Leicester City Academy.

 

  • Most photos from Argus cuttings; plus Southampton programme and Leicester City website.

Echoes of the Cross effect in Albion’s signing of Simon ‘Mr Fulham’ Morgan

SIMON MORGAN was “Mr Fulham” and, in more than 400 appearances in 11 years, he saw relegation to the basement division and promotion to the Premiership.

It was one of his former Fulham managers, Micky Adams, who was responsible for him joining Brighton – who he also helped to promotion.

The move south followed Morgan’s release by Fulham in 2001. Having steered Brighton to promotion from Division 3, Adams wanted to bring some added experience to the back line.

Almost three decades earlier, the signing of former Leicester stalwart Graham Cross had been an inspired move that helped Albion gain promotion from the third tier, and in 2001-02, the signing of the experienced Morgan had the same effect.

Cross had been the final signing made by Peter Taylor before he left to rejoin Brian Clough, and, just as his replacement Alan Mullery had reaped the benefit of the experienced defender, so did the younger Peter Taylor benefit from Morgan’s contribution, after he had taken over as boss from Adams, who was lured to Leicester as Dave Bassett’s no.2.

To add in yet another Leicester dimension to this story, the Foxes were Birmingham-born Morgan’s first club. He made 182 appearances (168 starts + 14 as sub) in six years at Filbert Street, Gordon Milne giving him his debut in October 1985 at left-back in a 3-0 defeat away to Coventry City.

His first two seasons were played in the top division but Leicester then dropped down to the second tier and, in the 1989-90 season, by which time David Pleat was in charge, Morgan featured in only 20 games, his final appearance coming as a sub in a 3rd round FA Cup exit to Barnsley. Alan Dicks paid a £100,000 fee to take him to Third Division Fulham in October 1990.

Managers came and went at Craven Cottage but Morgan remained for 11 years and was described by sport.co.uk as “a significant and full-blooded contributor during a dark time in the club’s history”.

The Fulham fanzine There’s Only One F in Fulham published a tribute-packed, fund-raising brochure devoted to Morgan during his testimonial year, which rather appropriately was sponsored by Captain Morgan rum.

morgs and PT colour by SD

Morgan’s influence alongside Danny Cullip in Brighton’s third tier promotion side was highlighted by Dick Knight, club chairman at the time, in his autobiography Mad Man: From the Gutter to the Stars, the Ad Man who saved Brighton.

Knight said Morgan was “a very experienced cripple – chronic knee problems meant that he couldn’t train, could hardly run.” He explained: “On the pitch, he never moved beyond an area about the size of my kitchen, but he read the game brilliantly, positioned himself perfectly to pick up everything that came into the box.

“I’ve never seen a player who used his brain more, apart from Bobby Moore. Simon was superb. What a player, and a great personality.”

Knight also talked about Morgan’s hilarious Simon says weekly column in The Argus about the escapades of the players. “He wrote it himself – it wasn’t ghosted. I encouraged it because it was another way of showing the human side of the club. It revealed the players as characters, real people rather than distant idols.”

Darren Freeman, a former Fulham colleague, who also played for Brighton, told theleaguepaper.com that Morgan was the “funniest player I ever knew – and the most miserable at the same time”.

Freeman said: “He’d moan about anything and everything. If he hadn’t been a footballer, we always said he’d have made a great Victor Meldrew impersonator.

“But he was also a great captain and a great character with quite a dry sense of humour. He used to make me laugh a lot and he used to get the best out of everyone he played with, especially the younger lads coming through.”

A sample of his wit appeared in one of his first Argus columns in 2001 and he concluded it by wishing well to his old club Fulham as they began their Premiership campaign. “Five years ago, on August 17, 1996, Fulham kicked off their Third Division campaign at home to Hereford,” Morgan wrote. “A certain Mr M. Adams was the manager and the squad included Messrs Cullip, Watson, Morgan and Brooker. It just shows what is possible. Where will Brighton be in five years’ time?”

Well, as we know, it took Albion slightly longer to reach the promised land but nonetheless they had secured promotion back to the second tier by that season’s end and Morgan once again used his Argus column to sum up the achievement, having a dig along the way at the various critics who had doubted Brighton’s ability to finish off the job.

“This current Brighton team is only the eighth in the history of League football to win back-to-back championships. Records have been smashed as the team has surged into the First Division. Is it a fairy tale or a miracle? However you describe the wonderful adventure, it certainly hasn’t been lucky,” he wrote.

“Amazingly we lost only six league games this season. Three of those were on a Friday night and two live on television. The demise of ITV digital will not be mourned in Sussex.”

Meanwhile Argus reporter Andy Naylor’s verdict on Morgan declared: “Dependable partner for Cullip. Hardly put a foot wrong. Adding the former Fulham stalwart to the squad was the best bit of business Micky Adams did last summer. Will be sorely missed if a knee problem forces him to retire.”

Unfortunately, Morgan accepted specialist advice that he wouldn’t manage a season at the higher level and, after only 10 months away, he returned to Fulham in an off-field capacity, heading up the club’s community scheme, before finally bidding farewell in June 2007.

He took up a position as the Premier League’s Head of Community Development – a role overseeing the community schemes of all 20 Premiership clubs. He subsequently became Head of Football Relations.

 

 

Main picture: Simon Morgan with manager Peter Taylor with the Division 2 winners’ trophy (photo Simon Dack). In Fulham colours below.

morgan fulham

Imperious Lawrenson starred at Brighton before hitting Liverpool heights

MARK LAWRENSON was without doubt in my mind the best player ever to play for Brighton and Hove Albion. Peter Ward was exceptional but Lawrenson did it for Brighton and went on to have a glittering career with Liverpool, the top club in the country at the time.

And, whatever your thoughts about his contribution as a pundit – and many are very disparaging – you can’t take away his longevity on our TV screens and across our media.

Although now slightly less prominent as a TV pundit, for a good many years, Lawrenson reprised his successful Liverpool central defensive partnership with Alan Hansen in the BBC Match of the Day studios.

But where did it all begin? Born on 2 June 1957 in Penwortham, Lancashire, Lawrenson joined nearby Preston at 17 in 1974, who at the time were managed by the legendary Bobby Charlton.

Lawrenson made his full debut for the Lilywhites the following year, two months before his 18th birthday. However, it was Charlton’s fellow World Cup winner, Nobby Stiles, to whom Lawrenson was most grateful.

“I was a winger when I joined Preston, while he was coach, and he was the one who converted me to my present position – in the middle of the back four,” Lawrenson told Keir Radnedge in Football Weekly News.

“Nobby was very good with the youngsters. He was almost like a father-figure. He commanded respect not only because of what he’d achieved himself but because of the way he’d help iron out your faults.”

At the age of 19, and thinking he’d never be good enough to play for England, Lawrenson opted to play for the Republic of Ireland when player-manager Johnny Giles (perhaps not coincidentally, Nobby’s brother-in-law) found out that he qualified to play for them through his grandfather.

That debut for Ireland in April 1977, in a 0-0 draw with Poland, came at the end of a season in which he was voted Preston’s Player of the Year.

Within weeks, he joined the Albion for £112,000 (£100,000 + VAT @ 12%) after Brighton manager Alan Mullery persuaded Albion to outbid Liverpool to get their man.

Shoot article

Mullery recalled in his 2006 autobiography how he had taken the board of directors to see Lawrenson perform superbly in an end-of-season game at Crystal Palace, where he marked their new star striker Mike Flanagan out of the game.

Lawrenson recollects how he was on an end-of-season ‘jolly’ in Spain with his Preston team-mates when Brighton chairman Mike Bamber and director Dudley Sizen turned up and ‘sold’ the club to him in a Benidorm beachside bar.

There was nearly a hitch in the deal when his medical showed high sugar levels in his blood – but it turned out he had been drinking blackcurrant-flavoured Guinness while on the Spanish holiday.

Mullery was building on the success of guiding the Seagulls to promotion from Division Three in his first season in charge, and the young defender replaced the experienced Graham Cross, who went to Preston in part-exchange.

Shortly after signing Lawrenson, Mullery told Shoot magazine: “I know a lot of people have not heard too much about him yet. But they will – believe me, they will. He is only 20, is big and strong and will make his mark in a big way.”

And, in his autobiography, Mullery said: “Any manager would love to have a player of Mark’s ability in their side. He had a calm, strong temperament, he never caused any problems and he always performed brilliantly on the field. His presence helped to lift the team to a whole new level of performance in the 1977-78 season.”

Lawrenson made his Brighton debut on the 20 August 1977 in a 1-1 draw against Southampton at The Dell and made 40 league appearances by the end of his first season at the club.

The following season, when Albion went one better and earned promotion to the top division for the first time, Lawrenson was a stand-out performer. In his book, A Few Good Men, author Spencer Vignes said: “His timing in the tackle and ability to read the game belied his relative youth, but what really caught the eye was his skill on the ball, which, for a centre-back still earning his wages in English football’s second tier, was little short of remarkable.”

Skipper Brian Horton told Vignes: “The way he used to bring the ball out from the back had to be seen to be believed.”

In a special Argus supplement of April 1997, to mark Albion’s departure from the Goldstone, Lawrenson was interviewed by Mike Donovan, and told him: “The Goldstone was a great place to play and I was extremely happy there.

“It was an excellent team that played good football the way it should be played – by passing it around. Also, we had a great team spirit, mainly because a lot of the team were outsiders coming in and stuck together. We all played and socialised together.”

Unfortunately, Albion’s first season amongst the elite was only five games in when Lawrenson received a serious injury in a clash with Glenn Hoddle at White Hart Lane.

Badly torn ankle ligaments and a chipped bone was the diagnosis and it sidelined Lawrenson for 12 matches, although his absence created an opportunity for young Gary Stevens.

When Lawrenson was fit to return, Mullery sprung a surprise by utilising him in midfield, but it was an inspired decision and he stayed there for the rest of the season, helping Albion to finish a respectable 16th of 22.

He went on to make 152 league appearances by the end of 1980-81.

It was his sale to Liverpool in the summer of 1981 that was part of the reason Mullery’s reign at the club came to an end. Mullery had negotiated with Ron Atkinson to sell him to Manchester United with two United players coming to Brighton as part of the deal.

But, behind his back, chairman Bamber had been talking to Liverpool and, in exchange for what was then a Liverpool club transfer record of £900,000, he headed back to the North West with midfielder Jimmy Case coming South as part of the deal.

Argus front page

Lawrenson went on to form a formidable central defensive partnership with Hansen after England centre back Phil Thompson suffered an injury, but, as he had showed at Brighton, he was versatile enough also to play at full back or in midfield.

Indeed, Lawrenson made his first start for Liverpool at left-back in a 1-0 league defeat to Wolves. In his first season, Liverpool won the League championship and the League Cup. They won it again in 1982 and retained both for another two seasons, becoming only the third club in history to win three titles in a row. They also added the club’s fourth European Cup in 1984.

Many believed Lawrenson and Hansen were the best central defensive partnership in English football by the time Liverpool clinched the League and FA Cup “double” in 1986.

But Lawrenson was being put under pressure by young centre back Gary Gillespie and an Achilles tendon injury in 1988 prematurely ended his career after 332 appearances and 18 goals, although he earned a fifth and final title medal when that season ended.

Lawrenson tried his hand at management at Oxford United in 1988 but, in almost a mirror image of the situation over his own transfer from Brighton, he resigned after their star striker Dean Saunders, the former Albion player, was sold by the board of directors without Lawrenson’s blessing.

Lawrenson later managed Peterborough United for 14 months between September 1989 and November 1990, but it was a largely unsuccessful tenure.

Apart from one brief foray back into football as a defensive coach at Newcastle during Kevin Keegan’s first reign in the North East, Lawrenson’s involvement since has been one step removed as a pundit and newspaper columnist.

At the most recent World Cup, Lawrenson particularly hit the headlines when many observed his cantankerous and sarcastic observations were just too much.

Never shy of voicing his opinions, they once led to him losing what at the time was a trademark moustache!

He was so convinced that Bolton would be relegated that he said live on Football Focus that he would shave it off if they proved him wrong, which they did!

In 2003, my friend Andrew Setten somehow blagged tickets which gave us the opportunity to go into the exclusive Football Association area at the FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Southampton at the Millennium Stadium and, all those years later, I finally got the chance to meet Lawro and to get his autograph.

• Pictures from Shoot magazine and cuttings from the Evening Argus.

Steve Coppell not the first ex-Man U player to desert the manager’s chair

STEVE Coppell was not the first former Manchester United player I saw become manager of Brighton. More than 30 years previously, Busby Babe Freddie Goodwin had been at the helm when my Albion-watching passion began.

Unfortunately, there was a parallel in their outcomes: both were wooed by better opportunities elsewhere (in Goodwin’s case, Birmingham; Coppell went to Reading). One other fascinating parallel to record, though, is that each of their successors (Pat Saward and Mark McGhee) got Albion promoted.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but, if Coppell hadn’t been jet lagged the first time chairman Dick Knight interviewed him for the Brighton job, the 2002-03 season may have panned out differently…and Kolo Touré, a future Premier League winner with Arsenal and Manchester City, might have spent a season helping the Seagulls to retain their recently-won second tier status. Let me explain.

Unfortunately, Coppell had been out of the country in Thailand during the summer of 2002 and, although Knight wanted to interview him with a view to appointing him as Peter Taylor’s successor, when the meeting in London eventually came about, Coppell began to nod off with the effects of his long-distance travel.

A frustrated Knight, under pressure on several fronts that summer (as told in his autobiography Mad Man: From the Gutter to the Stars, the Ad Man who saved Brighton) left him to it and took the decision to appoint third choice Martin Hinshelwood instead. (Knight had also considered German Winfried Schäfer, who had just managed Cameroon at the World Cup, but his poor command of English went against him).

As the opening to the season drew closer, Knight went with Hinshelwood to watch an Arsenal under 23 side in a friendly at Barnet. He was running the rule over Steve Sidwell with a view to taking him on a season-long loan but the stand-out player who caught his eye was Touré, and Albion’s cheeky chairman said he’d take the pair of them.

To his delight, Arsène Wenger and Liam Brady agreed…but astonishingly Hinshelwood said they weren’t needed because, in his opinion, they weren’t any better than Albion’s own youngsters, who he had been coaching, and who he was now intending to blood in the first team. An incredulous Knight kept schtum, believing he needed to support his new manager.

When they started the season with a 3-1 win at Burnley, it seemed maybe Hinshelwood had a point. But, after a disastrous run of 12 defeats, leading to the inevitable sacking of Hinshelwood, Knight reverted to Plan A and succeeded in attracting Coppell to manage the side.

He then swiftly went back to Arsenal to secure the loan services of Sidwell (who’d played for Coppell at Brentford the previous season). But he was too late as far as Touré was concerned. He’d already played his way into first team contention for the Gunners and was no longer available.

coppell + booker

With Albion at the foot of the table, Coppell had a rocky start at the helm of the Seagulls, including an embarrassing 5-0 defeat to Palace, but he quickly brought in some quality players such as Dean Blackwell and Simon Rodger, and, together with Bobby Zamora up front and the busy Sidwell in midfield, they put together some decent results that dared to suggest a great escape was possible.

Albion notched up some surprise results, including a 1-0 Boxing Day win at Norwich and a 4-1 home win over Wolves, who ended up in the play-offs. There was also a memorable 2-2 draw at Ipswich, a 4-0 home win over Watford and a 2-1 win at Reading, most notable for a rare appearance and goal from former Premiership striker Paul Kitson, who had been injured for much of the season.

Sadly, it wasn’t quite enough to keep the Seagulls in the division and they went down second from bottom, five points adrift of 21st placed Stoke City.

The following season was in its infancy when West Ham decided to sack Glenn Roeder as their boss. The Hammers were determined to replace him with Reading’s Alan Pardew; and Reading, once they realised their fight to keep Pardew was fruitless, turned to third tier Albion’s Coppell as his replacement.

Chairman Knight knew Reading could offer Coppell the opportunities that were still some way in the distance if he’d stayed at the Albion, so he did the next best thing which was to get a healthy sum in compensation which went a long way to funding that season’s wage bill.

Knight was a big fan of Coppell and admired his meticulous preparation for games through in-depth viewing of opponents.

In an interview with The Guardian, Knight said: “He is probably the most analytical mind brought to football management for many a year. His preparations are detailed to the point of fastidious. His briefings are second to none. He spent hours with the video in the afternoons breaking down moves in slow-mo to work out how the opposition operate. He is very perceptive.”

Knight added: “People say he’s cold and uncaring, but he came to one of our marches on the seafront to campaign about the new stadium at Falmer long after he left for Reading. That’s Steve. He left a big impression on us.”

coppell at reading.jpg

Coppell left the Albion with a 36.7 per cent win ratio over his 49 games in charge, just over three percentage points behind his first spell as Palace manager, but higher than his other three spells at Selhurst.

To avoid this blog post turning into War and Peace, I’m not going to cover the whole of Coppell’s career but, in the circumstances, it is worth touching on how he came to be a star on the wing for Manchester United and England.

The Liverpool lad went to the same Quarry Bank Grammar School that produced Joe Royle and Beatle John Lennon, but head teacher William Pobjoy ensured football mad Coppell stuck to his studies.

It didn’t deter Coppell from having a trial with Liverpool and playing for an Everton junior side a couple of nights a week. But both rejected him as too small and his dad Jim told playupliverpool.com: “He lost faith in ever becoming a footballer and took up golf and became quite good.” He still played football for a local side but that was just for pleasure. A Tranmere Rovers scout made several approaches but Steve wasn’t interested, and decided he was going to go to Liverpool University to take a degree in economics and social history.

Ron Yeats, the famous colossus around who Bill Shankly built his Liverpool team in the 1960s, became Tranmere manager in the early 1970s. He remembered of Coppell: “We signed him so he could combine it with university.”

Around the same time, Coppell shot up from 4ft 11in to 5ft 7in in a year, and went on to play 38 times for Tranmere, scoring 10 goals.

Word reached Manchester United boss Tommy Docherty who paid a £35,000 fee to take him to Old Trafford. He was playing for United in the old second division while still completing the third year of his degree course. United’s deal with Tranmere had it built in that they’d pay an extra £20,000 if Coppell made it to 50 appearances. They paid it after only two games, such was the impact Docherty knew he was going to have.

Indeed, he went on to make 373 appearances for United and scored 70 goals; and the 207 games he played between 1977 and 1981 broke the record for the most consecutive appearances for an outfield Manchester United player, and still stands to this day.

coppell utd action

He played in three FA Cup Finals for United, in 1976, 1977 and 1979, only ending up with a winners’ medal when Liverpool were beaten 2-1 in 1977.

Coppell was still at United in 1983, and had been United’s top scorer on the way to the Milk Cup Final that season, but he was recovering from a cartilage operation on his damaged left knee so was unable to play in the FA Cup Final against Brighton.

He told Match magazine: “I was always fighting a losing battle against time to get fit for the final. In my heart of hearts, I knew when I had the cartilage operation that five weeks wasn’t enough time to get fit for a match of this importance. I was struggling to make it from the off.”

Coppell told Amy Lawrence of The Guardian: “’I had nine wonderful years there and I still remember running on at Old Trafford for the first time. It was a real heart-in-the-mouth moment, an incredible experience for a 19-year-old whose biggest crowd before then was probably about 5,000.”

He also won 42 caps for England and Sir Trevor Booking, one of his contemporaries in the England team, spoke in glowing terms about Coppell the player in his book My Life in Football (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

“He was a winger at a time when wingers were unfashionable,” he said. “He had the pace to reach a 30-yard pass, the skill to wriggle past a defender and send over the perfect cross. But he also had the energy to run back and provide cover for his defensive team-mates down the right flank that set him apart from so many other wingers at that time.

“When his team lost possession, Steve didn’t hang about on the flank waiting for someone to win it back. He wanted to win it back himself. He was involved all the time – a quality that is a prerequisite for today’s wide players.”

Coppell made his England debut under Ron Greenwood against Italy at Wembley in 1977 in a very exciting line-up that saw him play on the right, Peter Barnes on the left, and Bob Latchford and Kevin Keegan as a twin strikeforce. It was a favoured foursome for Greenwood and when they all played together against Scotland in 1979, Coppell, Keegan and Barnes all scored in a 3-1 win.

It was while on England duty that Coppell picked up the injury that would eventually lead to a premature end to his career. Brooking recalled: “A tackle by the Hungarian József Tóth at Wembley in November 1981 damaged his knee and although he played on for a year or so more, the knee condition worsened.

“He was able to play in the first four games of the 1982 World Cup but the problem flared up after the goalless draw with West Germany and he had to miss the decisive match against Spain.”

Since June 2016, Coppell has been a manager in India. Amongst the players he worked with at Kerala Blasters (owned by cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar) was Aaron Hughes, who had a season with Albion. Last season Coppell became the first head coach of newly-formed Jamshedpur, owned by Tata Steel, and in June this year he took charge of Indian Super League club ATK, once part-owned by Atletico Madrid. Among its current owners are former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly.

 

 

Albion’s first £1m signing Will Buckley once rejected by Trotters

 

Will Buckley holds a very special place in the hearts of modern-day Brighton fans.

He ensured his place in the club’s history books when he came off the substitute’s bench to score twice, including a last-gasp winner, as Albion played their first competitive league match at the Amex on 6 August 2011.

That winner in the 2-1 win over Doncaster Rovers is the stuff of YouTube legend, coming as it did in the eighth minute of added on time, and is right up there alongside memorable Albion goals from across the eras.

Manager Gus Poyet had turned a few heads when he secured Buckley’s signature from Watford that summer, making him Albion’s first £1m signing.

It wasn’t long before the Albion faithful were adapting the chant fans had previously attributed to former favourite wideman, Elliott Bennett, and were singing ‘Wil-liam, Wil-liam Buckley runs down the wing for me’.

The lanky Lancastrian was unusual in being a 6ft winger but his skill and pace on good days could bring the crowd to their feet, especially with his knack of scoring too.

Unfortunately, with his pace came plenty of hamstring injury issues and Buckley became no stranger to the treatment table during his three years with the Seagulls.

Also, once Poyet had taken the reins at Sunderland, it was evident Buckley was on his shopping list and what Albion fans witnessed in the second part of the 2013-14 season was a player whose head seemed to have been turned by the promise of a move.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Born in Oldham on 21 November 1989, Buckley sought to make his way in the game with his home town club, but his hopes were dashed and they released him.

He then had trials at a number of other north-west clubs, including current employers, Bolton Wanderers, who at the time were managed by Sam Allardyce.

“I played a few games for a Trialists XI against Bolton’s Under 15s or 16s. But I never got asked back, so that was just that,” Buckley told the Lancashire Telegraph.

After getting nowhere with Bolton, Buckley subsequently had trials at Bury and Accrington Stanley before deciding to go to college to do a football academy course. That eventually led to him being picked up by Keith Hill and Dave Flitcroft at Rochdale.

Signed as a youth scholar in 2006, he progressed to the reserves and then got his first team chance in February 2008, when coming on as a sub as Rochdale lost 4-2 at home to Hereford United.

His first start came in a 1-0 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers but he was mainly used as a substitute in that breakthrough season, including getting on at Wembley as Rochdale lost to Stockport County in a play-off final for a place in League One.

When the 2008-09 season got underway, he began to claim a starting place and soon scored his first goal, in a 2-2 draw away to Rotherham.

By 12 January 2009, The Times hailed him in 49th place among the top 50 rising stars in the English game, suggesting his progress at Spotland would soon see him playing at a higher level. Interestingly, the recently-departed Sam Baldock (then at Milton Keynes Dons) was at no. 46.

The Times clearly had an eye for talent because, a year later, having scored 13 times in 69 appearances for Dale, Buckley rose two leagues to the Championship to join Watford.

Watford boss Malky Mackay gave him a three-and-a-half-year contract and described him as “an exciting young talent”. The fee was officially ‘undisclosed’ although reports suggested it was around £200,000.

However, perhaps as a sign of things to come, injury curtailed his impact at his new club to just six appearances, and one goal, in the second half of the season.

Nevertheless, in his one full season with the Hornets, Buckley made 37 appearances and was named their Young Player of the Year.

Perhaps rather tellingly, Buckley’s move to Watford from Rochdale was handled by head of football business and development, John Stephenson, who, lo and behold, by the summer of 2011 held a similar post with Brighton!

Watford were canny though and ensured a 15 per cent sell-on clause as part of the deal with Brighton, meaning they netted a further £225,000 when Buckley eventually left Albion to re-join Poyet at Sunderland.

buckley move to Sund Mail

Poyet told the BBC: “He is very quiet, shy, but with his feet when he is on the pitch and he’s got the chance to attack you, he’s a nightmare.”

Sunderland fans weren’t quite sure what to expect and their fans’ website Roker Report sought the views of Albion fans after he signed for the Wearsiders. Probably not surprisingly, the main issues they shared were Buckley’s problems with hamstring injuries.

Under Oscar Garcia in 2013-14, Buckley had scored only three goals in 23 league and cup games plus 10 appearances from the bench, and two of them came in one match! However, you can imagine they must have given him special pleasure, coming as they did – in the 13th and 65th minutes – at the Reebok as Albion beat Dougie Freedman’s Trotters to maintain their play-off push.

Buckley’s last game for Albion came in a 1-0 defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday that was the opening fixture of the 2014-15 season.

The much-speculated move to Sunderland came shortly after and he departed the Seagulls having scored 19 goals in 109 games.

As to what’s happened since, the record books show what can only be described as a disappointing few years. Buckley played a couple of dozen games for the Wearsiders in the Premiership but, as soon as Poyet was sacked, he found himself out of favour and was shipped out on loan, spending time at Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City.

On his release from Sunderland in June 2017, as his three-year deal expired, he joined Phil Parkinson’s Bolton Wanderers on a two-year contract.

“He’s a player with a lot of Championship experience and we’re looking forward to working with him,” said the Bolton boss.

Buckley scored twice in 25 matches in his first season, where former Seagull Craig Noone was also added as a wide option. But they only narrowly avoided the drop back to League One.

will buckley action

Spanish TV star Michael Robinson followed in dad’s footsteps to play for Brighton

Robinson v WBA

MICHAEL Robinson is 60 in July this year and the Leicester-born former Republic of Ireland international is now a big TV celebrity in Spain.

It seems like half a world away since Robinson bore down on Gary Bailey’s goal in the dying moments of the 1983 FA Cup Final only inexplicably to pass up the opportunity of scoring a Wembley winner to lay the ball off to Gordon Smith.

Robinson’s next two competitive matches also took place at Wembley:

  • He once again led the line for Brighton when the Seagulls were crushed 4-0 by Manchester United in the cup final replay on 26 May. It turned out to be his last game for the Albion.
  • Three months later he was in the Liverpool side who lost 2-0 to United in the FA Charity Shield season-opening fixture between league champions and FA Cup winners, following his £200,000 move from relegated Brighton.

It was hardly surprising Robinson didn’t hang around at the Goldstone: the Seagulls had given him a platform to resurrect a career that had stalled at Manchester City, but the striker had several disputes with the club and the newspapers were always full of stories linking him with moves to other clubs.

Perhaps it was surprising, though, that champions Liverpool were the ones to snap him up, particularly as Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish were in tandem as first choice strikers.

But at the start of the 1983-84 season, Joe Fagan’s Liverpool had several trophies in their sights and Robinson scored 12 times in 42 appearances as the Merseyside club claimed a treble of the First Division title, the League Cup, and the European Cup.

That was as good as it got for Robinson but, asked many years later to describe his proudest moment in football, he maintained: “Scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final that meant that a bunch of mates at Brighton were going to Wembley in 1983.”

One of two sons born to Leicester publican Arthur Robinson, Michael followed in his father’s footsteps in playing for Brighton. Arthur played for the club during the Second World War when in the army, and also played for Leyton Orient.

When he was four, Robinson moved to Blackpool where his parents took over the running of a hotel in the popular seaside resort. The young Robinson first played football on Blackpool beach with his brother.

After leaving Thames Primary School, it was at Palatine High School that he first got involved in organised football, and, before long, he caught the eye of the local selectors and represented Blackpool Schools at under 15 level, even though he was only 13.

Amongst his teammates at that level was George Berry, who ironically was Robinson’s opponent at centre half in his first Albion match, against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The young Robinson also played for Sunday side Waterloo Wanderers in Blackpool and when still only 13 he was invited for trials at Chelsea, by assistant manager Ron Suart, who had played for and managed Blackpool.

Although he was asked to sign schoolboy forms, Robinson’s dad thought it was too far from home. Coventry, Blackpool, Preston and Blackburn were also keen and the North West clubs had the edge because he wouldn’t have to leave home.

Eventually he chose Preston and on his 16th birthday signed as an apprentice. At the time, Mark Lawrenson was also there, training with the youngsters, and Gary Williams was already on the books.

After two years as an apprentice, he signed professional and began to push for a first team place with the Lillywhites. With former World Cup winner Nobby Stiles in charge, in 1978-79, Robinson scored 13 goals in 36 matches, was chosen Preston fans’ Player of the Year and his form attracted several bigger clubs.

In a deal which shocked the football world at the time, the flamboyant Malcolm Allison paid an astonishing £756,000 to take him to Manchester City. It was a remarkable sum for a relatively unproven striker.

The move didn’t work out and after scoring only eight times in 30 appearances for City, Robinson later admitted: “I’d never kicked a ball in the First Division and the fee was terrifying. If I had cost around £200,000 – a price that at that time was realistic for me – I would have been hailed as a young striker with bags of promise.”

It was Brighton manager Alan Mullery, desperate to bolster his squad as Albion approached their second season amongst the elite, who capitalised on the situation.

“I received the go ahead to make some major signings in the summer of 1980,” Mullery said in his autobiography. Mullery, had the support of vice-chairman Harry Bloom – current chairman Tony Bloom’s grandfather – even though chairman Mike Bamber was keener to invest in the ground.

“I could see he’d lost confidence at City and I made a point of praising him every chance I got,” said Mullery. “I asked him to lead the line like an old-fashioned centre forward and he did the job very well.”

Robinson told the matchday programme: “When Brighton came in for me, I needed to think about the move…12 months earlier I had made the biggest decision of my life and I didn’t want to be wrong again.”

In Matthew Horner’s authorised biography of Peter Ward, He shot, he scored, Mullery told him: “When I signed Michael Robinson it was because I thought Ward was struggling in the First Division and that Robinson could help take the pressure off him. Robinson was big, strong, and powerful and he ended up scoring 22 goals for us in his first season.”

The first of those goals came in his fourth game, a 3-1 league cup win over Tranmere Rovers, and after that, as a permanent fixture in the no.9 shirt, the goals flowed.

With five goals already to his name, Robinson earned a call up to the Republic Ireland squad. Although born in Leicester, his mother was third generation Irish and took out Irish citizenship so that her son could qualify for an Irish passport. It was also established that his grandparents hailed from Cork.

He made his international debut on 28 October 1980 against France. It was a 1982 World Cup qualifier and the Irish lost 2-0 in front of 44,800 in the famous Parc des Princes stadium.

Nevertheless, the following month he scored for his country in a 6-0 thrashing of Cyprus at Lansdowne Road, Dublin, when the other scorers were Gerry Daly (2), Albion teammate Tony Grealish, Frank Stapleton – and Chris Hughton!

In April 1982, Robinson, Grealish and Gerry Ryan were all involved in Eire’s 2-0 defeat to Algeria, played in front of 100,000 partisan fans, and for a few moments on the return flight weren’t sure they were going to make it home. The Air Algeria jet developed undercarriage problems and had to abort take-off. Robinson told the Argus: “I thought we were all going to end up as pieces of toast. But the pilot did his stuff and we later changed to another aircraft.”

Although not a prolific goalscorer for Ireland, he went on to collect 24 caps, mostly won when Eoin Hand was manager. He only appeared twice after Jack Charlton took charge.

But back to the closing months of the 1980-81 season…while only a late surge of decent results kept Albion in the division, Robinson’s eye for goal and his never-say-die, wholehearted approach earned him the Player of the Season award.

As goal no.20 went in to secure a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City on 21 March, Sydney Spicer in the Sunday Express began his report: “Big Mike Robinson must be worth his weight in gold to Brighton.”

However, the close season brought the shock departure of Mullery after his falling out with the board over the sale of Mark Lawrenson and the arrival of the defensively-minded Mike Bailey.

Bailey had barely got his feet under the table before Robinson was submitting a written transfer request, only to withdraw it almost immediately.

He said he wanted a move because he was homesick, but after talks with chairman Bamber, he was offered an incredible 10-year contract to stay, and said the club had “fallen over themselves to help me”.

Bamber told the Argus: “I have had a very satisfactory talk with Robinson and now everybody’s contracts have been sorted out. It has not been easy to persuade him to stay.”

Even though Bailey led the Seagulls to their highest-ever finish of 13th, it was at the expense of entertainment and perhaps it was no surprise that Robinson’s goal return for the season was just 11 from 39 games (plus one as sub).

The 1982-83 season had barely got underway when unrest in the club came to the surface. Steve Foster thought he deserved more money having been to the World Cup with England and Robinson questioned the club’s ambition after chairman Bamber refused to sanction the acquisition of Charlie George, the former Arsenal, Derby and Southampton maverick, who had been on trial pre-season.

Indeed, Robinson went so far as to accuse the club of “settling for mediocrity” and couldn’t believe manager Bailey was working without a contract. Bamber voiced his disgust at Robinson, claiming it was really all about money.

The club tried to do a deal whereby Robinson would be sold to Sunderland, with Stan Cummins coming in the opposite direction, but it fell through.

Foster and Robinson were temporarily left out of the side until they settled their differences, returning after a three-game exile. But within four months it was the manager who paid the price when he was replaced in December 1982 by Jimmy Melia and George Aitken.

Exactly how much influence the managerial pair had on the team is a matter of conjecture because it became a fairly open secret that the real power was being wielded by Foster and Robinson.

On the pitch, the return of the prodigal son in the shape of Peter Ward on loan from Nottingham Forest had boosted crowd morale but didn’t really make a difference to the inexorable slide towards the bottom of the league table.

Ward scored a famous winner as Manchester United were beaten 1-0 at the Goldstone a month before Bailey’s departure, but he only managed two more in a total of 20 games and Brian Clough wouldn’t let him stay on loan until the end of the season.

Albion variously tried Gerry Ryan, Andy Ritchie and, after his replacement from Leeds, Terry Connor, to partner Robinson in attack. But Connor was cup-tied and Ryan bedevilled by injuries, so invariably Smith was moved up from midfield.

Robinson would finish the season with just 10 goals to his name from 45 games (plus one as sub) – not a great ratio considering his past prowess.

The fearless striker also found himself lucky to be available for the famous FA Cup fifth round tie at Liverpool after an FA Commission found him guilty of headbutting Watford goalkeeper Steve Sherwood in a New Year’s Day game at the Goldstone.

The referee hadn’t seen it at the time but video evidence of the incident was used and the blazer brigade punished him with a one-match ban and a £250 fine. Robinson claimed it had been an accident…but it was one that left Sherwood needing five stitches. The ban only came into effect the day after the Liverpool tie, and he missed a home league game against Stoke City instead.

In the run-up to the FA Cup semi-final with Sheffield Wednesday, Robinson was reported to be suffering with a migraine although he told Brian Scovell it was more to do with tension, worrying about the possibility of losing the upcoming tie.

Nevertheless, he told the Daily Mail reporter: “When I was with Preston, I suffered a depressed fracture of the skull and have had headaches ever since. This week it’s been worse with the extra worry about the semi-final.”

Manager Melia, meanwhile was relieved to know Robinson would be OK and almost as a precursor to what happened told John Vinicombe of the Evening Argus: “Robbo is a very important member of our team and he’s the man who can win it for us.

“It is Robbo who helps finish off our style of attacking football and I know he’ll do the business for us on the day.”

Reports of the semi-final were splashed across all of the Sunday papers, but I’ll quote the Sunday Express. Under the headline MELIA’S MARVELS, reporter Alan Hoby described the key moment of the game.

“In a stunning 77th minute breakaway, Case slipped a beauty forward to the long-striding Gordon Smith whose shot was blocked by Bob Bolder.

“Out flashed the ball to Smith again and this time the cultured Scot crossed for Mike Robinson to rap it in off a Wednesday defender.”

Other accounts noted that defender Mel Sterland had made a vain attempt to stop the ball with his hand, but the shot had too much power.

When mayhem exploded at the final whistle, a beaming Robinson appeared on the pitch wearing a crumpled brown hat thrown from the crowd to acknowledge the ecstatic Albion supporters.

In one of many previews of the Final, Robinson was interviewed by Shoot! magazine and sought to psyche out United by saying all the pressure was on them.

“That leaves us to stride out from that tunnel with a smile and a determination to make everyone proud of us,” he said.

“Nobody seems to give us a prayer. They all seem glad that ‘little’ Brighton has reached the Final, but only, I suspect, because they expect to see us taken apart by United.”

Everyone knows what happened next and quite why the normally-confident Robinson didn’t take on his golden opportunity to win the game for Brighton in extra time remains a mystery.

However, as mentioned earlier, within months ‘little’ Brighton was a former club and Robinson had taken to a much bigger stage. This is Anfield reflected on his short time at Anfield as “a golden opportunity for him” and recalls that it turned out to be “the best and most successful season of his career”.

He had yet more Wembley heartache during a two-year spell with Queen’s Park Rangers, being part of their losing line-up in the 3-0 league cup defeat to Oxford United in 1986.

The move which would lay the foundations for what has become a glorious career on TV arose in January 1987 when Robinson moved to Spain to play for Osasuna, scoring 12 times in 59 appearances before retiring through injury aged 31.

Robinson completely embraced the Spanish way of life, learned the language sufficiently to be an analyst for a Spanish TV station’s coverage of the 1990 World Cup, and took Spanish citizenship.

His on-screen work grew and the stardom Robinson achieved on Spanish TV attracted some of the heavyweight English newspapers to head out to Spain to find out how he had managed it.

For instance, Elizabeth Nash interviewed him for The Independent in 1997 and discovered how he had sold his house in Windsor and settled in Madrid.

Meanwhile, in a truly remarkable interview Spanish-based journalist Sid Lowe did with Robinson for The Guardian in 2004, we learned how that FA Cup semi-final goal was his proudest moment in football and that Steve Foster was his best friend in football.

In June 2017, his TV programme marked the 25th anniversary of Barcelona’s first European Cup win at Wembley, with some very studious analysis. On Informe Robinson (‘Robinson Report), he said: “Wembley was a turning point in the history of football. Cruyff gave the ball back to football.”