Welsh wizard Sully stepped up

There are any number of links between Brighton and Hove Albion and Friday’s Amex visitors, Fulham.

Prominent figures include three former managers in Alan Mullery, Barry Lloyd and Micky Adams; currently there is Rohan Ince, Bobby Zamora, David Stockdale and the scorer of Monday’s stoppage time winner, Steve Sidwell.

Not too far back there were Danny Cullip, Richard Carpenter and Paul Watson.

Stockdale wasn’t the first ‘keeper to have played for both, either: the memorably named Perry Digweed did so, as did Ian Seymour, a good name for a goalie.

But my blog today is going to focus on Peter O’Sullivan, who had a long career for the Seagulls before a short stint with Fulham towards the end of his playing days.

The statisticians of the modern football era would have needed their calculators to record the ‘assists’ racked up by Sully, who, from the left wing or left midfield, found goalscoring teammates with unerring accuracy throughout a remarkable 11 years with the Albion.

Managers came and went, a huge swathe of teammates were discarded, but Sully stayed put, showed his worth to whoever sat in the manager’s chair, and entertained the watching faithful.

He played in the same position as the Brazilian genius Rivelino and even sported the same style of moustache in homage to him.

As Brighton rose through the footballing pyramid, Sully was a constant, displaying the talent to make an impact in the third, second and top tiers.

Funny then to read in the excellent Spencer Vignes book A Few Good Men (Breedon Books Publishing) that on more than one occasion Sully couldn’t wait to get away from Brighton and had some serious arguments with all of the managers he played under.

I’m indebted to Spencer’s 2007 interview with Sully to discover exactly how he ended up at Brighton having been given a free transfer from Manchester United. None other than the great Bobby Charlton was responsible.

Sully had trained alongside the United legend while at Old Trafford and on being released on a free transfer was considering offers from several different clubs.

He’d gone to Bristol to have a trial with Bristol City when, on a neighbouring pitch, Charlton was taking part in an England training session prior to the 1970 Mexico World Cup.

The kindly maestro exchanged the time of day with his recently departed colleague and asked which clubs were in for him. On hearing that one of them was Brighton, managed by his former Busby Babe teammate, Freddie Goodwin, Charlton advised him to link up with his old pal……and the rest, as they say, is history.

What Charlton and Sully didn’t know, however, was that no sooner had he arrived on the south coast than Goodwin was heading for the exit, en route to Birmingham. Sully hadn’t even kicked a ball in anger for him.

A homesick Sully struggled to settle at first but he stuck at it and went on to cement his place in the side. He ultimately featured under four different managers, Pat Saward, Brian Clough, Peter Taylor and Alan Mullery.

He was part of the promotion-winning teams in 1972, 1976 and 1979, and was player of the season in 1978. He won promotion with Fulham too, going up to the old Division 2 in 1982 when the former Newcastle, Arsenal and England centre forward Malcolm MacDonald was in charge.

Sully had one amazing period with the Albion in which he made 194 consecutive appearances, an Albion record for an outfield player.

The performances of the lad from Colwyn Bay also saw him earn three international caps for Wales, two against Scotland and one in a rout against Malta when he also got on the scoresheet. Unfortunately for him, during the same period, a superb left-sided player called Leighton James was the first choice for the national side.

Sully’s 435 appearances for Brighton made him the club’s longest-serving post-war player. He actually left the club in 1980 to play in America for San Diego Sockers but a £50,000 transfer fee saw him return just five months later.

Eventually Sully moved on to Fulham in 1981 and notched up 46 appearances. There were short loan spells with Reading and Charlton in 1982-83 and his Football League career came to an end with Aldershot in the following season.

Much is rightly made of Peter Ward’s contribution to the Albion during the late ‘70s but few would deny this other Peter also deserves a place amongst the club’s all-time greats.

 

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