JIMMY Case remains one of my all-time favourite Albion players.
Several of the best moments I can recall as an Albion supporter involve Case: the 1983 FA Cup semi-final belter against Sheffield Wednesday at sunny Highbury perhaps the most memorable.
The biggest disappointment was that Albion let him go so easily.
Younger readers may only remember his unhappy stint as manager when the misdirected club was in turmoil and he ended up holding the reins when Liam Brady just couldn’t take any more.
But rather than remember him as the man who took Brighton down to Division 3 in 1996, I remember the class act who arrived at the Goldstone in 1981 with a trophy cabinet the envy of many a footballer.
Although Brighton lost the sublime Mark Lawrenson to Liverpool as part of the deal that saw Case move to Brighton, they gained a player who had already got three European Cup winners’ medals, four Division 1 (Premiership equivalent) winners’ medals plus one each for winning the UEFA Cup, European Super Cup and the League Cup.
Case, born in Liverpool on 18 May 1954, was one of four children David and Dorothy Case raised in a council house in the city’s Allerton district.
He learned how to handle himself on a football field by playing in a tough dockers’ team but Liverpool picked him up from the local non-league club, South Liverpool. By then, Case had left school and was training to be an electrician.
He carried on those studies but after two years on Liverpool’s staff he made his first team debut in April 1975 in a 3-1 win over QPR. He scored his first goal in a 3-2 home win over Spurs at the beginning of the following season and, in what must have seemed a dream start, completed his first full season as part of a championship winning team, and as a goalscorer in the two-legged UEFA Cup Final win over FC Bruges.
The triumphs and trophies kept coming with Case enjoying the ride but by 1980-81 he was beginning to be edged out by Sammy Lee, and manager Bob Paisley didn’t look kindly on some of the off-field escapades Case was involved in with fellow midfielder Ray Kennedy.
Paisley said: “He had lost his appetite for the game in his last year at Anfield. It’s a hard stint working the right flank in our team and Jimmy had stopped getting forward and was looking to play early passes from deep positions. I think his legs had become tired.”
The move to Brighton might never have happened if Alan Mullery had got his way because he had already done a deal with Ron Atkinson to sell Lawrenson to Manchester United in exchange for two of their players.
But when chairman Mike Bamber pulled rank and forced through the Liverpool deal he had negotiated, Mullery quit and Case arrived on a five-year contract to find a new manager in charge in Mike Bailey.
It felt to me that Brighton were stepping up to a whole new level bringing in someone of Case’s stature, and so it proved.
In his first season at the Goldstone, Albion recorded their highest-ever finish among the elite – 13th.
I recollect heading to Upton Park for the opening game of the season to see Case make his debut against West Ham and Albion earned a 1-1 draw despite having Gerry Ryan sent off.
Case found himself in trouble with referees on way too many occasions that season. Although he came to the club with a hard man image, amazingly he had never previously been suspended for accumulating bookings.
But by December he had to sit out a two game ban, and when his bookings total reached eight by March, he missed another three games.
Case told John Vinicombe of the Evening Argus: “I am a face, and there is nothing I can do about that. I am known, and that might explain some of the things that have happened to me on the pitch.
“The last thing I wanted on coming to Brighton was to get suspended. Brighton didn’t give me a contract to miss games.”
For anyone who has not yet read it, Case’s autobiography, Hard Case (John Blake Publishing) is well worth a read, detailing through writer Andrew Smart a fascinating career.
Disappointingly, it has a few factual errors that doubtless the distance of time brought about. Nevertheless, Case says: “I enjoyed every minute of my time with Brighton.”
Particularly pleasing for him was to score with a thumping header past Bruce Grobelaar in a 3-3 draw with Liverpool at the Goldstone, and to be on the right end of Albion’s 1-0 win at Anfield that season.
Case enjoyed life off the field as well and admits in his book: “The inhabitants of Brighton and Hove were just a little more sophisticated than the Allerton of the 1970s and I was introduced to the many and varied attractions of decent food and fine wine. It was an education I really appreciated.”
His second season was to end in relegation, but, more famously, with Brighton’s one and only appearance in an FA Cup final. Case scored goals in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, as well as the semi-final.
The newspapers had a field day when Case’s winner for Brighton in the fifth round of the Cup at Anfield denied his old boss Bob Paisley the chance to wipe the board with trophies that season.
It seemed every national and local newspaper headline revolved around the likeable Scouser: ‘It’s Case for Champagne’, ‘Jimmy sets out his case’, ‘Old boy Case kills off Liverpool hopes’, ‘Amazing Case’, ‘Killer Case’, ‘Case packs a super Cup punch’, ‘Case for Cup win’.
The Daily Mirror made him their footballer of the month for February on the back of that goal with reporter Harry Miller declaring: “No single act did more to capture the imagination of the public than midfielder Case’s dramatic 71st minute winner on Sunday, February 20.”
Case himself had mixed emotions about it all, saying: “I had ten fantastic years at a remarkable club. That’s something that goes deep down.”
He also revealed how a good friend of his had been out of the country at the time of the game and sent him a postcard with only two words as its message: ‘You bastard’.
When he scored the only goal of the game in the quarter final win over Norwich, the headlines continued: ‘Case of bubbly’, ‘The odd Case of hero and villain’, ‘Seagulls have landed with champagne Jim’.
That belting free kick in the Highbury sunshine set Albion on their way to the 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, earning a first ever – and only – place in the FA Cup final.
He was no stranger to Wembley, of course, having previously scored Liverpool’s goal in the 1978 2-1 defeat to Manchester United, but unfortunately he didn’t repeat his earlier goalscoring feats in the 1983 final.
He played a key part in Albion’s brave effort to earn a draw against Man U and then had the agony of returning home that Saturday evening to discover his mother, who had been a visitor, had died in her sleep at the age of just 63.
It was to Case’s immense credit that he took his place in the side for the replay just five days later.
While relegation brought the inevitable break-up of the team, with Gary Stevens and Michael Robinson departing before the new season began, Case publicly declared his intention to stay and try to get the team back up to the elite.
However, once fellow Scouser Jimmy Melia had been replaced by Chris Cattlin, there was probably only going to be one outcome and eventually Case was sold to Southampton for £30,000 in March 1985.
For him, it was a great move because he was returning to the top division again. It turned out that he was Lawrie McMenemy’s last signing for Saints, but, on this occasion, the change of manager was to cement his place in the side. Chris Nicholl made him the club captain the following season.
In 1985-86, Saints reached the semi-final of the FA Cup (beating Brighton 2-0 in the quarter-final!) losing 2-0 to Liverpool after extra time. If Saints had won, Case would have been the first player to appear in three FA Cup finals with different clubs.
Over his six years at The Dell, Case played alongside Glenn Cockerill and Barry Horne and helped to bring on the careers of youngsters such as Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer and Jason Dodd.
But when Ian Branfoot took over as manager in June 1991, he dispensed with Case’s services within a matter of days and transferred him to Bournemouth, who were managed by Harry Redknapp.
After 40 league games for Bournemouth in 1991-92, he moved to Halifax Town managed by former Saint and, one-time Albion loanee, John McGrath, who was being assisted by another ex-Albion man, Frank Worthington.
But Case only played there for six months, moving on to Wrexham, where he helped them gain promotion from the 3rd Division at the end of the 1992-93 season.
He then turned out for non-league side Sittingbourne until, at the ripe old age of 39, Liam Brady brought him back to Brighton in December 1993, as a player/coach.
After his unhappy time as Albion manager, Case later managed non-league Bashley but is more often seen and heard these days on the after dinner speaking circuit or on regional football programmes. He also contributes to Southampton’s in-house radio station “The Saint”.
In July 2007, he once again donned a Brighton shirt, playing a cameo role alongside other past heroes in a brief curtain-raiser to Kerry Mayo’s testimonial game against Reading.