FORMER Chelsea captain Colin Pates added a touch of class when he joined Albion, initially on loan (1990-91) from Arsenal and then permanently (1993-95).
He was a key figure in the team which reached the 1991 Division Two play-off final against Notts County, playing in the same side as his former Chelsea teammate Clive Walker.
Young Irish centre back Paul McCarthy had been at the centre of Albion’s defence (alongside Gary Chivers) for the opening part of the season but when injury ruled him out, manager Barry Lloyd pulled off something of a coup to persuade his old Chelsea teammate, George Graham, then manager of Arsenal, to loan Pates to the Seagulls for three months.
In a special Argus supplement Go for it Seagulls! previewing the play-off final, Albion reporter John Vinicombe described it as a “masterstroke” and added: “It is doubtful if Albion would have made it without him.”
In the same publication, Lloyd’s faithful no. 2, Martin Hinshelwood said Pates had got better and better since joining. “He has steadied us a little bit. He talks to players, he is a great trainer and he has brought a lot to our back four.”
In an extended interview with the Argus in October 2001, Pates recalled: “It was a good time. The result in the play-off final didn’t go our way but it was a fantastic experience for the team to play at Wembley, the side was so close to the Premiership, or First Division as it was called then.
“I’d been lucky to have played there before but to others it was the pinnacle of their careers.”
After the disappointment of the loss to Neil Warnock’s County, Pates returned to Arsenal.
With Tony Adams and Steve Bould the first choice centre backs, and David O’Leary and Andy Linighan in reserve, first team games were few and far between, but he did play 13 times (plus two as sub) in 1991-92 then twice (plus five as sub) in 1992-93, before being released in the summer of 1993.
Lloyd’s time in the Albion manager’s chair was nearing its end but he picked up Pates on a free transfer and the defender played 61 games before a bad knee injury brought his professional career to an end in January 1995.
Towards the end of his time at the Albion, he’d moved out of the centre to play left back.
In that Argus interview in 2001, he explained how he had been grateful to accept the advice of Lloyd’s successor as manager, Liam Brady. “Liam told me that I should think of my health before my playing career and that I would be a fool to myself if I carried on playing.
“My knee had fallen apart and it was the right advice. If I’d ignored it I could well have ended up not being able to walk. Footballers need to be told when it is the end. I’ll always be grateful to Liam for that.”
Born in Carshalton on 10 August 1961, Pates made his way through the youth teams at Chelsea and made his debut at Stamford Bridge in an astonishing game which saw Chelsea beat Orient 7-3!
“I just remember Geoff Hurst, who was our manager at the time, coming up to me on the Friday and telling me that we had a few injuries so I was playing,” Pates told the official Chelsea website. “He literally just said: ‘Tomorrow you play,’ and that was it. Micky Droy was injured but he was brilliant with me, he gave me loads of advice and came to the game to support me.
“It certainly wasn’t a good advertisement for defenders but as long as you come away with the win the fans are happy. It’s one of those days where you’re so fired up it just goes so quickly. You come off the pitch at the end and have no recollection of what happened really. I was up against some good, experienced pros and it was quite daunting, but I really enjoyed it.”
It seems remarkable now but Chelsea only narrowly avoided relegation to the old Third Division in 1983, and, as a result, manager John Neal had quite a clear-out of players but Pates’ performances and attitude earned him the captain’s armband just before his 22nd birthday.
“I think he wanted someone who had come through the ranks and knew the club,” Pates said. “I was fortunate enough to be one of the few players – along with the likes of John Bumstead – who he kept on from before.”
Pates added: “I loved John Neal, he was a man of few words but when he said something you listened because it was going to be something poignant or important. He was a good man-manager and would always take care of you if you had problems and be there for a chat. You wanted to play for him.”
The club’s fortunes changed after they brought in the likes of Kerry Dixon, David Speedie and Pat Nevin and they soon returned to the elite as Second Division champions in 1984.
Two years later, Pates was holding another trophy aloft – the Full Members’ Cup – after a dramatic 5-4 win over Manchester City at Wembley which, extraordinarily, was played the day after they’d played a league game in which they’d won 1-0 at Southampton. Pates made history by becoming the first-ever Chelsea player to lift a trophy at the iconic stadium (when Ron Harris lifted the FA Cup in 1970 it was at Old Trafford, where the replay had taken place after a 2-2 draw at Wembley).
“It’s great to play at Wembley with thousands of fans screaming their heads off, and once you’re on the pitch you don’t care what cup it is, you just want to win it,” said Pates.
After 346 league and cup appearances for Chelsea, he was surprisingly sold to Charlton Athletic for £430,000. When the Albion visited Chelsea for a Division 2 league game on 29 October 1988, the matchday programme carried an article headlined ‘Colin’s farewell’, detailing the circumstances.
“The transfer of Colin Pates to Charlton Athletic not only surprised many Blues fans but Colin himself,” it began.
“It came right out of the blue,” said Pates. “Bobby Campbell told me that a First Division club wanted to sign me. At first, I was taken aback. I have been at Stamford Bridge since I was a schoolkid. Chelsea has become a way of life.”
However, he agreed to talk to Charlton boss Lennie Lawrence and was delighted to have made the move.
“After 11 years at Stamford Bridge, this is a new lease of life for me,” Pates told the programme.
In January 1990, he joined Arsenal for £500,000, and in the following month he made his Gunners debut at left back in place of the injured Nigel Winterburn in a 1-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
On his release from Brighton, Pates had a spell as player-manager of Crawley, played a handful of games for non-league Romford, and has coached youngsters in various places including Mumbai in India, the Arsenal School of Excellence, and at the independent Whitgift School in South Croydon.
Pates is now back at Stamford Bridge on matchdays working in the hospitality lounges.