Ex-Ram Gerry Ryan – ‘a special player and one of football’s nice people’

GERRY RYAN was one of the most likeable Albion players for a huge number of fans, and I was one of them.

A versatile trier who was good enough to represent the Republic of Ireland on 18 occasions, the wholehearted Ryan might not make it into the all-time best Brighton XI but, if it was judged on affability, his name would be first on the team sheet.

A cruel twist of fate saw his career ended in a tackle made by his Irish teammate (and current Albion boss) Chris Hughton’s brother, Henry. Typically, Ryan bore no grudges, as stressed by former Argus Albion reporter John Vinicombe in an article published in May 1986 when the genial Irishman finally accepted that his career was over.

Describing “the immense dignity and true manliness that Ryan displayed in refusing to condemn or indeed utter any harsh word against the player responsible” he added: “Where others have sued and raged, slandered, cursed and threatened, Ryan said nothing.”

GR leg break

It was 2 April 1985 when his career was ended by that Hughton tackle in a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

“Never in his life has he shirked a tackle and the one that ended his career so unfortunately at Crystal Palace was typical of many he faced in his career,” said Alan Mullery, the manager who signed him for the Seagulls.

“As a person, he is a lovely and typical Irish personality,” Mullery said in the programme for the player’s testimonial game against Spurs at the Goldstone on 8 August 1986. “I can honestly say that I have never met a player who dislikes him or has a bad word to say about him. I will remember Gerry Ryan as being a special player and one of football’s nice people.”

Mullery also referred to a Sunday lunch he and his family had with Ryan and his wife at the time he signed. “When Gerry ordered roast beef and chips I must have known then that I had a very special sort of player. At the time, I was a little dubious but afterwards I had no regrets.”

Mullery had been over in Dublin watching Albion’s Mark Lawrenson playing for the Republic of Ireland and Derby’s Ryan was playing in the same side. He had been having talks about moving to Stoke City but Mullers persuaded him to join Brighton instead, and, in a strange quirk of fate, he made his debut in a 2-2 draw away to Stoke.

GR capsA week later, he became an instant hit with Albion fans when he scored on his home debut in a 5-1 win over Preston. He notched a total of nine goals in 34 appearances in that first season and went on to score 39 in a total of 199 games.

Born in Dublin on 4 October 1955, Ryan didn’t play competitive football until he was 16, with Gaelic football and hurling the preference up to then. But his school classmate, Kevin Moran, who later played for Manchester United, introduced him to a Dublin football club called Rangers AFC, and while playing for them he was spotted by Bohemians, the oldest football club in Dublin.

By 18, Ryan was a first-team regular and, after collecting a League of Ireland Championship medal, was watched by Manchester United boss Tommy Docherty.

Docherty didn’t pounce them but, after Ryan had stayed four years with Bohemians, the ebullient Scot eventually returned to take him to England as his first signing for Derby County for a fee of £40,000.

The newly-appointed Docherty was determined to shake-up the club and while long-serving goalkeeper Colin Boulton was discarded along with striker Kevin Hector, Ryan, Scottish internationals Bruce Rioch and Don Masson, and Terry Curran and Steve Buckley were all introduced.

Ryan spoke about the way Docherty’s attitude towards him changed in an interview with Brian Owen of The Argus in 2016.

“One minute you were the blue-eyed boy, the next he wouldn’t even talk to you,” he said. Ryan made a hamstring injury worse by playing when Docherty insisted he was fit enough, and ended up sidelined for three months. “He didn’t like me then! That’s the way he was, he would turn on you, and he turned on me.”

Within a year, Docherty accepted Brighton’s £80,000 offer for Ryan after the popular Irishman had also considered an offer to join Stoke City.

As he was weighing up which club to join, Ryan consulted the legendary Republic of Ireland and ex-Leeds midfielder Johnny Giles to ask his opinion. “Gilesy said ‘Stoke have been in and out of the First Division forever but there is something going on down at Brighton. They get great crowds and it’s a beautiful place.’ I went to Brighton that weekend and absolutely loved it,” Ryan told Owen.

It was on 25 September 1978 winger Ryan arrived, prompting the departure of popular local lad Tony Towner after eight years at the Albion.

Five months before Ryan arrived at the Goldstone, he made his international debut, featuring for the first time in April 1978 in a 4-2 win over Turkey at Lansdowne Road. He only scored once for the Republic, a consolation in a 3-1 defeat against West Germany, but he was one of four regular Eire internationals playing for Albion at the time: Lawrenson, Tony Grealish and Michael Robinson the others. His final appearance for his country came in a 0-0 draw against Mexico at Dalymount Park in 1984.

Ryan was part of some all-time history-making moments during his time with the Albion – scoring at St James’s Park in the 3-1 win over Newcastle on 5 May 1979 to clinch promotion to the top division for the first time, and burying the only goal of the game as unfancied Albion beat Brian Clough’s European champions Nottingham Forest, who’d previously not lost at home for two and a half years.

My personal favourite came on 29 December 1979 at the Goldstone when he ran virtually the entire length of a boggy, bobbly pitch to score past Joe Corrigan in the goal at the South Stand end to top off a 4-1 win over Manchester City.

It was one of the most superb individual goals I saw scored and, when he was trying to recuperate from the horrific leg break which ultimately ended his career, I wrote to him in hospital to say what a special memory it held for me.

I was delighted to receive a grateful reply from him, and he has held a special place in my Albion memory bank ever since.

There were other stand-out occasions, two of which came against Liverpool:

in February 1983 at Anfield when he opened the scoring in Albion’s memorable 2-1 FA Cup triumph en route to the final, and, in the following season, at the Goldstone when he and Terry Connor were on target in Second Division Albion’s 2-0 win over the Reds in the same competition, the first-ever live FA Cup match (other than finals) to be shown (previously any television coverage of FA Cup ties was only ever recorded highlights).

If the modern-day reader can’t quite put the feat in perspective, it is worth pointing out that Liverpool, managed by Joe Fagan, went on to win the League Cup, the League title and the European Cup that season.

Danny Wilson hadn’t long since joined the Albion and, in an interview with the Seagull matchday programme in 2003, he recalled: “That has to be my favourite memory from all my time at the Goldstone. Back then, Liverpool were just awesome, and to beat them like we did was virtually unheard of.”

Ryan’s involvement in the 1983 Cup run was hampered by a hamstring injury which meant he missed out on the semi-final. But, in the days of only one substitute, he was on the bench for the final and, when the injured Chris Ramsey couldn’t continue, Ryan went on at Wembley and did a typically thorough job at right-back.

GR prog snow

Following Albion’s relegation, as the big-name players departed the Goldstone, Ryan’s versatility and play-anywhere attitude came to the fore and, in his last two seasons with the club he was often selected as a centre-forward, although he was not a prolific goalscorer from that position.

After he was forced to quit playing, Ryan took what was then quite a familiar route for ex-players and became a pub licensee, running the Witch Inn at Lindfield, near Haywards Heath.

GR pots

However, when another of his former Republic of Ireland teammates, Liam Brady, was appointed Albion manager in 1994, it was an inspired choice for him to appoint Ryan as his assistant.

When that all-too-brief managerial spell came to a messy close, Ryan returned to his pub.

When in August 2007 Ryan suffered a stroke, it was testimony to his popularity amongst Albion fans that he was still making the news such a long time after his association with the club had ended.

Three years later, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer but he made a full recovery and when Albion met Derby for a Championship clash in April 2016, he returned to Brighton from the home he shares with his mother in Walkinstown, a suburb to the south of Dublin close to the mountains where he grew up.

 

Pictures from a variety of sources but mainly from my scrapbook, the matchday programme and The Argus.

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50 years a fan of Brighton & Hove Albion

 

IT’S EXACTLY 50 years ago today that I went to watch my very first Brighton & Hove Albion match: a 3-0 win over Walsall in the old Third Division. Two-goal Alex Dawson instantly became a hero and a lifelong devotion was born.

Before long, I got swept along by the excitement of a promotion in 1972, and topped off the season by going to watch Brighton’s Willie Irvine play in Northern Ireland’s 1-0 win over England at Wembley.

After the high, the low of relegation in 1973 but, in the autumn of that year, to the whole football world’s astonishment, our humble team was suddenly being managed by one of the biggest names in the game, Brian Clough.

While that scenario was short-lived, it signalled that Brighton would no longer be viewed simply as a footballing outpost. The momentum begun by Clough was built on when the former Tottenham Hotspur captain Alan Mullery took charge in the summer of 1976. It seemed he could do no wrong. The little and large goalscoring partnership of Peter Ward and Ian Mellor excited the crowds and edged the Seagulls towards the promised land.

Mark Lawrenson, the best player I’ve ever seen play for the Albion, was brilliant at the back and in midfield but, when he eventually went, in exchange we got European Cup winner Jimmy Case, who’d already bagged an impressive medal haul with Liverpool. Centre half Steve Foster was so immense in defence for Brighton that he was picked to play for England and, a year later, a sight I never expected to see as long as I lived: Brighton in the FA Cup Final.

Relegation to the second tier seemed bleak at the time but none of us realised it was going to get a whole lot worse before it got better. There was, though, another chance to see my team at Wembley when, against all the odds, we made it to the play-off final – only to suffer a disappointing loss.

By now I was getting rather used to the highs and lows of supporting the Albion, but what was going on behind the scenes in the last decade of the 20th century threatened the very existence of the club.

Always we looked more in hope than expectation for a saviour and thankfully it came, firstly in the shape of Dick Knight to stabilise the ship and set it on a new, exciting course, and then eventually in the extraordinarily wealthy Tony Bloom, whose grandad had taken him along to the Goldstone as a lad and imbued him with that same sort of passion that had fuelled my interest back in 1969.

Today we’re back at football’s top table, playing against the best teams in the land, and no-one’s sure how long it will last.

One thing’s for sure, regardless of what level the Albion are playing at, I will still feel that same tingle of excitement as Sussex by the Sea heralds the arrival of the team on the pitch – and long may it continue.

 

 

willie + chrisAs a small indulgence on this special personal landmark day for me, I’ve chosen a select XI of my all-time favourite Albion players; not necessarily the best, but those who’ve given me most enjoyment over those 50 years of watching.

Peter Grummitt

Bruno        Steve Foster      Mark Lawrenson       Eddie Spearritt

Jimmy Case     Peter O’Sullivan

Gerry Ryan   John Byrne   Willie Irvine   Clive Walker

Subs: Tomasz Kuszczak, Gary Stevens, Matthew Upson, Richard Carpenter, Peter Ward, Bobby Zamora, Glenn Murray.

 

 

Burnley cult hero Ade Akinbiyi a big hit in brief Seagulls spell

A STRIKER with wildly differing fortunes in a varied and much-travelled career made a good early impression when joining Albion on loan from Norwich City back in the autumn of 1994.

Ade Akinbiyi had not long since broken through to the City team as a teenager and he scored four times in seven games on loan to the Seagulls.

Just turned 20, Akinbiyi arrived at a time when Liam Brady’s Albion hadn’t registered a win for 11 games and, although Albion lost the first game he played in, the remaining six produced three wins and three draws.

AA scores

There is some YouTube footage of him scoring Albion’s second goal on a snowy pitch at Hull City’s old Boothferry Park ground in a game that finished 2-2.

Later in his career he would prove to be a real handful for the Seagulls – I recall him shrugging off a powder-puff challenge from a young Dan Harding at Withdean and muscling his way to a winning goal for Stoke City. Manager Mark McGhee subbed Harding off and publicly lambasted him afterwards.

Born in Hackney on 10 October 1974, Akinbiyi was more interested in athletics at an early age, as he told the Lancashire Telegraph.

“I was interested in football but not massive on playing it,” he said. His school PE teacher persuaded him otherwise. “I went to play for my district team, Hackney, and it all started from there.”

From Hackney, Akinbiyi joined nearby Senrab, the team that blooded the likes of Bobby Zamora, Leon Knight, John Terry and Jermain Defoe.

His age group earned a place in a children’s tournament in Great Yarmouth called the ‘Canary Cup’ where he was spotted by a scout for nearby Norwich, who signed him as a schoolboy.

“The schoolboy and youth team system was second to none, as it still is now,” said Akinbiyi. But he found it hard living away from home, missing his mum’s native Nigerian cooking.

But after finding new digs with a few of his team-mates, he stuck at it and earned a dream debut as a substitute against Bayern Munich in the return leg of their UEFA Cup second round game, less than a month after his 19th birthday.

“I thought my debut would come in a cup game, perhaps against lower league opposition, not against Bayern Munich,” he said. “Not many people make their debut in a European cup competition.”

Although Akinbiyi made 51 league appearances for Norwich, his Canaries career never really took off, hence the Brighton loan spell and a similar move to Hereford United.

Eventually, though, a manager who believed in him, Tony Pulis, made him a record £250,000 buy for Gillingham in January 1997. Akinbiyi repaid Pulis’ faith in him with 29 goals in 67 starts, leading to Bristol City paying £1.2million for the striker following their promotion to the old Division One (now the Championship).

akinbiyi + colin lee

After scoring 21 goals in 47 league appearances for the Robins, in 1999 he completed a £3.5m move to Wolverhampton Wanderers. In the same year, he played his one and only game for Nigeria, in a friendly against Greece in Athens.

He made a great start at Wolves, scoring eight times in his first 12 games for Colin Lee’s side, but a year later, switched to Premier League Leicester City, after the Foxes’ boss Peter Taylor (later to replace Micky Adams at Brighton) paid out a £5m fee for the striker.

Ade A LeicesterAkinbiyi was brought in to replace Emile Heskey, a real Filbert Street hero who had been sold to Liverpool for £11m. However, his goal touch eluded him and he managed to score only 11 goals in 58 league appearances for the club – some Leicester fans dubbing him Ade Akin-Bad-Buy!

Akinbiyi looked back on it in an interview with Four Four Two magazine and said: “I came in as Emile Heskey’s replacement, but he is a different breed of footballer.

“He’s big, strong and scores goals, but, back then, if Heskey wasn’t scoring a lot he could get away with it. He was the local hero. I was a different player – I’d be running in behind and trying to cause people problems. But Leicester looked at my record in the Championship and thought I’d come and do the same thing.”

Eventually they cut their losses and sold him to Division One Crystal Palace for £2.2m. At Selhurst, he was rather ignominiously given the number 55 shirt! Having scored just one goal in 14 league and cup appearances, in 2003 he was loaned to Stoke City, under his old boss Pulis.

He scored twice – the second goal coming in the last game of the 2002-03 season, when the Potters won 1-0 against Reading to seal their Division One (now the Championship) status (the season Albion were relegated).

Akinibiyi discussed the events in an interview with another ex-Stoke, Burnley and Brighton striker, Chris Iwelumo, for Stoke City FC TV.

AA chat with CIIt led to Akinbiyi joining on a permanent basis, on a free transfer, and he became a cult hero with the Stoke City crowd.

In March 2005, Burnley signed him for £600,000 – and he was promptly sent off on his debut! The game was only two minutes old when he head-butted George McCartney of Sunderland, and was shown a straight red.

Less than a year later, he was on the move again, switching to Sheffield United in January 2006 for what was then a club record £1.75m fee.

He scored on his Blades debut against Derby County but by October that year he was in the news for his alleged involvement in a training ground bust-up with team-mate Claude Davis.

In all, Akinbiyi made only five appearances for the Blades in the Premiership in 2006 and, on New Year’s Day 2007 he returned to Burnley for a £650,000 fee, with add-ons.

He scored in his first game back, against Reading, but only notched three by the season’s end. Burnley fans have some good memories of him, particularly in a brief spell when he played alongside loan signing Andrew Cole, but on 2 April 2009, Burnley offloaded him to Houston Dynamo.

Dave Thomas, a prolific writer on all things Burnley, talked about Akinbiyi’s cult hero status among Burnley fans, telling thelongside.co.uk: “Ade certainly had a talent and that talent was scoring goals. The story that he was utterly bad at this is totally inaccurate, but that is the legend that developed, at one club in particular, Leicester City.

“In truth, at Burnley too, he missed sitters that Harry Redknapp might say his wife could have scored. But then so do all other players and, in many games, he displayed all the things that he was good at, and the attributes that he had in abundance.”

After he was released by Houston, back in the UK he played 10 games for Notts County, as they won the League Two title In 2009-10, and the following season pitched up in south Wales to play for then non-league Newport County.

In July 2013, Akinbiyi became a player-coach for Colwyn Bay, managed by his former Burnley teammate Frank Sinclair, but both resigned in January 2015 after a 5-0 defeat at Boston.

Akinbiyi now lives in Manchester and in 2015 was interviewed about work he has done as an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK after his father died from the disease.

Ex-Baggie Georges Santos sparked notorious Bramall Lane battle

Santos stripesTHE REVENGE exacted by Frenchman Georges Santos against an opponent who had inflicted serious injuries to him sparked one of the most notorious football incidents of the modern era.

Four years later, the 6’3” former West Bromwich Albion, Sheffield United and QPR player joined the Seagulls on a one-year deal.

Born in Marseilles on 15 August 1970, Santos began his football career as a 16-year-old trainee with his local club.

After 10 years playing in France, he moved to the UK in 1998, signing for Tranmere Rovers, who, at the time, played in the Championship and were managed by former Liverpool striker John Aldridge.

A centre-half who also liked to play as a defensive midfielder, Santos became something of a cult hero to Rovers fans. He described his time at Prenton Park in an interview with Total Tranmere in 2011, and also spoke about it as a guest on the A Trip to the Moon podcast.

A contractual dispute led to a messy end to his time at Rovers and he was one of five players new West Brom boss Gary Megson recruited in March 2000 to help halt the Baggies’ slide towards relegation from the First Division.

The mission succeeded, Albion scraping into 21st place, but Santos’ stay at The Hawthorns was a brief one. Having been involved in just eight games, he moved on to Sheffield United in the summer of 2000.

It was on 16 March 2002 that the so-called Battle of Bramall Lane took place between Neil Warnock’s Blades and Megson’s Baggies, for whom current boss Darren Moore was playing.

There were three goals, three United red cards, and, when two Blades players hobbled off injured, the game had to be abandoned because they only had six players left on the pitch!

It was the only time in the history of professional football in England that a match had to be abandoned because one team no longer had enough players to be able to continue.

The background to what unfolded perhaps explains – but certainly couldn’t excuse – what followed.

Just over a year before, when Welsh international midfielder Andy Johnson had been playing for Nottingham Forest against Sheffield United, Santos had suffered a fractured cheekbone and a seriously damaged eye socket following an elbow by Johnson.

There had been no apology forthcoming from Johnson while Santos had to have a titanium plate inserted. He was sidelined for over four months amid fears he could lose his sight in the damaged eye.

With Megson having been a Sheffield Wednesday player, there was added friction in the air at Bramall Lane, not helped by Blades skipper Keith Curle having also captained West Brom’s neighbours, and promotion rivals, Wolves. Striker Paul Peschisolido had also been a Baggie.

Possibly recognising the volatility that might be unleashed if Santos had started the game v West Brom, Warnock only chose him as a substitute, but when the Baggies went 2-0 up, Santos and Patrick Ruffo were sent on.

“Santos launched himself at Johnson at the first opportunity,” according to skyysports.com, recalling the incident some years later. “It was a shocking tackle that could easily have badly injured his opponent and the red card was inevitable.”

The West Brom website, highlighting the contribution Santos had made in helping the club to avoid relegation in 2000, also reflected on the explosive controversy some years later.

Not only had Santos launched two-footed into Johnson, in the melee that followed Ruffo headbutted striker Derek McInnes, so both were shown the red card. Then, after two United players were unable to continue because of injury, referee Eddie Wolstenholme had no alternative but to abandon the game.

Santos and Ruffo received six-game bans, were transfer-listed by the Blades and neither played for the club again.

Santos was without a club until December 2002, but that didn’t stop him making his international debut – lining up for Cape Verde, where both his parents came from, in an Africa Cup of Nations match against Mauritania in September 2002. He subsequently won three more caps.

His club career was rescued when he signed a deal with Grimsby Town as emergency cover for the injured Steve Chettle. Although he couldn’t help the Mariners avoid relegation from League One in 2003, he was voted their Player of the Season.

But, because he didn’t fancy dropping down a division, he rejected a new deal at Blundell Park and moved to Ipswich Town in the summer of 2003. Playing under the experienced Joe Royle, he said: “I always had a lot of respect for Joe. If the team had a bad game, he’d come in and say for everyone to go home. He never said things he might regret and always took time to cool down.”

After a season at Portman Road, Santos then switched to Ian Holloway’s Queens Park Rangers where he spent two seasons, completing 77 appearances.

It was in August 2006, aged 36, that Santos pitched up at Brighton’s Withdean Stadium and Mark McGhee signed the experienced defender-midfielder on a one-year contract.

The player told BBC Southern Counties Radio: “I had clubs in Scotland and England interested, but Brighton looks the good option – I like the challenge.

“The manager wants me to bring my experience to a young team. My ambition is for us to make the top two.”

Having made a substitute appearance in a 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest, Santos made his first start at home to Boston United in the Carling Cup.

McGhee said: “I was delighted with Georges Santos’ full debut. He won his headers and it makes a hell of a difference to see the ball go back over the heads of our midfielders – instead of dropping down between them and the back four.”

Santos Alb action

Unfortunately, McGhee’s services were dispensed with in early September 2006 and former youth coach Dean Wilkins took over the reins.

Wilkins was always keen to give as many opportunities as he could to the emerging young talent he had nurtured through Albion’s youth team so the ageing Santos didn’t really fit into the picture.

Thus, after only half a season with the Albion, and having featured in only 12 games for the Seagulls, he was sent on loan to Jim Smith’s Oxford United – his ninth club.

On being released by the Albion at the end of his one-year deal, he linked up with Chesterfield, but he didn’t get any games at Saltergate and left the club in November 2007.

He then dropped into the non-league arena, appearing briefly for Alfreton Town and Farsley Celtic before finishing his playing career with Fleetwood Town at the age of 38.

Santos is now a scout for Olympique Marseille covering the UK, Italy and Switzerland. He frequently visits Sheffield to catch up with family and stays in touch with his old friend John Achterberg, the former Tranmere ‘keeper.

 

Shankly ‘disciple’ George Aitken coached Hornets and Seagulls

MEDIA-friendly Jimmy Melia stole all the limelight as Brighton stormed to the final of the 1983 FA Cup but a quiet, wavy-haired Scot alongside him also played a big part in the achievement.

George Aitken was joint caretaker manager with Melia for three months after Mike Bailey’s dismissal in December 1982, and he’d previously been in the dugout alongside Alan Mullery and Ken Craggs during Albion’s rise through the divisions having originally been brought to the club by Peter Taylor.

When he died aged 78 in August 2006, Jimmy Case told the Cumbrian Times & Star: “George was a great character, a great friend and coach right the way through my time at the club. “Jimmy Melia was in the front line with his white shoes but George was right there in terms of the workings of the club and picking the team. He was well respected for his knowledge of the game.”

aitken (83-84)

Mark Lawrenson also paid tribute in an interview with Argus reporter Paul Holden, telling him: “George never got carried away. He had seen it all before. He was a very wily old fox. He was from the old school, a good, honest, true, loyal man.

“He knew his football, knew his players and liked a laugh. He had one of those infectious laughs.”

And Holden also reported that at Aitken’s testimonial dinner in 1988, former Albion secretary, Stephen Rooke, said: “He may never have reached the dizzy heights attained by many of his friends and acquaintances over the years but he represents a rare breed, in fact the very lifeblood of our national game.

“Deep down George is a very private person but his reliability and honest, down-to-earth approach has, quite rightly, earned him enormous respect throughout the football world.”

Aitken had been a manager in his own right at Workington, and he and Melia had both been players under one of the game’s legends – Bill Shankly.

Shankly managed Workington between 6 January 1954 and 15 November 1955, when Aitken was a strong and commanding centre back for the Cumbrian side, and five of Melia’s 10 years playing for Liverpool were under Shankly’s managership.

Born in Dalkeith, Scotland, on 13 August 1928, Aitken was educated at Dalkeith High School and played football for Midlothian Schools.

His step up to senior football came at Edinburgh Thistle, which was essentially a feeder side for Hibernian.

David Jack, remembered as the first player ever to score at Wembley, had become manager of Middlesbrough in 1944, and took Aitken to Ayresome Park in 1946. He made his debut against Fulham in 1951-52, but only made 18 top division appearances and, in July 1953, was sold to nearby Workington for £5,000.

It was the beginning of a long-standing relationship with a club who in those days played in the basement division of the Football League and is now in the Northern Premier League – the seventh tier of English football.

Aitken amassed 262 league appearances for Workington and, in the 1957-58 season, played against the famous Busby Babes at home in the 3rd round of the FA Cup in front of a record 21,000 crowd – just a month before the Munich air crash. Dennis Viollet scored a hat-trick for United in a 3-1 win.

Aitken retired as a player in 1960 but he stayed on at Borough Park as a coach, initially under Joe Harvey, who later enjoyed success at Newcastle United, and then Ken Furphy, who went on to manage Watford, Blackburn and Sheffield United before moving to the USA and taking charge of four different clubs.

When Furphy moved to Watford, Aitken followed him as a coach. The lure of Workington was to draw him back to the north west, though, and he had a brief spell as manager between March and June 1965 (stepping in after Keith Burkinshaw – later famously boss of Spurs – had left) and then a longer spell in charge, between June 1971 and October 1974.

grimsby 75

In the 1975-76 season, he was trainer-coach during Tommy Casey’s spell managing Grimsby Town (where, as in picture, one of the players was former Albion defender Steve Govier), but left the Lincolnshire outfit to join Peter Taylor’s coaching set-up at Brighton in 1976. The Scot ended up staying for 10 years.

Aitken and wife Celia had three children and I well remember one of them, Bruce, appearing for Worthing FC.

George was clearly football daft, and in a matchday programme feature of September 1985, Celia told Tony Norman: “Football has always been his hobby, as well as his way of earning a living. He really loves the game. It’s not unusual for us to be driving somewhere and to stop because George has seen a game going on in a park by the road. He can’t resist watching for a while.”

During Chris Cattlin’s reign as manager, Aitken was the reserve team manager and chief scout, and in the programme article he said: “I can look back on some very happy memories. I was assistant manager when we took the club to Wembley and that experience is something I’ll never forget. But that is all in the past and what really matters to me is the future for Brighton Football Club. So, I enjoy going out to look for youngsters who could do a good job for us in years to come.”

After leaving Brighton, Aitken did scouting work for Graham Taylor during his spells at Watford, Aston Villa and England.

end shot aitken armchair

Pictures from a variety of sources including the matchday programme, online sites and the Argus.

Promotion-winning full-back Paul Watson delivered for Zamora

DEPENDABLE full-back Paul Watson will best be remembered by Brighton fans for a sweet left foot that invariably created goalscoring chances for Bobby Zamora.

Previously, Watson made 57 appearances in a season-and-a-half with Fulham, and was a mainstay in their famous 1996-97 side that earned promotion from Division Three under Micky Adams.

Born in Hastings on 4 January 1975, Watson began his playing career with Gillingham, where he spent five years before following Adams to Fulham in July 1996.

He teamed up with Adams once more, at Brentford, where he played for 20 months before signing for the Albion in a joint deal with Bees teammate Charlie Oatway.

Watson was a key member of the side that won back-to-back championships, helping the Seagulls from the fourth to the second tier.

The left-footed right back was particularly accurate from dead ball situations and his pinpoint passing proved ideal for Zamora to thrive on.

In Paul Camillin’s Match of My Life book (knowthescorebooks.com, 2009), Zamora said: “Whenever Watto got the ball I knew precisely where I needed to run to and he knew where to deliver it to.

“It was just such a great connection: Watto has an absolutely wonderful left foot and it made my job as a striker so much easier when you get deliveries like that.”

At the time of the interview, Zamora had moved on to Premiership Fulham and had played several seasons at the highest level. He said: “I don’t think I have come across anybody with a better left foot than Watto’s.

“I was very lucky to have played in the same team as him: he created numerous goals for me; not only with his deliveries but with his intelligent play as well.”

When the Seagulls finished top of the third tier under Adams’ successor Peter Taylor, Watson was one of four former Fulham players in the side: Danny Cullip, Simon Morgan and Paul Brooker the others.

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The disastrous run of 12 defeats under Martin Hinshelwood, after such a promising start in the second tier, took the players by surprise, as Watson revealed in an extended interview with Jon Culley for the Wolverhampton Wanderers matchday programme on 11 November 2002.

“Obviously we were aware it was a step up but we thought we would at least do okay,” he said. “Nobody was suggesting we would win promotion for a third season in a row, but, with a couple of new signings and the quality that was already in the side, we didn’t think we would struggle as we have.

“Everything started off all right. We had a good win at Burnley and then a 0-0 draw against Coventry and the way we were playing seemed to be working but after that nothing would go right.

“Every bit of luck, even the referees’ decisions, seemed to go against us and we could not get a point for love nor money.”

Watson conceded that the squad Peter Taylor had led to the Second Division title before his resignation faced a steeper learning curve than anticipated.

“You have to appreciate that 80 per cent of the squad had never played in the First Division before and it is a big jump in terms of the technical quality of some of the people you are up against,” he said.

Watson admitted the loss of Taylor had come as a big blow, and said: “Peter Taylor had been the England coach, even if it was only for one game, and to attract a manager of that quality to a club such as ourselves was very exciting.  Lots of players were gutted when he left.”

The arrival of Steve Coppell as manager gave the team renewed hope, although at the time Watson also spoke about the return to fitness and form of Zamora.

“Bobby was out for a while at the beginning of the season and you are always going to miss a player of his quality,” he said. “Now that he is beginning to get his fitness back, hopefully he will be able to make a difference to our fortunes.

“Nobody here is talking about relegation despite the start we have made. The arrival of players like Dean Blackwell and Simon Rodger have given a bit more know-how to the squad. We think we have what it takes to stay up.”

Obviously, it didn’t quite turn out that way, although they came mighty close to avoiding the drop. Watson stayed with the club the following season when Mark McGhee came in and steered the Seagulls to play-off victory in Cardiff against Bristol City, but his regular right-back slot was taken over by Adam Virgo.

After six years with the Seagulls, Watson left in July 2005, once again following ex-boss Adams, this time to Coventry City.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Watson told fulhamfc.com. “He’s made my career, basically! I’ll always have good things to say about him. Wherever he’s been he’s always been able to get the best out of his players, and he got the best out of me as well.”

However, Watson only played three games in a six-month spell with the Sky Blues, before going non-league with Woking, playing 15 games and, in the 2006-07 season, appearing in 44 games for Rushden & Diamonds.

He then had a season with Crawley and finally finished playing with Bognor. After hanging up his boots, Watson undertook a physiotherapy degree and was subsequently taken on by the Albion.

“It kind of started when I was at Brighton,” Watson told fulhamfc.com. “I had a couple of injuries towards the end of my time there and the physio at the time, Malcolm Stuart, helped me along and pointed me in the right direction.

“I did a couple of courses while I was still playing which helped me get onto my degree when I retired.”

Watson spent just short of nine years with the Albion’s physio team, initially with the development squad and then with the first team, during which time he earned a first class honours degree in physiotherapy at Brunel University, graduating in 2012.

Since June 2017 he has been head physio at Sheffield United and is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Sports Physiotherapy with Bath University.

 

Irish international Keith Andrews donned the stripes of Brighton and West Brom

15486REPUBLIC of Ireland international midfielder Keith Andrews was something of a revelation during a season-long loan at Brighton & Hove Albion.

Now plying his trade as a pundit for Sky Sports, Andrews had previously played for the other Albion as well – West Bromwich – although his stay there was even briefer than his time with the Seagulls.

With the looming expectation that back-to-back Player of the Season Liam Bridcutt would shortly follow old boss Gus Poyet to Sunderland (which eventually happened in January 2014), Brighton turned to Andrews to cover the defensive midfield slot in 2013-14.

Arriving at the Amex in August 2013 just short of his 33rd birthday on a season-long loan from Bolton Wanderers, Andrews was not at all happy with the way the Trotters ‘disposed’ of him, telling bbc.co.uk: “Nobody really had the decency to even phone me as I was leaving.

“I think I deserve a little bit more respect than that, I suppose. I always felt I’d done things well at that club, been very professional and treated people like I like to be treated.

“To end on that note was a bit sour but you can’t be surprised by anything in football.”

Even if Seagulls supporters viewed his signing as somewhat underwhelming, Andrews himself was delighted and excited, saying: “If it wasn’t the right move, I certainly wouldn’t have gone and I didn’t feel any pressure to leave.

“It was a move that genuinely excited me. To come to a club that plays in the fashion and style that Brighton do was something that really appealed to me.

“I have still got a huge appetite for the game and I feel I can have a big impact here. I have come into a squad that has a wealth of experience and ability that will make me be the player I know I can be.”

And boss Oscar Garcia sought to dispel any doubts, telling bbc.co.uk: “He is a player with experience at the top level of the English game and international football – including World Cups and European Championships.

“Keith is a player who I know will enjoy the way we like to play. He is a dynamic and energetic player.”

It wasn’t long before supporters began to be pleasantly surprised by Andrews’ contribution on the pitch, and off it the new signing also began to show his aptitude for handling the media.

As early as September 2013, Andrews was speaking eloquently about his teammates, for example telling BBC Radio Sussex his views about striker Leonardo Ulloa.

“He is a handful and has got a bit of everything,” he said. “He is a big player for us at the moment as he is really leading the line on his own. He allows us to bring other players, such as Bucko [Will Buckley] and Ashley Barnes, into play.

“He is very effective and I’ve seen first hand in training how strong he is and what a handful he is to deal with. I have only been here a few weeks but I have been very impressed by the mix we have got in the dressing room. We’ve got experience, youth, foreign, English and Irish.

“It is a good atmosphere and if we hold onto what we have got I am more than confident we can have a very successful season.”

As the months progressed, Andrews became an established part of the side which Garcia ultimately led to the play-offs. In December 2013, Andrews made use of the platform offered by the Daily Mail’s Footballers’ Football Column to expand on his enjoyment of his time at the Amex.

“The club made a big impression on me when I played against them for Bolton last season, in terms of their style of football and their new stadium, and when they came in for me it was a very easy decision in footballing terms,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision, moving 250 miles away from your home in the north-west, but Brighton made it very clear they wanted me and Bolton made it clear they didn’t.

“It came out of the blue, but I felt it was a chance to be a part of something really exciting.”

Garcia’s decision to quit after the failure to get past Derby County in the play-off semi-finals was the catalyst for a number of changes in the playing personnel, although Andrews hankered to make his move to Sussex permanent having been involved in 37 appearances since his temporary move.

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He registered one goal during that time, an 89th minute equaliser at home to Sheffield Wednesday in October.

In a May 2014 interview with the Bolton News, he said: “It would be something I’d be interested in. When the people are so good to you and make you feel so welcome, the fans have been fantastic, it’s a one-club town.

“No-one supports anyone else and the attendances are something that I haven’t experienced in football for a long, long time. We’ve got the best attendances in the whole league although other clubs in the league are supposedly bigger.

“It’s a club I would like to stay involved in but contract-wise I’m contracted to a different club next season, I’m only here on loan. These things are not always in your hands and you can’t always dictate where you go and how your career pans out.

“But I would certainly like to stay on at Brighton into the future because I have thoroughly enjoyed it this year.”

The midfielder also reflected positively on his time at the Amex in a blog post for Sky Sports, pointing out: “Although I was only at the Amex for one season I have a lot of affection for the club as I think they try to do things in the right manner for the club to evolve with real sustainability for years to come.

“There are good people involved behind the scenes there, none more so than in the academy. Last season I worked closely with the academy manager John Morling and the development coach Ian Buckman as I was in the middle of my UEFA ‘A’ licence and they couldn’t have done any more to help me.

“It was a great experience to work with them as they prepared weekly and monthly schedules with the rest of the coaches and sports scientists to ensure the young lads had the best chance of developing their games, both technically and physically.

“I was amazed at the schedule a 14-year-old at the club had and a little envious to be honest as it certainly wasn’t like that in my day!”

Born in Dublin on 13 September 1980, Andrews came through the ranks of Drumcondra side Stella Maris before being picked up as a junior by Wolverhampton Wanderers, where he stayed for six years.

He made his first team debut on 18 March 2000 in a 2-1 win at Swindon and at 21 was Wolves’ youngest ever captain in a game against QPR, but he was sent out on loan on three separate occasions, playing briefly for Oxford United, Stoke City and Walsall.

After 72 appearances for the Molineux side, in 2005 he moved on to Hull City, where injury blighted his only season with them He then had a two-year spell with Milton Keynes Dons, where he assumed the captaincy of Paul Ince’s side.

His second season was a huge success as the Dons won promotion to League One; Andrews scoring the goal which secured the success. He also scored in the club’s 2-0 win over Grimsby Town in the Football League Trophy at Wembley.

Andrews was chosen in the PFA Team of the Year, won the League Two player of the Year Award and was listed 38th of FourFourTwo magazine’s top 50 Football League players.

The Irishman followed his old Dons boss Ince to Premier League Blackburn Rovers in September 2008 and, two months later, at the comparatively late age of 28, made it onto the international scene with Ireland, making his debut as a substitute in a 3-2 friendly defeat against Poland.

It was the first of 35 international caps. He was involved in Ireland’s 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign and although the country was winless at the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, Andrews was named FAI Player of the Year for 2012.

Meanwhile, Andrews’ third season at Blackburn (2010-11) had been curtailed by injury, restricting him to just five Premier League appearances, and in August 2011 he went on a half-season loan to Ipswich Town.

A permanent switch looked on the cards but on deadline day of the January 2012 transfer window he ended up joining West Brom on a six-month deal. After 14 Premier League appearances for the Baggies, his contract came to an end and his next port of call was newly-relegated Bolton Wanderers, who he joined on a three-year contract in the summer of 2012.

Owen Coyle was the manager at that time but his tenure came to an abrupt end in October that year. Although Andrews played 25 times under his successor, Dougie Freedman, the following season he was edged out by the signing from Liverpool of Jay Spearing.

After his loan season with Brighton, Andrews had a similar arrangement at Watford but he didn’t enjoy the same success there and ended up curtailing the deal and going back to MK Dons on loan for the latter part of the season.

When the curtain came down on his playing career at the end of the 2014-15 season, he’d completed 413 career appearances and scored 49 goals.

He became first team coach at MK Dons and harboured ambitions of becoming manager when Karl Robinson departed, but he was overlooked and began working as a coach with the junior Irish international teams, and turned to punditry with Sky Sports.

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