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 “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.”

Neil McNab declared Brighton fans ‘the worst crowd I’ve played for’ before becoming a Manchester City star

FIERY SCOT Neil McNab left Brighton for a sizeable loss on their initial outlay and went on to be voted Manchester City’s Player of the Year twice.

No stranger to brushes with the football authorities, McNab joined Brighton in the second half of their first-ever season in the top flight.

In his autobiography, manager Alan Mullery said: “Neil McNab was a Scottish whippet, a fierce competitor in midfield who never stopped running or competing.

“I bought him halfway through the season from Bolton Wanderers and he gave us the extra edge we needed.”

The player to give way at the time was Republic of Ireland international Gerry Ryan and it would be fair to say the football writers were impressed by the tenacious Scot’s early impact.

After watching a 5-1 drubbing against Southampton from the subs bench, McNab made his debut at home to West Brom in a game that finished goalless. “McNab showed some touches of class in his home debut but scarcely as much as the home crowd expected from their £230,000 capture,” said Harold Palmer in the Sunday Express.

The News of the World’s Peter Jarman was slightly more effusive and described it as “impressive” and John Vinicombe in the Evening Argus said: “McNab, on his home debut, impressed with his industry and general involvement.”

Of his second game, a 1-1 draw away to Leeds, the Sunday People’s Keith Ray observed: “McNab looked light years from the off-key young man that Bolton sold. His prompting coupled nicely with Lawrenson’s hard work, and Ward had two chances to hit the target before he made the vital strike.”

A demonstration of his appetite came in the next game, another 1-1 draw, at home to Coventry, when he ran 25 yards to stop Peter O’Sullivan from taking a corner that he fancied for himself. He whipped the ball in and Ray Clarke thumped a header past Jim Blyth in the Coventry goal.

Gordon Smith, another Albion player who moved to Manchester City, remembered McNab’s quick wit in his autobiography, And Smith Did Score.

When it looked like Brighton were heading for relegation, Mullery, in fear of losing his job, famously threatened the players that he’d run them down in his car if that happened.

Smith recounted how the players were huddled round trying not to laugh at the astonishing outburst. “I almost fell off my chair when Neil leant over and whispered, ‘If he loses his job, he’ll no’ have a f****** car!’”

It was no laughing matter for player or club, though, when the tenacious McNab was suspended for four matches for pushing a referee. In the following season, he was up before the FA again after a skirmish with World Cup winner Alan Ball at the end of a 5-a-side tournament at the Brighton Centre.

Charged with bringing the game into disrepute, Ball was fined £100 but McNab was given a £250 fine and a two-game ban.

Manager Mike Bailey was clearly relieved and told the Daily Mail’s Brian Scovell: “Neil was expecting more but the last instance was entirely different. It was on the field of play when he touched the referee.

“We got a fair hearing. We’re not complaining. Both were guilty but the crimes were different as Neil’s part was unfortunately physical while Ball’s was verbal.”

McNab had the third highest number of appearances (44 plus two as sub) in the 1981-82 season, which saw Brighton’s highest ever finish of 13th, and all four of the goals he scored were from the penalty spot.

However, the safety-first style of play adopted by Bailey created a disconnect between players and fans. In the final home game of the season (a 1-0 defeat to Ipswich), McNab was substituted in the 62nd minute and the crowd booed him off.

The often-obtuse Vinicombe reported in the Argus: “When McNab was withdrawn, 30 minutes from time, his gestures to the crowd were capable of only one interpretation.” In the Daily Mail, McNab told Brian Scovell: “They are the worst crowd I’ve played for. When you do something good on the ball they don’t clap and if you make a mistake they give you stick.”

Worse was to follow after the row at the beginning of the 1982-83 season when Steve Foster and Michael Robinson slapped in transfer requests in protest at chairman Bamber refusing to sanction the acquisition of Charlie George, the former Arsenal, Derby and Southampton maverick, who had been on trial pre-season.

In what was supposed to have been a clear-the-air meeting, McNab let his feelings be known in no uncertain terms.

McNab still had five of six years left on his contract. They tried to offload him on loan to Newcastle, but the midfielder refused to budge. Instead, he made a bitter personal attack on the chairman, accusing him of picking the team, and slapped in his own transfer request.

McNab blasted: “The club is petty and small-minded, and players are treated disgracefully.” McNab made it clear he didn’t see his future at the club and after a few months eventually went to Leeds for a six-game spell and also to Portsmouth.

That came after Bailey had been sacked and his replacements, Jimmy Melia and George Aitken, gave the team a big shake-up, dropping McNab and adopting a more adventurous approach (which ultimately led to relegation).

Although completely out of the first team picture from early December 1982 onwards, McNab was to play one last game nearly five months later.

With Melia struggling to field a team because of injuries and suspensions, McNab got the nod for an away game at Notts County on 30 April 1983.

But he was unable to join in the FA Cup run to Wembley because he had been cup tied during his spell at Leeds. The 1-0 defeat to County was the Scot’s last ever Seagulls appearance.

Relegation led to the release of some of the high earners, and while Robinson and Gary Stevens were sold for sizeable fees, McNab was sold to Manchester City – who had been relegated with Albion – for just £35,000.

Born on 4 June 1957 in Greenock, McNab joined his local club, Greenock Morton, at an early age and made his first team debut at just 15.

He made 14 appearances for them before being snapped up for £40,000 by Tottenham Hotspur in 1974 and made his first team debut for Spurs while still only 16. A former teammate at that time, Andy Keeley said in a recent interview: “I’ll never forget how he played in a friendly match; first team v reserves. He controlled the game from start to finish. He was outstanding. He had a very good career but I never understood how he didn’t become a superstar.”

In four years at White Hart Lane, McNab played 72 matches and was selected by Scotland at under 15, under-18 and under-21 level, but never made it to the full Scotland team.

In November 1978, Bolton Wanderers paid £250,000 for him but after only 35 appearances for the Trotters, in February 1980, Mullery signed him for Brighton.

When the former Scotland and Celtic captain Billy McNeill captured McNab’s signature in the summer of 1983, he began what would be a long association with Manchester City and he turned out to be a bargain buy considering in 1986-87 and 1988-89 he was voted City’s Player of the Year.

“Combative and always willing to stick a boot in, McNab was a key figure in City’s drive to promotion on more than one occasion,” was how described him, while, looking back at past players of the year, said: “Like a fine wine, got better as time went on.”

Acknowledging his initial signing failed to excite the City faithful, it added: “McNab developed into a skilful, combative midfielder who became a huge crowd favourite. Not unlike Asa Hartford, McNab was a schemer who could pick a pass and kept the team’s tempo ticking over.”

McNab scored 19 goals in 261 league and cup games (plus five as sub) for City  but when Mel Machin’s successors at Maine Road (caretaker Tony Book and Howard Kendall) discarded him, he continued his playing career at Tranmere Rovers who paid £125,000 to take the 33-year-old to Prenton Park.

The combative midfielder added nous, steel and no little skill to the Rovers midfield, ending his first season in Birkenhead with two appearances at Wembley including the Leyland Daf Cup victory over Bristol Rovers,” said the Liverpool Echo.

He played 105 games for Tranmere, scoring six goals, and was part of the squad that secured promotion to English’s football’s second tier. He also earned the dubious distinction of being the first and thus far only Tranmere player to be sent off in a European game – a 2-1 win over Cosenza in the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Determined to carry on playing, McNab had an 11-game loan spell at Huddersfield Town, returned to his native Scotland to turn out for Ayr United, appeared briefly for Darlington, played 13 games in Northern Ireland for Derry City, went non-league with Witton Albion (12 games) before finally calling it a day with Long Island Rough Riders in the States.

In 1994, he returned to Maine Road as youth team coach, when his old Albion teammate, Brian Horton, was City manager, and kept the position even when the aforementioned Alan Ball replaced Horton. But eventually he lost his job during another managerial upheaval in 1997 and took up a similar position at Portsmouth, once again working with Alan Ball.

In October 2002, he finally landed a managerial position when he took the helm of League Two Exeter City. The reign was shortlived, though, and with only six wins in 26 matches (eight draws, 12 defeats) he was relieved of his duties.

McNab’s twin sons, Neil junior and Joe, who were born in Brighton, followed in their dad’s footsteps and were part of the young age group sides at Man City and Portsmouth. But after struggling to make the breakthrough, they moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, and have played for various sides in America.

Neil senior followed them to the States and in 2008 became director of coaching at Chiefs Futbol Club in Atlanta, Georgia, with Neil junior the club’s executive director.

In August 2017, it was reported Neil senior had suffered a severe stroke which left him fighting for his life.

On 2 March this year, a message was sent via freelance writer Spencer Vignes to say that McNab had finally managed to return home after five months in hospital and in rehabilitation. “He has made tremendous progress, but still has a long way to go,” his son said.


Paul McShane wrote his name in Brighton & Hove Albion history in one season

v Hull where played later

FLAME-HAIRED Irish centre back Paul McShane was a complete revelation during a season on loan to Brighton from Manchester United.

The 2005-06 season ended ingloriously for the Seagulls but McShane was imperious, given a platform to launch a career that continues in the second tier to this day and has seen him earn 33 full caps for his country.

Although he was given a squad number by United, and had been selected by Sir Alex Ferguson for pre-season matches, McShane didn’t get the chance to play any proper competitive football for United’s first team.

United reserve team manager, Brian McClair, a former Celtic teammate of Albion manager, Mark McGhee, could see the benefit of giving McShane first team football at a decent level and an initial half-season loan was agreed, then extended to the season’s end in January.

Brighton were missing the long-term injured Adam Hinshelwood and although veteran Jason Dodd had been signed to add experience to the defence, his season was to be plagued by injury, so McShane was a near permanent fixture alongside Guy Butters in the centre of the back four.

His passion and aggression sometimes got the better of him and the only reason he wasn’t ever present was a penchant for bookings – 12 over the course of the season – which earned suspensions, and a couple of injury-induced absences. And he was missed when he wasn’t available.

In their end-of-season player ratings, the Argus summed up his contribution thus: “Talent and determination in abundance. Rash in the tackle at times but that is a product of his insatiable hunger. Will be sorely missed next season.”

Such was the impact of McShane’s outstanding performances over the course of the season that he was selected as the Player of the Season, the first time a loan player had ever been given the honour.

Butters was convinced it was the right choice and told the Argus: “He’s done really well for us. He’s scored some vital goals. Obviously the one away to Palace springs to mind.

“He has been solid all-round. He is very aggressive, ultra-competitive and hates losing, even in training.”

It’s perhaps inevitable that any player who scores a winning goal against arch rivals Crystal Palace earns a place in Albion folklore. McShane’s scruffy effort, which appeared to go in off his shoulder, at Selhurst Park on 18 October 2005 proved to be the only goal of an intense scrap but how it went in became irrelevant as time passed.


“Crystal Palace was a special night, because of the rivalry,” said McShane. “It was a great atmosphere and scoring that goal was brilliant.”

He scored three other goals over the season, including a crucial opener in a 2-0 win away to Millwall as the Seagulls put up a valiant, but hopeless, fight to avoid the drop, but it will always be the goal at Selhurst that fans remember most.

McShane confessed in an interview with Andy Naylor in the Argus that relegation had hurt, but the season for him had been “brilliant” and “a great experience”.

He said: “It has given me a chance to get out there and make my name in the Championship and I think I have done that well enough.

“It has given me a great opportunity to get the experience I need to take back to Manchester and hopefully give it a good crack there, because I’ve learnt so much this season.

“Brighton have been brilliant to me. They’ve treated me really well. They’ve made me feel very welcome, the fans and the people around. That has helped a lot. It has been great.”

In conclusion, he told Naylor: “The club is part of me now. You never know what will happen in the future but Brighton will always have a place in my heart.”

Perhaps rather presciently, Naylor commented: “McShane’s fierce commitment is unlikely to be seen in an Albion shirt again. If he does not make it at Manchester United, there are sure to be Championship clubs interested in signing him.”

With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić United’s regular centre back pairing, and Wes Brown as back-up, it was always going to be a difficult ask to dislodge them, and in August 2006 McShane left Old Trafford together with goalkeeper Luke Steele as makeweights in the deal that took goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak to United.

McShane and Steele had both been members of United’s winning FA Youth Cup team of 2003, a side which also included Kieran Richardson and Chris Eagles, who went on to make names for themselves in the game.

McShane, born in Wicklow on 6 January 1986, was proficient at Gaelic football in his early years in Ireland but eventually began to demonstrate his soccer prowess with junior clubs and was playing for St Joseph’s Boys AFC in Dublin when United snapped him up in 2002.

After his success with United’s Youth Cup team, McShane’s first senior football came in 2004 during a brief loan spell with Walsall, where he played four games and scored once.

At Championship West Brom, McShane played 42 games in the 2006-07 season as the Baggies finished fourth and agonisingly lost to Derby County in the play-off final.

Before the new season got underway, McShane was one of 12 new signings manager Roy Keane made for Sunderland, newly-promoted to the Premier League.

He scored an own goal in only his second league game but Sunderland salvaged a 2-2 draw at Birmingham and he went on to make 21 appearances (plus one as sub) as the Black Cats finished just three points clear of the drop zone.

In the following season, McShane went on loan to Premier League new boys, Hull City, and having played 19 games for the Tigers made the move permanent the following season. The KFC Stadium would be his home for the next six years, although he was sent out on loan twice, to Barnsley in 2011 and Crystal Palace in 2012.

In the final game of the 2012-13 season, McShane scored a vital goal for Hull which guaranteed them promotion back to the Premier League, and he earned a new two-year contract from manager Steve Bruce.

However, with Curtis Davies, Alex Bruce and James Chester ahead of him, his appearances were limited, although he did get on as a substitute in Hull’s 3-2 FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal.

McShane featured 23 times as Hull relinquished their Premier League status in 2015, and he was among six players released by the club, including Liam Rosenior, who moved to Brighton, of course, and goalkeeper Steve Harper, who’d had a short loan spell at Brighton from Newcastle.

McShane wasn’t without a club for long, and joined Reading in July 2015, with manager Steve Clarke telling the club website: “I knew that Paul’s contract with Hull City was due to expire and was always monitoring the situation. When we met up earlier in the summer for a chat I knew that Paul would be a good signing for Reading FC and I’m pleased that we managed to get the deal completed.
“As well as his obvious talents as an experienced defender who is aggressive both in the air and on the ground, I felt that he was a good character to bring into our squad.
“Paul has gained good experience at many clubs and, like Stephen Quinn, was an important part of a promotion-winning team. He has a winning mentality and it will be good for our two young central defenders, Michael Hector and Jake Cooper, to train and play alongside Paul.”

McShane has since played 90 times for Reading.


Most pictures by Simon Dack in the Argus; and a screengrab of’s announcement of his departure from Hull.

Irish international pals brought wing wonder Steve Penney to Brighton

BRIGHTON & Hove Albion can thank a former Middlesbrough goalkeeper for landing one of the most exciting players ever to play for the Seagulls.

Jim Platt was the Teesside club’s man between the sticks for 12 years and, during his call-ups on international duty with Northern Ireland, he struck up a friendship with Arsenal defender Sammy Nelson, who joined Brighton towards the end of his career.

When Platt took over as manager of Ballymena United, he quickly recognised that a talented teenage winger at his disposal –  Steve Penney – could make a career for himself in England.

Platt tipped the wink to his old pal Nelson, newly-appointed as Albon’s assistant manager to Chris Cattlin at the time, and the youngster was invited for a trial.

Penney was put up in a house near the Goldstone recently vacated by the sacked Jimmy Melia. His housemate was another young triallist: Ian Wright! Penney was taken on while Wright was released. Whatever happened to him?!

Penney’s Albion story is told in fine detail by journalist Spencer Vignes who devotes 12 pages of his excellent book A Few Good Men (Breedon Books) to a player who, for the record, played 148 games (plus 14 as sub) in eight years with Brighton.

Unfortunately, that rather low figure tells its own story, a succession of injuries robbing him of probably twice as many games as you might have expected him to have played over that length of time.

“He was, in short, a breath of fresh air, a flying winger whose close control and devastating pace left opponents and spectators alike lost for words,” said Vignes.

Among former teammates who voiced their appreciation of Penney, full back Graham Pearce told Vignes: “I always thought of Steve as a bright young winger, very naturally talented, who had all the attributes you need in that position, especially pace.”

Born in Ballymena on 6 January 1964, the son of a teacher and a nurse, although he played football at primary school, he went to what he described himself as “a fairly posh grammar school” where rugby was the preferred sport for boys, and he was a scrum half.

He got the chance to play football in the Boys Brigade, where Nigel Worthington, who later managed Northern Ireland, also played.

“I had to choose between rugby and football and when I decided to join Ballymena United, the school were so furious they suspended me,” he told interviewer Dave Beckett in a matchday programme feature.

“Playing for my home town was excellent, although I had the chance to join Linfield who were one of the best teams in the country.

“I guested for them in Holland a couple of times so I knew they were interested and that’s where I expect I’d have ended up if I hadn’t moved abroad.”

Instead, Platt alerted Nelson and, bearing in mind Albion’s high profile having only recently played against Manchester United in the Cup Final, Penney didn’t take much persuading.

Beckett recounted: “Penney, at 19 years old, made his debut in a 3-1 defeat by Barnsley but was soon a hot favourite on the terraces. Even in his opening match he set up the goal goal for Alan Young, and John Vinicombe wrote in the Evening Argus: ‘The eye for an opening that Penney unquestionably has will serve Albion well. The Goldstone are going to like him’.”

It wasn’t long before he was playing to a much bigger gallery when he was part of the Albion side who toppled Liverpool in the FA Cup (for the second season running), winning 2-0 in front of a live television audience.

Penney tormented the experienced Liverpool left-back Alan Kennedy and his perfectly-flighted pass over the top of the Liverpool defence played in Terry Connor to score the decisive second goal.

His first goal came in a 3-0 win at Derby County in March 1984 and such was his impact in that first season that he was voted runner-up to Jimmy Case as player of the season.

Away from football, Penney was a decent golfer, his regular companions on the golf course being Dean Saunders, Chris Hutchings, Steve Gatting and former Albion favourite Peter O’Sullivan.

During the winter, he loved nothing more than playing snooker at a club in Hove, especially taking on Saunders and competing for a trophy awarded each week to the winner.

So, life was sweet for the young Irishman and it got even better when his form with Brighton led to full international honours.

SP w Irish shirt

At the time of writing, he remains the highest-capped Albion player, all of his 17 caps for Northern Ireland being won while with the Seagulls.

After making his debut on 16 October 1984 in a 3-0 friendly win over Israel in Belfast, he was a regular for four years, playing his last game on 21 December 1988 in a 4-0 defeat to Spain in a World Cup qualifying match. He scored twice for his country, in a 1-1 draw with Israel on 18 February 1987 and in a 3-0 win over Malta on 21 May 1988.

The highlight of his international career was playing for Northern Ireland at the 1986 Mexico World Cup.

“The whole experience of going to the World Cup was something I’ll never forget,” he said three months later, in a matchday programme interview.

“Six weeks away from home is a long time, but the spirit in the squad was very good and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Steve had been in the side that qualified for that World Cup by drawing 0-0 against England at Wembley. “We only needed a draw to get to Mexico and we got it,” he said.

“(Manager) Billy Bingham had been a right winger and obviously appreciated what I could do, which was a source of great strength to me. He’d been part of the team that had played in the World Cup in Sweden in 1958, a lovely man who was very good at getting the best out of his players and encouraged me no end, something I’ll always be grateful to him for.”

Unfortunately, Steve’s World Cup came to a juddering halt after Spain’s hard man Emilio Butragueno went over the top in a tackle and did his ankle in only the second group game.

On his return to Brighton, Penney found himself sufficiently impressed by Cattlin’s successor, Alan Mullery, that he was persuaded to sign a new, three-year contract.

However, it wasn’t long afterwards that Penney started having problems with his left knee and, although he played through the pain barrier, in a game against Derby County in March 1987 a bad tackle damaged his ankle ligaments, sidelining him for the rest of the season.

Barry Lloyd had succeeded Mullery and Penney was in the team at the start of the next season but, after only two games, found himself back on the treatment table after a chip of bone was found floating in a knee.

That kept him out for an agonising seven months before he was able to return to the side in March 1988 to play a crucial part in the final 11 games, scoring three times as the Seagulls earned promotion in second place behind Sunderland.

Penney told Vignes: “At that time, playing for Barry was great. The two of us were getting on even though I always thought there was something not quite right between us. To be honest, he had to play me because I strengthened the team and made a difference.”

Halfway through the 1988-89 season, Crystal Palace tried to sign Penney but weren’t prepared to meet Albion’s £175,000 asking price. And then his left knee went again.

Vignes tells the whole gory story in detail, which I won’t repeat here, but, suffice to say, the wrong treatment by one doctor had to be put right by a Harley Street expert.

Manager Lloyd and Penney also fell out, principally over Penney putting country before club. “He’d play for them, then come back injured. That didn’t please me,” said Lloyd. “It was a crying shame. He just wanted to play but was so plagued with injuries it was beyond belief.”

The split came in 1991 when Lloyd clearly thought the player’s level of fitness didn’t merit a new contract. Interest was shown in him by Heart of Midlothian, managed by Joe Jordan, and Charlton Athletic, where the joint manager was his ex-Albion teammate Alan Curbishley.

Having played a couple of trial games for Hearts, he plumped for them but suffered a groin strain early on and only played 14 games all season.

A 15th game would have triggered the award of another one-year deal – and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to happen. Freed at the end of the season, he signed for Burnley, newly-promoted from the old Fourth Division, in August 1992.

“I went down for a week’s trial, did well, signed a two-year contract and scored the winner in my opening game against Swansea,” Penney told Vignes.

Sadly, the mini revival in his career was not to last. He started having Achilles problems and managed only 10 games (plus one as sub) in two years, and decided enough was enough.

His last-but-one game came as a substitute for Burnley against the Albion at the Goldstone. “He took to the field for the final 20 minutes to a rousing and heartfelt reception from the home fans,” Vignes wrote.

“I’ll always remember that as long as I live,” said Penney. “It was fantastic.”

It’s perhaps not surprising to learn that Penney has twice topped a poll of Argus readers asked to name Albion’s best ever right winger and reporter Brian Owen caught up with him to reminisce in 2015.

Being forced to quit the game at the age of 29, Penney returned to Ballymena and, with his wife Valerie, took on the running of a Specsavers franchise in his home town.

Dack's Penney v Chels  

Earlier this season, photographer Simon Dack spotted Penney amongst the Albion crowd  at the Amex for the Chelsea home game.

Main picture selection from Albion matchday programmes.