A fortnight ago I asked a Brighton fan what I should write about his club. “There’ll be a story,” he said, “if we win on Saturday.”
The game in question was the FA Cup fourth round match against Arsenal. And they didn’t win.
But I think there is a story regardless.
In part it is a story about their manager, and in part about the impressive collection of players he has assembled. But it is also about a club with the gloomiest of pasts and yet the brightest of futures.
As recently as 1998, the Seagulls were just one place away from losing their Football League status. And it had been exactly the same story the year before.
In short, fans seeing consecutive 23rd-place finishes in what was then Division Three, could not have dreamed that fifteen years later they would be flying high in the Championship, beating Newcastle United in the FA Cup third round and matching Arsenal stride for stride in the fourth.
And this at a stadium the envy of many – a brand new home for a club that once had no home at all.
In 1996, Brighton’s then-owners, desperate to reduce their considerable debts, put the club’s Goldstone Ground up for sale.
In that same season, the club were at one stage 13 points from safety.
Think of that moment, when your ground and your league status are both taken away, one for certain and the other only a matter of time. I can’t imagine it. And neither can the fans of many clubs across the country.
We can’t imagine it because it hasn’t happened to us and we think it never will.
But for Brighton it did and it almost did. They lost their home and, were it not for a point against the team directly below them on the very last day of the season, they would have lost their league place, too.
I wonder if the memories of those times creep into the minds of the supporters on days like that Saturday, when they twice levelled against the Gunners, played good football throughout and never gave up.
I wonder if losses like that one are viewed with a disappointment tinged with knowing.
It could, after all, have been so much different.
Brighton’s current position is not solely down to Gus Poyet. A number of managers played a part in their gradual climb from the fourth tier of English football to where they are today.
But Poyet may just be the man who finishes the job – as much as any job in football is ever finished.
Having led them to the League One Championship in his first full season, and having ended last year a respectable tenth, there is every chance of securing a play-off place come May; they currently stand two places better in eighth.
But even if they don’t, they will in time. It is something they once thought they had run out of.
Something that now allows them to write new chapters both for the fans who remember the dark days, and the ones for whom those days are just stories they can’t fully comprehend.
image: © markusunger