By Andrew Warshaw
April 18 – It may not match Leicester City’s Premier League title success last season — arguably the greatest ever team sport feat – but fans of Brighton and Hove Albion are celebrating another remarkable landmark.
Brighton’s promotion, clinched on Monday in front of almost 30,000 ecstatic supporters, marks the first time in 34 years that the south-coast club have risen to the top of the English football pyramid. But that tells only half the story.
The achievement, one year after agonisingly losing in the playoffs, came almost 20 years to the day since Brighton were less than 30 minutes from dropping out of the Football League altogether and down into the abyss of non-league football.
It didn’t end there. Mired in the fourth tier of English professional football and close to liquidation, Brighton had to sell their ground to pay off some of their debts, spent two seasons 70 miles away in a ground-sharing arrangement and then moved to a locally owned, run-down athletics track on the edge of town whilst they sorted out their future.
The arrival of a new chairman eight years ago and the investment of around £250 million prompted a resurgence and paved the way for a spanking new home but it could have all been so different for the club nicknamed the Seagulls, now soaring to new heights after plummeting to the depths of despair.
After so many years in the wilderness, no wonder there was a full‑scale pitch invasion after the final whistle of Monday’s 2-1 win over Wigan, with the added incentive of winning the Championship title still to come.
“I’ve been here for two years and four months but there are supporters out there who have been through all the difficult periods, supporting this club for 20 to 30 years,” said manager Chris Hughton, one of the most likeable figures in English football.
“I know the history of this club. There are a lot of people still involved who were around through those tough times. But it still takes an investor like (chairman) Tony [Bloom]. So it’s a wonderful feeling for myself but more for a group of supporters and a club when you have a local investor who is prepared to put his own money into a club. Particularly in an era where most of the big investors are from overseas or consortiums. For one individual, a local man, to invest in this club is outstanding.”
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