BRIGHTON BREEZY

A look at the Seag­ulls’ pro­mo­tion – and their fu­ture prospects...

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

FOR­GET pro­mo­tion to the Premier League – Brighton supremo Tony Bloom is plan­ning to turn the Seag­ulls into a Euro­pean force.

That is the view of club leg­end Kerry Mayo, who made over 400 ap­pear­ances in 14 years for his home­town club.

Bloom, a boyhood fan whose per­sonal for­tune is es­ti­mated at over £1bn, has spent £250m since buy­ing the club from Dick Knight in 2009.

And on Mon­day night his in­vest­ment paid off in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion as a 2-1 win over Wi­gan sealed a place in the top flight for the first time in 34 years.

But Mayo, who spent Mon­day night par­ty­ing with Brighton’s staff and play­ers, says Bloom – a per­sonal friend – will not sim­ply settle for

sur- vi­val. “First and fore­most, it’s about stay­ing in the Premier League,” said Mayo, who still at­tends ev­ery home match. “For now, that will be the only thing on Tony’s mind.

“But if Brighton can sus­tain that sta­tus for the next two or three years, then there’ll be a push to­wards Euro­pean foot­ball. I strongly be­lieve that.

“Tony drew up a five-year plan to reach the Premier League when Brighton moved to the Amex in 2011. It’s a year off, but it’s worked

out.

“And from speak­ing to Tony – and know­ing him as well as I do – I’d be very sur­prised if there wasn’t an­other five-year plan to take this club into Europe. If you look at the sta­dium and the fa­cil­i­ties, that’s what ev­ery­thing’s been gear­ing up to.”

Dis­ar­ray

Euro­pean foot­ball was the last thing on Mayo’s mind when he made his de­but in 1996 with Brighton bot­tom of the Third Divi­sion and close to go­ing out of busi­ness.

“I was on a month-to-month con­tract,” he re­calls. “And that was only be­cause

Jimmy Case, our man­ager, took a £150-aweek wage cut so the club could af­ford to pay my wages.

“With­out him, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have had a ca­reer. A lot of lads were let go just be­cause the club didn’t have any money.

“The place was in ab­so­lute dis­ar­ray. They sold the Gold­stone Ground for £7m just to clear debts, which was a dis­grace. At one stage we were 11 points adrift at the bot­tom of the ta­ble.

“Thank­fully Steve Gritt came in as man­ager and did a won­der­ful job keep­ing us up, but it was a close run

thing.

“If we hadn’t drawn at Here ford on the fi­nal day, we’d have been out of the Foot­ball League with no home ground, no play­ers and on the verge of ex­tinc­tion. It would have been fa­tal.” Saved from ruin by lo­cal bus­iess­man Dick Knight, the seag­ulls bat­tled through two years play­ing ‘home’ games at Gilling­ham, then an­other 12 at the Withdean ath­let­ics sta­dium.

“It wasn’t the best ground but it turned us into a com­mu­nity club,” re­calls Mayo. “There was a bond be­tween play­ers and fans and a sense that things could only get bet­ter.”

And when Bloom, who made his money from gam­bling and prop­erty, took con­trol in 2009, they did. Eight years on, the club Mayo knew has changed be­yond recog­ni­tion. In­ter­na­tional play­ers, a 30,000-seat sta­dium mod­elled on the Emi­rates, a train­ing ground akin to St Ge­orge’s Park.

“Tony’s in­jected money, en­thu­si­asm, power and drive,” said Mayo. “He hasn’t just taken the club up one level. He’s taken it to the elite level.”

Bloom is un­doubt­edly the ar­chi­tect of Brighton’s suc­cess. But ev­ery gen­eral needs a good lieu­tenant and in man­ager Chris Hughton – a Cham­pi­onship win­ner with New­cas­tle in 2010 – Bloom has found his. When the 58-yearold took over in 2014, the Seag­ulls were flirt­ing with rel­e­ga­tion. Play-off con­tenders un­der Gus Poyet and Os­car Gar­cia, Sami Hyypia’s cut-rate squad was a dis­or­gan­ised mess. Hughton in­stantly stead­ied the ship be­fore steadily in­ject­ing qual­ity ad­di­tions like Beram Kayal, An­thony Knock­aert and, this sea­son, Glenn Mur­ray. “When Gus was here, the team played very good keep ball,” adds Mayo. “We were great to watch. We dic­tated the pace. It was very hard for the op­po­si­tion to score. “But we rarely won games by more than one or two goals. There was no spark or burst of pace up front. Os­car was the same.

Change

“Chris changed all that. He’s a man­ager who knows the Cham­pi­onship very well. Who knows the Premier League very well. He’s got a re­cruit­ment process and a team of peo­ple around him who know ex­actly what type of play­ers he wants and who can adapt to the way he plays.

“If you’ve got that con­fi­dence – that feel­ing that you’re all to­gether and all stick­ing to a plan – you feel like you’ve won a game be­fore it even kicks off.”

Mayo also praised the con­sis­tency of keeper David Stock­dale but was in no doubt who has been the on-field driv­ing force be­hind Brighton’s pro­mo­tion push.

“An­thony Knock­aert is the EFL Cham­pi­onship Player of the Year for a rea­son,” he said. “He’s known as the Lit­tle Ma­gi­cian at the club. When­ever he gets on the ball, you can feel a buzz go round the Amex.

“But he doesn’t just at­tack and tor­ment de­fend­ers, He does the dirty stuff, the gritty work, get­ting back and help­ing the full-back.

“When you’ve got a player like that in your team, it helps ev­ery­one else out. Un­der Gus, Brighton would win the ball back and have nowhere to go. With Knocky in the side, there’s an in­stant break on. He’s been so, so im­por­tant.

“As a for­mer player, watch­ing the game can be hard. But it’s made eas­ier when you’re a fan of the club and you’re watch­ing play­ers like that. I’ve wanted them to do well for so long and see­ing Chris and the chair­man out there cel­e­brat­ing – it gave me so much pride.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

LEFT: Brighton & Hove Al­bion chair­man Tony Bloom and chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul Bar­ber cel­e­brate and, right, Dick Knight FAN-TASTIC: Play­ers and fans cel­e­brate Brighton’s pro­mo­tion last Mon­day and, in­set, for­mer star Kerry Mayo

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