Steve Bailey: What a journey it's been since Fans United

The Albion class of 2016-17 celebrate a goal. Picture by Phil Westake (PW Sporting Photography)
The Albion class of 2016-17 celebrate a goal. Picture by Phil Westake (PW Sporting Photography)

It’s just over 20 years to the day when Albion hosted their Fans United Day with Hartlepool at the Goldstone Ground. What a journey it’s been since.

I remember going to the match as a 16-year-old, obviously aware of the trouble Brighton were in but I don’t think it had really sunk in. You don’t think the football team you’ve been supporting for all your childhood is suddenly going to disappear.

That was a possibility, though. The Goldstone had been sold, Brighton were rooted to the bottom of the Football League, and were set to play home matches at Gillingham for two years.

Fans from all across the world travelled to Brighton for the game, with Fans United the brainchild of Plymouth supporter Richard Vaughan.

Next to me in the West Stand stood a couple of Hereford supporters, who at the time wouldn’t have realised the galvanising effect the match would have on the rest of Brighton’s season.

On a foggy day, Craig Maskell scored a hat-trick as Albion won 5-0. The Seagulls went on to win seven of their remaining eight home matches that season, drawing the other.

Despite that home form, the Seagulls continued to struggle on the road. When I left Scunthorpe with my family after a 2-0 defeat in April, Brighton were five points from safety with just four games to go.

Driving home that night, no one wanted to say it but the feeling was ‘this could be it’.

Had Brighton gone down, would the club have been able to continue?

Seven points from the next three games, including a 1-0 win at home to champions Wigan Athletic and the 1-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers in the final match at the Goldstone, ensured Albion went into the final game of the season needing a point at Hereford to stay up – and relegate their hosts.

Thanks to Robbie Reinelt’s equaliser, that’s what happened.

The following two years are best forgotten about. Another Fans United day took place when Doncaster visited the Priestfield for one of the worst games of football you are likely to see. If that game was still being played now, I’m sure it would still be 0-0.

Those were real dark days for the club and it makes you appreciate the Amex and the players who have worn the blue and white since even more. In the space of just 14 years, we went from Michael Mahoney-Johnson wearing the stripes to Vicente!

Who’d have thought, back then, that Brighton would have been challenging to get promoted into the Premier League for four of the past five seasons just 15 to 20 years later?

Yes, the recent away form has been frustrating, there’s no getting away from that but has the club ever been in a stronger position, on and off the field?

Positively, there were signs in the final half-an-hour at Brentford on Sunday that Albion were getting back to their best.

They’ve ground out results they haven’t deserved in the past couple of months. A couple of comfortable home wins against Burton Albion and Ipswich wouldn’t go amiss to get confidence flowing again, before some season-defining games at the end of the month.

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