Albion Nostalgia: Home draw with United in 1980 took Brighton a step closer to safety

The front cover of the programme when Albion played  United in 1980
The front cover of the programme when Albion played United in 1980

Albion have received slim pickings from their visits to Old Trafford over the years. We are without a win in ten visits and the recent form of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men points to a difficult time for us on Saturday.

For my column this week, I’m going back to our first season in the top flight, and our home fixture against the Red Devils.

We had to wait until March 1980 for United to come calling. After a difficult start to life in Division One, we were 16th in the table with a cushion of six points above the relegation places.

United were second on 41 points, three behind leaders Liverpool. Then, as now, our home form was our strength, with just four defeats in the 15 games played at the Goldstone in the run up to the game.

In a further bid to consolidate, chairman Mike Bamber even tried to lure the German international Rainer Bonhof to Hove. He also made enquires about Kevin Keegan but he too, rejected the terms offered.

At the time of United’s visit, Albion were embroiled in a row with BBC Radio Brighton. The station had reported on some ‘dubious’ behaviour by the players on a recent trip to Israel. By way of rebuttal, the club published a letter in the United programme, from the residents of Ashkelon, in which the players “will always be remembered fondly by the children of the town and we are honoured and grateful to you for spending time with them”.

On the back of five consecutive draws, manager Alan Mullery was reluctant to shuffle things around, and he named an unchanged team.

Goalkeeper Graham Moseley was behind a back four of John Gregory, Steve Foster, Peter Suddaby and Gary Williams. Mark Lawrenson was enjoying a spell in midfield and he was accompanied by Brian Horton, Neil McNab and Peter O’Sullivan. Up front, Ray Clarke partnered Peter Ward, who was beginning to find his feet as a first division striker.

United had a strong side, with the entire team originating from the British Isles. They included Scots Gordon McQueen, Joe Jordan and Lou Macari, as well as future Albion manager Steve Coppell.

In keeping with the previous few games, it was a tight, cagey affair. Albion were set up to make things difficult, and United manager Dave Sexton was eager not to concede after a 6-0 defeat at Ipswich Town the previous week.

Albion’s defence was dominant and Foster had an outstanding game against the physical presence of Jordan.

After the match, Mullery was quick to praise his young centre half: “Steve has been doing that type of performance to quality attackers all season. If England manager Ron Greenwood won’t come to watch him, then I’ve got to try somehow to get him fully recognised”.

Up front, Ward was a handful for the United defence, and O’Sullivan put in his usual busy performance against the club with whom he started his career.

All in all, it was disappointing for the 29,670 crowd but the 0-0 draw gave us another point and brought us a step closer to survival in Division One.

Thirty-nine years later it’s still about survival for Albion and we will be just as tactically strong as we were back in 1980.

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