(Reuters) - With Brighton back in the top flight of English football for the first time in 34 years, former manager Liam Brady says team spirit will be vital if they are to have any chance of staying in the Premier League.
Relegated from the old First Division in 1983 and almost going bankrupt in the intervening years, the Seagulls finally made it back to the top division when they were automatically promoted from the Championship in 2017 as runners-up to Newcastle United.
“It’s a miracle really, that a club that was very nearly going out of existence are now going to be playing against Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday,” Brady told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The 61-year-old Irishman knows all about the club’s turbulent past — he managed Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club, to give them their full title, from 1993 to 1995 before departing after a fall-out with the then-owners.
“I enjoyed the players and enjoyed the games and the fans, but it was quite obvious to me that the people running the club were more interested in the value of where the stadium was.
“They were just trying to sell the ground, and that’s why I fell out with them,” he explained.
Brighton’s Goldstone Ground was indeed sold but very little of the money went to the club, ushering in a period of uncertainty on and off the pitch that lasted for the best part of two decades.
Despite their difficulties, Brady always believed that the south coast club belonged in the upper realms of the English football pyramid, and at one point he tried to put a consortium together to buy the club.
“I knew there was potential there, to get the club back on its feet. It’s every bit as big as an Ipswich or a Norwich, you have a 30,000 regular fan base,” Brady said.
After a number of ownership changes, the situation for the club stabilised and the long, slow climb back to the English top flight began.
“It just needed investment and a future. (Former chairman) Dick Knight steadied the ship, and the Bloom family came in with money to invest, and they have done so very shrewdly, very wisely,” Brady said.
Led by poker player and property investor Tony Bloom, the family took a gamble and invested millions in the club, including building the 30,000-seat Falmer stadium where they will host City on Saturday.
“They haven’t gone and spent fortunes like some teams have done. I’m delighted for Chris Hughton, he’s proved himself to be a very, very good manager and they thoroughly deserved to go up,” Brady said.
Having joined Arsenal as a teenager in 1971 at the age of 15, the former midfielder famed is steeped in the culture of English football, and thus under no illusions about the task facing Brighton.
“They’ll be in the relegation battle from the start, but a bit like Burnley, a bit like Charlton going back a few years, they’ve kept the nucleus of the team together, they’ve got lads who want to make a name for themselves in the game,” he said.
Brady believes that the attitude of the Brighton players will be vital in terms of establishing the club in the Premier League.
“Team spirit has got to be the thing — to fight for every point. You’ve seen teams do it in the past,” Brady said.
“If you think you’re going to come up and play lovely football against all the others in the division, you’re going to get a rude awakening. They’ve got to scramble for every point.”
Reporting by Philip O'Connor in Stockholm Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.