Hopeless Football League Teams 8: Brighton and Hove Albion, 2008-09
Our latest entry in the Hopeless Teams series comes from Stefan Swift, co-editor of that hip Brighton fanzine The Seagull Love Review. Following his sidekick Sam Swaffield’s excellent assessment of Brighton’s current season over on the 72, Stef considers an unhappier time for Albion supporters when, less than four years ago, a club legend well and truly blotted his Seagulls copybook.
The prodigal son was announced as the new manager of Brighton and Hove Albion in the summer of 2008. It was a momentous occasion. The return of Micky Adams marked the beginning of a Brave New World. The return for Adams to what was once home. Where his cockiness and northern drawl together with a knack for winning trophies had made him an all time Albion legend.
This time there was even an actual, tangible new stadium to look forward to. Falmer had been given proper planning permission. Unlike the repetitive dream it had been when selling the Albion to potential new players in his previous reign. And the return of Adams, incidentally, coincided with the return of a fanzine for Albion supporters as The Seagull Love Review (TSLR) was launched.
Many who know Albion will be wondering why I chose this season amongst many other better contenders, even in my lifetime. There was 1991-92 when we were terrifyingly bad. But I’m too young to do that season proper justice. There was 1995-96 when we dropped to the fourth tier. But there was worse to come. There was 1996-97 when we finished 91st in the country. But we stayed up on the last day of the season and the end of the Goldstone is well documented. Not least in the fabulous book Build a Bonfire. There was also 1997-98 when we finished 91st in the country, again. But Doncaster Rovers have already claimed that season as their own for this series. And rightly so.
2008-09 is the one for me. Hopeless literally means ‘without hope’. Or ‘a feeling or causing of despair’. There is no better team to represent this description in my Albion supporting history than the one Adams cobbled together for that season. Even in the other contenders for this blog post mentioned above, there was some sort of hope – be it from the fans or at least some of the players. For the majority of that season, there was none. And with the stadium finally actually visible on the horizon, we were expecting a campaign to take us towards Falmer in the second tier.
When Adams first left Albion to take up the assistant manager role to Dave Bassett at Leicester City – only to be relegated from the top flight later that season – I almost cried. Granted, it was almost entirely due to me being an emotional wreck thanks to an insistence on smoking dope throughout almost every minute of my adolescent life. Despite my emotional fragility, though, his departure was sudden. And painful. It was October 2001 when he left Withdean and me for what I thought would be forever. And yet we still spent the rest of that season realising his dream of back-to-back championships.
So his 2008 return was perfect, and just in time for the new stadium at Falmer too, which was at last being checked for ancient burial grounds rather than being built on the rhetoric of the law courts. He signed a shed load of players and things were looking up. And it would get better than that when the football started…
On the opening day of the season, Albion won at Crewe for the first time in over 30 years. We went top of Division 3 (in old money) after beating Southend away two weeks later, breaking another hoodoo at Roots Hall in the process – beside the point of this post entirely but did you know that Southend actually charges visitors for walking on their pier?
New signing Kevin McLeod’s highlight of the season probably came when the greyhound he part owned with right-back Andrew Whing was disqualified for biting another dog during a race. Either that or when he was spotted tucking in to a carvery in the Sportsman pub while his teammates were warming-up for a match. But before both those incidents could happen, the Scouser had scored a cracking goal in an early September win at Northampton in the St Johnstone’s piss pot trophy and Albion had gone unbeaten for six league and cup games, sitting 4th in the table.
That, though, was it. Adams went on to manage the side 34 times that season and Albion won only five of those – seven if you include two penalty shoot-outs (admittedly one was against a little-known team who had just been bought by a foreign investor, Manchester City – wonder what happened to them?). Three of those wins also came in a 15-day period in October and November and that’s before we even get round to discussing the 1-0 home defeat to Walsall in September when the visitors had been reduced to nine men with an hour or so to go.
And the rest of his season was turgid. Absolutely useless. Hopeless is exactly the term. Frighteningly hopeless.
The final straw that broke the donkey’s back? Well there were donkeys aplenty galloping around the Withdean Stadium (it had been a petting zoo in the days of black and white photos, you know?) all season but the game that killed the Micky Adams return was his failure to win at Luton on penalties in the trophy. Rumour has it he was sacked in a branch of Little Chef shortly thereafter. News of his departure only broke on the following Saturday at the New Den. At the time, Adams adorned the front cover of TSLR007 and we were left playing the Albion’s PR role outside the away end when explaining to the throngs of Albion that we had no manager.
It was a sad end to what turned out to be a sad man. His northern lairy-ness – once the hallmark of a successful career at Albion – had become a desperate mouthpiece to rant, trying to pull through his obvious footballing deficiencies. A joke that simply wasn’t funny anymore.
Andrew Whing the full-back was Player of the Season that year and he won it for one thing alone. Heart. Had it not been for him, the whole of Adams’ side would have gone down heartlessly. There was a certain symmetry here. Adams had left us heartlessly for Leicester seven years before.
At the end of the season, one fanzine contributor joked that we had been duped by a man called Adams Micky who passed himself off as the former manager Micky Adams. In reality, he was – and still is – a Division 4 manager who just so happened to find a crop of players at the turn of the Millennium who could handle themselves in the division above as well. If nothing else, it taught me an important life lesson: when a heart is broken by the departure of a loved one, don’t take them back seven years later – it will never be the same.
Like all stories that would have been better and more meaningful had someone integral to the plot died, it had a happy ending. Our happy ending was Russell Slade – who, despite leaving it late, gave us our self-respect back in avoiding relegation that season. Plus he laid the foundations for the Gus Poyet Empire State Building which seemingly continues to grow taller with almost every match. Don’t get me wrong, Adams will always be a legend, and an inspiration, but his team during 2008-09 was entirely hopeless.
Or maybe we just have it too good these days.
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