As the sun sunk over a colourful AMEX Stadium on Sunday afternoon a freshness rose from the concrete floor outside. Streams of blue and white flooded the exits with smirks rosy and proud, singing with hands stretching out into Falmer, Brighton, Sussex. In a record season that has seen The Seagulls secure their record top-flight points tally and largest top-flight win, it seemed only fitting that they should confirm their highest Premier League position of 9th after Danny Welbeck rose majestically to thunder the ball beyond a hapless Łukasz Fabiański, and into the netting behind.
A year to cherish
3-1 to the pesky white birds that flapped their way to the top half of the table, charged with the belief of a great flock ravenous for success. West Ham played the role of the innocent many who swarm to the coast with picnics and prosecco, basking in the warm yellow star above only to be ravaged by the might of the seagull. Victory for David Moyes’ sombre-looking side would have provided another dose of Europa League football for those tinged in east London claret and blue next season. How swiftly they succumbed to the immense pressure of Graham Potter’s intrinsic, organised outfit as they were forced to settle for the Conference League.
For Brighton & Hove Albion a vastly commendable ninth place finish was assured. Ahead of Wolves, Newcastle, Aston Villa…Everton. Clubs with extensive expenditure, mammoth fan bases, reputable squads and proven strikers. At the season’s beginning the proverbial partnership of Neal Maupay and Danny Welbeck looked incongruous in a league teeming with attacking prowess. But as Potter shuffled things around by swapping Yves Bissouma for Maupay at the start of the second half those Europa League runners-up were frightened, weak-kneed, susceptible.
'the spirit of the Seagulls'
With triumph Brighton conclude their campaign defeated just once from their last nine league fixtures, claiming 18 points from a possible 27. That’s good stuff. Alas those flights to the exotic destinations of Differdange and Silkeborg will have to wait for another year but their supporters are unflustered: this is the best it has ever been. From Priestfield to the Goldstone, Withdean to the Amex, the spirit of The Seagulls has moved with each passing ground. An ode to the loyal few who journeyed to the depths of Kent some decades ago: there they were on Sunday looking up to the blue sky with eyes shut, ears open, listening to that sweet, mellifluous Sussex tune.
And yet things were not always straightforward: polar were the Winter temperatures that formed the mid-season wobble. First it was Europe, then it was relegation, before sheer satisfaction strode through the AMEX doors. Bliss was that October afternoon in Liverpool, where a silky Enock Mwepu drive and a Leandro Trossard thwack propped open the gates of belief. Brighton were fifth, motoring along with every drop of confidence and adrenaline available. The omens were good; the goals were flowing, yet soon that lingering fear of reality creeped in with the side sliding down the table. They needed a spark, a pit-stop, something to galvanise the gloom.
At the Emirates they located the defibrillation. Consecutive wins at the capital coliseums of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur combined with *that* 4-0 thrashing of lowly Manchester United as Brighton rounded off their laudable season in style with success over another top-eight side on Sunday. Yes, they might've wished for more profitable cup runs. Yes, they lost 3-0 at home to Burnley. And yes, for the 736th time, they do still need a proven striker that doesn't go by the name of ‘Dat Guy’. But these are all things that Brighton supporters should not lose sight of: they spend less, score less, smile more. Don’t lose the hindsight.
The departure of technical director Dan Ashworth to Newcastle was a rare nadir in a season of tremendous growth. Whilst fans coalesced on the terraces, Ashworth was watching from the posh seats above, marvelling at his philosophy unfolding in front of him. The squad was Potter’s, but the cog was Ashworth: connecting the dots, binding the players, sustaining quality - this feature does not die with his withdrawal, it merely grows stronger. Bissouma at the heart, Cucurella on the left. The substructure has been built. Now the possibilities are boundless.
Optimism for the future
The question now is has Potter brought Brighton as far as he possibly can. Unequivocally an exceptional manager with an astute eye for tactical decisions, Potter has provided his adoring followers with a year of unexpected thrill and pride. For the first time since their promotion to the top-flight the fears of relegation were practically non-existent. He has showed the nation his ability - transforming a bottom half side into something special, and then imagine his capabilities with a proven squad.
Slip out onto the streets of Brighton and see people now sporting the seagull with immense honour. From Chichester to Crawley, Horsham to Hastings they flock to the club positioned just off the A27. Growing in numbers, in strength, in esteem; Brighton has been placed firmly back on the football map. And never has the future carried this much optimism.