More dark hours for Brighton

Stephen Brenkley sees another day of turmoil for a club that is sinking fast
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The Independent Online
Conclusive evidence was provided yesterday that the besotted football supporter simply refuses to be prevented from watching his team. After 32 minutes at the Goldstone Ground almost 1,000 fans surged over a wall on to a derelict terrace.

Before then, the plan had been straightforward enough. Brighton's long- suffering followers had organised a boycott of the match against Mansfield - which finished 1-1 - as a further demonstration of their terminal disenchantment with a board who they feel have betrayed them. The logic was not altogether faultless. They reckoned that by depriving the club's controllers of money for one game it would force them to depart, something they have steadfastly refused to do for two years. The spirit of the resistance, however, was almost noble.

But then the team - whose standard of play was offering reasons for a boycott all by itself - went a goal down. Word spread outside where it was realised that this side, in yet another darkest hour, needed support desperately. They stole round to the disused eastern side of the ground and swarmed in. At half-time they also swarmed on to the pitch, started an impromptu game of football in which most of the touches were more assured than those of the players and many of them eventually took their places for the second half in the west stand below the directors' box.

Briefly there was a threat that the game would not resume unless the fans departed. An official crowd of 1,933, Brighton's lowest, had swelled to almost 3,000. It was announced that until they left the stand the players would be in the changing room. A wiser option prevailed. The club's chief executive David Bellotti did not return instead.

The fans could be accused of breaking the boycott but at least they were not handing over money to the club. How a dire team needed them. They had always looked stretched at the back and after 25 minutes were undone by an exchange of passes between Stewart Hadley and Steve Harper who slid in his shot from the right of the area.

The advent of the boycotters hardly improved Brighton's passing or fluency but it served to raise their spirits. Without threatening anything in particular, they were awarded a penalty 12 minutes from time. When Denny Mundee's shot went in the noise was enough to suggest that they had reached the Cup final for the second time.

The activities off the pitch dominated the day and the club's affairs. The boycott was merely the latest ploy aimed at the board. It became heated yesterday. Those who crossed the picket to enter the turnstiles were branded as scabs.

"We know where you live," one fan was told with a hint of needless menace. Fortunately, he defused the situation immediately by replying: "Well, you must come round for a drink some time."

This is Brighton's last season at the Goldstone, the board having sold it. As yet they have no new ground. Whatever the fans or the side's worthy manager Jimmy Case may do, it is difficult to see them having a League place to require one.

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