Uplifting experiences down in the basement

bids farewell to the Goldstone - but not to Brighton's hopes of survival
Click to follow
The Independent Online
They took the seats, the signs and even Stuart Tuck's shirt and shorts, but as the Brighton defender finally extracted himself from the jubilant maul and trotted down the tunnel in boots and underpants, he still took a moment to applaud the home supporters. It was an appropriate image on the final afternoon at the Goldstone Ground, where the club itself has been all but stripped bare in recent years, yet now stands one match away from Football League salvation, thanks mainly to the fans who refused to let it die.

As Steve Gritt, who took over as Brighton manager when an 11-point deficit at the bottom of Division apparently guaranteed Conference football next season, pointed out afterwards: "This was our semi-final, now we've got to win the final next week." He knows, though, that simply avoiding defeat against Hereford United next weekend will keep the Seagulls in the League at their opponents' expense.

The tension on the terraces on Saturday cannot have been matched during any of the 1,533 League games in the Goldstone's 95-year history, but it will be even worse at Edgar Street in five days' time. As will, you suspect, the football. Desperation tends to motivate hearts and legs rather than heads, and match 1,534 was rarely pretty to watch.

The ugliest moment of all came early, after 17 minutes, when Ian Baird, Brighton's captain, showed a disgraceful lack of leadership by throwing a punch at Darren Moore after a routine tussle for the ball. Moore replied with one of his own, about a dozen other players joined in, and when the shoving had subsided, two more spectators were added to the sell-out crowd of 11,341.

Brighton, in particular, took time to adjust to the sudden loss of their most obvious target man, and while urgency guaranteed plenty of possession, worthwhile chances were rare for the rest of the half. It was not until Robbie Reinelt emerged for the restart in place of the concussed Paul McDonald that a goal seemed likely, and Reinelt had already missed one good chance when, after 67 minutes, Mark Morris headed a corner against the bar and Stuart Storer volleyed in the rebound. Ten minutes earlier, the crowd had been singing that it was "1-0 to the Orient", and now the roar of relief and delight could probably be heard in east London, where Hereford were slipping to defeat.

The visitors had little to play for, and it showed, though Colin Cramb could have ruined the party eight minutes from time but for a vital intervention by Craig Maskell. That Brighton's leading scorer was tackling back in his own area was a testament to the Gritt-y spirit which has dragged them to within 90 minutes of League safety.

Tuck and the two goalkeepers excepted, the players had wisely managed to arrange themselves within sprinting distance of the tunnel by the time the final whistle ended almost a century of football at the Goldstone. Soon, supporters who wanted a piece of their heritage had started the task which the bulldozers will complete in a few weeks' time. Within 12 months, the patch of ground from which Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham have all departed empty-handed will be home to nothing more than an assortment of warehouses and shops.

Dick Knight, the new Brighton chairman, insists that the team will play "locally" next year and move to a new, 15,000-seat stadium within another two or three. In the meantime, there is the matter of the ultimate relegation battle at Edgar Street. But for fans of the Seagulls, the 91st-place finish which for so long seemed an impossibly optimistic ambition is at last within reach.

Goal: Storer (67) 1-0.

Brighton and Hove Albion (4-4-2): Ormerod; Humphrey, Morris, Johnson, Tuck; Storer, Mayo, Minton, McDonald (Reinelt, h-t); Baird, Maskell. Substitutes not used: Martin, Hobson.

Doncaster Rovers (4-4-2): O'Connor; Warren, Anderson (Donnelly, 76), Moore, Marquis; Schofield, Esdaille, Cunningham, Ireland; Pemberton (Fahy, 37), Cramb. Substitute not used: Wheeler.

Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).

Sending-offs: Brighton Baird; Doncaster Moore. Bookings: Doncaster Cramb, Ireland.

Man of the match: Reinelt.

Attendance: 11,341.

Comments