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Brighton and Hove Albion: from the brink of extinction to the Premier League

2017 is a year that will live long in the memory of Brighton and Hove Albion fans. After 34 years outside England’s first division, The Seagulls gained promotion to the Premier League with a 2-1 home victory over Wigan Athletic.

In spite of this season’s successes, recent times at the club have been tough. Promotion was also close in the 2015-16 season, as they agonisingly missing out on an automatic spot by drawing to Middlesbrough on the final day, who incidentally climbed into the coveted second place.

But this disappointment was nothing compared to fears Brighton fans held at the turn of the century. In 1997 the club’s then stadium, The Goldstone Ground, was sold by majority shareholder Bill Archer to address a financial crisis, prompting outrage from many supporters. To make matters worse, the club nearly dropped out of the football league altogether, only staying up by goals-scored on the league’s last day of that same year following a draw with Hereford United. Little if any money was given to the club through the sale of the stadium, leaving them in an even worse financial position.

Thus two years in exile ensued, as Brighton ground-shared with Gillingham, whose Priestfield Stadium is 73 miles away from the south-coast city. Due to the obvious inconveniences caused by this, The Seagulls eventually returned home, playing games at the Withdean Stadium. This was far from an idyllic stadium for football, mainly because of its former use as both an athletics venue and even a zoo. Consequently it was voted as the fourth worst football stadium in England in 2004 by The Guardian. A poor view would have been the least of their supporters’ worries, for the club had by then accumulated a deficit of £9.5m, which if not paid could have resulted in a points deduction, or worse: administration.

Brighton’s former stadium doubled up as an athletics venue

In late 2005 plans for a new stadium were announced, and by 2009 building had started on the site. Tony Bloom also took over as chairman, having secured £93m in funding for the club’s development plans. This started an upturn in Brighton’s fortunes, shown by the fact that in their last season at the Withdean in 2011 they won promotion out of League 1 into the Championship. The move to the “Falmer Stadium” (known as the Amex for sponsorship reasons) caused an increase in attendances, thus resulting in a more financially secure future for the club. In just six seasons, Brighton grew from relegation fighters into deserved winners of promotion.

Brighton’s Amex stadium is a far cry from their former home at the Withdean ground

The well-organized nature of the club both on and off the pitch means that staying in the Premier League is a real possibility, provided that Chris Hughton primarily keeps hold of Championship player of the year Anthony Knockaert.

Anthony Knockaert, formerly of Leicester City, has been instrumental in Brighton’s success this season

The club’s potential for average attendances of 30,000, coupled with owners willing to back the manager in the transfer market, means that there is every chance they could become a financially secure, sustainable Premier League club for years to come.