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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Spin Me Right Round

With Brighton & Hove Albion riding high at the top of League One, Lakes observes how things are finally looking up for the Seagulls.

Gus Poyet is making a success of his first managerial role at Brighton

In the great washing machine of life, Brighton & Hove Albion have been put through a fair few cycles.

In 1997/8, some plonker washed them on too high a heat and they almost tumbled out of the Football League and into liquidation. Sad times for a club with definite potential.

Undeterred, Brighton fought on under new owners - eventually reaching the dizzy heights of the second tier of English football in 2002.

It was a breath of fresh air, and surely the start of great times to come. The shrunken Brighton underpants suddenly looking accommodating and roomy.

Football's a notorious game though. It picks you up, tosses you about, and spits you out.

In washing machine terms, the colours all ran and Brighton left a fiver in the pocket - setting a 12-match record streak for defeats before slumping to relegation - albeit with a bit of a fight at the end.

That sloppy fiver itself became a metaphor for Brighton's next few seasons.

It sat drying on the radiator, the Queen's face sagged and uncomfortably skewed, rendered with a twisted mouth making her look saddened by Brighton's toils. A single drop of water hung from her eye - a tear in the rain.

Off the pitch, things started to look up - only to then be viciously poked in the eye.

John Prescott gave two very chubby thumbs up to Brighton's plans for a new stadium, only for Lewes District Council to intervene - based on a minor error in the proposal outlining car parking jurisdictions. Prescott sagged into his beanbag, pork pie in hand.

However, a twinkle of light was shining at the end of the tunnel. A judicial review in favour of the stadium and Albion were back in business. The gloom lifted, the fans cheered, and Brighton were onwards and upwards.

Today, the Seagulls are a few months away from moving into their new, if boringly named, Falmer Stadium.

Work is well underway on Brighton's impressive new 22,500 stadium at Falmer

On the pitch, the team are performing way above expectations. Gus Poyet, the ex-Chelsea and Spurs midfielder, is showing an assuredness in charge that indicates he might have the makings of a good manager.

Brighton sit firmly at the top of the table - a large cushion protecting their healthy lead. In 2011/12, they will move into their new stadium - a real work of art and a million miles away from the misery of the Withdean.

The same could be said for Poyet's trendy scarfs - surely a sign that the good times are due to return to Brighton. Football is fashionable again down on the south coast.

It's a thought that was perhaps inconceivable when Brighton were on the slide. Fans get wound up in emotional turmoil and ever increasing cycles of misery when their team isn't doing well.

Perhaps Brighton will be the example to other clubs and other supporters though - you can go through the wash and come out the other side even brighter.

This season, they have punched above all expectations. Our own financial analyst, Enron Turlman, had them down for a "year of mediocrity." The lads predicted Brighton would finish between 9th and 7th in their pre season tables.

Last season, Nobes said he "worried" for Brighton under Poyet, but so far this season the signs look good that the club - and Poyet - will far exceed the relatively low predictions bestowed upon them.

None of us saw it coming and there's no question that the managerial rookie deserves a lot of credit for the club's success this season.

Perhaps it's an indication of his success, in fact, that Poyet has been repeatedly linked with the a return to Chelsea as assistant manager. That speculation, it seems, has died down, with Poyet focused on bringing the good times to Brighton.

There's no doubt that the Uruguayan has brought a touch of class to the club. A stunning 4-0 away win at Charlton perhaps the pinnacle of the season so far. Beating Woking on penalties in the FA Cup kept their season running in two competitions, too - although Poyet is adamant his focus is on the league.

If Albion continue their strong start to the season and win League One, there can be no doubting that they, and he will have had an incredible season. Then the real challenge will begin - keeping hold of the man in charge.

That's a problem for another day though. Right now, Brighton fans are just looking ahead to the end of the season - and at least the fiver's dried.

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