Flairman Mike – How Mike Bamber changed Brighton forever

In Sept 2012 i wrote this piece about Mike Bamber, perhaps Brighton’s greatest ever Chairman, for Brighton zine;  The Seagull Love Review  . Its one of the most incredible stories in Albion’s history so worth a reprint here…

Late in October 1983, a balding 45 year old man placed an Albion scarf around his neck, paid his £2.50 at the turnstiles and took his place
amongst the faithful in the North Stand for the visit of Sheffield

He, far more than anyone, had enjoyed the Cup run but that was now a
distant memory and this season’s start, Albion’s first in Division 2
in 4 seasons, was not going particularly well. As Wednesday scored
their winner in another miserable 3-1 home defeat and buoyed up by
others, he started a new chant directed at the board. Cries of
“Bamber Out, Bamber Out” rang out across the Goldstone. Veteran
chairman Mike Bamber, who had just celebrated his tenth year
overseeing the most illustrious decade in the club’s history, wasn’t
impressed. Rumours of a board takeover were rife and he could do
without the fans turning against him, particularly that nimble footed
ringleader on the terraces. Probably because he’d sacked him as the
club’s manager a few days before.

Bamber wasn’t there to hear it of course, he’d typically done the deed
in absentia on holiday in Hawaii, but when relayed to him concluded;
“Melia’s image of disco dancing and white shoes was not really the
image I wanted for the club. I will not yield to rent-a-mob.”

Except that Melia himself was quickly paid off, new manager; Chris
Cattlin didn’t manage to turn things round and Bamber did indeed
yield. In a few months he was gone and the long, long decline of the
club had begun.

Thirty years on, Bamber’s pivotal role in the history of the club has
largely been overlooked following the post Goldstone struggles and
eventual rebirth. The view from some is pretty mixed with grumblings
about the missing “Cup money”, his failure to secure a promised new
ground at Waterhall as touted in the dying days of his tenure and some
even argue that he paved the way for Bellotti & Archer to buy the club
for a song.

No stand at the Amex is named after him and it’s Dick Knight’s face on
the fans’ banners in the (new) North Stand. Goals from the signings he
funded; Ward, Case and Stevens might grace the pre-match Amex montage
but you can’t seek out a pint of Harveys in Mike’s Bar.
Yet there’s no questioning that Bamber’s ten years were by far the
most successful period the club has ever known; the promotions, the
players, Wembley.

Ten years earlier in October 1973; the Halifax Town match programme
had 2 coy sentences announcing that “for business and personal
reasons’ co-chairman Len Stringer had resigned and that Mike Bamber
and vice chairman, a certain Harry Bloom, had assumed control. It
wasn’t long before Bamber made his first move. And what a move.


An illustration of Mike Bamber via The Seagull Love Review #41, Sept 2012.

The expensive bid for Clough, who had transformed Derby into League
winners and a whisker away from being European Cup champions, is still
the most incredible story in the history of the club, even football, and
this was all Bamber.

An equivalent today would be Tony Bloom sacking Gus Poyet after
relegation into League One and then appearing grinning in The Argus
the next day pronouncing it to be the “happiest day in his life” as he
had landed Pep Giardioloa as the new Albion manager.

Of course that heady 9 months was difficult. Bamber indulged Clough,
letting him jet off to see Ali fights, campaign for Labour MPs, and
sniff around the Iran national side instead of being at the Goldstone
on a Saturday but in one of his several unreliable autobiographies in
the 90s he admitted;
“The nicest and best chairman I ever worked for. He looked after me
like a King. He put me up at the Courtlands Hotel…they would bring me
oysters , smoked salmon, champagne.”
But it didn’t last. The 44 days were to come. “I knew I broke Bamber’s heart”.

The Clough years are often misunderstood. The received wisdom is
immortalized on YouTube; a young Nigel sitting on Cloughie’s lap in
the Big Match studio after the 8-2 Bristol Rovers defeat. But Bamber
spent nearly 250K on new players in 73/74 at Clough’s behest, results
had started to improve and the great ‘what if’ of Albion history is in
landing Clough – could he really have done a Forest, but with us?

We’ll never know. Bamber continued to punch above his weight, and
further coups were prising Taylor away from Clough for the only time
in his career, risking self confessed ticket tout Mullery with his
first job in management, and signing the young Lawrenson from Preston
under Liverpool’s nose. Less noticed, but crucial today, were Bamber’s
hand in the Dolphins/Seagulls mascot switch, the Palace rivalry thanks
to Mullery’s inability to button it, and the enduring emotional
attachment of a generation bulge of 40/50 somethings who sampled the
Albion under his chairmanship.

Poyet and Vicente is the merest echo today of that never to be
repeated decade and we can just about tell ourselves we’re glad the
chairman’s millions are invested in bricks and steel, not chasing
dreams of disco dancing and white shoes. Just.

The past 40 years of the Albion has been the story of its chairmen.
Dick Knight wrestled the club away from Archer so that the fans could
save the club. Tony Bloom, thankfully, paid for it.
But we should all be grateful for Mike Bamber, who gave birth to the
modern Brighton and Hove Albion in the first place.

“Bamber Out, Bamber Out” then. The North Stand, I remember, had quite
a reputation in the 80s. Couldn’t someone have told Melia to do one?
The plans at Waterhall, a return for Clough, back in Division 1… Who
knows what Bamber might have cooked up? But he was gone. Mike Bamber
died aged 57 in Jersey only a few years later in 1988. Best ever
Chairman ? Perhaps not. Most important ? Definitely.

Good Old Sussex By The Sea

I wrote a short piece for the Brighton and Hove Independent about how to encourage the singing of Sussex by the Sea before Brighton and Hove Albion home matches at the Amex.


A series of collective myths have taken hold about what really happened on that long long evening of Monday May 13th 2013.  Incredibly it wasn’t the tactical supremacy of Ian Holloway, Ashley Barnes missing a sitter and Wayne Bridge’s inability to defend the very last time Wilfred Zaha performed on a a football pitch that led to our cruellest defeat.

In amidst ceilings being hit, unexplained dressing room shenanigans apparently Gus Poyet had other ideas.

Only a few hours later it was reported that he thought that the “extremely silly idea” of lyrics of Sussex By the Sea and the “annoying noise” of free “clackers” handed to every fan had been a factor. Going further, fan forum North Stand Chat was full of such theories and club zine; The Seagull Love Review described these brief attempts to encourage a pre-match atmosphere as “something akin to a North Korean military rally” with an opera singer’s rendition of the song itself as “the single worse non-football related thing I have ever seen at this club”.

Its true that clubs mess with tradition at their peril and I agree attempts to encourage fan singing is fraught with difficulty . Only Mike Bamber, and then for a few weeks, was foolish or brave enough to stop using Sussex by the Sea in the clubs 100 year history. However there are other myths. Despite the proud North Stand banner and a few examples of “Stand or Fall” t-shirts dotted about, virtually nobody sings the real lyrics of the century old marching song. All around me voices prefer to shout out “Na na na” and then mostly at the wrong speed”. Even the faintly embarrassing “Up for the Cup” lines were invented by Norman Wisdom dancing round the pitch on the Goldstone over 50 years ago.

So I’d say now is the time for marching and re-establishing some tradition. Lets start doing this the right way. Even if this means with some help from words in the programme or on the big screens. And stuff what our friends up the A23 think. Their traditional 1964 “South London” anthem is in fact better known as the biggest hit of the Tottenham Sound. And that isn’t a myth.

Made of Vine

I wrote a piece for Four Four Two that “charts the rise of the six-second sharing sensation giving the Premier League an almighty headache…

Vine piece from Four Four Two

40 years on. How falling out with Clough helped Peter Taylor reinvent Brighton and Hove Albion forever.

40 years ago today, Brian Clough left for Leeds leaving Peter Taylor behind on the south coast. Many joke that that decision didn’t exactly turn out well..

However in this piece for The Seagull Love Review which i wrote last year I assess his short period at the Albion and argue that Taylor’s decision to stay behind kickstarted the club’s imperial phase and reinvented the club forever. Quite a good move for Brighton then…

There’s a rare colour photo of fans queuing up outside a sunny Goldstone before the first match of the 1974/5 season; all flared jeans, tank tops and collar length hair.  Large billboards advertising Guinness, Esso, and Hamlet cigars overlook about a hundred boys and blokes slouching about. A mustard coloured Ford Cortina drives past. Despite that days’ opponents not having played the Albion for over a decade, the atmosphere as recalled by veteran posters on North Stand Chat was “nothing special”,  and one supporter remembers not much more about the afternoon than the August pitch being “in need of a trim”.

Brighton’s new manager in that day’s programme, “Albion Review” (10p), was even more circumspect, describing the club’s upheaval in the summer and the departure of most of the previous season’s first team squad in a mere two sentences;  “Since the last League match there have been a lot of changes at the Goldstone, my longtime friend and partner Brian Clough left to take over at Leeds. ” But, he concluded prematurely as it turned out, “all that is old news and all in the past”.


For 46 year old ex goalkeeper, Peter Taylor, who had played with Clough at Middlesborough and then spent over a decade as his No.2 in a successful management spells at Hartlepool and Derby and a torrid last year on the South Coast then it was a shock to most, including Clough and a certain Leeds chairman, that he’d stayed in his post. He’d been offered twice his yearly salary, around £20k, to continue the partnership at Elland Road, but turned it down partly out of loyalty to wealthy chairman Mike Bamber and a reluctance to move his family yet again. It was Clough, alone, who was to endure the 44 days.

Taylor’s attempt to break out on his own, would of course be relatively short lived. He subsequently considered his two seasons solely in charge at Brighton “a failure”, and felt he’d let Bamber down. Most observers agree that when Clough invited Peter to his Majorcan villa in the summer of 1976 with the aim of what was to be a reconciliation, he’d made his best signing for Nottingham Forest. A promotion and then a blur of unlikely League Championships and European cups were only a few years away. “We both knew we were banging our heads against a brick wall on our own”, Taylor had concluded. “Together we could do any job. There was no point delaying”.


Yet on that August day he was all smiles, his new signing; 6ft plus striker Ian Mellor from Norwich, playing in a unfamiliar all white strip, scored the only goal of the match in the 69th minute. It was Malcolm Allison’s Crystal Palace, who to Albion fans were just another London club in 1974 remember, and with another Peter Taylor on the wing in their 11, who went down to a 1-0 defeat in front of a bumper 26 thousand crowd. Despite the optimism and again despite Taylor’s glorious hubris further down his programme notes “When – and i say when, and not if – we win the Third Division title, we will have got there by playing skilful football. Anyone can annihilate the opposition by brute strength and dirty play, we will annihilate them with pure football.” the reality was only one further win in their first 16 matches. Just as in Taylor’s second season at the club, this time by himself, Brighton again struggled to a disappointing 19th in Division 3. Pure football it wasn’t. Only a home record of two defeats at the Goldstone had prevented relegation.

Clough, Bamber and Taylor - 1974 via Goldstone Wrap.

Clough, Bamber and Taylor – 1974 via Goldstone Wrap.

It was, however Taylor’s reputation as a scout that ultimately secures his reputation. His links with Burton Albion and an offer of £50 a week secured the 19 year Peter Ward a contract at the beginning of 75/76 and he quickly made Brian Horton club captain following his signing from Port Vale later in the season. Most would agree two of the top three Albion signings of all time. But despite 26 goals from Fred Binney, who Taylor dropped in favour of Ward towards the end of 75/75,  Albion trailed in their last few games to only finish fourth. It was the end for Taylor.

Like that old joke about Ringo not being the best drummer in The Beatles, its too harsh on him to suggest that, perhaps, he wasn’t even the best Peter Taylor to manage Brighton. The aforementioned Palace winger; Peter J Taylor, in his brief League 2 championship winning stint, wasn’t here long enough to perhaps decide either way. Unlike the undeniable loyalty of Peter W, however, our ex-Palace friend couldn’t wait to say his farewells. The alternative narrative, though, amongst some Brighton fans of a certain age that it was his signings and team that formed the basis of Alan Mullery’s imperial phase is too generous and ignores the facts. Mullery admitted he’d inherited a “great squad” and accepts that was part of the motivation for taking the job on as an inexperienced 34 year old but in reality it was only Ward and Horton who remained in the team on that legendary day at St James Park in May 1979.


40 years on from Taylor’s arrival, it now looks like a classic period of consolidation.  An interim summer appointment after the shock exit of a media friendly TV pundit. A new low key coach who, critics say, struggles to inspire his team.  A poor start to his first season. “He would always be behind his desk, he would try to motivate us but he just couldn’t do it.” one of his signings concluded. The Taylor experiment ultimately failed and he went back home. To glory. Brighton’s ambitious rich young chairman had to look elsewhere, in the end, proving wrong his manager’s belief that the club had, in fact, hit the ceiling.

The welcome signing of Alan Mullery to be the club’s new ambassador, the proud succession of the Bloom family over the last half century illustrate that those that populate the Amex’ boardrooms today are thankfully keen students of the club’s history. The historical parallels are a lot messier , in truth, than I’m perhaps hinting at. But I’d say Peter Taylor’s, now mostly forgotten, three seasons at Brighton and Hove Albion are finally in the post-Poyet era worth some urgent reassessment.

(Thanks  for the pics and research via the articles at the wonderful Albion archive collected at http://thegoldstonewrap.com/ )

The reasons why I love Mark Lawrenson

July 2014 – Its the day after the World Cup Final. Given the rather mixed reaction to Mark Lawrenson’s commentary on the BBC last night I thought i’d dig out this piece i wrote for the Brighton zine;  The Seagull Love Review late last year profiling his first few years at the club. The truth is, as a longstanding Albion fan, I’m rather fond of Mark Lawrenson…

Its just after 1pm on August 6th 2011. Robbie Savage and Dan Walker are unhooking their microphones, as the first Football Focus of the season, live from the Amex, has just come off air. Round the back of the West Stand and proudly posing for photos next to his blue and white silhouette is their colleague; football pundit, commentator and broadcaster; the still imposing, but now going slightly grey around the temples; Mark Lawrenson. The jokey accusation from veteran fans, that has somehow become folklore, that he’s erased those years at the Albion during the club’s imperial phase from his memory, appear completely ill-founded as he signs autographs, laughs and reminisces about a town he had once fondly described as “football daft with gates of 24,000 on a regular basis at the Goldstone..I defy anyone not to like living in Brighton”. 

Lawro’s successful media career, where to put it mildly, he divides opinion, continues to flourish of course following a stab at management which like the boss who played him in Preston’s first team at the age of 17; Bobby Charlton; was short, curtailed and with no second act. But as a player. As a player. No wonder we were football daft.

Thirty five years earlier Mike Bamber, Brighton’s chairman is on a flight to Spain. His young manager Alan Mullery has just charmed the board but especially rich businessman, future Tory MP and Albion director Keith Wickenden to stump up £500K  (the equivalent of £3m today) out of his own pocket to fund a signing of a player they all admitted they’d never heard of.

It’s the summer of 1977, and the 20 year old central defender, Preston North End’s player of the year for the previous season, is on holiday.  Johnny Giles had only recently called up the youngster for the Republic of Ireland squad and he’s in the form of his life. Sporting shoulder length hair, he’s spending his fortnight in the bars of the Costa Del Sol, drinking pint after pint of Guinness laced with blackcurrant because “he likes the taste”.

Mullery, himself, has only seen Lawrenson play three times but as he hadn’t given Peter Ward, then in the middle of his 36 goal promotion winning season, “a kick in two games” he’s convinced. Bamber arrives in Spain late at night . Mark has had a few beers and later cheerfully recalls he signed a “blank contract… I believed everything he said” and had spent half his trip on long distance calls back to a member of Preston’s board asking whether he should sign for the newly promoted second division club. His own stepfather.  Bamber closed the deal there and then. 

When he visits the Goldstone a few days later for a fitness test. He fails. The doctor tells Mullery he’s convinced he’s a diabetic. All that blackcurrant of course. 

He was announced to the press later that month. “He is only 20, big and strong and will make his mark in a big way. The thought of spending that sort of money on an unknown does not frighten me” said the bullish Mullery . Lawrenson made his home debut alongside fellow Preston signing; Gary Williams; against Ron Atkinson’s Cambridge United.

Lawrenson was an ever present in 1977/78 and in 3 further glorious seasons with him at the back, its no coincidence with that Albion progressed to finish in their highest league positions to date. These were also my formative years as an Albion fan which colours my judgement but i remember his 6ft plus presence, his command at the back, the excitement when he effortlessly strode past opponents going forward.  I remember his tache, I remember his hair. 


(Pic via Goldstone Wrap)

There’s a curious anecdote by a mate of Peter Ward in his biography recalling that late 70s rite of passage for bored players seeking to impress with what today would be a lurid tattoo “Mark was in digs with a chap called “Dinky” Doo and his wife Kay who was a hairdresser. Mark took the plunge and had a perm”

And those of a certain age will debate for hours his merits in the all time Albion player league versus that other contender; his fellow permed rival Ward. I have sadly had these arguments into the night but its hard not to concur with Alan Ware from Albion Roar who argues that Ward left Albion for European Cup winners; Nottingham Forest where ultimately he struggled, didn’t establish himself as a first team regular returning to the Goldstone for a disappointing loan period. Lawrenson conversely left the Albion, with Bamber making a healthy million pound profit, for European Cup winners Liverpool and flourished. His partnership with Hansen brought numerous league titles and silverware. Shall i go on ?

Its 2013; Mark is sporting a grey beard making faces at Mark Chapman, making weak jokes at the expense of Spurs and pouting on Match of the Day 2. I hadn’t really thought about Lawrenson as a player and the Albion for many years. He’s had few if any descendants. Gordon Greer;  a solid central defender who has adapted well to both Gus and Oscar’s play out from the back style so successfully he’s managed to transform of all things a Scottish defence, but he rarely ventures past the half way line with confidence. Danny Cullip ? Guy Butters ? All very solid. Very very solid. 

Last month at Blackburn Rovers, in amidst an unlikely victory, there was one brief moment overlooked by some. A commanding strong tall young holding player won the ball with ease, stood up and strode away from the penalty box. He picked up speed, looked up, past one player, past two and shook off opponents and still kept going . Now over the halfway line …he inevitably lost the ball. Its taken a while, but Albion’s young ex Chelsea No.38 might, just might. Perhaps even Lawro, in his pundrity autumn, would notice and recognise in himself a certain Rohan Ince. 

The 10 Best Films About the BBC via the British Pathe Archive

British Pathe has just uploaded 85,000 films  to a new channel on YouTube.  Here’s the 10 best clips i’ve found so far illustrating work inside Broadcasting House in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

1.French School Teachers visit Broadcasting House in 1939

2.The BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1932

3.The “BBC Effects Girls”

4.BBC Monitoring Service in 1940

5.King Edward VIII’s first broadcast to the Empire

6.A Tale of the BBC (1947)

7.The Queen Visits TV Centre (1961) (silent footage but still fascinating)

8.Lioness Arrives at the BBC (1938)

9.“This is London Calling” (1942)

10.This is actually the “Barnham” Broadcasting Corporation but its an incredible 1957 Childrens Radio Station.




#freeAJStaff – UK Journalists show their support

Today marks 100 days since Al Jazeera journalists; producers Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and correspondent Peter Greste have been detained in Egypt for doing their jobs.

Journalists in the UK for Channel 4, Sky and the BBC today showed solidarity by posting selfies online with their mouths taped up or covered.

Here’s a round up  >>

see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-26918932