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The Guardian’s best radio programmes of 2014 – with Links to listen.

The new editor of the Archers Sean O' Conner

The new editor of the Archers Sean O’Conner

The Guardian published a piece by David Hepworth on December 20th 2014 reviewing the best radio of the year. Here’s his selection with added links to listen the programmes. Most, if not all, are still available on iPlayer Radio or as downloads…

Why i wrote down every single record I bought for 14 years in 3 tatty diaries.

In 2011 I wrote this piece for Word Magazine about my decade long obsession with documenting every single time i bought an LP or single in a diary purchased from W.H Smith. 

I was really nervous but my Dad had already agreed to take me over to
Portslade in his car that evening. “Do I have to wear the uniform Dad
?” . “Yes. Of course. Otherwise it won’t be official”. My mum had
ironed my scarf so I couldn’t get out of it. I packed them all up in a
new plastic box that we’d got from Boots the week before and I sat in
the back just not sure I knew enough to get through this.
The door opened, young kids ran about, the house looked simply chaotic
and I was offered an orange squash.

17th Hove.

17th Hove.

“So how long have you been doing this then ?” said a tall kindly old
chap. They always seemed to be tall kindly old chaps.
I then muttered something inaudible, fished out a couple of singles;
by BA Robertson (Bang Bang) and the Boomtown Rats (I Don’t Like
Mondays), offered up a few thoughts about alphabetical order, started
unfolding Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Armed Forces all over
the floor and it was quickly over. He and my Dad started chatting
about their gardens, I carefully placed them all back and was silently
annoyed. Why didn’t he want to know why I’d bought Gary Numan’s Cars
in a record shop on the Isle of Wight whilst on holiday ? Hadn’t he
heard of 2-Tone ? Did the stamp collectors get this treatment. I doubt
it. I really know this stuff. I wanted to really prove it.
And thats how it started. I was 13, I had a woggle on, and I’d just
earned my Scout Collectors badge for collecting records.

25 years later, in possession of a new scanner, nominally to gather upa large collection of baby pictures of my young sons, my thoughtsinstead turned to the loft. In a tatty old hat box lurk dozens of love letters from my future wife, some flyers from an indie club i ran inthe late 80s called The Apple Orchard where we put on bands like The

Field Mice, Heavenly and The Sea Urchins and gave away… free apples
and what i was really looking for; 2 fragile old notebooks. In them
are hundreds of weekly and by the end, nearly daily entries that store
a record of every single and LP purchased and every gig I attended
from Dec 17 1980 onwards. I scanned in the badly scrawled 26 pages
that i’d scarily dubbed “Jeremy T Stone, Concerts, Records and Tapes,
Volume 1″, with a photo sharing website; Flickr. Its cover of gig
tickets (ABC, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kid Creole), yellowing sellotape
and a Dickens like ledger at the back with monthly tallies of activity
prompted comments, all men as it happens; “This looks like something
from another world, almost pre-decimilisation.”, “It’s like a ration
book”. One friend even suggested that it should be in the V&A. The
baby pictures remained unscanned.

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I’d always collected stuff. Mostly football comics (Roy of the Rovers,
Tiger and Scorcher), programmes, and the Radio Times.When 10 though my
Dad brought home, what now seems, a ludicrous concept. The 1976/77
yearbook for Brighton and Hove Albion. This wasn’t a celebratory
annual charting the previous year’s highlights and data but an
entirely DIY effort. The reader was supposed to document, by hand, an
entire 46 week season of games, fixtures and statistics. Entirely
blank pre-season I pored excitedly over its empty tables, player pages
and thick paper just itching to be filled in. I even managed to get my
Aunty Mal to co-opt her neighbour, the new Albion sensation; Peter
Ward who rented a semi up the road, to take the book with him into
the dressing room to fill out the autograph page. He dutifully
fulfilled the task, knocked on my door and handed it over in person.
Or rather he handed it over to my mum. I hid upstairs. However barely
out of August the excitement started to wane and the laborious writing
of the teamsheet every Saturday night for both Brighton and their
opponents started to pall. After a cup game on a Tuesday night in
September was completely skipped, I hid the book away in my bedroom
slightly embarrassed with myself.

So the longevity of filling out this particular diary was perhaps
partly down to its convenient brevity. I only had a few paper rounds
at the time where i earned £2.40 per week and a mighty 60p for Sunday
so at least, at first, records were fairly infrequent purchases. Yet,
unlike the torment of the football book detail, I quickly came to
enjoy forcing myself to extend the actual process of a record purchase
with a small diary entry. The re-reading of its pages as the numbers
ticked over joined the other physical rituals alongside scanning the
sleevenotes, reorganising the entire collection…again and actually
playing the thing on my Sharp Music centre.
But after a few years it was clearly pride that drove me on. A
tangible proof that, in the absence of hardly any idea that anyone
else was like you, here was the physical evidence of my devotion and
knowledge across 26 detailed pages and later several volumes of the
stuff.

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The task of course also indulged my insane attention to detail. As the
entries for singles and LPs mounted up so the icons, numbering
systems, annotations and worry increased. A gig page was finally added
despite at that point having only ever been to 4 (Dec 16 1979 – The
Police being my first). I dubbed it grandly “Concerts” probably
because they mostly took place in the decidedly ungig like venue; the
Brighton Centre, better known as the yearly home of the Labour and
Tory party conferences. “Pic” was usefully introduced to depict a
single with well yes but abandoned after 18 months because singles in
plain sleeves pretty much vanished for ever or probably because I
forgot. The picture discs for Ant Rap, Wings of Dove – Madness and
Every Breath You Take were duly noted and late on labels (Some
Bizarre, A&M, 4AD, Stiff, Respond ) crept in as the provenance of
singles, or rather documenting that I was aware of them, started to
really matter to a by now sixth former. There’s a slight hiccup in
1983 where arrows are deployed and the label “Bootleg tapes” is
shamefacedly adopted to reassure me that my visit to the Record Fair
to purchase some live Police sets on cassette has resulted in entries
that are not really canonical.

However, most of the agony was writing the first entry . Should I
should start with numbering Call Up by the Clash (7″) as No. 1 ?
This wasn’t right given that I’d already had bought about 50 singles
pre 1980 when the book began. My record buying life had actually begun
on a rainy shopping trip with Mum to WH Smiths record shop, three
years before, with Abba’s Knowing Me Knowing You. What about that ? So
logically then perhaps the first entry should actually be numbered 51
? Perhaps I should document the backstory (“The Early Years”) in a
separate book ? Would it dilute the diary if i put all this stuff in
the back ? I genuinely used to fret hard about this stuff but went,
as it turns out, with Number 1. This however led to some rather
tedious pedantry on my part when, as nominally an adult, a decade
later, I used to think I could charm bemused women with evidence of
teenage years’ record purchases. In sharing Books 1, 2 and the up to
date Book 3 (1990-93) of the diary, that i was still religiously
compiling, I always used to caveat the conversation with “But no. You
have to add 18 on to the LPs number, because I didn’t start from the
beginning”. I was crestfallen that she might deduce that I actually
had a smaller collection than the books implied. So my pre 1980 trips
to HMV in Brighton’s Churchill Square to buy LPs by the Muppets, The
Police, and the Bee Gees were duly trotted out, the actual size of the
vinyl scattered in every corner of the bedsit was diligently
communicated and the mad audit of my life rolled on.

And with hindsight its that sanity check of memories that re-reading
it gives you. I know that I bought the 12″ of Tainted Love by Soft
Cell but a line in the diary means I remember it was because the DJ
played it in one Saturday morning in the basement of Top Man on the
Western Road and I asked him what it was. I know I owned Joy
Division’s Closer but I’m reminded it must have been in Woolworths in
the Christmas sale and at the same time as Jasper Carrott’s LP; “A
Pain in the Arm”. Singles by New Order, Heaven 17, and The Beat still
sit on shelves above my bed but the teenage boy in me must have
brought them home in plastic bags on the back of the bus with chart
hits by Kim Wilde, Toyah and Girlschool. I don’t see just a plain
entry for June 20 1981: Ghost Town – The Specials. I really see me, on
the one hand a 15 year old with a No.2 all over haircut, a brand new
Red Harrington jacket and 12 high Doc Martens that I’d ludicrously
told Mum were worn “by everyone” in order to get her to give in. Yet
on the other hand a me actually bored, hanging about in an high story
carpark for a lift poring over a black and white 2Tone label waiting
for my parents to finish their shopping. Not having a girlfriend, or
anyone really to talk about or share the merits of “Friday Night and
Saturday Morning”.

There were also a few spin offs where I tried to recreate this
pleasing order. For a year aged 15 I compiled a twice weekly parallel
universe chart from the votes of like minded souls, boys of course, at
the back of Physics lessons. Easily adopting the roll of a synthpop
teller, out came the inkpen to record, once i’d done the maths, that
OMD’s Souvenir , Japan’s Quiet Life, and New Order’s Everything’s
Gone Green had climbed to Number 1. In our heads. I’d also seen
evidence elsewhere in my class of a book containing imaginary Test
Match series lovingly recorded with Wisden like detail but the games
themselves were played over by over with dice. I clearly wasn’t the
only one.

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I loved Soft Cell.

So was it a lonely thing ? I had few close friends as a teenager but
then carried on with the diary with even more fervour at university
where I even charmed/bored girls with tales of how there was a clear
correalation between that nightly listening of the Festive Fifty
during Christmas of 1983 and my 1984’s record/gig consumption. (see
the Jan 10 1984 entries for Billy Bragg and Jan 3, 26 and Feb 11 for
Cocteau Twins). Well maybe.

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WH Smith served me well.

And who would do it now ? For nearly a decade now i’ve been a user of
iTunes. Its array of automated features and lists that document every
play and listen and churn out “most played” charts by day, by week, by
month should have banished all reason for the above. Yet I’ve twice
lost my history and MP3 collections to hard drive failures and now I’m
not even sure what owning a track actually is. I’ve dabbled with
LastFM but stare at it longingly hoping it might perhaps have my data
for 1982 or 1987. My children logging into my account on Spotify and
polluting my histories with Spongebob, JLS, and Lady Gaga means that I
still yearn for a more permanent record of then.

Earlier this year I watched Paul Heaton on The One Show.Ostensibly a
straightforward plug for his tour, It started off in an instrument
shop with him talking guitars, his pre-Housemartins bands, his love of
Johnny Cash but then apropos of nothing, he’s proudly leafing through
a smart hard backed notebook. This, he reveals, is one of the books
where he’s compiled a monthly list of his Top 20 favourite tracks that
he listened to that month. A task that he’s kept up in longhand for,
gulp , 30 years. Clearly quite in love with them, he then reads out
his No.1 for April 1997; “There is nothing like a Dame” from the
soundtrack of South Pacific. Well obviously. Switch to the sofa and
Adrian and Christine are flicking through 2 little exercise books the
first of which he started, like me, in 1980. Adrian tries to mock.
“I’m a bit worried about you” but then he starts reeling off one
random chart from Sept 1982 featuring Candi Staton, Hot Chocolate, Big
Bill Broonzy and Elvis Costello and suddenly becomes animated. “I’d
really forgotten about that track”. “Exactly” says Paul.

To read the 1980-84 diary see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jemstone/sets/72157594348254422/

My complete 1988-1992 diary is scanned at Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jemstone/sets/72157624738258203/

If you see the diary for 1984-88 please let me know. Lost a while back.

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
Wednesday.

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.

bamber

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.

sussexbythesea

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”.

cloughsigns4

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”.

photo

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. 

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(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.