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.

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