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Gary Stevens Brighton exclusive: Bloom family history; Hughton 'disappointed'

It is forgivable for Premier League fans to know little about Brighton and Hove Albion's history.

Prior to 2017, the club hailing from a picturesque seaside town in the county of East Sussex spent only four seasons of their 116-year existence in the top-flight.

Former England international Gary Stevens came through the ranks at Albion and featured heavily during those four seasons.

The versatile defender etched his name in Brighton folklore when he scored in the FA Cup final against Manchester United, the club's most revered tale up until their first promotion to the Premier League two seasons ago.

The Seagulls eventually lost in the replay with United and were relegated at the end of the 1983/84 term.

A tumultuous rollercoaster through the Football Leagues followed, with the club almost falling out of the competition altogether in 1998.

But under the ownership of Tony Bloom, Brighton have a brand new stadium and are now competing in a third consecutive Premier League campaign.

Asked if there was anything the club missed from the old days, Stevens told "Absolutely not. Football's moved on, life has moved on.

"If you compare the AMEX to where I used to play when I was at Brighton, the Goldstone Ground which is no longer there, if you can compare the training facilities, they have a multi-million pound training facility at Lancing, just along the coast from Brighton.

"When I was at Brighton we used to go to the Goldstone Ground, we would change in the changing facilities at the stadium and then we used to clip, clop up the Old Shoreham Road in our football boots and training kit over one set of traffic lights, cross a four-lane road and into Hove Park and that's where we trained.

"That was the area that got us into the top-flight back in 1979 and we stayed in the top-flight for four years and got to the FA Cup final in 1983 before getting relegated.

"So you know the facilities didn't particularly hold us back, but those facilities wouldn't be accepted today.

"Now quite often we would have a lady walk her dog through our small sided game at the end of training because she could, it was a public park!

"It's laughable really I know, absolutely laughable but you know Brighton has done fantastically well. When I was there the vice-chairman was a guy called Harry Bloom and his grandson Tony Bloom is now the owner of the club, so there's a lot of family history there.

"I went to the last game of the season at Newport, I'd retired by then, and whoever lost the game would've dropped out of the Football League, so for them to get back and climb up and get in the Premier League is a phenomenal achievement."

It was Stevens' former teammate at Tottenham, Chris Hughton, who led the club from the bottom of the Championship to promotion in 2016/17, and then two subsequent finishes of 15th and 17th against England's top clubs.

Given the difficulty of keeping promoted clubs in the top flight, it shocked the football world when Bloom sacked Hughton straight after the final game of last season and replaced him with Graham Potter.

Good friends since their playing days together, Stevens revealed Hughton was disappointed by the decision, but added that no person should be held above the club.

"First of all Chris Houghton is a good friend of mine," Stevens continued. "We were teammates at Spurs. He was a fantastic player and a fantastic teammate and he's had an excellent managerial career.

"Chris took over Brighton when it looked like they might get relegated out of the Championship. He kept them in the following season and he almost got them promoted into the Premier League. The next season he did get them promoted in the Premier League and he's kept them there for two seasons.

"So if you look at that, it seems a little bit harsh that Tony Bloom sacked him less than 24 hours after the last game of last season, but as an owner of a football club I would like to think that you do what you feel is best for your football club, and if by removing Chris Hughton and bringing in Graham Potter, the team and the club does better, then it's the right decision, 100 per cent, because it's about the club. It's not about individuals.

"I hope they do well and I've spoken with Chris since he's been sacked, and you know our conversation is between him and I, but you can understand that deep down he was very disappointed and I can understand exactly why. He did a great job and that job has been acknowledged by Brighton, the fans, the public and football in general."

Brighton have enjoyed a great start under Potter, beating Watford away and more than matching West Ham United in Saturday's draw at the AMEX.

With a long season ahead, Stevens says avoiding relegation will be the marker for the decision to hire Potter.

He added: "I guess we all have to wait to see how the season goes for Brighton because the proof in the pudding is the eating.

"Heaven forbid if Brighton were to do worse than they did last season. It means they're going to get relegated and that would be a disastrous blow."

Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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