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Why You Shouldn't Sneer At Brighton's Success

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If you're sneering at Brighton's recent successes, Wimb argues why you should maybe think again.

Brighton fan

It's a club that's spent above its means, moved to a shiny new stadium, taken on a fair few new plastic fans and rubbed one or two teams up the wrong way during its rise. Yet after years of failure and near misses, it's a club that's finally about to achieve the promotion it's wanted so badly.

No it's not just Brighton, it's Reading in 2002.

While football fans have lauded the achievements of Swansea, Bournemouth, Stoke and others over the past few years, Brighton's gradual march to the Premier League hasn't really received much fanfare. I know more than a few Reading fans who actively root against the Seagulls, yet beyond them pipping us to the Division Two title (largely due to our own failures) in 2002, I struggle to figure out why.

Because if you're against what they’re doing down on the South Coast, you're ignoring Reading's own history and how we got to where we are today.

First of all, I can't fully condone any club that's just posted losses of £25.9m. That sort of spending is the type that could cripple any club, however under new FFP rules, it's allowed and if that's what the owners are happy to lose, then so be it, as long as it is THEIR own money and not the club's.

Such high losses are eye watering but comparatively speaking it's not much worse than what Reading went through just over a decade ago.

Younger fans might only remember the Sir John Madejski that's strapped for cash and really hasn't been able to exercise much financial muscle, but 20 years ago he was very much a mini Jack Walker, Dave Whelan or Peter Coates. Sir John was never a football man but he invested a sizeable amount of cash to take Reading from lurking in the lower reaches of the third tier to a team who'd finish eighth in the Premier League in just a 15 year period.

Sensible planning off the pitch certainly played a big part, with the decisions to appoint managers Mark McGhee, Alan Pardew and Steve Coppell all helping to contribute to the club's upward trajectory. However, without swallowing some big losses, facilitated by serious financial commitment from Madejski's own pocket, this club would quite possibly be in the same situation as a Northampton, Colchester or Swindon.

Madejski pumped big money into the club, whether it was in direct cash or in the form of very friendly loans that were left on the books for decades. In the Elm Park days, this cash was mostly used to keep the club running, given attendances at Elm Park were between 5,000-9,000 and there were next to no corporate facilities, nor big TV money to boost the coffers. Sir John also provided key funds for the Madejski Stadium project, something that would benefit the club for decades to come.

Once the stadium was built and crowds began to grow a little, funds also found their way into the pocket of the late Tommy Burns, who spent pretty heavily for a third tier side. Big transfer fees were paid for the likes of Nicky Forster, Graeme Murty, Sean Evers, Grant Brebner and others, not to mention the amounts involved in keeping such a bloated squad together.

In that era, we were sneered at as we had a big shiny new ground, had a big name manager (Burns had been Celtic boss less than 3 years before) and had spent all of this money on talent. Yet all of those advantages almost drowned the club, with it taking four years to eventually climb back to the second tier.

As we know, the Premier League soon followed but forgotten in the misty eyed tales of the plucky 106 squad containing a £70k Kevin Doyle is the fact that the football side of Reading, actually lost £7m during that 2005/06 season.

At the same time that Reading were beginning their rise to glory, Brighton were having a thoroughly miserable time of it.

While Reading had been saved from asset stripping and the 'Thames Valley Royals' in the 1980's, Brighton fans had to go through the horrifying reality of losing their beloved Goldstone Ground and becoming homeless.

Years in the wilderness followed, firstly having to make a 150-mile round trip to watch the team at Gillingham's Priestfield Stadium and then having to put up with the ramshackle Withdean Athletics Stadium. Yet like Reading, the foundations of future success were being laid, and the opening of the AMEX Stadium in 2011 was a remarkable achievement for a club who had been close to extinction just 15 years before.

Like Reading between 2003-2006, Brighton have had to endure a fair few frustrations and spend a lot of cash to finally get over that final hurdle and reach the 'promised land' of the Premier League but we shouldn't begrudge them a moment in the sunshine, even if a few fans might rub us up the wrong way.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and while it would be wrong to say Brighton 'copied' the Reading Way, they almost certainly picked up a few lessons over the years from their Northern neighbours.