Albion Nostalgia: When Brighton took the spoils from White Hart Lane

The front cover of the programme when Brighton played away to Tottenham in 1981.
The front cover of the programme when Brighton played away to Tottenham in 1981.

Brighton & Hove Albion's record against Tottenham Hotspur makes pretty dismal reading, with just three victories in 17 matches since 1977.

Albion had slightly more success in their Southern League days, notching up a further three wins and four draws in 10 encounters. Our sole success at White Hart Lane came in October 1981 in Division One.

At the start of the 1981/82 season, we had to deal with the resignation of Alan Mullery, following a disagreement with chairman Mike Bamber. The new man in charge was Mike Bailey and he made a good start to his time at the helm.

By the middle of October 1981 Albion were in ninth place, following a thrilling 3-3 draw with Liverpool at the Goldstone Ground. We were 3-1 down with just 11 minutes to go, but goals from Jimmy Case and Andy Ritchie snatched a point. Next up was a tricky journey to White Hart Lane, to play a Spurs side who had made an even better start. After ten games they were second, just a point behind Swansea City.

Bailey made just one change from the team that performed so well against Liverpool, with Graham Moseley returning in goal, in place of Perry Digweed. The back four was Don Shanks, Gary Williams, Steve Gatting and Steve Foster, behind a midfield quartet of Jimmy Case, Tony Grealish, Neil McNab and Gordon Smith. Up front, Andy Ritchie and Michael Robinson were forging a partnership that would bring them 24 league goals by the end of the season.

Tottenham started the game strongly and put the Albion defence under a lot of pressure in the early stages. Albion manager Bailey was beginning to come under some pressure for his perceived ‘defensive’ tactics, but he justified the approach against Spurs by looking at their team.

As well as Chris Hughton in defence, Tottenham boasted a midfield of Glenn Hoddle, Micky Hazard, Ozzie Ardiles and Tony Galvin, supporting the strikeforce of Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks.

The Albion defence held firm, with Foster outstanding, and we went in at half-time goalless. After the break, Albion started to find a little more space in midfield and with 20 minutes to go, we took the lead. Smith found a little space in the middle of the pitch and he threaded a pass through to Robinson, who drew keeper Ray Clemence before slotting the ball home. It was a battle to hold on to the lead, but we still managed to create chances right up to the end, and Ritchie came within a whisker of doubling the lead.

The win lifted us up a place to eighth and hopes were high that we would build on the good start to the season. It didn’t quite pan out as we might have hoped, but a 13th place finish remains our best-ever in the top flight. This came despite seven defeats in our last eight games. Albion were starting to pay the price for giving out some generous contracts and at the end of the season, chairman Bamber declared “We cannot survive if we have to pay the sort of wages that are being asked”. A scheme to rebuild the North Stand at The Goldstone was also shelved, which would have involved hospitality boxes and a new electronic scoreboard.

Things have changed beyond all recognition for both clubs since then, with Spurs settling into their incredible new stadium. Albion are inching towards Premier League safety and a similar smash-and-grab victory this evening would surely seal our place in the league.

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