Albion have a history of fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur that goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century.
We met ten times in the Southern League, before Spurs were elected to the Second Division in 1908. It was to be 69 years before our paths crossed again.
After being relegated the previous season, Spurs were back in Division Two for the 1977/78 campaign. Albion had been promoted from Division Three and were looking to consolidate a position in the second tier. In November 1977, the two sides met for the first time in a Football League fixture. Just over 48,600 people crammed into White Hart Lane with Spurs second in the table and Albion just below them in sixth. The game finished 0-0 and as the season progressed, it was clear that both sides would be challenging for promotion to the First Division.
The return fixture at The Goldstone came in April 1978 with Spurs top of the table and Albion fourth, six points behind. For Albion manager Alan Mullery it was a special occasion. “I had probably the best nine years of my life at White Hart Lane and everything there about the club was tremendous”, he said in his programme notes. He went on to talk about the tradition of the club and the winning of trophies. “It’s my aim to do that at Brighton. We’ve already started to build our own tradition… over the past three years we’ve had reasonable success”.
Albion were on a good run of form, having won four of the previous five games and Mullery made just one change from the side that had won the previous week at Blackburn Rovers.
Eric Steele had been magnificent all season and continued in goal, behind a back four of Ken Tiler, Gary Williams, Mark Lawrenson and Graham Winstanley. In midfield, skipper Brian Horton, another ever-present, was joined by Tony Towner, Paul Clark and Peter O’Sullivan. Up front, the prolific Peter Ward was partnered with Malcolm Poskett, a mid-season buy from Hartlepool. On the bench was the previous week’s match-winner, Eric Potts.
The match was all-ticket and by far the most glamourous match of the season but the build-up to the game was marred by trouble on the Friday night before, as mobs of Spurs fans descended on Brighton determined to cause trouble. This continued before and during the match as Spurs supporters, supposed to be confined to the East and North-East terraces, infiltrated the North Stand. At one stage, the trouble was so bad, referee Alan Turvey took the teams off the pitch for fourteen minutes.
The trouble detracted from what was a superb performance by Albion. Paul Clark, who had made his debut in the away fixture against Spurs, was magnificent alongside Brian Horton. They didn’t allow the likes of Glenn Hoddle and Peter Taylor any time on the ball and were able to supply wide men O’Sullivan and Towner with a steady flow of passes. Clark put Albion ahead with a brilliant solo effort, before Graham Winstanley doubled the lead with a precise volley. Spurs pulled a goal back before half-time through Chris Jones, but Albion were well on top at half-time.
The dominance continued in the second half with Spurs no match for a very well-drilled Albion side. Eric Potts came on for Tony Towner and the ‘super-sub’ sealed the points for the Seagulls with a 72nd-minute strike.
The 3-1 victory was watch by a crowd of 32,647 which was, at the time, the seventh-highest ever attendance at the ground. That figure was beaten just two weeks later when 33,431 saw Albion beat Blackpool 2-1, but fall agonisingly short of back-to-back promotions.
We missed out on goal difference, due in no small part to a tame 0-0 draw between Southampton and Spurs who as a result, were both promoted. For some Albion fans of a certain age, this result was seen as a very convenient outcome. We did, of course, make things right twelve months later as we joined Spurs and Southampton in the top flight.
We have beaten Tottenham Hotspur just twice in the 16 meetings since that infamous day in 1978, with the last win coming at the end of the 1982/83 season. Recent events would seem to suggest that we have a good opportunity to improve that record this coming Saturday. Perhaps the players of today could take inspiration from the superb performance in April 1978.