Brighton's rivalry with Southampton is as old as the club but stakes have never been higher

Brighton and Hove Albion's first first game against the Saints took place more than 120 years ago.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 4:37 pm
Updated Friday, 12th March 2021, 4:38 pm
Brighton match at St Mary's this Sunday is one of the most crucial in their 120 year history

The newly-formed Brighton United took their place in the Southern League, ready to kick off the 1898/99 season. We travelled along the coast to play the first game at The Dell, itself a brand-new stadium.

A crowd of 8,000 saw us lose 4-1. We were also the visitors at the end of the life of that great old stadium, when we played an end of season friendly in May 2001.

Our first game against Southampton as Brighton and Hove Albion was in November 1903, when another trip to The Dell ended in a 5-1 defeat. We have now played them 74 times, winning 20, drawing 18 and losing on 36 occasions.

Fifteen of the meetings have been in the top flight, with Albion’s two victories coming in 1981. A 2-0 win at The Goldstone in February of that year was followed by a win at the Dell by the same scoreline.

Our last win against Saints came in November 2009 in League One, when two goals from Glenn Murray and one from Andrew Crofts gave us a 3-1 victory

For my column this week however, I’m going back to our first spell in the top flight, for a Division One game at The Goldstone in April 1982. A month previously, we were in 9th place, dreaming of qualification for the UEFA Cup.

Two defeats, to Birmingham City and Ipswich Town, had dropped us a couple of places but the visit of Southampton was a chance to put things right.

Brighton vs Southampton programme cover 1982

After Alan Mullery’s departure the previous summer, new boss Mike Bailey had enjoyed a season of relative safety, but his defensive tactics were beginning to wear thin with the Albion faithful.

In his ‘From the Manager’s Chair’ column in the programme, Bailey was on the back foot, defending his style of play. Responding to comments made at a recent Fans Forum, he said, “people are entitled to their opinion, but I am paid to get results for Brighton and that is my first priority”.

His selection for Southampton was unchanged from the previous week, with Perry Digweed in goal behind a back four of Don Shanks, Sammy Nelson, Steve Foster and Steve Gatting. In midfield, Mickey Thomas was alongside Gary Stevens, Tony Grealish and Neil McNab. The strikers were Andy Ritchie and Michael Robinson.

Southampton were challenging at the very top of the table, and were a point clear of Liverpool, although the Reds did have three games in hand.

With so much at stake, it was perhaps not surprising that the game lacked a little composure. Neil McNab’s penalty separated the teams at half time and the crowd of just over 20,000 was dreaming of a move up the table.

The second half was a different story and Southampton came back strongly. They were rewarded when Kevin Keegan’s goal brought the scores level. Albion had chances to win and it was only a couple of magnificent saves from Saints goalkeeper Ivan Katalinic that kept us at bay. We couldn’t find a way past him and the game finished 1-1.

With nine games left, hopes were high for a strong finish. Defeat in seven of those meant we fell away to eventually end up in 13th place, although this remains our highest ever top-flight finish.

The form of Steve Foster led to an England call-up for the World Cup in Spain, where Sammy Nelson also played two games for Northern Ireland. Player of the Season was Andy Ritchie, who scored 14 goals in league and cup games.

The game on Sunday is crucial for both sides. A win for Southampton would surely see them safe for another season but if Albion managed to pull off a victory, it would be a huge boost to our chances of survival.