A Century of Work for the Albion - and Albion Fans

Launched in March 1912, Brighton & Hove Albion Supporters’ Club is currently celebrating its centenary. The largest of the Albion supporters’ organisations may now be in its fourth incarnation, but it maintains the core values of assisting the football club when possible and helping Albion fans support their team.

Albion historian Tim Carder, a former chairman of the Supporters’ Club, takes a look at its past, present and future.

  • 'To Help, Not Hinder'
  • Post-war revival
  • A club re-born
  • Declaration of independence
  • For the benefit of all fans
  • 'Semper Laridae'

'To Help, Not Hinder'

The former motto of the Supporters' Club reflected its philosophy for many years. It took fans to away games, ran social events and donated money to the Albion, but had little ambition to influence decisions. After all, fans knew that directors always acted in the best interests of the football club ...

The first Supporters' Club was launched on 27 March 1912, the initiative of fan Harry Edwards who was influenced by the successful Watford SC. It was just 11 years after the birth of the football club itself, but three years later, with the country at war, the whole Albion operation closed down.

Re-formed in July 1922, the Supporters' Club established a long-term home at the Ship Hotel, Hove Street.

Transport was arranged to away games. With Albion ensconced in the Third Division (South), few matches were more than 200 miles away.

There was a time when a swastika was merely a decorative motif, as demonstrated on this page from the 1927/28 handbook

The Supporters' Club raised funds for the football club, notably through the publication of annual handbooks. It encouraged fans to buy shares in Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club Ltd, enabling the Goldstone Ground to be purchased outright in 1930. But its greatest achievement of the period was funding a roof behind the north goal, the first North Stand which opened in 1931.

The Supporters' Club was an organisation with prestige. The secretary, John Talbot Nanson, was mayor of Brighton for three years, while Charles Brown, the Albion chairman, was an elected committee member.

The 34 editions of the Supporters' Club's annual handbook, published from the 1920s to the 1970s, are very collectable

The 1950s committee made up for any
lack of 'image' or women in numbers

Post-war revival

The Supporters' Club was revived in March 1948 and soon reached a peak membership of 5,000 as football attendances boomed after the Second World War.

Funds were raised through the sale of souvenirs from huts within the Goldstone Ground, and ‘Albion Weeks’ were staged to stimulate interest. The Supporters' Club ran lotteries, so successfully that it handed up to £20,000 a year to the ‘parent club’ - and this at a time when a player's maximum wage was £20 a week.

Contestants in the Miss Albion Football Queen competition 1970

Coach travel to away games took off in the 1950s with members enjoying reciprocal hospitality with the home team's supporters' club. Social events included an annual Miss Albion contest, while members could also join both ladies' and men's football teams.

The Supporters' Club continued to help fund modest improvements to the Goldstone Ground, but it also sought to improve the fans' lot, for instance by seeking reduced admission prices for old-age pensioners.

By the mid 1970s the Supporters' Club was still raising £10,000 a year for the football club despite a smaller membership. However, the Albion, under chairman Mike Bamber, began to adopt a more professional approach to the commercial side of the game and took over many of the Supporters' Club's traditional functions in 1977. As a result, the Supporters' Club decided to close down.

Looking forward to an away game in the '50s
Following the Albion to Norwich ...
... and to Ipswich in the 1950s
Some members have been around a VERY long time!

A club re-born

After a gap of five years, the present Supporters' Club was launched on 17 September 1982.

Now independent of the football club, it continued to raise money for the benefit of the Albion and its supporters. Thousands of pounds were spent on a physiotherapy unit, on a heart defibrillator, and on a roof for disabled supporters at the Goldstone. There were programme fairs, charity collections, sponsored walks and a fans' football team. The newly-formed Junior Seagulls initially came under the wing of the Supporters' Club.

Last-day fun in the 1990s
More clowning around - at Toddington Services

But it also began campaigning. While others battled against managers and sometimes opposing fans, the Supporters' Club confined its crusades to promoting good behaviour and encouraging fun, and to non-divisive issues: the Government's national membership scheme (1988-89) and the Save The Albion Now campaign amid the financial crisis of 1992-93.

The Mansfield Town boycott, November 1996. The Supporters' Club had actually called for a permanent boycott

Demonstrating outside the Park Court Hotel, London, as Dick Knight's consortium meets the FA, the council leaders and the club board

Supporters' Club members and Andy Naylor of the Evening Argus present a petition to the HQ of Focus DIY in Crewe, on the way to Rochdale, October 1996

Then, in 1995, came the seminal moment in the modern history of the Albion: the sale of the Goldstone Ground. The Supporters' Club threw its weight behind the united campaign to install a new board. Some said it wasn't radical enough, yet it proposed a blanket boycott of home games and began legal action against the FA.

Happily, after two years of ‘civil war’, Dick Knight became Albion chairman - and the rest is history!

Declaration of independence

Most of the Withdean litter patrollers were Supporters' Club members

The Supporters' Club rewrote its constitution in 1997 to emphasise its independence and democratic principles. While co-operating and liaising with the Albion whenever possible, it has maintained a healthy distance and a watchful eye ever since.

Presenting the 61,452-name petition to the city council, May 2002

Over the next ten years or so the Supporters' Club campaigned tirelessly on any number of issues, from Bringing Home the Albion and keeping it ‘Alive and Kicking’, to targeting homophobia and other anti-social behaviour. Proudly, it funded the Falmer For All campaign to the tune of more than £10,000, and provided much of the manpower in connection with this, the most important initiative in the history of Albion fans.

Happy Valentine's Day, Mr Prescott!   Hull, February 2004
She was right!  Labour Party Conference, September 2004

The Supporters' Club has run transport to every away game since November 1996 (except when Wimbledon was boycotted over the move to MK). It also ran coaches to every home game at Gillingham

It backed its members' initiatives such as the Buy-a-Player Fund (for Rod Thomas in 1998) and the promotion of youth development. It campaigned on behalf of other clubs in crisis, giving very practical assistance to Hull City, Bury, Wrexham and Plymouth Argyle among others.

The Supporters' Club continues to run transport to every away game. It provided most of the manpower for Withdean's litter patrols, and for decorating open-top buses for triumphal processions through the city. And again it partly funded and maintained the disabled area cover at Withdean.

It's not easy decorating a 1960s concrete town hall,
but the Supporters' Club gave it a go in 2001
Buses are easier than town halls!
Division Two champions 2002

For the benefit of all fans

The Supporters' Club is sometimes derided for being an irrelevance, but much of its work goes on in the background for the benefit of all fans, not just members. Without the Supporters' Club there would have been no £5 compensatory voucher at Norwich in 2003, for instance, and in 2000 a draconian Away Membership Scheme would have been imposed.

Dick Knight, Martin Perry, Tony Bloom, Derek Chapman, Steve Gritt, Mark McGhee and Gus Poyet have all received mementoes for their outstanding contributions; and since 2002 the Supporters' Club has given an annual Merit Award to those contributing most to the cause of Albion fans. In 2004, the Supporters' Club itself received an award from the Football Supporters' Federation for its work.

Alongside John Baine, the Supporters' Club lobbied for Dick's Bar for ten years. Now, with facilities at the Amex Stadium among the best in the country, it's looking to celebrate its centenary by promoting its activities and campaigns, and by increasing membership.

The Supporters' Club may not be to everyone's taste, but most Albion fans have been assisted by it in some way. It continues to campaign for respect and enthusiastic support amongst fans, and against anti-social behaviour. It works with the authorities to make the match experience better for all. It keeps its members in touch through monthly newsletters, the website bhasc.com, and through Facebook. Since 1996 it has compiled (at extra cost) a monthly record and analysis, the Albion Almanac. And it continues to make representations to the football club.

Dick Knight and the mayor of Brighton & Hove, Cllr Anne Meadows, unveil the Goldstone Ground heritage board in Hove Park which was largely paid for by the Supporters' Club, July 2011

‘Semper Laridae’

The Supporters' Club is not the only fans' group by any means, but it is the biggest and by far the oldest.

It may be that, one day, fans form a supporters' trust to work actively at fund-raising for the purchase of shares in the Albion. It's Supporters' Club policy to seek the extension of ownership of our football club to ‘ordinary supporters’.

But that still leaves room for the complementary work done by the Supporters' Club and those other fans' groups: the travel clubs, the regional supporters' groups, and the specialist organisations like BODS (for disabled fans) and the Collectors' and Historians' Society.

"I'll swap you this bucket and scarf for that Highland Terrier."   Fans United, February 1997

Indeed, the Supporters' Club has been lobbying for a representative fans' forum to be held at regular intervals. As the football club grows bigger, there is a danger that it may become more remote; yet in recent years it has enjoyed its most notable successes off the pitch when directors, management and supporters have worked together in close harmony. We are hopeful that something may soon arise from this lobbying.

So, after a hundred years, the work of the Supporters' Club on behalf of the Albion and its fans continues. It is always there, ready to assist when needed. It recently adopted a new motto: Semper Laridae - ‘Forever Seagulls’.

Membership of the Supporters' Club costs just £5 until the end of the 2012/13 season. You can easily join by sending off the leaflet included with your programme (also available in the club shops), or see bhasc.com.

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