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The Withdean Years Part One - 1999-2003

In 1999, Brighton and Hove Albion moved into their temporary home at the cities athletics venue, Withdean Stadium. Having redeveloped the ground significantly, the stay was only meant to last for three years only work on a new permanent home at Falmer was completed. Unfortunately, delay after delay meant that the stay ended up being for twelve seasons.

Before that first game in August 1999, nobody could have envisaged the success and disappointment that would follow in nearly equal amounts among the trees in that leafy suburb of Brighton. Three league titles, four promotions, two relegations and two last-day escapes from demotion will mean that despite all the soakings and the appalling record between 2005 and 2010, Withdean will always hold a special place in Albion fans hearts for being their when the club desperately needed a home.

Here we take a look back at our stay at the stadium, with part one focussing on the glory years between 1999 and 2003.

1999-2000 Season. Withdean Record: P27 W12 D7 L8 F43 A29
The Albion returned home from their two year ground-share at Gillingham to a converted athletics track in a leafy superb of the city. Withdean Stadium only featured two stands - the south and the north down either side of the pitch, and 4500 of the 6000 had no shelter from the elements either. Visiting teams struggled to adapt to the unique stadium, and a decent home form contributed to a solid 11th placed finish for Micky Adams team in their first season back in Brighton and Hove.

Best Match: Mansfield Town 6-0 07/08/99
The first competitive game at the stadium on a scorching hot August day saw new signing and hometown boy Darren Freeman grab a hat-trick on his debut to give the Albion a 6-0 victory and bring unbridled joy and optimism as the club began a new chapter after the previous four years of rubbish.

Worst Match: Chester City 2-3 18/09/99
Chester arrived at wet Withdean without a win, but that soon changed. Luke Beckett put the visitors 1-0 up, Mark Walton's decision to leather the ball straight into Paul Watson's back gave them a second, and despite pulling the game back to 2-2 a last minute winner compounded a terrible day.

Wettest Game: Rochdale 3-4 10/12/99
A Friday night game two weeks before Christmas was the setting as Rochdale raced into a two goal lead. Warren Aspinall, Danny Cullip and Gary Hart put the Albion ahead before two goals in the last eight minutes gave the visitors the win and sent the fans home cold, wet and miserable.

Best Performance: Neville Southall, Torquay United 0-1 21/08/99
He may have been carrying 18 stone and approaching the end of his career, but the former Wales number one put on a master class to keep the Seagulls out as his Torquay side stole a 1-0 win, using his reflexes and sizable belly to good effect to leave with a deserved clean sheet.

Best Goal: Paul Watson v Rotherham United 1-1 15/04/99
We really struggled for something for this category, so in the end had to go for a trademark Watson free-kick as he bent the ball around and over the wall against title-chasing Rotherham to leave Mike Pollitt with no chance. Steve Thompson would go onto equalise for the Millers in identical fashion.

Funniest Moment: Phil Stant celebration, Lincoln City 2-2 23/11/99
Having just grabbed a 78th minute equaliser for Lincoln, future Albion signing Phil Stant looked totally bamboozled as to where to celebrate his goal and thus proceeded to go completely mental in front of a park bench, a large hill and an empty bowls club shed at the West End of the ground.

 

2000-2001 Season. Withdean Record: P25 W20 D2 L3 F55 A15
Following the impressive finish to the end of the 1999-2000 season and the signing of the likes of Bobby Zamora, Lee Steele, Nathan Jones and Richard Carpenter, hopes were high for 2000-2001. And Micky Adams team duly delivered after a slow start, bringing home the Division Three title in front of a Withdean that could now hold 7000 fans following the addition of two new stands at the east end of the ground losing just twice at home in the league along the way.

Best Match: Chesterfield 1-0 01/05/01
Despite being docked points for financial irregularities, the Albion would secure the Division Three title on merit with victory over their nearest rivals in the last home game of the season. Danny Cullip's bullet header with ten minutes remaining sparked the first trophy celebrations Withdean saw.

Worst Match: Kidderminster Harriers 0-2 28/08/00
A slow start had seen the Albion, despite being one of the pre-season favourites, marooned near the bottom. Newly promoted Kidderminster arrived at Withdean and left with a 2-0 win to leave an angry section of supporters calling on Adams to resign. Things improved from there.

Wettest Game: Shrewsbury Town 4-0 25/11/00
The Withdean pitch had coped reasonably well the previous season, but a week of constant rain turned it into a mudbath before this one had even began. Players like Richard Carpenter and Charlie Oatway had the time of their lives sliding about and two goals from Zamora inspired a 4-0 win.

Best Performance: Bobby Zamora v Torquay United 6-2 02/09/00
On the back of the terrible Kidderminster game, Zamora began to justify his 100,000 price tag as he grabbed a hat-trick against a Torquay United side who were single handily torn apart by both him and Nathan Jones who grabbed two goals himself from the left flank.

Best Goal: Bobby Zamora v Halifax Town 2-1 02/12/00
A ball that seemed to spend twenty minutes in the air and went so high it could have feasibly been in orbit dropped over the shoulder of the onrushing Zamora as he hit it with the sweetest left foot volley you could hope to see to leave the keeper with no chance. Arguably Withdean's best goal full stop.

Funniest Moment: Brown envelopes v Chesterfield 01/05/00
In the game when the title was secured, the South Stand decided to make their feelings known about the financial irregularities going on at Saltergate by throwing brown envelopes in the air, with the masterpiece being a giant one that was around 20 square feet and was passed over supporters heads.

 

2001-2002 Season. Withdean Record: P29 W21 D5 L3 F49 A24
After securing Division Two football, fending off bids for Bobby Zamora and keeping Micky Adams despite his strong interest in the Southampton position, Withdean was all set to make its third tier bow. As it was, it was only for one season as another remarkable campaign transpired that saw Peter Taylor lead the Albion to a second consecutive league title and promotion as more fancied clubs with flash new stadiums such as Stoke City, Reading and Wigan were blown out of the water.

Best Match: Reading 3-1 11/02/02
Reading came into the game with a seven point lead over the Albion at the top of the table but they were totally outclassed in another wet Withdean classic. Zamora was on fire, scoring one and setting up Steve Melton and Junior Lewis as the march began to overhaul the visitors and win the title.

Worst Match: Wrexham 0-0 23/02/02
Wrexham were staring relegation in the face having lost six of their last eight away. The Albion should have put them to bed easily despite 18-year-old Chris McPhee deputising for the suspended Zamora, but they were lucky to escape with a 0-0.

Wettest Game: Tranmere Rovers 1-0 05/02/02
What was it about evening games coinciding with monsoon conditions in Sussex? This time Tranmere came to town on and once again the Withdean pitch resembled a swamp more than a playing surface, which made Gary Hart's winning strike with his left from 30 yards all the more impressive.

Best Performance: Michel Kuipers v Bristol City 2-1 01/04/02
In the penultimate home game of the season, fellow promotion-chasers Bristol City arrived. The fact they didn't leave with all three points was because of a Michel Kuipers masterclass in goal, producing no less than five world-class saves before Lee Steele takes up the story...

Best Goal: Lee Steele v Bristol City 2-1 01/04/02
It wasn't the best goal and the fact it was five yards offside means it shouldn't have been one at all. But Lee Steele's last minute winner against City after they had battered the Albion for 90 minutes sent Withdean utterly wild as the dream of second tier football became very close to a reality.

Funniest Moment: Paddy Kenny own goal, Bury 16/03/02
Facing financial ruin at the time and starting relegation in the face, the last thing Bury would have wanted was to concede a comical own goal. Unfortunately when Junior Lewis' shot hit the post and rebounded in off of goalkeeper Paddy Kenny's back, it resulted in a 2-1 defeat.

 

2002-2003 Season. Withdean Record: P2 W8 D6 L10 F31 A32
Back in Division One for the first time in ten years, things didn't start in particularly good fashion with Peter Taylor's resignation. Staying up with a side that was built to get out of the bottom tier was going to be hard enough without rookie manager Martin Hinshelwood being thrown into the deep end. Despite a valiant effort from Steve Coppell after his arrival in October and a much improved squad, it was relegation back to Division Two at the end of a nonetheless extremely memorable campaign

Best Match: Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1 11/02/03
Wolves arrived at Withdean on course to secure promotion to the Premier League. But they had no answer to an Albion side that ran rampant though with goals from Bobby Zamora, Dean Blackwell, Gary Hart and Paul Brooker securing a totally deserved win.

Worst Match: Preston North End 0-2 12/04/03
Many candidates for this from the Hinshelwood era, but having done all the hard work to get out of the relegation zone after a run of just three defeats in ten games, this loss at home to a Preston side with nothing to play for sent the Seagulls straight back in - a position from which they never recovered.

Wettest Game: Bradford City 3-2 02/11/02
Having lost 12 league games in a row including just being hammered 5-0 away at Palace, the last thing anybody wanted to see was pissing rain again at Withdean. It didn't relent for 90 minutes, but luckily a brace from Bobby Zamora and a wonder strike from Simon Rodger won the game 3-2.

Best Performance: Steve Sidwell v Burnley 2-2 28/12/02
2-0 down with 90 minutes on the clock and the traditional mass exodus of fans from Withdean is well underway. By the 94th minute they would all be going mental on the running track as two goals in 90 seconds from 18 year old Arsenal loanee Steve Sidwell earns the most unlikeliest of points.

Best Goal: Simon Rodger v Bradford City 3-2 02/11/02
It's that wet Bradford game again. Making his home debut, former Palace midfielder and boyhood Brighton fan Simon Rodger shows just why he had such a distinguished career at Selhurst Park with a cracking volley from distance that helps end the 12 game losing streak.

Funniest Moment: Andy Petterson's tumble v Gillingham 16/03/02
Already 3-2 down, a quick break caught Andy Petterson out of position up field. As he attempted to get back he fell over thin air 20 yards away from his goal, leaving Kevin James to score into an empty net - and to complete the comical sequence of events, he was sent off for over celebrating.

The Withdean Years Part Two - 2003-2007