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Seagulls Down Under (originally published in TAM4)

July 12, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 1577 Albion Stories

SEAGULLS DOWN UNDER 

The Albion is a big part of people’s lives, and not just in Sussex. 

In his own words, a fan from the other side of the world tells us his story… 

“‘John Sowden, Sydney Seagull’ are the words proudly inscribed on my bit of history at the Amex. My fanatical support of the Albion began in 1966, when I was 9. My Dad took me to the Goldstone to see Brighton versus Scunthorpe United, in the old Third Division. Even now I can remember walking up the steps and peering out into the sunlight, and the sight and smell of the beautifully cut green grass. I must admit I don’t remember much about the game, but I did know that I was converted for life.   

I do recall many freezing cold afternoons against the likes of Southport, Leyton Orient and Carlisle, standing on the East Terrace, firstly with my schoolmates and then with my close friends and girlfriend who was destined to become my wife. The hip flask filled with whiskey was an absolute must! Another odd memory was the visit of Luton Town who ran out in the most lurid cerise coloured kit I have ever seen in my life! 

The first team in the early to mid-1970s, I recall, had Brian Powney in goal, John and Kit Napier, Norman Gall, Eddie Spearitt, Fred Binney and, of course, the wizard on the wing, Peter O’Sullivan. Harry Wilson was left back and seemed to have a liking for slicing his clearances into the East Terrace.  

A worthwhile team was starting to come together by 1976. After the brief spell of Brian Clough as manager, and then Peter Taylor, Alan Mullery took the reins. I’ll never forget the midweek thumping of Walsall. I stood behind the South goal and witnessed, right in front of my eyes, all seven second-half Albion goals; shared between Peter Ward and Ian Mellor. I was fortunate to have a South Stand, front row, season ticket for the glory First Division years when there were too many highlights to mention. “He shot he scored, it must be Peter Ward” was on all of our lips!  

In 1979, I finished my degree, which included a thesis on goalkeeping. I rang up the Albion and Eric Steele invited me to spend a couple of days training with him to see the professional side of the game first hand. I was playing a lot of football and squash at the time, and thought I was pretty fit. At the end of the second day with Eric, I could hardly stand up! The FA Cup run of 1983 holds many memories, especially when my wife’s hometown team, Norwich City, visited the Goldstone in the quarter final. A wayward shot fizzed past the post and was heading straight for my wife’s head, like an Exocet missile, when, nonchalantly, I leaned across, caught the ball, saving my wife from pain! The semi-final at Highbury against Sheffield Wednesday was a very special day, which in many ways eclipsed the Wembley final itself. I have replayed the video of ‘And Smith must score’ many hundreds of times, in the hope the shot will eventually just squeeze under Gary Bailey and give us victory!  

In December 1986, I watched my last-ever live Albion match against Bradford City in Division Two, which ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw. The next day we were off to live in Australia. We settled in Sydney and I have been privileged to work at four of the country’s top private schools, teaching Maths and, of course, coaching football. I currently work at The King’s School and a chance encounter five years ago with the president of Seagulls Down Under resulted in the REMF charity match, Oz version, being hosted at the Wanderers’ field at King’s. The match has now been played annually for four years and the scores have seen three wins for Seagulls Down Under, and a draw!  

As I have a wonderful family of six children, it has been impossible to get home, even for a holiday. Nevertheless, my passion for the Albion has never wavered. I rarely miss a live Radio Sussex commentary via Seagulls Player, even if it means staying up until 2am for kick-off. I wasn’t there when we survived at Hereford, but I was listening to every kick! At last count, I have over 50 Albion kits, including every home, away and second away versions from the last 35 years! Both my eldest sons, Tim and Tom, have visited Withdean and the Amex and it is my ambition to return home for a visit and once again chant ‘Seagulls, Seagulls, Seagulls’ live from the stands!” 

John Sowden 

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