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Brighton Rock: What happened to the Wembley heroes of 27 years ago

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22 Jan 2010 23:00:17

Brighton Rock: What happened to the Wembley heroes of 27 years ago

Managed by their former chief scout, arriving at the game by helicopter and laughing through a comedian's pre-match stand-up routine. It is safe to say that Brighton will be doing none of the above when they visit Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon. Bizarre as it might seem, though, that was their preparation for the 1983 FA Cup final, when the seaside town emptied and Albion took on Manchester United at Wembley. Then again, nothing about Brighton that season complied with any footballing manual. The dressing room was an anarchic place, full of laughter and with little respect for footballing etiquette or its natural order. Back row: Giles Stille (did not play), Chris Ramsey, Neil Smillie, Gary Stevens, Graham Pearce, Terry Connor (cup tied, dnp), Gary Howlett. Middle row: Mike Yaxley (physio), Gordon Smith, Steve Gatting, Graham Moseley, Perry Digweed (dnp), Michael Robinson, Sammy Nelson (dnp), Glen Wilson (kit man). Front row: Jimmy Melia (manager), Jimmy Case, Steve Foster, Mike Bamber (chairman), Tony Grealish, Gerry Ryan, George Aitken (coach) Would that every season since had brought so much fun in Sussex. Albion subsequently lost their ground and very nearly their Football League status. Fourth-round days like these have become a rarity. With the side losing their grip on hard-won First Division status, Jimmy Melia, the club's chief scout and a frequenter of the town's nightspots with his famous white shoes, succeeded Mike Bailey as manager.  EXCLUSIVE: Accrington Stanley will always be No1 for me, says BumbleRobinho will have to hang his designer suit on a old, wire hanger: City's pampered stars are set for a shock at ageing Glanford ParkBrighton boss Poyet offered chance to take charge at Real Zaragoza  January began with a third-round win over Newcastle. Manchester City, Liverpool,Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday went the same way and, in spite of relegation,Albion were at Wembley. Midfielder Jimmy Case recalled: 'There was something about the Cup that season. We weren't very good in the league but when it came to the Cup, the whole town came alive. We just ran it as far as we could. 'We were a bunch of jokers. We knew we were the underdogs against United but we were those types of characters anyway. Before the final, we had a lunch and this comedian, Bob 'the Cat' Bevan, who was a Brighton fan, came in and did a show for us before we got on the helicopter.' Ah, yes, the helicopter. A local journalist came up with the idea when Mike Bamber, the Brighton chairman, insisted the post-final banquet should take place in Brighton, not London. The club's sponsors, British Caledonian, diverted one of their choppers from the North Sea oil rigs to give Melia and Co the ride of a lifetime. Enlarge 'We flew in from our hotel and circled Wembley a few times. It was amazing to see all the fans below, especially when they realised it was us inside,' said winger Gerry Ryan. 'As we touched down, the pilot said: 'The Seagulls have landed', which was quite cool. We landed in a school playing field and then took the team bus the rest of the way.' They led through an early Gordon Smith goal, fell behind to strikes from Frank Stapleton and Ray Wilkins, but equalised with three minutes left via a flying header by Gary Stevens. 'And Smith must score': The moment which cost Brighton the cup in 1983 when United keeper Gary Bailey denies Gordon Smith in the dying minutes In the dying seconds, Smith burst through, one-on-one with United keeper Gary Bailey, the phrase 'And Smith must score...' entered into commentary folklore and Smith didn't score. The following Thursday, Brighton lost the replay 4-0. Ryan lamented: 'Nowadays the final would have been settled on the day, so who knows what might have happened. It felt like our chance had gone.'   Fast forward 27 years to League One and an athletics stadium which has been their temporary home for 11 seasons. Case feels for a club he adored and wants today's trip to Villa Park to be savoured.'The supporters have been hard done by since then,' he said. 'If anybody deserves a cheery time, it's them.'  EXCLUSIVE: Accrington Stanley will always be No1 for me, says BumbleRobinho will have to hang his designer suit on a old, wire hanger: City's pampered stars are set for a shock at ageing Glanford ParkBrighton boss Poyet offered chance to take charge at Real Zaragoza


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