Last week it was the three-times European Champions Manchester United, this week a club, that 22 years ago was desperately clinging on to a draw at Hereford. A result that, by their fingertips, kept them in the Football League. A fortnight after Bournemouth, it’s another trip to the South Coast as Norwich travel to Brighton Hove Albion.
It just goes to show the variety of clubs within the Premier League when considering we are still not a third of the way through the season, City have faced four former European Champions (Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Manchester United) and three clubs that, in very recent history, have avoided relegation to the conference and non-league football on the final day of the season (Burnley 1987, Bournemouth 2009 and Brighton 1997).
Few can begrudge our next opponents their time in the spotlight. For as a club they have suffered more than most. Homeless for years, on the brink of destruction and of course playing for their lives to avoid relegation into the non-league abys.
For 12 years they played at the Withdean stadium. This small, temporary, athletics track was wholly unsuitable for hosting football games. It was a symbol, a permanent reminder, of how far Brighton had fallen. City visited three times and actually won all three (0-2 August 2002, 1-3 October 2005 and 1-2 in February 2010). The last win, of course, coming in the triumphant, and fortunately only, League One campaign. A win which secured a comfortable double for the Canaries, having won 4-1 in the earlier fixture at Carrow Road.
The two clubs first played each other on the 28th March 1921, a 2-0 Brighton home win. Norwich had to wait a mere three days for revenge, winning at home 3-0.
Norwich City v Brighton Hove Albion became a regular fixture in the Division 3 South calendar as they went head-to-head over the next 14 seasons, the Seagulls coming out on top with eleven wins to City’s nine, thanks largely to a run of six consecutive home wins.
We have also drawn Brighton out of the velvet bag on eight occasions. This means that we have played Brighton more than any other side in the FA Cup.
Such frequent meetings in the world’s oldest cup competition have thrown up a few interesting quirks. The first meeting, for example, in 1945/46, was the first and only time that the FA Cup 3rd round was played over two legs. Brighton won both legs with an aggregate score of 2-6. Even by today’s dismal standards, losing twice in the cup in the same year takes the biscuit.
Bizarrely, we played Brighton in the 1946/47, 1952/53, 1954/55, 1955/56 and 1957/58 FA Cups. I’m not sure what the statistical odds of that happening would be but it’s got to be pretty big. For the record, we progressed in three of those competitions including a 7-2 thrashing in the 1946/47 2nd round.
By far the biggest game of those eight came in the 1982/83 FA Cup. Back then the FA Cup was a really big deal. It captivated the nation, overshadowing both league and European football. Cup magic had reached fever pitch in the cities of Norwich (particularly as we had defeated Ipswich in the 5th round) and Brighton when the two were drawn to play in the quarter-final.
Both were now First Division clubs, but Brighton were struggling. In fact they would finish the season rock bottom, which made City’s 1-0 defeat all the more painful. The game itself was also full of controversy with Brighton’s hard-man midfielder, Jimmy Case scoring the winner despite the linesman flagging for offside.
7,000 Norwich fans had made the trip to the Goldstone in a capacity crowd of 29,000. They witnessed a host of missed chances for the Canaries and with it disappeared City’s best opportunity to make their first semi-final since 1959. Brighton, meanwhile, made it all the way to the final, themselves missing a glorious chance to win it, before losing the replay 4-0 to Manchester United.
The 1982/83 season would be Brighton’s last in the top flight until they finally returned at the end of the 2016/17 season.
On their way to promotion they trashed Norwich 5-0 at their new and impressive home, the Amex stadium. It marked a real low point for Alex Neil. The first real signs that something was wrong in the Canary ranks and a slap in the face at how far City had fallen behind in our own promotion bid.
The Norwich keeper that shipped five that day was none other than Michael McGovern. And, such is the small world of football, the Brighton manager was recent ex-Canary, Chris Hughton.
A scan of the Norwich starting XI on that late October afternoon and it was scandalous that they suffered such a trashing – Ryan Bennett, Timm Klose, Alex Tettey, Martin Olsson, Wes Hoolahan ……Alex Pritchard also started. He endured the full brunt of the home support having controversially U-turned on a move to join Brighton, instead picking Norwich despite being halfway down the A23.
Another starter at the Amex was Russell Martin. By now his reputation with the City faithfully was beginning to wane (not helped by defeats like that). However, with over 300 league and cup appearances, 17 goals and a genuine caring club man, his status as a club legend is set in stone.
Of those 17 goals, one special one stands out. On the 22nd November 2014, just after half-time, Martin connects perfectly with a cleared corner. It’s an absolute screamer into the top corner from 30 yards out. Goal of the season – maybe goal of the decade.
The team on the receiving end that evening – Brighton Hove Albion. Martin’s hometown club which helped launch his career.
How we would love a Martin ‘thunderbolt’ on Saturday.
Failing that one going in of Pukki’s backside would be equally as welcome.