The uniquely morbid torpor Sunderland are besmirching the Premier League with won't last much longer, and next season, it will be replaced by something much more exuberant: whereas Sunderland are enervating, Brighton will be energising. The Seagulls were promoted to England's top flight for the first time in 34 years yesterday, and the scenes at the Amex Stadium were a mingling of deep joy with disbelief and defiance.
It must have been quite something for Brighton fans to stand on the field, with flesh now fitted to Premier League dreams, given the context of their last notable on-field stand, twenty years ago. Amy Lawrence writes about it beautifully in today's Guardian:
Rarely have I felt so moved inside a football ground. Rarely have I felt so compelled to clamber out of the press box, pelt down the stairs and scamper on to the pitch. That was the sensation on the last day of the Goldstone, when it felt like a significant uprising was taking place which stretched far beyond the boundaries of Sussex. This was a moment to sum up the need for football lovers to resist clubs being bought and sold by investors who saw them as concrete, iron and conveniently strippable assets. Nothing more.
Brighton had been stripped bare by tycoons Bill Archer and Greg Stanley, who gave a cash-strapped club £80,000 to hoist them from the abyss of a winding-up order. This gift turned out to be a loan, with the Goldstone Ground secured as collateral. That stand in 1997 came with the ground sold, prepared for demolition, and no alternative had been found.
They were a club without concrete and iron to call home, and at the same time were in danger of falling through the floor of league football. A week later, they faced Hereford United on the final day of the season, with the loser dropping down. A draw would save Brighton on goal difference.
With the club's future on a knife-edge, it was gallingly apt that they fell behind to an own-goal, after just 21 minutes. Just under an hour later, however, they miraculously forced an equaliser, through Robbie Reinelt. From there, Brighton somehow clung on...
Dick Knight, the chairman interviewed on the field near the end of that clip, proved the White Knight: investing his money to rebuild the club. They narrowly dodged relegation again the following season, before the rise began: from 17th, to 11th, to 1st in the Third Division, followed by immediate promotion to the First Division a year later. Relegation was followed by immediate promotion. They survived relegation in 2004/05, but were not so lucky a year later, going on to spend six straight seasons in League One. They were promoted to the Championship in 2011, where they have remained ever since.
Play-off heartbreak last year presaged the delirium of yesterday, and the madness was tempered by Brighton's assertion that they would not spend recklessly to fortify ahead of trips to Anfield, Old Trafford and the Emirates. Not that Brighton fans will mind that.