Growing up a Brighton fan in a primary school in Sussex in the 1990s was a lonely experience.
We were a rare breed back then, like an X Factor contestant who can actually sing.
It wasn’t all that surprising really. At various points in that decade, we had to sell a goalkeeper to pay a crippling VAT bill, suffered three relegations, were made homeless, finished second bottom of the Football League in consecutive seasons, played home games for two years 148 miles away in Gillingham and then moved back to an athletics stadium with no roof. Why support a club like that when you could support Manchester United?
That’s what 80 per cent of kids at school did in those days. You had the odd Arsenal fan and a smattering of Liverpool, but even the likes of Chelsea were unusual pre-Russian money. No, it was largely Manchester United. None of these people of course had any links to Manchester or United and not many would be able to point to Old Trafford on a map even if Manchester was circled in big red pen with a picture of Eric Cantona kicking a Palace fan stuck next to it. They wanted to support Manchester United for one reason and one reason only – the glory.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But the trouble with these Man United kids at school was they weren’t nice about it. Some of their favourite questions included the Monday morning playground classic of “Why do you support Brighton, they’re rubbish?”.
After the United kids had spent their Saturday afternoon bowling with friends while you were stuck on the M1 after a 3-0 defeat at Doncaster Rovers. “Yeah, but which Premier League team do you support?” was another that got a frequent airing, as if it was incomprehensible to follow a club that didn’t lift a trophy at least once a season.
The ironic thing of course is that quite a few of these Man United kids from school are now Brighton season ticket holders. I know one who even became a Brighton season ticket holder for the first season at the Amex and claimed to have supported the Albion all his life. That was until he gave up nine months later because we’d “only” finished tenth in the Championship.
It’s all of this suffering and mickey-taking that us Brighton fans who have been in it for the long haul have had to suffer at the hands of Manchester United kids that made Friday night at the Amex so, so special.
If you could pick one way to secure survival in the Premier League, short of beating Palace and relegating them at the same time, it would be by beating Manchester United.
The best thing about it was that there weren’t any excuses. It wasn’t a backs-to-the-wall performance or a fluke result. United managed one touch in our box in the first half, Maty Ryan had one save to make and were it not for the brilliance of David De Gea, it could quite feasibly have been 2-0 or 3-0.
After all those years, it left one question really and this goes out to all those Man United kids out there who used to taunt those who were brave/stupid enough to support the Albion – Why would you support Manchester United now? They’re rubbish.