In November 1897 the first professional football club in Brighton and Hove, Brighton United, was formed. It competed in the Southern League at the County Cricket Ground in Hove from 1898, but the gates were poor and the club folded in 1900 before the end of its second season. Some enthusiasts then formed Brighton & Hove Rangers, an amateur club who played to the north of Brighton at Withdean. Rangers managed some excellent results against good opposition and secured a place in the Southern League for 1901-02, but then they too were forced to disband.
The indomitable John Jackson, the former manager of United, organised a meeting on 24 June 1901 at the Seven Stars Hotel, now O’Neills, in Ship Street at which a new, third club was formed. Brighton & Hove United took up the now-defunct Rangers’ place in the Southern League. Because of complaints by Hove F.C., serious local competition, the name was soon changed to Brighton & Hove Albion before a ball was kicked.
Playing in ‘fisherman’s-blue’ shirts and white ‘knickers’ at the Hove County Ground, the team challenged for promotion from the Second Division but fell away to finish third in their first season. A number of games were also played at Hove F.C.’s Goldstone Ground, and from 1902 the two clubs shared the arena. In 1904 the shirt changed to blue and white stripes, blue and white being traditional colours as befits a city which built its reputation on its seaside location.
Throughout the years the club have kept mainly to the stripes, with the odd foray into red, white and blue stripes, and also plainer shirts highlighted with white sleeves or red and white pinstripes. We cannot however fail to mention the early 1990s kit which saw not only striped shirts, but also striped shorts. The mental image of the Silentnight Hippo in its striped pyjamas endures. This era also saw one of the most disliked away kits worn by an English club – a red and white number that defies description. “Camouflage” is the only possible word. Happily the stripes returned, and the Fashion Police are well satisfied.
The Goldstone Ground hosted its last football game on 26th August 1997 after 95 years as the home of Brighton & Hove Albion. The club was then forced to share a stadium, albeit 70 miles away in Gillingham, Kent, but that was actually the same situation when it moved to share the Goldstone in 1902.
The Goldstone Ground was always something of a ramshackle stadium, but generations of supporters came to love the old place as a second home, and many of them on that final day took souvenirs home with them as treasured mementos rather than leave it all to the demolition men.
Brighton & Hove Albion has returned to the Withdean area in 1999 to play at their temporary home Withdean Stadium. This ground opened in 1936 and has served as a tennis court, a mortuary during the war, an athletics arena, a boxing venue, and a zoo!!.
The club’s original crest features the arms of Brighton and Hove, set against the club colours of blue and white. This traditional design was used after the Second World War until about 1974. There has also been a hybrid design employing the shield of Hove and the dolphin crest of Brighton, used on stationery and programmes from 1966 until 1974. The Brighton arms feature two dolphins surrounded by the six gold martlets of Sussex. Above the shield, a further pair of dolphins divided by two branches of coral refers to the sea and the South Coast climate. Hove’s arms also feature the County martlets. The ship at the top of the arms represents a 16th Century French Galley, commemorating French attacks on the Hove Coast in the early 16th century. The two dolphins have a lengthy history in the town of Brighton, the origin of which cannot now easily be traced. It is now a matter of speculation whether the dolphins were adopted because of the town’s association with the sea or because they had adopted the emblem of one of the leading families in the town. Both the Scrase family, who were associated with the Manor of Brighton and represented amongst the Commissioners, and the Lashmar family, one of whose members was High Constable in 1799 bore dolphins on their coat of arms.
However the coat of arms was used until about 1974, a calligraphic shield with the letters BHAFC was worn on the team shirts in 1958-59. A dolphin design, never worn on shirts, was used for a brief period in the mid 1970s, showing the friendly aquatic mammal as a silhouette with the legend ‘The Dolphins’ on the cover of match programmes, before giving way to the classic seagull roundel in 1977.
This design was inspired by the birth of an alternative nickname to ‘Albion’. Said to have been invented by supporters in a West Street pub on Christmas Eve 1975 as a response to the Crystal Palace chant of ‘Eagles, Eagles!’ the cry ‘Seagulls, Seagulls!’ rapidly caught on. ‘Dolphins, dolphins!’ would just not have worked.
The seagull image and rallying cry helped to cement the growing bond between the club and its burgeoning support over the years and so in 1977 the club badge was officially changed to a seagull silhouette.
The nickname saga started at the turn of the twentieth century when during the summer lambs would graze on the Goldstone Ground’s pitch. It earned Brighton’s reserve team the name ‘The Lambs’. There have been more attempts to foist a nickname on supporters. By October 1950 when the club were branded as ‘Shrimps’ in reference books for entirely obscure reasons, the Brighton Standard, the unofficial organ of the Supporters’ Club launched a competition for a new tag. There was never a shrimping industry of any significance in the area and supporters felt that ‘shrimp’ was a derogatory term for something of someone small and insignificant. Southend United’s faithful will wholeheartedly disagree….
‘Dolphins’ was among the suggestions then, along with ‘Holidaymakers’ and ‘Seasiders’, but the winner was the contrived ‘Brovions’, derived from Brighton and Hove Albion. The new name was used by the crowd on 9 December 1950 but, needless to say, it didn’t catch on. ‘Seasiders’ was occasionally used by the press and the fans, but this applied generally to all coastal teams.
Twenty-two years on, in the summer of 1972, the club itself held a competetion for a nickname. This was prompted by advice from the Football League that, in order for clubs to obtain copyright and/or trademark protection with a view to increasing commercial revenue, they should design new badges excluding all heraldic aspects. Amongst the suggestions were ‘Coasters’, ‘Seasiders’ and ‘Mariners’, reflecting the maritime location. Others referred to Brighton’s rise to prominence under the Prince Regent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, resulting in ‘Regents’, ‘Sovereigns’, ‘Bucks’ and ‘Royals’. Birds also provided a number of entries: ‘Bluebirds’, ‘Swifts’, ‘Seagulls’ and ‘Martlets’, the heraldic bird from the local arms. Other suggestions included ‘Southdowners’, ‘Goldstoners’, ‘Sparklers’, ‘Gems’ and ‘Diehards’. The most popular choice then however was ‘Dolphins’. This friendly beast had a topical theme locally because a dolphinarium had opened at the historic Brighton Aquarium in 1969. If it hadn’t been for ‘Eagles’ the nickname would still have been around.
Lambs, dolphins, seagulls, how appropriate at Withdean, a former zoo….