I was dreaming of Brighton and Hove Albion being in Europe in 1981 – now it’s reality

Roberto De Zerbi and his players make Brighton & Hove Albion history in Europe on Thursday (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
Roberto De Zerbi and his players make Brighton & Hove Albion history in Europe on Thursday (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

Mike Bailey’s Brighton had won 2-0 at Southampton the previous evening and 17 games into the 42-match campaign were, for the first time in the club’s history, in the European places in the table.

Bailey, who’d replaced the popular Alan Mullery in the summer, had gone about transforming the way Albion played; at times it wasn’t pretty, but clearly it was working.

As it turned out, results levelled out – one win in the last eight games told a story but so did some high points, namely league wins at both White Hart Lane and Anfield, but the Albion ended up in 13th place, at that time their highest-ever league finish.

That record stayed until Graham Potter’s team finished ninth in 2021-22, but that was a mere side issue as to what happened to the Albion between 1981 and 2011.

It’s well documented – in footballing terms we’d been to hell and back. But most significantly, we got back.

And now, this Thursday eveing at 8pm, we find ourselves playing in the European competition I spoke about as a relatively naïve 17-year-old all those years ago, albeit one no longer called the UEFA Cup.

AEK Athens provide the opposition in the first game of our Europa League campaign and it’s almost like we’ve run out of superlatives, but very nearly a year to the day since Roberto De Zerbi succeeded the Chelsea-bound Graham Potter, we find ourselves at the summit.

But it’s not the summit. It’s a decade since Gus Poyer spoke about a glass ceiling (clearly that night, in the wake of the Palace play-off defeat, he knew he was going). But with RDZ at the helm, is there actually a glass ceiling?

From his initial baptism of fire at Anfield 12 months ago, a thrilling 3-3 draw, even with the occasional blip that every manager has, RDZ has met almost every challenge thrown at him full-on.

Can any of us question anything he does? No-one is perfect, so there will be the odd blip, and even on Saturday many thought his starting line-up at Old Trafford suggested he had one eye on tonight, yet then we went out and dismantled the woeful Manchester United.

These are truly golden times, and RDZ’s team learn from every game, win, lose or draw. But what more are they capable of?

Clearly talk of Champions League is currently as pie in the sky as my UEFA Cup thoughts back in 1981, but with the football the Albion play, and the ability in this squad, much is possible.

They say you never see a bookie on a bike, so there’s a reason the Albion are second favourites for the Europa League. Enjoy the ride...