Brighton and Albion are now creating their own high-class coaching tree - Scott McCarthy
Easter Monday, 2002. Bristol City were the visitors to Withdean Stadium with both the Robins and Peter Taylor’s Brighton side pushing for promotion out of the old Division Two.
To say it was a massive game would be an understatement.
Brighton ended up winning 2-1 on an afternoon that is etched in the memory for three reasons.
The first was that it should have ended about 9-2 to Bristol City.
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That it did not was because Michel Kuipers gave one of the best displays of an Albion goalkeeper ever seen.
The visitors could have played for 90 days rather than 90 minutes and they still would have found no way past an inspired former Dutch marine.
The second is that Brighton’s smash-and-grab raid was completed in the ultimate smash-and-grab style, via a last-minute goal from Lee Steele.
Forget that Football League highlights show you used to have to tape because it was on at 2am, Steele’s winner should have been shown on an episode of Crimewatch as it allowed the Albion to commit daylight robbery.
And the third reason for it being so memorable?
The reception afforded to Bristol City manager and former Brighton favourite Danny Wilson before the game.
As Wilson made his way around the running track, he was given a standing ovation by the entire Withdean crowd which managed to hold kick-off up as Wilson returned the applause.
Nineteen years ago, seeing an ex-Albion player in an opposition dugout was a rarity.
Hardly anyone with a Brighton connection went into coaching, probably because of how low down the pyramid the Albion were.
Either that or consistently finishing towards the bottom of the table put them off football for life.
Wilson receiving a hero’s welcome stands out because the chance to thank former players returning as part of another club’s coaching staff never happened.
Terry Connor had his role as Mick McCarthy’s long-term assistant and Brian Horton went into management but other than that, the former Brighton players in management cupboard remained pretty bare.
Well, not any more. The modern-day Brighton place a lot of stock on bringing back players who once pulled on the blue and white and showed an aptitude for management during their time at the Albion as coaches once their careers begin to wind down.
Gary Dicker is the latest man to return to the Amex for such a reason.
Dicker departed Brighton in the summer of 2013 having helped turn the Albion from a side who avoided relegation to League Two on the final day of the season into one who finished in the Championship play-offs.
Following his departure from Kilmarnock, Dicker has been signed as a specialist over-age player for the under-23s.
He will impart his experience onto the young men in the development squad at the same time as taking his first steps into management with a role as player-coach in Andrew Crofts’ management team.
Crofts himself was signed from Yeovil Town in 2019 to fulfil the same over-age player/coach role.
He made such a success of it that when Simon Rusk left his job as under-23s manager last winter to take over National League side Stockport County, Crofts was the obvious choice to assume control of the development squad.
Elsewhere, Bruno and Ben Roberts are involved with the senior squad.
Roberts in particular has done an unbelievable job as goalkeeper coach since he returned to Brighton in 2015.
David Stockdale had the best two seasons of his life under Roberts, Maty Ryan won countless points for the Albion during his first three seasons at the Amex and now Robert Sanchez has gone from loan spells in League One and Two to a place in the Spain national squad inside of a year.
Then there are Steve Sidwell and Gordon Greer, both who have roles within the academy.
Many casual observers said that Brighton were mad to sign an injury-prone, 32-year-old Adam Lallana to a three-year contract last summer.
The length of that deal was dictated though by Brighton’s desire to get one of the most intelligent players in the game onto their coaching staff once he decides to call it a day.
Look around the country and you will see managers and coaches who started their journey at the Albion.
Nathan Jones continues to punch above his weight with Luton Town in the Championship, Rusk has made an excellent impression in his first six months at Stockport and Brighton’s under-18s manager Mark Beard has just joined Rusk as his assistant at Edgeley Park.
Liam Rosenior is Wayne Rooney’s right-hand man at Derby County, Luke Williams is number two to Russell Martin at MK Dons.
A little further afield and Inigo Calderon is head coach of the under-18s at La Liga side Deportivo Alaves. Wouldn’t it be great to see him back at the Albion one day?
In the NFL, they call this a coaching tree; numerous head coaches can all trace the start of their coaching journeys back to one head coach who they served under. In 2018, 28 of the 32 head coaches in the NFL were connected to Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.
Sir Alex Ferguson has had a similar impact in English football.
A decade ago, it seemed like every other club in England was managed by a player who worked under Ferguson.
Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson, Gordon Strachan and Paul Ince were all in the Premier League, while the likes of Mark Robins, Roy Keane and Sir Alex’s son Darren were further down the divisions.
What Brighton are doing now is creating their own coaching tree.
The Amex is churning out high-quality coaches who are in demand across English football.
With good managers as important as good players these days, it is another step towards Tony Bloom’s ambitions of the Albion becoming a top 10 Premier League club – and a far cry from when Wilson was one of the only flag bearers back in 2002.