The last time Brighton & Hove Albion played in the top flight of English football, they had an interesting time of it. Though they finished rock bottom of Division One, they also made the FA Cup final and took Manchester United to a replay.
Now they’re going back to the Premier League. Thanks to their 2-1 win over Wigan and Huddersfield’s draw later on Monday, the Seagulls have clinched their place in the top division for the 2017-18 season. Leading scorer Glenn Murray tallied the opener for Brighton, while Solomon March secured their ascent to the Premier League with the winner.
Brighton’s return has been a while coming. Since their last top-flight season in 1983, Brighton have dipped down into the fourth tier on a couple of occasions, and flirted with slipping out of the league altogether. They've sold their old home, the Goldstone Ground, spent a couple of seasons playing some 70 miles away in Gillingham, and ultimately had to wait 14 years to find a new permanent home. They've changed owners twice, and changed managers nearly 30 times.
But it's also been coming. Off the field, Brighton pull the 15th-largest average crowd in the country, and their commercial literature boasts that they "operate largely as a Premier League club." On field, since returning to the Championship in 2011, Brighton have made the semifinals of the playoffs three times, only to find themselves knocked out each time before reaching Wembley. This time around, whether they go on to lift the trophy or not, they've made sure of things.
Perhaps fittingly for a club that spent so long living out of a suitcase, it's their record at the still pretty shiny, still pretty new Falmer Stadium — OK, fine, The Amex — that's underpinned their success this season. They've kept 12 clean sheets at home in the league: five more than their Championship title rivals Newcastle; five more than Premier League leaders Chelsea.
This hasn't just been a triumph for parsimony, however. No side across all four divisions have more wins at home than Brighton's 16, and four members of the squad have hit double figures for league goals. Amazing what having a place of your own can do.
Football being football, no success ever comes without a certain creeping dread about what happens next. And it's noticeable that several of Brighton's best players this season have had their fingers burned by the Premier League before. Leading scorer Murray, now 33, scored 30 goals getting Crystal Palace promoted to the Premier League, but after sustaining a serious injury he couldn't match that rate a division higher with either Palace or Bournemouth.
Sam Baldock went up with West Ham in 2010-11, but was moved on to Bristol City without making a Premier League appearance. And the brilliant Anthony Knockaert, Championship Player of the Year this season, was promoted with Leicester City in 2014-15, but spent most of the season playing in the reserves before rejecting a new contract.
As for their manager, former Workers' Revolutionary Party columnist Chris Hughton is widely liked and respected throughout the game, but his own forays into Premier League management have had mixed results. If his sacking by Newcastle in December 2010 was widely held to be harsh, his departure from Norwich City in April 2014 was much less controversial. The Canaries were floating just above the relegation zone, and were stuck in a dreadful run of form.
Enough negativity, though. Hughton reckons that this promotion amounts to a greater personal achievement than taking Newcastle up in 2010, and looking at the money spent by the teams around them, it's hard to argue. Perhaps the fact that Hughton and Brighton have competed with Rafa Benitez's side all through the season suggests that they have the capacity to mix it with their theoretical betters. And perhaps Burnley's establishment of Fortress Turf Moor this season offers a template for survival.
Even if they don't, at least we'll get a couple more installments of the M23 Derby, as Crystal Palace and Brighton renew their deeply felt, slightly confusing rivalry. So that should be fun.