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Brighton & Hove Albion: From the brink to the big time

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20 years ago Brighton & Hove Albion were battling for their lives at the foot of English soccer’s fourth division.

The Seagulls survived and now they’re soaring.

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On Monday Chris Hughton’s squad sealed promotion to the Premier League for the first-time in history as Brighton are back in the top-flight once again after exiting in 1983.

There will be plenty of fun next season in the English seaside resort as “Sussex by the Sea” will be belted out by Brighton fans across the Premier League.

It’s been a long, hard, and often dark road back to the top but Brighton are the latest example of a club being rewarded for coming back from the brink, rebuilding sensibly and eventually being back by wealthy owners, such as Hull City, Swansea City and Stoke City. 

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Their South Coast rivals Southampton and Bournemouth, who were both in administration and at the bottom of the third and fourth tiers respectively less than a decade ago, are perfect examples for Brighton to follow. Next season there will be three South Coast clubs in the Premier League (barring an almighty collapse from Bournemouth in the final weeks of the season) and with Plymouth and Portsmouth both securing promotion to the third-tier this weekend after similar tales of administration and woe, we’re in the midst of the English Channel’s soccer heyday.

Back to Brighton, though, and their suffering was particularly brutal both two decades ago and also in recent seasons.

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After securing a 1-1 draw on the final day of the 1996-97 fourth division season against Hereford United (Robbie Reinelt scored a late equalizer to keep them in the Football League at Hereford’s expense as the Seagulls needed a win or a draw) they then controversially moved from their Goldstone Ground home and had to play at Gillingham for two years, a town over 70 miles from Brighton.

Eventually they secured a lease to play at the Withdean Stadium, a council-owned athletics track which was converted into a stadium by temporary bleachers and had a capacity of under 9,000. Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the Withdean will tell you of its bizarre quirks and the fact that some fans were sat some 50 yards behind the pitch, behind a long-jump pit and running track, made it an uncomfortable setting. Brighton’s kit sponsor back then was “Skint”, the record label of local DJ Norman Cook (AKA the world renowned Fatboy Slim).

In England, being ‘skint’ is a colloquial term for having no money. That was exactly the case for Brighton as fans were just happy to have a club and that was about it as long-time chairman Dick Knight tried desperately to bring in funds.

Hamstrung by their temporary home, Brighton nonetheless rose up through the leagues to the second-tier on two occasions and they eventually financed their stunning 30,000 capacity AmEx Stadium through current chairman Tony Bloom who took over from Knight, the man who saved them from extinction. However, the stadium move was delayed by over five years as planning permissions were turned down and court battles took place.

Brighton’s fans are used to being patient and seeing the future of their club hanging in the balance. Gaining promotion to the Premier League will now secure their future for generations to come.

Before this season the Seagulls came close to promotion to the Premier League in 2012-13 and 2013-14 but lost in the play-off semifinals on both occasions, leaving supporters frustrated and the owners going back to square one to try and rebuild the playing squad with their dream of reaching the top-flight so close, but yet so far.

Over the past two season Hughton has delivered a solid, dependable side and Brighton agonizingly lost out on automatic promotion to the PL on the final day of last season with a draw at Middlesbrough who were instead promoted automatically ahead of Brighton on goal difference. Brighton then once again lost in the playoff semifinals (the third time in four seasons) but this season they’ve been pretty much ever-present in the top two and they’ll seal the Championship title with a win at Norwich City on Friday.

Brighton have been knocking on the door to the Premier League for much of the past four years and now it has finally opened you can expect them to hand Hughton plenty of funds to help them become an established PL outfit as they look to take on bitter rivals Crystal Palace.

They’ve been to the brink and back and like we’ve seen with plenty of others PL teams promoted in the past few years, that’s usually a recipe not only for success but also perspective as they plan ahead for the next challenge.

When you’ve come from the depths of the fourth division, had no stadium and seen the abyss of non-league starring at you in the face, battling against relegation in the Premier League (which will almost certainly be Brighton’s task next season) suddenly doesn’t seem that scary.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”