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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.

Platini vows to return to soccer after “end of long nightmare”

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PARIS (AP) Banned former UEFA President and FIFA vice president Michel Platini says he is planning to return to soccer after Swiss federal prosecutors confirmed he was not being charged in an investigation into possible financial wrongdoing.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Platini says in a statement it’s “the end of a long nightmare for my family and those close to me.”

Since September 2015, the former France midfielder had the status of “between a witness and an accused person” in criminal proceedings opened against then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter. No criminal case was ever opened against Platini.

The evidence related to Blatter authorizing FIFA to pay Platini $2 million in uncontracted back salary in 2011.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

FIFA’s ethics committee also investigated Platini’s request to FIFA for pension contributions he was not entitled to. It was agreed by Blatter and added more than $1 million to Platini’s retirement fund.

Platini was eventually banned for four years, through October 2019. Both he and Blatter denied wrongdoing but Court of Arbitration for Sport judges refused to overturn his ban and that of Blatter’s.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The case meant Platini was removed from the UEFA presidency and he was barred from trying to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in 2016.

Platini, a former France captain and coach, says “I will come back: where, when, how? It’s too early to say. But I will come back into football.

“Because football is my life and I deny anyone the right to deprive me of my life,” the 62-year-old Platini says.

Neymar appears in good shape after first week with Brazil

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar finished his first full week of training with Brazil on Saturday in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

The striker continued his recovery, dribbling and passing at high speed in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before the national team sets up camp in London on Monday.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

[ MORE: Neymar “annoyed” by latest (and constant) transfer speculation ]

Earlier in the week, members of Brazil’s coaching staff said Neymar was fit to train but they tried to reduce pressure on him by saying it would take time until he delivered his best performances.

Left back Filipe Luis said Neymar did well in training but still needs to forget the injury.

“I had a serious injury in 2010 and I came back with fear. In the first chance I had in a game, I went with it all so I could lose that fear. I saw it didn’t hurt and I just forgot,” Luis said. “It will be the same with Neymar, the first time an opponent kicks him … he will forget it.”

In the first training session in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, Neymar occasionally dragged his right foot onto the pitch. On Thursday he took his right boot off, sat down for a few minutes and looked upset. Once the football was underway, he seemed as fit as his teammates despite accidentally kicking the pitch with his injured foot. He soon afterward got back in action.

[ MORE: Messi: It would be ‘terrible’ to see Neymar at Real Madrid ]

In the first and only Brazil open training session, with fans screaming his name on the sidelines, a playful Neymar nutmegged right-back Danilo and flipped the ball over Luis’ head.

Throughout the week Neymar showed his finishing was sharpening, especially from close range.

After Saturday’s training Neymar welcomed his girlfriend, actress Bruna Marquezine, and family members to the Granja Comary training ground.

With Brazil players off duty for the rest of the day, Neymar is expected to take some teammates back to his mansion in Mangaratiba, near Rio.

The 20-strong squad will meet again Sunday morning at the Brazilian football confederation headquarters in a visit to their museum.

Players then travel to London hours later and will set up camp until June 8 at Tottenham’s training ground.

Ronaldo hints at exit: “It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid”

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In the minutes after helping Real Madrid win their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo dropped the most unexpected of transfer bombshells on the world.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

With three more seasons remaining on his current contract, Ronaldo appeared to hint that he expects leave the club this summer, at the age of 33.

“It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid,” he told the television broadcast with tears in his eyes, revealing that he will announce his plans for his future “in the coming days.”

Gareth Bale, who scored Saturday’s winning goal, said something quite similar during his post-game remarks.

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Perhaps it’s not the most surprising development on the whole, given his age and the obvious need for a youth movement at the Santiago Bernabeu, but to choose that stage — mere moments after winning his fifth career UCL title (four with Madrid) — to tease something so newsworthy and unexpected was certainly eye-opening.

Gareth Bale hints at Premier League transfer

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Gareth Bale jumped off the bench with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Moments later he scored one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals via an outrageous overhead kick, then added another late on to seal a 13th European title for Real.

[ MORE: Mohamed Salah injured ]

Yet speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale’s mind was quickly on why he didn’t start the game as Zinedine Zidane instead went with Isco and Karim Benzema in support of Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

“Obviously I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions,” Bale said. “The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did…

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Asked about a potential move back to the Premier League, Bale had the following to say.

“I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season. I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it and go from there,” Bale said.

That sound you can hear is the phone of Bale’s agent ringing…

[ MORE: Ronaldo also hints at Real Madrid exit

Seriously, he has every right to question why he wasn’t playing more often and the Welsh international has been in fine form in recent weeks with six goals in his last four games.

Zidane made the right call because Real Madrid won their third-straight European title but it appears that Bale is getting fed up with being the odd man out at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If that was his final game for Real, what a way to go out. Now the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and others will be battling to bring Bale back to the Premier League, with his former club Tottenham said to have first refusal on buying him but surely they’d be unlikely to afford his wages and transfer fee.