Rich Hook sat with the fans during the last game at Withdean:
It was a privileged position to sit right in the heart of the Albion fans as We Are the Champions rang around Brighton’s ‘temporary’ home for the last 12 years.
The hosts were beaten 3-2 by Huddersfield, but for Seagulls’ fans the occasion was more important than the result today.
Albion Life Chairman, Dick Knight, was celebrating both his birthday and the end of the Withdean era.
He said: “What a great way to finish, a full ground cheering on the champions!
“It’s never been a perfect ground, but the Withdean has provided some great moments over the years.”
Fans making their final trip down Preston Road agreed, 81-year-old Peter Moore was at the game with his grandson George.
He said: “I’ve come nearly every game since they’ve been here, but nothing can beat last week when Southampton started celebrating [their goal] and we replied by chanting ‘Champions’.”
The party atmosphere inside the ground was quietened early on when Arsenal loanee, Benick Afobe, gave Huddersfield the lead after eight minutes.
Brighton started to dominate possession and created chances, as Ashley Barnes and Liam Bridcutt’s both hit the woodwork, but the visitors went in 1-0 up.
But the scoreline didn’t dampen the mood at half-time.
One man in the South Stand said: “It’s all about enjoying the season we’ve had – it’s definitely the best since we’ve been here [Withdean].”
Their optimism was rewarded a minute into the second-half when Elliott Bennett was bundled over to earn Albion’s 17th penalty of the season. Barnes missed his initial spot-kick, but was on hand to head home the equaliser.
Brighton continued to press, but were punished when a defensive mix-up between Inigo Calderon and goalkeeper Peter Brezovan was pounced upon by Afobe, to put Huddersfield back in front on 61 minutes.
Manager Gus Poyet brought on Gary Hart – a player described by season-ticket holder Chris Huet as: “Our most loyal player in the Withdean years.”
But it was fellow substitute Matt Sparrow who equalised on 69 minutes, firing under Ian Bennett when put clean through.
Both sides had further chances with Afobe denied his hat-trick by Brezovan’s reflexes, before Hart missed out on a fairytale finish as Bennett saved his shot.
The game looked set for a draw, until Danny Ward showed great skill to beat the home defence and fire home an 89th minute winner.
The result earned Huddersfield a crucial three points in the fight to join Brighton in the Championship next season.
Although disappointed by the result, Seagulls’ supporters enjoyed seeing their team collect the League One trophy after the game.
Having completed his lap of honour with the trophy, manager Gus Poyet said: “I’m so proud of these players and everything we have achieved this season, but we couldn’t do it without all the staff behind the scenes [at Withdean].
“People who’ve worked here the whole time say it’s the end of an era, and what a great way to end it.”
Huddersfield fans Joe Sugden and Charlie Lawler said: “We travel to every away game and the Withdean’s probably the ugliest ground we’ve been, but Brighton’s fans made it work with the atmosphere they created.”
Some Seagulls’ fans had on shirts printed with‘Goodbye Goldstone’ [Brighton’s last ‘permanent’ home].
But for Albion fans it’s now all about looking forward to next season in the AMEX Community Stadium and in The Championship.
Coming this week: Joe Kasper’s review of Albion’s season and Tom Stewart reflects on the Withdean years.