Brighton & Hove Albion F.C.: The Seagulls are flying high!

On May 3 1997, Albion were losing 1-0 to Hereford United, 27 minutes from relegation out of the Football League and had played their final match at the Goldstone Ground, the club’s home for 95 years, which had been sold to developers.

Even the most optimistic Brighton & Hove Albion supporter could not have predicted the club’s meteoric rise to European football.

But fast forward 27 years and the Seagulls are about to take flight on a European tour for the first time.

Robbie Reinelt’s second-half equaliser at Edgar Street in 1997 kept Brighton in the Football League

Homeless and heading for non-league, Brighton & Hove Albion travelled to Hereford United knowing a draw would be enough for survival, while defeat would condemn the club to relegation.

An own goal by Kerry Mayo seemed like the end. But a late equaliser from Albion’s Robbie Reinelt was enough to save the team – in more ways than one.

Life-long Albion fan Alan Wares said: “It was highly possible, even probable, that if we’d lost, we’d gone out of business.”

Mr Wares, who hosts the Albion Roar podcast, was at the game.

“I never saw the equaliser. When the shot came in, it hit the post and because the stand was so shallow, everyone went up in front of me, so I had to assume someone had equalised when everyone went loopy,” he said.

“The next 20 odd minutes took about three months to go by, and when the final whistle went, it was pandemonium.”

Fellow Seagulls supporter Kieran Maguire, who was also at the match, said if the club had lost that day, there would be no Brighton and Hove Albion.

“It was a horrible football match,” he said. “It was a sickening experience knowing the club potential wasn’t going to be there.”

“While it sounds melodramatic, there was a genuine sense of loss of a close member of the family.”

Reinelt told the BBC scoring that goal was “the greatest moment of my football career”.

“It had the same sort of euphoria I’d suppose you’d feel winning the Champions League, because you knew it could save us and the club could go on to bigger and better things, which they have,” he said.

“And with my left foot that shot could’ve gone anywhere – my left foot is for standing on. But it was the sweetest strike.”

Hereford United, who were relegated that day, folded in 2014 to high debts.

Last season, Albion qualified for the Europa League for the first time in the club’s history

Fast forward 27 years through countless protests and promotions, Albion qualified for the Europa League for the first time in the club’s history after finishing sixth in the Premier League last season.

On Thursday night, Roberto De Zerbi’s side will host AEK Athens in the first group stage fixture. Ajax and Marseille make up the rest of Group B.

Mr Wares says he has been waiting for this moment since he attended his first Albion match in 1978.

“So many of us are much more invested in this football club than maybe others on the account of what we did 25 years ago to save it,” he said.

“And you see West Ham winning their European competition, and you think: ‘If they can do that, so can we’.

Mr Maguire added: “If I was to name the top 10 moments of my life, six of them would involve Albion. And that’s no disrespect to the people I love and care for.”

Brighton and Hove City Council’s economic development leader Ty Goddard said the club’s participation in the Europa League presented “a massive opportunity for both the club and city”.

The Amex Stadium hosted more than 830 events last season, attracting 48,000 guests, with their Premier League success contributing £595m to the local economy.

Mr Goddard said competing in the Europa League could add a further £80m, creating additional jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector.

“A club saved by its fans now gets to play on the European stage. We’re extremely excited about the opportunities which will undoubtedly open up for local businesses,” he said.

“There’s even a possibility that fans’ favourites Piglet Pies and Harvey’s Best will end up as global brands off the back of Albion’s success.”

Meanwhile, Mr Maguire, a football finance expert, said the club was unlikely to make money unless it reached the latter stages of the competition.

“We’ve been the poster boy for how to do it smart, rather than do it big. The club still has a bottom six budget, but finished in the top six last season,” he said.

“But you have to be realistic, and while the hospitality and commercial packages will sell out, if it was Barcelona or Bayern Munich coming to the Amex, you’d be able to charge higher prices.

“The club will break even in the group stages. But they won’t start to make money unless they reach the final stages, and ideally win it and qualify for the Champions League – but that’s probably getting a bit ahead of myself.”

On European match days, iconic buildings across the city will light up in blue and white.

Council leader Bella Sankey has called on businesses and residents to “get creative” and dress the city in Albion colours.

Albion captain Lewis Dunk said: “As someone born in the city and now captain of the club, I’m extremely proud of our achievement of playing in Europe for the first time.

“It’s a brilliant opportunity to showcase the club and Brighton and Hove and I’m sure the city will be buzzing when we stage our home games. I can’t wait.”

Brighton & Hove Albion F.C. are one of the most sustainable clubs in the Premier League

Brighton & Hove Albion F.C. is one of the most sustainable clubs in the Premier League. The Seagulls have a number of initiatives in place to reduce their environmental impact, such as

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Using electric vehicles for their team transport

Solar panels at the Amex Stadium

Brighton & Hove Albion F.C. is also a member of the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework. This framework is a commitment by sports organizations to reduce their environmental impact and to promote climate action.

The Seagulls’ sustainability initiatives have been praised by environmental organizations such as Surfers Against Sewage. The organization has said that Brighton & Hove Albion F.C. is “leading the way” in terms of sustainability in the Premier League.

Brighton & Hove Albion F.C.’s commitment to sustainability is an important example for other sports clubs to follow. By reducing their environmental impact, sports clubs can help to protect the planet for future generations.

Reducing single-use plastics at the Amex Stadium

Recycling rainwater to irrigate the pitch at the Amex Stadium

Serving vegan and vegetarian food at the Amex Stadium

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