As a Brighton fan, it’s hard to believe that we will finally be playing in the Premier League next season. Just 20 years ago the club were well and truly in the gutter and facing relegation from the professional ranks of English football. Roll forward 20 years and after a real roller-coaster ride for the fans, we are finally there! You can keep your Rochdales and Accrington Stanleys; we’re going to play Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea next season.
There have been many changes at my beloved club. In those 20 years we lost our home, The Goldstone Ground; spent 2 years in exile playing at Gillingham’s ground; put up with the council-run athletics track of The Withdean Stadium for an entire decade; and then finally we got our glorious new American Express Community Stadium in 2011. Now it’s time to take the next step up and rub shoulders with the best teams in England.
For me, living in Spain, it has been really interesting to follow the Spanish connection with the club. Some players have become like gods to the fans. Others have not shone quite as brightly as expected. Here though, are Las Gaviotas – The Spanish Seagulls, all of whom have played their part in the club’s rise to glory.
Gus Poyet (Manager 2009-2013)
Yes, yes, I know Gus isn’t Spanish. He may be from Uruguay but he is the one who kick-started the Spanish Armada! Our ship was adrift when he took over from Russell Slade. A transformation was coming but I don’t think any of use were ready for the fireworks, the public whinging and the lack of plan B. We had great times with Gus at the helm, but there were also frustrating moments. Ultimately though, he was that start of the great things to come. After the Albion he went to Sunderland where he remained just as outspoken. Time with AEK Athens and Real Betis followed in the same vein and who knows how it’s going with the press in Shanghai, beyond the Great Firewall of China?!
Iñigo Calderón (2010-2016)
I don’t think anyone could have believed when Calde signed that he would go on to become such a cult hero. Six years of bleeding blue and white for us followed, and most of us were upset when he was released in 2016. Hopefully when he’s finished playing (he’s currently with Anorthosis in Cyprus) he’ll come back to the Albion and join the coaching staff.
Francisco Sandanza (2010-2011)
Sandanza didn’t really stand much of a chance in a side where Glen Murray and Ashley Barnes were banging in the goals. He grabbed 2 goals in 15 appearances but only made the starting line-up twice. A shame. We’ll never know if he could have made the grade, although most fans thought it was probably beyond him. He’s now back in Spain helping Girona emulate Brighton and reach the top flight.
Vicente Rodríguez (2011-2013)
How our mouths watered when Vicente signed. We were left pinching ourselves that such an illustrious player would choose to move on from Valencia and choose us. Sadly injuries restricted his appearances to just 32 in two seasons, but there were many memorable moments in those games. Was he the most gifted player to ever play for us? Quite possibly, although a certain Frenchman might now argue that it is no longer the case! Nowadays he’s retired from playing but still in the game on the technical staff back in Valencia.
Bruno Saltor Grau (2012-Present)
Bruno is our captain fantastic in these wonderful times. At 36 years old he still finds the energy to lead from the front, back and side, and without him I doubt that we would have had quite the “togetherness” that has made this season so special. Like Vicente before him, he chose to leave the warm shores of Valencia for the South coast of England. Can he remain fit enough to play in the top flight? Only time will tell and it would be a shame for him to miss out. Stay fit, mi capitán, and lead us into the unknown.
Andrea Orlandi – (2012-2014)
Orlandi came to us from Swansea and lit up many games playing in the blue and white stripes. At times his performances were magical, but inconsistency led to a lack of opportunities. Even so, it was a surprise when he was let go in 2014 and ended up at a turbulent Blackpool. After two years in Cyprus, he’s now on the books of Novara Calcio in the Italian Serie B.
David López (2012-2014)
A legend with Athletic Bilbao, it was something of a coup to capture David Lopéz’s signature. Over two seasons he worked his magic on the pitch and he will perhaps be best remembered for a fantastic free kick goal against arch-rivals Crystal Palace. “Spanish Dave”, as he was known amongst the fans, is now with Huesca who are on the fringes of the play-offs in Spain’s second division.
Óscar García Junyent (Manager 2013 -2014)
Óscar was a funny appointment. Known for his playing days at the end of the 1990s in Spain, particularly with Barcelona and Valencia, he was an unknown quantity in managerial terms. He was appointed having led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Israeli league title and chose us over Champions League football. He left after a humiliating play-off defeat to Derby and returned to Israel but political instability there saw him return to England to manage Watford. Health problems meant his reign was short lived but having sorted himself out he’s now in charge of Red Bull Salzburg at the top of the Austrian league and is being touted as a possible future Barcelona boss! Here he is with our superhero Chris Hughton, boss of Norwich at the time.
Leonardo Ulloa (2013-2014)
Yes, I know, another non Spaniard but “that man from Argentina” was signed from Spanish club Almería who were not at all happy to lose his services. In just a season and a half be became a legend at the club, especially to those of us who were at Nottingham Forest in May 2014 to see his late late goal take us into the play-offs against all the odds. Leicester came knocking for a princely sum but a lack of appearances made a Premier League Champions medal a little less sweet than it should have been.
David Rodríguez Sánchez (2014)
We already had a “Spanish Dave” so bizarrely David Rodríguez ended up being called “Spanish Rodney” in a sop to Only Fools and Horses! He came to us from Celta Vigo with a good pedigree for goalscoring but just one goal and ten appearances later he was on his way back to Spain. His knack for scoring in the Spanish league continues at Alcorcón despite their struggles in the second division.
Adrián Colunga (2014-2015)
Colunga came to Brighton with high hopes and expectations. Sadly it never quite worked out that way. There were occasional glimpses of what he had to offer but he was never able to prove his worth to the club. A goal-less loan to Granada soon followed before he made his way to a struggling Mallorca side. Now he is one of six Spanish players in the Anorthosis side alongside Calderon in Cyprus.
Jack Harper (2015-2017)
Some may say Jack isn’t Spanish. He was born in Scotland but grew up in Spain and found himself in the youth set-up at Real Madrid. YES! We signed a player from Real Madrid! Sadly Jack never got to stake a claim in the first team at the Amex and moved back to Spain to play for Malaga’s second string where the goals seem to be flowing once again. He’s also in the Scottish Under-21s so maybe one day he’ll be the one we regret letting slip away.
Luis García (2016 – Present)
The wonderkid from the Canary Islands. Luis Garcia is yet to get anywhere near the first team but hopefully one day his decision to leave Spain for Sussex will be rewarded. He’s a regular in the Albion’s Under-18s and is often among the goals. It was reported in the press that the likes of Barcelona were sniffing around, so he must have real potential. Let’s hope we’re the club that can help him reach the top of his game.
Michael Robinson (1980-1983)
No blog celebrating links between Spain and Brighton would be complete without a mention of Michael Robinson. A star in the early 1980s, Michael played for three seasons at the Goldstone Ground when Albion were last in the top flight of English football. He bowed out in the 1983 FA Cup final joining Liverpool before ending up at QPR from where he moved to Spain and played in Pamplona with Osasuna for two years. That wasn’t the end of his association with Spanish football though as he went on to master the language and had his own weekly football show on Spanish TV for 14 years. Many readers of this blog in Spain will be familiar with his voice!
Gabi the Alpaca! (2015-Present)
No, I’m not kidding. Gabi is an alpaca who supports Brighton! I should know as I named her. Seagulls in Spanish is Gaviotas, so why not Gabi for short? You can meet her for yourself if you go and Experience Alpacas in Andalucia. It’s an incredible thing to do.
Who knows what the future will hold? Pre-season friendlies in the Nou Camp or a Champions League final against Real Madrid? Well, we can all dream, can’t we!