The season 1983-84 saw the first league visit of Chelsea. The visiting fans rioted and football was threatened with destruction by the hooligan element that had no interest in the game.
New Manager Chris Cattlin built a good new team but there was no quick return to Division 1. For his first match in charge unbeaten league leaders Charlton Athletic visited the Goldstone and were dispatched 7-0.
Following the 1982-83 FA Cup Final season, Liverpool had to visit the Goldstone before an all-ticket crowd of only 19,057 (Liverpool did not take their full allocation) and the Chelsea riot had discouraged many fans. Brighton won comfortably 2-0 with Gerry Ryan playing well and scoring a goal. Financial problems because of the relegation and falling gates began to pose limitations from the free spending days. The nucleus of the team included Eric Young (replacing Steve Foster in the centre of defence), Steve Gatting, midfielder Danny Wilson, Irish international winger Steve Penney, prolific goalscorer Dean Saunders, and Gerry Ryan playing his best ever football in attack. Brighton went out in the Fifth Round in 1983-84 to the runners-up in Division 1 and finalists Watford 0-2.
Before the 1984-85 season Mike Bamber lost his position as Chairman of the Board, and was replaced by Bryan Bedson. Both Brighton and Portsmouth were in the promotion race and they both missed out narrowly, without really exciting the crowds. Albion with Graham Moseley in goal only conceded 34 goals in 42 League games, but only Terry Connor scored regularly. A new striker was needed.
Dean Saunders was signed on a free transfer from Swansea City.
In 1985-86, Brighton visited Division 1 Newcastle United , and came up against Peter Beardsley and Paul Gascoigne, and won 2-0. The FA Cup run ended in a disappointing 0-2 defeat in the Quarter-finals at home to Division 1 Southampton before an all ticket 25,069 crowd. League form was middle of the table, (below Crystal Palace and Portsmouth) and with falling crowds causing serious financial worries, the Directors felt compelled to take some action to bring about a resurgence of the glory years.
The end of the 1985-86 season ended with the acrimonious dismissal of Chris Cattlin and protest marches of 500 supporters through Hove.
Dean Saunders was leading scorer with 19 goals.
Alan Mullery was appointed as manager by the new Board. There was
no new money to buy players and after defender Gary O'Reilly was sold to
Crystal Palace for a give-away £40,000 to ease the financial problems,
Alan Mullery resigned. Barry Lloyd became Manager and the season ended
As a financial crisis loomed, the Management
embarked on a series of decisions that were the root cause of the problems
the club faced in the next decade. Barry Lloyd sold all the good
players for paltry sums: Dean Saunders, Eric Young, Danny Wilson, and Terry
Connor, and then introduced very ordinary players. The club finished bottom
of Division 2 in 1986-87. Barry Lloyd changed the play from passing football
to an unattractive direct ball game. The club introduced a compulsory Membership
Scheme that prevented any new spectators, and the view was impeded by anti-hooligan
fences. Crowds fell drastically with the shoddy goods on show, and as any
businessmen knows, once you lose your customers it is difficult to get
them back. Together with the give away prices and the destruction of the
team that Cattlin built it was hardly surprising the fans were annoyed.
Most of them voted with their feet, and they never went back!
Albion Supporters Association (External Link)
In 1987-88 Brighton figured in the Division 3 promotion race and after winning eight of the last nine games, with the penultimate game drawn, Brighton went up in second place behind Sunderland. The team were not convincing until the late run and the crowds did not return. Only 19,800 watched the home game they had to win against Bristol Rovers. Garry Nelson was signed as a striker and potted in 32 goals which was an excellent strike rate. Steve Gatting stood out in defence as a fine reader of the game.
In 1988-89, despite spending £700,000 on ground improvements, part of the East terrace had to be closed, never to reopen. The ground capacity was now officially 23,000. Barry Lloyd went to to non-league Barnet and broke the record for a non-league player going to a league club twice in a week with two £100,000+ signings of Robert Codner and Nicky Bissett and then paid an astonishingly large sum for Larry May at £200,000 when he was nearing the end of his career. These were average Division 2 players. In an away game at Crystal Palace the referee awarded a record 5 penalties, 4 of them to Palace. Brighton finished 19th in Division 2.
In 1989-90, the Police insisted on closing the gates for an England 'B' international with only 16,125 spectators inside, and over 2,000 unable to get in. (This was the season following the Hillsborough disaster). There were demonstrations against Barry Lloyd in a season in which Brighton flirted with relegation and finished 18th.
With all the grounds in the top two seasons going all-seater, plans
were again muted for the construction of a new stadium as everyone agreed
that the Goldstone was unsuitable for improvement. Waterhall was the first
choice but there were the obvious problems over both finance and planning