There’s been plenty of Albion related literature over the last 10 years to cater for blue and white fact fans. One thing that hasn’t struck me as being touched upon is the wonderful world of hypothesis. Perhaps I can make a series of these dream like situations – for instance, if we’d have won the play-off final in ‘91 we would’ve played Manchester United away first game of the season.
The big ‘if’ though is if we’d have beaten Manchester united in the FA Cup final. The prospect of Albion in Europe is virtually unthinkable now (one game in Ireland just don’t cut it!) but we were quite close in reality. A lot of fans will know who we would’ve played in the first round, but here’s the full non-story.
Back in the 80’s the FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup had a lot more prestige. Those greedy gits in Old Trafford made sure they stripped the FA Cup of any class back in 2000 and obviously the ECWC doesn’t exist anymore – it’s current guise as part of the UEFA cup is a bit cheap these days too. Still, it would’ve been nice to have graced one of Europe’s premier club competitions and it does arouse many thoughts of what would’ve happened if Gordon Smith had tucked the ball home in 1983.
The Cup Winners Cup was regarded as the second most prestigious trophy in Europe at the time, even though it was arguably easier to win than the UEFA Cup. It ran from 1960 to 1999 before drowning in the Champions league torrent, a shame considering the tournament had built a reputation for attacking football and spectacular goals.
The 83/84 tournament was competed by 35 teams – Swansea were ousted in the only preliminary round by 1. FC Magdeburg from East Germany. If Albion were in we would’ve faced a gruelling 2 legger against Czechoslovakian cup kings (and owners of one of the finest football shirts ever) Dukla Prague. Dukla were a staunch communist-backed army side. No-doubt they watched the FA Cup final with relish, cheering on the seagulls, hoping for a chance to see our fabled beach on a trip to the west – alas they got Manchester instead. The Red Devils struggled, drawing both legs, only going through on away goals earned in their 2 all draw at the Na Julisce Stadium. Sadly Dukla suffered greatly after the Wall fell and do not exist in their original form, an AFC Wimbledon-esque Dukla have recently been promoted to Czech Div. 2 so happy days on the horizon perhaps. Also in the first round of the tournament that year were European heavyweights like Barcelona, PSG and Porto plus minnows Avenir Beggen from Luxembourg (lost 8-1), Valletta FC from Malta (lost 18-0!) and our friends from over the water Glentoren who succumbed to the aforementioned PSG 4-2.
The second round would’ve seen a victorious Albion married with another team from beyond the iron curtain - Spartak Varna of Bulgaria would be hosts to the blue and white army. Varna are not an overly successful side in Bulgaria, like us they lost their one and only cup final 4 nil to domestic champions CSKA Sofia, but got the CWC place anyway as the military team were already in the European Cup.
For Albion fans that followed the team into Stalins back yard reward would be hefty with UEFAs balls placing us against everybody’s second favourite team Barcelona. United overcame Varna 4-1 on aggregate, a 2 nil win at Old Trafford seeing the Reds through. The season 1983-84 was an odd one for the Catalans. They had lost the Copa Del Rey the previous season to the Goikoetxea-led Athletic Bilboa. The Basques had won the championship too so Barcelona went through as lucky-losers. On the back of a disappointing season and with a new president at the helm, Barca employed new coach Menotti to bring back exciting football to the Camp Nou. Diego Marradonna was an employee of FCB at the start of the 1983 season, the mercurial Argentine purchased from Boca Juniors – quite a coup for Barca at the time. He was however a tad injury prone during his time on Spain’s east coast. In the previous season he Hepatitis keeping him out for 2 months and sapping his form, this coupled with their next best player Bernd Schuster getting over a horror tackle from the Butcher of Bilboa himself, Goikoetxea. The mad man put paid to Barca’s 1983-84 campaign but slicing down Marradonna in the next Barcelona-Bilboa game, the boot that broke the little Argentines knee is kept in a glass box by the former Athletic captain.
So Albion would of course have had a chance against a healing Barca. In reality, Manchester United lost 2-0 at Camp Nou, but caused rapturous scenes back in Manc with 2 goals from Bryan Robson and a winner from Frank Stapleton (this after United had been knocked out the League Cup and FA Cup by 3rd Division opponents.
After Albion’s, ahem, come-back efforts against the mighty Barcelona, UEFA once again coupled us against another of the worlds most famous clubs - Juventus. The Italians, led by Trappatoni, boasted some of the best players in the world in Platini (enjoying his third successive European player of the season title), Boniek and World Cup heroes Scirea and Rossi. Roma had one the previous years scudetto – sandwiched by 3 Juve wins – thus the Old Lady had to settle for a ECW place. Ultimately the Italians had too much quality for Manchester United. After a 1-1 draw in Italy Juve triumphed 1-2 at Old Trafford to set up a final meeting with FC Porto at the St. Jakob Stadium, Basel. A Boniek winner on 41 minutes won the trophy for Juve in a 2-1 victory.
So that’s that really, the facts show what fun we could’ve had, although in reality the humbling truth is that Brighton & Hove Albion looks odd next to teams like Juventus and Barcelona – at the time (pre-Millwall) we would’ve been the lowliest placed team in their domestic league to have made it into the ECWC.
Originally published in TSLR001