Relegations are normally agonising and tense and miserable.
And if most of 1989/90 was that for Stoke City – the last away match was something else entirely.
By April 28, 1990 Stoke were sitting bottom of the Division Two table and 15 points adrift of safety with two games to play. They were heading to the south coast to take on Brighton and Hove Albion.
Goals had been in short supply but gallows humour was not.
Remarkably, the club shop had even started stocking T-shirts to commemorate the drop into Division Three, priced at £3.99 each.
Brighton officially clocked the travelling support at 1,800 but it was nearer double that – and they were there for a party; a relegation party.
On the pitch, Stoke went a goal down two minutes into the second half but responded with a goal rush that was as welcome as it was unexpected. Two from Tony Ellis, one from Wayne Biggins and another from Ian Scott completed a remarkable turnaround.
“Little wonder,” wrote Ian Bayley in the Sentinel, “many of the fans burst onto the pitch at full-time to mob the players. Not only had the colourful travellers – with their fancy dress, inflatable toys and sunglasses given away by club directors before the game – had a day out to remember, they had been treated to the best result of the season.”
Brighton media could not believe the size and good nature of the following considering the circumstances. Home fans responded and handed out sticks of rocks before kick-off – then delivered a round of applause to the away end at the end.
Manager Alan Ball, who had taken charge from Mick Mills in November after Stoke had only won one of their first 16 matches, said: “That’s how it’s been all season, loyal fans backing a club in tough times rather than kicking us when we are down.
“Up to half-time we were rubbish and I told the players so at the interval. Our big following deserved a better showing and the encouragement the team got from going a goal in front was mirrored in the way they played.”
Kevin Bremner, 47
Tony Ellis, 50, 77; Wayne Biggins, 70; Ian Scott, 80
Brighton: Digweed, Crumplin, Chapman, Curbishley, McCarthy, Dublin, Gotsmanov, Robinson, Bremner, Codner, Wilkins. Not used: McGrath, Cormack.
Stoke: Fox, Butler, Fowler, Beeston, Blake, Sandford, Boughey (Sale, 74), Ellis, Ware, Biggins, Kelly (Scott, 58).