WHETHER Albion fans like it or not, David Bellotti will always be a part of the club’s history.
Unfortunately, news of his death at the age of 71 in Bath last week, sparked celebrations in certain quarters which, whatever way you look at it, is quite unnecessary.
It was all so different when Bellotti arrived at the Goldstone in late 1993. He’d previously won a famous by-election victory for the Lib Dems at Eastbourne, a result which many believe was the beginning of the end for Mrs Thatcher.
His first job as chief executive was to dispense with the services of then manager Barry Lloyd who, after a run of indifferent results, had become very unpopular with the fans.
Immediately by sacking the much-maligned manager, fans saw him as a breath of fresh air. He carried on what later turned out to be a façade by really getting on side with the core support.
He even held out the olive branch to Gull’s Eye, a publication which Pete Kennard and I co-edited, which had previously had a tempestuous relationship with the club, culminating in legal action in 1990.
He offered us an unprecedented dialogue, even stretching to the fanzine sponsoring games at the Goldstone Ground.
He appeared to have overseen the re-structuring of the finances and talked in positive terms about eventually relocating the club away from the Goldstone to a new state-of-the-art stadium.
But the whole sham was exposed in the summer of 1995.
I can vividly recall where I was when I took the original phone call from a very reliable source from within Portsmouth FC, who told me club owners Bill Archer and Greg Stanley had sold the Goldstone and were moving to ground share at Fratton Park.
A couple of days later, while coming back from a funeral in Brighton, I parked the hearse outside the Goldstone and went in and confronted Bellotti.
While he blustered and vehemently denied my allegation, he had that look on his face that told me that he knew that I knew.
As Gull’s Eye only came out in the football season, we had to pass the story on to a local journalist, Clare Byrd, who broke the story despite derision from senior local media figures.
I can actually recall the late Tony Millard laughing down the phone when I told him. retorting it was rubbish. To his credit, he later phoned back and apologised.
From then on, all bets were off so far as Bellotti was concerned. He became one of the most unpopular people in Sussex.
He soldiered on as Archer and Stanley’s front man, enduring threats and abuse the like I’ve never seen at any other football ground from that day to this.
He suffered allegations about his private life and once lasted at a game a mere 78 seconds versus Darlington, before being chased out of the directors’ box by protesting supporters. Even his head of security had a kidnap threat against his prized Koi carp!
His final ‘reward’ was to have to leave his son behind in Sussex and move hundreds of miles away, also knowing he would have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder as, wherever you go in the world, you always seem to bump into a Brighton fan.
So, last week, when his time finally came, I wonder if he’d have said it was all worth it?
I would argue, no. Whatever money Bill Archer paid him, it wasn’t enough.
Can you put a price on having to become a hate figure and, ultimately, because of what you had done, an exile from members of your immediate family?
I would wager, if you asked him one to one, if he could turn back the clock and change things, it would be a resounding yes.
In the beginning, he wasn’t a bad bloke, but was that all part of the façade?
Almost certainly, but everyone of us is flawed.
That’s why celebrating a death, whoever it may be, is ultimately wrong. His family were mourning him last week, regardless of what he had or hadn’t done.
He won’t be forgotten and, bizarrely, his actions probably galvanised and united the Albion support and helped save the club.
It certainly is a funny old game.
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