I love seeing Brighton and Hove Albion's stars on international duty - 20 years it didn't seem remotely possible
England players scoring hat-tricks used to be quite a rarity, let alone England midfielders.
For that reason, Paul Scholes’ treble against Poland at Wembley in March 1999 has always stuck in my mind, helped by the fact that one of his three goals involved a handball almost as blatant as the Hand of God.
On the same day that Scholes was busy using his feet, head, and hands to notch a hat-trick at Wembley, Brighton & Hove Albion were losing 1-0 against the might of Barnet in a Division Three ‘home’ game at the Priestfield Stadium.
Scott McGleish – who else? – scored the only goal of the game to make it nine matches without a win for the Albion since Jeff Wood’s permanent appointment as manager.
Brighton had been in playoff contention when Wood assumed control following Brian Horton’s departure to Port Vale – now they found themselves looking nervously over their shoulder, 10 points clear of the relegation zone with 11 games to play.
A hardy 2,384 Seagulls supporters trekked to Gillingham for the Barnet defeat. 10 days later and 2,621 were there to witness a 3-1 defeat to Cambridge United. Two good results for Scarborough had cut the gap to the Conference trapdoor to only six points following the Cambridge defeat and Dick Knight could not risk the Albion being dragged in. Wood was sacked.
Had you said to any Albion fan sparsely dotted around Priestfield for the Barnet game whilst England were facing Poland that 23 years later, a Brighton played would be scoring in the same fixture for Poland at Wembley then you would have been taken to a secure unit for a psychiatric assessment.
Even more unbelievable would have been a £17 million Albion forward scoring twice in the same international break for the team rated number one in the FIFA World Rankings. Yet that is where we found ourselves last week - another two moments that you leave you pinching yourself at how far the Albion have come as a club over the past quarter of a century.
Leandro Trossard’s brace for Belgium in their 7-0 win over Belarus should guarantee his spot on the plane for Euro 2020 this summer. With the talent that Roberto Martinez has in his Red Devils squad, there is every chance Trossard could end up with a winner’s medal from the tournament.
An Albion player as a European champion? Add that to the list of things which would have been unbelievable in 1999.
Jakub Moder has already impressed in his brief Brighton career to date since arriving for £9.5 million from Lech Poznan. His equaliser against England was a well-taken finish which suggests there is much to come from the midfielder.
It did not go unnoticed either that the goal came about because of an error from John Stones, making the sort of mistake you rarely see from Lewis Dunk when Brighton play out from the back.
Should Dunk ever receive another shot at international football, then imagine telling a Brighton supporter on their way back from Gillingham in 1999 that one day, the club’s homegrown captain would be turning out for England?
Given that Brighton’s youth team products at the time consisted of Ben Andrews, Paul Armstrong, Danny Davis, Duncan McArthur, Terry Streeter and John Westcott, they would have thought you insane.
International breaks have their fair share of critics, those who find watching England boring and who cannot wait for the Premier League to swing back into action.
That is not for me; I love international football, especially when you see a cosmopolitan Brighton squad jetting off around the world to represent their nations.
Whether it is Trossard and Belgium, Moder and Poland or Percy Tau and South Africa, there is something thrilling about seeing your players competing for and recognised as the best their country has to offer – especially as none of it seemed remotely possible 20 years ago.