Peter Brackley – Our Tribute

We were, of course, truly saddened to hear of the death supreme commentator, raconteur, writer, broadcaster, mimic – and fellow Albion fan – Peter Brackley.

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Whether entertaining millions on Football Italia, or just 100 at a sports charity event, Peter Brackley was at his best behind the mic

Peter, a product of the excellent BBC local radio system in the early 1970s, was the consummate professional, always ready, always asking intelligent questions, even when – as a 21 year-old – he got to interview an irascible Brian Clough while the latter was at the Albion. This encounter is hilariously re-told in Spencer Vignes’ new book ‘Bloody Southerners’ – out this week.

He worked for ITV on several major tournaments – World Cups, European Championships – delivering his unique, measured commentary, excited at the right times, outraged at others, before telling a pearl of a one-liner in order to get himself and everyone else back to normality, lest he be too hysterical (as others could be) behind the mic.

He was best known to millions as the voice of Football Italia on Channel 4 in the 1990s. Such was his witty, yet genuinely enthusiastic style, his became THE voice of Sunday afternoons. His partnerships with a host of sidekicks – Ray Wilkins, Luther Blissett, Trevor Francis and more besides – were of genuine bonhomie, gentle tickling (referring on air to an injured Wilkins as ‘Hopalong’), and total professionalism.

He was also the voice of the bedroom. The spotty teenage adolescent bedroom, that is, for anyone who played Pro Evolution Soccer without ever acknowledging sunrise and sunset. Such was his presence (maybe even his omnipresence), he told us he had to tell people he wasn’t really there inside their machine. He’d, like, you know, pre-recorded everything…

His mimicry was also much in demand. Hilarious on the after-dinner circuit, Brian Clough, Jimmy Greaves, Brian Butler and many more were all in his sights, as well as having an arsenal of bespoke characters to fill out yet another story.

But it was when he ‘came home’ that we really got to appreciate him.

He worked as a voiceover man for the Albion, covering highlights of the Under 23s and the Women’s teams, hosted many events for club and supporters alike, and performed an unbroadcastable routine at an Albion End of Season Awards dinner.

Peter was also generous with his time behind the mic for charity causes too. The Julie Hodder Cup is an annual wheelchair tournament, organised by our good friend Steve Darby on behalf of Albion In The Community and Chailey Heritage, and takes place at Brighton University Sports Hall every summer (seriously, Steve – an indoor tournament in July…?). Teams from the Albion, AITC, American Express and others raise funds for the privilege of spending the day playing wheelchair and powerchair football, usually to get clattered by Daniel Cullip.

A great time is had by all, made so much better with Peter’s ongoing monologue to the action unfolding in front of him – occasionally assisted by Darby, Cullip Guy Butters or Gary O’Reilly.

Each time, no-one was spared Peter’s leg-pulling. When I turned up part way through the day, Peter would clock me coming in… “Ah, glad to see Alan Wares from The Albion Roar has made it. It’s an excellent radio show, and one for all Albion fans if you want to listen. Alan tells me he has great plans and lofty ambitions for the show. Indeed, he’s in negotiations for a second listener to come in on loan…”.

And so it was in August 2014 that we finally managed to snare Peter into coming on to The Albion Roar. He’d always said ’yes’ to doing it, but it was getting our diaries aligned which was the issue. Needless to say Peter was superb. The stories flowed, the impressions were brought out of the cupboard once more, and one-liners were fired off staccato-fashion.

Peter was genuinely enthusiastic about the show, and offered Ady and I some invaluable advice and experience. His support was much appreciated. He’d always wanted to come back, especially with his double-act partner, Radio 4’s Garry Richardson, but we never could get it together. In the end, the Roar’s loss.

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Brackers (left) with Garry Richardson at a St George’s Day charity function at the American Express Community Stadium

And for those who were there, who can forget his excellent ‘Goldstone Days’ show at the Theatre Royal in February 2017…? Peter had managed to corral an impressive roster of Albion alumni on to the stage that night, and his monologues as a spiky, miserable caretaker were outstanding, causing the legendary Peter Ward to corpse on stage – even after they had rehearsed their routine so diligently. A brilliant night, all written and conceived by Peter.

I last saw Brackers in the West Stand Upper earlier this season. I was a little surprised, especially as he had walked up the stairs. He was in good spirits and it was great to see him. We had a brief chat, and we wished each other well as we went in to watch the game.

Every time I met him, Peter made me feel like a friend, and these – more so than Football Italia or Saint & Greavsie – are the memories I will take with me. Thank you, Peter for your kindness, your insights, your generosity of spirit and, of course, the many, many laughs. May your kind soul rest in peace.

And so, for your delectation, and as our heartfelt tribute, here is Peter Brackley, entertaining us live on The Albion Roar from four years ago.

Enjoy.

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Brighton & Hove Albion: Taylor-made without Clough

‘The past explains the present’ was the first thing my teacher, John Simkin at Dorothy Stringer, said as I had my first History lesson – a subject I’d chosen to take for ‘O’ Level. (The fact it was my favourite subject at school, and the only exam I failed is another story best left to, er… history.)

In 1973, Brighton & Hove Albion had previously been a bit of a nothing football club, located in one of football’s backwaters (maybe it still is today) in a somewhat rundown Conservative town (definitely not that today) with nothing to shout about on a national level, save for a Charity Shield victory 63 years earlier. So when Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, who had only six months previously led Derby County to the European Cup semi-final, headed south (occasionally) to manage the club (occasionally), it was a real planet-thumper of a story, football-wise.

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In ‘Bloody Southerners – Clough And Taylor’s Brighton & Hove Odyssey’, Spencer Vignes, author of several shining sports books in his back catalogue already, tells the story of not just Clough and Taylor, but of a dynamic and ambitious young chairman Mike Bamber (a mere three years older than Tony Bloom was when they respectively took over the reins). These three are cast front and centre in an incredible story of ambition, ambivalence, arrogance and, in certain cases, altruism spread over 33 months, but with the legacy lasting years, if not decades.

Vignes’ book is expertly researched, and wonderfully paced, superbly highlighting fact over many previously held fantasies; fantasies now shown up merely as urban myths. But it’s in him teasing and tickling the memories from the supporting cast of players, writers and broadcasters from the period which is where the story truly comes to life. Vignes interviewed over a dozen people who were there – and cross-checked with a half-dozen more – people whose memories were largely unfaded by the passing of four and a half decades. Well, as a third division player, you’re not going to forget those two cruising into town, are you?

The story of Clough and Taylor at Brighton has only ever previously been told in patches, and even then, only from the point of view of the main protagonists, who can – and often do – write their own take on events. This book, filling in the gaps which hitherto had not really been written about, is worth every page.

Fact is, it’s not good enough, indeed it does the club a disservice, to tell any old gushing story of how great it was that lowly Brighton & Hove Albion could attract two of England’s football giants through its doors. Mercifully, this is something Vignes clearly steers well clear of, and in reading the accounts from those who were there, there is no way he could have written that type of account anyway.

Instead, what is made clear is that, while the love and appreciation 45 years on for Taylor is hardly universal, he comes out of this chapter in their turbulent and ultimately separate lives much better than Clough; the latter, for certain passages of the book, is often relegated to a mere footnote. Who knew that could ever happen to ‘Old Big ‘Ead’?

But the central point – and this is where the past explains the present – is that the legacy of their time here far outlasts their actual time here. As we travel through this oh-so-brief period in the club’s history, Vignes absolutely nails the contention once and for all that, while Alan Mullery is (rightly) lauded as one of the greatest-ever managers of Brighton & Hove Albion, the truth is, he was given an enormous leg-up by what Peter Taylor’s departure had left him with during the summer of 1976. And Taylor would not have been here without Clough. From these acorns etc.

Brighton & Hove Albion fans will see this as a fascinating historical document in their club’s history. Clough and Taylor followers – way beyond Derby and Nottingham – will see their heroes in a typical light, fully aware of their sporadic behaviour. For everyone else, this is a further insight into the politics of what happens when two big fish fall into a little pond.

So how did it all unfold from 1973 to 1976? I thoroughly recommend you read Spencer Vignes’ book to find out.

‘Bloody Southerners – Clough And Taylor’s Brighton & Hove Odyssey’ by Spencer Vignes is published by Biteback Publishing on 18th October – RRP £12.99.