Despite greater ambitions, the Seagulls have settled for survival. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief as the team remains in the WSL following the sudden end of the season.
In April 2015, Brighton and Hove Albion set their sights on a course towards the very top. Then-manager, James Marrs, revealed to BBC Sussex that the club wants to be playing in the Champions League within five years.
“We’ve got a five-year plan and want to be in the Champions League by then,” said Marrs. “Our first target is WSL 2 and, if that happens, our next target is WSL 1 and then aim for Europe from there.”
Of course, much has happened since 2015. The leagues underwent a restructuring, while the Seagulls failed to reach division one football until the 2018/19 season.
In that season, Brighton was very much testing the waters. It was their first season as a full-time entity, and they finished ninth out of the 11 teams.
They proved that they could survive in the WSL. But even so, the 2019/20 season was their chance to prove that they could also thrive in the WSL.
“The lessons are that we have to be fitter, stronger, faster and hit the ground running from the off,” said manager Hope Powell. “So we’ve had a really extensive pre-season, the girls are in good shape and raring to go.”
Things started off decently for the Seagulls. In their second game of the season, they almost pulled off a late win against Chelsea. Though, they had to settle for a draw after Adelina Engman’s stoppage time strike canceled out Aileen Whelan’s 84th minute volley.
From there, the results dipped. The team endured several brutal losses. Yet, a total of three wins and four draws proved to be crucial when the season came to an abrupt end in March.
Because six fixtures were ultimately never played, it’s difficult to compare the 2019/20 season to the one prior. There were still a few fixtures left that Brighton easily could’ve come away from with points.
What’s clear is that the Seagulls did not thrive during the campaign. But did they at least improve over the previous WSL season?
From a points perspective, the answer is yes. But only slightly. In fact, if you look at it in mathematical terms, they only improved by a margin of 0.01 points-per-game (PPG).
Outside of the WSL, Brighton found success in the FA Cup. They reached the quater-finals, defeating the likes of Aston Villa and Crystal Palace along the way. While the tournament is currently in limbo, there is a chance it will resume in autumn. If that’s the case, the Seagulls would face-off against Birmingham City in the semi-finals.
The team also made it to the quarter-finals of the FA Women’s League Cup. During the group stage, Brighton earned an impressive point against Arsenal. After drawing during regular time, the Seagulls won the ensuing penalty shoot-out. While Brighton would bow out in the next round, Arsenal went on to the final.
While Brighton’s 2019/20 season was nothing to gloat about, there were hints of a team on the rise. Couple this with the £7 million upgrades aimed to reintegrate the team with the club’s Lancing training ground and perhaps you’ve got yourself the kind of team Marrs was alluding to five years ago.
“Looking to the future, we want to be one of the top clubs in the country,” said Powell. “We want to be in Champions Leagues and be in major finals. We know it’s going to take time, we have to get the right players in place.”
The gap to the top three of the WSL will require great effort to dismantle. But the improvement of teams such as Brighton is crucial for the league’s competitiveness. Now, more than ever, it’s time for the Seagulls to take flight.