(Photo by @OfficialBHAFC)
by Paddy von Behr
STEVE Sidwell is taking a trip down memory lane with Brighton and, if he can replicate the form of his last visit, he might just help the Seagulls into the Premier League.
In 2002, a teenage Sidwell joined Brighton on loan from Arsenal and the move proved a kick-start for his career as five goals in 12 games earned the midfielder a move to Reading.
Fast forward more than 13 years and he is back on loan at the South Coast club, this time from Stoke City as a 33-year-old with just one Premier League appearance this season and once again vying to prove his worth.
He finds Brighton in a very different position, however, challenging for promotion to the top flight rather than fighting to preserve their status in the second tier – something they failed to do after he moved on.
“I had a spell down here before, many moons ago, which did influence my decision,” said Sidwell.
“I remember it very well. It was short and sweet – 12 games and a few goals. I remember the goals and I really enjoyed my time, but the Reading thing came along.
“We were in and out of relegation at the time and we definitely had a squad good enough to stay in the division.
“If I had stayed on, you never know what would have happened and what path my career would have taken.”
The path it did take is an adventurous one, with the London-born midfielder helping Reading to the Premier League, before spells with Chelsea, Aston Villa, Fulham and now Stoke.
He arrives at the Amex Stadium with plenty of top-flight experience and joins a couple of old mates from his Fulham days, including in-form striker Bobby Zamora.
“Bobby and I are close friends outside of football, and David Stockdale as well,” he continued. “I spoke to them in depth about the club and they had great things to say.
“I am quite lucky in that I’m naturally quite fit and I look after myself. I have just turned 33, but I would describe myself as a young 33 and people will see that when I get on the pitch. I am sure I can take the chance and hit the ground running.
“They are a good bunch of lads and it’s a lovely place to come and work every day. I have had a bit of time on the training pitch and I’m looking forward to it.
“There were one or two interested clubs and Brighton was among them. They were waiting quietly in the wings and, when things started heating up and progress was made, I came to the stadium and spoke to the manager. It was a no-brainer.”
Chris Hughton rolled out the welcome mat for Sidwell, and the Brighton boss will be hoping to see his new man – on loan until the end of the season – return the favour.
The Seagulls began the weekend fourth in the Championship, back on track with a couple of wins following a worrying run of seven league games without a win and five without even finding the net.
A loss to Middlesbrough in December, however, ended a streak that had seen them avoid defeat in each of their first 21 league games this season.
Sidwell admits he feared for the Championship points record set by his Reading side in 2005-06.
“With the run of form they were on at the beginning of the season and that unbeaten record, even I was looking over my shoulder at the Reading 106 record we still hold,” he added.
“There was a little blip over Christmas, but things are back on track and it’s just about churning out results on a weekly basis.”
*This article was originally published in The FLP on 31 January 2016.