Anthony Knockaert said he wished his father could have been there to celebrate with him
The skilful Brighton playmaker’s older brother Steve died eight years ago, and he was hit by further tragedy in November when his father Patrick passed away at the age of 63.
Yesterday, as thousands of ecstatic fans cavorted on the Amex Stadium pitch and his team-mates celebrated wildly in the stands when Brighton finally made it to English football’s promised land, the 25-year-old found a moment amidst the madness to speak about what it all means to him.
Knockaert, voted the Championship’s Player of the Year last week after a season of outstanding displays and 15 goals as Brighton made it back to the top flight after an absence of 34 years, donned a T-shirt to pay tribute to his father and brother bearing the words: “To daddy, we did it for you, RIP.”
The winger, whose run had set up Brighton’s second goal in the 2-1 win over Wigan that, coupled with Huddersfield failure to beat Derby, sealed promotion, had been incredibly moved when 10 of his team-mates went over to France to support him at his father’s funeral, along with manager Chris Hughton.
Knockaert has been voted the Championship's Player of the Year
“I was thinking about my dad yesterday,” said Knockaert. “He had been amazing in my life, the main man, and I wished he was here with me to celebrate.
“But that is life. Every day I work so hard for him and you know if everything happens for me in the right way it is because he gives me the power to fight for him.
“It’s been a tough one for me but because of this I have got an even bigger desire to work hard and to show that what he believed about me, I will do it for him.”
The solidarity his team-mates showed him last year has now etched Albion into his heart.
“I was talking to someone about that, my dad passing away, and I was telling him, ‘If I was playing for any other club in the world, I don’t think they would have done that’,” Knockaert recalled.
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“Coming all the way from England to France and cancelling training to come to my dad’s funeral was a thing that I will never forget, and I still don’t know even now how to say thank you to them.
“Now for me they are not just some team-mates but friends forever and this football club, I owe them a lot. That’s why I give every single bit of my life on the pitch and they deserve it because this club is something special and you cannot see that in any other club in the world.”
Knockaert, who started his career at Guingamp, played just nine games for Leicester as they arrived in the Premier League under Nigel Pearson in 2014 before rejecting their contract offer and joining Standard Liege, from whom he moved on to Brighton a year later.
Play-off heartbreak last year only stiffened Albion’s resolve this time round, and Knockaert said: “We worked so hard over the last two years and we deserve this. We were so unlucky last year and we wanted to bounce back from that disappointment.
“Now we are one win away from the title. It would be amazing if we could achieve that. Everyone was expecting Newcastle to be champions, and we are now so close to doing it. It would be an unforgettable season for us if we could.”
Chris Hughton and some of the Brighton players went to France for Knockaert's fathers funeral
A play off semi-final defeat against Sheffield Wednesday brought last season to a shattering end, but Knockaert said: “We came back to pre-season and we said, ‘With the quality that we have, we can do it again’. And we showed on Monday that we were not wrong.
“What was the difference? We just had more wins! I don’t know, maybe the quality. But every game this year we worked so hard.”
It had been a gamble to drop down into the Championship when Knockaert arrived at the Amex in January 2016, but he said: “I am never going to regret the choices I made because I wasn’t playing too much in the Premier League with Leicester and it was for me time to go somewhere else.
“I always believed in my quality and when I had the chance to come here I came straight away because I knew the ambition that the club had. It was an easy decision, and now it’s a perfect decision.”