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Rivalries No 2 – Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace
This is probably the most unlikely rivalry of all, though it is no less bitter despite being so surprising. The rivalry is accompanied by a fair amount of violence, even though it was not even a rivalry until fairly recently. While the two clubs have a long history of facing each other competitively, the two sets of supporters only really grew to see the other side as rivals as recently as the 1970s. The rivalry, which is usually referred to as the A23 or M23 derby, has been called “the fake derby” and “the most pointless pointless rivalry in football” by some.
In fact, the pair had met regularly over the years since 1906, when they were both in the Southern Football League. In 1920 they were founding members of the Football League Third Division and transferred to there to continue facing each other. There were even back-to-back matches on Christmas Day and Boxing Day 1951, but there was little animosity between the fans. Maybe it was more to do with football culture and how it changed as the hooligan element and the casuals really came to the fore in the 1970s in England that kept the rivalry from erupting sooner.
Certainly it is understandable from a Brighton point of view that they see Palace as their main rivals, for long periods they were the nearest major club to Brighton geographically. It is Palace’s role in it that is surprising, as they have so many London rivals to focus on instead, but the ill-feeling is genuinely on both sides. It only really began to heat up when the two met on the day of the 1974/75 season in Division 3 (today’s League 1), Brighton, then nicknamed the Dolphins, were managed by Peter Taylor as Brian Clough had left recently. Recently relegated Palace were managed by the flamboyant Malcolm Allison and both sides were aiming for promotion that season.
They had not faced each other for 11 years and the 26,000 crowd at the Goldstone Ground was bigger than the usual gate Brighton managed to draw. Added to that, there were multiple arrests inside and outside the ground, which was blamed on excessive drinking due to the hot weather as the Dolphins picked up a 1-0 win over the Eagles. Neither team managed to achieve promotion that season and so had to face each other once more the following time round. Once more the pair were aiming to go up.
The first match at Selhurst Park saw Brighton clinch a 1-0 win while Palace manager Allison complained about Brighton’s overly physical approach. The atmosphere was described as a “cup-tie atmosphere” by the Evening Argus. Prior to the return match at the Goldstone a group of Brighton fans came up with a way of countering the Palace fans’ Eagles chant. Each time the Palace fans chanted “Eagles! Eagles!” the Brighton fans would respond by chanting “Seagulls! Seagulls!” Brighton managed another win, this time 2-0, but the game was overshadowed by crowd trouble as Palace fans threw smoke bombs and other missiles onto the pitch. Referee Ron Challis threatened to abandon the game due to it.
While the Seagulls chant became a part of Brighton’s match-day repertoire, even leading to the club officially changing its nickname and badge over time, neither manager lasted as long. Taylor resigned from Brighton after failing to gain promotion and Allison was sacked. Though the sacking was as much to do with his off-field antics, such as being photographed in the team bath with porn star Fiona Richmond, as it was for failing to earn promotion.
The next season saw two former teammates at Tottenham Hotspur made manager. Spurs’ former captain Alan Mullery took over at Brighton, while Palace turned to his vice-captain Terry Venables. The duo came in with a rivalry of their own already simmering from that time at Spurs and it was soon to spill over onto the pitch. October 1976 and the two faced each other at Brighton’s old Goldstone ground and the game had to be stopped three times due to smoke bombs thrown onto the pitch, the game ending 1-1.
They faced each other in the first round of the FA Cup, again at the Goldstone, and again it was a draw, this time 2-2 in front of a large crowd. Mullery was unhappy with Palace’s negative tactics and publicly complained about them, increasing the bad feeling and ensuring the atmosphere cranked up a notch. The replay at Selhurst Park in November also saw a crowd much higher than the usual attendance and again was a draw. Bad weather saw a second replay postponed twice, but it did nothing to lower the ill feeling between the two.
Eventually the game took place on 6th December at Stamford Bridge amid a feverish atmosphere and Palace took the lead in the 18th minute. Referee Ron Challis disallowed a Brighton goal in the second half but then shortly afterwards awarded the Seagulls a penalty after Barry Silkman fouled Chris Cattlin in the area. Brian Horton stepped up to convert it only for Challis to order a retake for encroachment to the fury of all involved with Brighton, as the only players to encroach wore Palace shirts. Paul Hammond saved Horton’s second attempt and Palace held on to win 1-0.
Understandably aggrieved, Mullery approached Challis (who was ever after known as Challis of the Palace to Brighton fans) to “discuss” decisions and was escorted away by police to a chorus of abuse from the Palace fans. Mullery says one fan then poured a cup of hot coffee over him, which made him respond by pulling some loose change out of his pocket, throwing the coins onto the floor while shouting: “That’s all you’re worth, Crystal Palace”. He was then hauled away by police while flicking the ‘Vs’ at Palace fans with both hands and swearing profusely at them. He was later fined £100 by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute. That was probably the moment that the rivalry became truly ensconced in the hearts and minds of Brighton fans, not helped by Palace beating them 3-1 at Selhurst Park in the second league match.
Both teams made it up a division, Brighton in 2nd, while Palace got third. Ahead of the new season, in a move that no doubt ramped up the rivalry, Brighton officially changed their nickname to ‘Seagulls’. The following season saw both games between the clubs drawn but still needed Mullery to appeal for calm during the 1-1 at the Goldstone after smoke bombs were thrown onto the pitch. After both clubs failed to earn promotion, they were stuck together for another year.
The 1978-79 season certainly helped to increase the sense of rivalry with a battle for the top spot which ran right up until the final game, with Brighton ending the season top. In those days there was no rule about playing all the games on the final day and so Palace still had their final game with Burnley left to play. We can only imagine how much it must have hurt the Brighton faithful when Palace won and so ended the season top of the table by just one point. That is enough on its own to begin a rivalry of sorts. And once again they would be in the same division the following season.
The top flight was a struggle for both clubs and saw Venables leave Palace to take charge of QPR in the second half of it. Mullery left Brighton a year later, leaving the rivalry simmering below the surface. The rivalry could have faded away then but in 1982 Palace chairman Ron Noades stoked it up once more by appointing Alan Mullery, of all people, as manager of his club. Noades later explained: “I wasn’t aware of the history, the anti-Brighton, anti-Mullery situation. I brought Mullery in because one of my directors thought he’d be good for us.” Unfortunately Mullery was not good for Palace fans as crowds dropped massively due to his appointment and he left in 1984 with both sides back in the second tier.
In 1985 Brighton fan favourite Gerry Ryan’s career was ended by a tackle by Palace defender Henry Hughton. Hughton broke Ryan’s leg in three places and it led to violent clashes between the fans after the game. The early 1980s had been dominated by the Seagulls, Palace had to wait until 1986 for their first win, which ended a Brighton push for promotion. That was after the return of Mullery to Brighton, while Palace now had Steve Coppell in charge. Mullery soon left and it was Palace’s turn to fight for promotion. In late April 1987 there was more violence at the Goldstone Ground as Brighton beat them 2-0. At the end of the season Palace missed out on promotion by just 2 points, but Brighton finished bottom and were relegated.
There is little of interest, for any other than fans of the two clubs, that happened in the final years of the 1980s, other than a match in 1989 which saw referee Kelvin Morton award 5 penalties in just 27 minutes! Palace were given four of them and managed to miss three, but still went on to win the game 2-1 thanks to the combination of Ian Wright and Mark Bright.
The 1990s saw the two teams mostly kept apart as Brighton struggled with ownership issues and spent most of the decade struggling in the 3rd and 4th tiers of the English leagues. In 1997 and 1998 Brighton only narrowly avoided relegation after finishing second bottom of the entire Football League. Palace did have more relative success on the pitch but they also spent some time in administration during the 1990s themselves. It was not until October 2002 that the two faced each other once more on the pitch. The match kick-started Andy Johnson’s career at the London club, after his hat-trick helped the Eagles to a 5-0 win at Selhurst Park. It was enough to make him a hero to Palace fans. It was three seasons before Brighton managed to pick up a win at Selhurst.
They continued to face off regularly in the Championship, the rivalry growing even further in September 2011 after Brighton hero Glenn Murray, who had only left the Seagulls that summer on a free to sign for the Eagles, scored at Brighton’s new Falmer Stadium to help Palace become the first team to beat Brighton there. Brighton did go on to finish the season well above Palace in the league table, but as anyone knows, that never makes up for a home loss to your rivals.
The following season, 2012/12, was a busy year for the rivalry. After Murray scored twice to aid Palace to a 3-0 home win, Brighton hit back with a 3-0 home win of their own, their first home win against the Eagles in 25 years. Brighton ended the season in fourth to face Palace, who finished fifth, in the semi-finals of the play-offs. The first leg at Selhurst Park ended 0-0, to set up a decider at what was now named the AMEX Stadium, where controversy hit long before kick off. Palace’s players and coaching staff entered the changing room to find human excrement on the floor.
Palace felt it was an attempt to unsettle them and they used it as motivation to beat Brighton 2-0 in their own stadium before going on to also beat Watford in the final and return to the English top flight. Within Brighton itself, the repercussions went on for months, with Seagulls’ manager Gus Poyet furious that no culprit could be found. Recently the mystery was cleared up by one of Palace players from the time, Paddy McCarthy. The defender revealed that “The dressing room scandal at Brighton was thanks to our coach driver who couldn’t control himself.”
With the Eagles ensconced in the Premier League, Brighton only revived the rivalry after winning promotion themselves in 2017 with Glenn Murray back in their team. The first game between them after Brighton’s promotion was in November and was badly marred by the supporters’ behaviour. Visiting supporters were guilty of disorderly behaviour, Sussex police claiming that the Palace fans had arrived packing weapons. Stewards from both clubs were injured, one was hospitalised and the ground had to be shut six minutes into the game, with around 150 Palace fans with valid tickets being refused entry after groups of fans forced entry into the away end. Sussex police were forced to apologise a few days later for their claims about weapons and admitted they did not find any weapons.
Since then the duo have created English football history together as their FA Cup third round match up in January 2018 became the first game in English football to use the VAR system as Brighton won 2-1. The end of that year the Premier League game at the AMEX saw another first. Murray scored a disputed penalty, then a second Brighton penalty was turned down. The ensuing fracas led to Brighton defender Shane Duffy receiving his marching orders after headbutting Palace left-back Patrick van Aanholt. Nigerian defender Leon Balogun was quickly brought on to shore up the defence and promptly scored with his first touch making it 2-0. In the final minute of added time in the first half another Seagulls’ substitute, Romanian forward Florin Andone, scored a third to make it 3-0 and the first time in Premier League history that two substitutes for one team had scored in the first half.
Despite making history together, and some commentators referring it as a “pointless rivalry”, it is clear that Brighton and Palace fans truly dislike each other. Crystal Palace fan favourite Wilfried Zaha was once asked how much he hates Brighton on a scale of 1-10, he replied: “11!” Asked once on social media what was his favourite goal he has ever scored, Zaha responded with: “Brighton away.” That is indicative of just how much the rivalry means to the fans, that even the players know about and respond to it. It may seem an odd rivalry, it may not have the romance of some, but it is a genuine rivalry every bit as fierce as many better known ones.
For the previous Rivalries article onParis Saint-Germain and Olympique Marseille click HERE
Written by Tris Burke June 06 2020 15:01:28