The very bitter – and rather odd – Brighton v Crystal Palace rivalry explained
Tuesday night sees the latest battle in one of the Premier League’s bitterest – and most unlikely – rivalries: Brighton v Crystal Palace.
Forty five miles along the M23 separate the two clubs and to outsiders there is seemingly little reason for their rivalry – but ask any Brighton or Palace fan about the other and watch the air turn blue.
This fixture last season was the clubs’ first ever meeting in the top flight and there were six arrests amid tense and hostile scenes while 150 Palace fans were refused entry to the ground, even though they had tickets.
But for those who still don’t quite understand the beef between these two not-so-local rivals, this is how and when the trouble started…
Alan Mullery is one of the main reasons for the intensity of Brighton and Palace’s rivalry
Alan Mullery reached his hand deep into his trouser pockets, ripped out a handful of coins and tossed them on the grass in front of the opposition support.
‘That’s all you’re worth, Crystal Palace,’ he screamed, flicking V-signs at the Eagles support with both of his hands.
He was hauled down the tunnel, flanked by policemen for his own safety, hot coffee dripping from his suit jacket. The rivalry was well and truly underway.
The year was 1976, and Mullery had begun his time as Brighton manager just a few months previously. His old Tottenham team-mate Terry Venables joined Crystal Palace in the same month, and there had always been bad blood between the pair.
As the old story goes, Venables had long been jealous of Mullery after the latter was made captain before him at White Hart Lane. Venables had to make do with vice-captain, while his midfield team-mate was the fans’ favourite, boss of the dressing room and all-round star man.
After their playing careers had finished, both took on managerial roles and found themselves up against each other, but with the same goal – secure promotion from the Third Division. This was Venables’ chance to get one over on his old foe.
Terry Venables, pictured as Palace manager in 1976, did not get on well with old foe Mullery
Brighton boss Mullery arrives at the FA to answer a charge of bringing the game into disrepute
That season, the two teams played each other a remarkable five times. First up was a league tie at Brighton’s Goldstone Ground, a 1-1 draw marred by smoke bombs, clashes in the terraces and on the streets of Brighton.
After the game, Mullery – whose side topped the table at that point – said of Palace: ‘They’ll be with us at the last, you’ll see.’ And he turned out to be right. Both sides were promoted that season, but neither managed to win the league.
In reality, the league matches between the two sides in that fateful season fall by the wayside, due to the incredible nature of their FA Cup clashes. In those days, the tie would be replayed until a winner was found.
Mullery complained about Palace’s negative tactics ahead of the first clash in Brighton, before the Eagles held on for a 2-2 draw. In the replay at Selhurst, Venables did the same and Palace salvaged a 1-1 draw. The fans were loving it, turning out in huge numbers despite the low attendances that season.
Palace got close to 15,000 for league games, and Brighton 20,000 – but for the FA Cup ties, supporters struggled for tickets and the stadiums were packed out with 30,000 fans. They were baying for each other’s blood.
Brighton hero Mullery (right) went on to manage Palace in an ill-fated spell in the 1980s
Palace legend Kenny Samson (left) defends a cross against Brighton’s Tony Towner
Stamford Bridge was chosen as the neutral stadium for the second replay, but with the winter months doing serious damage, poor weather caused the game to be postponed on two occasions. By this point, the rivalry was boiling over.
For weeks leading up to the game, the fighting talk in the press was akin to a Conor McGregor UFC bout, both managers pulling no punches in reference to their opposite number.
Eventually, after weeks of waiting, on December 6, 1976 the most famous game in both sides’ history took place in west London… and it didn’t disappoint.
The little-known Phil Holder put Palace ahead, before Brighton had a goal disallowed just minutes later for handball. After the game, Palace captain Jim Cannon was quick to notify the press that it only touched a Brighton hand because he had shoved the player in the back.
That, though, was just the tip of the iceberg as far as controversy went. With just 12 minutes left on the clock, and the Eagles still leading 1-0, Palace’s Barry Silkman brought down Chris Cattlin inside the penalty area. The referee pointed to the spot.
Steve Coppell also made the big switch, the Palace legend managing Brighton for a season
Palace beat Brighton on their way to winning the Zenith Data Systems Cup back in 1991
Up stepped Brian Horton, who slotted the ball past Paul Hammond in goal. As Brighton wheeled away in celebration, the referee’s whistle blew and proceedings were brought to a grinding halt. ‘Encroachment’, he called – and the penalty was to be retaken.
Of course, in the aftermath Cannon claimed it was in fact he who encroached – the Palace captain at it again. But first, back to the game… Horton stepped up again, but this time the keeper saved and it was Palace’s turn to celebrate.
The Eagles held on for victory, and Mullery – at the end of the game – stormed up to the referee. The ref, Ron Challis, is now forever known to Brighton fans as ‘Challis of the Palace’, due to his efforts that night.
The trouble continued as Mullery left the pitch. ‘As I was walking up the tunnel,’ he told the Guardian, ‘a load of boiling hot coffee was thrown over me by a Crystal Palace supporter.
Andy Johnson netted a hat-trick in Palace’s historic 5-0 win over Brighton in October 2002
Wilfried Zaha has plenty of memories against the Seagulls, and he will be playing on Tuesday
‘So I pulled a handful of change out of my pocket, threw it on the floor and shouted, “That’s all you’re worth, Crystal Palace!” And I’d shout it at anybody who did that.’ He was fined £100 and warned as to his future conduct. But the fuse had been lit between the two sides.
In the years that followed, there are plenty of stories that both sets of supporters still recount to this day. Brighton, initially nicknamed the Dolphins, changed to ‘Seagulls’ in order to drown out Palace fans’ chants of ‘Eagles’ at matches.
Mullery refused to name his starting line-up until 15 minutes before a match against Palace, just to scare his rival Venables in the opposite dug-out. Perhaps the most ridiculous story of them all occurred in 1982, though.
Palace, under new chairman Ron Noades, decided to appoint a new manager following the exit of Steve Kember, and inexplicably chose Mullery as their new man.
It led to Eagles fans boycotting games and for two seasons, attendances were dramatically down in south London. Those that did attend were muted, and Selhurst Park was a long way from the cauldron of noise it has become today.
Brighton’s David Lopez celebrates after scoring in a 3-0 win for Brighton back in March 2013
Ian Holloway celebrates after Palace won the Championship play-off semi-final at Brighton
After two seasons, Mullery left and order was restored when he returned to Brighton in the summer of 1986.
In 1988, there was yet another incredible refereeing display for the history books, as Kelvin Morton awarded five penalties in 27 minutes, four of which to Palace. The Eagles went on to win 2-1, and were later promoted to Division One.
The nineties were quiet for both sets of supporters, with off-field financial issues taking centre stage, and both clubs nearly going out of business. Brighton finished 91st of 92 teams two years running, and Palace went into administration.
At the start of the 2000s, Andy Johnson (and his ‘magic hat’) wrote himself into Palace folklore with a treble against the Seagulls to kick-start his Eagles career. It is a match that is still sung about today in the bowels of south London, with Palace running out 5-0 winners against Steve Coppell’s Brighton.
Zaha and Paddy McCarthy helped Palace secure Brighton’s first ever defeat at the AMEX
From there, things have got far more positive for the south-coast side. A new stadium, one of the best in the country, a place in the Premier League for the first time ever, and a so-far comfortable life in the top flight. Things are looking up.
Until last season the two sides had a four-year hiatus after Palace beat their old rivals in the Championship play-off semi-finals, on their way to Wembley.
As with plenty of stories in the history of this rivalry, there were some odd goings-on that night, too. For want of a better phrase, it was labelled ‘Poo-Gate’ by supporters.
A first-leg draw at Selhurst led the two teams to the AMEX Stadium, a one-match straight shootout with a place at Wembley for the winner.
It is all too much for one Brighton fan, who sits head in hands after the play-off semi-final loss
Palace’s coach, the story goes, was deliberately sent the wrong way en route to the stadium, taking in the surrounding area for over an hour before a furious squad arrived at the stadium, their pre-match plans in tatters.
As they entered the away dressing room, what greeted them was an unholy mess. Human faeces was on the floor of the toilet and shower area, with nobody owning up to incident, even to this day.
Speaking to Sportsmail last year, then Brighton manager Gus Poyet admits he is still none the wiser.
‘Incredible,’ he said. ‘Somebody wrote a year ago it might have been the bus driver. I don’t know. It was a very important game and you are dealing with something so stupid. It’s going to be there for ever with me. If I knew, I would get the person because that incident has affected my career. It was a lucky poo. It was in their dressing room and they won!’
Gus Poyet was in charge of Brighton when human faeces was found in the away dressing room
Wilfried Zaha went on to score two that night, and he remains the key man in the Palace line-up. Zaha, like most supporters of both sides, would not have got much sleep on Monday night.
This is the fixture of the season for both sets of fans, a rivalry not understood by most football supporters, but one that runs deep for Brighton and Palace. Both sets of fans will fancy themselves for victory and will be desperate to gain the upper hand on their rivals.
Honours were even after last season’s encounters; a goalless draw at Brighton was followed by a 2-1 FA Cup win for the Seagulls before Palace gained revenge with a 3-2 win at Selhurst Park.
There are plenty of chapters to this deep-rooted rivalry, and the AMEX Stadium will see another written on Tuesday night.
Tensions were high in the clubs’ first ever Premier League meeting at Brighton last season
Zaha shows what it means to score against Palace’s biggest rivals in the win at Selhurst Park