It is the question that follows every Palace fan around after every introduction to our rivals.
My favourite answer was from a Swansea City fan in a pub after our crazy 5-4 defeat at the Liberty last season who asked “Wasn’t it something to do with Alan Mullery doing a poo?”
For many, it is a bitterness and anger that has lasted for decades. For some, it holds memories too distant to recall. Some carry painful scars from years gone by. For others, it is hereditary. Some younger fans are not even really sure themselves as to the source of the hatred. Many others cannot be bothered to explain the bizarre story of the two clubs, separated by nearly fifty miles, forming a heated and sustained rivalry.
However, only one thing is for sure: we hate Brighton as much as they hate us.
As someone who was born in 1989 and grew up in the absence of the flying vermin trying to poop on our Palace, my first memory of an Eagles versus Seagulls encounter left me with more resentment towards my own Dad than it did the South Coast club. I missed our 5-0 mauling of them in 2002 thanks to him not realising the game was an “all ticket” occasion in what was a lack of organisation that I still have not forgiven him for!
That match was the first between the clubs in eleven years. Leading up to the match, Brighton had lost their previous twelve games but that didn’t stop the atmosphere turning sour before the game with fans clashing outside, police helicopters circulating and the away fans being kept behind after their humiliating loss “for their own safety”.
Now, after all that waffle, it is time to grab yourself a cuppa, sit back and set yourself for a tale of how the rivalry came to pass, the heart of the hatred and how it mainly stemmed from one sad, sad, little man.
The Seventies And Alan Mullery
Alan Mullery MBE, which presumably stands for ‘Massive Bell End’, is the man at the centre of the rivalry.
Admittedly, there are some reports of resentment from the people of Brighton towards folk from Croydon in the early 1900s, thanks to them nipping down on the train line and overcrowding the seaside city. There was some tension in the forties and fifties too as the teams met twenty-one times in twelve years, including both Christmas Day (2-1 to Brighton) and Boxing Day (4-3 to Brighton) in 1951. Additionally, both teams were founder members of the Third Division in 1920, with Palace winning the first ever match between the clubs 2-0. But no, the real Crystal Palace and Brighton hatred started in 1976.
The 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons had produced four rarely talked about Division Three matches, with Brighton, nicknamed ‘The Dolphins’, winning three and Palace winning one. The final match of these encounters was watched by over 33,000 people, more than double Brighton’s 15,343 average for the season, which suggests that the rivalry was already brewing well between Malcolm Allison and Peter Taylor’s sides. Brighton won the game 2-0 and took great glee in denting Palace’s promotion chances.
As the Palace fans chanted the club’s nickname ‘Eagles’ at the home fans (which had been changed from ‘The Glaziers’ in 1973), they were mocked with chants of ‘Seagulls’ in return. Ultimately, the result did not really help either team as they both missed out on promotion by a mere three points each.
However, it was the appointments of Alan Mullery at Brighton and Terry Venables at Palace in 1976 that truly sparked the abhorrence between the two clubs. Prior to then, we had played second fiddle to West Ham United in a rivalry with Millwall and Brighton were largely ignored as irrelevant by other South Coast clubs. Perhaps it was the absence of a natural pairing of distain (such as the likes of Tottenham/Arsenal, Newcastle/Sunderland, Southampton/Portsmouth) that allowed the hatred to grow.
The prequel to the rivalry actually happened north of the river at White Hart Lane.
Mullery and Venables had been team-mates at Tottenham between 1966 and 1969. During their time at Spurs, Venables did not enjoy a great relationship with his manager, believing Bill Nicholson to have a negative attitude that drained him of enthusiasm.
As well as enduring a rocky relationship with his boss, he also felt that he was not appreciated by Spurs fans (mind you, who do they really appreciate?) By contrast, Mullery was Nicholson’s and the fans’ favourite. Inevitably, with Venables believing he should be the club captain ahead of Mullery, a deep hatred grew between the pair that would follow them for years to come.
With both teams lingering in the Third Division and aspiring for bigger things, they turned to the two former Spurs players and gave them both their first opportunity in management. Venables replaced the immensely popular Malcolm Allison (another man with a grudge against Mullery) in the summer of 1976. Down the A23, Mullery was appointed to replace Brian Clough’s assistant, Taylor, as Brighton boss in the same month.
Despite a few verbal swipes, the two managers managed to stay relatively calm in the simmering atmosphere of the first round of the 1976-77 war – a 1-1 Division Three draw at the Goldstone Ground in October. Throughout the match, play was stopped three times as smoke bombs were thrown on the pitch and fans clashed on the terraces, in the city and on the seafront.
Just a month on, the teams were to meet again in a 2-2 draw on the South Coast in the first round of the FA Cup. After the game, Mullery stoked the supporter’s fires by laying into his opposite number, slating what he perceived to be Palace’s negative tactics. The replay, three days later, finished 1-1 at Selhurst Park and again, Mullery ranted about Palace not trying to win the game. However, to claim that the hatred was purely in the dugout would be madness. Palace averaged just 15,925 that season and Brighton 20,197. Yet both of the cup matches attracted crowds of nearly 30,000 as once again, fans clashed, this time on the streets of South London.
Back in the day, FA Cup games continued to be replayed until a winner was found. This time the match would be played at a neutral venue, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. Twice the match was postponed for bad weather as anticipation grew. Fans wanted revenge for their scars, players wanted to get stuck into their now familiar enemies and the managers were seething at each other’s throats with insults flying both ways.
Eventually, on the 6th December 1976, the most controversial and famous game in both club’s history took place. The fans had a third different venue to lock horns at as fights took place around West London where the police had to earn their overtime.
On the pitch, Palace took the lead early through Phil Holder before Brighton dominated much of the rest of the tie. Brighton’s talismanic Peter Ward, who is still sung about at Palace to this day, thought he had equalised soon after but the goal was disallowed for handball. Palace’s Jim Cannon, always willing to stir the bee hive, later admitted that it had in fact been him who had handled the ball. As the hostile atmosphere grew and Mullery became angrier, Palace continued to cling onto the lead.
With a little over ten minutes left to play, Brighton were awarded a penalty which was converted by Brian Horton, only to be disallowed by the referee, Ron Challis, who adjudged that players had encroached upon the penalty area. Again, Cannon was quick to point out that it was him who had encroached. Well, he was quick to mention it after the game anyway. Horton re-took the penalty and this time it was saved by Palace keeper, Paul Hammond. The match ended 1–0 to Palace and the drama on the pitch ended there, if not off it…
Mullery charged towards the referee at full time before he turned towards the jubilant Palace fans, flicking a ‘V’ sign. Eventually, he was dragged off by the police but, he did not stop there. Safely in the tunnel as the Palace fans bayed for his blood, he headed towards Venables and the Palace changing room, emptied his pockets and threw his spare change on the floor, declaring “Palace ain’t worth that!”
Later on in the season, a crowd of 28,808 (nearly double Palace’s average for the season) turned up to see us beat our promotion rivals 3-1 at Selhurst. By now, in the fifth meeting of the season between the clubs, the squabbling of the managers and fighting of fans was almost a ritual.
Despite the result, Brighton went on to finish second and Palace third, with both teams gaining promotion to continue their rivalry in the Second Division the following season. However, before we had a chance to meet again, the Dolphins changed their nickname to the Flying Rats, sorry, I mean Seagulls, in the summer of 1977.
The following season was tame in comparison. Both games were fairly uneventful draws and Palace had a decent season finishing ninth, while Brighton adjusted to the higher league incredibly well, finishing fourth and missing out on promotion to the top flight to Spurs on goal difference. However, both Palace and Brighton recruited well in the summer and had even better fortunes in the 1978-79 season.
Palace won an early season encounter 3-1 at Selhurst, a win that would prove vital at the end of the season, and the return game in February was goalless. Off the pitch, both sets of fans continued to kick lumps out of each other, and despite remaining calmer than they had done in the original ‘Battle of the Bridge’, both managers continued to hold a grudge.
Due to postponements, Brighton finished their campaign before Palace and topped the league, two points above us. However, we still had one game left, against Burnley. Mullery took his already promoted side on a jolly to Spain and it was on the plane that the pilot, allegedly a Palace fan, announced that we had beaten Burnley 2-0 in front of over 50,000 fans in our final game to snatch the title from under our rival’s noses. For the second time in three years, the clubs had been promoted together.
The next match, the first between the clubs in the top flight, was a 3-0 win for Brighton at the Goldstone, on Boxing Day 1979 and is still sung about to this day;
Hark Now Hear,
The [Palace/Brighton] sing!
The [Brighton/Palace] run away!
And we will fight forever more!
Because of Boxing Day!
The fact that both fans take joy in claiming a victory on the stands and in the streets that day suggests that perhaps there was not one main clash of supporters and maybe groups of fans of both clubs took great delight in picking off smaller groups. However, I was not there so can only speculate but what is clear from talking to supporters of both teams is that a lot of people took and gave out real kickings that day.
Brighton Dominate The Eighties
Terry Venables, highly controversially, left Palace in 1980 for Queens Park Rangers while Alan Mullery left Brighton in 1981. Thanks to those two, and the repeated off-field violence, clashes between the two clubs would never be the same again. Despite most Palace fans despising ‘El Tel’ for the way he left, the rivalry was to last forever.
Both teams slipped out of the First Division (Brighton in 1983 and Palace in 1981) but the two years that they spent above us was to be the last time that Brighton competed in a higher league than Palace and prior to that, it was all the way back in 1962. Unfortunately, despite this, it was Brighton who dominated our clashes in the eighties, winning seven and drawing two from the first nine meetings.
However, that only tells half the story.
In 1982, new Palace chairman, Ron Noades made the ill-fated decision to appoint Alan Mullery as Palace manager. Thousands of Eagles fans boycotted the club while the anti-Christ was in charge and many never returned.
Crowds at Selhurst dropped to never before seen lows and those that did attend, created a quiet, eerie protesting atmosphere. Mullery lost both his clashes against Brighton as Palace boss and eventually left the club in 1984. It took years for the club’s gates to recover from his disastrous appointment and many fans never forgave Noades for the first of his many crimes as Palace chairman.
During the early eighties and Brighton’s dominance of the rivalry, Gerry Ryan, a Republic of Ireland international became a Seagulls favourite, playing 173 times and scoring 32 goals. However, the final of these appearances was to be in 1985 at Selhurst Park, when Henry Hughton, brother of current Brighton boss, Chris, broke Ryan’s leg in three separate places and ended his career with a horrendous foul. In the hostile atmosphere, players and fans charged towards each other in rage. After the game, some of the most violent scenes of the rivalry ever seen took place outside the ground.
Palace, now managed by Steve Coppell, finally ended their terrible run against their arch rivals in 1986 with a 1-0 win courtesy of Paul Brush, a win that put an end to Brighton’s promotion push.
In the summer of 1986, Alan Mullery was re-appointed manager of Brighton and the Palace players and fans alike wanted revenge on the old enemy.
Eventually, on Boxing Day 1986, the Eagles got to give a final, fatal peck to the man at the centre of the bitterness. A jubilant Selhurst Park celebrated a 2-0 win as the players got stuck into their former manager’s new team. After sacking their previous hero soon after, Brighton finished the season rock bottom while Palace, after losing 2-0 at the Goldstone amidst violent scenes in the crowd in late April, missed out on the newly formed play offs by a mere two points.
However, the final league meeting between the clubs for thirteen years was to prove more than eventful!
With Brighton back in the Second Division in 1988, Kelvin Morton became the second referee to write his name into the rivalry’s folk law, following Ron Challis in 1976. He awarded Palace not one, not two, not three but FOUR penalties in one game at Selhurst Park. Ian Wright (with what he described as the greatest goal he ever scored for Palace) and Mark Bright (from the penalty spot) had put us 2-0 up in the opening thirty-five minutes with Brighton already down to ten men.
Then the fun really started.
Mark Bright had a penalty saved and Ian Wright saw one bounce back off the post before half time. However, it was Palace’s fourth penalty that is remembered most clearly as John Pemberton fired it over and out of the Holmesdale terrace and into outer space.
Ironically, many people believe that Brighton’s penalty, scored by Alan Curbishley, was the softest one awarded on the day. All five spot kicks were awarded within twenty-seven crazy minutes, which is a Football League record that will surely never be broken. Needless to say, Brighton fans were furious at full time after their 2-1 defeat as Palace marched back to Division One, leaving their enemies behind.
An End To The Rivalry?
In 1991, fate allowed the two teams to clash once again. This time it was to be in the third round of the Zenith Data Systems Cup. Palace beat their lower league rivals 2-0 after extra time in the final ever match between the sides at Brighton’s now destroyed Goldstone Ground and went on to win the trophy.
Despite a lack of competitive fixtures, Palace and Brighton continued to play each other in ‘friendlies’ through the early nineties before the police finally put an end to the fun. One game was moved by the police to a Friday night in an attempt to quell the violence. After another ‘friendly’, in 1993, Brighton fans allegedly pushed a shopping trolley with a canister of CS gas into a Palace pub on the seafront!
Between then and 2002, Palace waited patiently in the top two divisions as Brighton tumbled about in the lower two. In both 1997 and 1998, the ‘Seaweed’ nearly drifted out of the Football League altogether, finishing 91st out of 92 in both seasons. At the end of the 1997 season, only a last day draw at Hereford United ensured that the West Country side dropped out of the league instead of them. In fact, never mind their Football League status, Brighton’s entire homeless club faced extinction as they moved to Gillingham and then the comically bad Withdean Stadium.
Meanwhile, Palace too faced oblivion as new chairman, Marc Goldberg, left us in administration within months of taking over. Ironically, the Palace hero at the centre of the rivalry, Terry Venables, became a Palace villain as he again fleeced the club in our hour of need in his second spell at the Palace.
However, the absence of matches and difference in levels between the clubs never threatened to lessen the rivalry. It was during this time that I started to go to Palace and despite it taking nearly a decade for me to actually see a match between the two clubs, I was never left in any doubt as to who we hated. Songs about Mullery, Peter Ward, Brighton and Boxing Day rung loudly around Selhurst Park as we waited for them to return.
Eventually, with both teams saved, Brighton rose back to Palace’s level. “Next Year, We’re Playing Brighton Next Year!” echoed around Selhurst Park after a game against Walsall when Rob Fox, the Palace PA man, confirmed that Brighton had won the third tier and gained back to back league titles.
After eleven long years, the date arrived and Palace legend Steve Coppell was to take charge of Brighton for the first time. With Palace fans unhappy at our own manager, Trevor Francis, there was a real possibility of Palace cheering Brighton’s boss while abusing our own should the result go against us.
Luckily, Brighton were really, really rubbish and we won 5-0, with Andy Johnson scoring a hat-trick and instantly becoming a Palace legend. Before that, he had scored just two goals in thirteen games for the club. Once he had humiliated Brighton, he never really stopped scoring, 82 in 147 afterwards in fact. With that crushing loss, Brighton disappeared for another four years with their tail firmly between their legs.
Eventually (thanks Dad!), in my tenth season of matches at Selhurst Park, I attended a game against our arch rivals. I will never forget the atmosphere when I walked up the Holmesdale Road before the match. As a sixteen year old, it was tenser and more aggressive than anything I had ever experienced before. Threats and abuse flew past police officers and horses from boys who were too young to understand and others who were old enough to know better.
Brighton, as they had been in 2002, arrived at Selhurst rock bottom of the second tier while newly-relegated and in-form Palace were strong favourites. However, with Andy Johnson out injured, Brighton won 1-0 and gained their first league win at Selhurst Park since Boxing Day 1983.
Mind you, it did not take us long to get revenge. Just one month and two days later we won 3-2 against ten men at the Withdean Stadium thanks to a last minute Jobi McAnuff goal after Dougie Freedman had twice levelled with his 100th and 101st strikes for the club. Amazingly, this was only Palace’s second ever league victory away at Brighton, with the first coming in January 1963.
However, what struck me on that day, in my first Brighton away game, was how tame it all seemed.
It was nothing like the stories from the seventies and eighties, which was probably a good thing! But it just felt like a nothing game really. Mind you, only 800 Palace fans, who had had to go to Queens Park Rangers, Coventry City, Cardiff City, Crewe and Reading to qualify for a ticket, could travel to the pathetic athletics stadium that Brighton had been forced to call a home.
The ‘new’ temporary stand that we’d been put in, which was some thirty yards from the pitch or any Brighton fans, was similar to the sports day stand that my school used to rent. Brighton simply were not able to compete at any sort of level. The Withdean was not only killing their club but also the rivalry. At the end of the season, Brighton unsurprisingly got relegated and I had to wait another six years before I could begin to understand the hatred.
A New Stadium And Revived Rivalry
In 2011, Brighton returned to the Championship, complete with a shiny new stadium. Immediately, they were up for the fight. However, their League 1 title party was somewhat dampened when Glenn Murray, their top goal scorer, announced that he was rejecting a new contract offer and signing for Palace on a free transfer.
At the end of September, I headed down to the South Coast, now as a working adult, for my first proper taste of the rivalry. Still in my work clothes, I wandered down West Street listening to a chorus of hate pouring out of the home pubs and into the warm evening air. Once I was in a Palace pub, the distain was returned by the Palace faithful.
Around six o’clock, the police emptied our pub and marched us back to the station, surrounded by fifty or so policemen, police horses and vans. As the police bizarrely insisted that we walked past the Brighton pubs by the station, all hell broke loose. Coins, bottles and punches flew across the police lines as the fans charged at each other. The guy next to me got a glass bottle square in the face and was covered in blood. I looked around in horror, conscious that just two hours previously, I’d been teaching in Surbiton! Thankfully, we were able to move on and the police ushered us into a train to the Amex.
Inside the ground, the atmosphere was electric. The rivalry was alive once more. Brighton took an early lead but thanks to three late goals from Wilfried Zaha (the start of their obsessive hatred towards our hero), Darren Ambrose and the man who’d been roundly abused all night, Glenn Murray, Palace ran out 3-1 winners.
After the game, a humorous video emerged from a Palace fan in the home end after our last minute second goal as the ground was emptying. A despairing home fan begged his team to clear the ball and watched in horror as Murray stuck the third, screaming “FOR F*CK SAKE MURRAY!”
With the teams now on a more even footing and the days of the Withdean well behind Brighton and our administrations a thing of the past, the two clubs could compete at the right end of the second tier once more. Over the next two seasons, we continued to trade blows, thankfully more on the pitch than off it. Although, after the corresponding home match to the ‘FFS Murray’ one (a dull 1-1 draw), the Police erected an excessive ten foot metal wall outside the ground to separate the fans!
The following season, the rivalry was to return to its most heated since the eighties. Both teams won their home games 3-0 in the league, with Murray scoring twice for Palace at Selhurst. However, fate was set and with the teams finishing fourth and fifth in the Championship, they were to play each other over two legs in the play offs to get to Wembley and win promotion!
The first leg at Selhurst was a dull affair, finishing goalless. However, the most memorable moment, other than pictures of no fewer than 150 police vans parked outside the ground before the game, was Glenn Murray’s tragic career threatening injury in the second half. With the Brighton fans celebrating like they had scored a goal, Murray was stretchered from the pitch.
In the second leg, a game that the police asked away fans to take identification to or face not being let in, Brighton were the strong favourites. However, Gus Poyet, the Seagulls boss, had not factored in one thing. How riled up certain events before the game would leave the Palace players.
Outside the ground, stewards sent the player’s coach the wrong way to ensure that the team arrived late. However, once they finally did arrive, there was worse to come. Somehow, for some reason, something disgusting had happened. To quote the then Brighton manager;
“For some reason that is still not clear to me, someone during the day had access to the away dressing room and did something terrible, trying to upset everyone related to Palace. To say it in clear English, someone had a ‘poo’ all outside the toilets, over and around the toilets. I am angry that someone within this club could endanger our good reputation and stoop so low. Did they imagine that this would affect the Palace players? Well, possibly it did. It may just have fired them up more. Someone made a very bad decision and I think it is time to stand up and take responsibility. Not just the culprit but those employees who are supposed to make our stadium safe and secure.”
Perhaps Gus was right. Maybe it was the shite that made everything alright? Zaha, perhaps the only player they hated as much as Murray, scored two goals to single-handedly fire Palace to Wembley.
After the game, Palace fans were kept behind for over an hour but not a single one of them minded. Left alone in our enemies ground, we sang about the victory long into the night, and again ten days later at Wembley when we secured our promotion with a win over Watford.
Once more, Brighton disappeared from South London’s view behind the South Downs. As Brighton repeatedly lost play offs, Palace established themselves in the top flight but the fans never forgot. No amount of Premier League London derbies could replace our real passion – hating Brighton!
So Here We Are
Perhaps it is fitting that until Brighton finally caught up with Palace in the Premier League in 2017, the most recent chapter of our story came at White Hart Lane, where the first sparks of the rivalry began to fly. Although, Brighton fans might point to Ashley Barnes’ excessive celebrations for Burnley at Selhurst last season! However, back at the now demolished ‘Lane’, Mullery seemed to think that enough time had passed that he would get away with being Tottenham’s guest of honour and do a speech at half time of our 2016 FA Cup tie.
As a fan who started going in the nineties, it is the loudest cry of sheer hatred that I have ever heard. Bald, middle aged men’s veins came close to bursting as pensioners waved their sticks in anger at a 74 year old man trying to give a speech. As Spurs fans looked on bemused, he crawled back down the tunnel and under the horrible stone that he had emerged. He had learnt his lesson. Generations can pass but we would never forgive or forget.
As we sang at the end of last season …
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION, WE’RE WAITING FOR YOU!