Crystal Palace and Brighton hold one of the most peculiar derbies in the country. Separated by almost 50 miles and over an hour’s drive, it is certainly one of the longer trips for a derby day match. It would be fair to say if you’re not deeply invested in this derby, then you may just not get it. But when and why did this become a fierce derby between the South coast outfit and Palace in the capital?
It was a season packed with five fixtures in the 1976/77 campaign that really fuelled this clash into a fierce fixture that still packs as much of a punch today as it did when this rivalry was first formed.
Coined the M23 derby by the media, this story starts in the mid-seventies when former Spurs teammates, Terry Venables and Alan Mullery went head to head as managers of these two sides. Mullery was the manager at Brighton whilst Venables was at Palace. The two didn’t see eye to eye whilst at Spurs, and that showed when the two clubs met whilst under their first management roles after hanging their boots up on their playing careers.
Eagles and Seagulls
A few years prior this fixture turning into a game you could really call a derby, there was a spat between the two when it came to the clubs nicknames. It’s not hard to distinguish the similarity. Both birds, they sound the same. The only difference being is Eagles aren’t wild in South London and they don’t nick your chips.
Palace changed the club’s nickname from The Glaziers to The Eagles in 1973. During a match in the following season, Palace fans bellowed out “Eagles, Eagles” during a league match. The Brighton fans who were then nicknamed ‘the Dolphins‘ responded and drowned the Palace fans out with “Seagulls, Seagulls”. Moving on a couple of years and Brighton officially made the change of their nickname and have since been called ‘the Seagulls’. A bit more fitting for the South Coast town.
The rivalry really sparked into life when Venables and Mullery managed these two respective clubs. Both young, hungry managers, both coming from Spurs. Venables was second in command to Mullery’s captaincy. It was reported Venables felt unappreciated next to his peer during their time at White Hart Lane. Both were set the task of promotion, which both men completed. However, it was an FA Cup tie which seemed impossible to settle that really set this fixture in motion as a ‘derby match’.
Three FA cup ties in as many weeks
The first round FA Cup tie came on 20th November 1976. They had already met in the league once this season, a game that was stopped numerous times due to smoke bombs being thrown onto the pitch. The first round attracted a crowd of around 30,000. A significant boost on Brighton’s average attendance that season.
The game had plenty of goals and finished 2-2, which set up a tie at Selhurst Park a few days later, which drew another large crowd, doubling the Eagles’ average attendance. The replay finished a stalemate, 1-1, and a second replay was set as fireworks were about to go off in this crunch match.
After the second replay was called off twice due to bad weather and a waterlogged pitch, the game was eventually played on 6th December. However, there was certainly no goodwill to all men when these two met in this festive fixture. It was a game taken into dispute after a controversial refereeing decision, no VAR to help out in 1976, though, we all know how well VAR has settled a dispute this season.
A fiver’s worth of change and a couple of V’s
The game was staged at Stamford Bridge and Palace got off to the better start with a goal inside 20 minutes, but despite the early start, Brighton began to dominate the match. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Palace. A Peter Ward strike was disallowed due to a handball, with Jim Cannon of Palace later admitting he had shoved Ward in the back. Then, with only ten minutes remaining, Brighton were awarded a penalty, a goal would have set the game up for another 30 minutes of extra time. Brian Horton stepped up and converted the penalty as the thousand of Brighton fans erupted.
However, celebrations were soon replaced by confusion and shouts of abuse towards match official Ron Challis, the penalty was ordered to be retaken after accusations of encroachment by the Brighton players. The resulting penalty was saved and the referee earned himself the nickname ‘Challis of the Palace’.
The game went on to finish 1-0 to Crystal Palace, Brighton were out the cup, but Alan Mullery made sure everyone would remember the Seagulls short-lived FA cup campaign that year.
The final whistle had blown on this FA cup tie. Mullery immediately approached referee, Challis, before being escorted off the pitch as he walked past the opposing Eagles fans as he began to add wood to the fire. He searched his pockets for loose change, threw a fivers worth of coins into a puddle, flicked his v’s and shouted: “You’re not worth that Palace”.
It was reported that the Brighton manager then approached Venables in the Palace dressing room before doing the same. He was fined a hefty £100 due to his actions after the final whistle as the rivalry burst into life whilst gaining nationwide coverage.
Battle for Promotion
During the same season, both clubs were in a battle for promotion from the old Third Division. In their first league meeting, the game was stopped numerous times due to smoke bombs being thrown onto the pitch, the game finished 1-1. It wasn’t long after this when they were drawn against each other in the FA Cup. In their second league meeting, Palace won the bragging rights. Knocking Brighton out the cup and one-upping them head to head in the league. It was Brighton who finished runners up in the league though behind Mansfield Town. Palace took the third promotion spot on goal difference narrowly beating Rotherham United to promotion. The two rivals would meet again the following season in the old Division Two.
The following season both league games finished in a draw as both clubs finished in the top half. Brighton missed out on promotion by goal difference. However, in the 1978/79 season, both teams upped their game as they battled it out for the top spot. Palace took the first game 3-1 as their impressive run against the south coasters continued. Their second head to head finished in another draw as it was neck and neck going into the final stretch of the season.
These meetings brought fights to the streets of Croydon and Brighton as the rivalry grew deeper and football hooliganism was hitting an all-time high. Going to the final day Brighton finished top by two points. Albeit, Crystal Palace’s previously postponed game against Burnley helped them pip Brighton to top spot as both teams successfully got promoted to the top tier of English football.
For the Eagles, it was a six-year absence since their last stint in the top division. However, for Brighton, it was their first time in Division One in the club’s history.
Over the previous decade, Palace had the upper hand when it came to head-to-head matches. However, as we move into the ’80s it was Brighton’s turn to get one over on their rivals up the road as the two teams battled it out in Division One and Two. They went on an 11-game unbeaten streak against Palace throughout the first half of the decade. Alan Mullery became the Palace manager in 1982 and expressed his regret about that night at Stamford Bridge, he spent only two years at Palace after a year at Charlton Athletic. Albeit, he did end up back at Brighton a few years later in the 1986/87 season.
In 1989 a league game at Selhurst park broke the record for the most penalties in a match, in the space of 27 minutes five penalties were awarded, four to Palace and one to Brighton. Palace missed three of the penalties as Brighton converted their only one in a 2-1 victory to the Eagles. This record still stands in English football.
At the beginning of the 1990s, these two clubs took very different turns. Crystal Palace got promoted back to the old Division One whilst Brighton spiralled down the leagues before becoming dangerously close to losing their league status, three seasons in a row the club finished 23rd at the bottom of the pyramid. Clinging on to league football, they moved out of their old hold, Goldstone. The club had to play home games 70 miles away from Brighton for two seasons before moving into an athletics stadium, the Withdean Stadium, much closer to home, until eventually moving into The Falmer (The Amex) in 2011.
Palace bounced back and forth between the Premier League and the second tier for a few years before meeting up with their old rivals again after an old 14-year stint without a league game. In four league games between 2002 and 2005, they accumulated 14 yellow and three red cards, Gary Hart contributing to that liberally. So despite the absence, the passion was still there.
A dirty protest in the Play-offs
The rivalry really burst back into life at the beginning of the previous decade, in one particular meeting, a dirty dressing room brought out the best in Palace in a play-off semi-final clash. It was the 2012/13 play-offs, after a long season, Brighton and Palace came head to head in a battle for a trip to Wembley and a chance for Premier League football.
The story goes that when the Crystal Palace team arrived at the Amex for the second leg, the away dressing room was smeared in faeces. Yes, poo-gate was afoot. Ian Holloway was said to be fuming and let his anger known to the ground staff. Gus Poyet who was Brighton manager at the time had sent a furious email out but nobody ever came forward.
However, although there was plenty of rumours and speculation surrounding some players. A couple of years later Paddy McCarthy broke silence on the whole messy situation. McCarthy confirmed the mess was left by a coach driver, driving the team bus who apparently couldn’t hold it any longer. Who then decided to head to the dressing room but didn’t quite make it, to top it off he then tried to clean it up but just made it worse.
The validity of the story is uncertain, so, you can make your own minds up on that. Regardless, the incident spurred Palace on to a famous victory, unbeknown at the time the culprit was actually their own coach driver, apparently. The tie was at deadlock after a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park in the first leg, the Eagles ran out 2-0 winners at the Amex. They went onto the final to beat Watford, get promoted to the Premier League and have remained there since.
Hero to villain, to hero again
It took Brighton another two failed play-off campaigns and one relegation survival before they eventually got automatic promotion in the 2016/17 campaign. They have since remained there averaging just over 30,000 in their impressive Amex stadium. The promotion was aided by the return of cult hero Glenn Murray after he left the club in 2011 for rivals Palace and in turn, helped them to promotion back in 2012/13. He’s certainly been back in the good books though at Brighton and even scored in both of their league wins against Palace during the 2018/19 season.
The two clubs came head to head in a festive fixture over December at Selhurst Park which didn’t quite live up to expectation. However, a superb strike from Wilfred Zaha saved the game and levelled late on for the hosts as they shared the spoils. After 25 games the clubs are separated by 4 points and are both looking good enough to keep their respective Premier League statuses. They meet again on 29th February at the Amex, in a game that will hopefully produce the drama this fixture is very much capable off.