Brighton & Hove Albion host Crystal Palace this coming Tuesday night, the 27th September 2011 as one of the fiercest fan rivalries in British football is reignited for the first time since November 2005.
At first glance, it may seem strange that one of English football's fiercest rivalries is between two teams 60 miles apart, one Club which resides on the South Coast, whilst the other is in South London.
Correct, they are not in the same county let alone the same city, there's no deep routed historical reason, no trading rivalries between the areas, no religious differences, it's pure and simple - a genuine footballing rivalry based on the fact that both clubs used to play each other a lot and had managers happy to stoke up the fires of rivalry.
Many football fans assume that Millwall and Charlton are Palace’s main rivals, being so close in location, and that Portsmouth 40 miles along the coast might be Brighton's number one enemy.
To really understand the hatred between Palace and Brighton you need to turn the clock back to the 1970's and the days of Mullery v Venables.
Between January 1963 and August 1974 there were no competitive fixtures at all between Palace and Brighton - as Brighton got relegated into Division Four in 1963 and Palace started their climb into the top flight.
Their rivalry did not develop until Palace's relegation to the Third Division in 1974. The clubs had two of the division's biggest followings, communications between Croydon and Brighton were good and many fans were keen to travel to an away fixture.
So in August 1974 the two teams met in full competition, for the first time since the early 1960's in the old Division Three, and both clubs with new nicknames to boot. "The Dolphins" versus "The Eagles" was the first game of that 74-75 season and Palace suffered a 1-0 reverse in front of the largest crowd to watch Palace at home that season. The following March, revenge was metered out by Palace as they defeated the South Coast side 3-0. The win did little to aid Palace's dying promotion effort, but it almost spelt disaster for Brighton, who only narrowly avoided relegation.
The following season Palace got off to a flying start, were undefeated in their opening seven games and sat proudly at the summit of the division. Then came the visit of Brighton and with it a 1-0 defeat. It wasn't a disaster in footballing terms at the time, as come Christmas Palace were sitting pretty at the top of the league by seven clear points. By the time the away fixture came around, Palace were in the midst of the great FA Cup run of 1976, but their league form had deserted them and Palace went down 2-0. Brighton finished the season in fourth, a place above Palace on goal difference and they had completed the 'double' over their rivals.
It was the following season that the fireworks really began!
Terry Venables, fresh out of coaching school under the late Malcolm Allison was the new manager at Palace, and Alan Mullery was appointed the new boss at Brighton, after Brighton manager Peter Taylor rejoined his old mate the late Brian Clough, up at Forest. Both clubs were the biggest in the old Division Three and doing quite well.
In the 1976-77 season the sides meet five times: twice in the league and three times to decide an First Round FA Cup tie. To say neither manager had much time for the other would be understating the case. Palace remained undefeated against Brighton over the season recording three draws and two victories.
It was an FA Cup second round replay at neutral Stamford Bridge that finally ignited the already smouldering blue touch paper that season. Mullery got out of his pram about a number of dodgy decisions from referee Ron Challis, including a converted Brighton penalty that had to be retaken and a disallowed goal! The retake was saved by Paul Hammond. That referee is still known as "Challis of the Palace" down in Brighton! It culminated in Mullery blowing his top in front of the Palace fans who were giving him abuse for his outraged protests. He flung down about a fiver's worth of change into a puddle and screamed "You're not worth that, Palace" - in the end, the police had to lead him away! At the end of the 1976-77 season both sides were promoted.
Alan Mullery's outspoken-ness continued to fan the flames of a rivalry that often violently spilled over into the alleyways, railway stations and park areas of Brighton and Hove and, on more than one occasion, the side-streets and shops of Croydon. It was rumoured that he was motivated by jealousy having wanted the Palace managerial job himself. He decided to change the Club nick-name once again, this time to "The Seagulls"
The 1978-79 season saw Palace, Brighton, Stoke and Sunderland all slog out a nail-biting promotion race. On the last Saturday of the season, Brighton, Stoke and Sunderland had finished their seasons, Brighton ended up top on goal difference, Stoke and Sunderland provisionally claimed second and third, but Palace still had a game in hand - win it and Palace were Champions, displacing Brighton, lose and Palace would miss out on promotion completely, on goal difference.
On the 11th May 1979 Palace defeated Burnley 2-0 in front of a record 51,801 people at Selhurst Park, and in doing so Palace snatched the Second Division Championship title away from Brighton.
The news was broken to the Brighton players at 30,000 feet whilst on route to play in a tournament in the US. That wasn't the only bad news they were receive that day, when they landed they found the tournament had been scrapped, due to a fuel crisis!
The next season saw both clubs in the First Division, Brighton for the first time in their history. To cope with the larger crowds that top-flight football brings, Brighton erected the naffest temporary grandstand of all time on one side. Even their own fans nicknamed it 'The Lego stand'. Palace fans quickly coined the phrase and the Goldstone Ground became known as 'Legoland.'
Later that season, fire swept through the South Stand, gutting the seats and wooden structure. An act which many local fans pointing the finger at Palace fans, who lived in the area! On the field, both sides held onto their First division status.
The following season Palace were relegated but Brighton went on escaping relegation for another two seasons, band managed a Cup Final appearance in their last season in the top flight.
In November 1981 Palace played a 'friendly' against Brighton and came away with a credible 1-1 draw adminst another management upheaval at the club as Dario Gradi made way for Steve Kember. Then in a enormously unpopular move, Ron Noades appointed Alan Mullery as manager. Palace fans couldn't not swallow this and deserted the Club in large numbers, whilst some drifted back slowly over the years - plenty never came back at all. One of Mullery's first games in charge was a home 'friendly' against Brighton, which Palace managed to win by a single goal.
Palace renewed acquaintance with Brighton again in the 1983-84 season, the second year of Mullery's two years. The now traditional Christmas and Easter games saw Mullery stick the dagger even further into mortally wounded Palace hearts, yes, he let them get away with all six points again. This were the nadir of recent Palace history and the serious violence that followed the April trip to the Goldstone served only to counterpoint the frustrations.
Mullery slipped away quietly to Q.P.R. after two relegation struggles, giving way to managerial new boy Steve Coppell. His first season saw an early South Coast encounter end in 1-0 defeat, but the home game saw a Trevor Aylott goal ensure a deserved draw. The game was surrounded by controversy with Palace defender Henry Hughton sent off for a late tackle on Brighton winger Gerry Ryan, who sustained a badly broken leg, which ultimately ended his playing career. The Brighton Manager Chris Cattlin claimed in the press it was the worst tackle he'd ever seen, but Ryan himself refused to condemn Hughton.
In the 1985-86 season Palace lost at Brighton on New Year's Day, a game mainly remembered by Palace fans for a scandalous dive by Terry Connor which earned Brighton a penalty. Late in March, Palace managed to chalk up a narrow league victory against their rivals in the reverse fixture.
Later that year in another bizarre twist of fate surrounding the two clubs, Brighton re-appointed the 'Prince of Darkness' Allan Mullery OBE as their new manager.
The following season, Palace fans saw this as their chance for revenge on Mullery in the Boxing Day fixture of 1986. The players duly obliged as Palace beat their rivals and relegation strugglers. By Easter Monday, Barry Lloyd was in charge of a Brighton side that had not won a League game for three months.........enter Palace, chasing a 'play-off' place, but on the day they somehow contrived to lose 2-0 to a woeful Brighton side, that were up for this fixture and ultimately this result helped end Palace's play-off hopes for that season.
The mood of the Palace fans was not pleasant, angry at the scoreline and fed up at being so tightly packed onto a tiny corner terrace, when the Brighton fans had the run of the open East Terrace. With ten minutes left, a sizeable number stormed out of the terrace, to confront Brighton fans in their own end. The ensuing violence spilled out of the ground into Phoenix Park which played host to several running battles before The Sussex Constabulary eventually brought order to the seaside town.
There was some consolation for Palace that the result did nothing to assist Brighton's survival. They ended up getting relegated, thanks in the main to the ministrations of their one-time idol, Alan Mulllery.
Two seasons later and Brighton were back in Division Two. Palace lost at Brighton in another Boxing Day encounter in 1988, but the return fixture on the 27th March 1989 still holds a place in the English League record books thanks to a certain referee named Kelvin Morton. Morton awarded five penalties, Palace were given four of those five and incredibly managed to miss three of them - but Palace still won the game 2-1! Morton also sent off Brighton midfielder Mike Trusson in the first-half.
That season Palace were promoted to Division One via the play-offs, whilst Brighton finished 19th.
However, the two did not play in a league encounter between 1990 and 2001, although there were have been a number of 'pre-season friendlies' staged between the sides, all at Brighton!
The first in August 1992, saw an injury-struck Palace side once more deliver a below par performance, although still managing to win 1-0. This game was originally scheduled for a Saturday afternoon, when it would have attracted a much larger crowd, but was eventually played on Friday night. Possibily the only friendly fixture ever to have been moved on Police advice!
After the game, however, it was Palace fans getting back on the train who were subjected to a CS gas attack at Hove station.
That season ended with Palace's relegation from the Premier League, whilst Brighton having survived a number of High Court actions maintained their Division Two status.
In August 1993, a second 'friendly' took place, the game was to have been a testimonial match for Palace player Gary O'Reilly, but a row about gate receipts scuppered that. Once again, some Palace fans were subjected to another tear gas attack, this time before the game in a pub. Just for a change, Palace really turned on the style on the pitch. A 2,000-strong Palace posse of supporters saw Palace score three times without reply. A performance that underlined the major difference in class that now existed between the sides.
The 2000/01 season saw Brighton, under the stewardship of Mickey Adams, promoted out of Division Three as Champions, Palace on the other hand, had a shockingly bad season and coming into the final week of that season they were firmly ensconced in the relegation zone.
On the morning of Sunday 6th May 2001, Brighton paraded their Division Three Championship trophy through the streets of Brighton, and afterwards their supporters settled in pubs everywhere to watch Palace get relegated to Division Two, thereby setting up two mouth-watering encounters. For 87 minutes, the party was in full swing, then Dougie Freedman worked his magic and his epic late winner at Stockport sent the South London fans' delirious and the Brighton fans were left inconsolable!
So 2002 saw the return of Brighton to the second tier but they started the season poorly and Hinshelwood was kicked upstairs, and then the unthinkable happened - they went and appointed Steve Coppell, the former Palace manager as their new boss a couple of weeks before Palace hosted the South Coast side at Selhurst Park!
On 26th October 2002 Palace thrashed them 5–0 in a memorable game, with Palace striker Andy Johnson scoring a hat-trick. That date and scoreline is etched in Palace history forever!
The return fixture, the following March was a dull affair, the game ended 0-0 with Palace full-back Danny Granville getting himself sent off, but endearing himself to the Palace faithful by telling the jeering Brighton fans near the tunnel to "f**k off".
Brighton were relegated that season, making Steve Coppell an even bigger cult hero at Palace, for taking their bitter rivals down a division, while Palace finished the season mid-table.
Brighton bounced straight back through the play-offs into Division One in 2003-04, only to find Palace had already left the Division by the gentleman's exit, promoted into the Premiership via the play-offs.
Palace got themselves relegated from the Premiership straight away, whilst Brighton managed to take it right to the last day of the season before narrowly ensuring their survival in 2004-05.
Brighton gained revenge in 2005 with a 1–0 win at Selhurst Park, however, a month later at the Withdean, Palace twice came from behind, with Dougie Freedman scoring his 100th and 101st goals for Palace and Jobi McAnuff scoring in the very last minute to win the game 3–2.
However both Clubs and both sets of fans are in a much better place than when they last met almost six years ago. A lot has happened and a lot has changed for the good.
Brighton were promoted as League One champions last season and have former Chelsea, Spurs and Uruguay international Gus Poyet as boss. They have moved from their temporary home at the Withdean Stadium,(which was not predominantly a football ground, having been used for athletics throughout most of its history, and previously as a zoo), to a new 22,000 all-seater stadium, sponsored by AMEX, situated just outside Brighton in Falmer. They have started this season like a train and are currently lie third in The Championship table, at the time of writing.
Meanwhile Crystal Palace have recently survived administration and two successive relegation battles to maintain their place in the Championship, and with new owners in place, and former Palace legend Dougie Freedman at the helm, the club are finally on sound financial footing, and in Freedman they have one of the brightest young managers in the league. They have exceeded expectations on the field so far this season and have a support base, particularly on the road, that is the envy of many fellow Championship clubs.