The old foe from up the road.
Not something you may expect to hear from your average Albion supporter, but I enjoy meeting Crystal Palace fans for the first time. When you’re introduced as ‘Brighton’ and they give you that knowing look, but extend a warm handshake regardless. It’s that shared knowledge of a healthy rivalry many find hard to fathom, and a weird mutual respect which only exists among football fans.
My old Pompey flatmate disliked Southampton so much we weren’t allowed to say the ‘s’ word in our house. Such was his antipathy towards the Saints that he mounted a team photo on card and burnt a whole in each player’s face with a cigarette!
Our rivalry with Palace is – compared to more traditional cross-city/county match-ups – a bit confusing for some. The distance from Falmer to Selhurst Park is 46 miles making the Croydon outfit the closest club, geographically, to the Albion.
Things really intensified in the 1970s when both clubs were vying for promotion from the old Third Division. Albion boss Alan Mullery, and his opposite number Terry Venables, were former team-mates at Tottenham and led their respective sides with passion, desire and a certain amount of charm. Regular crowds of over 30,000 – in Surrey and Sussex – were treated to some heated ding-dongs as both clubs went up in 1977. Earlier in that joint promotion campaign, Mullery famously endeared himself to the blue and red faithful at a FA Cup second-round replay at Stamford Bridge, declaring ‘you’re not worth that Palace’ while simultaneously throwing pound notes to the ground and flicking the Vs to the crowd.
Two seasons later and Albion went up again – to the First Division for the first time – and were flying over the Atlantic when they learned of Palace’s promotion, pipping the Seagulls as champions. Our now popular nickname came to be as a response to Palace’s Eagles by fans in a West Street pub in the mid-1970s. ‘Dolphins’ didn’t have the same ring to it.
Both clubs struggled in the top flight and attendances markedly dipped due to poor performances on the pitch, and hooligans’ behaviour off it.
Fast forward to 2002 in south London and the first meeting between the old foes for 13 years; a 5-0 hammering, with an ex Palace manager in the Albion dug-out, didn’t help relations. Neither did a trouser accident at the Amex in 2013.
Football is built on rivalries, the atmosphere generated when ‘enemies’ play. The day-to-day chit-chat, the civic pride, the point scoring – it’s part of the fabric of the game.
Palace are currently riding high and, who knows, we may join them again soon.
If not, they have further to fall, which I’m sure we’d all enjoy.