Brighton vs Crystal Palace: A heated rivalry that has simmered and boiled for a century
By Ian Hine
When the fixtures are published in June, forget about Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea - it’s the Palace games that Albion fans look for first.
It’s been called the ‘fake’ derby and the most pointless rivalry in football, but the truth is, these are big games for Albion fans. Geographically, although Crawley is closer, Palace have historically been the closest league club.
Rivalries are pointless if you don’t actually play each other and over the years, we have met Crystal Palace over 100 times. The first meeting came on Christmas Day 1920 when 14,000 at The Goldstone Ground saw Palace win 2-0.
Most of the meetings have been in the third (62 games) and second (24 games) tier. Eight games have taken place in the top flight and five in the FA Cup. The other two meetings were in the Full Members Cup in 1985 and the Zenith Data Systems Cup in February 1991.
When people ask about how the rivalry really developed, most theories surround a marathon FA Cup-tie in November and December 1976. At the time, both teams were in the Third Division and battling for promotion.
In Alan Mullery and Terry Venables, both clubs had young, progressive managers in charge and both teams were full of exciting young players. The previous season had seen Albion do the double over Palace, with 33,300 cramming into The Goldstone to see the victory in February 1976.
It is said that at this game, the Albion fans, in response to the chants of ‘Eagles!’ from the Palace contingent, responded with the ‘Seagulls!’ chant that has been a part of the club ever since.
Moving into 1976/77, the league game seven weeks before the cup-tie resulted in a 1-1 draw at Hove, in front of yet another bumper crowd. The rivalry was gathering pace. The cup was a welcome distraction from the league and the first game at The Goldstone attracted over 29,500 fans, who witnessed a thriller.
Albion, in Alan Mullery’s first season in charge, were flying high and the manager wasn’t minded to make too many changes to his team. Peter Grummitt continued in goal, behind the back four of Ken Tiler, Chris Cattlin, Andy Rollings and Graham Cross.
In midfield, Brian Horton was partnered by Steve Piper, Peter O’Sullivan and Tony Towner. Up front, the partnership between Peter Ward and Ian Mellor had already delivered 25 goals in all competitions. Wardy had scored 13 in 16 league games, as well as 3 in the League Cup.
Albion started the game strongly and took the lead through Peter Ward. This is how the teams went in at half-time, but Palace came back strongly in the second half and equalised when Welsh International centre-half Ian Evans powered home.
Albion re-took the lead through Ian Mellor but then an inspired substitution by Terry Venables brought dividends. Rachid Harkouk came on and promptly equalised. The game finished 2-2 and it was back to Selhurst Park three days later for the next instalment.
A Selhurst Park crowd of over 29,000 saw another tense encounter. The game again finished 1-1, this time after extra time. Both goals came in the first half, with Ian Mellor scoring for Albion.
There were no penalty shoot-outs, so the game went to a second replay, played at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground. The weather was appalling and the game was postponed twice, before finally going ahead on 6th December.
Just over 14,000 braved the weather and saw Palace take the lead. Albion were then awarded a penalty, which Brian Horton dispatched, to bring the tie level. Referee Ron Challis had other ideas.
He had already disallowed an Albion effort earlier in the game and angered the players even more by ordering the penalty kick to be re-taken, having spotted some ‘encroachment’ by an Albion player.
After the ensuing uproar had died down, Paul Hammond saved Horton’s second attempt and the Eagles held out to triumph. The drama wasn’t over because Alan Mullery confronted Challis on the final whistle and as he was leaving the pitch, made a ‘gesture’ to Palace fans.
This earned him a £75 fine from the FA and ensured the rivalry would continue with added ‘spice’.
The season ended in promotion for both clubs and two years later, both clubs were again promoted, this time into the top flight. Despite a ‘parting of the ways’ over the ensuing years, the rivalry has endured and there have been some memorable encounters over the years.
None more so than the game in October 2005 when a Paul McShane header gave us a win at Selhurst Park. We did the double over them last season and on Monday night, all Albion fans will be hoping the bragging rights will continue.