Brighton v Crystal Palace: The Story Behind the Rivalry
Every season when this rivalry comes around, I often see confusion surrounding its origins. From motorways to airports, I’ve seen all sorts of attempts to understand this rivalry.
Let’s journey back to the 1976/77 third division season (now League 2, but back then equivalent to League 1). It was a time when a pint would set you back just 32p on average and the world record transfer fee was on the cusp of reaching £500,000, with Kevin Keegan’s move from Liverpool to Hamburg about to happen.
Crystal Palace embarked on their quest for promotion after narrowly missing out in the previous season with a 5th place finish. Meanwhile, Brighton were striving to rise from a 19th place finish the previous year. Even prior to this season, both clubs had begun to develop a rivalry due to the fierce competition witnessed in the games spanning a couple seasons before. However, it was this particular season that would significantly escalate the animosity between these two clubs.
At the helm of both clubs were new managers, who curiously happened to be former Tottenham Hotspur teammates. Brighton appointed ex-Spurs captain Alan Mullery, while Palace enlisted Terry Venables, who would later go on to manage England during the iconic Euro ’96 tournament. It has been suggested that neither manager held a favorable opinion of the other during their Tottenham days.
The inaugural clash of that season between the two clubs took place on October 2nd, 1976. By that point, Alan Mullery’s Brighton had made a stunning start, securing 8 wins, 3 draws, and suffering only a single defeat in all competitions. On the other hand, Venables’ Palace hadn’t started as impressively as the seagulls, managing 5 wins, 2 draws, and 3 losses in all competitions. The first game between these sides concluded in a relatively uneventful 1-1 draw.
Fast forward just under 2 months, and the two teams found themselves squaring off again, this time in the FA Cup. Once more, the match ended in a deadlock, this time a 2-2 draw. Consequently, a replay was scheduled to be played at Palace’s home ground. The teams engaged in yet another 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park. As one can imagine, tensions escalated considerably, with three draws against the same team, leading to the need for a neutral venue to host a second replay. This replay was actually rescheduled twice due to bad weather—a situation that would make a fair few current managers burst a blood vessel, given their views on the topic of replays and fixture congestion.
Thus, on December 6th, 1976, the two teams converged at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on a blustery and rainy Monday. Palace defied the flow of the game to take a 1-0 lead midway through the first half, courtesy of a goal by midfielder Phil Holder. Brighton continued to dominate the match and appeared to have equalized through club legend Peter Ward, although the goal was disallowed for handball. Adding to this frustration, the Palace defender later admitted to intentionally pushing Ward to induce the handball. With tensions already heightened due to referee Ron Challis’s decisions, matters worsened in the 78th minute. Brighton were awarded a penalty, offering a chance to level the score. Midfielder and future Brighton manager Brian Horton converted the penalty, only for Challis to order a retake due to players encroaching the area. Horton’s retaken penalty was thwarted by the Palace keeper, culminating in a 1-0 victory for Crystal Palace. Adding insult to injury, both sides have since confessed that only Palace players had encroached the area, rendering the retake unnecessary.
In the wake of these contentious officiating decisions, manager Mullery’s frustration reached boiling point. He charged at the referee, hurling abuse and even requiring escorting off the pitch. As he was led past the Palace supporters, he reached into his pocket and retrieved whatever change he could find. “That’s all you’re worth, Crystal Palace!” he exclaimed while tossing the change onto the ground. Mullery’s actions led to him being drenched in a cup of hot tea by a supporter. Mullery was later fined £100 for his behavior after the final whistle.
When the league season concluded, both teams secured promotions—Brighton clinching second place and Palace finishing third (with both teams losing out on the league title to Mansfield Town). In the ensuing years, every encounter was marked by fierce competition as both teams vied for promotion to the pinnacle of English football.
Throughout the years, this rivalry has witnessed a series of riveting matches. The fact that both teams consistently boasted similar abilities and league standings only served to intensify the rivalry’s flames. Consequently, it’s evident that this rivalry isn’t rooted in geographical distance, airports, or motorways; rather, it’s a rivalry that has spanned nearly five decades and continues to be fierce.