The Eagles versus the Seagulls: a derby with a difference

By - Friday 26th September, 2014

Crystal Palace became the first away side to claim a league victory at Brighton’s Amex Stadium on 27th September 2011. Nadim Lilani relives this triumph and explores the rivalry in more detail

Although Crystal Palace is one of Brighton’s closest rivals in geographical terms, the two clubs are still separated by some 46 miles. It is not always proximity that causes tension between sporting teams, however.

Desire to reach a common objective is often the root of footballing tug-of-wars, as was the case in the mid-1970s: Brighton was a direct competitor to Palace in the Old Third Division during this period. The league competition was not the only common denominator, as the two then-managers of the respective clubs knew each other extremely well.

Animosity between the clubs’ managers was echoed by the fans, as three smoke bombs were thrown onto the pitch

Terry Venables, the man in charge at SE25, had shared the dressing room at Tottenham Hotspur with Brighton boss Alan Mullery, for three years, between 1966 and 1969. Venables had occupied the role of vice-captain of the North London club, while Mullery was the skipper. The latter admitted that this caused friction between the two.

The first Brighton-Palace matchup of the 1976-77 season took place at the Albion’s old Goldstone Ground, and produced a well-contested 1-1 draw. Animosity between the clubs’ managers was echoed by the fans, as three smoke bombs were thrown onto the pitch.

This bitterness was intensified thanks to a set of controversial first-round FA Cup games later in the season. A 2-2 tie at the Goldstone on 20th November meant a replay at Selhurst Park was required. Brighton outplayed Palace, but this match finished 1-1 after extra time.

The neutral venue of Stamford Bridge was chosen for the second replay, on 6th December. A high-strung affair was anticipated, after a war of words between the clubs’ managers during the run-up to the fixture.

The Eagles took the lead on 18 minutes through Paul Holder. Another incident of note occurred a few minutes later, as Brighton forward Peter Ward had a goal disallowed for handling the ball. After the cup tie, Palace centre-back Jim Cannon revealed that Ward had only used his hand because he had pushed the striker.

With 78 minutes gone, Brighton was awarded a penalty. Brian Horton dispatched the spot-kick, only for referee Ron Challis to disallow the goal for encroachment of the penalty area. The Brighton players were outraged, as only Palace players had infringed the 18-yard box. Goalkeeper Paul Hammond saved Horton’s retake of the penalty, and the match ended 1-0 to Palace.

As a furious Alan Mullery walked down the tunnel after the game, a Palace fan threw coffee over him. The manager reacted by grabbing some loose change from his pocket. He threw the money to the ground and shouted, “That’s all you’re worth, Crystal Palace!”, while making profane gestures towards the Eagles’ supporters. Police escorted Mullery away, and he was fined £100 by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute.

The Seagulls’ ascent to the Championship in 2011 heralded the return of the A23 derby

Both teams achieved their goal of promotion that season, with Palace finishing two points behind Brighton in the league table.

During the off-season, Brighton underwent a rebranding, changing from the Dolphins to the Seagulls. Considering the similarity to Palace’s nickname of the Eagles, it appeared as though the Sussex outfit now saw the South Londoners as the best of enemies.

Heading into the 1978-79 campaign, the two sides had their sights set on gaining promotion to the Old First Division. It was mission accomplished come the end of the season, but this time there was a role reversal in terms of the final standings in the table. Palace finished top of the league – a solitary point ahead of their rivals.

Sadly, Brighton’s financial issues in the 1990s left the two teams in different divisions for the most part, and they only met four times in the league between 1990 and 2011.

The Seagulls’ ascent to the Championship in 2011 heralded the return of the A23 derby. Palace’s manager at the time, Dougie Freedman, knew all about the fixture, being a former Eagles player. The last time it had been played out in May 2005, Freedman scored twice in a 3-2 win for the South London club.

Craig Mackail-Smith bundled home a cross to send the home fans into raptures

The derby was Brighton’s fifth league game at the 30,000 capacity Amex Stadium, where they had yet to lose a Championship encounter. Palace stumbled into the game off the back of a defeat at bottom-of-the-league Doncaster Rovers, but required no incentive to bounce back against their arch-rivals.

On 7 minutes though, striker Craig Mackail-Smith bundled home a cross to put the Albion ahead. The home fans burst into raptures. Palace kept their nerve and were more than equal to the opposition, but failed to find the net before half-time.

Persistence eventually paid off, as the Eagles drew level in the 80th minute. Wilfried Zaha collected the ball in midfield, bulldozed past four challenges, and took aim. His accurate finish nestled in the bottom corner. It was Palace’s seventh shot of the game.

Brighton’s defence could not stem the tide, and Freedman’s troops completed the turnaround seconds before the start of stoppage time.

He-who-must-not-be-named had done the unthinkable

Two substitutes combined to devastating effect, as Jonathan Parr’s pass presented Darren Ambrose with an opportunity just a few yards from goal. The latter’s first attempt struck goalkeeper Casper Ankergren’s flailing left arm. The ball flew up into the air, and Ambrose smashed it into the back of the net. It was far from aesthetic perfection, but nobody associated with Palace was bothered in the slightest.

Yet, an important part of the script remained unwritten. Palace’s Glenn Murray, a former Seagulls player, had been booed by the home fans throughout the match. The previous season, his 22 goals for Brighton played a large part in their promotion from League One. 47 seconds into injury time, Murray released an unerring strike to heap further misery onto his former employers.

Brighton’s blue-and-white bubble was well and truly burst, their supporters forced to deal with the worst kind of betrayal. He-who-must-not-be-named had done the unthinkable. While the Seagulls’ screech was cut out at its point of supply, the Eagles’ fans let out a deafening cry of victory.

A flick through the Albion’s results since this engaging affair three years ago reveals that Palace can now feel even more pride for their achievements that night. They remain one of only six teams to have registered a three-goal tally at the Amex Stadium, counting all 79 competitive fixtures to have been contested at the ground. A victory well worth the six-year wait. Long may the rivalry continue.

Nadim Lilani

Nadim Lilani

Nadim Lilani is a recent Hispanic Studies graduate from the University of Birmingham. A keen football fan and writer, he enjoys expressing his love for Croydon by documenting all things sport in south London.

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