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The M23 Derby: The Spicy Story Behind The Fierce Crystal Palace And Brighton Rivalry

Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion kicks off this weekend.
Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion kicks off this weekend.

You may be looking at the Premier League fixture list this weekend, taking your pick of the games to watch.

Incumbent champions Manchester City versus the outperforming Watford sounds good. Or maybe Mauricio Pochettino having to watch (from the stands) his Spurs play his old team of Southampton at St. Mary’s? Oh no, it’s got to be Arsenal versus Manchester United hasn’t it, a proper battle for a top four position.

Well, before any of those games kick-off, we’re actually treated to one of the most alive rivalries in English football, with Crystal Palace welcoming Brighton & Hove Albion to Selhurst Park on Saturday lunchtime; the ‘M23 Derby’.

Before Brighton were promoted to the English top tier for the 2017/18 season, it was a rivalry that had simmered but hadn’t been brought to the boil for a number of years. Championship meetings had occurred across the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons when Crystal Palace had descended from the Premier League, as well as two seasons in the early to mid-2000s. Preceding the 5-0 drubbing by Palace of Brighton on 25th October 2002, the two hadn’t met in over 21 years, which goes someway to explaining why the rivalry has been diluted in the footballing public consciousness.

The competition between the two has existed since the 1940s, but reached its peak in the 1970s.

The appointment of Terry Venables as Palace manager in June 1976 followed by Alan Mullery the following month is now regarded however as the catalyst for the animosity between the two.

The two men had been teammates at Tottenham Hotspur, and considered rivals vying for the armband;

"I think it was probably because I got the Tottenham captaincy before him. I'm sure Terry wanted to be captain but Bill Nicholson gave it to me and he was made vice-captain. I can't really give you any other reason. But it was a friendly rivalry — we've never been enemies. We used to share a room together at Tottenham and I still bump into him occasionally." (Mullery via The Guardian)

In the 1976/77 season Palace/Brighton and Venables/Mullery were drawn against each other in the FA Cup on 20th November 1976, the game ended 2-2, with Mullery’s Seagulls dominant.

The replay played three days later, Brighton pushed again, Crystal Palace managed to wrangle another draw.

The second replay had then to be postponed, twice, because of bad weather, with Brighton still irked by not being able to produce a win over a dogged Palace.

Eventually played at Stamford Bridge on December 6th with Palace incredibly going ahead in the 18th minute.

Brighton thought they had the equaliser but that was disallowed when Peter Ward was adjudged to have handled the ball. Opposition goalkeeper Jim Cannon later admitted he did, but only because he had instigated it with a shove.

Again the equaliser was there, from a spotkick. Brighton were then made to retake it because of encroachment. Brighton missed the retake.

Palace incredibly saw out the tie and progressed 1-0.

Brighton and Mullery were incensed, the gaffer also being coated in boiling hot coffee by a Palace supporter. Responding Mullery got the (spare) change out of his pocket and threw it onto the dressing floor, screaming “'That's all you're worth, Crystal Palace!'”

That earned him a £100 fine.

He aimed a couple of two-fingered gestures to the Eagles crowd as he was escorted off the pitch.

That ton has helped trigger an animosity that has never dissipated, despite their differing league standings over the next forty years.

@CPFC_Cal informs that the friction was further exacerbated the following season with Brighton slyly creating their nickname, ‘The Seagulls’, out of hearing Palace singing passionately about ‘The Eagles’. Previously Brighton had been known as The Dolphins, which admittedly doesn’t have the same ring to it.

It’s also one of the closely fought rivalries. Of the 102 meetings, Brighton have the most narrow of bragging rights, winning just a single match more. The Seagulls have 39 wins to Palace’s 38, with 25 occasions when they’ve shared the points.

The next meeting - with a chance for the Eagles to draw level - sees Crystal Palace versus Brighton & Hove Albion kick off at 12:30pm on Saturday 9th March 2019. Hopefully we’ll get treated to those similar scenes that took place in 1976.

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