This article first appeared in The Sportsman on 27th September, 2021
Crystal Palace against Brighton and Hove Albion has never been just another fixture on the calendar for the supporters of both clubs since the mid-1970s – even if there were lengthy spells with one, two or even three divisions between them as the Seagulls struggled and the Eagles thrived.
The intensity of the rivalry often surprises supporters of the higher-profile grudge clashes but in truth it bears all the same hallmarks. Losing is pure pain. The fear of losing before the matches is almost as bad. And winning puts a smile on tens of thousands of faces until the next time.
It is usually claimed that the spark to ignite this spat for clubs at either end of the M23/A23 came in an FA Cup first-round second replay – remember those – at Stamford Bridge in the 1976-77 season. Referee Ron Challis disallowed a Brighton goal and made Brian Horton retake a penalty which the midfielder missed second time around.
Seagulls boss Alan Mullery had drink thrown over him on the touchline, famously retorted with an obscene gesture captured on film, before claiming in the post-match interview that he wouldn’t give a fiver for any of the Palace players. His opposite number that day – Terry Venables.
With the clubs both on an upward curve there were a series of important matches in the old Division Three, and then Two before both found themselves in the top flight – and those clashes were regularly scheduled for the Christmas and Easter holiday period, with large travelling contingents making the 100-mile round-trip. These occasions were not always trouble-free.
Other incidents did little to defuse the tensions, including Palace’s Henry Hughton breaking Gerry Ryan’s leg with a wild challenge in a 1-1 Division Two draw in 1985 – one that saw then Brighton manager Chris Cattlin describe it as the worst tackle he had ever seen, and incensed Seagulls skipper Danny Wilson saying Hughton should be banned for life.
And in the 2012-13 Championship play-off semi-final second leg a magnificent individual performance and two goals from Wilfried Zaha helped Palace to promotion while setting Brighton’s own Premier League ambitions back by four years, against the backdrop of the ‘Poo-Gate’ saga.
A deposit on the Palace dressing-room floor at the Amex initially saw the home club blamed and publicly shamed – only for Eagles defender Paddy McCarthy to later reveal it was his team’s own coach driver!
From 1989 the rivals found themselves in the same division just twice over 22 years, enough to see the bitterness disappear in lesser feuds – just not this one. From the moment that Brighton recovered from their lengthy voyage off to the lower reaches of English football and re-emerged in a new stadium at the Amex, a new generation were offered instruction over who the real enemy was.
And the Selhurst Park League Two game 32 years ago that preceded the fallow years was one of the most extraordinary not only in the series between the two clubs, but worldwide for its most notable aspect.
Steve Coppell, in his first job in management, was building a strong Palace team, one that included a certain Ian Wright - plucked from non-league at Dulwich Hamlet - and Mark Bright up front, and also featuring the likes of Alan Pardew and Eddie McGoldrick. They were to get promoted to the old Division One via the play-offs later that season.
And Brighton, who would finish 19th, were managed by Barry Lloyd. But that was all yet to be decided when the teams met on Easter Monday, March 27th 1989.
Wright represented the biggest single threat to the Brighton defence, and the goal he scored in the first half would rank right up there among his very best – a magnificent 25-yard dipping and angled left-foot drive on the run into the far corner that beat John Keeley all ends up.
The forward had his own reasons for taking special pleasure from this goal. Brighton had - almost unbelievably – turned him down as a 19-year-old after a six-week trial. He just seemed made to score for Palace that day against the old enemy.
But then things started taking a turn for the surreal, as referee for the day Kelvin Morton from Bury St Edmunds took centre stage. Firstly Albion’s Mike Trusson was given a straight red card for a bad foul on tricky winger McGoldrick.
A steep uphill task for the visitors saw the gradient worsen when Morton awarded a penalty for a foul on Mark Bright, who tucked away the spot-kick to double the lead after 38 minutes. The time is worth noting. Three minutes later Dean Wilkins fouled McGoldrick and Morton again pointed to the spot – but this time Bright’s effort was saved by Keeley.
Almost unbelievably from the resulting corner Bright went down again, Morton gave his third penalty, and Wright - handed the responsibility by Bright after his miss – hit the post.
Ten minutes after half-time Brighton won their own penalty, and this one was tucked away by Alan Curbishley. Suddenly, against all logic and reason, the result was back in the balance. But Morton was not finished. In the 65th minute defender Ian Chapman handled, and John Pemberton launched a howitzer that cleared the bar handsomely and may still be orbiting the Earth.
Five penalties in one match, in fact in 27 minutes – still a joint world-record along with the five awarded in the Colombia v Argentina Copa America tie a decade later.
Morton was contacted by this correspondent earlier in September for his recollections, however the official felt discretion might be the better part of valour given he is still active in the game and working as a Referee Assessor. Probably a good call. But none of the 14,384 there will ever forget it.