Crystal Palace and Brighton have one of the fiercest rivalries of any two teams in all of English football, but due to the distance between the two sides, it’s not a derby/rivalry many people away from those two sides knew much about until recent times. Over the years, these two historic sides have battled hard time and again for bragging rights over the other. Known as the “M23 Derby”, the game will see its’ 104th installment tonight at Selhurst Park – beforehand, let’s take a look at the history.
Where did Palace Brighton rivalry start?
The two sides were both founding members of the Football League Third Division back in 1920 and as such, played each other rather regularly. They’d also both transferred to the Football League from the Southern Football League, where they’d been facing off against one another since 1906.
Despite playing each other on a regular basis for almost fifty years prior, the two sides did not end up becoming significant rivals until the mid 1970s. With Peter Taylor managing Brighton, having succeeded Brian Clough, and Malcolm Allison leading Palace into battle – the 1974/75 season began a rivalry for the ages.
The sides came up against one another on the opening day of the season with Palace having been relegated to the third division the season before. The crowd at the old Goldstone Ground on the south coast saw 26,000 people turn up, significantly more than the norm for Brighton in those days. With the sun bleaching down on the crowd, the fans of both sides were drunk, rowdy and ended up fighting inside and outside of the ground. Brighton would go on to win this game 1-0, while Palace won the return fixture 3-0.
With both sides vying for promotion, the fixture between them in London the following season was a potentially crucial game for both sides. The ‘Evening Argus’ described the game as having been played with a “cup tie atmosphere” with “the cut and thrust carried through with the zest of deadly rivals”. Brighton also won this game 1-0, much to the annoyance of Malcolm Allison who complained at the “overly aggressive” tactics of the Seagulls.
Interestingly, it was the return fixture between the two at the Goldstone Ground where Brighton were given the nickname, “The Seagulls”. Up until that point, Brighton had been known as “The Dolphins” – the club adopted the new nickname following the fans humorously chanting “Seagulls, Seagulls, Seagulls” in response to a chant of “Eagles…” from the away side. This was another game overshadowed by crowd trouble and the game was nearly abandoned following smoke bombs thrown on the pitch by the Palace fans. This one saw Brighton take a 2-0 win, with both goals coming through Sammy Morgan.
Both sides missed out on promotion that season and as a result, both replaced their managers – Terry Venables took over at Palace, while Alan Mullery took the reigns of the Seagulls. Having spent time playing together, the pair already had a bit of a rivalry with Venables having played back-up to Mullery’s captaincy at Tottenham. The season that followed saw the sides face each other numerous times, with an FA Cup tie that needed two replays to separate the sides being the pick of the bunch.
Having drawn each other in the FA Cup, they drew 2-2 at the Goldstone, the replay at Selhurst Park ended 1-1 after extra-time resulting in a now extinct, second replay. That game was huge, taking place at Stamford Bridge, and led to some pretty fiery scenes. Palace took the lead early, only to be pegged back by Brighton straight after. Shortly after the opener, Brighton equalised through Peter Ward, but it was ruled out for handball. After the game, Palace defender Jimmy Cannon admitted the handball only happened as he had pushed the Ward.
The drama didn’t end there either, as late on in the game, Brighton were awarded a penalty and another chance to pull it level. Brian Horton scored it, but the referee ordered a retake, citing encroaching players as the reason. The retake ended up being saved by the Palace keeper and the game ended 1-0 to the Seagulls. After the game, Mullery was apoplectic and had to be escorted off the field by Police. He flicked the “V’s” at the Palace fans before reportedly entering the Eagles dressing room, throwing £5 on the floor and telling Venables “your team’s not worth that…”
Every game between the pair that season saw an attendance at almost double that of their season average – showing just how seriously the two sets of fans were taking the fixtures. Over the next three years, both sides would be promoted together twice – reaching the first division. Eventually, Venables left Palace in 1980, while Mullery left Brighton in 1981. Within three years, both sides would be relegated back to the second division.
The rivalry continued all the way through the 80s, but slowed down in the 1990s. Due to Brighton’s significant off-field problems, the sides only faced each other four times between the years of 1990 and 2011. A league game between the pair in 2002 represented the first meeting between the two teams in 13 years – Palace ended up winning it with a massive 5-0 win.
Brighton finally made it back into the same league as Palace back in 2011, as the sides met for the first time at the new and shiny American Express (Falmer) Stadium. Palace ended up winning that one 3-1 but it was the following season, 2012/13, where the rivalry was properly reignited. They went head to head four times over the course of the season, twice in the league and in a two-legged Championship play-off tie.
In a strange display of symmetry, both sides won their home fixture in the league by a score of 3-0. In the playoffs, the first leg at Selhurst Park saw a goalless draw, while the second leg saw Palace win 2-0 at the AMEX before going on to beat Watford to secure promotion to the Premier League.
Four years later, Brighton were promoted to the Premier League too as runners up to Newcastle, meaning we got the first M23 derby in the top flight for 36 years – and the first EVER in the Premier League. Since then, the sides have played four times in the Premier League, with Brighton winning twice, Palace once and other a draw.
ALL TIME DERBY RECORD
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The last game derby game, back on March 9th of this year, saw Brighton win 2-1 at Selhurst Park. Tonight, the sides will meet there once more, for the first time this season.
The strangely named M23 Derby (M23 doesn’t run through or connect to either Brighton or Croydon), has led to some fantastic games over the years, and tonight’s will likely be no different. For those on the south coast and those in South London, this is the biggest day of the season so far. For most of us, including me, this has always been something of an enigma of a derby – but now you know the history, here’s hoping this one lives up to it.