As many of you will already know, during the 70’s and 80’s when English football was rife with the issues of hooliganism and violence, Brighton and Crystal Palace developed a particularly fierce rivalry, which still exists today. And whilst it is said to have been instigated by an infamous FA Cup tie and a personal rivalry between then managers Alan Mullery and Terry Venables dating back to their days as teammates at Tottenham, it is a rivalry that has perpetuated until this day, in no small part due to the constant violence and hatred between rival fans, simply for supporting the wrong team.
As I Brighton fan I initially bought into the rivalry, attempting to initiate myself as what I perceived to be a ‘proper’ fan, most importantly by hating Palace. But as time has gone on and the realities of football’s lack of importance in the grand scheme of things has dawned on me, I have continued to realise the facade that it truly is. So full disclosure, I don’t hate Palace, or Palace supporters, I just hate losing to Palace.
Former BBC Match of the Day presenter and Brighton fan Des Lynam shares my disenchantment with elements of the rivalry once saying “Nothing irritates me more at home Albion matches than having to listen to that banal chant of: Stand up if you hate Palace”. Adding that, “hate has no place in football.” This was in 2012, so it’s safe to say that his calls for harmony were ignored and the rivalry continues as fierce as ever.
As well as the hatred, the really detestable element is the violence and intimidation that comes as a part of the rivalry. Rivalries can be fun and so many are a key part of the history of sport, particularly in the UK. But when we glorify the hatred, it gives a certain level of credence to the condemnable intimidation and violence between rival supporters. Despite the fact football has moved on since the dark days of the 70’s and 80’s, the fact these rivalries exist still in such a vociferous form is a result of them being ingrained into football supporters’ beings. After all football in particular has a culture of traditionalism and a slow pace of change.
These rivalries originate for various reasons and are always linked back in some way to social conflicts, be it historic, political or religious tensions, or in this case a mix of hooliganism and a competitive rivalry. But the reality in this case is neither of these scenarios exist anymore, certainly not to the extent that they used to.
That said the ferocious rivalries are a big part of global appeal of English football. With plenty of evidence of fans with no ‘skin in the game’ nonetheless taking sides in the tribal world of football supporting. This development of football’s globalisation creates an awkward situation where football relies on these rivalries for excitement and publicity, but which are becoming about as genuine as a pantomime dame.
Either way, the ferocious vitriolic element of the rivalry isn’t for me. I’m pretty sure if they were honest and gave themselves a moment to be impartial, many fans would say the same. I will go as far as saying there are many things that I quite like about Palace, and as a gesture of my intent here’s some examples:
Ian Wright – when I grew up in the 90s and started taking an interest in football, Ian Wright was one the biggest names around. As such, and particularly given that the first game I went to watch live was at the home of the Arsenal team that he was the star striker of at the time, he was a huge icon of mine. By the time I started supporting Brighton in 1999 he had caught not just mine, but the hearts of the whole nation with his loveable happy-go-lucky attitude and cheeky smile as much as with his goalscoring records, which meant when I realised he was an ex-Palace player I was too far down the line of my love affair to turn back. And either way it’s hard not to admire his story, which famously included a failed trial at Brighton. A story he documented fantastically here.
Roy Hodgson – who of us didn’t at least partly love Roy Hodgson as England manager? After building his coaching career in the relative footballing backwaters of Sweden, his is a coaching career that has seen him manage at such esteemed clubs as Inter Milan, Liverpool and Udinese. As well as taking little-old-Fulham to a European cup final, with a team spearheaded by our very own Bobby Zamora. A feat that played a big part in him getting the England job.
When he was in charge of the national team, despite not having a great deal of success he still outlasted many more highly regarded counterparts in no small part due to the dignity in which he carried out the job. Which was with an air of a wise and loveable grandad figure, whilst also creating some of the best football gif’s out there. Furthermore, many including current England manager Gareth Southgate credit him with laying the foundations for the England team that got to the Semi-finals of the last World Cup.
He’s carried this scholared dignity into his work at Palace, where after inheriting an all-mighty mess left over from Alan Pardew’s tenure at the club, he’s turned Palace into a good mid-table side. A job that it’s hard not to respect him for and meant that along with Brighton’s very own Chris Hughton he has continued to be seen as one of the good guys in the English game.
Holmesdale fanatics – Palace’s group of ultra-fanatics are an admirable bunch (in general). The way they express their passion for their club in both a colourful and vocal way has created a consistently great atmosphere at Selhurst Park, for which the club is now nationally renowned for. And it’s no surprise that without them at the start of the season Palace’s home form suffered, picking up 2 points in 6 games. Moreover, they always bring a great support away from home too, consistently being one of the loudest away supports at the AMEX. They’re a credit to their club.
Plucky underdogs – in my living memory and well before that, Palace have constantly been a team that never quite had its day, but has always managed to punch above their weight, fulfilling the loveable English stereotype of a plucky underdog perfectly. This is no better illustrated than their promotion at our expense in 2013, which has subsequently been followed by their continued survival in the top-flight despite seemingly having little of the ‘model club’ vibe, with no long-term strategy, barely any Premier League standard infrastructure, let alone a stable management culture. And this makes what Roy Hodgson and his predecessors have achieved all the more impressive.
Zaha’s cheeky attitude – my final one is not going to be popular with Brighton fans. But whilst Wilfried Zaha’s behaviour sometimes makes even his own clubs fan base admit he can be hard to like; his cheekiness and passion shines through in everything he does on and off the pitch. It’s always good to see a player expressing themselves and their personality on the game, even if it does often occur at our expense. And he plays the villain to the Brighton fans perfectly, every story needs a good villain.
I write this not to ask you to show love for your rivals, but more to demonstrate that we have much more in common with each other and much more admiration for each other than some would like to think. For example, many Palace fans have chosen to live in Brighton and many Brighton fans have in turn chosen to move to South London into Crystal Palace catchment areas. Indeed, I am an example of the former, and in a great interview with Nick Szczepanik, Palace supporter and journalist Dominic Fifield revealed his admiration for his rivals and the fact he indeed lives in Brighton.
For me the way the rivalry manifests itself for most fans is summed up by my Mum’s attitude towards it. As I’ve said before, she’s not a football fan, but takes an interest because of my brother and I’s football fanaticism. She’s also the treasurer of an organisation, the head of which is a Palace fan. And they often share friendly jokes at the others expense when results don’t go one teams way. Moreover, whenever she has to leave documents for her Palace supporting colleague, she ensures whenever possible that they’re delivered in a Brighton and Hove Albion club shop carrier bag, a simple joke which is nothing malicious.
Delve into the darker depths of the World Wide Web, and you’ll find a much more sinister side to the rivalry. An abhorrent level of behaviour that is derived in one way or another from an irrational hatred of a group of people because of the football team they support.
Whilst some form of irrational hatred may have been explained away in the dark days of English football of the 70’s and 80’s as a part of the game. It’s not consistent with the inclusive and family friendly values that the modern football establishment thrives off promoting, whilst at the same time glorifying the irrational hatred of rival clubs that gives credence to the violence and intimidation that comes with in. So, I don’t expect anything will change and so there’s little doubt that the rivalry will continue to include the significant element of detestable behaviour it does today. That said, even though I don’t hate Palace, I hate it when they beat us. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen on Saturday!