Championship Play-off: How Terry Venables and Alan Mullery sparked a fierce and enduring southern rivalry between Crystal Palace and Brighton

Play-off showdown is the latest chapter in the story of an unlikely enmity that goes back 40 years

Even Crystal Palace’s chairman, Steve Parish, is too young to remember exactly why. But last night’s first leg of the Championship play-off semi-final against Brighton & Hove Albion became the latest instalment of one of the fiercest grudge matches in English football.

“I’d only just started going to games when all this began but I’ve always known we don’t like Brighton,” Parish admitted. “Now it usurps any other rivalry we have.”

A trip to Wembley and a shot at the £90m jackpot that comes with a place in the Premier League next season will be the prize on offer in Monday’s second leg at the Amex Stadium. Yet what must be the unlikeliest “derby” in the country has its roots in the second replay of an FA Cup first-round tie played almost 40 years ago.

Alan Mullery and Terry Venables had been team-mates at Tottenham Hotspur and landed their first jobs in management within weeks of one another at the start of the 1976-77 season at Brighton and Palace respectively. Both were ambitious Third Division clubs at the time fighting for promotion and – separated by just over 40 miles down the old A23 – had built up a healthy rivalry. That all changed over the course of 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge on 6 December 1976.

After the first two games at Selhurst Park and the Goldstone Ground finished level, Chelsea’s ground was chosen as the venue for the second replay. The match eventually went ahead following two postponements owing to bad weather, with Palace booking their place in the next round courtesy of a goal from Paul Holder.

However, it was Mullery’s reaction to two decisions by referee Ron Challis – subsequently rechristened “Challis of the Palace” by Brighton fans – which sealed the mutual hatred that exists to this day.

“I don’t think there was any love lost between Terry and Alan,” remembered Jim Cannon, the former Palace defender who played in all five of that season’s matches between the two. “They were winding each other up through the press and that helped build up the atmosphere among the fans. I think it was all about Alan in the end because he went crazy on the touchline about the disallowed goal and the penalty.”

What happened next has gone down in terrace folklore. Having approached Challis after the game to remonstrate, Mullery was making his way down the tunnel when he claims to have had boiling coffee thrown over him by a supporter.

He reacted by taking some change out of his pocket and hurling it on the ground, shouting “You’re not worth that, Palace” and flashing a V sign. His actions earned the former England midfielder a £100 fine and a lifetime of notoriety in south London. 

“I don’t really want to talk about it. That was nearly 40 years ago and I’m not really interested in what happened in a Cup tie,” Mullery told The Independent this week.

“I think it’s a waste of time. It’s ridiculous. I was a manager for 12 years and that one thing – because Crystal Palace are playing Brighton – stands out. I find it quite strange, actually. The rivalry was between two managers. We were rivals when he was at Chelsea and then he came to Tottenham for two years. We became very good friends and used to room with each other and then after two years he went off to QPR.”

When both sides were promoted, hostilities resumed the following season and culminated when Palace pipped their arch-enemies to the Second Division title in 1979. By then, the battle lines had been drawn. 

“It was a bit of give and take – we’d beat them and then they’d beat us but we still used to go out and have a drink with the Brighton lads because they were all mates of ours,” said Cannon. “Obviously, things were different when we got on the pitch and we’d go out there and kick lumps out of each other.”

After Venables departed in 1980 to embark on a career that would eventually take him to Barcelona and the England manager’s job, Mullery even had an ill-judged spell as Palace manager after they had been relegated from the top flight before returning to Brighton for a second spell in 1986. Violent battles between supporters outside the Goldstone Ground after a Boxing Day fixture led to police using CS gas to disperse the crowds.

Three years later, a remarkable game ended with Palace winning 2-1 despite somehow contriving to miss three out of four penalties they were awarded. Just for good measure, Brighton had also missed their only one.

The clubs’ contrasting fortunes meant the rivalry lay largely dormant for the best part of a decade before former Palace manager Steve Coppell returned at the helm of Brighton in 2002. More regular meetings in the last 10 years have helped to rekindle the animosity, which resulted in 28 fans being arrested when Palace visited the new Amex Stadium for the first time in September 2011.

Away supporters travelling to yesterday’s game and Monday’s second leg were warned by Sussex and the Metropolitan Police that they must carry identification with their match tickets at all times, although Parish believes both clubs have since made great progress in improving relations between the two clubs. 

“I applaud what they’ve done for their football club and the sacrifices they have made to get the new stadium,” he said of Brighton supporters. “The biggest problem that we have sometimes is that people are quite apathetic towards us so to have 30,000 Brighton fans singing ‘We hate Palace’ gives me a sense of pride. I don’t think you can be considered a proper football club unless you’ve got a proper rival.”

As for the man who made it all happen, Mullery expects the winner to go all the way to the promised land of the Premier League.

“It’s very important to both teams and it will be a huge financial boost to both clubs if either of them can go up,” he said. “But other than that it’s just another game of football as far as I’m concerned.”

Not any more.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker