LONDON (Reuters) - One of English football’s most bitter rivalries gets its first Premier League experience on Tuesday as supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace continue to argue about the source of the tension.
The clubs are separated by 44 miles but share a mutual supporter hostility that does not characterise either Palace’s relations with nearer London opponents or Brighton’s dealings with teams like Southampton, who are almost as geographically close to the south-coast club.
Brighton and Palace have not played in the top flight since 1981 and last met four years ago en route to the Eagles’ promotion from the Championship.
“All the players know the importance of it by now,” Palace forward Wilfried Zaha told the club’s match day programme. “We obviously speak about it among ourselves.
“I am looking forward to playing them again, it should be a good game. The atmosphere in those games is crazy.”
Some put the hostility down to when Terry Venables and Alan Mullery, who had been rivals for the Tottenham Hotspur captaincy during their playing days, were the managers in the late 1970s.
After one biter confrontation, a fired-up Brighton manager Mullery threw money down on the floor and shouted: “That is all you’re worth, Crystal Palace!”.
Others say the rivalry was sparked earlier by two other colourful managers, Malcolm Allison and Peter Taylor, while another theory is that it stems from a crunching tackle by Palace’s Henry Hughton, brother of current Brighton manager Chris, which ended the career of winger Gerry Ryan.
What is undisputed is that both clubs spent many years scrapping together, rising through English football’s second and third tiers at similar pace.
Both sets of supporters favour the same chant - a two-syllable rendition of “Eagles” for Palace and “Seagulls” for Brighton - although even that is a point of dispute, with Palace fans believing their cry was plagiarised by the south coast supporters.
On Tuesday the history will be forgotten amid the reality of scrapping for Premier League supremacy, with Palace still bottom on eight points and Brighton coasting in ninth place in their first season in the Premier League.
“I know the rivalry’s very strong and dates back a long time,” Palace manager Roy Hodgson told reporters on Tuesday. “We have several as a London club but this one is the most important one for the fans.
“We need to make sure we’re ready physically and tactically, but that’s the case with every game. What changes with the derby is the pressure not to disappoint the fans.”
Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Ed Osmond