The M23 Derby: Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion Rivalry & History

 Crystal Palace  v Brighton & Hove Albion Brighton & Hove Albion versus Crystal Palace might not be the most obvious of footballing rivalries but to their supporters, this fixture has all the intensity of the other clashes that we have featured.

Crystal Palace are based in Croyden, South London, with Brighton around 45 miles away on the south coast. The M23 and A23 provides the route between the two, leading to this match up to be known as the M23 Derby. Crystal Palace have numerous London rivals and Brighton have coastal neighbours in Portsmouth and Southampton, but this is the fixture more than any is the one that they both eagerly anticipate.

Below we have all you need to know about this more usual rivalry as well as predictions on their next fixture along with and stats and reports from their most recent head to head contests.

Map of Crystal Palace & Brighton Stadiums

Map of Crystal Palace & Brighton Stadiums

About the M23 Derby: The Weirdest Rivalry in Football

Some rivalries are perfectly self-explanatory, with anyone that knows anything about both geography and football understanding why Liverpool and Manchester United or Celtic and Rangers aren’t particularly close friends. Yet other match-ups have nothing to do with the location of the two teams involved nor the perceived success of the sides. Instead they come about because of random reasons, such as the way that Leeds and Millwall seemingly compete of which is the most hated of the two teams or the desire to compete with the New Firm sides that caused such animosity between Aberdeen and Dundee United.

In the case of Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace, it’s a rivalry that seems to suggest that all football fans have to have someone to get angry about. Prior to Crawley Town getting into the Football League in 2011, Crystal Palace was the closest club to Brighton, despite the fact that Selhurst Park is about forty miles from the Amex as the crow flies. It’s not just about the comparative proximity, of course, which we’ll go on to tell you about here. Regardless of the reason, the rivalry between Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace is simultaneously one of the fiercest and hardest to understand in football.

The M23 Motorway

Croydon and Brighton are linked by a trip along the M23, hence this particular derby’s tagline of the M23 Derby. Even so, quite how the rivalry came about remains a matter of some debate amongst football fans and pundits alike. The two teams were founding members of the Football League’s Third Division when it was created in 1920, but it would be untrue to suggest that that’s the reason that there’s a degree of dislike between them. After all, they’d been meeting regularly enough in the Southern League since 1906.

It’s likely that bad blood started to brew when they met twenty-one times in twelve years in the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, in 1951 they played each other on Christmas Day and then again on Boxing Day, giving breath to the idea that familiarity breeds contempt. Constantly going up against the same team and feeling as though they’re the side that’s stopping you from gaining some sort of success can certainly give supporters a feeling that said side has shifted from being a team they want to beat to an outright enemy; just ask Liverpool and Chelsea supporters about the two teams’ meetings during the noughties. So it was with Palace and Brighton, not least of all during the 1970s.


In order to understand the rivalry between the two teams, you first need to understand the enmity felt by the two managers that were appointed to each side in 1976. Terry Venables was given the job as the boss of the Eagles in June of that year, whilst Alan Mullery took over at the Seagulls the following month. You would be forgiven for thinking that the two men might actually quite like each other, given that they’d played together for Tottenham Hotspur the decade before, but in reality there was already an intense rivalry in place before they became managers of the Third Division clubs at roughly the same time.

It all stemmed from when the Spurs manager at the time, Bill Nicholson, chose to make Mullery the club’s captain instead of Venables. The latter became the vice-captain, but it was the main job that he wanted and he was jealous of his teammate. Mullery referred to it as a ‘friendly rivalry’, citing the fact that they used to room together at away matches, but that didn’t stop the press from creating a storm around their appointments as managers of teams in the same league nearly ten years later. In part it was because the two teams had the same ambition: promotion to the Second Division. Little did anyone know that they would end up facing each other five times in the same season, putting the twenty-one times in twelve years of the ‘40s and ‘50s to shame.

Five Matches In One Season

If it’s really true that familiarity breeds contempt then it’s no wonder that Palace and Brighton hate each other. They faced each other for the first time in the 1976-1977 season in October when Brighton sat at the top of the table. It would be nice to say that the match passed without any major incident and the honours were shared thanks to a 1-1 draw, but in reality things were already fiery between the two sets of supporters and play had to be stopped when three smoke bombs landed on the pitch.

That was just a sign of things to come and the rivalry went up a notch when the two teams came out of the hat to face each other in the First Round of the FA Cup. That match took place in November and ended in a 2-2 draw, meaning that a replay was on the cards. The replay at Crystal Palace three days later also ended in a draw, much to the annoyance of Alan Mullery who had declared after the first game that Palace had ‘come for the draw’ and dared them to try the same thing at their own ground. That was back in the days before FA Cup replays went to extra-time and penalties, so a second replay was next on the schedule.

The rules of the competition at the time dictated that a second replay needed to be played at a neutral venue, but it was delayed twice thanks to bad weather causing its postponement. Eventually it was hosted at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge ground on the sixth of December, after numerous tub-thumping comments had been made by representatives of both clubs. Brighton had a goal disallowed quite early on, with Palace taking the lead almost immediately afterwards. The Seagulls were then awarded a penalty about fifteen minutes from time which they scored, only for the referee to make them re-take it because of encroachment into the area. Paul Hammond saved the retake and the Eagles won 1-0.

Sufficed to say, the referee’s decision to disallow two different Brighton goals caused controversy, with the fire stoked further when hot coffee was thrown over the Seagulls’ manager as he entered the tunnel. He in turn took some loose change out of his pocket, threw it onto the floor and declared that that was all that Crystal Palace were worth, brandishing his fingers in a manner that suggested the supporters should head off somewhere, eventually being led away by the police. He was later fined £100 by the Football Association and wrote to the Palace chairman to explain that he’d been misquoted when it was reported that he’d called their club ‘rubbish’.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one season, there was still one more game to come. It was in March and Palace won it 3-1 at Selhurst Park, meaning that the Eagles ended the campaign with one league draw, one league win, two cup draws and a cup victory that dumped their rival out of the competition in the First Round. Despite the two sides enjoying a ding-dong battle for the season, it was Mansfield that won the league. They did both get promoted, however, and later in the year Brighton took on the nickname of the Seagulls, having toyed with the Dolphins for a time, as a bird-related response to the fact that Palace were known as the Eagles.

Division Two and a Change of Clubs

With both teams now playing in the Second Division, they managed to avoid relegation and consolidate their position in England’s second-tier. The following season they both played well enough to mean that they were vying for promotion to the First Division, again going up against each other for the privilege. The manner in which the campaign ended is the stuff of movies and very much ensured that the bitterness experienced two years before was to be locked in place for all eternity.

As the season drew to a close, the two teams were battling it out to see which one of them would finish in the top spot. Palace had a match against Burnley postponed and it couldn’t be played until after the final day of the campaign, so when Brighton won their final match they celebrated as though the title was theirs. The Eagles then went on to beat Burnley in the re-arranged match, meaning that they pipped their now bitter rivals to the title by a point. It was an even more impressive conclusion to proceedings than it seemed when you consider that Brighton had spent more than double the amount that Palace had in bringing players to the club.

Terry Venables remained in charge of Palace for four years, seeing them promoted twice during his time at the club. He was replaced by Malcolm Allison who only lasted for a year under the chairmanship of Ron Noades, who was known to be quick to fire managers. Indeed, Dario Gradi lasted less than year and was replaced by former Brighton boss Alan Mullery. He lasted two season, despite the fact that his appointment was very much disapproved of by the Palace faithful. There was even a boycott against their matches, though it didn’t last long. To prove the point about the chairman, Dave Bassett succeeded Mullery at Selhurst Park and was sacked after a mere three days in the job.

The Modern Era

Despite the fact that most supporters of the two clubs hate each other just as much as Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur fans hold a special place in their hatred for the others, the majority of modern day fans wouldn’t have been alive when the battles of Mullery and Venables’ sides were taking place. There have been reasons for the two sets of supporters to dislike each other in the modern era, however, not least of which was the 2013 Football League Play-Offs.

The two clubs were vying for promotion during the 2012-2013 Championship season, with Cardiff City and Hull City taking the two automatic promotion places. That meant that they had to settle for a place in the Play-Offs and when Watford finished second that meant that they took on Leicester City in one of the semi-finals. Brighton & Hove Albion finished three points ahead of their rivals in fourth, meaning that the two teams were to go head-to-head for a place in the final.

The first-leg at Selhurst Park was a tight affair, finishing goalless but seeing Glenn Murray, the home side’s striker who notched up thirty goals getting them to the play-offs in the first place, forced to leave the pitch with a serious looking knee injury. It set up a winner-takes-all match between the two sides at the Amex that the rivalry hardly needed in terms of fire and brimstone. Manchester United had signed Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha in the January but allowed him to stay with the Eagles until the end of the season and it was the England international who proved the difference between the two teams.

Heading into the game everyone expected the home side to emerge victorious, with Brighton having been unbeaten in ten games compared to Palace’s one win in ten. In the corresponding fixture earlier in the season Palace had lost 3-0, so the fact that they were without their star striker meant few gave them much of a chance. Step up twenty-year-old Zaha who proved why Alex Ferguson had given the go-ahead to sign him by heading home a Yannick Bolasie cross with twenty minutes to go. Brighton pushed forward in hopes of an equaliser but Bolasie combined with Zaha once more to send the Eagles into the final. To make matters worse for Brighton, Palace then beat Watford in the final to gain promotion back to the top-flight.


Perhaps part of what led to the Eagles’ victory in the second-leg at the Amex Stadium was the fact that the Crystal Palace team arrived in their dressing room at the ground to find a human poo in the middle of the floor. Brighton’s manager at the time, Gus Poyet, was so angry that someone in the club’s staff would do such a thing that he emailed them all to declared, “I am angry that someone within this club could endanger our good reputation and stoop so low”.

Ian Holloway, the then Palace manager, didn’t explicitly reference the incident after the game but did make clear that he felt the Seagulls’ hierarchy had tried to play a few mind games on him and his players. As well as sending the bus the wrong way on the way to the ground, they were also subjected to vitriolic abuse from the home crowd. It was later revealed that it was actually the Palace coach driver that had made the mess when he had driven to the ground a couple of days before the game with the kit man to make sure he knew were he was going. He suffered a tummy upset and tried to clean it up, failing to do so and so simply leaving it as it was but not telling anyone because he was too embarrassed.

There have been other big moments between the two clubs, of course, such as when Brighton won 3-1 on Boxing Day in 1988 or Palace beat the Seagulls 5-0 thanks to an Andy Johnson hat-trick in 2002, but there’s no question that a team arriving to find their dressing room smeared with human excrement and left with no assumption to make other than it being done by the opposition must surely crown the lot.