In the summer of 1981, Alan Mullery resigned as manager of Brighton. He was appointed boss of Charlton and led the cash-strapped club to a brief flirtation with promotion from the Second Division before it fizzled out with the Addicks finishing 13th. In July 1982, in a highly controversial move, Ron Noades appointed Mullery as the new manager at the even more cash-strapped Crystal Palace, following the sacking of Steve Kember.
Unsurprisingly, Mullery attracted enormous hostility from Eagles supporters, due to his association with arch rivals Brighton, not to mention his rather impolite gestures at their fans following the FA Cup match at Stamford Bridge in 1976.
Palace’s new gaffer struck a more diplomatic tone once appointed, however:
I sympathise with the fans who not so long ago saw their team perched proudly at the top of the League and have since followed the club’s decline in fortune. We approach the season with new faces and new optimism. Palace have had more than their share of bad publicity over the last two years. That is inevitable when a club reaches the top. People are all too ready to knock you down.
Mullery even put one over Brighton, and his replacement at the club Mike Bailey, with Crystal Palace prevailing 1-0 in the friendly at Selhurst Park on 7th August 1982:
The new boss also made an excellent start to the 1982/83 campaign, with Crystal Palace drawing with Barnsley and Rotherham before beating Shrewsbury and Blackburn, taking the Eagles unexpectedly to sixth in Division Two. In the Barnsley match programme on the opening day, here was the centre-spread:
As you can see, seventh from the left in the back row is Gary Williams, previously a favourite at the Goldstone. Mullery said:
Gary Williams is an experienced pro who, while at Brighton, travelled with me from the Third [sic] to the First Division. I have every confidence that his value will lie in his experience as well as his ability.
Also, in relation to the player who would later end Gerry Ryan’s career with a horrific tackle in April 1985, Mullery said this:
Henry Hughton was Steve Kember’s last signing for the club and he is a player who is never satisfied with giving less than his best effort.
At the end of the 1982/83 season, Brighton were relegated from Division One and financially-stricken Crystal Palace did well to hold on to their Second Division status, meaning that in 1983/84, the rivalry between the clubs would be renewed once more.
However, Brighton proved Palace’s masters in both league matches, winning 2-0 at Selhurst Park on Boxing Day 1983 before the Seagulls’ 3-1 victory at the Goldstone Ground in April 1984. As a match report at the time said:
By Michael Eaton
Brighton 3 Palace 1
Palace boss Alan Mullery suffered agonies on his return to the club he twice led to promotion.
Rival manager Chris Cattlin had plenty to be pleased about – especially the performance of leading scorer Terry Connor, who was dropped last week.
Connor responded with three goals in two reserve games and crowned an eventful week with his 16th goal of the season.
Alan Young put Brighton ahead after nine minutes and Brighton were only threatened when Peter Nicholas scored early in the second half.
But Eric Young’s 89th minute goal, when Palace’s defence was pulled apart at a corner, settled the match.
Brighton: Corrigan 7, O’Regan 6, Hutchings 7, CASE 8, Young (E) 7, Garring 7, Wilson 7, Penney 7, Sub: Ryan 6.
Palace: Wood 6, Locke 6, Hughton 6, Stebbling (inj) 6, Cannon 7, Gilbert 6, Cummins 6, Lacy 6, McCulloch 6, Nicholas 8, Hilare 6. Sub: Giles 6.
Despite the defeat, Palace survived at the end of the season, finishing in 18th while Brighton stood in 9th spot. Given the crisis at Selhurst Park, Mullery probably deserves a lot more credit for the job he did there than he has been given. When he was sacked at the end of 1983/84, the players rallied behind him. In a newspaper piece by Tony Stenson, defender Billy Gilbert angrily said:
“I’m not happy with the way the club is being run. Alan wasn’t a yes man and shouldn’t get the sack for that. He deserved a fair chance after all the injuries we’ve had this season.”
Keeper George Wood added: “I’m sick. He’s a good manager who, I feel, has been let down.”
And only last week star winger Vince Hilaire said: “If Alan goes – so do I.”
The 42-year-old Mullery, who took Palace to Brighton for a testimonial last night, said: “I’ve been in football long enough not to be surprised by anything, but it did come out of the blue.
Two years later Alan Mullery would return to the club where his management career began – Brighton. By that point he may have believed he had seen almost everything in football management, especially as far as ailing clubs go. Perhaps he thought he was beyond surprise. He was in for another shock.