In a ‘friendly’ match in August 1973, Albion beat Crystal Palace 2-1, with goals from Ken Beamish and John Templeman. Regrettably, there was crowd trouble at the Goldstone. Even so, cooling the potential for antagonism, the two clubs didn’t get to play each other in the League that season and, in any case, the respective managers Brian Clough (once Pat Saward got the boot) and Malcolm Allison were good friends.
By the time the 1974/75 season kicked off, though, Crystal Palace were slumming it in Division Three with Brighton. In an encounter on the opening day, there was an intensity to the game that hadn’t been seen before in a clash between the two clubs. Again, there was crowd trouble. Argus reports in 1975/76 certainly talked of a rivalry between the two sides. Reporting on Palace’s 1-0 home defeat to Brighton from Sept 1975, John Vinicombe explained that:
‘The exchanges were conducted in a cup-tie atmosphere, and the cut-and-thrust carried through with the zest of deadly rivals.’
However, it was the infamous FA Cup 1st Round second replay at Stamford Bridge on 6th December 1976 that turned the flickers of ill-feeling into a fire. Here is how it was reported in the Daily Express:
Brighton crashed out of the FA Cup last night… and manager Alan Mullery made it an undignified exit.
Mullery had to be restrained by police after striding on to the Stamford Bridge pitch for a face-to-face confrontation with referee Ron Challis, who had disallowed two second-half Brighton goals.
And as Palace fans jeered from their seats near the tunnel, Mullery waved two extravagant double-handed V-signs at them.
According to Palace Echo, ‘He flung down about a fiver’s worth of notes change into a puddle and screamed “You’re not worth that, Palace” whilst flicking the viccies.’
The Express continues:
Mullery was unrepentant afterwards. He explained: “I asked him [Challis] why he had disallowed the penalty which Brian Horton had scored for us.
“He said to me, ‘I can’t talk to you on the pitch.’ I said that I was only asking him a question. I wanted to know how he could turn an advantage he had awarded to us for the foul on Chris Cattlin and then make it a disadvantage because a Palace player had stepped into the penalty area.
“The referee waved me away. He said: ‘I’ve told you you can’t talk to me on the pitch. Get off.”
Challis, who needed a police escort to get him safely past a group of angry Brighton supporters, did not caution Mullery for his protest. And he refused to comment on the incident. But it seems certain Mullery will now face disciplinary action.
He raged: “How can you get beaten like that? There was only one team in it. We were in a different class and if it was a fight it would have been stopped in the second round.
The controversy began in the 73rd minute when Ian Mellor’s header from a corner went past Palace goalkeeper Paul Hammond – but Brighton’s celebrations came to an abrupt halt when referee Challis awarded Palace a free-kick for handball against Peter Ward.
Mullery said: “The ref was the only one out of 14,000 people who saw Ward handle. I’ve got better eyes than him – and I wear glasses.”
But the real drama unfolded 13 minutes from the end when Mr Challis pointed to the penalty spot after Cattlin had been fouled by Barry Silkman.
Brighton captain Brian Horton pushed the penalty out of Hammond’s reach and into the left hand corner of the net. But the referee ordered him to retake it after he had spotted players encroaching illegally inside the area.
Horton elected to try for the opposite corner. Hammond guessed that he would and dived to his left to palm the ball to safety.
Brighton’s experienced defender Graham Cross complained: “The referee made Brian take it again because Palace’s Ian Evans had pushed me inside the box as he took the first penalty. It was a disgraceful decision.”
Hammond explained the secret of his successful guess when he said, “I almost reached the first penlty, and I thought he would try to hit the second one the other way. I ‘sussed’ him out, although the second shot was not the best penalty the lad’s taken.”
The one goal which did stand came from Palace’s diminutive midfield player Phil Holder in the 19th minute.
Holder, given a free transfer by Palace in the summer, showed great composure as he drove David Swindlehurst’s centre into the net to wipe out the memory of Palace’s FA Cup semi-final defeat against Southampton on this ground eight months ago.
Palace now have prospects of another healthy Cup run, beginning with a second round tie at home to Enfield on Saturday.
For his troubles, Alan Mullery was ordered by the Football Association to answer charges of bringing the game into disrepute:
He was fined £75 in 1977.
Referee Ron Challis was dubbed ‘Challis of the Palace’ by Brighton fans, becoming something of a hate figure. Was it really just a season before when Brighton’s matchday programme devoted a whole page to his photo?! Suffice to say, his image was now dartboard material:
As for Brighton, who were without a win in seven matches following the FA Cup exit, the team responded with eight wins in the next twelve matches to regain momentum, as well as leadership in the Third Division.