I used to sing some very nasty and childish things about our rivals Crystal Palace on the terraces of the Goldstone Ground, Brighton and Hove Albion’s home stadium until 1997. Now, from 4,000 miles away in Chicago, I take a particular dislike to harmless Crystal Palace Baltimore and (if they survive their financial crisis) am still planning to make a one-man trip to Baltimore to chant anti-Palace songs at one of their USSF D-II games this summer. I suspect this may confuse some people there.
Which would be appropriate, as even in England the rivalry between Brighton and Palace confuses many, since by English standards, the clubs are not particularly close geographically, Selhurst Park being about 40-odd miles north from Brighton — though it is the closest Football League club to Brighton (this doesn’t work the other way round, with Palace in south London).
Despite this, the terrible plight of Palace in England, that could see the club liquidated in almost exactly one hour, makes me want to do something to help save them.
As Richie Morris reminds us on the Four Four Two blog in “Why Brighton fans are rooting for Palace“, there is a point where the interests and sympathies of almost all football fans converge, however much you “hate” your foe. Nothing touched me more when Brighton were going through our own crisis that threatened extinction in those dying days of the Goldstone Ground in the 1990s than to see Palace fans rallying to support our efforts to save our club.
Brighton fans are only too aware of the heartache surrounding such a threat to their club’s very existence. Back in the 1990s, Seagulls fans fought to save their club. Only now, more than a decade on, is that future secure – with a new stadium at Falmer on its way.
There were many heroes in the struggle. And many of them did not follow The Stripes. The support from rival fans was key – if not in actually saving the club, then it certainly was in keeping up spirits among the lobbying Seagulls fans.
And none were more supportive than the Great Unwashed of Croydon. During a protest march at a Labour Party conference in Brighton, Seagulls fans were greeted by a huge banner hung on the seafront. It simply read: “We want Falmer: Save the Seaweed”.
In Brighton’s hour of need, the fights, the defeats and the decades of disputes were laid to one side. The survival of a football club is more important than petty squabbles. Especially if you value those squabbles.
In recent seasons Palace fans have joined in remembering a Brighton fan who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. The Robert Eaton Memorial Fund has raised more than £80,000 for young, impoverished football-mad youngsters – mainly through an annual match between Seagulls fans and Palace fans.
Despite losing six years in a row, a coachload of Palace players and fans continued to make the annual pilgrimage to Sussex to play their part. This year they won. And there was not a Brighton fan in the ground who didn’t (secretly) think they deserved it.
Rivalry is one of the most important things in football. When it isn’t there something is missing. Brighton fans will testify to this after years spent without a derby. The Seagulls languished in the bottom divisions while the Eagles mixed it with the Big Boys in the top flight. However, even during those barren years, supporters always knew they would once again go head to head with each other.
By the end of today that may no longer be the case. And Seagulls fans everywhere will be keeping their fingers crossed for Palace to snatch an unlikely victory. Just this once, mind.