The Championship play-offs are a fraught enough place already, but with seething hostilities set to play out in a two-legged semifinal between notorious foes Brighton and Crystal Palace, tensions could run higher than usual.
Brighton and Palace are the worst of enemies. Their supporters share a mutual hatred that has stewed and regularly boiled over during nearly four decades of disdain.
With a Wembley final and a potential place in the Premier League on offer, their upcoming games on Friday and Monday will put Palace and Brighton's relationship under severe strain. The authorities are so worried they are taking unprecedented measures to try and avoid trouble (The Argos).
As reported by the Daily Mail, 28 fans were arrested when the teams played in September 2011. There were a further 10 arrests made in November of last year, after Palace and Brighton fans fought at a train station in London (News Shopper). To give you a sense of the motivation, they hadn't even played each other that day.
Bad blood between these two clubs, based 45 miles apart in the south of England, is nothing new. Most accounts agree the animosity started in the 1970s, when Alan Mullery was manager of Brighton and Terry Venables in charge of Palace.
Mullery and Venables had clashed during their time as players together at Tottenham; now their differences would play out from the dugout.
The fierce Brighton-Palace rivalry we know today was set ablaze during an FA Cup first round, second replay at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge in 1976.
Brighton were 1-0 down with just over 10 minutes left when they won a penalty. As this Guardian report recalls, Brian Horton scored, only for the referee to controversially call for a re-take. Horton missed at the second time of asking and Mullery was apoplectic at the officials. To compound his frustration, his team went on to lose 1-0.
What happened next would give birth to the Palace-Brighton hostilities as we know them today.
Said Mullery of the infamous events that followed, as per the Guardian:
As I was walking up the tunnel a load of boiling hot coffee was thrown over me by a Crystal Palace supporter. So I pulled a handful of change out of my pocket, threw it on the floor and shouted, 'That's all you're worth, Crystal Palace!' And I'd shout it at anybody who did that.
According to legend—and fanzine Palace Echo—Brighton's nickname, "The Seagulls," was born when a fan in Brighton pub sang it one Christmas Eve as a riposte to Palace fans calling out their nickname of "Eagles."
Brighton had previously been known as "The Dolphins." Seagulls stuck and you will hear sung with great passion as Gus Poyet's team attempt to knock down the enemy and set up a final meeting with either Watford or Leicester City.
Based on form, Albion will be strong favorites to advance. They're unbeaten in nine matches and won four of their last five to secure their part in the play-offs. The Seagulls can also look back on their recent 3-0 win against Palace in March.
That defeat was the start of a dreadful run for Palace. Ian Holloway's team have recently looked a pale imitation of the outfit who were once threatening automatic promotion, and their final-day win against Peterborough represented a first victory in 10 Championship matches.
Nick Miller @NickMiller79
Fans shouldn't be treated as criminals. A thing on the Brighton/Palace restrictions. http://t.co/OQgtZbuCC45/5/2013, 1:27:11 PM
Brighton fans won't be taking anything for granted though. When it comes to a rivalry like this anything is possible and both sides will be fearful of an embarrassment to prompt years of ridicule to come.
The police, meanwhile, will be fearful that two meetings between the teams provides the perfect vehicle of violence.
The Brighton-Palace fixture has a history of fan clashes at train stations and running battles on the streets. I've heard many stories from both sides and felt the ferocity of feeling first-hand when I used to go and watch Brighton as a young boy.
All we can hope is the battle this time is fought purely on the pitch.
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