Why Brighton fans are rooting for Palace

Diehard Brighton fan and FFT blogger Frankie Alunga finds himself wanting Palace to thrive...

In a rivalry that often baffles fans outside of Sussex or South Croydon, Brighton and Crystal Palace fans share a bitter hatred.

Despite meeting only fleetingly over the last decade or so, the two clubs have resisted flirting with new rivals. Charlton occasionally bat their eyelids at Palace, while Southampton - bereft of the annual tear-up with Pompey - certainly looked an appealing prospect for the Seagulls this season. All to no avail though.

For Palace and Brighton, only one rivalry matters.

With the Seagulls safely nested in for another season in League One, attentions turned to Hillsborough and Palace's relegation decider with Wednesday. Most Brighton fans, it is fair to say, would have given their right arm for a Wednesday win - or at the very least sacrificed a last-game home win against Yeovil.

But, despite the intensity, the violent clashes on the terraces and the entrenched nature of the rivalry, Seagulls fans will be keeping their fingers crossed for their South London cousins.

Brighton supporters, you see, love to hate Crystal Palace. As with any other rivalry in football, much of what it means to be a Brighton fan is defined by the club's differences with Palace. Where would Muhammed Ali have been without a George Foreman to beat? What would have been the fun in winning the World Cup in 1966 if we hadn't vanquished the Germans?

Palace going bust would mean almost as much to Seagulls fans as it would Palace. We would be left having to audition the likes of Reading, Orient and Bournemouth as potential new rivals. The X Factor final it would not be.

Perhaps more poignantly, 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.

Richie's regular FFT Brighton blog: Good Old Sussex by the Sea

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