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UP THE M23

What’s it like to be an ultra at English football’s pettiest derby?

Borne in the 50s, intensified in the 80s, the rivalry between Crystal Palace and Brighton is complex and intriguing

No rivalry should be named after a road.

But perhaps it emphasises the complexity of Crystal Palace and Brighton’s animosity that their rivalry has been duly coined the ‘M23 Derby’.

Because outside of the two fanbases nobody really gets it.


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There is nothing hostile about the M23

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There is nothing hostile about the M23

So I went to find out more.

My day started in Croydon boxpark with Palace’s Holmesdale Fanatics – otherwise known as the HF – a punchy four hours before kick off.

These are the die-hards, south London through and through, larger than life characters with Palace running through their veins.

The HF

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The HF

And they don’t like Brighton.

One common misconception is that it’s a purely geographical hostility.

And while, Crawley aside, Palace is indeed the closest club in proximity to Brighton, that really isn’t the case.

Brighton’s ‘Seagulls’ nickname literally originated from a terrace chant in the 1970s mocking Palace’s ‘Eagles’, duly ditching ‘The Dolphins’ (?!) by popular demand a few seasons later.

They really don’t like Alan Mullery.

Persona non grata at Selhurst

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Persona non grata at Selhurst

Mullery is public enemy number one at Selhurst Park, dating back to an intense personal battle with Terry Venables in the 1980s while the duo were in charge of either side.

One fan told me: “It seems like Brighton need Palace more than we need them. They need us to stay relevant.

“We’ve got plenty of local rivals but they’re desperate to make this into a big derby to give them a couple of cup finals every season.”

El Tel

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El Tel

After one heated derby Mullery threw ‘V’ signs at Eagles supporters and allegedly entered the Palace dressing room, throwing £5 on the floor and exclaiming to El Tel: “Your team’s not worth that.”

Two seasons later violence sparked after Palace defender Henry Hughton broke Brighton fan favourite Gerry Ryan’s leg in three separate places, ending his career.

But this truly bizarre rivalry reached peak head scratching when in 2012 – the last time they met before this season – the Palace dressing room walls were coated in human s*** prior to kick off.

Poyet was incensed by poo gate

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Poyet was incensed by poo gate

Initially thought to be intimidation tactics, it later ‘transpired’ that the Palace coach driver had just ‘lost all control of his bowels.’ Believe what you want.

With that bad blood in mind and the prospect of a genuine relegation six pointer, the consequences of this particular meeting were even more amplified.

They really don’t mind Glenn Murray.

Murray was always a favourite at Selhurst Park

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Murray was always a favourite at Selhurst Park

I wanted to grasp their view of the Seagulls’ striker; a man who dared to go back to Brighton for a second spell after donning the famous Palace red and blue for four seasons.

As Brighton’s leading scorer this season Murray’s name has even been thrown into the World Cup squad hat.

But, according to one fan with me on my journey, the Palace faithful still adore the Seagulls’ forward after he propelled them back into the Premier League with 30 goals in the 2012/13 season.

“People forget Brighton fans cheered and laughed when Glenn did his knee ligaments in the play-off semi a few years ago,” he told me.

“I’d like to think we’re more loyal, even with him going back there.”

The striker injured his knee back in the play-off tie back in 2013

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The striker injured his knee back in the play-off tie back in 2013

As we made our way from Croydon through Norwood Junction you began to make out the inevitable and unwelcome chants of ‘Does your boyfriend know you’re here?’

Equally ‘witty’ songs were exchanged across the platform. The ‘banter’ had begun.

Outside the ground there where whispers of a few hundred visiting fans arriving without tickets, more in anticipation of a scrap.

Police presence was understandably higher than usual

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Police presence was understandably higher than usual

The Arthur Wait Stand

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The Arthur Wait Stand

But inside the noise was almost deafening.

Selhurst Park may not be the prettiest stadium the Premier League has to offer but in terms of generating pure, unbridled atmosphere there are few better.

One supporter – who had earned a nickname down the years based on his insatiable appetite for narcotics – popped something suspect in his mouth as the teams came out for kick off.

A frenetic 20 minutes later it was 2-1 to Palace – and 10 minutes after that it was 3-2.

Zaha rose brilliantly to head home and make it 3-1

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Zaha rose brilliantly to head home and make it 3-1

I began the game in row 17 and finished it in row seven, such was the chaos that ensued celebrating Palace’s third.

But it wouldn’t be Palace without making it extremely difficult for themselves, as Brighton twice pegged them back in possibly the most exhilarating first half of Premier League football this season.

Murray’s goal was greeted with the odd w***ker sign but generally the former fan favourite was received, as I had been assured, pretty well.

Murray bundled in to pull one back for Brighton

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Murray bundled in to pull one back for Brighton

A solitary w***ker sign

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A solitary w***ker sign

The second half was a completely different story.

Murray twice came close to an equaliser as Palace huffed and puffed.

Been there, Roy

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Been there, Roy

That same fan swallowed something else 25 minutes from time, which either eliminated or categorically amplified the jangling nerves in the home end during those final moments.

But Palace deserved a momentous win and are indebted to a man who gets the club and the area better than anyone else involved.

Wilfried Zaha ran his opponents ragged, as he has done all season, and in that kind of form would light up any side in the division.

South London through and through

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South London through and through

As for the derby itself?

It’s complex, it’s petty and it’s schoolboy at times.

HF could easily have stood for Happy F***ers at the final whistle

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HF could easily have stood for Happy F***ers at the final whistle

But it’s also brilliantly bonkers and served as an emphatic reminder of how titillating a tribal rivalry like this can be.

Because there’s a lot more that separates Palace and Brighton than just a road.

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