Don't mess with us...Brighton send clear message to Premier League rivals after crazy night at Selhurst Park
The concrete jungles of Croydon and the areas surrounding Selhurst Park are about as far removed from the rolling green fields of pleasant Ireland as you can get.
And yet whilst watching the players of Brighton become embroiled in a spot of handbags that looked comical at the same time as having the potential to turn quite nasty at the end of Brighton’s 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace, I was taken back to the Leinster town of Longford some 20 summers ago.
The Battle of Longford has entered into Albion folklore and quite right too. For the uninitiated, Micky Adams would cart his players off to the Emerald Isle every pre-season for a set of friendlies against League of Ireland sides in preparation for the campaign ahead.
To say that 2001’s visit did not go to plan would be a slight understatement. The first game ended in a 1-0 defeat to Sligo Rovers. The second game did not even make it past the 44 minute mark.
Brighton players nearly came to blows, three men were sent off – quick reminder that this was meant to be a friendly – and Charlie Oatway sparked a 40 man brawl involving both teams, coaching staff and even the Longford chairman.
The first sign that things were set to get out of hand came when Adams had to substitute Richard Carpenter after less than 15 minutes. The reason? It looked like Carpenter was about to have a full-on punch up with his own defender, Matthew Wicks.
Wicks had been at fault for Longford’s goal with 120 seconds on the clock. He was playing like a man who had perhaps enjoyed the famous Irish hospitality a little too much.
Carpenter riling up Wicks only succeeded in giving Wicks a lot of anger. As a result, seven minutes after Carpenter had been hauled to prevent a red card, Wicks underwent the same fate.
Steve Melton had replaced Carpenter with specific instructions from Adams to give the Longford thug in midfield “a taste of his own medicine”. The opportunity for Dr Melton to hand out a prescription duly arrived one minute before the break when he put in the worst tackle of the game.
It was Melton’s tackle which sparked that aforementioned brawl as every player and both benches waded into the centre circle. Melton was sent off and Oatway and Longford’s Alan Murphy player saw red with him for their part in the melee.
As Murphy made his way towards the changing rooms behind one of the goals, Oatway began tearing after him. Brighton’s players went dashing after Oatway, Longford’s players followed and before you knew it fists were flying. Adams and Longford boss Stephen Kenny – now Republic of Ireland manager – were slinging insults at each other.
Eventually, Adams managed to get Brighton into the changing room. Writing in his autobiography, he explained what he said to his men after their Royal Rumble: “Well done lads, get your gear on, we are out of here.”
And out of there they were. The final game of the tour against Athlone was cancelled and the Albion flew home. At the time, the Battle of Longford was seen as a pantomime event watched on by 500 bemused supporters of both sides, who then went drinking together afterwards when it became apparent there was not going to be a second half.
You can only imagine the horror that a 40-man brawl, an abandoned pre-season friendly and a cancelled tour would cause in the 21st century world of Brighton & Hove Albion, where PR and image are everything.
Which brings us nicely to those scenes at Selhurst Park on Monday night. As Brighton left the pitch, the corner of the Holmesdale End began subjecting the Albion players to abuse and threats. Those Palace fans were probably not expecting Brighton to stand their ground. Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy gave it back.
Most surprising though was the role of Robert Sanchez, a man who barely shows a flicker of emotion through his ice cool demeanour normally. He was going berserk, goading the Palace supporters having just been booked after the final whistle for his part in the celebrations of Neal Maupay’s late, late equaliser.
The Battle of Longford created a siege mentality and a resilience in Adams’ squad, so much so that even Paul ‘Would not say boo to a goose’ Brooker found himself booked before the brawl and then involved in the fighting. Brighton used that togetherness and fighting spirit to win the Division Two title 10 months after their Ireland tour had come to a premature end.
There were similar scenes under Gus Poyet in the summer of 2010, when a pre-season friendly whilst on tour in Portugal against Portimonense was abandoned because of a fracas. Poyet’s side won League One at a canter at the end of that campaign.
The best sides mix footballing ability – which Brighton clearly have – with spirit and battle. They do not stand for any nonsense. Too many times last season, the Albion showed a soft underbelly which sides like Sheffield United, Fulham, West Brom, Burnley and Palace were able to tickle. It is why Potter oversaw a lowly 16th place finish.
What we saw at Selhurst Park as the players left the pitch is that Brighton are not going to be bullied this year – hence why they have only lost once so far. History shows that when Albion players are involved in handbags like we saw against Palace, they often go onto have great success. Premier League champions 2021-22, then?