Harty on... the Albion’s play-off tie with Palace

TO put Saturday’s first-ever Amex 30,000 crowd into some perspective, the last time the Albion had that number of people watching them in a home game was April, 1979.

And the recently-departed Margaret Thatcher was merely the leader of the opposition, rather than the incumbent at 10 Downing Street.

However, this fact is actually open to question as mystery surrounded the gate figure of the first-ever Albion fixture in the top flight against Arsenal in August, 1979.

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Officially announced at just over 28,500, it was later revealed that a number of the counters at the turnstiles suffered a “malfunction”, resulting in the crowd figure possibly being more than what was actually given.

And, having been at the game, which Brighton lost 4-0, I know what 30,000 looks like, and there was at least that in the Goldstone that afternoon.

Technology has moved on, and regardless of any computer glitches, the Albion will enjoy many 30,000-plus attendances at the Amex for years to come, but in what division?

Having been at “half-time at Hereford” 16 years ago waist deep in the Conference, if anyone had said to me less than 20 years later, the Albion would take Palace on in a two-leg semi-final for the chance of a Wembley showdown, with a Premier League prize, I would have checked the sell-by date on their cans of lager.

Back then, it would have been a dream, now it’s a reality, with the first leg at Selhurst Park just over 24 hours away. Despite Palace’s woeful recent form, it’s still really too close to call.

Brighton are indeed the form team, but in their ranks Palace have several players who, on their day, can turn in match-winning performances.

Having said that, the readers know me well enough that I’m that partisan I’d back the Albion against a firing squad, let alone another 11 players.

I think the Albion will come back down the A23 late tomorrow night with at least a draw, before winning on Monday to set up the Wembley date against either Watford or Leicester City.

With rumours rife at the start of the week that Palace were in dispute with the Met over potential police costings for the game, the prospect of a “home fans only” scenario loomed.

Thankfully, common sense has prevailed and the game will have the electric atmosphere it deserves.

Rivalry is all well and good, and I’m as passionate as the next fan, but I do sincerely hope that we remember both these games for all the right reasons, i.e., footballing ones.