‘At least 150’ Crystal Palace fans were denied access to the Amex Stadium last night despite possessing match tickets.
The Eagles faced rivals Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League for the first time but tensions off the pitch overshadowed the match – an unspectacular 0-0 draw.
Alongside the trouble outside the ground, several pyrotechnics were set off in the away end whilst the game was played.
On the pitch, the so-called M23 derby, fueled by tensions in the 70s, was played in good spirits. Palace boss Roy Hodgson said it was played in a "fair but competitive manner".
Fans with tickets denied entry
It is believed a group of Palace fans had gained entry to the Amex Stadium without tickets, with many reports suggesting they had burst through a fire door that led into the away end. This meant when a police escort taking fans from Brighton seafront to the stadium arrived, it was deemed by Brighton & Hove Albion and Sussex Police that it was “in the interest of public safety” to deny them entry.
A Palace fan, who will remain anonymous, had a ticket for the game but was among "at least 150 people" who were not allowed inside. They told Vavel: “the police escort left the pub we were drinking at on Brighton seafront at 6pm. There were originally at least 100 to 120 Palace fans but we picked up others along the way, and also bumped into some Brighton fans who tried to get at us but the police stopped them. We got to the ground at around 7:40 with plenty of time to get inside but it seemed they had shut the turnstiles and we remained outside.
“The police kept us outside the ground for around 50 minutes, it was just after half-time by the time they began leading us back to the station where they planned to throw everyone onto a train back to East Croydon.”
The fan went on to claim people were arrested if they tried to get away from the escort to the train, including those who had driven down and had left their cars in Brighton, and those who had booked overnight accommodation in the city centre.
They continued, “me and my friend managed to get away because we were able to prove that we were staying with a student at Sussex University, but the police were still unhappy even though they reluctantly allowed us to leave the escort. [Had we not got away] we would have ended up in East Croydon despite my friend’s car being parked in the University’s car park.”
Brighton & Hove Albion released a statement later in the evening which provided a conflicting report of the events. They claimed, “a number of Crystal Palace fans travelled to the stadium without tickets, arriving after kick-off, some with the aim of forcing entry into the away end at 7.48pm - three minutes after the match kicked off.
“The club made the decision to close the turnstiles at 7.51pm - six minutes into the game - and with the support of Sussex Police, we made the further decision to let no further supporters into the ground in the interest of public safety.
A group of approximately 150 fans - some with tickets - were then escorted back to Falmer station, and onto Brighton Station, before being placed on a train back to London.”
Another fan tweeted Palace chairman Steve Parish to say they were separated from their 15-year-old son outside the ground. Their son gained entry without the parent, who was refused entry even when their son asked police to let them in. They both had match tickets.
@CEO4TAG my 15 year old son was separated from me outside the Amex in the chaos. He asked police to let me in and they promised to him they would. Police refused to let me in or help in any way. We had tickets and I'm at home still waiting for him. I want my money back.— Elliot (@ElliotDarkNess) November 28, 2017
Official club statements
The two clubs involved each issued their own statements which can be seen in full below.
Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, via the club’s official website
"The vast majority of supporters who came to the match were a credit to both clubs - but sadly a minority came intent on causing disorder, which left several stewards with minor injuries, and one steward from each club hospitalised.
A number of Crystal Palace fans travelled to the stadium without tickets, arriving after kick-off, some with the aim of forcing entry into the away end at 7.48pm - three minutes after the match kicked off.
The club made the decision to close the turnstiles at 7.51pm - six minutes into the game - and with the support of Sussex Police, we made the further decision to let no further supporters into the ground in the interest of public safety.
A group of approximately 150 fans - some with tickets - were then escorted back to Falmer station, and onto Brighton Station, before being placed on a train back to London.
Brighton & Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber commented, 'Firstly, we hope the two stewards hospitalised in the disorder have not suffered serious injuries.
The disorder was caused by a minority of individuals who attempted to gain entry to the stadium without tickets.
Thanks to the swift action of the club’s stewarding team, supported by Sussex Police, we avoided further, major disorder - and while some genuine fans were left extremely disappointed and unable to get into the stadium, the correct decisions were made.
I’d like to thank the majority of fans of both clubs for their good behaviour and patience in complying with the instructions of our stewards and police.'
Brighton & Hove Albion will be sharing CCTV images with Sussex Police, the Metropolitan Police and Crystal Palace to identify the individuals involved in the disorder.
Genuine supporters, with tickets, who were unable to gain access to the stadium should contact Crystal Palace’s ticket office for further information regarding a refund.
As this matter is now a Police investigation, the club will not be making any further comment at this stage."
Crystal Palace Football Club, via the club’s official website
"We have been made aware of a small group of supporters attempting to gain access to the Amex stadium last night without tickets while using bangers and flares.
This kind of antisocial and criminal behaviour is completely unacceptable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. There are very clear images of the incident and we will work with the police to identify the supporters involved, who will face stadium bans as well as potential criminal proceedings.
We would like to apologise to all the innocent supporters who arrived at the stadium with tickets but were denied entry and to the two stewards who were injured at the ground. We wish them a full and speedy recovery."