The cry of “Seagulls, Seagulls!” has become common place at Albion games for many a year, but it wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t actually incorporated as the club’s nickname until the mid-seventies. Prior to which the club had a brief dalliance with another sea-linked nickname – “The Dolphins”.
The club’s original crest featured the coat of arms of Brighton and Hove, which was used after the Second World War. As a result the Dolphin had been incorporated into the clubs crest (albeit less prominently) well before the nickname was adopted, given the Brighton element of the coat of arms features two dolphins surrounded by the six gold martlets of Sussex. The arms also features the motto “Inter Undas et Colles Floremus”, which translated from Latin to English is: “Between Downs and Sea We Flourish”. But given the modest success the club had achieved over that period it’s understandable it wasn’t incorporated by the club any further.
Brighton’s association with the Dolphin goes back at least a century when the coat of arms of the city (then town) were officially granted to them by the College of Heralds in 1897, but there are records that show even before then Dolphins were used as a symbol of the town.
Brighton’s Supporters club was regularly after a new nickname, having been known under a few different guises in its early existence. It was a vote in 1972 which lead to its adoption of the nickname “The Dolphins”. As well as its historical links to the town, the animal was a topical theme locally at the time because the dolphinarium which had opened at the Brighton Aquarium (now known as the Sea Life Centre) in 1969. Whilst the Dolphinarium was initially very popular, the changing public opinions on keeping dolphins in captivity and their cramped conditions meant it increasingly came under fire in the 1980s and the Dolphinarium was closed in 1990.
Fortunately for the club, it ensured there was no association with the Dolphinarium during the criticism the venue faced in the 80s as its association with the Dolphin was even shorter-lived. At the beginning of the 1974/75 season the club began to use a Dolphin on the front of the matchday programme and during the season the club officially became known as ‘The Dolphins’. By the beginning of the following season, a new club crest had been introduced which incorporated a Dolphin. But it would only last a season and leave the club with a large amount of Dolphin associated memorabilia to bin, after an incident said to have taken place the following season in the Bosun public house on West Street, Brighton (now better known as Molly Malones or Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy’s drinking hole).
Crystal Palace had recently adopted the nickname “The Eagles” having previously been known as “The Glaziers”. They began using their new nickname by the instruction of then manager Malcolm Allison, who took it from Portuguese giants Benfica as part of his attempt to raise the club’s profile.
The rivalry between the club’s had been rapidly growing since a fierce opening day match of the 1974/75 season, which saw significant crowd trouble between rival fans. The rhyming nicknames was just another part of the story as tensions between the club’s accelerated.
As the story goes, prior to a subsequent match between the club’s in February 1976, a few Palace supporters started chanting, “Eagles, Eagles” to which a group of Brighton & Hove Albion fans responded with a chant of “Seagulls, Seagulls”. The club has been known as “The Seagulls” ever since and the club’s crest was changed once again to incorporate the Seagull that we now know and love in 1977.
There are various versions of this story, but there does appear to be a loose element of truth in it. That said, you may wonder how some alcohol fuelled chanting in a pub on West Street escalated so quickly, well apparently club Director Derek Chapman was in attendance, a club drinking hole for many a year it seems!
As Elizabeth Cotignola said in her piece on the Taxonomy of English Football nicknames for the website Unusual Efforts “[Nicknames have] evolved organically, historically, and in some cases through highly manufactured means, but regardless of the rationale behind them, a nickname can provide insights into where a club came from.” In Brighton’s case it appears that it is somewhat a mix of all three.
But the manufactured element of its nickname shouldn’t be discounted as a result of its suitability. The 70s was a huge boom time for the club, mostly due to the investment from then owner Mike Bamber. The adding of a more marketable nickname on top of the well-established “Albion” was no doubt all a part of to turning the club’s fortunes from a then perennial Third Division club towards its aspiration of (and eventual promotional to) the topflight.
There is a 19th-century saying “a nickname is a biography in a word” and both Seagulls and Dolphins tell you something about the history of the City and it’s football club.
Brighton’s current nickname “The Seagulls” says a lot about the importance to its identity of the Crystal Palace rivalry. Had Crystal Palace not changed its nickname to “The Eagles”, who knows what could have happened instead. The club we now know as “The Seagulls” would possibly still be known as “The Dolphins”, or maybe the club would have moved onto another sea life nickname instead. As it is, “The Dolphins” has instead become an intriguing footnote in the history of the club as well as the City.