It was one of those 'you know where you were' moments when the attacks took place across New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001. Avid Brighton fan Robert Eaton was going about his usual day's work on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center in New York that day.
Despite living in New York, Robert kept in touch with 'home' using online fans' forum North Stand Chat. Posting under the pseudonym ‘Ricky Marlowe’s Hairpiece’, chances are he would have logged on later that day for the latest transfer news, club gossip and irreverent ramblings.
As news of his death spread, friends and fellow supporters were determined the popular Albion fan would not be forgotten.
And as football supporters, it seemed logical that the way to bring people together was to organise a charity football match. The suggestion was raised that a team of Brighton supporters play a team of Palace fans. From tragic events great things do happen.
On 9 November 2001, the first Robert Eaton Memorial Fund (REMF) challenge match took place at Old Barn Way, Southwick. The aforementioned former Albion striker Ricky Marlowe, then 51 years old, travelled down from Edinburgh to play, as he has done every year, the only ever-present in the fixture. The money raised from that first match helped provide football equipment to Los Peladitos – a youth football team in Queens, New York.
Since then, the annual Brighton v Crystal Palace challenge match has grown to become an important date in the football calendar. While it is a keenly fought contest, there is an air of a Christmas Day truce about it. As Palace fan and REMF player Jim Daly points out, “This is something that could have happened to one of our own. So it is a privilege to take part in something which does so much good.”
The fixture itself has been played across Sussex including in 2016 at the Amex. The most recent game took place in July at Worthing FC, where Brighton ran out 8-1 winners. Look out for future two-legged fixtures, such is the Crystal Palace team’s support for the charity.
In addition to the football match, there are quiz nights and golf days while runners who take part in the Brighton Marathon raise money for the Fund. Almost £320,000 has been raised since that first game, and dozens of children’s sports clubs at home and around the world have benefitted with kit and equipment from REMF donations.
As for Robert’s family, it’s fair to say that without their continued support the charity would not have achieved the success it has. “While the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 brings back many sad memories of a difficult time, the family is immensely proud of the charity set up in Rob’s name, and to all who have been involved in tirelessly promoting the charity over the years.
"There are many who have been a huge part of the fundraising team and we are truly grateful for all the charity has achieved in supporting football and other sports for young folk, locally and abroad. It is heartening to know that some good has come out of such a tragedy.”
Albion deputy chairman and chief executive Paul Barber added, “Robert’s name lives on and is remembered so regularly due to the amazing work of the Memorial Fund. It’s amazing that so much positivity and so many lives have been impacted and benefitted from such a tragedy. That’s testament to the hard work and fundraising undertaken by the committee.
“The annual match between supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace has become an eagerly anticipated fixture in the calendar. It also shows that even the most fiercest of football rivalries can be such a power for good, but most importantly it keeps Robert’s memory alive.”