Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur: A Rivalry Explained

As the Community Leader for Tottenham Hotspur on Bleacher Report I tend to write about all things Spurs quite a bit. And with the rivalry between Tottenham and Arsenal I do occasionally get some idiotic comments from idiotic Arsenal fans, as well as few from disgruntled Spurs fans...

To me most rivalries are works of fiction, a reason to hate your opponent for little more than the fact that they wear blue or red or even white.

Don't get me wrong, I like nothing better than Spurs winning a match against Arsenal but I don't put too much stock in a single game that is worth the same amount of points as, say, beating Wigan.

Of course there are rivalries in all walks of life, especially sport. Celtic and Rangers come to mind, Real and Barca, Boca Juniors and River Plate, Shamrock Rovers and St. Pats.

After receiving some stupid comments from an Arsenal fan in an article I have written recently, a person who lives on the other side of the world to me, who has never met me, and the only knowledge of me that they have is that I wrote an article linking players to both teams, I decided to look into the rivalry between Spurs and Arsenal, see how it originated and if it is still a valid reason for the rivalry today.

The rivalry between Arsenal and Spurs dates back over 100 years, and originated in the manner that Arsenal arrived in North London.

By 1908 the club who had started life as Dial Square before they changed their name to Royal Arsenal and then to Woolwich Arsenal and then to The Arsenal, before finally settling on Arsenal had already become Tottenham Hotspur's fiercest rivals.

The only real difference between the rivalries of then and now was that Arsenal were based in South London.

With a flagging support and the club on the verge of bankruptcy, local Tory councillor Henry Norris proposed that Arsenal move to North London to a much bigger catchment area for fans and players and merge with Fulham.

However, the FA were reluctant even then to reward such a way to circumvent financial irregularities so they made a ruling stating that should the two clubs in question merge, then they would automatically be treated as a new club and start life in Division Two.

This "relegation" was unthinkable for Norris, so in 1910, he bought the club and started the ball rolling on the move to North London.

Norris quickly identified a suitable site at a school's sports ground in residential Highbury, just up the road from Tottenham, and set about purchasing the said ground and applying for planning permission.

Local teams Spurs, Clapton Orient, and Chelsea all objected the move, as did local residents but the league were powerless to prevent the move and Highbury opened as Arsenal's home ground in 1913.

By 1915, and with World War I on the horizon, Spurs were playing football in England's top flight while Arsenal were labouring in the division below.

The Football League was suspended until after the war, with Spurs and Chelsea languishing in the bottom two places in Division One, while Arsenal were sixth in Division Two.

When the war ended it took some time for the FA to re-organise and in 1919, the league re-opened for business. This time around though the league would be comprised of 22 teams instead of the 20 that were there before the war.

Early precedent set by the league suggested that Spurs and Chelsea would remain in the top flight while Division Two's top two teams of Derby Co. and Preston North End would be promoted.

But there was a fly in the ointment, Spurs had not bargained for Norris' campaigning during the war years. Behind the scenes he had lobbied hard and spent a large amount of money doing so.

He argued that Arsenal had been members of the league for longer than Spurs and should therefore be awarded their place in the new look league. Using this logic both Wolves and Birmingham who had finished above Arsenal had better claims on the lucrative position.

The league's representatives met in March 1919, in times past when the Division had been expanded, all the teams in the respective division were put into a ballot, and the teams with the most votes were deemed the winners.

This time however things were a little different.

Liverpool Chairman and League President and friend of Norris, John McKenna proposed that Chelsea should be automatically re-elected because their league position was a direct result of Liverpool losing to Manchester United in a match that was found to be fixed.

All the voting members agreed that Chelsea should retain their status.

He next motioned that Preston and Derby should become Division One members as they had finished top of Division Two.

Again, all the voting members agreed that this was the right course of action.

That left Arsenal (6th in Div. 2), Barnsley, Birmingham, Hull City, Wolves and Spurs all competing for the final place.

And this time the voting system was changed so each member only had one vote instead of the usual four.

Right before the voting began, McKenna surprised everyone by rather unconventionally making an impassioned speech in favour of Arsenal joining the league.

To say the Spurs contingent were shocked would be an understatement, and Arsenal went on to gather 18 votes to Tottenham's eight.

Arsenal have since become ever present in the top flight and have the proud record of having never been relegated.

Not bad for a club who were never promoted either.

So there you have it. The rivalry whose seeds were planted in 1910 reached full bloom in 1919.

In the 100 years since they first met, Spurs and Arsenal have met 143 times, most recently a brilliant 4-4 draw at Arsenal's new stadium, The Emirates, yes you guessed it, they've moved again.

I don't put too much stock into derbies, yes they're great to win and it's always nice to have one up on someone, but if this rivalry can re-produce matches like the most recent one then I don't think too many people will complain, I know I won't.

twitter / WillieGannon