Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Tottenham v Arsenal: History of the North London Rivalry

Arsenal make the short journey to White Harte Lane on Sunday to play their local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. The two teams are very close geographically, but in terms of history and trophies there is a wide gap between them.

Arsenal have won 13 league titles compared to Tottenham's two, and overall Arsenal have won 27 major honours against Tottenham's 17. The big difference of course is in the number of league titles, and that's the true measure of the greatness of any team in England.

The rivalry didn't really begin until 1913 when Arsenal moved from Plumstead to a new stadium in Highbury which was only five miles away from Spurs' ground. It meant the two teams became local rivals, and there is always animosity between local rivals in football.

Arsenal were a second division club at the time and Spurs were in the top flight, but that didn't last very long. World War One interrupted the world of football from 1914 until 1918, and when the war was over things took a turn in Arsenal's favour. There were plans to expand the first division from 20 teams to 22 teams, and Spurs hoped to stay up despite finishing 20th in the last season prior to the war.

Somehow or other Arsenal managed to take the last spot in the top flight despite the fact that they had only finished sixth in the second division in that last season before the war. There were rumours and allegations that Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris had used underhand dealings to obtain their promotion, but nothing was ever proven. Needless to say Spurs were far from happy with the outcome, but they soon won promotion back to the first division to set up the rivalry.

The first league encounter between the sides was in early 1921, and Spurs won 2-1 at home. After that the games between the sides became rather heated, and after a particularly vicious game in 1922 the FA threatened to make both teams play behind closed doors.

The rivalry might have become even more intense after that, but Spurs spent most of the time between 1928 and 1950 in the second division. During that time Arsenal rose to prominence in English football with six league titles to their name, while their local rivals still had none to their name. Spurs only spent two seasons in the top league in that time, and Arsenal won the title on both occasions.

Directly after the second World War things improved between both clubs, as Spurs allowed Arsenal to use their ground. Highbury had suffered bombing damage during the war, and Spurs proved that rivalries can be forgotten in times of need by offering their ground for use.

Spurs were promoted back to the Premier League in 1950, and they have remained there ever since with the exception of the 1977/8 season. Arsenal have of course never been relegated since that season when they mysteriously managed to gain a place in the top flight in 1919.

Arsenal have had the pleasure of winning the league title on Tottenham's ground on two occasions in 1971 and 2004. The 1971 victory also brought Arsenal their first domestic league and cup double which emulated the Spurs achievement of 1961. Up until then Spurs were the only team to manage that feat in the 20th century, but others have gone on to do it since and Arsenal have three doubles to their name now.

Arsenal fans are very fond of reminding their Spurs rivals that it has been 50 years since they last won a league title, and Arsenal have won six of them since then. The Spurs fans look for solace where they can find it, but occasional cup victories hardly compensate for league titles.

When Spurs beat Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi final their fans decided to celebrate by naming April 14th as St. Hotspur Day. Arsenal fans have since celebrated what they call St. Totteringham's Day on the day when Spurs can no longer mathematically catch them in the league. Since Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal they have celebrated St. Totteringham's Day every single one of the 15 seasons he has been their manager.

Since the advent of the Champions League Arsenal have also managed to qualify for the competition every season under Wenger, but Spurs have only once managed to do so. Arsenal made it to the final in 2006, and the failure to beat Barcelona was probably the highlight of that season for Spurs fans.

At the very end of that season Spurs had the chance to finally finish above Arsenal in the league, but they lost their game against West Ham on the final day of the season to allow Arsenal to overtake them. It was a dramatic day as Spurs looked to have their game called off due to a bout of food poisoning among their players, but the game went ahead. Apparently a dodgy lasagna was blamed for the sickness, but there have also been suggestions that the team simply bottled it.

Due to the intense rivalry between both clubs there have been very few players who have played for both of them during their careers. Jimmy Robertson is the only player to have scored for both clubs in the north London derby, but there is a chance for Emmanuel Adebayor to become the second player to do so this Sunday. He is only the 15th player ever to have played for both clubs.

Perhaps the most famous and controversial player to cross the divide was Sol Campbell who left Spurs in the summer of 2001 on a free transfer to join Arsenal. He was Tottenham's captain at the time, and the move did not go down well with their fans. He claimed to have left Tottenham to win trophies, and the two league titles and two FA Cups he won probably justify his decision.

He has actually won as many league titles with Arsenal as Spurs have ever won. He also played in and scored in the 2006 Champions League final, and at Spurs he never got the chance to play in that competition at all.

At the moment Tottenham are a couple of points above Arsenal in the Premier League, and they feel they finally have a chance to outshine their bitter rivals. They managed to hold on to their best players during the transfer window, but Arsenal lost the services of both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. The Arsenal team is in a transitional stage, and if Spurs are to emulate them it has to be this season.

The demise of Arsenal as a top four club has been predicted for a few years, but they always manage to bring in the players to make them competitive and finish above Spurs. History would seem to indicate that Arsenal will again manage to overcome their difficulties, and leave Spurs in their wake yet again.

A rivalry is usually based on two teams that are in some way close, but it's only a geographical closeness with Arsenal and Spurs. Arsenal hold the upper hand in meeting between both clubs in all competitions, as well as far more league titles.

Up until April 2010 Spurs had not beaten Arsenal in a league game in almost 11 years, but at the moment they hold a slight upper hand. Arsenal have failed to win the last three league encounters between the two clubs, despite twice having two goal leads. Spurs have won two of those three games, and their hope is to extend it to four games on Sunday.

That's about the limit of their hopes though, as their chances of getting any closer to Arsenal's haul of league titles are very slim. Arsenal may not be in the greatest position themselves, and that's probably the reason why Spurs feel they can at last overtake their rivals. In the long term their hopes are doomed to failure though, as the cream of Arsenal will again rise to the top in my opinion.

That's it for today.

Here's Robert Pires doing what he did best by scoring against Spurs.

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  1. Great history lesson for me. I love when I can learn more about the Club's history whether it be with "rivals" or past players. Great idea and great post!

  2. Thanks, It was a piece I was asked to do as a featured columnist on BR and I decided to put it up here too.

  3. Thanks mate, the North London Derby has begun to lean,,, Yes! I have already! :) RT