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North London Derby - Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

The Battle for North London
 
As rivalries go, this one has it all - stealthy river crossings; occupation of enemy territory; double agents - and ultimately, taking over the identity of your rival.
 
Introducing the Rivals
 
The Spurs
Tottenham Hotspur began when schoolboy friends that hung around to play football in the Northumberland Park area of N17 (North London postal district) decided to form an organised club.
 
One of the schoolboys from a famous family in the district was nicknamed Harry Hotspur, after a Shakespearean character. The name of Hotspur came to represent the entire team.
 
The Spurs have been playing at White Hart Lane since 1900 and have always drawn massive support from the large Jewish, Cypriot and Irish communities in the area. The Spurs have always seen themselves as the rightful heirs to the throne of north London football. However...
 
The Arsenal
Arsenal were originally formed as Dial Square FC in 1886 by mainly Scottish munitions workers working at the Royal Arsenal armaments factory in Woolwich, south-east London.
 
They were donated a set of red shirts from Nottingham Forest and have been famous for wearing red ever since.
 
After changing their name to Royal Arsenal FC, and consequently becoming a professional club in 1891 they enjoyed 9 years in the top division from 1904.
 
Arsenal's relegation to the Second Division in 1913 coincided with extreme financial problems that led to the club's owner, Henry Norris, having the idea of moving the club to a part of London with a bigger catchment area.
 
The area identified was in enemy territory. A stealthy crossing of the murky River Thames saw the Arsenal move lock, stock and two smoking barrels to... North London of course.
 
A rivalry is born
 
In 1913 Arsenal moved to Highbury, their current home, only several miles away from Tottenham's White Hart Lane.
 
Inevitably, this led to a battle for the emerging football fans in the area and rivalries shot up which divided the community - families, school friends and work colleagues.
 
The Spurs certainly saw this move by Arsenal as hostile, and the famous North London rivalry was born.
 
The battle intensifies
 
The battle intensified considerably when only 6 years later Arsenal were promoted back to the First Division, despite only finishing 5th in the Second Division.
 
This came about due to the expansion of the First Division following the end of World War I. However, Tottenham were particularly incensed because they were relegated that same season.
 
Impersonating the opposition
 
The Spurs may have lost ground in terms of geography but they have always taken great pride in the style of football they play. Free flowing, attack-minded, adventurous football has been a hallmark of Spurs teams over the years.
 
From the 1960's team of Danny Blanchflower and Jimmy Greaves, through the 1970's with Martin Peters and Steve Perryman, and well into the 1980's with Glenn Hoddle and the Argentinean duo of Ossie Ardilles and Ricky Villa, the Spurs have always entertained.
 
Arsenal, on the other hand, have had to endure less flattering labels over the years, despite being more successful than Spurs.
 
Lucky and boring are the usual chants hurled at them by opposing fans. 'Lucky' stemmed from their style of play under the great Herbert Chapman which involved soaking up the pressure at the back and then scoring breakaway goals on the counter-attack. The 'Boring' tag came about much more recently, and resulted from the side's success being built on a defensive, rather an attacking foundation.
 
The boring tag was never more zealously thrown at the Gunners than under the reign of George Graham, the man responsible for bringing in the defensive quartet of Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn.
 
However, Arsenal's image has changed since then. Nowadays, under the Frenchman Arsene Wenger, their football is seen as classy, exciting and sophisticated.
 
You might say they are now impersonating their great rivals Spurs, and have stolen their mantle as the flair North London side. Many would argue that Tottenham no longer have the creativity and adventure that used to characterise their game.
 
Gary Blee, a Spurs fan for the last 25 years, certainly does:
"The club feels soulless. We now lack the passion and the style. We haven't had a creative side for nearly a decade now. Slowly, it seems, we have began to play without taking the risks needed in order to compete with the Man Utds, the Liverpools, and dare I say it, the Arsenals of this world."
Double Agents
 
Not content with taking over Spurs' reputation for flair, Arsenal went on to steal some of their staff. Terry Neill was a successful Arsenal manager in the 1970's. In that same era, Pat Jennings was their legendary goalkeeper. Both came from Spurs.
 
But the Spurs hit back. At the end of 1998 they signed their new manager - George Graham.
 
Graham had been Arsenal's most successful ever manager, winning a total of six trophies with them in his nine years in charge (1986-1995). He had also played for the Arsenal League and Cup Double winning side in the early 1970's. Graham is Arsenal through and through - he even had the club crest built into his patio!
 
Maybe Spurs thought his success at Arsenal would rub off on them. It didn't. In three years in charge, Graham has only won them the lesser of the Eglish cup competitions - the Worthington Cup. Worse, the Spurs team is now playing "old Arsenal" football - dour, without flair, focused on defense. Unlike the old Arsenal though, the new Spurs are not too successful.
 
No wonder Graham has gone on record to suggest that he'll never be accepted by some Tottenham supporters.
 
Danny Kelly, a London based broadcaster and journalist, and lifelong Tottenham fan would certainly agree with him there:
"Tottenham are a once-great club in absolute crisis. The gamble the chairman took in George Graham was equivalent to sticking two fingers up at the fans. Graham is not only the wrong manager because of his Arsenal history, he is the wrong manager because he belongs to a different era."
Kelly and many like him protest so much to Graham being made manager of the club that they have even set up a website with the sole purpose of getting rid of him.
 
Clive Allen, the former Spurs hero, provides balance to the argument:
"Some Tottenham fans have been giving George Graham a fair bit of stick in recent weeks. In my view, expectations have been unrealistically high for a few years and while results are not good, it is easy to use the fact that George is a former Arsenal manager against him."
In the battle for North London many fans simply aren't prepared to give Graham the time that he needs to bring to Spurs what he had previously delivered for Arsenal.
 
So what about the success of these clubs?
 
Arsenal and Spurs both have impressive trophy cabinets. Spurs have won the two league titles (including the league and F.A. Cup Double in 1960-61) and won the F.A. Cup eight times.
 
Arsenal have won eleven league titles and seven F.A. Cup wins, including the Double in 1970-71 and again in 1997-98.
 
On the battlefield
 
But the individual battles between these clubs are almost as important as the silverware.
 
There have been several big clashes between the two teams, the spoils of which have been shared quite equally over the years.
 
Many Arsenal fans would hark back to their famous 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane back in 1978 as their most prized derby moment. Desmond Barnes was only 18 at the time but recalls the game with some relish:
"I remember the legendary Liam Brady ripping the Spurs apart almost single-handedly with a bit of help from Alan Sunderland's hat-trick. Brady's 'goal of the season' goal was the moment of the game though. I loved every minute of that game and I'm sure that is the best we've ever played against the old enemy."
Younger fans than Desmond speak with equal fervour about Arsenal's 1987 2-1 victory at White Hart Lane in the 1987 League Cup semi-final replay. Charlie Notaro recollects:
"The man on the public announcement system gave details during half-time about how the Spurs fans could buy tickets to the final. With ten minutes to go and them being 1-0 you'd have to praise him for his foresight. But he didn't reckon on the mighty Arsenal who always play a 90 minute game. We scored twice in the last ten minutes to take the result. Needless to say, the man on the PA system was pretty quiet after that."
Whilst the Arsenal fans can look back with joy on these historic games Spurs have had plenty to sing about too.
 
One particular game that lingers in the fans' memories is the 1991 FA Cup Semi-final. The demand for tickets was so high that the FA gave special permission for the game to be played at Wembley - normally reserved only for the Final.
 
The streets of north London were deserted that afternoon, as most of the community was either at Wembley or watching on TV.
 
The game lived up to expectations as well, as Paul Gascoigne (Gazza) gave Spurs the perfect start with a free kick from 30 yards past England goalkeeper, David Seaman. It was a thrilling game and Spurs eventually came out 3-1 victors and went on to win the cup.
 
And the war still rages on
 
Arsenal and Tottenham remain two of the biggest sides in the English Premiership, not to mention Europe.
 
Arsenal have over the years won ground over Spurs, both in terms of geography and appropriating their mantle as the most attractive attacking side in London.
 
Tottenham are, however, a side with everything to fight for again and with George Graham at the helm they can claim to have stolen a prized Arsenal possession.
 
The battle between these two London giants will surely rage on for years to come.
 
Update May, 2001.
 
Arsenal reached the FA Cup Final in 2001 having beaten, you guessed it - Spurs, in the semi-final. The game came just weeks after Spurs sacked their manager, George Graham, and appointed club legend, and ex-England manager, Glenn Hoddle.

 

 

February 2001

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