User Name

Rivalry with the Gunners

Tottenham and Arsenal are named as two biggest football clubs in London (Arsenal were formed in 1886, 4 years after Spurs). What had happened to make both fans recognised each other as rivals? We hope we can give you an answer by the following general historical facts.

The first meeting between the two teams was a friendly on 19 November 1887, when Arsenal were located in Plumstead, and known as Royal Arsenal. Due to the lateness of the Royal Arsenal players, the match was abandoned 15 minutes before it was due to end "owing to darkness" with Spurs leading 2–1. Three months later, Spurs visited Plumstead with a 6-2 defeat. Of course, the rivalry between two teams is not because of this match.

The conflict between both clubs started from the selection of home ground: Spurs moved the home ground to White Hart Lane in north London in 1899. It is no doubt that Spurs continued its development in this area. The rivalry with Arsenal was started in 1910’s.

In 1910, Woolwich Arsenal (name used at that time) fell into a financial crisis and was relegated to the Second Division, as such they looked for assistance. At that time, Henry Norris, Chairman of Fulham, had a vision of having a London-based football club in winning a league title, so he proposed to acquire Woolwich Arsenal to Fulham (which played at the Second Division at that time) so as to strengthen the squad, but was rejected by the Football League Association. After then, Norris had to manage two clubs at the same time, which he put most of his efforts on Woolwich Arsenal.

Norris understood that in order to achieve his vision, he had to move Arsenal out of Plumstead. In early 1913, he chose Highbury – close to the “doorstep” of the Spurs area.

Before that, Spurs competed with Orient in getting more supporters. In 1909, in order to attract more attendance, Spurs invested 50,000 British Pounds to rebuild the West Stand of White Hart Lane. Arsenal’s intention of building their home ground in Highbury had a significant consequence to Spurs, as Highbury is nearer to the centre of Greater London than White Hart Lane. Moreover, the location of Arsenal’s new home ground makes Arsenal easier in attracting new supporters (Highbury is just next to a tube station, while a 10-minute bus ride is needed from the tube station to White Hart Lane).

Spurs and Orient, together with Chelsea, protested against Arsenal’s plan to the Football League Association. Unfortunately, Arsenal’s proposal was approved by the Board – not because the board members supported the plan, but in fact, the board members had no interference power. Even though the regulation was changed later on, from Spurs point of view, it was too late!

The rivalry was not come to an end …

The First World War was started in August 1914 and a number of Spurs regular squad were drafted, but the Football League was continued. At the end of 1914/15 season, Spurs was at the bottom of the league, which means they would be relegated to the Second Division with Chelsea. At the same time, as the war became fiercer, the Football League Association decided to abandon all games.

1919, the Football League resumed. The Football League Association proposed to expand two more teams in the First Division, the situation was similar to 1898 and 1995 season (which top two teams in the Second Division were promoted and the bottom two teams in the First Division). At that time, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle, Bury and Notts County were resumed in the First Division in 1898 and 1905 respectively. With previous case, it was no doubt that Spurs would have the same treatment to resume in the First Division. But, Norris had another thought …

Norris just invested 125,000 British Pounds in saving Arsenal (Arsenal was in debt of 60,000 British Pounds). Actually at the time prior the abandonment of the football league, Arsenal was in the sixth place in the Second Division, Norris vision of Arsenal’s promotion to the First Division would come true, but Norris would like to achieve this as soon as possible. He understood that there was no 100% sure win in the football pitch, so he did not want to take any risk. Finally, he came up with a fallacy – as Arsenal had a longer time in the Football League than Spurs, Arsenal should replace Spurs in the First Division.

First Division Table - 1915
Position Club
18 Man Utd
19 Chelsea
20 Spurs

Second Division Table - 1915
Position Club
1 Derby County
2 Preston
3 Barnsley
4 Wolves
5 Birmingham City
6 Arsenal

Though Norris proposal was “logically” right, he ignored the fact that both Wolves and Birmingham had a longer history in the Football League than Arsenal, and Wolves was one of the founders of the English Football League! If Norris’ point was supported, then both Wolves and Birmingham should be prioritized in the promotion mechanism. But both Wolves and Birmingham did not appreciate Norris’ logic – they thought that it would be more fair if a team won the promotion in the football field by defeating the opponent, not in a conference room. Finally, both teams did not make such proposal.

Norris did not challenge Chelsea, but Spurs: he started to disseminate his fallacy by mailing to other football clubs; at the same time, Spurs started its persuasion campaign. At that time, Spurs thought fair and justice was on their side, so they did not pay great attention to Arsenal’s action, and they were not aware of the severe consequences. In 1917, Norris was promoted as Sir Norris and he was elected to the Parliament the next year – he met a lot of important people with his wealth and influence and he was strong in using such relationships to achieve his objectives in football.

A Football League meeting was held in March 1919 and with the support of Norris friends and endorsement by John McKenna, the League President, a vote was held to decide which four teams could be stayed in the First Division. Chelsea, Derby County and Preston won the first three places, suddenly, McKenna made a call on encouraging the members to vote for Arsenal for the final place. As a result, Arsenal won the vote by 18 votes to Spurs 8 (Barnsley got five, Wolves four, Nottingham Forest three, Birmingham two and Hull City one) and were thus elected to the First Division. Until today, the Football League Association did not make any announcement on this action.

Spurs did not take any revenge after Arsenal’s invasion to their area and theft of the First Division position, the team faced the clout positively and proactively – Spurs promoted to the First Division a year after, with a record result (until now). On the other side, Arsenal stayed in the First Division (now called Premier League) until today. If you find that an Arsenal fan shows off with the “fact” that Arsenal is the team that stayed longest in the top football league, you can tell him / her the facts directly: actually Arsenal never earned an eligibility for playing in the top football league, as they are never been promoted, the position was stolen from Spurs!

In 1928, Arsenal lost in a football match “deliberately”, which got Spurs “relegated”. In that year, the competition was fierce, with only 7-point difference was found between the fifth position and the bottom, so the result of each match was significant. On 28 March, Arsenal lost inexplicably to Portsmouth (Spurs opponent in the relegation zone) at home, which pushed Spurs to a more dangerous position. On 28 April, after Spurs completed all their matches, Arsenal lost inexplicably “again” in a home match against Manchester United. As a result, Spurs were relegated to the Second Division. All commentators at the time, commented that it was not possible for Arsenal getting any point in both matches; if Arsenal could get at least one point, Spurs would not be relegated. Of course, Arsenal again benefited from the Spurs relegation, as they could end up with more and more north London supporters.

Please try and respect our great history – all information is supported by documented history. For full information, you can refer to Arsenal – The Official Illustrated History.

Copyright© 2013 Spurs HK. All rights reserved.