North London Derby: The History of Spurs vs Arsenal

tottenham hotspurThe bitterness between Spurs and Arsenal is clear to see and neutral observers list this as one of the most passionate Local Derbies in football. While we’ve finished above them for the last three seasons and like to think we don’t care quite as much these days, the truth is very different.

While it was tough to watch the 2019 Europa League final between two teams that Tottenham supporters have little time for, who can honestly say that they didn’t smile when the Gunners slumped to a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Chelsea?

The bad feeling will doubtless continue for decades to come but how did it all begin?

Crossing Paths

As we all should know, games between Spurs and Arsenal were not always North London Derbies. As Tottenham fans like to remind them, the Gunners were previously known as Woolwich Arsenal and didn’t cross over the river to their new Highbury Stadium until 1913. In fact, early matches between the two teams took place at Plumstead before the club moved to Woolwich in the 1880s.

History tells us that the very first game between the two sides was a friendly. It was played between Tottenham and a side known as Royal Arsenal and it took place on the 19th of November 1887. The team from Plumstead were down by two goals to one when, it’s reported, the Tottenham Marshes ground became too dark to continue.

The excellent 11v11.com website records that the first official game between Spurs and Woolwich Arsenal took place on November 9, 1896 in the United League. We lost 2-1 but games between the two sides at that time were even contests. In fact, of the six official matches played in the 19th century, Spurs won two, Arsenal won two and there were two draws.

Things continued in similar, largely unremarkable fashion at the start of the new century which was to be punctuated by two World Wars. At the end of the second conflict, the rivalry began in earnest.

Glory Years

arsenalIn the early 1960s, few teams could come close to matching Bill Nicholson’s Spurs and we certainly weren’t concerned about Arsenal at the time. As we saw in a previous article, our big rivals at the time were Burnley in a period that was seen as the Glory Years for the Clarets as well.

1960/61 brought about the domestic double and first division trophy while the Cup was landed again in the following season. At the end of the following, 1962/63 campaign, Spurs landed the European Cup Winners Cup before claiming the FA Cup once again in 1967.

It’s nice to note that at this stage, Tottenham were recording a number of ‘firsts’. We were the first team to record the double in the 20th century and the first English club to land a European trophy.

Although we didn’t enjoy complete dominance over the North London Derby fixtures during this period, we were some way ahead of our rivals but sadly, that wasn’t to last.

Dark Days

Over the course of history, both teams have embarked upon winning streaks but the Arsene Wenger years were particularly hard work for Tottenham supporters. Prior to that period, the 1960s were long forgotten and, at the end of the 1976/77 campaign, we were relegated to the old second division.

To rub it in, our former manager Terry Neill had left for Arsenal, taking players with him and, at the start of the 1977/78 promotion campaign, the great Pat Jennings also crossed to Highbury.

We bounced back and the 1980s were fairly even but, when Wenger came along in 1996, it was a different story. Arsenal embarked on a series of trophy winning years which are, frankly, too painful to fact check. I can confirm that a particularly bad run occurred between March 2000 and January 2008 when we didn’t win a single one of 21 games in all competitions.

All of this has rather skewed the overall head to head record which reads: 198 games, 64 wins for Spurs, 52 draws and 82 defeats.

Arsene Wenger finally departed and, with twenty years of hurt now behind us, we could look forward to a more positive climate but that really was a tough section to write.

Club Records

When we look at the head to head statistics between these two teams, they don’t make pleasant reading at the moment but things are changing. As for the records between the two sides, Arsenal have the edge here too.

The highest combined aggregate of goals in any NLD is nine and this came in the 5-4 defeat at White Hart Lane in November 2004. The Gunners also hold the edge in terms of a record win although their 6-0 victory came way back in 1935.

We’ve recorded a couple of 5-0 wins – in 1911 and 1983 – but so have they – winning by that exact scoreline at White Hart Lane in 1978.

That’s enough of that: Let’s move on and look at the future which is set to bring those head to heads more into line.

The Future’s Bright

mauricio pochettino

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino

Clubs are always going to be rivals with the nearest side to their own ground unless, we take into account the bizarre situation between Brighton and Crystal Palace. Spurs and Arsenal may have both switched stadiums in recent years but to have rival sets of supporters living in the same towns and the same streets will always lead to some hostility.

As we’ve seen, fortunes have been up and down over the last sixty years but there’s every reason to be positive about the future. In fact, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has gone so far as to say that Chelsea, rather than Arsenal, are our biggest rivals in the modern day.

Poch has a point but for us mere supporters, the rivalry with Chelsea could never exceed that of our closest neighbours. When the fixtures are released, the first thing to look for is the NLD and that’s unlikely to change no matter how close Spurs and Chelsea may be in the table.

For now, it does seem that we have the upper hand and it’s hoped that this will continue for the immediate future. After years of gloom under the Wenger era, Spurs have now finished above Arsenal in three straight seasons from 2016/17. We’re in an enviable new stadium and some proper silverware must soon be on the way.

While we can appreciate the history of this momentous fixture, the future definitely looks bright in terms of bragging rights for the Lilywhites in North London.

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