North London's spicy rivalry


The North London derby began as far back as 1887 when Arsenal played their first match against Tottenham and Spurs were denied a 2-1 friendly victory as the game was abandoned because of darkness.

Over 120 years later, the comfier surroundings of the Emirates Stadium and White Hart Lane offer a white heat which lights up the North London derby.

The real Tottenham-Arsenal Rivalry, much like any rivalry in human history, began with a story of land encroachment. In 1913 Arsenal decided to move from Kent and entered North London territory reserved for Tottenham and Leyton Orient. They relocated from their old home to Arsenal Stadium, Highbury almost a stone’s throw away from White Hart Lane.

A lot of Arsenal’s financial troubles, identified by their largest stake holder Sir Henry Norris (also the Fulham Chairman), was its location. After a failure to merge the club with Fulham, Norris picked the Highbury site, despite the objections of the Woolwich fans as well as residents of Highbury. After the move they soon dropped their first name Woolwich and came to be known as The Arsenal.

The rivalry with their new nearest neighbours escalated further in 1919 when it was agreed that the First Division would be expanded by two teams. 19th-placed Chelsea, who would otherwise have been relegated, were allowed to stay. The final place should have been awarded to 20th-placed Tottenham, or Barnsley, who had finished third in the Division Two, but both missed out. Instead it was decided that Arsenal would be promoted, despite a fifth place finish in Division Two. 
Tottenham were promoted back into the top flight after taking the Second Division title the next season, and the fierce rivalry has continued ever since.

Both Arsenal and Tottenham have grown with a number of trophies among them. Arsenal being more successful domestically while Tottenham have the edge in Europe.

The most goals in one game were scored in the closely contested 5-4 Arsenal victory at White Hart Lane on 13 November 2004. The biggest winning margin was 6-0 to Arsenal on 6 March 1935, although Tottenham have twice won 5-0 (25 December, 1911 and 4 April 1983). 

Early days and winning ways

Arsenal began life when workers at the Woolwich Arsenal Armament Factory formed a team in 1886. In 1891 the Club turned professional and changed its name to Woolwich Arsenal, joining the Football League in 1893.

Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, began life across the road from White Hart Lane in 1882. Players from the local cricket club and the local grammar school decided to start a club, naming themselves after the youngest son of the Duke of Northumberland, Percy, who went by the nickname of 'Harry Hotspur' - their hero, so Hotspur FC was born. Two years later they were renamed Tottenham Hotspur Football and Athletic Club and in 1885, 'Spurs' played their first competitive match. Ten years later, they turned professional.

Despite Arsenal's greater overall trophy haul, especially in the Wenger era, Spurs fans have always clung on to the 'Glory Game' notion characterised by Danny Blanchflower, the captain of Spurs during their double winning season of 1961.

He said: "The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It's about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."

Certainly, the likes of Jimmy Greaves, Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne who have worn the Spurs' shirt with distinction testify to that claim.  

Familiar faces and memorable matches

Perhaps due to the rivalry between the two clubs, there are only 11 players to have appeared for both clubs since 1913, although Terry Neill and George Graham have coached the north London rivals during their managerial careers. The two most notable names to cross the divide are Pat Jennings and Sol Campbell.

Legendary goalkeeper Jennings made 590 appearances for Spurs between 1964 and 1977. However, believing that his career was coming to an end, they sold him to their north London rivals. It was Arsenal who had the last laugh as the Northern Ireland international went on to play for another eight years. 
Jennings returned to Spurs as the club's goalkeeping coach.

One player who would find it difficult to make a similar return to White Hart Lane is Sol Campbell, the England defender. The boyhood Spurs fan refused to sign a contract with the club in 2001 and left on a Bosman-free transfer, claiming that he wanted to play UEFA Champions League football. The defender went on to win two English Premier League titles and three FA Cups with the Gunners, also scoring in the side’s defeat to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.

Two of the most memorable games in recent memory were FA Cup Semi-Final encounters in 1991 and 1993 respectively. At Wembley Stadium in 1991, Arsenal found the mercurial Gascoigne in inspirational form. After undergoing a double hernia operation, he had played just 60 minutes of football in the previous five weeks, but he rose to the occasion in tremendous style. A sublime 30-yard free-kick from the midfielder and a brace from Gary Lineker helped Spurs to a 2-1 victory in front of 80,000 fans.

Two years later, however, Arsenal got their revenge as a Tony Adams goal proved to be the difference between the two sides.

Whereas all those goals were scored by Englishman,  and the fixture is the highest scoring game in the Premier League, the top scorer in the fixture is Togolese legend. Emmanuel Adebayor who crossed the divide via Manchester City and, after six goals in seven league games for Arsenal against Tottenham, also scored for Spurs in the two 2012 fixtures which saw the Gunners emerge 5-2 victors.

In the recent past, Tottenham’s “we can finish top four this season” attitude and Arsenal’s “fourth place equals a trophy” approach, though greatly frowned upon by football fanatics, has produced some of the best games English football has seen. Such rivalry has only benefited the clubs more than anyone else, to improve and outplay each other on the playing field.

The upcoming North London Derby will be no different and is more than a game.

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