By Tony Attwood
I was seriously expecting Tottenham to do something this past weekend – not on the pitch but off it.
Last time they were trying to go above us in the league and matters came down to the last game we played the final match at Highbury against Wigan we got the result needed. Tottenham however played a game against little West Ham and then said that they lost because of some pasta they had bought at a hotel. There was even suggestion that the chef was an Arsenal fan, and he deliberately poisoned the Tiny Totts squad.
What Tottenham did not report was that the Health Protection Agency subsequently did a proper investigation of the London Marriott Hotel in West India Quay and found that these allegations were unfounded. I don’t know if the London Marriott sued Tottenham, or if Tottenham settled out of court, but the damage to the hotel was significant.
What Tottenham were actually suffering from – apart from being Tottenham – was the norovirus.
In 1913 Tottenham led a most vigorous campaign against Arsenal moving to Highbury. They knew that the Football League and FA both agreed that they had no control over where clubs played their matches (this had been reaffirmed at the AGM of the League as recently as 1910 when there was a proposal for Arsenal to ground share with Fulham) but still they allied themselves with the “Highbury Defence League” in protesting about Arsenal’s arrival in the area.
They also called for an Emergency General Meeting of the Football League, but the league clubs would hear nothing of it and voted it out, leaving Tottenham politically isolated. They then worked with others to persuade Islington Council to pass a vote saying they would do everything possible to stop Arsenal moving to the borough.
And yet it was pointless – not only did Arsenal duly arrive at the Gillespie Road ground 99 years ago, the crowds of both clubs shot up because of the intense excitement in football that was created by having a couple of major clubs a couple of miles apart. Arsenal didn’t steal Tottenham’s crowd – Tottenham’s crowd increased.
Tottenham tried again in 1919 – this time with a much greater and more long lasting PR success (although with no success in achieving their prime objective) when Arsenal applied for a place in the first division – having spent the final two pre-war years in the second division.
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A more detailed version of events is told on the Arsenal History Society blog but in essence it ran like this.
At the end of the 1914/15 season (the last before the cessation of the league for the First World War) Manchester United and Liverpool were involved in match fixing. As a result of one fixed game Manchester United got the point that saw them finish out of the bottom two of the league – Liverpool finished mid table.
The final league position for the bottom three was
- Manchester U 30 points
- Chelsea 29 points
- Tottenham H 28 points
Thus had Man U not fixed the game with Liverpool Chelsea would have stayed up and Man U gone down. Tottenham’s position was unaffected.
A commission of enquiry was held and Man U and Liverpool found guilty. Their fate however was not decided because of the war.
When the League looked at this again before the start of the first post-war season it was felt it was unfair to punish clubs for events pre-war – especially as some of the players affected were now war heroes, so there was no mood to do anything – even though this was not the first example of corruption from Liverpool.
But, on the other hand, Chelsea were clearly going to be relegated to the second division utterly unfairly.
By March 1919, with no league football going on but the country at peace, the weekly football magazines like Athletic News were full of the story once again, and the general argument was that Chelsea must stay in the first division.
At the same time there was a vote to expand the first division from 20 to 22 clubs. This expansion had happened several times before and the process was clearly known – clubs from the second division and the relegated clubs from the first division (Chelsea and Tottenham) could apply for the two extra places in the first division. The top two from the second division of 1914/15 would automatically go up.
But so strong was Chelsea’s case, following the Liverpool/Man U match fixing scandal, that it was agreed for the one and only time in the history of the league, that a club be given a place in a higher league without a vote. That left one extra place in the first division, and as always happened the chairmen of the league voted.
The Arsenal had finished fifth in the second division – and they won the vote ahead of Tottenham, Barnsley, Wolverhampton W, Birmingham and Hull – and ever since Tottenham has suggested the vote was fixed. But in all these votes (both in terms of promotion and over the issue of which clubs in the bottom division should drop out and be replaced by a non-league team) where you finished in the league was always less important than other facts.
Arsenal’s reputation as a club, in 1919, was extraordinarily high. They had built a modern stadium, they had pioneered the introduction of both professional and league football in the south of England, and they had invented the whole concept of away travel. The club was placed right by railway stations that gave easy access from other parts of the country, and they got big crowds.
Tottenham’s reputation was at an all time low. They had finished bottom of the league, and they had led the abortive campaign to try and stop Woolwich Arsenal from moving out of Plumstead. What’s more they had also campaigned long and hard against Chelsea being given a place in the league in 1905 – which had alienated Chelsea (obviously) and some other chairmen who still resented the behaviour of Tottenham in 1913.
So it was that Arsenal got the vote. The process was exactly the same as that used in 1892 for the creation of the second division and from 1892/3 onwards (when Bootle lost their place in the second division after coming five from bottom). Indeed, it happened as recently as 1971/2 when Barrow lost their place in the 4th division, despite having Stockport and Crewe below them (Crewe that year were actually 8 points below Barrow – but 4th division clubs hated the long journey to Barrow, and so voted for ease of reach, rather than league position).
And maybe we should also remember that Tottenham got their place in the football league after coming 8th in the Southern League the previous season – the seven clubs above them not being promoted. Maybe we should make a fuss about that!
But no, that would be silly.
The full story of Arsenal’s move to Highbury (and indeed the whole story of the founding of Arsenal as a league club) is covered in Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football which will be published in about six weeks time. If you would like to have your name on this book (was covers this and many other previously untold Arsenal stories) you can do so by becoming a sponsor of the volume. There is no charge – you just have to order a copy of the book now. Details are here.
- Retrospective: when was the last time Tottenham finished above us in the league?
- We kept the faith – the season reviewed.
- A tribute to Pat Rice
- How refs are fixing football matches
- Corruption greed and rank stupidity
- Match fixing scandal – Council of Europe investigates but we don’t do it in England