Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur. When did it first start to get nasty?

By Bulldog Drummond


Tottenham are a club that like history.  They’ve won the First Division twice (but not won the top league for 60 years), and they’ve won the second division twice as well.  They  have won the FA Cup eight times (once more than Arsene Wenger), the Cup winners Cup once, and the Uefa Cup twice (the last time 37 years ago).

And they have certainly outgunned us in the League Cup winning it four times, so we must congratulate them on that (and the two Uefa Cup wins).

But in games between Arsenal and Tottenham Hots the lead is with Arsenal, with 82 wins to us and 66 to them.

There was actually an interesting head to head (although not on the pitch) in 1919 when, following an outbreak of match fixing, primarily by Manchester United and Liverpool, amends had to be made to Chelsea, who (if nothing was done) would be relegated as the result of a flagrantly fixed match.

Rather than ban Manchester United and Liverpool from the league, the decision was taken to charge the players, and after that, expand the league by two teams, with one of them being Chelsea, so they didn’t suffer (and also didn’t take the League to court).  And so, at an AGM of the league, a vote was held ahead of the new season, to see which club that should be.

In the build up to the election there was a lot of debate in “Athletics News” – the leading football weekly paper of the era, and they put forward Arsenal’s name as the team that should be elected to the remaining place as a reward for their bringing professional football to the south of the country, and for choosing to join the Football League rather than the Southern League.

But there was also memory of the events of March 1905 and February 1908.  In March 1905 Chelsea had applied to join the Southern League, but Tottenham had vigorously opposed the application and so the Southern League said “no”.  Chelsea then applied for a place in the Football League and were immediately elected, with the full support of Arsenal.

Then three years on, with the Football League getting much bigger crowds than the Southern League, Tottenham gave notice in February 1908 that it would be resigning from the Southern League at the end of the season, and would be applying to join the Football League, (and this despite only being a mid-table Southern League club at the time, eventually finishing 7th that season).

The Football League held its AGM at the end of the season, deciding as always what to do with clubs that had applied to join the League, and also how to treat the bottom clubs who had to apply for re-election.  As a result of a re-election process, Lincoln City who had finished bottom were thrown out of the League, and Bradford PA were elected in their place.  In the vote Tottenham only finished fifth among the clubs applying to be in the League.

Having already resigned from the Southern League, and being rejected by the Football League, Tottenham were then left with a bunch of players, a ground, and no league to play in.

However their fortune changed when Stoke resigned because of financial problems so another round of applications was held.  Tottenham applied again, but still didn’t have overwhelming support because there was still unhappiness that they had thrown in their lot with the Southern League, rather than joining the Football League as Arsenal, Clapton Orient and Chelsea had done.

Five teams applied for Stoke’s place and Tottenham and Lincoln (who were applying for re-election once again) tied in the ballot for a place in Division II.   So a second vote was held with just these two clubs in contention and again the result was again tied.  On a third Management committee vote Tottenham won.   And what is noteworthy is that Arsenal supported Tottenham’s application throughout the whole affair by voting for them each time.

Despite Arsenal’s support for Tottenham throughout this process, Tottenham led the protests against Arsenal’s move from Plumstead to Highbury in 1913, but the League sided with Arsenal.

Now onto 1919 when the clubs were again pitted against each other.  Tottenham had come bottom of the 1st division in the previous season, while Arsenal had come 5th in the second division.

There is a very detailed analysis of what happened at the AGM to elect the final member of the first division here, including extended extracts from the newspapers and magazines of the time.  There is no mention of anything being amiss, not even in the local Tottenham paper, nor from Tottenham Hotspur itself where the club accepted  the result of the vote immediately with good frace, and set about getting promotion from the second division the following season, which they did.

The earliest allegation of the election being fixed seems to have come in 1969, where it is suggested in a book written by a Tottenham supporter that there was no logical reason for Arsenal to be elected, so they must have fixed it.  No evidence is given, nor is there any explanation as to why it took 50 years for the suggestion of wrong-doing (without evidence) to emerge.

Subsequently a reward was offered to anyone who could come up with evidence of anything wrong being done at any stage of the 1919 election.  That has never been claimed, although the allegations have continued to be thrown around.   But then, that’s what happens.

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2 Replies to “Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur. When did it first start to get nasty?”

  1. I guess that the narrative of Arsenal fixing the vote in 1919 fits in nicely with all the pond life that inhabit the media/press, no surprise there…

  2. I was interested to hear Villa introduced on MOTD tonight as “there are few better defences around”. It’s funny how all we get is the very same programme (and the rest of the media) repeatedly slagging off our defence……..which had conceded exactly the same number of goals as Villa.

    No bias there then……

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