Approaching derby day we recall when Arsenal helped Tottenham get into the league



By Tony Attwood

As we are about to play Tottenham I thought it might be nice to look back to how Tottenham entered the Football League, and all the help and support Arsenal gave that club to achieve this aim.

And this is interesting because whereas Royal Arsenal FC made only one application to join the Football League (in 1893) and were immediately accepted, Tottenham made a number of attempts in the early part of the Football League’s history to try to secure their place in the League.

Part of the problem was that from the off Tottenham adopted a policy of “one club for London” and when in the Southern League the club blocked the application of the newly formed Chelsea to join that Southern League.  (Chelsea immediately applied to join the Football League and were instantly accepted as the conurbation’s second league club, along with Woolwich Arsenal).

Then when Arsenal proposed to move to Islington in 1913 Tottenham led the opposition to the move.  

Such history is widely known, but there was another occasion where Tottenham’s attitude toward other clubs caused it problems.  The following is an extract which comes from an article describing the whole set of strange events in more detail.

In February 1908 Tottenham (along with QPR) resigned from the Southern League and made it known that they would apply to join the Football League.  QPR were justified in their application as they were runaway winners of the Southern League. Tottenham eventually finished 7th and so there was less of a reason to see them as ready for Divison 2 of the Football League.

However, the Southern League at this time was a much more powerful force than it is today, and was constantly trying to establish itself as a southern equal to the predominantly midlands and northern-based Football League, was naturally against any of its members applying to join the Football League.  And this matter was made worse when such applications were rejected by the Football League and the clubs came back to the Southern League with their tails between their legs.

This not only looked bad for the Southern League but also caused the Southern League administration problems as it sought to re-arrange the fixture lists at the last minute (obviously without the aid of computers).

So, at the 1908 AGM of the Southern League (with Tottenham as members, and Woolwich Arsenal now firmly established in the Football League) the Southern League agreed that any team wishing to resign from the Southern League had to do so by the previous December in order to leave the league the following April.

Tottenham, feeling sure they would be a shoo-in for a place in the Football League duly resigned from the Southern League and applied for the Football League place. To show just how certain they were of their Big Step Forward, they also resigned from the Western League (in which their first team also played).

But then, when the Football League held its AGM, Grimsby and Chesterfield who had finished bottom of Division 2 and who had both applied to remain in the League, were re-elected.   But Lincoln, who were in severe financial trouble dropped out of the league.

Tottenham applied for this third place but the League clubs refused to vote for Tottenham and tiny Bradford Park Avenue were voted in to replace Lincoln instead.

Tottenham were thus no longer in the Southern League, and were now also without a place in the Football League (which they had thought themselves certain to get, on the nod).  So they then applied to the Southern League for re-admission, but that League, feeling that to accept Tottenham back in, would in fact undermine their new policy of requiring resignations by December, refused to have them back.  Clearly Tottenham were not very popular – and as a result of their own actions, now had no league to play in.

But then, toward the end of June 1908, Stoke resigned from the League due to financial problems and the Football League held a special meeting to find a replacement for Stoke.  However (and this really is typical of football in these times) Stoke then said they had found some more money and asked to be re-instated into the Football League.

The League refused Stoke’s request, and held a meeting to find a team to replace Stoke.  Five teams applied for a place: Stoke themselves, Lincoln, Tottenham Hotspur, Rotherham and Southport Central.

In the first ballot, Tottenham and Lincoln tied for first place so a second vote was held with just these two clubs in contention. Tottenham were very lucky here as there were no set rules as to what should happen in such an eventuality and the Management Committee could have taken the voting from the AGM as a yardstick and elected Lincoln back into the League.

In the second vote Tottenham and Lincoln tied 20 votes each. It was then left to the Management Committee to decide and they voted in Tottenham’s favour. Arsenal showed what gentlemen they were and supported Tottenham’s application throughout the whole debacle.  Without Arsenal’s vote, Tottenham would lost to Lincoln in the first round of voting and been left with no league to play in, and might well have folded.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Following all of this rumours surfaced that Tottenham had offered Stoke financial inducements to resign from the Football League in the first place. But that’s another story.

One Reply to “Approaching derby day we recall when Arsenal helped Tottenham get into the league”

  1. Following that magnificent piece of proper journalism, I wonder if we’ll get a single contrary post? Obviously, I mean a post with contrary evidence attached. I very much doubt it.

    Fantastic article Tony.

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