The North London Derby : Then, Now, Forever

I was asked to write a column on something sports related as an assignment and I chose to write about the North London Derby. As a journalism student , this is one of the most difficult things I have done – being an Arsenal fan, writing about the North London Derby WITHOUT BEING BIASED. I have to admit I wrote the words ‘scum,’ ‘c**k sucker,’ ‘shite hart lane,’ ‘bald headed jackass,’ ‘yiddo,’ ‘chimp,’ etc. and backspaced quite a few times. It wasn’t easy. This is what I wrote though. 

Of the many storied rivalries in the history of football, one of the most celebrated and volatile is the North London Derby, Arsenal vs. Tottenham. The Gunners and Spurs have wrangled over victory in their neighbourhood for more than a century with the same vigour and ruthlessness that they began with in 1909.

Arsenal, which was a Second Division Team, moved from Manor Ground to Highbury, just four kilometres away from White Hart Lane in 1913. They went on to beat Tottenham, which was then a First Division Club at White Hart Lane, with a smashing 5-1 score line in a War Relief Fund match. This intensified the competitive spirit and the need for vengeance among the Spurs. The Spurs didn’t get their revenge until 1921 when they quenched their thirst with a 2-1 victory.

Until 1976, both teams had been more or less at par with each other, with 31 victories to Tottenham, 28 victories to Arsenal and 17 games drawn. But from 1977-80 and 1987-90, Tottenham saw six consecutive losses. They faced a drought of victories from 1997 to 2010, one year (2003-04) of which was when the Invincibles reigned at Highbury.

Tottenham felt partially gratified when victory came after 17 years in the form of a Premier League victory (2-1) on April 14th, 2010. This day, when Tottenham also broke a run of 68 games of continuous losses away from home against the ‘big four’ clubs, is incidentally celebrated as St. Hotspur’s Day by Spurs fans. This celebration day was originally declared when Tottenham beat Arsenal 3-1 on the same date in 1991 in the FA Cup semi-final.

To even it out, Arsenal fans celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day on that day in the season when Arsenal have gathered enough points to be mathematically assured to finish ahead of Tottenham in the league table.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League
This means war.

Both North London teams have witnessed certain players who have changed the contours of this iconic contention; a few players have created a stir among fans and players alike by shifting loyalties to the rival club. Sol Campbell, Pat Jennings (Tottenham to Arsenal) and Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas (Arsenal to Tottenham) are among the few whom fans consider treacherous.

Adebayor, who ended his glorious career with Arsenal in 2009 with 143 appearances and 62 goals from 2006, was transferred to Manchester City from where he was sent to Real Madrid on loan. Much to the vehemence of Arsenal fans, his next transfer was to Tottenham in 2011, with whom he signed a permanent contract in 2012.

In the 2012-13 season of the Premier League, during the first North London Derby at Emirates in November 2012, Adebayor scored a goal in the first minute, gifting Tottenham the lead. But he was almost immediately sent off for a nasty tackle on Santi Cazorla. The Gunners went on to win the game with a 5-2 score line, the second win with the same score line against Tottenham in 2012. Tottenham, following the previous season’s routine, beat Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane in February 2013.

Every player’s/fan’s worst nightmare is to lose against the rival club. At times when emotions run like cold steel through veins, every element involved with the club, for those 90 minutes, experiences a feeling of oneness with the club, its history and its spirit. Be it an Arsenal fan or a Spurs fan, during a North London Derby, nothing else matters.

“Hark now hear,
The Tottenham sing the Arsenal run away,
And we will fight forever more because of Boxing Day.” – The Spurs

“When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother ‘what will I be?’
‘Will I be Chelsea? Will I be Spurs?’ Here’s what she said to me.
‘Wash your mouth out son! And get your father’s gun!
And shoot the Tottenham scum! Que sera sera!’” – The Gooners

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