The North London derby. Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur. A rivalry full of antagonism and hatred between both sets of supporters. As we build up to the 190th North London derby this weekend, we are going to analyse why Tottenham fans despise Arsenal so much.
“F**k off back to Woolwich, North London is ours”
Firstly, some Spurs fans will tell you that it’s not even an official North London derby because Arsenal is originally a south London club. Arsenal was founded in 1886 at a munitions factory in Woolwich and played their games at the Manor Ground in nearby Plumstead. Arsenal officially became a north London club in 1913. Better financial prospects was the driving force behind the club’s desire to relocate to north London. In fact, Arsenal owner Henry Norris’s initial strategy was to merge Arsenal with Fulham but when that was blocked by the league, Norris decided to controversially move Woolwich Arsenal (as they were known back then) to a new site in Highbury north of the river despite objections from Tottenham. Highbury was just four miles from White Hart Lane where Tottenham played and in doing so became Tottenham’s nearest rivals and thus establishing a natural turf war rivalry.
Arsenal’s “election” to Division 1
The rivalry escalated further in 1919 after Arsenal’s controversial “election” to the First Division. In the 1914/15 season, one in which Tottenham finished rock bottom in Division 1, Arsenal had finished 5th in Division 2. The outbreak of World War 1 meant that the following seasons would be suspended until 1919 once hostilities ended. However, by the time the league resumed, Division 1 was undergoing some structural changes which resulted in the introduction of 2 additional teams. The League held a meeting with the representatives of each club to decide which two clubs would join by means of a vote. Chelsea, who finished in the other relegation spot along with Tottenham, were allowed to stay and thus they took the first of the two spots.
There was only one more spot up for grabs and it could have been awarded to 20th-placed Tottenham or to Barnsley and Wolves who had also finished above Arsenal. But, despite finishing 5th in Division 2, Arsenal took the final Division 1 spot at the expense of Tottenham who started the next season in Division 2. It has been alleged that Arsenal chairman Sir Henry Norris used underhand tactics and dealings to bribe members of the league to vote for Arsenal’s promotion. Understandably, this infuriated Tottenham fans and consequently intensified their hatred for Arsenal. Even more so, given that Norris was the impetus behind Arsenal’s move from Woolwich to north London. Interestingly enough, since Arsenal were elected to Division 1 that year, to this day they have not been relegated since.
The Ultimate Betrayal
Reasons 3. One Man. Two words. Sol Campbell. Campbell, who is commonly known as Judas around N17, spent more than 12 years at Spurs, rising through the youth ranks and going on to be a star for their first team including captaining the side to victory in the 1999 League Cup final. However, after refusing to sign a new contract in the summer of 2003, Campbell committed the ultimate betrayal by joining north London neighbours Arsenal on a free transfer that shocked the footballing world. Campbell, who remains unapologetic about the move, has stressed that he was willing to stay at Spurs if they matched his ambition to take the club forward during their contract negotiations.
Since the move, Campbell has unsurprisingly received untold amounts of abuse from Spurs fans who to this day continue to chant abusive songs about him. Spurs fans could probably rest easier had the move not paid off but Sol Campbell was very successful at Arsenal winning 2 League titles (including one clinched at White Hart Lane) alongside 3 FA Cups in just 5 seasons at Arsenal.
As other football fans would attest, Arsenal fans can be the most unbearable, egotistical and irritating fanbase going and Spurs will feel the full brunt of this. Even though Spurs in the last 10 years have shown fantastic signs of progression by rising from mid-table mediocrity to getting to cup finals to competing for league titles and reaching a Champions League final, they will never hear the end of it from Arsenal fans who will continue to taunt them about their lack of trophies. Also, the cockiness that Arsenal fans possess even though they have finished below Spurs for the last 5 seasons annoys Spurs fans. Even if Arsenal are doing bad in the league, they will always find a way to taunt Spurs.
Although Arsenal fans haven’t celebrated this day for the last 5 seasons, a prime example is the famous “St Totteringham’s Day” that Arsenal fans celebrate when it is mathematically confirmed that Spurs cannot finish above them. Given that Arsenal fans call Tottenham irrelevant and a nothing club, they do constantly talk about their rivals and you’d be lucky to go 10 mins at the Emirates without hearing the chant “What do you think of Tottenham?”.
The Wenger Years/Success
A further reason why Tottenham despise Arsenal is because in layman’s terms Arsenal has been so much more successful than Tottenham. Arsenal have 13 League Titles, Tottenham only have 2. Arsenal have 14 FA Cups, Tottenham have 8. Although Tottenham has a better European resume than Arsenal through winning the UEFA Cup twice, now known as the Europa League, whereas Arsenal has none. Given that Arsenal are going through the worst period in their history and Tottenham have just gone through one of the most exciting phases in their history, Arsenal has still been more successful than Tottenham by accumulating 4 FA Cups. Whereas Tottenham have lost their last 8 straight FA Cup semi-finals and have won zero trophies since their League Cup triumph in 2008, something that Arsenal will never let them forget. Let alone, not winning the league since 1961.
The gap was arguably at its peak during the Wenger years from the period of 1998-2004 where Arsenal won 3 league titles compounded with actually securing the league title at White Hart Lane in 2004 to rub salt in the wounds. Not to mention that Arsenal also clinched the League at White Hart Lane in 1971. Also, there was a period of time where Tottenham went 21 games without beating Arsenal in any competition, from Nov 1999, Tottenham’s next victory over Arsenal would be the 5-1 demolition game in the 2008 League cup semi-final.
There are multiple other reasons why Spurs fans hate Arsenal, notable mentions to Jack Wilshere who on two occasions has led the anti-Tottenham chants during Arsenal’s FA Cup parade celebrations. Thierry Henry, for his infamous celebration in front of the Spurs fans in 2002. Characters on AFTV, sports pundits and supporters on social media platforms who continue to take the mick out of Spurs. I’ve just harped on about a few but one thing to know is that the feelings are mutual. Tottenham hate Arsenal. Arsenal hate Tottenham. When the return fixture is played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Spurs fans are due to give Arsenal fans their usual hostile reception as they walk down the infamous Tottenham High Road.