Friday, August 30, 2013

Arsenal vs. Tottenham: The Defining Moments, Part I: 1882-1919


The Yankees were not scheduled last night. Nor were the Red Bulls. The Devils don't start up again for over a month. And the Rutgers football team opened their season by blowing a 2-touchdown lead in the 2nd quarter, and a 1-touchdown lead with 38 seconds to go, and lost in overtime, away to Fresno State. (Yes, Fresno State are a good team and were the home team. That's beside the point.)

So let's talk Arsenal, and Sunday's derby against The Scum. (And that's pronounced "DAR-bee," not "DURR-bee.")

In English soccer -- and until England can beat America in a competitive match, I'll call the sport anything I damn well please -- a club (and they are clubs that sponsor teams, not "franchises" as we understand that term in North America) has to prove itself by getting promoted to higher levels. If they finish high in a division, they get promoted to a higher one; if they finish low, they get relegated to a lower one.

This is a system of reward for trying to win, and punishment for failure, that North American sports does not have. It would be logisitically difficult to rearrange things every year anyway, given the vast space of our country. (The longest possible roadtrip in English "football" is Carlisle in the North, near the Scottish border, to Plymouth Argyle in Devon, in the South-West, 389 miles. Of the other 13 teams in the American League, only Boston and Baltimore are closer to the Yankees than that. And a 389-mile roadtrip in the NFL or college football would be considered a piece of cake by fans of those sports.)

The top division of England's Football League was called Division One from the League's founding in 1888 until 1992, and has been called the Premier League (or "The Premiership") ever since. Arsenal, of North London, have been in that top division every season since 1919, the longest uninterrupted stretch in League history.

Tottenham Hotspur, also currently in North London, have been in Division Two, now called "The Championship," a few times since then.

(And don't get me started on why the second division is called The Championship, the third is League One and the fourth is League Two. It's supposed to make sense to the English, not to the Americans.)

English football rivalries are nastier than most North American sports rivalries.  Occasionally, you'll hear of trouble between fans of the Yankees and Red Sox, the Dodgers and Giants, and a few rivalries in the NFL, college football, college basketball and the NHL. But when rivals in soccer play each other, half the city's police force has to be in and around the stadium to try to stop trouble. This is deep hatred, the kind that makes Duke basketball fans look like sissies and Oakland Raiders fans look civil (and well-dressed).

Arsenal fans hate Tottenham. Tottenham fans hate Arsenal more. Tottenham fans hate Arsenal because of Arsenal's success, much of it at the expense of Tottenham. Arsenal fans hate Tottenham because their fans are assholes.

Here then, is the first part of a historical sketch of the rivalry known as the North London Derby.

*

September 5, 1882: Grammar-school boys from a Bible class at All Hallows Church, an Anglican church in the Tottenham section of England's historic county of Middlesex -- not within the city limits of London, although it would later be given the postal code of N17 -- form what we would call a soccer team, under the leadership of a teacher named E.L. Sprylions. They named themselves the Hotspur Football Club, after the nearby Hotspur Cricket Club.

There was already another nearby team called Hotspur F.C., and still another named London Hotspur F.C. Neither of these lasted very long, but they were there at the time. So, in 1884, the All Hallows club changed their name to Tottenham Hotspur F.C. This was a successful attempt by the club to avoid confusion.  Later attempts to avoid confusion amongst themselves have been less successful.

They have been nicknamed "Spurs" for short ever since. Sometimes it's "the Spurs," just like their rivals are frequently "The Arsenal" (although it's never written as Capital T, Capital S), as in their reworking of "When the Saints Go Marching In" as "When the Spurs Go Marching In."

The name "Hotspur" comes from Sir Henry Percy, an English nobleman who fought in the Anglo-Scottish Wars, first under King Richard II, then under King Henry IV. He was known as Harry Hotspur for his fine horsemanship. He later turned on Henry IV, as told in William Shakespeare's plays about the latter, and was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403. He was just 39 years old. (Though with lifespans being what they were back then, especially for warriors, that was like being 60 today.)

So not only are Tottenham Hotspur named after a loser, they're named after a traitor.

Yeah, I know: If it wasn't for "traitors," there would have been no American Revolution. In all fairness, the Percy family did have some legitimate grievances against King Henry. And there are plenty of teams named after historical losers: Trojans, Vandals, Cavaliers, Rebels, and all the variation on Native Americans (Indians, Chiefs, Redskins, Warriors, Blackhawks, Seminoles, etc.). Not to mention that Portsmouth F.C. are nicknamed "Pompey," although this probably has nothing to do with the defeated rival of Julius Caesar.

December 11, 1886: The team that would be known as Arsenal play their first game, on the Isle of Dogs, against Eastern Wanderers. Whether the club is playing under the name of Dial Square or under the name of Royal Arsenal is not clear. But the proto-Arsenal win the match, 6-0. It was played at a ground recently vacated by Millwall (then named Millwall Rovers), and was thus available for Dial Square/Royal Arsenal to be the "home team."

On December 1, 2011, I wrote a post stating that the day was the 125th Anniversary of the founding of the club that became Arsenal, and that the first game, on December 11, 1886, never happened, and that the traditional second game in club history, on January 8, 1887, a win over a club called Erith, was actually the first game.

This error of mine was based on recent research suggesting that, because of logistics -- including where and how the River Thames would have been crossed, and the time of day including when the sun would have set, ending the match no matter how much time would have been left -- such a match would have been all but impossible. But subsequent research has shown that it was very much possible, and likely did happen.

The fact that the opponent, Eastern Wanderers, shows up in other teams' surviving records helps those seeking out this long-ago truth, whatever it might be; the fact that Eastern Wanderers went out of business a few years later, and that their own records appear to have been lost, has not helped. (A new club with the same name was founded a few years ago, but they are well down the English football pyramid.) What also doesn't help is that, alone among the games that Royal Arsenal allegedly played in the 1886-87 season, the supposed first game against Eastern Wanderers on the Isle of Dogs was not mentioned in the local newspapers in the next few days.  But we can now say that it probably did happen.

The club was founded by workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, then in the county of Kent, but now part of London (SE18). Dial Square, the apparent name under which the club played that first game, was the section of the Royal Arsenal where most of the players worked.  So, like London neighbors West Ham United (Thames Ironworks), and a pair of American football clubs that are rivals, the Chicago Bears (Staley Starch Company) and the Green Bay Packers (Acme Packing Company), Arsenal got their start as what Americans called a company team, and what Englishmen call a works team or a works side.

The founders were Scottish engineer David Danskin (not connected to the Danskin clothing company), North-Easterner (County Durham) Jack Humble, and Nottingham natives Fred Beardsley and Morris Bates. The latter two had played for Nottingham Forest, and upon the founding of the Royal Arsenal club, they wrote to Forest and asked if they could spare any old uniforms. Forest could, and did, and even sent a ball through the mail.  Since Forest's uniform, or "kit," is red, Arsenal's first-choice kit has also been red ever since. (Forest also contributed founding kits to Liverpool F.C., resulting in their always having worn red at home as well. Tottenham, when they have had the choice, have worn white. When the North London teams play each other, the contrast of colors allows each to wear their usual home color.)

Records suggest that, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1886, a meeting was held at the Royal Oak pub near the Arsenal, and that the name of the club was officially changed to Royal Arsenal Football Club.

November 19, 1887: The first game between Royal Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur is played, at Spurs' home ground, then in the Tottenham Marshes. Spurs are leading 2-1 after 75 minutes, when the game is called -- "abandoned," in English footyspeak -- due to darkness. The newspaper accounts of the game make no mention of there being trouble between the supporters -- or even that there were spectators at all.

February 24, 1892: Having turned professional the year before -- legal, but "just not done" in those days, at least not by "gentlemen" -- Royal Arsenal, now playing their home games at the Manor Ground in Plumstead (which, like Woolwich, was then in Kent), decide they are tired of all the teams in the Football League (founded in 1888) being in Birmingham or further north, and attempt to form the Southern League, so that teams in London and elsewhere in England's South will be able to play regular games against regular opponents and save on travel costs. RAFC send letters to the other Southern teams, and on this day, representatives of 34 clubs meet at the Anderton Hotel in central London. (No connection to later Spurs player Darren "Sicknote" Anderton.)

This league fell apart before it could ever be organized. This was the infancy of the automobile age, and trains and horse-drawn carriages were still the leading means of land transport, and expensive. Several clubs dropped out quickly, including one that survives today, Reading of Berkshire.

Before that falling-apart, Tottenham applied to join.  The 21 members who had not immediately dropped out voted, and Tottenham got one vote -- their own. That's it? How could that be? Is it possible that nobody liked Tottenham back then?

For Royal Arsenal, soon to rename themselves Woolwich Arsenal, the failure to establish a Southern League ended up not mattering, as they were invited to join the Football League, in its Division Two (there were only 2 divisions at the time), for the 1893-94 season. This is why Arsenal's club records for that season onward are a lot more complete, and thus a lot more reliable, than they are for the founding period of 1886-93.

It ended up not mattering for Tottenham, either, as in 1895 a Southern League was finally formed, and they were elected as charter members. In 1900, Spurs won that League -- in effect, making themselves champions of England's third division. By the standards of today, that would be no big deal: The last 3 champions of the third division, currently known as Football League One, have been Doncaster Rovers, Southeast London club Charlton Athletic, and Brighton & Hove Albion, none of which is exactly a "big club."

But by the standards of that time, it was a notable achievement -- and something bigger than Woolwich Arsenal had achieved by that point.

November 9, 1896: For the first time, a full game is played between the teams, at the Manor Ground. Arsenal win, 2-1.

December 25, 1897: Yes, until the early 1970s, England's Football Association (the FA) allowed games to be played on Christmas Day. Spurs get their first full-game win over Arsenal, 3-2 at Northumberland Park, a home game for Spurs.

September 4, 1899: Tottenham play their first game at White Hart Lane, named for one of its border roads, itself named after a pub called The White Hart. (A hart is a male deer.) They beat Notts County, of Nottingham, 4-1.  (County should not be confused with their neighbors, Nottingham Forest.) This stadium was, and remains, in Tottenham. Which, at the time, was still in Middlesex -- not in London.

April 27, 1901: After playing Sheffield United to a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup Final in front of 110,820 fans at the Crystal Palace stadium in South London (since demolished and replaced with a much smaller stadium, and with no connection to the current club named Crystal Palace), Tottenham win a replay at Burnden Park in Bolton (now part of "Greater Manchester"), 3-1, in front of 20,470. This makes Spurs the first Southern, let alone London, club to win the FA Cup.

To this day, Spurs fans call their team "the only team outside the Football League to win the FA Cup." Officially, this is true. But it makes it sound as if they were in the 5th level of England's "football pyramid," or lower. Why would you want to point out that your club, a 1st division mainstay, was once in the 5th division? At any rate, the Southern League was more analogous to the 3rd division. Still, it was a major trophy, something Arsenal had not won yet, and would not win for another 29 years.

1902: I can't find an exact date. A reserve match (game between backups) is played between the teams in Plumstead. Spurs goalkeeper Charlie Williams charged into the crowd behind his goal and hit a spectator.  His excuse was that someone was using "foul and insulting language." Certainly, it is understandable that he would object, but you just can't do that.

1904: Again, I can't find an exact date, and this time I can't even find first names for the men involved. During another reserve match at Plumstead, Tottenham player Chalmers assaulted Arsenal player Thorpe.

Apparently, despite a 17-mile difference (huge by the standards of that time), plus the River Thames being in the way, Tottenham already considered Arsenal to be something of a rival, a team to be hated. Arsenal, on the other hand, considered their rivals to be much closer teams such as Millwall (SE14), Fulham (SW6), and, after this latter club was founded in 1905, Chelsea (also SW6). To Woolwich Arsenal, until 1913, Tottenham Hotspur were just another team on the schedule -- albeit one whose players were proving themselves to be bastards.

March 10, 1905: Chelsea Football Club are founded, and attempt to join the Southern League. Tottenham object, because it would cut into their "territory." Never mind that Fulham, Millwall, West Ham (E13), Clapton Orient (now Leyton Orient, E10) and, yes, Woolwich Arsenal were all already considered "London clubs," and that Orient were within 5 miles of White Hart Lane, and unlike The Lane were then actually in London; whereas Chelsea's stadium, Stamford Bridge, is 13 miles away by the shortest land route. Tottenham's objection is upheld.

Thus rejected by the Southern League, Chelsea aim higher, and apply for membership in the Football League Division Two. And they get it.

Think about it: If Tottenham hadn't been such pricks in 1905, Chelsea might never have gotten into the Football League, might have gone out of business, wouldn't be a bigger club today than Tottenham, and we would have been spared the likes of Roman Abramovich, Jose Mourinho, John Terry, Arjen Robben, William Gallas and Didier Drogba.  (True, they all could have been involved with other English clubs, but it wouldn't have been with Chelsea.) And Tottenham's Y** Army wouldn't have kept getting their heads handed to them by the Chelsea Headhunters.

(In Part II, I'll explain the use of the Y-word.)

This is, perhaps, not the first act of stupidity by Tottenham as a club. But it is the first big one, and, while it took nearly a century, it did come back to bite them in the ass. (Or "the arse," if you prefer the English version.)

May 30, 1908: Tottenham finish 8th in the Southern League. They and West London club Queens Park Rangers are expelled from that League. Yet, somehow, they are invited into the Football League Division Two -- finally elected to it by that league's members, after previous denials.

Huh? They go from 8th in the Southern League to Division Two of the Football League? On what grounds? Their long history of success? They didn't have one: At this point, they had won one League title, and one FA Cup. A decent performance, and more than Woolwich Arsenal had yet achieved; but hardly worthy of promotion, unlike, say, finishing 1st or 2nd in the league they were in.

As it turns out, Stoke City, among the founding members of the Football League, had to drop out due to financial difficulty (although they would later be readmitted). As it turned out, Spurs may have bribed Stoke (who certainly needed the money) to drop out, so that a space in the League would open up.

Tottenham would finish 2nd in their first season in Division Two, 1908-09, and would be promoted to Division One. If we presume that there was no match-fixing in that season, that was legitimate. But Spurs' getting into the League in the first place is a big, big question mark. Something to remember when we get to 1919.

December 4, 1909: For the first time, Woolwich Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur play a Football League game. It is played at the Manor Ground in front of an estimated 18,000, and the final score is 1-0 -- or, as would be said decades later, "One-nil to The Arsenal."

April 19, 1913: Woolwich Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur play to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane. Arsenal's relegation to Division Two is already assured. What is also already assured is the construction of a new stadium. The club's chairman, Sir Henry Norris, believing that weak transport links (which have since greatly improved for that area) are hurting the club, has decided to move Arsenal to the Islington section of North London.

Tottenham, yet again, flip out about a club invading their territory, even though the new stadium, to be named Arsenal Stadium but nicknamed Highbury after the neighborhood, is 4 1/2 miles away -- roughly as far away from White Hart Lane as Clapton Orient already were.

It should be noted that neither Clapton Orient, nor West Ham United, nor Chelsea, nor any other London or quasi-London club objected to the move. Just Spurs, apparently again being pricks for the sake of being pricks.

Arsenal fans like to say they've never been relegated.  This is not true -- but it is also now true that they haven't been relegated in 100 years.

September 6, 1913: The first game is played at Highbury (N5), in front of 20,000 fans. Woolwich Arsenal defeat Leicester Fosse, 2-1, on a penalty kick following a late Leicester handball in the box.

At the conclusion of this 1913-14 season, Norris drops the locality from the name, and the club officially becomes "Arsenal Football Club" -- to this day, called "The Arsenal," capital T, capital A, by many. Along with Port Vale in Staffordshire, Arsenal are one of only 2 clubs in the Football League to not have a locality as part of their name. (Well, technically, "Arsenal" could be, but the club had long since outgrown their "works side" status.) Leicester Fosse would later become Leicester City, and are still in business.

April 2, 1915: Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-0 at Old Trafford. Why am I mentioning this game in a post about Arsenal and Tottenham? Hang on...

April 24, 1915: Tottenham lose 5-0 away to Sunderland, clinching 20th and last place in Division One, meaning they are to be relegated to Division Two. But the FA then suspends the sport for the duration of The Great War (World War I).

March 10, 1919: The war over, the Football League holds a meeting to reorganize. In the leadup to this meeting, it was suggested -- as it turned out, correctly, even more than they suspected -- that the postwar market for football would be insatiable, and that Division One should be expanded from 20 to 22 teams.

This was great news for Chelsea, which had finished 19th in Division One; and for Tottenham, which had finished 20th.  Now, in spite of their grand ineptitude, they could keep their spaces in Division One and not be relegated, while the top 2 teams from Division Two in the last completed season, 1914-15, Derby County and Preston North End, could still keep their hard-earned promotions.

But it was revealed that the April 2, 1915 game at Old Trafford had been fixed. There you have it: Proof that Manchester United were cheating bastards 26 years before Alex Ferguson was even born.

Man U were desperate to avoid relegation: Had they lost, they, rather than Chelsea, would have finished 19th. Liverpool were willing to accept this loss: Man United was only 33 miles away, and the Scousers didn't want to lose a cheap roadtrip.

Imagine Liverpool, who also play Man United this coming Sunday, giving the club that has become their most hated opponents a break that saves them from relegation. Better yet: Imagine Man United being in position to be relegated. A wonderful thought.

By all rights, Chelsea were screwed out of 18th place and safety. By all rights, Man U should have been kicked out of the League. After all, it's not as though people in the Manchester area would be without a team: Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers, Oldham Athletic, Bury, Rochdale and Stockport County were all already in business. (Wigan Athletic would come later.)

But Man U were already one of the biggest clubs in the North of England, and a lot of people didn't want them kicked out. So Norris had a plan: He would bring several clubs in to vote to keep Man U in the League... if Man U and their allies would vote to bring Arsenal into Division One.

It worked: Chelsea rightly got the 21st spot, and Arsenal got the 22nd, even though they had finished 6th in Division Two in 1915.  (A later check of the results showed they should have been listed as 5th, but that doesn't matter now.)

This election would seem to have screwed not only Tottenham, but Barnsley (who had finished 3rd in Division Two), Wolverhampton Wanderers (a.k.a. Wolves, 4th) and Birmingham City (a.k.a. Brum or the Brummies, officially 5th) out of that 22nd place. Yet all 3 of those clubs have been in the Premier League in recent years, and while their fans don't particularly like Arsenal (many fans admire Arsenal, but few genuinely like them), they never bring up the fact that "You screwed us out of the first division in 1919!"

Only Tottenham fans do that. To this day, Tottenham fans claim that there must have been bribery, that Norris must have paid off some club chairmen to vote Arsenal into Division One.

It has been 94 years.  Not one shred of evidence has ever been publicly produced that Norris bribed anyone to make it happen.

You want to call Norris' move underhanded? It might have been.  But it was not corrupt.  Not until 1987 would a team's promotion be automatic: Until then, it was always by election. Granted, those elections nearly always turned a rightful promotion into a formality and a reality. This time, it didn't, and, while it may have been odd, it was within the rules of the time.

Indeed, there is more evidence that Tottenham bribed their way into the League at all in 1908 than there is that Arsenal bribed their way into Division One in 1919. Certainly, no one at the time publicly suggested Norris had bribed anyone.

And, besides, as the team that finished last in the last season, Tottenham had far less right to gripe about Arsenal screwing them over than did Chelsea, Barnsley, Wolves or Brum. Spurs were last, and on merit, too.

Yet the story persists, and fans of other clubs who hate Arsenal are more than happy to pass the lie along.

Tottenham did rightly win promotion to Division One at the end of the 1919-20 season. You would think that, since (presuming that they were screwed at all) they were only screwed for 1 year, they would have gotten over it by then.

But since they can't claim to be a more successful club than Arsenal, or a bigger one, or a more admired one around the world, Tottenham fans hang onto this myth that Arsenal were corrupt in 1919 and cheated them.

It makes me wonder why they never blame Man United for screwing them.  After all, if United hadn't fixed that game in 1915, Arsenal wouldn't have been able to make arrangements, legal or otherwise, to get that 22nd spot. So why don't Spurs fans hate United?

Because hating Manchester United requires taste.  And if Tottenham fans had any taste, they wouldn't be Tottenham fans.

Part II will follow.

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