Monday, April 28, 2014

The Story of St. Totteringham's Day


Inside the M25, the highway that serves as London's "capital beltway," there are 12 soccer teams in England's Football League. Two of these are in North London, 4.7 miles apart: Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, a.k.a. Spurs (or the Spuds, or the Totts, or the Tiny Totts). In the immortal words of that great broadcaster of American football, Keith Jackson, "These two teams just... don't... like each other!"

Tottenham will forever be in Arsenal's shadow. Arsenal have won the League 13 times, Tottenham only 2. Tottenham have twice won the League title at their home ground, White Hart Lane, both times, beating Sheffield Wednesday. Arsenal have also twice won the League at White Hart Lane, both times, against Tottenham.

Arsenal fans celebrate three "holidays": St. Michael's Day, May 26, the anniversary of the day Michael Thomas scored the title-winning goal away to Liverpool, ending an 18-year drought in the last minute of the last game of the season; Invincibles Day, the day when the last unbeaten team in the Premier League loses its first game, thus insuring that Arsenal's feat of going through the League unbeaten in 2003-04 remains unique; and St. Totteringham's Day, the day when it becomes mathematically certain that Arsenal will finish above Tottenham in the League.

Of course, Tottenham can prevent there being a "St. Tott's" (or "St. T's"), simply by finishing ahead of Arsenal in the League.

This has not happened since the 1994-95 season. That's 19 years.

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Julian Schuman was the Arsenal fan who first thought up the idea of St. Totteringham's Day. Since celebrating the occasion is a relatively recent phenomenon, Arsenal fans have looked back to see when it would have been celebrated.

Between 1893-94 (Arsenal's first season in the old Football League, having been founded in the 1886-87 season) and 1907-08 (Spurs' last season before joining the League), Spurs were not in the league and Arsenal were. In 1908/9 Spurs were in Division 2, and Arsenal in the top flight. In 1909-10, Arsenal had a bad year and finished below Spurs. So the first St. T's was on April 22, 1911, when Arsenal beat Blackburn Rovers 5-1.

May 5, 1923 was the first St. Totteringham's Day in 11 years, due to Arsenal having been relegated in 1913 (the only time the club have ever gone down), followed by a stretch when Tottenham were in Division One and Arsenal in Division Two (including the stretch where football was called off due to World War I, from 1915 to 1919).

Tottenham have been relegated more frequently, so, technically, The Arsenal could celebrate two St. Totteringham's Day in one season: The day that season's finishing ahead of Spurs is assured; and the day Spurs are relegated, thus assuring that Arsenal will finish ahead the next season. Example, from the last time Spurs were relegated, Arsenal clinched a better position on April 23, 1977 (St. T's Day '77), and Spurs were relegated on May 14, 1977 (St. T's Day '78).

On 9 occasions, it's come down to the last day of the season: April 27, 1912; May 5, 1923; May 7, 1927; May 12, 1984; May 5, 1996; May 7, 2006; May 9, 2010; May 13, 2012; and May 19, 2013.

March 22, 1935 would be the earliest St. T's Day for a long time to come, with the now-dormant website Arseweb calling it a "perfect season": Arsenal won the League, and Spurs were relegated. Between World War II (again, play suspended from 1939 to 1946), Spurs being in Division Two, Spurs winning the League in 1951 (1st time ever for them), and Arsenal blowing it on the final day in 1952, 1953 was the first St. T's Day since that 1935 title-winning season -- and 1953 was another title-winning season for Arsenal.

As the 1950s wore on, both teams went into decline. Tottenham snapped out of it much sooner, winning the League and the FA Cup in 1961 -- "doing The Double," the first time any club had won both since 1897. From 1960 to 1968 (a period in which Spurs won 3 FA Cups and the European Cup Winners' Cup, and got to the Semifinals of the European Cup), there were no St. Totteringham's Days.

But in 1971, Arsenal won The Double, and clinched at White Hart Lane, not easy because Spurs finished a strong 3rd that season, behind only Arsenal and Leeds United, and won the League Cup. On April 26, 1975, for the first time ever, St. Totteringham's Day came in an actual Arsenal-Spurs match, with former Manchester United star Brian Kidd notching the only goal of a "One-nil to The Arsenal" win.

Both teams went into decline from their strong early 1970s showings, and in 1977 Spurs were relegated, though they jumped right back up the next season. Arsenal won the FA Cup in 1979, but the next few years were mostly Spurs: They won the Cup in 1981 and '82 and the UEFA Cup in 1984.

In 1987, Spurs threatened a historic treble: League, FA Cup and League Cup. But they failed to win the League (Everton, the "blue club in Liverpool," won it), they choked in the FA Cup Final against Coventry City, and Arsenal stunned them with a late come-from-behind, 1-0 to 2-1, win at White Hart Lane in the League Cup Semifinal, before beating Liverpool in the Final. Spurs' only consolation is that they finished ahead of Arsenal in the League, hence no St. Totteringham's Day that season. (To this day, no club has won the League and both domestic cups in the same season. Arsenal won both domestic cups in 1993, Liverpool in 2001, and West London's Chelsea in 2007, but none won the League in the same season.)

Arsenal finished ahead of Tottenham in 1988, and from that point onward, there have been more seasons that Arsenal finished ahead of Tottenham than vice versa. In 1989 and 1991, Arsenal won the League, but finished behind Tottenham in 1990. In 1991, despite Arsenal winning the League, Tottenham beat them in the FA Cup Semifinal, before beating Nottingham Forest in the Final -- to date, the last time Spurs have even qualified for the Final, 23 years ago.

Arsenal finished ahead of Spurs in 1992, but a loss to them on the last day of the 1993 season meant that, in spite of winning the Cup Double, they finished behind Spurs. It would be the last time Spurs won away to Arsenal for 17 years, the last time at Arsenal's former home of the Arsenal Stadium, a.k.a. Highbury. Arsenal finished ahead in 1994, but collapsed in 1995, finishing 12th, behind Spurs.

That was it: Spurs have not finished ahead of Arsenal since. Arsenal won The Double in 1998, and St. T's Day came on March 28, the earliest since 1959. In 2002, Arsenal won a third Double, and St. T's Day came on March 18, a new record for earliest date.

In 2004, a new record was set: March 13. But that was not the most significant date in the Arsenal-Spurs rivalry for that season. That would be April 25, 2004 -- 10 years ago this week. On a Sunday afternoon, Chelsea's defeat in the early game meant that Arsenal needed only a draw to clinch the Premier League title at White Hart Lane. They jumped at the chance, with Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires each scoring a first-half beauty. But Jamie Redknapp -- whose father Harry would later cause Arsenal some trouble as a manager -- hit a screamer of his own. In stoppage time, there was a dive in the box, and referee Mark Halsey stupidly (or corruptly?) awarded a penalty. Robbie Keane took it, and it was 2-2.

Before the game, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had told his players that, if they got the point they needed, they should not celebrate on the pitch, but rather wait until they were in the dressing room. But, as Henry later said, after the equaliser, the Spurs fans "celebrated like they won the World Cup Final." (As a part of the France team that did just that in 1998, he would know.) Play resumed, and when Halsey almost immediately blew his whistle, the Gunners basically said, "Fuck it, we're the Champions," and partied along with the 3,000 or so Arsenal fans who'd made the 4 1/2-mile trip up the Seven Sisters Road to celebrate. The song, dating back to 1971, went up, to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In" (a song Tottenham fans had previously appropriated as "When the Spurs Go Marching In"):

We won the League (We won the League!)
at White Hart Lane! (at White Hart Lane!)
We won the League at White Hart Lane!
We won the League at the Shithole!
We won the League at White Hart Lane!
Yes, White Hart Lane is a shithole. Opposing fans from Aston Villa (which is in Birmingham, often called "England's Detroit"), Stoke City (in bleak Staffordshire) and Sunderland (in the dreary North-East) have all sung, to the tune of "Sloop John B," without the slightest trace of irony:

Let me go home!
I wanna go home!
Tottenham's a shithole!
I wanna go home!

*

May 7, 2006. One does not simply discuss the history of the Arsenal-Tottenham rivalry without talking about this day. It is folly.

Arsenal had their best European Cup/Champions League campaign ever, reaching the Final.  But the 2005-06 season was the last season for Highbury. The new Emirates Stadium -- some call it The Emirates, some by the area's former name Ashburton Grove, some cheekily call it New Highbury -- was going up, 500 yards away, and would open in the summer. Arsenal wanted very badly to end the last game at Highbury with a win.

But it wasn't just sentiment: Arsenal went into the season's League finale in 5th place, with Tottenham in 4th. All Spurs had to do in their game, away to East London club West Ham United, was match Arsenal's performance at home to Wigan Athletic, on that final day of the Premiership season, and not only would Spurs finish ahead of Arsenal (thus preventing St. Totteringham's Day for that season), it would be Spurs in the 2006-07 Champions League, with Arsenal "relegated" to the UEFA Cup -- unless, of course, Arsenal could win the CL Final.

The night before, Tottenham manager Martin Jol had secluded his players at a hotel, the Marriott Canary Wharf, in London's financial district, a.k.a. The City. This is not unusual: Many managers do things like this, even before home games. American football head coaches, in both the professional and the collegiate ranks, also do this. The players would have a nice dinner the night before the game, and get a good night's sleep, and would have a nice short bus ride to the stadium, all away from the prying of fans and the media.

What did Scottish poet Robert Burns say? Translated into modern common English, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray." (Somewhat appropriate, since, early in the film version of Fever Pitch, Colin Firth's character is shown teaching John Steinbeck's novel that takes its name from that quote, Of Mice and Men.)

In the middle of the night, 10 Spurs players woke up, vomiting, and/or having diarrhea. Someone decided to blame the lasagne they'd eaten for dinner that night, and after the whole thing was over, some Spurs fans started a conspiracy theory that the Marriott chef was an Arsenal fan and had purposely poisoned the Spurs players! It became known as Lasagne-gate.

In the morning, several Spurs players were still, uh, indisposed. So club chairman Daniel Levy called the League office, and asked League chairman Richard Scudamore to postpone the game. Nothing doing: With 1 League game to go, all teams were to play their games at the same time, 3:00 PM. (This was a change from past policy, to avoid teams whose League place had already been decided from laying down on the job, thus giving gamblers some easy pickings and paying customers a less than honest performance.) In the end, the game kicked off on time, at 3:00, and only one of the affected players, the backup goalkeeper, did not make it into the game, although 3 affected players had to be subbed off in the 2nd half.

That season was Wigan's first-ever season in the Premiership, and they had achieved midtable respectability, finishing 10th. An Arsenal win shouldn't have been assumed, but it was well possible. West Ham were about Wigan's equal, finishing 9th, and were hosting Spurs -- hence the Canary Wharf hotel, not far from the Hammers' Boleyn Ground, a.k.a. Upton Park.

Pires scored the Highbury opener, and, for the last time at that ground, the song "One-nil to The Arsenal" was sung -- by both Arsenal fans at Highbury and West Ham fans, learning by radio and text message, at Upton Park.

But Wigan struck back, and led 2-1. Spurs fans, getting calls and messages on their mobile phones, found out, and were ecstatic. And when Jermaine Defoe scored in the 35th to match Darren Fletcher's goal for the Hammers in the 10th, meaning Spurs were looking at a draw while Arsenal were losing, it looked like it would be Spurs' day.

It wasn't. Thierry Henry scored a hat trick, forging a 4-2 Arsenal win. And West Ham came from behind, and won 2-1 on a goal in the 80th minute by Yossi Benayoun. Arsenal finished 4th, 2 points ahead of Tottenham, and qualified for the Champions League; Tottenham, finishing 5th, went to the UEFA Cup.

The supposedly offending lasagne was sent to a laboratory, and tested. As it turned out, there was nothing wrong with it, at least not medically. The virus that spread among the Spurs players was real, but it had nothing to do with food. Still, Spurs fans blame that lasagne, and the chef that served it. Just like the Yankees-Red Sox "Curse of the Bambino," the lasagne contagion never really existed, but it has taken on a life of its own, because the afflicted team's fans believed it. And so, to spite them, ever since, Arsenal fans have sung, to "Volare":

Lasagne, whoa!
Lasagne, whoa!
We laughed ourselves to bits

when Tottenham got the shits!

Which matches another Arsenal chant. I don't know how far back it goes, but it was already in place in early 2007:

Q: What do you think of Tottenham?
A: Shit!
Q: What do you think of shit?
A: Tottenham!
Q: Thank you!
A: That's all right! We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham! We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham! We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham! We are the Tottenham haters! (Usually followed by a variation on the Y-word.)
*

Tottenham would beat Arsenal in the 2008 League Cup Semifinal, and go on to win that trophy, meaning they've won a trophy more recently than Arsenal -- their last, so far, is the 2005 FA Cup. But since Spurs' last FA Cup win in 1991, all they've won is the 1999 and 2008 League Cups. Over that same stretch, Arsenal have won the League 3 times and the FA Cup 5 times. But in that 2008 season, although Arsenal didn't come close to winning the League, they set a new record for earliest St. Totteringham's Day: March 9.

Arsenal slumped in the 2009-10 season, after staying in the League race until April. And an inspired Tottenham team clinched 4th place and a CL berth, while Arsenal only clinched 3rd, and a finish ahead of Spurs, on the last day.

In August 2011, riots broke out all over England. The first of them, and, in terms of property damage, the worst of them, was in Tottenham. While White Hart Lane itself had been spared any damage, the surrounding area had not. As a result, when the League season began 2 weeks later, the Premier League suspended Spurs' season opener. This would have consequences later, as the fixture list piled up (partly due to a bad winter postponing some games).

By February 26, 2012, about the two-thirds point of that season, Tottenham were 10 points ahead of Arsenal in the League, and Spurs fans spent weeks reminding Gooners, in the words of message on the trains of the London Underground, to "Mind the gap." (In America, it's usually "Please watch the gap.") And it was Derby Day. Arsenal fell behind 2-0, but stormed their way to a 5-2 win.

On May 13, in a reverse of 2006, Arsenal needed to match Tottenham's performance on the final day of the League season to guarantee 4th place and a CL place for next season, but were away, while Tottenham are home. It would either be the latest-ever St. Totteringham's Day, or there would be none at all that season. And, sure enough, Tottenham beat fellow London club Fulham, 1-0. But, thanks to a goal by 2006 Spurs tormentor Yossi Benayoun, and a great late clearance by left back Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal beat Wigan, 3-2, and clinched 4th.

Spurs fans, yet again, got their hearts broken. Of course, this latest Spurs disaster wouldn't have happened if their fixture list hadn't been so congested, wearing their players down over the late winter and the spring. And that might not have happened if their first League game hadn't had to be rescheduled. And that wouldn't have happened if the Tottenham bastards hadn't "burned their own town." They screwed themselves, and they screwed their club. This was like the Chicago Cubs losing a Pennant because of Steve Bartman -- except Bartman was just one man doing something he was legally entitled to do. The rioters were hundreds of people committing actual crimes.

2012 was the year singer Adele, a Tottenham native, would break out as a major star. She is known for singing songs of heartbreak, and she is a Spurs fan. Gee, do you think there's a connection?
Arsenal beat Spurs 5-2 at the Emirates again on November 17, 2012. But on March 3, 2013, Tottenham won the rematch at The Lane, 2-1. This put Spurs 7 points ahead of Arsenal. Their manager at the time, Andre Villas-Boas, said that Arsenal were in "a downward spiral." But Arsenal didn't lose a match for the rest of the season. And, on May 19, yet another record for latest St. Totteringham's Day (if they could do it), in another "Groundhog Day," they simply had to match Tottenham's performance on the final day to ensure that they finish 4th and Tottenham 5th.

Arsenal were away to Newcastle United, while Spurs were home to, oddly enough, Newcastle's arch-rivals, Sunderland. Defender Laurent Koscielny scored in the 52nd minute, and it was One-nil to The Arsenal. Somehow, fans at The Lane got the message that Newcastle hade equalised, and that all Tottenham had to do was get one goal, and they would finish 4th. And they got that goal, and beat Sunderland, 1-0. But Newcastle had not equalised, and Arsenal won, 1-0. "Have Newcastle equalized yet?" joined "Lasagne" and "Mind the Gap" as a Gooner catchphrase, much as "Power shift in North London" had become a Spurs catchphrase -- falsely, as it turned out.

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The 2013-14 season was a milestone: For the first time, Arsenal won 3 games against Tottenham without losing any: Both League matches, and in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. (In 1987, Arsenal won 3 games against Tottenham, but also lost one and drew one, as a result of the FA Cup Semifinal going to a replay after the two-legged regulation semifinal.)

Today is April 28, 2014. Going into today, Arsenal are in 4th place, with 70 points, with 3 games left to play; Tottenham are in 6th place, with 66 points, with 2 games left to play. This means that the most points Tottenham can end up with, if they win their last 2, is 72. All that needs to happen for Arsenal to finish ahead of Tottenham is for Arsenal to win 1 of their last 3 -- or for Tottenham to drop points (either lose or draw) in 1 of their last 2.

Today, Arsenal host Newcastle -- and a mere equalizer by Newcastle won't help Tottenham or their fans much. If Arsenal win, it will be St. Totteringham's Day -- the earliest in 5 years, since April 11, 2009.

Come on you Gunners!

UPDATE: Arsenal beat Newcastle, 3-0. Happy St. Totteringham's Day!

4 comments:

arsenalh8manu said...

Good read mate.
Oh to be.

Coyg said...

Good read - today is the day to update this! Happy st. Totteringham's day! Enjoy your lasagna.

Tony Cristaldi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Cristaldi said...

Yes, Yes! Please do update this for the 2016 debacle! That it was a relegated Newcastle makes the story that much sweeter!! Update, sir...update! :-)