Sunday, May 10, 2015

How Long It's Been: Tottenham Finished Ahead of Arsenal

This past Monday afternoon (Monday night, local time), Arsenal defeated Hull City 3-1, ensuring that they would finish the Premier League season with more points than the other major soccer team in North London, Tottenham Hotspur.

Because of their origin as a "works side" (in America, we would say "company team," as were the origins of the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers) at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, Arsenal have a cannon on their badge. Thus, the team is nicknamed the Gunners. As a result of this, their fans are called Gooners.

Tottenham Hotspur, or Spurs for short, frequently has their fans called Spuds by Gooners. I don't see the connection, except that potatoes grow underground where there's no light, and Spurs fans don't seem to see the light. As in...

Q: How many Tottenham fans does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It doesn't mater: They'll still be in the dark.

When Arsenal are assured of finishing ahead of Tottenham in the League table (standings), Gooners celebrate it as "St. Totteringham's Day." Monday's win means that they have finished above Tottenham for 20 consecutive seasons.

It's a very nasty rivalry, but when you can't finish better than the team you hate the most for twenty years, that's not much of a rivalry, is it?

In that time, Tottenham have had some good seasons. In 2010 and 2012, they finished 4th; both times, Arsenal finished 3rd. In 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013, they finished 5th; each of those times, Arsenal finished 4th.

They've had some good cup runs. In 1999 and 2008, they won the League Cup (beating Arsenal in the Semifinal in 2008); in 2002, 2009 and this season, they reached its Final; in 2007, its Semifinal (losing to Arsenal). They reached the Semifinal of the FA Cup in 1999, 2001 (losing to Arsenal), 2010 and 2012; they reached the Quarterfinal in 2002, 2005 and 2007. Their 4th place finish in 2010 qualified them for the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League, only their 2nd time in the tournament originally known as the European Cup, and they advanced to the Quarterfinals; their 4th place finish in 2012 did not qualify them for such, because another London team, Chelsea, who'd finished 6th, won the tournament and took England's 4th spot. And in 2007 and 2013, they reached the Quarterfinal of the UEFA Cup/Europa League. (The name change happened in 2010.)

And they've had some big wins over Arsenal, in individual games. But they've never finished ahead of Arsenal.

To make matters worse, in 2004, they came from 2-0 to forge a 2-2 draw with Arsenal at their home ground, White Hart Lane -- but that was enough for Arsenal to clinch the League title. For the 2nd time, Arsenal won the League at White Hart Lane. The first time was in 1971. In other words, Tottenham have won the League exactly twice, in 1951 and 1961, and clinched at White Hart Lane both times, and yet Arsenal have won the League there exactly as many times as Tottenham have.

Twenty years since Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal. Twenty years since there was no St. Totteringham's Day in a season. How long has that been?


Tottenham finished 7th in 1994-95, while Arsenal finished 12th. Despite the high finish (by their standards), it was a rough time for Spurs. Indeed, they shouldn't have finished ahead of Arsenal: Due to financial irregularities by previous owners, they were fined £600,000, deducted 12 points, and banned from the 1994-95 FA Cup. New owner Alan Sugar -- computer mogul, and producer and star of the original British version of Donald Trump's The Apprentice -- challenged the sanctions in court. Although the fine was increased to £1.5 million, the deduction and cup ban were rescinded.

Tottenham replaced former star Ossie Ardiles as manager with Gerry Francis, a former star at another London club, Queens Park Rangers. He's now 63, and hasn't managed in 14 years. Tottenham's leading scorer was Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the heroes of West Germany's 1990 World Cup win. He's now the manager of the American national team. Naturally, Germany's biggest club, Bayern Munich swooped in, and bought him, leaving Spurs without their best player. They also ended up having to sell Romanian star Gheorghe Popescu.

It was a rough time for Arsenal as well. Their manager was Stewart Houston, who was serving as caretaker manager following the firing of George Graham, who'd been caught having accepted a large financial gift as a result of a player's transfer. They also had to deal with the injuries and drug rehab of Paul Merson, and the injury-forced retirement of striker Alan Smith. Paul Davis would also retire, and Kevin Campbell would be sold.

Somehow, the holders of the European Cup Winners' Cup reached the Final of that tournament again, losing to Spanish club Real Zaragoza, on a late extra time goal by Turkish player Nayim. Nayim had previously played for Tottenham, and, to this day, Spurs fans still sing his name, even though the goal and the game had absolutely nothing to do with Spurs. When a former Arsenal player does something to beat Tottenham, Arsenal fans get excited and laugh, but they quickly move on. This shows you how stupid Tottenham fans tend to be.

Bruce Rioch would manage Arsenal the next season, and then Arsene Wenger would come in, and he's still there, having finished above Tottenham every season he's managed in England, while Tottenham have gone through manager after manager after manager, and failed. Mauricio Pochettino is in charge now; in 1995, the Argentine was 23 and playing centreback for Espanyol, "the other club in Barcelona."

In the 1994-95 season, the League was won by Blackburn Rovers, by 1 point over Manchester United. Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish was their manager, their leading scorer was future Newcastle United and BBC Match of the Day star Alan Shearer, and their Captain was Tim Sherwood -- future Tottenham manager, and currently preparing to manage Birmingham side Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal. (There's a conundrum for Spurs fans: Rooting for Arsenal, or for a manager they believed wasn't good enough for their club.)

Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry City, Norwich City and Ipswich Town were all in the top flight. Now, none of them are -- and Wimbledon aren't even in Wimbledon anymore, having moved to become Milton Keynes Dons, while a new AFC Wimbledon have been formed.

This was the last season of 22 teams in the top flight; ever since, it's been 20. Of the 22 teams in the League that season, every one, in accordance with the Taylor Report in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, has either modernized its stadium or built an entirely new one. Tottenham, now, appears to finally be getting ready to start building the replacement for White Hart Lane. Of the 1994-95 Premiership teams, Arsenal, Wimbledon/MK Dons, Southampton, Coventry, Manchester City and Leicester City have all built new stadiums; while West Ham United are preparing to leave Upton Park and move to the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Including the teams that are in this season's Premier League, add Hull City, Stoke City and Swansea City.

At the end of that season, Ted Drake died. He had been an Arsenal star in the 1930s, and in 1955 he became, until 2005, the only man ever to manage Chelsea to a League Championship. Such legends of the game as Stanley Matthews, Silvio Piola, Harry Andersson and Leônidas da Silva were still alive.

Everton won that season's FA Cup, and Ajax Amsterdam won the Champions League. Defending World Champions in the sports that most Americans would recognize were the San Francisco 49ers in football, the Houston Rockets in basketball, the New York Rangers in hockey (ugh, but they were about to be dethroned by the New Jersey Devils), and, since the 1994 postseason had been canceled, the Toronto Blue Jays spent a 3rd straight offseason as reigning World Champions of baseball. Boxing was already hopelessly messed up, and the "Heavyweight Champion of the World" was George Foreman according to the IBF, Riddick Bowe according to the WBO, Bruce Seldon according to the WBA, and Oliver McCall according to the WBC.

As the 1994-95 soccer season came to a close, Andrea Pirlo was about to turn 16 and playing in Brescia's youth system, Steven Gerrard was about to turn 15 and playing in Liverpool's youth system, John Terry was 14 and playing in West Ham's youth system, Zlatan Ibrahimović was 13, Arjen Robben was 11, Cristiano Ronaldo was 10, Wayne Rooney and Manuel Neuer were 9, Olivier Giroud was 8, Lionel Messi was about to turn 8, Sergio Leonel "Kun" Agüero was about to turn 7, Mesut Özil was 6, Aaron Ramsey was 4, Neymar was 3, and Harry Kane was about to turn 2.

In the wake of the 1994 World Cup held in America, Major League Soccer was in the process of being founded. The current manager of the New York Red Bulls, Jesse Marsch, was a senior at New Jersey's Princeton University. New York City FC manager Jason Kreis was playing for the Raleigh Flyers, in the league that then stood as America's 3rd division. The team no longer exists.

Joe Girardi was the catcher for the Colorado Rockies. Terry Collins was manager of the Houston Astros. Tom Coughlin had just been hired as the 1st head coach of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. Todd Bowles was a senior defensive back at Temple University. Derek Fisher was a junior at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Lionel Hollins was wrapping up his playing career, with the Houston Rockets, and was about to return to his alma mater, Arizona State, as an assistant coach. Scott Stevens was leading the Devils to the Stanley Cup as Captain. Adam Oates was a star center for the Boston Bruins. Alain Vigneault was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators. Jack Capuano was a minor-league assistant coach.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, Canada, Britain, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in France, Japan, Korea, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Bill Clinton. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, their wives, and the widow of Lyndon Johnson were still alive. George W. Bush had just begun "serving" as Governor of Texas. Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister wasr John Major. David Cameron was working for Carlton Communications. The Mayor of London was Sir John Chalstrey. Boris Johnson was writing for a national newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, which, then as now, was so conservative that it was nicknamed the Torygraph. The Prime Minister of Canada was Jean Chretien. Stephen Harper was already in their Parliament.

The Governor of New York was George Pataki, and of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman. The Mayor of New York was Rudy Giuliani. Andrew Cuomo was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (he would be full Secretary of HUD in Clinton's 2nd term), Chris Christie was a Morris County Freeholder, and Bill de Blasio was working as an aide to Congressman Charles Rangel.

Nick Hornby, the Arsenal fan who made Arsenal fandom cool for the first time since the early 1970s with Fever Pitch, published High Fidelity. Frank McCourt publishes Angela's Ashes. Memoirs were published by Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom) and Leonard Nimoy (I Am Spock -- a sequel to his controversial 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock). 

Major movies released in the Spring of 1995 included Bad Boys, The Basketball Diaries, While You Were Sleeping, Friday, Crimson Tide, Die Hard with a Vengeance, the faux-historical Scottish films Rob Roy and Braveheart, and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain -- Gentlemen, start your Hugh Grant jokes. The TV shows NewsRadio and Sliders had recently debuted. Empty Nest, Matlock, Blossom and Full House wrapped up their runs.

Selena was shot and killed. Former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was nearly stabbed after a concert in the Detroit area, with security guards getting hurt in the process. Tupac Shakur got married in prison. (He was doing time for rape. The marriage didn't last, and not because he was shot and killed on the outside.) Hanson and Sugar Ray released their debut albums. The surviving Beatles were putting together The Beatles Anthology. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley began to split up.

Most people had never heard of Osama bin Laden or Vladimir Putin, Simon Cowell or Katie Price. Princess Diana was still alive, and Prince William was turning 13. Kim Kardashian was 14, future Lady Gaga Stefanie Germanotta was 9, Miley Cyrus was 2, and Justin Bieber was a "Baby." Derek Jeter was about to make his major league debut, Tom Brady was about to graduate high school, LeBron James was 10, and Sidney Crosby was 7.

Mobile telephones were around, but larger than we're used to now, and still mainly of the flip-open variety. Most of us had heard of the Internet, but most of us weren't on it yet. The Netscape IPO, often considered the dawn of the Internet Age, was a few weeks away. There was no Facebook, no YouTube, no Instagram, no Pinterest.  

The current holders of the Nobel Peace Prize were Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. How'd that work out?

In the Spring of 1995, the first Chechen War broke out. The federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up, and the Unabomber struck for what turned out to be the last time. Christopher Reeve had his paralyzing horse-riding accident.

Harold Wilson, and Ginger Rogers, and Howard Cosell died. Celeste Buckingham, and Adnan Januzaj, and Héctor Bellerín were born.

The Spring of 1995. Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League. It has never happened again.

Twenty years. If I were a Tottenham fan, I would find that monumentally embarrassing.

But then, being a Tottenham fan is, all by itself, monumentally embarrassing.

No comments: