Sunday, April 30, 2017

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

Today, Tottenham Hotspur defeated Arsenal 2-0, in the last "North London Derby" to be played at the old White Hart Lane, which "Spurs" have called home since 1899.

Next season, they'll play all their home games at the new Wembley Stadium, while The Lane is demolished, so that their new stadium, just to the north, can be completed.

This win means that they are mathematically guaranteed of finishing ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League.

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." When the 2015-16 season came to an end, Arsenal had finished above Tottenham for 21 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. Just last season, Spurs finished 3rd, but a late choke (2-1 to 2-2) at home, and a 5-1 loss to already-relegated Newcastle on the last day of the season meant that Arsenal finished 2nd, just above them.

Spurs have 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, 2012 and this year; 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.

They qualified again for this season (and have, again, for next season), but finished dead last in their group, and washed out of the UEFA Cup/Europa League. (The name change happened in 2010.) They reached the Quarterfinal of that tournament in 2007 and 2013, they reached the Quarterfinal of the UEFA Cup/Europa League.

And they've had some big wins over Arsenal, in individual games. But, for 21 years, they 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.

Now, they have done it. It is the 1st time it's happened since the 1995 season. That's 22 years. 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 65, and hasn't managed in 16 years. Tottenham's leading scorer was Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the heroes of West Germany's 1990 World Cup win. Naturally, Germany's biggest club, Bayern Munich swooped in, and bought him, leaving Spurs without their best player. (He's since failed as the manager of the American national team.) 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, as the team that won the League in 1989 and 1991, both the FA Cup and the League Cup in 1993, and the European Cup Winnners' Cup in 1994..

Somehow, the holders reached the Final of that tournament again, losing to Spanish club Real Zaragoza, on a late extra time goal by Turkish player Mohammed Alí Amar, a.k.a. 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 Arsène Wenger would come in, and he's still there, having finished above Tottenham every season he's managed in England until now, 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, manager of Birmingham side Aston Villa when they lost the 2015 FA Cup Final to Arsenal (there was a conundrum for Spurs fans: Rooting for Arsenal, or for a manager they believed wasn't good enough for their club.), getting them relegated in 2016, and now serving as director of football for Wiltshire club Swindon Town, whom he's also gotten relegated, to the 4th division.

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, is finally 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 have left Upton Park and moved 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 MLB 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, Wenger was managing Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, Jose Mourinho was assistant manager and translator for Bobby Robson at FC Porto, Pep Guardiola was playing for FC Barcelona and still had all his hair, and current England manager Gareth Southgate was playing for South London club Crystal Palace.

Major League Soccer was preparing to debut the next year, and the top North American league was known as the A-League, with the title won by a team now in MLS, the Montreal Impact. Current New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch was playing for Bob Bradley at Princeton University in New Jersey, and current New York City FC manager Patrick Vieira was about to turn 19, and playing at AS Cannes, and hardly anybody outside of France had yet heard of him -- but Wenger had. 

Francesco Totti was 18 and in his 2nd season at AS Roma, Gianliugi Buffon was 17 and in the youth setup at Parma, 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, Harry Kane was about to turn 2, and Dele Alli wasn't born yet.

Joe Girardi was the catcher for the Colorado Rockies. Terry Collins was manager of the Houston Astros. Ben McAdoo was about to graduate from Indiana Area High School in Western Pennsylvania. Todd Bowles was a senior defensive back at Temple University. Jeff Hornacek was playing for the Utah Jazz. Kenny Atkinson was playing in Spain's basketball league. John Hynes was a sophomore hockey player at Boston University. Alain Vigneault was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators. And Doug Weight was playing for the Edmonton Oilers.

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 monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister was John Major. Theresa May was a banking consultant, and had already run once, unsuccessfully, for a seat Parliament. The Mayor of London was Sir John Chalstrey. Sadiq Khan was a trainee solicitor -- or, as we would say in America, a junior partner at a law firm. The Prime Minister of Canada was Jean Chretien. Justin Trudeau was in graduate school at Montreal's McGill University.

The Pope was John Paul II. Jorge Mario Bergolio, the future Pope France, was Bishop of Oca in Spain. The holders of the Nobel Peace Prize were Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, for their work on the Gaza-Jericho First Accord -- which didn't work out very well.

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. Donald Trump was running casinos, not well, and married to his 2nd wife, and the idea of him ever being taken seriously as a candidate for political office was ridiculous.

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.

There were still living veterans of World War I, and the last survivors of the Spanish-American War and the Boer War had died only 2 years earlier. Four Justices then on the Supreme Court of the United States are still on it now: Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Major novels of 1995 included The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, Independence Day by Richard Ford, The Rainmaker by John Grisham, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. Timothy Findley published a novel titled The Piano Man's Daughter. It was not about Alexa Ray Joel. None of the Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones novels had yet been published.

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 published 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 Outbreak, Bad Boys, The Basketball Diaries, While You Were Sleeping, Friday, New Jersey Drive (about carjacking, not the Devils' drive for the Stanley Cup), Crimson Tide, Die Hard with a Vengeance, the faux-historical Scottish films Rob Roy and Braveheart, the film version of The Bridges of Madison CountyBatman Forever, and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain -- Gentlemen, start your Hugh Grant jokes.

Also premiering was The American President, starring 51-year-old Michael Douglas, playing a widowed President dating an environmental activist played by 37-year-old Annette Bening, who was married to 58-year-old Warren Beatty. Douglas was not yet married to Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was then 25 and starring in Catherine the Great. Not an autobiography.

Television shows that were about to air their final first-run episodes were Empty NestBlossomFull HouseMatlock and Northern Exposure. Newly-debuted were NewsRadioSliders and the entire WB and UPN networks (eventually to merge), including Star Trek: Voyager. Soon to debut were Ned & Stacey (the 1st series to star Debra Messing), Caroline in the CityJAGMADtvThe Drew Carey Show, and a show only slightly more cartoonish than that one, Pinky and the Brain.

The Number 1 song in America was "This Is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan. Frank Sinatra had performed his last concert the preceding February. The surviving members of the Beatles were finishing The Beatles Anthology. Michael Jackson released HIStory, and he and Lisa Marie Presley began to split up. 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.)

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. Hanson and Sugar Ray released their debut albums.

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. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada were about to make their major league debuts, Tom Brady was about to graduate high school, LeBron James was 10, and Sidney Crosby was 7.

Kourtney Kardashian and Pink were 16. Michelle Williams (both of them), Ben Savage, Kim Kardahsian, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland, Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba were 14. Natalie Portman, Chris Evans, Beyonce Knowles, Britney Spears, Sienna Miller, Kate Middleton, Natalie Dormer, Hayley Atwell and Kirsten Dunst were 13. Matt Smith and Anne Hathaway were 12. Prince Harry and Khloe Kardashian were 10.

Lady Gaga was 9; Richard Madden, Drake, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Rose Leslie and Rob Kardashian Jr. were 8; Kevin Jonas and Rihanna were 7; Emma Stone was 6; Daniel Radcliffe, Joe Jonas and Emma Watson were 5; Sarah Hyland was 4, and the rest of the Modern Family kids had not yet been born; Louis Tomlinson was 3; Jack Gleeson, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and Zayn Malik were 2; Ariana Grande, Liam Payne and Niall Horan was a year and a half; Harry Styles and Justin Bieber were 1 (Bieber had just had his 1st, so he wasn't a "Boyfriend," he was a "Baby"); and Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Sophie Turner, Abigal Breslin, Maisie Williams and Dean-Charles Chapman had not yet been born.

Inflation was such that, what $1.00 bought then, $1.61 would buy now. Or, more to the point of the country in question, what £1.00 bought then, £1.83 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp was 32 cents. A New York Subway token was $1.25. The average price of a gallon of gas was $1.20, a cup of coffee $1.74, a McDonald's meal $5.29, a movie ticket $4.35, a new car $17,900, and a new house $158,900. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed that day at 4,436.43.

The Internet was still new to most of us. Most of us had never heard of Microsoft or America Online. The Netscape IPO, often considered the dawn of the Internet Age, was a few weeks away. There was no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter, no Instagram and no Pinterest. VHS videotapes were still the dominant way of recording and playing back movies and TV shows. Mobile phones were still roughly the size of the communicators on Star Trek. The original Sony PlayStation was the leading home video game system of the time.

In the Spring of 1995, the first Chechen War broke out. A gas explosion in the subway in Daegu, Korea killed 101 people, mostly schoolboys. 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. The New Jersey Devils won their 1st Stanley Cup, and, on the exact same day, with President Nelson Mandela looking on, a racially-integrated South African team won the Rugby World Cup.

Harold Wilson, and Ginger Rogers, and Howard Cosell died. Gigi Hadid, and Missy Franklin, and Héctor Bellerín were born.

The Spring of 1995. Tottenham finished ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League. It has finally happened again, after 22 years.

Twenty years. If I were a Tottenham fan, I would celebrate the achievement, but I would find the fact that it took so long to be monumentally embarrassing.

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

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