Arsenal vs Tottenham – History of the North London Derby

Arsenal vs Tottenham – History of the North London Derby

The north London derby is undoubtedly one of the fiercest derbies in English football. Arsenal and Tottenham absolutely despise each other. Their rivalry dates back over 100 years. It is the fixture most fans from each club look to first when the fixture list is announced before each season. There is plenty of bad blood between the two clubs, which makes for a very interesting encounter whenever they face each other.

The First Meeting – 1909

The first time Arsenal and Tottenham faced each other in a league game was on December 4, 1909. Woolwich Arsenal won the game 1-0, with Walter Lawrence scoring the only goal. But there was no rivalry between the clubs at this point. Woolwich is in south London, which is where Arsenal were from at the time, explaining the name. It was only four years later when the rivalry began.

Arsenal Move – 1913

Woolwich Arsenal faced a number of difficulties in the early 1900s. The area they played in wasn’t an ideal location, because it was difficult to get to. Their attendances fell, and the club struggled as the munitions workers that owned the club fell into financial difficulty. They were close to bankruptcy in 1910. When businessmen Henry Norris and William Hall became involved in the club, they decided to move the club elsewhere.

In 1913, soon after relegation to the Second Division, the club moved from south London to north London; dropping “Woolwich” from their name and becoming “The Arsenal”. When they moved to Highbury, they were just four miles away from Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. This is when their bitter local rivalry – and the north London derby – began. The first game played between the clubs as north London clubs was on August 22, 1914 at White Hart Lane. Arsenal won the friendly 5-1.

To this day, even over 100 years later, Tottenham fans are bitter about Arsenal moving into their area.

Promotion Controversy – 1919

In the 1914/15 season, Tottenham finished bottom of the First Division, which would mean relegation. Arsenal finished sixth in the Second Division. In a normal season, the bottom two clubs of the First Division are relegated, while the top two clubs of the Second Division are promoted. After this season, league football took a break because of World War I. But it would return in 1919.

It was decided that the First Division would be expanded by two clubs in 1919, when league football returned after the break. The top two teams from the Second Division would be promoted, as usual. Chelsea, who finished 19th and should have been relegated, were voted as a club to remain in the league. This is because they actually shouldn’t have been relegated after Manchester United and Liverpool fixed a game on the last day of the season; ensuring Manchester United stayed up.

Tottenham argued that they should have retained their place in the First Division, because they were a First Division club. But there ended up being a vote on who should take the extra place. Controversially, Arsenal would win the vote: receiving 18 votes to Tottenham’s eight. Since the Gunners only finished sixth in the Second Division (they should have finished fifth, but a mistake in the calculation of goals meant they finished sixth) there was some confusion as to why they were voted ahead of other clubs.

Some say that Arsenal chairman, Henry Norris, used underhanded tactics to sway the vote in Arsenal’s favour. But these claims are unproven. There is no evidence to suggest this is the case, and it seems to be another thing Tottenham fans use to beat Arsenal with. Arsenal were awarded the place because they were part of the league for so long. They never turned their backs on the league and moved away as some others did, and they were rewarded for this. So reports from the time say, anyway.

Arsenal finished 10th in the First Division that season, while Tottenham won the Second Division and were promoted.

First Competitive Games – 1921 Onward

The first competitive game between the clubs as a north London derby was at White Hart Lane on January 15, 1921. Tottenham won the game 2-1. Around this time, games between the clubs were extremely bitter. One, in particular, was vicious. In September 1922, both clubs were warned by the FA for their behaviour, with the governing body even threatening to make them play their games behind closed doors.

After World War II, relations improved between the two clubs. During the war, Arsenal’s Highbury was being used as an Air Raid Precautions Centre. The stadium was bombed, and Arsenal were forced to move into White Hart Lane and share with Tottenham. Arsenal played a total of 133 games at White Hart Lane.

From 1950

Since 1950, there has been just one season when both clubs haven’t been in the First Division (or Premier League). This was in 1977/78, when Tottenham played in the Second Division. Because of this, there have been many notable clashes between the teams down the years.

Arsenal Win the League at White Hart Lane – 1971

On May 3, 1971, Tottenham hosted Arsenal at White Hart Lane. It was the final day of the season, with Arsenal involved in a title race with Leeds United. Arsenal won the game 1-0, thanks to a goal from Ray Kennedy. The Gunners finished one point ahead of Leeds and won the league at White Hart Lane for the first time. Arsenal won the double that year, as they beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Winning the league at White Hart Lane in a north London derby was an amazing achievement for Arsenal.

League Cup Semi-final – 1987

White Hart Lane hosted the League Cup semi-final replay between Tottenham and Arsenal on March 4, 1987. Tottenham took the lead through Clive Allen, but Ian Allinson equalised for Arsenal. David Rocastle scored the winner for Arsenal, who went on to win the cup. It was their first trophy since 1979, when they won the FA Cup.

FA Cup Semi-final – 1991

On April 14, 1991, in the FA Cup semi-final, Tottenham beat Arsenal 3-1 at Wembley. Paul Gascoigne opened the scoring after just five minutes with a thunderbolt of a free kick from 30 yards. Gary Lineker scored to make it 2-0 before Alan Smith pulled one back for Arsenal before half time. Lineker scored another in the second half to send Tottenham to the final, where they won the cup after beating Nottingham Forest 2-1.

The date is known as “St. Hotspur Day” to the Tottenham fans. They were particularly happy with their win because it ensured Arsenal wouldn’t win the double that year, as the Gunners went on to win the league.

FA Cup Semi-final – 1993

Two years later, on April 4, 1993, there was a north London derby in the FA Cup semi-final again. Arsenal won the game 1-0, with Tony Adams scoring the only goal of the game. Arsenal went on to win the cup. The Gunners won a cup double that year, as they also won the League Cup.

FA Cup Semi-final – 2001

There was yet another north London derby FA Cup semi-final in 2001. Arsenal beat Tottenham 2-1 at Old Trafford. Gary Doherty put Spurs into the lead, but goals from Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires sent Arsenal through to the final. Ultimately, the Gunners were beaten by Liverpool in the final.

Arsenal Win the League at White Hart Lane (Again) – 2004

On April 25, 2004, Arsenal traveled to White Hart Lane. They went into the game top of the league. In truth, it was only a matter of time before they were crowned Premier League champions. Arsene Wenger’s side were yet to be beaten at this stage, and it seemed very unlikely that Tottenham would stop them winning the league at their ground, especially as Arsenal only needed a draw to be crowned champions in their biggest rivals’ stadium.

Vieira and Pires scored to send Arsenal into a 2-0 lead. Jamie Redknapp scored and got Spurs back in the game, before Robbie Keane scored a 90th minute penalty to draw the scores level. The game finished 2-2, and Arsenal won the league. The Tottenham fans celebrated the draw, which was strange. If they had stopped Arsenal from winning the league, it would be understandable, but that wasn’t the case.

It was the second time Arsenal won the league at White Hart Lane. They don’t hesitate to remind Spurs about this either.

League Cup Semi-final – 2007

There was another north London derby cup semi-final in 2007. After the sides drew 2-2 at White Hart Lane, they met at the Emirates Stadium. Emmanuel Adebayor opened the scoring for Arsenal, before Mido equalised for Tottenham. Arsenal progressed to the final after a Jeremie Aliadiere strike and a Pascal Chimbonda own-goal gave them a 5-3 aggregate win. Arsenal lost the League Cup Final to Chelsea.

League Cup Semi-final – 2008

The next season, the clubs met yet again for a north London derby in the League Cup. The first leg finished 1-1 at the Emirates. Tottenham ran riot in the second leg at White Hart Lane, as goals from Jermaine Jenas, Robbie Keane, Aaron Lennon, Steed Malbranque and a Nicklas Bendtner own-goal gave them a huge 5-1 win. Adebayor got one for Arsenal. The win ended Tottenham’s long wait for a win in the north London derby. It was their first win against their bitter rivals since a 2-1 win in November 1999. This ended a run of 21 games without a win.

Tottenham ended up winning the League Cup, as they beat Chelsea 2-1 in the final.

Other Memorable Games

There have been plenty of other memorable north London derby games contested between the sides.

In November 2004, there was an absolute goal-fest at White Hart Lane as Arsenal won 5-4. (Game Here)

When the sides met at the Emirates in October 2008, there was a Tottenham comeback as they drew 4-4. Arsenal led 4-2 going into the final minutes of the game. (Game Here)

In April 2011, there was a 3-3 draw, which severely dented an Arsenal title challenge. (Game Here)

In February 2012, Tottenham took an early 2-0 lead at the Emirates in the north London derby. But there was an Arsenal fightback, as they won 5-2. (Game Here)

Just a few months later, in the following season, the scoreline repeated itself. It was November 2012 when Tottenham went 1-0 up through ex-Arsenal man Adebayor, who was sent off just a few minutes later. The red card for a very poor challenge swayed the game in favour of Arsenal, who made another comeback and hammered their rivals. (Game Here)

St. Totteringham’s Day

St. Totteringham’s Day is the day Arsenal fans celebrate when it is mathematically impossible for Tottenham to catch them in the league. Arsenal celebrated this day for 22 years in a row, until 2017. Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 at White Hart Lane to end the Gunners’ run of finishing ahead of their biggest rivals.

Players To Play For Both Clubs

There have been some players that have pulled on both the red of Arsenal and the white of Tottenham in the past. These players receive an extreme level of abuse for pulling on their rivals’ shirt and playing in the north London derby for the opposite team.

Some notable players to have played for Tottenham before moving onto Arsenal include: George Hunt, who played 198 games for Tottenham and 21 for Arsenal in the 1930s; Freddie Cox, who played 105 games for Tottenham and 94 for Arsenal between the late 1930s and early 1950s; Jimmy Robertson, who played 181 games for Tottenham and 59 for Arsenal in the 1960s; and Pat Jennings, who played 590 games for Tottenham and 327 games for Arsenal between the 1960s and 1980s.

Some notable players to have played for Arsenal before moving onto Tottenham include: Jimmy Brain, who played 232 games for Arsenal and 34 for Tottenham in the 1920s and 1930s; Laurie Brown, who played 109 games for Arsenal and 65 for Tottenham in the 1960s; William Gallas, who played 101 games for Arsenal and 61 games for Tottenham between 2006 and 2013; and Emmanuel Adebayor, who played 143 games for Arsenal and 106 games for Tottenham between 2006 and 2015.

In recent times, Gallas and Adebayor were really hated by Arsenal fans. Gallas, who was Arsenal’s captain at one stage, moved directly from Arsenal to Tottenham. Adebayor, who Arsenal fans hated anyway after he moved from Arsenal to Manchester City, didn’t help matters when he signed for Tottenham. But, even though Arsenal fans truly hate these players, and are disgusted with how they went about their business, there is absolutely no comparison to one man.

That man’s name is Sol Campbell.

Sol Campbell – 2001

Sol Campbell is one of the best English defenders of his generation. He was Tottenham’s best player. Tottenham’s leader. Tottenham’s captain. He made 315 appearances for Tottenham. He lifted the 1999 League Cup for Tottenham. His contract was running out at Tottenham, and for a while it looked like he would stay at the club. Reports said Tottenham were prepared to make him their highest paid player ever with a new contract. When asked about his future in an interview he famously declared “I’m staying”.

But then it became obvious that he was not staying, as there was no news of a new contract. But where would he go? Manchester United? Liverpool? Barcelona? Real Madrid? Any club would be lucky to sign one of the best defenders in the world.

In the end, Campbell signed for Arsenal. The hatred Tottenham fans have for him, even to this day, is incredible. Of course, it hurt them massively seeing their best player leave and sign for their biggest rivals. There is absolutely no way you can blame them for being upset with him. The north London derby was already a huge occasion as both clubs hated each other, but Campbell’s move only added fuel to the fire.

Campbell’s Return to White Hart Lane

Campbell returned to White Hart Lane with Arsenal for the first time in November 2001. The scenes were incredible. Arsenal’s bus was attacked on the way into the ground, with objects being thrown at it. But inside the ground was where the most hatred was. When Campbell made his way onto the pitch, huge boos and chants of “Judas, Judas!” met him. The Tottenham fans had around 4,000 balloons, with “Judas” printed on them, that they released. Any time he got near the ball, huge boos rang around White Hart Lane. Hatred to that level has rarely been seen in England before.

Campbell hardly regrets his decision to move onto Arsenal, as he is regarded as a legend there. He won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups with the Gunners, and was part of their “Invincibles” team that went the entire 2003/04 season unbeaten. He also played in the Champions League final for Arsenal, and scored the opening goal in the 2-1 defeat to Barcelona in Paris in 2006.

But he will never be forgiven by the Spurs faithful. He could have stayed and been a legend at Tottenham, but he chose Arsenal instead.

Present Day

Currently, there is talk of a “power shift” in north London. Tottenham have become a much better team over the last few seasons, and have started to finish above Arsenal in the league. Because of this, some people believe that Tottenham are now the dominant team in north London. But the fact is that Tottenham haven’t yet won anything of note, and have a lot of catching up to do if they’re going to overtake Arsenal.

Finishing above their biggest rivals is definitely hugely positive, and shows that Tottenham are going in the right direction. Spurs have undoubtedly been on the rise, while the Gunners have been on the decline since the mid 2000s. But with Arsenal having won a whole host of trophies in their history, making them one of the most decorated clubs in England, Tottenham need to start winning major honours before they can be considered to have overtaken Arsenal.

The north London derby is now more competitive than ever. The days of Arsenal overturning their rivals in the fixture every time they played are long gone. Spurs will now feel they can win the north London derby every time it’s played, while, in the past, a draw was seen as an amazing result. The gap between the clubs has certainly been closed, but Spurs need to add silverware to their trophy cabinet before they can be considered the number one club north of the Thames.


“Arsenal vs Tottenham – History of the North London Derby”ย is part of our in-depth series, with a new article being published every week.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m an arsenal fan and i enjoyed every single bit of this article.. campbell really did you guys dirty spuds.๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

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