London, United Kingdom, Nov 4 – A bitter feud ignited by greed and sustained by jealousy will once again leave families divided when Arsenal and Tottenham stage the latest chapter of the north London derby on Sunday.
To the unsuspecting outsider, Arsenal and Tottenham’s annual showdowns might appear tame in comparison with the scenes of violence and mayhem associated with other high-profile derby clashes between the likes of Rangers and Celtic, Roma and Lazio or Liverpool and Manchester United.
But for the men and women who drape themselves in the red of Arsenal or the white of Tottenham, the fixture comes laced with fear and loathing.
Peggy Goulding has been supporting the Gunners for over 40 years, but the softly spoken chairwoman of Arsenal Football Supporters Club says the north London derby has an atmosphere of unrelenting menace that makes it the one fixture she doesn’t look forward to.
“I hate this game. If you go to the away game, you feel like your life is in your hands,” Goulding said.
“The first time I went to White Hart Lane, Tottenham supporters were waiting for us outside and bombarded us with bricks and bottles.
“I’ve been attacked three times coming out of Tottenham just walking along the street.
“A few years ago, we won the league there. I was with about four friends, and two of them were like me, older women, and two were older men.
“All of a sudden they came at us with everything they could lay their hands on. Some of them haven’t been back to Tottenham since.”
Martin Cloake, co-author of “A People’s History of Tottenham Hotspur”, knows just how deep the ill-feeling runs for many.
“There is hatred there. We all know Arsenal fans we get on with, but some people try to take it too far because you’re supporting another football team,” he said.
To discover the roots of the enmity between Arsenal and Tottenham, it is necessary to cross the River Thames to a leafy park in Woolwich, south London, where a plaque commemorates the founding of Dial Square FC by local armaments factory workers.
In 1913, with Dial Square now known as Woolwich Arsenal, they packed their bags for a new address in Highbury, north London, just a few miles down the road from their soon-to-be despised rivals Tottenham, in a bid to improve the size of their crowds in a more densely populated area.
– Myths and legends –
Tottenham’s fury at Arsenal’s presence only increased a few years later when they successfully lobbied for promotion to the top division at Spurs’ expense.
“That was the real start of the rivalry,” says Steve Tongue, author of “Turf Wars: A history of London football”.
“Tottenham felt they had the greater grievance because of the way things panned out and Arsenal fans felt if Spurs were going to dislike them, then they could probably reciprocate.”
Cloake believes the history only adds to the passion of the rivalry.
“There are a lot of myths and legends, stories and details that add spice in the build-up,” he said.
“I say they’re not really a proper north London team. It winds up Arsenal fans.”
Ian Marshall, chairman of the Ridgeway Rovers youth football team that counts David Beckham and Harry Kane among its famous graduates, is just one example of how family ties are put aside whenever Arsenal face Spurs.
“A lot of people have got families with Arsenal and Tottenham fans in them,” he said.
“My first memory of the north London derby was watching Match of the Day with my uncle.
“He was a mad Arsenal fan and tried for years to make me an Arsenal fan, but I wanted to stay with my brother and support Tottenham.”
Tottenham’s failure to keep up with Arsenal’s success in the Arsene Wenger era has led to increased vitriol.
“It’s very much the case that the derby matters more to Spurs than Arsenal. Spurs haven’t finished above them in the league since 1995, which is an extraordinary statistic really,” Tongue says.
Off the field, Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 produced a change in their fan-base to a more gentrified group that draws from across the world and attracts many from the wealthier end of society.
In contrast, Tottenham fans point to their more London-based working-class support, some of whom proudly celebrate the supposed Jewish heritage of many Spurs supporters, as proof that they provide a more authentic football experience.
Whatever the next generation of Arsenal and Tottenham fan looks like from a sociological perspective, both sides of the divide can agree on one thing — the rivalry will continue to burn brightly.
“I don’t think there is anything that will rival the Arsenal-Tottenham game. It’s been going on for a long, long time. The hatred has been built up on both sides,” Goulding said.