It’s that time of year again, November: Arsenal’s bogey month.
It’s also that familiar time of year when we have our first match up against Tottenham. I don’t know why but it seems every season we play them in either October or November.
I’m not sure about you, but I had an excellent day yesterday. I even had a spring in my step walking to work, which is rare on a Monday morning. Working with Tottenham fans can be an unpleasant task at times, but on days like yesterday, it’s glorious.
Football is a global game, it’s watched by billions worldwide, and I’d imagine that the people that visit this blog come from every corner of the world. As Arsenal fans, we’re lucky to support a team that has gathered such worldwide support, probably due to the clubs continued presence among Europe’s elite, and possibly also due to a historically rich diversity in our playing staff.
Our less than illustrious neighbours don’t share our position as a worldwide superclub; they’re a smaller club with a smaller fanbase- that isn’t meant to incite or antagonise-it’s just the simple fact of the matter. It means the majority of their support comes from within the UK, mainly from London and the home counties.
I lived in Sydney for a year during 2010, and it amazed me that despite a huge English/ Irish population, I hardly saw a single Tottenham fan during my time there. Whilst I’m sure that makes Sydney an even better place to live, it’s for that reason that I think it’s worth exploring what exactly the derby means to those of us blessed to be local to North London.
As a preface to this, I have no time for the local vs foreign fan debate – if you support a club and you give time and effort to watch them play, then you’re a fan. It doesn’t matter where you come from. I saw first-hand the efforts of the Aussie Gooners – when you wake up at 3am every Monday morning, with a full work week ahead of you to watch Arsenal lose to Wigan – you’re as much a part of Arsenal as the rest of us.
What I’d like to do is try to explain exactly what the derby is like for someone on the frontline, someone who lives and works in North London. I lived in a place called Newington Green for a long time, it’s a nice corner of Islington and it brought me immense pride that I had an N5 postcode. I was so close to Highbury/ The Emirates, that friends would actually pay me money to park at my house when a game was on.
Living in such rich ‘Arsenal’ turf held many advantages; not having to ride the tube, being able to walk to and from games, every pub always showing the Arsenal match if we were away in Europe, etc etc. The one disadvantage of living in North London, is that you’re constantly in close proximity to them lot: Tottenham fans. Despite their ground basically being in Hertfordshire, most North Londoners support either Arsenal or Tottenham.
When commentators and pundits talk of bragging rights it often annoys me. If your local rivals beat you but you’re still 30 points ahead of them in the league is there really anything to brag about? As such, but for a minor blip when George left and Stuart Houston had the team, I’ve never really had to experience Arsenal being in anyway inferior to Tottenham. What I have had to experience is over twenty-five years of near total delusion from their fans.
As football fans, we’re not an objective lot; we see things through rose-tinted glasses at the best of times. I’m as guilty of it as anyone – However I can honestly say that Tottenham fans may be the singularly most repetitive set of fans in the game.
“This is our year” is a quote I’ve heard on countless Monday mornings over the past two decades. They recently went 10 years without a single victory over Arsenal, yet I’d still come into work and hear the gloating and the goading – that this was the year they would finish above Arsenal.
If Arsenal lose I get inundated with a barrage of texts and phone calls from delirious Spurs colleagues, regardless of Tottenham’s result. I sometimes feel that they get more joy out of Arsenal losing than they do from Spurs victories. They’ve had to eat a lifetime of humble pie but still they always come back for more. It’s like a desperate search to become equals with us.
Their captain and best player their academy has ever produced, joined us for free and instantly won more trophies in his first season at Arsenal than his entire Tottenham career. You think that would shut them up. Or our 13 league titles compared to their meagre two. Or lasagne-gate. Or blowing a 10 point lead last year. But no, just last week my phone was ablaze with messages from joyous Spurs fans as we found ourselves 4-0 down at Reading. We came back to win and they inevitably lost and were eliminated the flowing night. If you ever need to see the definition of absolute stupidity, just look at their Mind-the-Gap campaign last year, it was so premature and proved to be utterly ridiculous and the whole club was left with egg on its face.
In some ways you have to admire their eternal optimism – however misplaced it may be. We may say Wenger is stubborn, that he can’t see the problems within his own team, but he is nothing compared to the constant state of fantasy that so many Spurs fans live in. The thing that irks me the most is the state of absolute authority they assume when talking about how inferior Arsenal are. If they managed to finish above us just once, I might take them seriously.
You can imagine how they behave on the rare occasions that they actually beat Arsenal; it’s honestly not worth going into work on a Monday morning and you have to avoid the internet, television, radio and all newspapers for the duration of the week, as a selection of pundits who should know better try to debate power shifts in North London. Every year they ask the same question and yet every year we celebrate St Totteringham’s day.
When I’m out locally, I’ll occasionally have a red and white scarf on, or some Arsenal shorts on at the gym, and some wannabe Spurs comedian will make some sort of quip designed to illicit a response. I’ve heard them all, and the funny thing is, due to their on-field inferiority, it’s never actually about football. They’ll say something about ‘going back to Woolwich’ or ‘being the real North London club’. I once had a guy try to bait me by questioning Ljungberg and Sol Campbell’s sexuality, as if that was somehow relevant when you’re in Tesco’s on a Tuesday afternoon.
If any Spurs fan ever tries to give you any abuse about Arsenal being from South London, maybe remind them that their club oh-so-publically failed in trying to move to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London.
I find myself frequently having to defend our players: in pubs, at work, sometimes even on the bus, as some twerp chimes in his expert opinion that ‘Sagna isn’t fit to lace Kyle Walker’s boots’ or that ‘Bale is in the same class as Messi and Ronaldo’. It’s the typical delusion -and it’s getting more and more mainstream – Sky have started choosing the absurd pairing of Jamie Redknapp and Glenn Hoddle to provide analysis on Arsenal games.
Football is a tribal game, they are our local rivals and we’re never going to like them. But I’m actually glad that Tottenham exist, and I’m glad that they’re our rivals. Even if they win the league for the next 10 years(61 never again), they still wouldn’t be as successful a club as we are. I’m grateful for Tottenham because our domination over them makes the game sweeter. The day we won the league in ’04 was incredible, but winning it at White Hart Lane gave it an extra edge.
Ultimately I think we enjoy our successes against Tottenham more, because for those of us, that by choice or necessity have to frequent with ‘that lot’, it gives us a constant supply of ammunition in the face of their near constant deluge of false insults.
Every now and then a player gets it too, and to this day I think my favourite celebration by an Arsenal player was when Henry, having just ran the length of the pitch to score an amazing individual goal, ran all the way back to celebrate with the Gooners sat next to the away fans at Highbury.
It’s a special rivalry. Enjoy this week, I know I will.------------
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