reasons to hate arsenal - 1, 2, 3

There are, of course, many reasons we hate the Arse and most of us can think of a few justifiable ones in the past thirty years or so.  They did the Double ten years after us, we couldn’t stop them at the Lane and they did it playing boring, defensive crap.  They always seemed to edge us out in the League Cup and usually in the 212th minute of extra time.  Why did John Radford tend to get the better of Cyril Knowles in the inevitable punch-up and why did we get rubbish like Laurie Brown (perhaps Tottenham’s worst ever signing?) while we sold them Pat Jennings and gave them S. Cumball?  Er, actually forget that last one.

The reasons are endless but few of us today are aware that, many years before any of us were even thought of, our predecessors also hated Arsenal with a vengeance and if anything they had even greater cause than us.  The facts of the matter are simple and undisputed, even by Gooners: they nicked our place in the First Division and have never earned the right to be in the top flight.  You don’t get much worse than that in footy and the mere fact that it happened 82 years ago shouldn’t make us forget where our great hatred originally began.

In the early days, when the Arse were known as Royal Arsenal because the team members worked at the giant South London munitions plant, there was only a friendly London rivalry.  The first match report – from the local Tottenham Weekly Herald, dated November 25, 1887, even had a familiar ring to it when it said:

“The Spurs at once began to attack, but 10 minutes from the start, the Arsenal scored a lucky goal.”  So what else is new?  But fear not.  The Lilywhites ran out 2-1 winners even though the game was stopped fifteen minutes early because it was too dark to see the ball.

Things went along fairly straightforwardly after that until just before the First World War, when Woolwich Arsenal, as they were then known, moved from Plumstead in South London to Avenell Road, N5.  Spurs and Clapton Orient protested about the new transplanted competition, but the Arse’s owner, Henry (later Sir Henry) Norris, a property developer and Tory councillor, clearly had good Football League contacts and the move went through.

Those close contacts were to stand Norris and Arsenal in good stead just a few years later when the real dirty deeds were done against Tottenham.  There’s an excellent account of the events in Phil Soar’s book ‘And the Spurs Go Marching On…’ (1982), published to mark our centenary. 

Arsenal finished fifth in the Second Division in 1914-15, the last before all sport stopped for the duration of the war.  Derby had 53 points, Preston 50, Barnsley 47, Wolves 45 and Arsenal, Birmingham and Hull each had 43.  Meanwhile, Spurs had finished bottom of the First Division that season with Chelsea one place above them in nineteenth spot.

On the resumption of football in 1919-20, the League, whose president was Liverpool’s chairman, John McKenna, a good friend of Norris, decided to expand the First Division to 22 clubs.  Whenever this had happened in the past the two bottom Division One clubs had been allowed to stay in the league.  So the expectation was that Chelsea and Spurs would remain to be joined by Derby and Preston.

This seemed even more likely given that there had been some well dodgy results in the First Division in April 1915 when clubs were jockeying for advantage before the shutdown.  We can hardly credit it now, given their auspicious histories, but the Man U vs. Liverpool game -  won 2-0 by the Mancs – was fixed by some of the players, leaving Man U with 30 points, just two more than Spurs, although even if two points had been deducted Spurs would still have been bottom on goal difference.  But, as Soar points out: “Nonetheless, the incident did throw considerable doubt on the final placings and suggested that there could not possibly be any alternative but to re-elect the bottom clubs after the War.”  Anyway, fix a match like that nowadays and you’d probably get banned for good. Just think – no Man U………..

What happened next was astonishing, even looking back from the hyper-cynical times that we do now.  When the League met after the war to decide the make-up of the divisions, Derby and Preston were automatically promoted from the pre-war Division Two.  But then, McKenna invited Division two clubs to apply for places occupied by Spurs and Chelsea and then stated that Chelsea should stay in the top division because of ‘special circumstances’.  He was referring to the bent Man U game which would have put Chelsea above United had they had the two points ‘won’ against Liverpool deducted.

So Chelsea stayed and Spurs were suddenly under threat.  They had come bottom, true, but only one point behind Chelsea and had not fixed any matches.  Then came even more insult to injury.  Norris’s great mate McKenna urged the committee members to vote for Arsenal to be promoted on the grounds that they had been league members longer than Tottenham!  As Soar says: “The suggestion made little sense; Wolves, who had been founder members of the League in 1888 and who had finished above Arsenal in 1915, were also applying, as were Birmingham who, as Small Heath, had entered the Second Division a year before Arsenal, in 1892.”

A nod’s as good as a wink and the committee members duly voted Arsenal in with ten more votes than Tottenham.  And they’ve remained in the top division ever since, the only club never to have earned the right to be there on the field of play.

Rumours of money changing hands persisted for years.  After all, Norris had invested £125,000 of his property-developing/local councillor, highly unsuspicious, small-fortune-for-the-time funds into bringing the Arse to north London, and a few more grand wasn’t going to stop him now if it mean more for him in the long-run.  But the story does have a happy ending.  Norris was done by the FA in 1927 for irregular payments to Arse players and even getting the club to agree to pay for his own chauffer.  He lost a libel case against the FA and was booted out of the game, dying just before Arsenal started their great run in the 1930s.

To quote an Arsenal fan website: “The arguments for Arsenal’s promotion were complete nonsense”.  True, but I have to say that I rather like having the South Londoners three miles down the road.  Let’s face it, it’s great being able to hate another football team like this and it’s caused no end of additional enjoyment and emotion over the years.  But they have no right to be where they are and we should never forget that, especially as they did it at our expense.

It’s too late to do anything about it now, but it does no harm to remind ourselves of the original reasons our forebears hated the Arse and why we should uphold and continue that honourable tradition.


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