Written by Ben Forman
This will be the first of a series we’ll be calling Getting To Know The Premier League.
What gets people the most fired up about sports? Is it the spectacular play? The pure athleticism that’s on display? Maybe it’s the pageantry for some. Perhaps it’s just the ability to go into work the next day and give your co-worker a hard time because your team won and theirs did not. For me, it’s the feeling that I get when we pull one over on our rivals. In the states we’re familiar with Michigan vs Ohio State, San Diego Chargers vs Oakland Raiders, Lakers and Celtics and many more. Some of these are regional, but some of them spawn from a history of hard fought results. Though we say regional in the United States it’s a pretty loose term. For example, most people in the United States when asked what is the biggest rivalry in the country would probably say Red Sox/Yankees. These two teams play over 200 miles away from each other. On a good day it’s a little under 3.5 hour drive. The fans of each team are disconnected from each other in many respects. New York and Boston have their own distinct cultures and though you can find fans of each team in their respective cities, they really don’t interact on a very regular basis.
The opposite is true of European rivalries, referred to as derbies (pronounced darbies), these rivalries typically spawn from teams that share extremely close quarters. For example there are currently fourteen separate professional football teams in London alone. Most are separated by only boroughs (neighborhoods) and this has caused intense hatred amongst supporters. The Premier League teams in London are Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. Any time any of these teams play each other it is referred to as a London Derby. The most heated of these derby’s is between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. It is colloquially known as the North London Derby, and many would argue that it is the fiercest rivalry in England with roots that go back to 1913.
Originally the team known today as Arsenal was Woolwich Arsenal, a South London team based in the borough of Woolwich. In 1913 they moved from Plumstead to Arsenal Stadium in Highbury, a mere four miles from Spurs’ White Hart Lane stadium. A natural local rivalry began. At this period the team now known as merely Arsenal faced Tottenham on multiple occasions, despite Arsenal being in the Second Division and Spurs being in the First, there was a competition at the time known as the London Combination. Things were pretty subdued between the two sides up until 1919 when the First Division was expanded by two teams. Chelsea finished 19th in the First Division this season and therefore got one of the spots. Tottenham had finished 20th, and any rational human being would assume that they would have been given the final position in the expanded Division, however due to some backroom dealings 6th placed (in the Second Division) Arsenal managed to be given the nod for the 20th team in the First Division. Tottenham were thus relegated and Arsenal have never gone down below the first tier of English Football since. Every Tottenham supporter to this day will still claim that Arsenal never earned their spot in the top flight.
From there things continued to go back and fourth between the two teams. Both teams have historically had periods of dominance, but in recent years Arsenal has certainly been the more successful of the two clubs. This has not sat well with the blue side of north London. However, the ultimate indignity (for the modern supporter) came in 2001 when Spurs captain and talisman Sol Campbell left Tottenham on a free transfer and moved down the road to Highbury where he went on win multiple trophies with Arsenal. Even today Spurs fans still refer to Campbell as “Judas.”
The next meeting of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur occurs on November 8, 2015 and will be televised in the United States on NBC.
Oh, and one more thing…COME ON YOU SPURS!!
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