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The Derby Diaries: North London Derby

The North London Derby has seen numerous ups and downs depending on your alliances. It is considered to be one of the most sought after fixtures not just in England but all over Europe.

Vinayak Manoj
Last updated: 11.10.2019
The Derby Diaries: North London Derby | Sports Social Blog

The rivalry between the Gunners and the Lilywhites goes back over a hundred years. This is the game that fans look to first as soon as the fixture list is released. The intense rivalry and bad blood makes for a very interesting encounter, certainly one to look out for. With Mauricio Pochettino at the helm of the Lilywhites ship, the fans have witnessed an incredible resurgence from the squad finishing above the Gunners consecutively since the 2016/2017 season. Unlike the Merseyside derby that sees fans from the same family sitting together, all friendly and familial relationships are forgotten on the day of the North London Derby.

The teams faced each other for the first time in a league game in 1909. Arsenal known as the Woolwich Arsenal came out on top in that contest with the score of 1-0, thanks to Walter Lawrence finding the back of the net. The derby lacked the fierce rivalry at the time as Arsenal was based out of South London, Woolwich, as the name suggests. It was only four years later that the seeds for their rivalry were sown. Woolwich Arsenal was wrought with difficulties throughout the 1900’s. Their home was not in a very accessible place which resulted in plummeting attendances and the club workers falling into financial trouble.

The club verging on bankruptcy in 1910 was bought by businessman Henry Norris. They decided that the club needed to be relocated elsewhere in order to get a fresh start. So a move to North London in 1913, after relegation to the Second Division, was initiated where Highbury became their new home ground. The bitter local rivalry between the two erupted as Highbury was just 4 miles down the road from the Spurs home, White Hart Lane. 


The club was renamed to Arsenal in the following year. It was after this move that things heated up between the two clubs competing for the tag of top dog in North London. The derbies of the past were extremely bitter affairs compared to the present derbies. A bloody and vicious contest between the clubs often forced the Association to mediate between clubs, sometimes pressuring the clubs with impositions of penalties.

The relationship between the two clubs has been very controversial since 1900’s. The 1914/1915 season saw Tottenham Hotspurs in the 20th position and Arsenal finished sixth in the second division. Under normal circumstances, the bottom two teams of the table got relegated to the Second Division and the top two teams would be promoted to the top flight. League football took a break in lieu of World War 1 but it was to return in 1919. It was decided that league football would be expanded and two teams would be included in 1919 after league football returned from the break. Chelsea were voted to remain in the league even though they finished 19th. Initially, they were not supposed to be relegated, but Manchester United and Liverpool fixed a game on the last day of the season, ensuring United stay up. 


The Lilywhites argued that they should be the second team to stay in the top flight because they were a First Division team. Arsenal and Spurs were competing for the second spot, Gunners emerged victorious winning by 18 votes compared to the 6 in favour of Spurs. The Gunners were supposed to end the league in the fifth position but they were awarded sixth because of some confusion in the tally of goals. There was speculation that Arsenal chairman, Henry Norris used under the table tactics in order to sway the decision in the Gunner’s favour. This has often been an issue that the Lilywhites use to beat Arsenal with. It is argued that Arsenal stayed in the league for so long, they didn’t leave the league like a lot of teams did and they were awarded for the same. 


Arsenal finished tenth in the league that season and Tottenham won the Second Division and were promoted to First Division football.

There have been players who have donned the red of Arsenal and the white of Tottenham. The players are often abused for playing against their former teams in the derby. There are many notable players to have played for both teams for instance; George Hunt, who played 193 games for Tottenham and 21 games for Arsenal in 1930’s and early 1950’s. Freddie Cox played 105 games for Tottenham and 94 games for Arsenal between the 1930’s and 1950’s.  Gallas and Adebayor played for Arsenal, Gallas the former captain of Arsenal attracted a lot of hate when he made a direct move to Tottenham, Adebayor’s move to Tottenham was heavily criticised as well. Sol Campbell, the biggest name to have made this move, one of the best defenders in England. The former Lilywhite captain who lifted the League Cup in 1999 moved to Arsenal even after he commented that he would stay at the club when he was asked about his future in the club.

When it comes to rivalry the Gunners have more to shout about. With 13 League Titles and 13 FA Cup Titles, Arsenal’s trophy cabinet shines brighter than that of Spurs with 8 FA Cup Titles and won the top prize in England in 1961. St. Totteringhams Day is another matter all together. It is the day when it becomes mathematically impossible for Tottenham to finish above Arsenal. This idea materialized in 2002 and came into wide usage in 2010. The name of the unofficial holiday is a portmanteau of Tottenham and the adjective ‘tottering’, which means “being in an unstable condition”.

Currently, the power dynamics have changed in North London, Tottenham looks to be the better team compared to Arsenal on the basis of the last couple of seasons. Tottenham are now hailed as the better team in North London by some people. Although the fact of the matter is that Spurs still have not won anything of note, they have to step their game up in order to overtake Arsenal in that matter. Finishing above their biggest rivals is a sign of the fact that the Lillywhites are going in the right direction. Spurs have been rising consistently, reaching the Champions League Final in their last season, whereas Arsenal have been on a steady decline since the 2000’s. Arsenal are still one of the most decorated clubs in England and Tottenham need to acquire some silverware in order to be crowned the Kings of North London.

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