This weekend sees the latest instalment of North London’s own football holy war as we visit the Lane. We’re all still trying to forget the final moments of the home League game earlier this season at the Grove. Talk about implosion. None of THAT again please, boys. Our continued dominance over our nearest neighbours just makes the odd poor result against them even harder to bear.
I’m old enough to remember when it was pretty Even Stephen between the two clubs. Through the late 1960s and the whole 1970s, Spurs and Arsenal had pretty equal crowds by and large, had approximately the same sort of success on the park (with the exception of our wonderful Double in 1971) and Spurs had the reputation as the entertainers, us as the dour, taciturn cousins.
In the summer of 1978 the Football League lifted its ludicrously restrictive anti-foreigners rule, permitting each club to sign two foreign players. Previously only the odd foreigner who’d played in Scotland for at least two seasons slipped through the net (the Scots never had a ban on foreign players). I remember a gifted Danish midfielder called Preben Arentoft who played for Toon after playing in Scotland for Greenock Morton.
In those long off days the Dansk Boldspil-Union (Danish FA) banned professional players from playing for the national team, a spectacular example of how to shoot yourself in the foot as all the country’s top players were playing abroad professionally. This restriction wasn’t lifted until 1971 and it wasn’t too long before Denmark started punching above its weight at international level, but I digress.
Spurs were early into the international market, signing Osvaldo Ardiles from Huracán and Ricardo Villa from Racing Club. Ardiles had been a regular in the starting line-up of the Argentine team that had won the World Cup as hosts that summer. Villa had also been in the squad, appearing in two second round matches against Brazil and Poland. The pair were offered to Arsenal first but Terry Neill turned them down, saying it would be too much of a risk, his worst transfer market decision in his time as Arsenal manager for me. With Spain opening its borders to foreign players again and Italy about to follow suit I always thought the risk was small. If they hadn’t have worked out we could have sold them on without much if any loss.
The signings certainly kept the sheen of glamour on Spurs for a while, and bought some success on the park in a period when our sole trophy was the FA Cup in 1979 until the League Cup win under new manager George Graham in 1987. The pictures of Villa trooping around the greyhound track at Wembley having been substituted in the 1981 FA Cup Final only to score a great solo goal in the Final replay the following midweek is part of FA Cup folklore, as is our 3-2 win against Yoonited in 1979.
It all started going Pete Tong for Spurs in 1983 when they decided to float on the stock exchange. Wrong. Our neighbours got into all kinds of businesses they didn’t have a clue about and basically had their lunch eaten for them. We stuck to what we knew, football, and didn’t that turn out to be a wise decision. It’s been pretty much gravy or us since George Graham’s arrival. We’ve won five League titles including two Doubles, five FA Cups, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and two League Cups since then, whilst Spurs have managed, er, one FA Cup and two League Cups. They’ve also come VERY close to going skint too, famously having to sell Paul Gascoigne to Lazio in 1992 to balance the books.
I’m likely to get flamed for saying this but I’m one of those who think the rivalry has got a bit out of hand in the last couple of decades. I’d put most of the blame for this on that lumpen, knuckle-scraping group of Spurs fans who can’t seem to find themselves in close proximity to a Gooner without becoming homicidal. Don’t get me wrong, whatever happens to Spurs I hope it’s nothing trivial, but I’d like to see things calm down a bit. I must confess to wallowing in a big vat of schadenfreude when Spurs went down in 1977. Let us not forget though that we too came perilously close to the drop in both 1974/5 and 1975/6, finishing 16th and 17th respectively.
The Spurs powers that be certainly know how to win friends and influence people, the latest example being their screw-up over the Arsenal end ticket prices for Sunday’s game. I know those good people at Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association (AISA) are on the case, Gawd bless ‘em.
It only costs £10 to join or £100 for life membership. Well worth the investment I think.
As far as the rivalry goes it should be possible for it to be intense without becoming homicidal. Let’s hope the boys are focussed for Sunday. Arsenal expects every man to do his duty.
Keep the faith.