24 May 1919 when friendship broke out between Arsenal and Tottenham

by Tony Attwood

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Football matches between Arsenal and Tottenham started in November 1887 – with Royal Arsenal being under one year old.  The teams played just 15 miles apart, so games between the sides were an obvious proposition, and were played regularly until 1889 when Arsenal beat Tottenham 10-1.

After that, there was a pause until 1896 when there was a rapid series of friendlies, followed by the first non-friendly games – which were in the United League.

The final match for Woolwich Arsenal in the United League was a 2-3 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur on 29 April 1899 in front of 7000 spectators.  The following season both clubs entered the Southern District Combination, a competition that lasted for just one season.

This competition also ended with a game against Tottenham on 24 April 1900 at Plumstead.  The match was abandoned after 65 minutes due to abusive language from the crowd.  Woolwich Arsenal was ordered to post notices instructing the crowd to behave properly, but the referee was also criticised for his handling of the game.  The game was not replayed.

In 1913, as we know, Arsenal moved to Highbury.  Further animosity between the clubs culminated on 26 May 1913 when Tottenham’s demand for an Emergency General Meeting of league clubs to stop Arsenal’s move was defeated at League’s AGM.  The League had in fact ruled in relation to the proposed move of Woolwich Arsenal to Fulham, at its AGM in 1910,  that it had no control over where the clubs played, only over which division they played in.

But we must also remember that objections of this type were not that unusual.  Orient joined with Tottenham in making the objection to the move, and Tottenham had also successfully objected to Chelsea’s application for a place in the Southern League in 1905.  (Chelsea then immediately applied for a place in the Football League and this was granted).

So these were times with a lot of animosity between the clubs – and perhaps a difference of viewpoint too.  We know that Norris valued having rival clubs nearby arguing, correctly as it turned out, that the proximity of clubs would keep football in the local papers every day of the week, in a way that having just one local club could not.  Tottenham obviously saw things differently.

In the immediate aftermath of the move of Woolwich Arsenal to Highbury, the clubs didn’t play each other in the football league, Arsenal being in the second division, Tottenham in the first, but they were drawn together in the London FA Challenge Cup, and then, perhaps surprisingly played a friendly at White Hart Lane in August 1914.

This shows a certain amount of forgiveness and the crowd of 13,564 must have been very encouraging for such a friendly at a time of heightened tension on the international front.

Then during the war years, a real bond between the clubs evolved with Tottenham using Highbury for wartime friendlies.

But thereafter there was another set back over the issue of Arsenal’s election to the first division upon the expansion of the league.    I won’t repeat the details here as they have been dealt with in more depth on this site than anywhere else (see the link above) – save to say that many of the assumptions made about what happened have been proven by an examination of the records to be wrong.

Finally, on 24 May 1919 Arsenal played a friendly at home against Tottenham.  This was just 10 weeks after the election of Arsenal to the first division and the relegation of Tottenham to the second.  Playing this friendly seems quite extraordinary, given the amount of animosity we are led to believe existed between the clubs.  It looks like a real attempt to make up.

Certainly, the fact that it took place suggests that Tottenham’s anger at their relegation after coming bottom of the league in 1915, when football stopped due to the war, was not present at this time, but emerged post-war.

Tottenham were promoted back to the first division at the first attempt, and after that matches between the two sides became more intense.  But that friendly on 24 May 1919 just ten weeks after Arsenal had been elected to the first division and Tottenham relegated to the second, is quite telling, I think.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

100 Years: 100 Years in the First Division

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