Why Don’t Tottenham Have Any Footballing Friends?

by Andy Kelly

I recently read a post on the angryofislington blog which asked why no one likes Tottenham. I think Phil’s post is supposed to be light-hearted but there is a ring of truth to it.

I should explain: I’m in the middle of a final read through of Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football to make sure we haven’t left anything untoward in there before publication. I had to check something and whilst doing this stumbled across the events of 1908 that led to Tottenham being admitted (I won’t use elected as that would be a pretty loose term to describe what happened) into the Football League. It’s a strange set of circumstances that doesn’t seem to get mentioned in popular histories of the club and it’s not hard to see why.

But before we look at 1908, let’s take a step back to 1892 to give an idea of how popular they were with their peers.

When Royal Arsenal turned professional in 1891 they had a need to provide regular competitive games to keep their fans’ interest in the game. A diet of friendlies against local rivals and the big northern teams was OK but these games were prone to being one-sided affairs or there was a risk of the opponents pulling out at short notice.

The Royal Arsenal committee decided to test the water and opened discussions with their neighbours about forming a Southern League. The interested parties met in February 1892 and agreed to form a league consisting of 12 teams. Those 12 teams were: Chatham, Chiswick Park, Crouch End, Ilford, Luton, Marlow, Millwall, Old St Mark’s, Reading, Royal Arsenal, Swindon and West Herts.

Tottenham had also attended the meeting and expressed an interest. I’m not sure exactly how the voting was set up but Tottenham finished at the bottom of the list with only 1 vote (presumably their own).

120 years ago they were friendless.

The Southern League finally got going in 1894, without Tottenham. They eventually joined it in 1896. At the time the Southern League was formed of two divisions. Tottenham were elected into the First Division. I’ve not found any records of the rules of elections into the Southern League but I assume that clubs of a certain size could be elected directly into the top division. However, there was promotion and relegation between the two divisions so it seems a bit strange that they weren’t put into the Second Division.

After 12 years in the Southern League Tottenham decided to try their chances with the big boys. In February 1908 Tottenham (along with QPR) resigned from the Southern League and made it known that they would apply to join the Football League.

QPR were justified in their application as they were runaway winners of the Southern League. Tottenham eventually finished 7th (and this was by virtue of a goal average 0.01 better than Northampton).

The Southern League was fed up with its members applying to join the Football League only to come back with their tails between their legs when they were unsuccessful and causing the Southern League administration problems such as re-arranging the fixture lists. So, at the 1908 AGM the members agreed that any team wishing to resign from the Southern League had to do so by December of the season that they wanted to resign. They also expelled Tottenham, something which came back to bite them in the backside.

The Football League then held its AGM. Grimsby, Chesterfield and Lincoln City finished at the bottom of Division 2 and had to apply for re-election along with the clubs applying for election: Bradford PA, Tottenham and Burton United.

Grimsby and Chesterfield were re-elected, and Bradford PA finished third in the vote and replaced Lincoln. Tottenham finished 5th in the vote (behind Lincoln). It seems that they over-estimated their popularity – Tottenham were not elected into the Football League! To make it worse (or better depending who you support) the Southern League didn’t want them back either.

There was then talk of forming a Third Division of the Football League with the following clubs applying to join it: Burton United, Crewe, Croydon, Darlington, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Kettering, Lancaster, Lincoln, Rotherham, Southport Central, St Helens, Tottenham and Walsall. All they needed was St Trinian’s under-12s to make it a really competitive league. Can you imagine the stick Arsenal fans could give Tottenham fans if this had taken off? However, this all fell through.

That then left Tottenham without a league to play in as they had also resigned from the Western League (a regional league for London clubs, despite its name).

Towards the end of June 1908 Stoke told the Football League that they were in financial difficulties and resigned from the League. The Football League held a special meeting to find a replacement for Stoke. To confuse matters, Stoke then asked to be re-instated into the Football League. The 5 teams that applied for Stoke’s place were Stoke, Lincoln, Tottenham, Rotherham and Southport Central. Tottenham and Lincoln tied for first place so a second vote was held with just these two clubs in contention. Tottenham were very lucky here as the Management Committee could have taken the voting from the AGM as a yardstick and elected Lincoln into the League.

In the second vote they tied 20 votes each. It was then left to the Management Committee to decide and they voted 5-3 in Tottenham’s favour. Arsenal showed what gentlemen they were and supported Tottenham’s application throughout the whole debacle.

But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Following all of this rumours surfaced that Tottenham had offered Stoke financial inducements to resign from the Football League in the first place. Finding themselves with no League to play in they bribed another team to resign in the hope that they could take their place. Even then it took three votes to get them into the League.

This wasn’t the first time that this had happened – it was alleged that Oldham had done the same the previous season, offering Burslem Port Vale £1,000 to resign which included the transfer of two players. By strange coincidence, Tottenham bought two Stoke players during the summer of 1908!

Skip forward another 11 years and we have the expansion of the Football League following the resumption of football after the First World War. The First Division was expanded from 20 to 22 clubs following a motion put forward by Blackpool in January 1919. There are plenty of versions of what happened here but, at the end of the day, a vote was held amongst the members of the Football League as to who should be given the final place in the First Division. After two months of canvassing by the clubs the vote went: Arsenal 18. Tottenham 8, Barnsley 5, Wolves 4, Nottingham Forest 3, Birmingham 2, Hull 1.



One piece of information we can’t find for 1892 is why Tottenham only got one vote at that time.  If you have any information or evidence on this, we’d be interested in reading it.

As with the above story, the events surrounding the 1919 election to the first division are complex involving (in that case) match fixing, club resignations, multiple applications, campaigning and league expansion.  A new summary of this story, following our latest research will appear in the 3rd Arsenal History Society booklet: From Promotion to Chapman, which will be given to all members of Arsenal Independent Supporters Association at the start of next season.  Meanwhile you can read our earlier review of the story at “The Fixed Promotion”.


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18 Replies to “Why Don’t Tottenham Have Any Footballing Friends?”

  1. excellent,post,very interesting and informative!!!thank you for your hard work and devotion!!!gunners for life!!

  2. DSCH… actually that is not quite right. The standard reference work that my office holds suggests that organisations which are recognised through the individuals within the organisation, can be written plural or singular.

    Tottenham are top of the league (plural)
    Tottenham is top of the league (singular)

    “Why doesn’t” is singular, which would mean in the choice of the two above you would go for Tottenham is top of the league, whereas my natural inclination is to say Tottenham are top of the league, or more commonly Arsenal are top of the league. But I could say Arsenal is top of the league.

    So, if I may, I would suggest that on this occasion you are in error sir.

  3. From a Romance of Football, it was called the Southern Football Alliance and “The Spurs were amongst the ten original members”.

    The Spurs opened the season by beating Paddington 10-0.

    I quote “Altogether the Tottenham “Reds” have a brilliant prospect and many of the Alliance teams will have a warm time of it….”

  4. Great stuff, an interesting read – thank you.

    And thanks too for the link to Nonleague matters – I won’t be watching much telly this evening!

  5. @Notoverthehill
    The Southern Alliance was a “second division” of the failed attempt to originally set up the Southern League. It comprised the teams that didn’t get enough votes to join the Southern League. It lasted just one season and many games were not played.

  6. What a load of tosh !!! the Reason Tottenham Failed in the attempt to join the football league came from achivememnts and up against clubs with better pedigree in football league .. nothing to do with popularity ..

    the Arsenal break away league failed missabley and i don’t think even got off the ground
    we also Did not get get voted out at firest we resigned along with 3 other clubs over the direction the league was taking …. to save face the AGM was placed on the same day as the Football leagues meeting and they voted to expell all the Clubs that resigned.

    the entry in to the 2nd division was based ont he fact that we had won the FA cup and southern league and were finachaly sound ..unlike many, QPR resigned there request to join due to lots of pressure from the Sourthern league and were forced to play on wednesday night,which tottenham and lincon were the only clubs left in as tottenham refuesd to be treated like that and the offer to return to the southern league was rejected.

    as for the 1919 elections … rigging does not even start to come into it regarding Arsenal as blackmail, extorsion bribary all come into play, not to mentcion the move to Highbury that for some reason managed to happen even though all north london clubs and business complained about it , as well as it not even being allowed in football league rule…

  7. Mark your views would carry a little weight if you gave some evidence rather than, as many other Tottenham supporters have done before you, being stated as fact, without anything to back them up. We cite things like Athletic News, precedent etc. If there is contemporary evidence please supply it.

  8. Mark

    Take a look at the link. Tottenham were up against Lincoln, Stoke, Rotherham and Southport Central. I don’t think any of them were renowned for setting the world of football alight.

    As for bribery and vote-rigging I would love to see the evidence for this. If you can tell of us of anything barely creditable I be more than happy to hold my hands up and say “it’s a fair cop, guv”.

  9. Hi Tony

    I would be happy to supply my counter argument for the entry of Tottenham into the football league 1908-9, just give me a little but to but the evidence together I have it just need to colate it into a meaning full structure

    Andy – your fist point is about the 3 division .. i was not talking about that as it never transpired and tottenham only entertained the idea as they were running out of options as for your second statement i have spoken to many arsenal fans that feel that there entry to the football top flight was not all together… above board, this extract was written by Rex Pardoe a Arsenal fan and a writer of a book called the battle of London(written in 1973)
    pg.31 para 2 “Again the manoeuvring and Manipulation of Sir henry Norris helped his club to score a notable off-field victory over their rivals by some margin by some of the smartest backstage direction in soccer history”.
    the Fact that the chairman of the Football league was John Mckenna who in 1919 was the chairman of Liverpool fc, and if you remember was also party to the first football betting scandal between Manchester united and Liverpool which saw great players given life time bans and also meant that meant that Chelsea kept there place in the football league (again suggested by Mr Norris), It can be safe to say that Mr Norris had the bend of the chairman arm and had to have this influence for him to have a ballot called even thought the last time the league was grown no teams were in fact relegated… also seeing that the clubs that sat above Arsenal in the second division were for want of a better word ..better pedigree for the top flight even if Tottenham didn’t get the vote(and i’m not saying we deserved to stay up) as i felt we struggled much like arsenal did in the top flight).

  10. Mark.

    Arsenal have never been relegated since joining the top flight, took a lot of bribing that did.

  11. Andy, after reading your fascinating piece I decided to find out a little bit more for myself for the sake of context, and I can only conclude that Tottenham’s 1908 election is the most remarkably underplayed episode in the historical war of words between Arsenal and Tottenham fans. The circumstances surrounding Oldham’s bribed election in 1907 and Tottenham’s suspicious election in 1908 are virtually identical. Both Burslem Port Vale and Stoke in their respective years resigned from the league citing financial difficulties just a few days after Oldham and Tottenham had failed to be elected at the Football League AGM, gifting the latter two another chance in what was in reality a two horse race. This was not a common occurence. For the sake of clarity, the Stoke who asked to be reinstated were a different Stoke, a different company with different directors who had quickly risen from the ashes of their predecessor. But as mentioned in the links above, the suspicion was there that Tottenham had repeated the practice of Oldham and offered financial inducements to the original Stoke to resign their position, and the stench of corruption at the time was strong enough to compel Stoke to publicly deny any wrongdoing had taken place. Nothing proven of course, similar to no bribery accusations being proven against Sir Henry Norris, but as all Arsenal fans know, mud sticks.

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