Tottenham Hotspur: the years of endless failure

By Tony Attwood

This is the third in a series of articles comparing the history of Tottenham H and Arsenal.

I’ve already noted how Tottenham tried to invent new League rules to stop Arsenal moving to north London, while they played in Middlesex, and how they have totally re-written history to suggest that in 1919 they should have stayed in the first division after finishing bottom of the league.

And how they sank into second division oblivion in the inter-war years while Arsenal became the greatest team of all time, notching up league and cup wins through an entire decade.

But what of the post war years? The Tinies won the league in 1951 and 1961 – the latter being a double.  For the first time since 1921 they had done something Arsenal had not done (in ’21 they won the Cup for the second time).

I was watching football by 1961 and I remember the era in general terms.  Arsenal had won the league 1953, with Tottenham coming 10th which seemed to take us back to the natural order of Arsenal dominance even though Arsenal then slipped back into mid table:

  • 1954 Arsenal 12th and Tottenham 16th
  • 1955 Arsenal 9th and Tottenham 16th
  • 1956 Arsenal 5th and Tottenham 18th
  • 1957 Arsenal 5th and Tottenham 2nd
  • 1958 Arsenal 12th and Tottenham 3rd
  • 1959 Arsenal 3rd and Tottenham 18th
  • 1960 Arsenal 13th and Tottenham 3rd
  • 1961 Arsenal 11th and Tottenham 1st

With the Tinies doing the double in 1961 (which Arsenal had never done) and becoming the first club in the 20th century ever to do this, Tottenham announced to the world that they were now the kings of football.  They won the cup the following year, but there were no more league wins.

And that was their problem.  They set themselves up as if they were going to outdo the Arsenal of the 1930s – and they utterly failed to do this.

In fact in 2010/11 we celebrate 50 years since the last time Tottenham won the league.

In one sense this quick dropping away from the top of the tree didn’t matter since Arsenal’s day had gone, as our league positions from 1961-2 onwards shows…

10th, 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th, 7th, 9th, 4th, 12th

That last one (12th) was in 1969/70 and didn’t really give a hint of what was to happen the following year – we won the double.

For Tottenham this was a huge blow – the one thing they had done was to be the only team to win the double in the 20th century – but now Arsenal had done it too.  With just two little league titles, and a handful of cup wins, Arsenal had yet again stolen their thunder.

And worse above all things, Arsenal won the league by beating Tottenham at White Hart Lane on May 3 1971.

Cue whines about Arsenal moving to Highbury in 1913

Start calling the club “Woolwich Arsenal” again as if that were some sort of insult rather than a tribute to our long journey.

Rant about how having come bottom of the league in 1915, they were then relegated in 1919 when football started up again after the year.  (That really is the craziest campaign of all time – and yet they have most of the football world thinking they were wronged!)

From here on it has been downhill all the way for Tottenham who seemed to give up the notion of building a team to overtake Arsenal and instead looked for other approaches.

For Tottenham the 70s were a desperate time.   It started off looking as maybe they could rival Arsenal with them winning the league cup twice (1971 and 1973) and then winning the UEFA in the middle of that little spell.

But as they once again failed to build on a little period of success, so they took solace in the only way they could: Arsenal had had a great team at the start of the 1970s, but we faded quickly, and by 1975 we ended up 15th.

And this was the moment when all the inward-looking approach came to the fore once more, and Tottenham turned on Arsenal.  True, they managed to win the cup a couple of times at the start of the 1980s – following Arsenal’s victory in 1979 (in the midst of the three cup finals run), but otherwise it was all inward looking and middle of the road.

Until 1986 when Arsenal brought in the manager of Millwall.


The story of Arsenal and Tottenham continues in the next post.  Earlier episodes of this story are at…

How Tottenham has taken over Arsenal’s history

Tottenham and Arsenal, the inter war years

And you might also like

Arsenal Today

Arsenal in 1910 – the wildest football book ever published

Index to other articles on this site

4 Replies to “Tottenham Hotspur: the years of endless failure”

  1. The one thing you fail to address is where Arsenal and Spurs were when Heysel happened.

    Arsenal were at a nadir, whereas Spurs came 2nd in the League in 1985, won the UEFA Cup in 1984 and were well positioned as a club at just the time when English football was hit for six for a decade.

    It’s really noticeable that the teams that emerged at that time were all big clubs down on their luck. Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Leeds. There was an opportunity to catch up domestically at a time when no European money would come in for their competitors. Sure, you had to do it, but it’s easier to totally start again from a position of failure than from a club which nearly won the League. And if you can do it without financial apartheid, then it’s a lot less difficult than trying to do it now.

    It’s really quite surprising that Arsenal supporters, whose club won 13 titles and many, many Cups feel so inferior to Spurs that they need to write denigrating article after denigrating article.

    Real superiority breeds authority, not spite. Did you see British Athletics trashing the Germans this week? Or trashing the Spaniards? No. They showed they were top 4 in Europe, came 3rd and within a whisker of coming second (win the 4*100m and Britain were second) and took pride in their own performances without a hint of hatred for others.

    Perhaps you need to look deeper into your own souls to find out the reasons for it???? Can’t hack the possibility that Spurs might do quite well again?? So much for relishing a battle. Need to be royal courtiers treating the great unwashed with contempt?? Your choice, not mine……

    Because from where I sit, I see such a depth of pathetic hatred that I am seriously starting to question whether football folks are people I wish to associate with.

    Hatred is for killers, for psychopaths, for men who screw your daughter then dump her, for women who gain sadistic pleasure from tormenting young men. That’s what hatred is for.

    Hating someone for wearing a white shirt????

    What’s the difference between that and hating black c**ts because of the colour of their skin????

    Nothing, is there????

  2. Rhys,

    While I understand and agree with some of your points, I found it difficult to ascertain why you chose to utilise the word ‘hatred’ so widely to condemn the article and subsequently attack Arsenal supporters in general.

    Having read the article I cannot see any mention of hatred towards Spurs or Spurs fan. It seems you are somewhat bitter with the position you find your club when compared to your closest rivals. I certainly do not hate Spurs (why would I?) But I do thoroughly enjoy a completely healthy sense of competition against our natural geographic nemesis.

    To make racist comparisons just destroys what would have been a sensible and objective opinion on the over-arching impact of being excluded from European competition. You do yourself no credit with your assertions and do absolutely nothing to suggest that you are any better than the Arsenal fans that you unfairly describe.

    Might I suggest that it is you that perhaps harbors an element of hate, jealousy perhaps, maybe even resent against Arsenal which has now manifested itself in that utter piece of drivel you chose to submit?

  3. Rhys – I was going to answer your points until I read your ridiculous comparisons with racism. As it is all I’ll say is that Heysel caused Arsenal to miss out on the European Cup in 1989/90 – when did your team miss out on that?

  4. “Hating black c**ts because of the colour of their skin” sums it up. What happened to the word ‘people’?

    Rhys your language betrays you. Shame.

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