Friday, April 21, 2006

Tottenham: The Georgia Tech of The Premiership

Arsenal-Tottenham Hotspur.
Saturday 21 April.
4.30 a.m. PST. Fox Soccer Channel.

As a Georgia football fan, for many years I have explained our hatred healthy disklike for our 4 major rivals thusly: Losing to Florida, Auburn, or Tennessee is like losing to your similar aged or older brother - you hate it but you accept that they are good enough that there is not any shame in losing to them. Losing to Georgia Tech is like losing to your little sister - there's just no way it should happen, and when it does it is just plain embarrassing. Arsenal is very similar: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool = big brother. Tottenham = little sister. Like GT to UGA, Tottenham likes to think that their rivalry with Arsenal is one of equals, and they have a bit of the same inferiority/resentment complex that exits on North Avenue.

She (and game officials) kicked me in the nuts in
1998 and 1999; in 2000 she didn't need any help

Arsenal-Tottenham is known as the North London Derby because both teams are situated only 4 miles apart in northeast London. In this respect the rivalry is huge, simply because of geography, in the same way that UNC-Duke is huge, because Chapel Hill & Durham are 8 miles apart. In most other aspects the SAT football analogy would be:

Arsenal : Tottenham :: Georgia : Georgia Tech

Since the arrival of Arsene Wenger at in 1997, Arsenal have never finished lower than 2nd in the Premiership (out of 20 teams), while winning the title in 1998, 2002, and 2004, when the "invincibles" went through the entire 38 match season without losing, something that no English football team in any division had ever done. Add to that FA Cup wins in 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2005, and you are talking about one of the 2 best teams of the last decade. Tottenham, nicknamed Spurs (short for Hotspur), or for the hardcore, Sp*rs - not so much. They have been underachieving for years even though financially they are in the same league as Arsenal. In fact, during the Wenger era at Arsenal, Tottenham have spent more money on players but have little to show for it. They have NEVER finished in the top 6 of the Premiership, which began in 1993, and have done little else, except for winning the League Cup once, which is a different Cup competition from the FA Cup that is so meaningless that the big clubs (Arsenal, ManUtd, Liverpool, Chelsea) don't even play their best players in but rather kids to give them some experience. As one might think, Arsenal have dominated Tottenham in the last 10 years in the same way that UGA has owned Ga. Tech (when you throw out the 3 years that Tech beat cheated, which the Catholic Church NCAA now says never happened).

Always illegitimate, ultimately annulled.

Well, this year is a little different. Arsenal have been rebuilding with a new team full of very young players, so their league performances have been inconsistent and they currently find themselves in 5th place in the league. Tottenham on the other hand are enjoying their best season in many, many moons and sit 4th. Of course Arsenal fans are laughing that Spurs fans are so excited about the prospect of maybe finishing 4th for the first time in 15 years while Arsenal have been contesting for and winning titles left and right. Kind of like how Arsenal fans laughed in 2001 when Tottenham's best player Sol Campbell left Tottenham to join Arsenal because he knew he would have a better chance to win trophies at Highbury. The next season Arsenal won "the double" (both Premiership & FA Cup) while Spurs continued to suck. The best part was he left on a free transfer, so Spurs not only lost their best player to their biggest rival, but they were not compensated at all financially for it either.

Yes, Sol, you did.

Or how in 2001 in Arsenal +Sol Campbell's 1st match at White Heart Lane some Spurs supporters attacked the Arsenal bus throwing rocks, breaking windows and the like, only to find out afterwards that when Arsenal play away to Tottenham, Spurs lend Arsenal their team bus, so they actually damaged their own team's bus. Or how in 2004 Arsenal capped their unbeaten season by clinching the premiership title in White Hart Lane, Tottenham's very own stadium - the ultimate humulation.

Taunting: A+ Spelling: C-

Tomorrow is not only the final North London Derby ever at 93 year old Highbury, but it is the most important one in a long, long time and here is why: 4th place in the Premiership qualifies for next year's Champions League, which means 1) prestige 2) millions of pounds sterling from TV rights (25 million by some estimates). Unlike the squirrel from the other night, Spurs have never played in a Champions League match because they don't hand those out for finishing 12th in the league. So 4th is a really big deal for them. Likewise for Arsenal, as they have never failed to qualify for the Champions League since 1998, and failing to qualify this year may very well lead to the departure of their best player, and currently best striker in the world, Thierry Henry.

TH14 celebrates his wonder goal on 2001
in front of the Tottenham supporters

Tottenham: 35 games played, 61 points
Arsenal: 34 games played, 57 points

As it stands today, Arsenal are in 5th, 4 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Additionally, Arsenal gave a "game in hand", meaning they have four remaining games to Spurs three. So tomorrow's match is huge. If Arsenal win and take 3 points, they will be only 1 point behind but with the game in hand they will control their destiny: Two wins and a draw in their final three matches and Spurs cannot catch them even if they win out after tomorrow.

So there it is. Tomorrow's match is very, very large.

Oh, here's the best bit. Arsenal are only 90 minutes away from reaching the Champions League Final of this year's competition. The rules state that the Champion automatically qualifies for the following year's competition. If the champion does not finish high enough in their league to qualify, then they take the place of the last qualifier in the league. This means that a supreme Nelson from The Simpsons scenario exists: that Tottenham finish 4th and get all excited about qualifying for the Champions League for the first time at their biggest rival's expense, only for Arsenal to win the Champions League this year and knock them out of the competition altogether.

"Ha ha!"

I'd rather not deal with the stress of such a situaton, because if they do make it to the Champions League Final then that will be the biggest match in the history of the club so there will be plenty of pressure & anxiousness already, thank you. I would much rather that the lads do the business tomorrow, get the three points, and remind little sister Spurs who their big brother is.


Anonymous said...

Dang....Here I am going to wish the arse good luck, and now I have this sneaking suspicion that I should be pulling for the Spurs. When did they move from San Antonio?

Kanu said...


If you pull for the S.A. Spurs, then you can't win for losing. That Manu Ginobli dude who plays for San Antonio is mates with TH14, who has even been spotted in the crowd at Spurs games when he is 'on holiday' in the U.S.*

*lots of football players like to come to the US in the offseason because so few people here recognize them, so they go from getting the Tiger Woods treatment to getting the me treatment, and are thus able to enjoy their vacations incognito.

Anonymous said...

Think you might be off on that one, Kanu.

If I am not mistaken, the member of the other "Sp*rs" that TH14 is friends with is his French compatriot, Tony Parker.

Kanu said...

Ahh, yes. Thanks for the correction Solon - you are spot on.

Anonymous said...

Comparing the Spurs with Tech is a bit unfair for Tech isn't it? Tech was really really really good once upon a time (they had some pretty good coaches in their history), the Spurs "golden era" consisted of 2 FA Cup wins.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to both sides, Sp*rs won the title in 1961, I believe, and GT hasn't been good since the 1950's. And that includes the 1990 team.

Anonymous said...

As a UNC fan, I have to agree. I relish in the fact that the 1 at the end of Tech record that year was generated by a mediocre UNC team. You can't be Nat'l Champs after tying a team that was 2-20 the past 2 seasons.

Anonymous said...

That was just a bad year for CFB overall. Considering the other "champion" was a CU team that needed 5 downs to beat Mizzou. Can't we all just agreed to refer to that year as a year of "mutual attrition" where no team deserved to be champions?

Kanu said...

In Colorado's defense, they did spike the ball on what they were told was 3rd down, which was in reality their 4th down. Point being, Johnson never would have spiked the ball if they knew it was 4th down - only Reggie Ball would do something like that.

Anonymous said...

Should there be a Salary Cap in Football?
Personally I think there should be! It’s just getting to be stupid money in football at the top of the premiership!
It’s always the same teams at the top proving that football success is based purely on money which ruins the idea of it being a sport! They’ve done it in rugby, basketball, hockey and American football and it makes the sports more competitive and better to watch!
I do a little Online Spread Betting from time to time and most matches don’t hold much surprise who is going to win, its boring! I want to see a team at the bottom pulling off an amazing season beating last seasons winners in a close fought battle!
Make things fair! It shouldn’t be about money!

LukeySpur said...

Amusing to stumble upon these slightly skewed ramblings about North London football from so many thousands of miles away. You don't understand the rivalry, how could you, you don't know London. I'm not sure if the analogy with your favourite College American Football teams works or not, I have no interest in that game, especially not the college version – but your understanding of the Spurs/Ar5ena1 rivalry is slightly wide of the mark...

It's based on more than the average geographical reasons for local rivalries. Arsenal moved from South London to the other end of the Seven Sisters Road (about 4 miles from White Hart Lane) in 1913 and their corrupt owner (Norris, later banned for life from being involved in football) basically spent the next 10 years trying to put Tottenham out of business. All a long time ago, but the level of dislike that kind of stuff breeds doesn't just go away... you also have to consider that football in England is much more tribal than any American sports and the atmosphere a lot more intense, the hatred is very real – and it's always been a little bit fiercer from the Tottenham side.

Also, the two clubs have always been roughly the same size in terms of support and finance – Ar5ena1 have obviously won significantly more league titles and have been streets ahead of Spurs sine the formation of the Premier League (which I imagine covers the whole of your interest in English football). But that represents less than 10% of the two clubs history... some other facts: Spurs were the first British team to win a European trophy and have won more of them than Ar5ena1 (3 to 2 – that's even with the 15+ years of extra attempts Ar5ena1 have had); Spurs have won a trophies in every decade since the 1950's; before the formation of the Premier League/Champions League the big 4 didn't exist, the big 5 were considered to be – Liverpool, Everton, Man Utd, Arsenal & Spurs.

Tottenham fans are generally accused of living in the past, which is many ways is probably fair considering the last 15 years of under achievement – but what is sport without history? And when does that history stop counting? Ar5enal have won nothing for 5 years... at what point does that become Ar5enal have won nothing full stop?

To distant fans and glory hunters like yourself, the rivalry is meaningless and based on recent history, uncompetitive – to real fans of both clubs, it's bigger than any other rivalry in football/sport...