IT'S A FACT: Mutual loathing between Arsenal and Spurs fans

PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:02 07 September 2010

Why do football fans with a choice choose one club over another? A new book attempts to answer that question – and, of course, it s not simple, as David Crozier discovers IF you were only going to win two games in the season, they had to be the two

Why do football fans with a choice choose one club over another? A new book attempts to answer that question - and, of course, it's not simple, as David Crozier discovers

'IF you were only going to win two games in the season, they had to be the two against Arsenal. There was no way you would do anything less than go out and die against the Gunners."

So said Pat Jennings, the Spurs legend who later played for archrivals Arsenal, neatly summing up the importance of 'derby' football matches.

But it's not just in north London that this rivalry thrives. Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield and many other large cities or areas with two football clubs all batten down the hatches on derby day as opposing sets of fans get geared up for the most important games of the season - those which in addition to a few league points carry with them bragging rights for the city itself.

The Rivals Game: Inside the British Derby by Douglas Beattie (Know the Score! £17.99) aims to get inside the local derby in all those places and more, in an attempt to find out how these rivalries started and, indeed, why it is that football supporters choose one club rather than another in a city with two. Some people choose the club their Dad or Mum supports - but just as many deliberately go the other way (which must lead to some interesting discussions on derby day!) But why?

Beattie, an award-winning BBC news journalist, spent two years researching eight local rivalries - including that in north London - in an attempt to find out what leads to such passions and why, when to many it's only a game (!), such local pride is so important.

Of course, there isn't one answer to this - which makes the book a frustrating read at times. But it also makes it a fascinating one.

The Arsenal-Spurs hostilities began more or less as the First World War hostilities ended. It's a complicated story (one which Beattie tells in all its glory in the book) but essentially Arsenal ended up in 1919 promoted to a newly-expanded First Division (where they'd never been before) despite finishing the previous season fifth in the Second Division, while Spurs, formed in 1882, found themselves relegated to Division Two. Quite how this happened seems to have had less to do with football and more to do with a persuasive owner and the Freemasons, but whatever. It began a feeling of injustice which continues to this day.

Of course Spurs didn't take it lying down and the team was galvanised to win the Second Division in record-breaking style and in 1921, back in the top league, they finished above Arsenal AND won the FA Cup, making them unquestionably the top team in north London... until Herbert Chapman arrived at Highbury four years later - but that's a whole different story.


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