Red Sox and Yankees? Child’s play. Michigan and Ohio St.? A little tiff. Lakers and Celtics? A lover’s quarrel. If you want a real rivalry, one that’s been going on for over 125 years, you actually have to go across the pond, and check out the EPL’s (English Premier League) North London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
These two teams might as well be named Hatfield and McCoy for the way they feel about each other.
Duke vs. North Carolina ain’t got nothing on these two clubs, who may not be separated by a different shade of blue, but more like four miles within the same section of London and a century-plus of pure unadulterated animosity.
On November 19, 1887 these two teams met for the first time on the pitch, a 1-0 win by the Spurs in a game shortened by darkness. Since then these two teams have plain hated each other. It goes so far that any player who leaves one side and joins the other is soundly booed and the fans even go so far as chanting “Judas” at the player who has changed sides.
I have never heard of two teams in a rivalry celebrating when the other team is eliminated, or when they won a huge match. But these two teams do just that. Arsenal fans celebrate St. Totteringham’s day which is the day in the season when Tottenham cannot mathematically finish above Arsenal on the league table, while Spurs fans had long before declared 14 April to be St. Hotspur day in honor of Spurs’ 3–1 win over Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final.
St. Hotspur Day was also celebrated on 14 April 2010, when Spurs beat Arsenal 2–1.
Both clubs also have extensive fan bases throughout the UK and the rest of the world. Arsenal fans call themselves “Gooners” – a reworking of the club’s “Gunners” nickname (itself a reference to Arsenal’s origins as a munitions factory team). Spurs fans call themselves “yids” – a reference to the fact that, because of the large Jewish community in the vicinity of their ground, hooligans of many other clubs back in the 1970s and 1980s directed Anti-Semitic chants at Spurs fans. Spurs fans (whether Jewish or not) adopted the words “yid” and “yiddo” for themselves and thereby turned a negative into a term of pride and belonging.
Of late, the rivalry has become a little one-sided with Arsenal being one of the elite teams in the EPL, while Tottenham has been good, but just not quite the elite team Arsenal is. That is, until this season. Through 26 games this season, both squads have 51 points, but Tottenham is ahead of Arsenal due to a plus-nine goal differential, but circle March 5th on your calendar as these two bitter rivals go at it again.
Is this the year the Spurs can actually win it all in the EPL? Will they finish ahead of the hated Gunners? As of this writing, it would seem so as the Spurs have been playing wonderful football, and just came off beating one of the elite EPL clubs in Man City, 2-1.
Of course, a lot will depend on that March 5th clash at White Hart Lane. While Julius Caesar may have failed to heed the ides of March roughly 2,000 years ago, make no mistake, the Spurs will certainly not against their most hated enemy in the Gunners.