The North London Derby Still Matters
It`s North London derby time again and those familiar old feelings are stirring again. The feelings of fear, trepidation, nerves, with scattered confidence during the afternoon soon giving away to the dark clouds of nausea at nightfall. Recent history suggests that I have little recourse for these feelings. During my lifetime Spurs have seldom challenged Arsenal`s dominance in terms of trophies and league position. Particularly in the Wenger era, where Tottenham have only beaten Arsenal once. In the last eleven years a most pleasing transformation has occurred, the Gunners` have not only shown their rivals a clean pair of heels in the race for prizes, but they have usurped their oft lauded neighbours aesthetically. I am still old enough to remember when Arsenal were considered Tottenham`s more successful, yet infinitely less attractive bastard brother. Even in the Graham era, which bore the fruits of success, Spurs were still universally admired by the media for their commitment to beautiful football. Spurs were the club of Nicholson`s 'Push and Run` dynamic, Greaves, the affable Lineker, the lovable Gascoigne and the balletic Hoddle. Even the rabidly right wing press took a shine to Spurs foreign legion of Ardilles and Villa. Arsenal were the club who, under the guidance of Herbert Chapman, added an extra defender to popular formations of the thirties, the team who muscled their way into North London under questionable pretences as allegations of corruption and bribery dogged their shady owner Henry Norris. Our turgid style of football, together with our nomadery made us fair game for the suspicion and hostility of the neutral. We were football`s answer to the Sex Pistols.
Recently, the North London derby has descended into a chance for Arsenal to have a good laugh at their less fortunate neighbours and for Spurs to exorcise their gargantuan inferiority complex. As much as Arsenal fans can be arrogant and dismissive, Spurs fans can be ignorant and insipid. It can be a fractious mix, as the tales of this forum will testify. But despite Arsenal`s cultural and trophy laden dominance, this fixture still means more to me than most. It still fills me with that anticipation and anger and I still love it and hate it all at the same time. To borrow a line from a Spurs song, it`s still enough to make my heart go woooooah. Whilst I love to beat Chelsea and Manchester United as much as the next Gooner, those rivalries are a consequence of sporting dominance that will eventually evaporate. The North London derby, whilst not more important than that per se, goes a bit further, it burrows under your skin that little bit more. It divides families and workplaces. As I compose this piece in my office near North London, my current landscape is made up of four Arsenal fans and three Tottenham fans, my own family is pretty much a 50-50 split between the two clubs, sisters are pitted against brother, mothers against children, whilst somewhere beyond the grave grandfathers grit their post mortal teeth at one another. The thought of defeat twists my stomach in knots, particularly in the digital age, with the barrage of text messages and e mails, the thought of this forum being polluted by the baying hoards of gloating Spuds. With so many of my colleagues aware of the fixture, calling in sick on Monday morning is no more an option than throwing myself off of a cliff. I still remember watching Gazza`s free kick fly in from thirty five yards, Freddie kicking the doors off of the referee`s room at the Lane, Chris Armstrong and Gheorge Popescu`s late winners. The prospect of that sinking feeling returning recedes my thick, full hairline and leaves my stubble flecked grey. As any male of the species will tell you, pride can be an all consuming emotion that dominates ones critical faculties.
In the build up to the game, I seldom allow myself to entertain the thought of victory, frightened of the remote possibility that I might jinx it, or simply set myself up for a fall. Yet I find my mind occasionally wandering back to Tony Adams` header in 1993, or his swish volley in 96. Kanu`s trickery at the Lane, the 2004 title celebrations, Lasagnegate and Adebayor`s swivel and smash volley. Tempers on the pitch reflect those in the stands, who could forget in 2002, when Sheringham kicked out at arch nemesis Sol Campbell and the usually unflappable Gunners` border jumper lurched over his prone figure, pulled him up by his lapelles and screamed in his face? Or when Gilberto and Eboue lay stricken on the turf and Tottenham carried on to help themselves to an ill gotten goal? The row between Tottenham and Arsenal directors over Carling Cup ticket allocations? This is still a fixture that brings out the beast in all of us. Already excited nerves are contorted and twisted beyond recognition as ordinary, affable human beings become glorified swear boxes, balls of bitter rage. (One cannot help but conjure the image of Jol and Wenger eyeballing one another in the Highbury sunshine).
There is a prevalent history to this occasion that exceeds most of our lifetimes, (not Fat Old Dave, he used to go and watch us when we played in my native Plumstead. In fact, he remembers when the Highbury Barn was actually a barn!) yet it sits neatly under our skin, bubbling away like lava in our veins ready to explode. No matter what the fortunes of the two sides in any given period of history, you don`t remove something like that; it`s like a tattoo we are all born with. Henry Norris might have shed this mortal coil in the early sixties (perhaps symbolically Tottenham`s most successful period and Arsenal`s worst), but his legacy ensures that this fixture will never recede in its intensity. To say that this fixture is the one I want to win the most is inaccurate, victories over Chelsea and United at this juncture are much more crucial, but this is the fixture I least want to lose. So here it comes again, Spurs, the club of Chas 'n` Dave, visit the Arsenal, the club of Johnny Rotten. I just hope against hope that come two thirty tomorrow, following the filth and the fury, Arsenal`s dominance continues unabated. Ah, God save the mad parade.LD.