There’s [Not] Only One Team In London

arse-spursThe rivalry between Manchester clubs is constantly being reviewed and highlighted in this modern era of football which sees the two clubs constantly battling each other at the summit of English football. However, with Manchester City’s poor form resulting in a 12 point defecit to United in the League, being out of Europe completely and the small chance of re-capturing the FA Cup, the spotlight has switched to the rivalry in the south. Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are in a three way dogfight to be crowned the top London team in the Premier League.

The history of London’s top club may be quite surprising. From 1904 Woolwich Arsenal entered the football league as the only London club, a league dominated by teams from the north, and finished a commendable 10th out of 18, and thus the first ever top London club. Next on the scene were Chelsea, whom in their first season finished above Arsenal, thus taking their first crown as top London club. But history of football this far back is too dismissive. The post-war era gives this battle more content.

In the 1946/47 season. the Gunners celebrated the end of the war by finishing 13th out of 22, ahead of Chelsea, Charlton Athletic and Brentford. Since then Arsenal have been the dominant force in London, finishing as London’s top club 31 times. Tottenham Hotspur went on to dominate London during the 50s and 60s earning the title 10 times in those decades, but merely four more times to the current date, whereas Chelsea’s recent run from  the 2004/05 – 10/11 has seen them earn the title 13 times in total. In this post-war era, only Queen’s Park Rangers (6 times), West Ham United (1985/86) and Fulham (1982/83) have taken the title.

In the Premier League era, only once have the top 3 been displaced. QPR’s last fling as top London club came at the start of the Premier League in 1992/93, a promising 5th place that failed to herald a new dawn for the Loftus Road outfit, but actually signalled the start of their demise.

ashley_cole-v-sign2The difference between these top three London sides is narrowing by each season, with Tottenham’s game improving almost at the same rate at which Arsenal and Chelsea have faltered. Although Tottenham have finished above Chelsea previously (notably last season when despite finishing fourth, Chelsea’s victory in Europe denied them another Champions League place), they haven’t finished above Arsenal since the 1995/96 season. This run has inspired a tradition amongst Arsenal fans known as ‘St. Totteringham’s Day’, the day in the calendar year that it is mathematically impossible for Tottenham to finish above Arsenal. This run-in holds much promise for Tottenham fans of ending a run which has gone to the final day in the past two out of three seasons.

So who are the favourites? With 11 league games to go Chelsea are slight favourites across the bookmakers, albeit a best bet of EVENS with Ladbrokes. Tottenham just edge Arsenal in the rest of the betting, but it is fair to say this whole market hinges on the result at White Hart Lane this weekend when Arsene Wenger’s under pressure side attempt to re-ignite not only their season, but his career.

Bragging rights is a big deal in football, arguably the fundamental element of competitive sport. You may often hear fans debating ‘down the pub’ whether they want their domestic rivals to do well in Europe. Last season’s Champions League victory for Chelsea directly affected Tottenham, relegating them to the Europa League, but this incident aside, one English team’s success in Europe can only benefit the status of English football, so why is there a debate?

The reason is bragging rights. On a day to day basis, Arsenal fans do not have to face Real Madrid fans. Man Utd fans do not have face AC Milan fans. Chelsea fans do not have to face Barcelona fans. However, how many times have you had to put up with hearing Chelsea fans singing “Champions of Europe”? How many times have you heard Liverpool fans talk about THAT Milan game? The truth is, we don’t really want other English teams to do well… because on any given Sunday, they’re our rivals.

judas_1009843cAnd that rivalry, can sometimes turn nasty. “Let’s be honest, I don’t like Arsenal… I don’t want them to win anything… it’s a North London rivalry, that’s all” Teddy Sheringham. “That’s all” might be playing it down a little bit. Following Sol Campbell’s move from Tottenham to Arsenal, fans created a hanging effigy of the player, and posted his phone number online encouraging abuse, and berated him in the ground. The furore from Arsenal fans wasn’t dissimilar following “Cashley” Cole’s move from Arsenal to Chelsea. Let’s not leave the Chelsea fans out of it either, with this young man being arrested following the last fixture between Tottenham and Chelsea, his motive being footballing rivalries alone.

Bragging rights… this season’s climax promises to be intense.

By Stephen Lee

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