Arsenal vs Tottenham: How The North London Derby Started

The North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham has to be one of the most exciting football games in English football.

It delivers exceptional goals, staggering saves, and some remarkable individual performances.

The reason for that has to be the exceptional rivalry between the clubs.

Players do not want to face the embarrassment of losing to their arch-rivals.

And to be perfectly honest, this fierce competition is not out of place. There is history to all this.

Just go to any Spurs fan forum and one name you will notice the senior fans mention with contempt has to be that of Henry Norris. More on that in a bit.

Before that, let us briefly go through the history of Arsenal in the early days.
Early Days of Arsenal

The story of Arsenal starts with David Danskin, a mechanical engineer working at the Royal Arsenal munitions factory.

The Scotsman with his three friends decided to create a football club. And so in October 1886, Dial Square FC was formed.

The club was named so after one of the workshops in the factory. Soon enough, the name was changed to Royal Arsenal after the factory they worked in.The shirts came from Nottingham Forest and the classic red shirt became synonymous with Royal Arsenal.

Royal Arsenal found their first home in The Manor Ground in Woolwich on the outskirts of London.

After becoming professional, the Royal Arsenal players were again discontented with their name and finally settled on Woolwich Arsenal.

After achieving professional status in 1893, the club started in the second division and drew their first ever professional game 2-2 vs Newcastle.

Woolwich Arsenal played in the second division for more than a decade after which they won promotion to the first division in 1903-04.

But the problem for Arsenal in the early 1900s was the minimal attendance and the financial troubles they had to face.

The good old days when all the revenue of a football club came from matchday income!

So to bail Arsenal out came a shrewd businessman Sir Henry Norris.

The Intriguing Henry Norris

To say that Henry Norris had a colourful past might be an understatement.

As Fulham’s director, his work in taking the club from the semi-professional Southern League till Division Two in no time was met with suspicion.

And after the takeover of Arsenal, his first impulse was to merge the two London clubs. Unfortunately, or fortunately (!), that move was blocked by the authorities.

So next he decided to salvage the existing club. And how? There was only one way.

Manor Ground was not getting enough revenue for the club and was on the outskirts of the city with not enough population ready to watch the club.

So he made a bold move. He decided to move North in London to tap into a more populated region near Islington, Finsbury, and Hackney.

The identified new home was the sports ground of the church owned land at St. Johns College of Divinity Highbury.

And with the exceptional bureaucratic links of Norris, the paperwork was done and dusted.

But of course, this move was met with resistance, both internal and external.

The Highbury Hostility

The local supporters thought that the club was Woolwich based and should not be uprooted so emphatically. Some compared it to moving Liverpool to Manchester!

The residents of Highbury also had their reservations with all the clamour of a football club in their neighbourhood.

Again, Norris addressed their concerns by telling them about how it is a great financial opportunity with more than 30000 people coming to watch games every weekend.

There were the church authorities who thought that football was an ungodly act and selling church land for it should not be permitted.

In any case, the land was leased for £20k for a total of 25 years, a sum sure to help out with the church expenses.

Finally, there were direct North London rivals Tottenham, perhaps the greatest hindrance to the move.

The Tottenham Herald stated that Norris was an interloper, an outsider ready to steal from Tottenham.

Chelsea and Clapton Orient also joined in with Tottenham taking the matter to the FA.

Fortunately for Arsenal, the FA declared that Tottenham had no right to interfere in this matter.

Ultimately, the Tottenham Herald appealed to supporters not to go watch the Woolwich Interlopers.

Of course, there was the instance when Norris lobbied to get Spurs relegated, but that is a story for another day!

Slowly but surely, Norris got Arsenal onto their feet. The seed of the rivalry was sown and so the North London Derby began.

There have been raucous instances since then, but these days, the rivalry remains limited to the pitch providing us some exceptional entertainment.

The Future’s Arsenal
From this historical context, it is easy to see why Tottenham hate Arsenal and Sir Henry Norris so much.

As for Arsenal, the rivalry with Spurs has not stopped them from becoming the third most successful club in the English game.

Ultimately, for us football fans, if Henry Norris had not salvaged Woolwich Arsenal, it would have been tough for the club to survive.

And we would not have seen the kind of football we have come to associate with Arsenal. So with everything that happened at the time, we are not complaining!