By Tony Attwood
How can one friendly match from the early 20th century against Tottenham be singled out as being of special significance? I’ll try and explain.
The match in question was on 24 May 1919, and the fact that it took place tells us a lot about the events of the era, and suggests that the enmity that is thought to have existed at all levels between the clubs at the time might not have been quite as deep as we might presume.
First, a spot of background drawn from elsewhere on this site.
Football matches between Arsenal and Tottenham started in November 1887 – with Royal Arsenal being under one year old. The teams played just 15 miles apart, so games between the sides were an obvious proposition, and were played regularly until 1889 when Arsenal beat Tottenham 10-1.
After that there was a pause until 1896 when there was a rapid series of friendlies, followed by the first non-friendly games – which were in the United League.
The final match for Woolwich Arsenal in the United League was a 2-3 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur on 29 April 1899 in front of 7000 spectators. The following season both clubs entered the Southern District Combination, a competition that lasted for just one season.
This competition also ended with a game against Tottenham on 24 April 1900 at Plumstead. The match was abandoned after 65 minutes due to abusive language from the crowd. Woolwich Arsenal was ordered to post notices instructing the crowd to behave properly, but the referee was also criticised for his handling of the game. The game was not replayed.
In 1913, as we know, Arsenal moved to Highbury. Further animosity between the clubs culminated on 26 May 1913 when Tottenham’s demand for an EGM of league clubs to stop Arsenal’s move was defeated at League’s AGM. The League had in fact ruled in relation to the proposed move of Woolwich Arsenal to Fulham, at its AGM in 1910, that it had no control over where the clubs played, only over which division they played in.
But we must also remember that objections of this type were if not commonplace, not that unusual. Orient joined with Tottenham in making the objection to the move, and Tottenham had also successfully objected to Chelsea’s application for a place in the Southern League in 1905. (Chelsea then immediately applied for a place in the Football League and this was granted).
So these were negative times with a lot of animosity between the clubs – and perhaps a difference of viewpoint too. We know that Norris valued having rival clubs nearby arguing, correctly as it turned out, that the proximity of clubs would keep football in the local papers every day of the week, in a way that having just one local club could not. Tottenham obviously saw things differently.
After the move of Woolwich Arsenal to Highbury, the clubs didn’t play each other in the football league, Arsenal being in the second division, Tottenham in the first, but they were drawn together in the London FA Challenge Cup, and then, perhaps surprisingly played a friendly at White Hart Lane in August 1914.
This shows a certain amount of forgiveness and the crowd of 13,564 must have been very encouraging for such a friendly at a time of heightened tension on the international front.
Then during the war years a real bond between the clubs evolved with Tottenham using Highbury for wartime friendlies.
But then there was another set back over the issue of Arsenal’s election to the first division upon the expansion of the league. I won’t repeat the details here – save to say that many of the assumptions made about what happened have been proven by an examination of the records to be wrong.
Finally on 24 May 1919 Arsenal played a friendly at home against Tottenham. This was just 10 weeks after the election of Arsenal to the first division and the relegation of Tottenham to the second. Playing this friendly seems quite extraordinary, given the amount of animosity we are led to believe existed between the clubs.
The fact that it took place suggests (no more than that – just a suggestion) that Tottenham’s anger at their relegation after coming bottom of the league in 1915, when football stopped due to the war, emerged later.
Tottenham were promoted back to the first division at the first attempt, and after that matches between the two sides became more intense. But that friendly on 24 May 1919 just ten after Arsenal had been elected to the first division and Tottenham relegated to the second, is quite telling, I think.
Here are the other anniversaries for 24 May…
24 May 1890: Ernest Williamson born. He was signed by Arsenal from Croydon Common after that club became the only Southern League club that failed to return to football after the cessation of the first world war.
24 May 1899: Horace Cope born near Sheffield. He joined Arsenal in 1926 from Notts County and was a regular player for three seasons before dropping to the reserves as Chapman strengthened his squad further.
24 May 1912: Arsenal lost an end of season friendly away to Tottenham 0-4. Although stories were circulating about Arsenal moving away from Plumstead there was no suggestion as yet that Islington would be the destination.
24 May 1919: Daniel Burgess signed from Goldenhill Wanderers and made his league debut on 1 September 1919 in a league match against Liverpool.
24 May 1919: Arsenal played a friendly at home against Tottenham. This is of note for although hostilities between the clubs over Arsenal’s move north had been ended during the war years with Tottenham using Highbury for wartime friendlies the bad feeling had reopened 10 weeks before this game. This was due to Arsenal’s election to the first division in preference to Tottenham upon the expansion of the league.
24 May 1935: Bernard Joy joined Arsenal as an amateur from Fulham. He started out with the reserves but played twice for the first team at the end of the 1935/6 season. By 1937 he was a regular, but still an amateur.
24 May 1939: George Male and Wilf Copping made final appearance for England in the 2-0 victory away to Romania. It was England’s last full international for seven years. Male finally ended with 19 caps and Copping 20.
24 May 1953: Last appearance for Ray Daniel in a post-season friendly – Arsenal 1 Rapid Vienna 6. The rigours of the season with the win on the final day were clearly taking their toll.
24 May 1975: Alan Ball played his 72nd and last game for England as England beat Scotland 5-1. He was captain of England 30 times.
24 May 2009: Vito Mannone’s first team debut; it finished Arsenal 4 Stoke 1 and Arsenal ended the season in 4th securing Champions League football once more. The crowd of 60,082 made the average league attendance 60,109 for the season – the highest average home crowd for Arsenal up to that point.
24 May 2010. After a considerable period of rumour Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote denied moving to buy a 15.9% stake in Arsenal. The matter was dropped by the press within a day and not heard from again.