ESPN up their anti-Arsenal propaganda
By Tony Attwood
ESPN’s distaste for Arsenal was chronicled on Untold Arsenal last year when the station got the rights to show Everton v Arsenal. They packed the studio and gantry with Everton supporters and then, as Arsenal sauntered to their 1-6 victory, spent much of the match showing pictures of long time Everton supporters and saying it was a shame that Everton hadn’t won for their sake. In an era of biased commentary the match stands out as a landmark of lopsidedness.
But now they have gone much, much further with an article (link at the end) in which they supposedly look at the history of Arsenal and Tottenham.
They do the usual knocking by saying, for example, that Arsenal was the first “franchise” football club without bothering either to consider the definition of a “franchise” (was Bolton a franchise when it moved out of town) or the history other clubs that moved. Indeed they didn’t have to look far: Millwall left north London, crossed the river and ended up in Bermondsey about three years before Arsenal moved.
Later, spSpeaking of the decision to enlarge the football league at the end of the first world war they say,
“Tradition dictated the bottom two clubs from the previous season – Chelsea and Tottenham – would be handed a reprieve, and that the top two clubs in the Second Division – Derby and Preston – would be promoted.” I don’t agree that this is the case at all, and they present no evidence. The fact is that ups and downs at the time of league expansion, and at the time of clubs moving out of the league and being replaced by others, was by chairman’s vote. The league had only been expanded a couple of times before since the second division was invented, and so even if there was a tradition, it was a tradition built on two occurrences – not much of a tradition.
Looking at the detail of the relegation/promotion issue they say, “Certainly Chelsea were in a strong position, as the club had only fallen into the relegation zone in 1914-15 due to a notorious match-fixing scandal involving Manchester United and Liverpool. As events transpired, they retained their place without a vote being taken by the Football League at the crucial meeting because, as reports at the time stated, “the manner in which they lost their position before war interfered with the game is generally regarded as unsatisfactory.”
That’s interesting because that’s not a quote I have seen, but as with a lot of stuff in this piece, there is no source.
“Based partially on their longer service in the Football League (Arsenal were the first southern side to join in 1893), Norris argued that the Gunners were more deserving of a place than Tottenham, let alone Barnsley and Wolves who had both finished above them in the final Second Division season before the war. Following Arsenal’s lead, Nottingham Forest, Birmingham and Hull all submitted their own applications, and with the promoted Derby and Preston ushered into the top flight, a seven-way tussle was underway for the final place in the expanded 22-team division.
“The Daily Express recorded the anticipation felt ahead of the meeting in Manchester on March 10, 1919: “London was never more intimately concerned with Football League deliberations than on this occasion… There is an understanding that Chelsea will be voted into the First Division, and when the present scheme was first mooted it was regarded as a matter of course that they would be accompanied by Tottenham Hotspur, but The Arsenal considered that they had a superior claim and issued an appeal to the clubs to vote for them in preference to the Spurs … there is a strong body of opinion that considers Tottenham Hotspur ought to remain in the First Division.
“It was almost certain that the place would go to a side from the capital – after all, an unnamed northern official told the Daily Mirror, “our boys like a visit to London once or twice a year … they get a show at the theatres and see something of the great city. The directors also enjoy a visit to the big smoke” – but momentum swung decisively in Arsenal’s favour when League chairman and Liverpool owner John McKenna, a close friend of Norris, urged clubs to vote in favour of the Gunners as they had joined the League some 15 years before Tottenham.”
It is unfortunate that the writer unlinks the two stories (match fixing by Liverpool and Arsenal’s promotion) at this point. There were four places up for grabs in the First Division. Two from the expansion, and two from the bottom two teams who would have been relegated had their been no expansion.
What Norris appears to have argued is that Tottenham deliberately supported the expansion of the league in 1919 so that their automatic relegation for having come bottom should be annulled. This, it was argued, was as bad as the match fixing of Liverpool and Man U. In effect, he said, there are six places up for grabs – the two new places from expansion, the two relegation slots and the two places for Liverpool and Man U who should be expelled or relegated for match fixing.
Since Arsenal had ended up 5th they were in the frame for one of those six spots. But the League (and obviously Man U and Liverpool) did not want match fixing on the agenda, and this is where the argument took place.
In this analysis therefore, there was no argument about Arsenal or Tottenham – it was an argument about six places in the first division. The Tottenham argument was that here was a club who had clearly come bottom in 1915, and who had helped develop the notion of expansion in 1919 in order to avoid their just due.
There’s another point that ESPN, following the official Tottenham line, ignore, and that is that Tottenham had previous – they had got promotion out of the Southern League after coming seventh, as we discussed a day or two back. Quite how they did that, while the clubs above them did not get promotion, we don’t yet know. But running that simple fact by the league chairmen would have further reduced any argument about rightfulness to nothing – everyone would have laughed at Tottenham’s audacity to ignore their own past when it suited.
Back to ESPN
“When the votes were counted, Arsenal had won the support of 18 clubs, Tottenham 8, Barnsley 5, Wolves 5, Forest 3, Birmingham 2 and Hull 1. Despite finishing fifth in the Second Division in the final season before the Football League was suspended, it was Arsenal who would occupy a place in the top flight, and not their neighbours Tottenham.”
Now that is interesting – Birmingham who had come sixth in division II were in the voting, and Hull who had come 7th were there too. ESPN skate over this – but if Arsenal’s claim from coming 5th was so odd, what about these two? Why were they there, taking up votes that might have been up for grabs from others?
“Arsenal had completed one of the most brazen coups in the history of football, overseen by Norris and supported by McKenna, and resentment quickly grew as they enjoyed the trappings of top-flight football while Spurs were sent down a division.
“As the Daily Mirror reported: “The fact that Tottenham Hotspur, the cup winners of 1901, lose status is deplored by some but, on the other hand, Arsenal’s unswerving loyalty to the league over a long period of years fully merited recognition.”
Thank you Daily Mirror – and indeed that is a strong point. Arsenal took professionalism south, and it was their work that ultimately unified north and south into one league. But ESPN still make it sound as if Tottenham were singled out – rather than noting the fact that they had come bottom of the league in 1915.
By avoiding the two negatives about Tottenham’s case ESPN continue the ludicrous story that somehow these highly individual club chairmen would have just gone along with a bit of Arsenal/Liverpool persuasion.
But this is ludicrous. How could Arsenal and Liverpool ever done such a thing?
Of course they didn’t. The vote went for Arsenal because…
Liverpool and Man U were continuously anxious to avoid any debate about their match fixing activities, and so were lobbying on Arsenal’s behalf, for Arsenal in the first division would mean that Arsenal were not going to continue their protests.
Tottenham’s claim was laughed out of court because they themselves had fixed a promotion from the Southern League some years before.
Tottenham had been active since coming bottom in 1915 on expanding the league as a way of avoiding relegation.
Income from games was shared between home and away clubs, and Arsenal were getting ever bigger crowds in the second division. The clubs in the first division wanted a share of the money.
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