by Andy Kelly
I recently read a post on the angryofislington blog which asked why no one likes Tottenham. I think Phil’s post is supposed to be light-hearted but there is a ring of truth to it.
I should explain: I’m in the middle of a final read through of Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football to make sure we haven’t left anything untoward in there before publication. I had to check something and whilst doing this stumbled across the events of 1908 that led to Tottenham being admitted (I won’t use elected as that would be a pretty loose term to describe what happened) into the Football League. It’s a strange set of circumstances that doesn’t seem to get mentioned in popular histories of the club and it’s not hard to see why.
But before we look at 1908, let’s take a step back to 1892 to give an idea of how popular they were with their peers.
When Royal Arsenal turned professional in 1891 they had a need to provide regular competitive games to keep their fans’ interest in the game. A diet of friendlies against local rivals and the big northern teams was OK but these games were prone to being one-sided affairs or there was a risk of the opponents pulling out at short notice.
The Royal Arsenal committee decided to test the water and opened discussions with their neighbours about forming a Southern League. The interested parties met in February 1892 and agreed to form a league consisting of 12 teams. Those 12 teams were: Chatham, Chiswick Park, Crouch End, Ilford, Luton, Marlow, Millwall, Old St Mark’s, Reading, Royal Arsenal, Swindon and West Herts.
Tottenham had also attended the meeting and expressed an interest. I’m not sure exactly how the voting was set up but Tottenham finished at the bottom of the list with only 1 vote (presumably their own).
120 years ago they were friendless.
The Southern League finally got going in 1894, without Tottenham. They eventually joined it in 1896. At the time the Southern League was formed of two divisions. Tottenham were elected into the First Division. I’ve not found any records of the rules of elections into the Southern League but I assume that clubs of a certain size could be elected directly into the top division. However, there was promotion and relegation between the two divisions so it seems a bit strange that they weren’t put into the Second Division.
After 12 years in the Southern League Tottenham decided to try their chances with the big boys. In February 1908 Tottenham (along with QPR) resigned from the Southern League and made it known that they would apply to join the Football League.
QPR were justified in their application as they were runaway winners of the Southern League. Tottenham eventually finished 7th (and this was by virtue of a goal average 0.01 better than Northampton).
The Southern League was fed up with its members applying to join the Football League only to come back with their tails between their legs when they were unsuccessful and causing the Southern League administration problems such as re-arranging the fixture lists. So, at the 1908 AGM the members agreed that any team wishing to resign from the Southern League had to do so by December of the season that they wanted to resign. They also expelled Tottenham, something which came back to bite them in the backside.
The Football League then held its AGM. Grimsby, Chesterfield and Lincoln City finished at the bottom of Division 2 and had to apply for re-election along with the clubs applying for election: Bradford PA, Tottenham and Burton United.
Grimsby and Chesterfield were re-elected, and Bradford PA finished third in the vote and replaced Lincoln. Tottenham finished 5th in the vote (behind Lincoln). It seems that they over-estimated their popularity – Tottenham were not elected into the Football League! To make it worse (or better depending who you support) the Southern League didn’t want them back either.
There was then talk of forming a Third Division of the Football League with the following clubs applying to join it: Burton United, Crewe, Croydon, Darlington, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Kettering, Lancaster, Lincoln, Rotherham, Southport Central, St Helens, Tottenham and Walsall. All they needed was St Trinian’s under-12s to make it a really competitive league. Can you imagine the stick Arsenal fans could give Tottenham fans if this had taken off? However, this all fell through.
That then left Tottenham without a league to play in as they had also resigned from the Western League (a regional league for London clubs, despite its name).
Towards the end of June 1908 Stoke told the Football League that they were in financial difficulties and resigned from the League. The Football League held a special meeting to find a replacement for Stoke. To confuse matters, Stoke then asked to be re-instated into the Football League. The 5 teams that applied for Stoke’s place were Stoke, Lincoln, Tottenham, Rotherham and Southport Central. Tottenham and Lincoln tied for first place so a second vote was held with just these two clubs in contention. Tottenham were very lucky here as the Management Committee could have taken the voting from the AGM as a yardstick and elected Lincoln into the League.
In the second vote they tied 20 votes each. It was then left to the Management Committee to decide and they voted 5-3 in Tottenham’s favour. Arsenal showed what gentlemen they were and supported Tottenham’s application throughout the whole debacle.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Following all of this rumours surfaced that Tottenham had offered Stoke financial inducements to resign from the Football League in the first place. Finding themselves with no League to play in they bribed another team to resign in the hope that they could take their place. Even then it took three votes to get them into the League.
This wasn’t the first time that this had happened – it was alleged that Oldham had done the same the previous season, offering Burslem Port Vale £1,000 to resign which included the transfer of two players. By strange coincidence, Tottenham bought two Stoke players during the summer of 1908!
Skip forward another 11 years and we have the expansion of the Football League following the resumption of football after the First World War. The First Division was expanded from 20 to 22 clubs following a motion put forward by Blackpool in January 1919. There are plenty of versions of what happened here but, at the end of the day, a vote was held amongst the members of the Football League as to who should be given the final place in the First Division. After two months of canvassing by the clubs the vote went: Arsenal 18. Tottenham 8, Barnsley 5, Wolves 4, Nottingham Forest 3, Birmingham 2, Hull 1.
One piece of information we can’t find for 1892 is why Tottenham only got one vote at that time. If you have any information or evidence on this, we’d be interested in reading it.
As with the above story, the events surrounding the 1919 election to the first division are complex involving (in that case) match fixing, club resignations, multiple applications, campaigning and league expansion. A new summary of this story, following our latest research will appear in the 3rd Arsenal History Society booklet: From Promotion to Chapman, which will be given to all members of Arsenal Independent Supporters Association at the start of next season. Meanwhile you can read our earlier review of the story at “The Fixed Promotion”.
Jack Crayston - player, coach, manager
Paul Davis, wonderful player, great coach, and one incident