The derby is coming up this weekend. The North London derby in the context of world football can hardly be considered the most well known of all derbies. Some derbies are stems from geographical locations like ours but some just stems from the rivalry between often the closest rivals for titles and trophies. The Barcelona-Real Madrid, Boca Juniors-River Plate, AC Milan-Inter Milan, Manchester United-Liverpool are just some of the derbies that we witness season in season out. Perhaps it’s the bias in me speaking out loud, but I don’t find our NLD any less fierce than any of the afore-mentioned ones.
A look back at the history of both football clubs tells us that the rivalry started when we moved to Highbury from Manor Ground. It was further exacerbated when through some underhanded dealings, chairman Sir Henry Norris managed to secure our place in the First Division the expense of Tottenham. The Spurs fans were infuriated and rightly so. To cheating our way to the highest league in the land to moving into their territory, we’ve ensured that the hatred between both clubs expanded into a big rivalry. If you want to read further, you can find more information here.
Just like what Thierry Henry once said, this fixture is the one which I look out for at the start of every season when the fixture list is released. I know this may not be the same for others. I consider this a bigger fixture than any other we have to face in a season. If there’s a game we cannot lose, then it’s this one. Some people may look at the match against say Chelsea or United as the one that they are most looking forward to. There’s no right or wrong, it’s your own personal interpretation of the matter and probably down to when you choose Arsenal as your club.
I can’t speak for all the fans but majority of those that I know are within my age group and thus started supporting Arsenal from the mid to late 90’s. That was the time when Spurs aren’t exactly our nearest rival, in the trophy fighting sense. That team was United and perhaps understandable because of their dominance and how we almost always end up losing out to them in the title race. Therefore even until now, some of these fans still consider the United game as the biggest fixture of the season. Again, nothing wrong with that. You only do things or think about things based on the circumstances that you’ve gone through.
I don’t argue that the match that defines the season or the destination of the title, immediately becomes the most important fixture of the season. Yet, you would find it impossible to drive me away from my perception of this derby. In recent seasons, due to our regression and their progress, the fixture have had more meaning to it than when I first started to follow the team. In that sense, the derby gains more meaning. For me though, while I also went through the same period as these people, nothing could change how much I despise Spurs and how I rate this match as the most important of the season.
This is because I the first ever game that I watch of Arsenal was the FA Cup semifinal in the 1991 season. Paul Gascoigne’s free kick which beat David Seaman was the only thing I could remember out of this game. I was only 10 at that time, so you would forgive my memory 21 years on. I haven’t even pledge my allegiance to anyone at that time but after the game, there was only one club on my mind and that was the red half of North London. Perhaps it is rare that someone would choose to start supporting the loser of the first football game that they ever watched (or maybe proof that I’m not a glory hunter, though little did I know at the time that we finished as league champions), but my choice was made and here I am today.
I remember the players whom I hated playing for them lot. From the Gary Mabbuts to the Sol Campbells (before he become one of us) to the Gus Poyets to the Robbie Keanes to the now Gareth Bales if this world. I hate them and I want them to lose every game. The only time which I wanted the to win was in the 1998/99 season when they were up against United and we needed them to beat Alex Ferguson’s side to clinch the title. As it turns out, they couldn’t manage to do it and I was left convinced that it would be better to depend on a 2 legged dog to perform a trick than to depend on Spurs for anything.
This fixture has gained a lot more significance in recent seasons due to our inability to challenge for the title. In a way, we have been involved in the battle for Champions League place with them for a few seasons now, though we aren’t the only 2 teams in that battle. 1994/95 season was the last time they finished ahead of us. That’s 17 seasons of supremacy over them. While we’ve struggled to challenge at times in recent seasons and have failed to lift a trophy since 2005, I’m glad that we could still celebrate St Totteringham day for 17 consecutive seasons.
Long may that continue.