Tottenham on this Day
10th March, 1919 – Spurs Manoeuvred Out of 1st Division by Arsenal
Not content with moving in from Woolwich some time earlier, Arsenal now managed to connive their way into the 1st Division at the expense of Spurs. The rivalry that had existed between two London clubs intensified as they became neighbours vying for support from the people of North London with the situation only increasing further at the end of the 1st World War.
Before the War, Spurs were in the 1st Division while Arsenal spent their first few seasons in north London in the 2nd Division, following their relegation in 1913. Although war was declared in September, 1914, League football continued for another year. Unfortunately for Spurs, that season saw them finish bottom of the Division, after losing three of their final four games. With League football suspended until the War was over, the rivalry between the two clubs would have been less intense as the whole nation worked together to support the ‘War effort.’ Indeed, in 1916, when White Hart Lane was taken over by the Ministry of Munitions, Arsenal and Orient offered Spurs the use of their grounds. For three seasons until the end of the War, Spurs alternated their home games between Highbury and Orient’s ground.
When the fighting ended in 1919, hostility between the two clubs broke out with renewed vigour. If their offer of assistance during those three seasons was intended to soothe the relationship between the two clubs following their move into Spurs’ territory, Arsenal’s action immediately after the War, only intensified the situation.
In preparation for the resumption of football in September, 1919, on this day, at a meeting of the Football League, the authorities announced the decision to increase the 1st Division to twenty two clubs. How would this be settled?
On previous occasions the two clubs in the relegation places retained their status and the two promoted clubs moved into the higher division. Spurs assumed that this procedure would be maintained again but they hadn’t allowed for the scheming of Arsenal and Sir Henry Norris. He was desperate to get Arsenal into the 1st Division and managed to bring influence to bear, persuading their ‘friends’ that they should be one of the promoted clubs as they had been a member of the League for far longer than Spurs, even though they had finished the pre-war season in 5th place in the 2nd Division
The President of the Football League, John McKenna accepted the idea that Arsenal should return to the 1st Division as they had been in the Football League longer than Spurs and addressed the meeting supporting this view. There had been suggestions of such a move in the press but Charles Roberts, Chairman of Tottenham and his delegation, foolishly ignored them, and was unprepared for the course the meeting was taking.
It was only when the meeting was held that Tottenham realised they had a fight on their hands. Spurs thought they had ‘right on their side’ but Arsenal had managed to gain eighteen votes to Spurs’ eight in second place. There was no logical reason for the decision as Wolves, founder members of the league had also finished ahead of Arsenal making their case even stronger.
Spurs had lost their 1st Division status to the manipulation of their nearest neighbours but were stung into action and won promotion at the first attempt, with a record number of points, won the FA Cup for a second time a year later and finished runners-up in the 1st Division in 1922, the highest finish by a London club.
Needless to say, relationships between the clubs and fans reached a new low. To this day Arsenal have never earned their right to play in the top division – having had to rely on secretive negotiations carried on behind closed doors.
Not surprisingly this has never been forgiven or forgotten by Spurs fans.