Rivalries are what make football so great.
Sometimes they are traditional rivalries derived from geography.
Other times they are rivalries of a particular era, driven by periods of success.
They all elicit passion, frustration and delirium depending on the moment in time.
Yet some always stand out more than others.
At Daily Cannon Towers this week, we were having a debate about who we want to beat the most – Manchester United or Tottenham.
Responses were mixed, based on age, location and general outlook on life – clearly there is no right answer here.
In an effort to get my own views clear, I thought I’d write a little bit about why I hate United more than Spurs, so here goes!
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Growing up just north of London, there were two local clubs – Arsenal and Tottenham – yet it turns out that residents of the home counties can turn out to be a little bit in the “glory hunter” mould.
As the song often goes when we visit Old Trafford – “we’ll race you back to London!”
At my primary school, where all my prejudices were moulded at a young age, there were almost as many Man United fans as Tottenham ones. Of course, two of my uncles and their five assorted children are all as staunch United fans as my dad and I are Arsenal through and through.
When you are thrust into close proximity with fans of competing clubs, the level of oneupmanship just scales up and up until it is all consuming.
When there is distance involved, you can step back, disconnect your phone and generally avoid life when your team has lost. Growing up, there was only one team we really lost to on anything other than a one-off basis – United.
When you sit next to a rival fan at school, or you see them at a family event, there’s no getting away from things, it’s in your face, and that means when it’s your turn to gloat, aren’t you just going to milk it for all it’s worth?
Certainly I remember a very enjoyable period in May 2005 following our smash and grab in the Cardiff FA Cup Final.
I dined all summer off that success.
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM…
..you obviously don’t join them!
You go in double or quits for the next year.
Forget the fans for a moment. Players have rivalries too, and although they sometimes get the local derbies, the games against teams competing with them for titles are as big as it gets in the playing sphere. When Arsenal lost the title in 2003 (and make no mistake, Arsenal lost it rather than United won it), it clearly set a fire burning in our squad to make sure it didn’t happen again the following year.
And we all know what happened next.
The Arsenal Invincibles side of 2004 definitely “got” the Tottenham rivalry, if only because they understood what it meant to the fans – Pires once said, “Against Spurs it is always special. It has particular meaning, and as players you understand that. It’s true that if you have the chance to score against them it is great, as it means so much for the fans”. But the references there is clear – it’s important for the players because of the fans, not so much for themselves.
For the players themselves, their rivalry with United was on a whole new level in terms of personal rivalries.
I’m not convinced we’ll ever see a level of intensity to match Keane vs Vieira, but those player frictions exacerbated our rivalry as fans – it enhanced the importance and excitement of the weekend football for many.
My loathing of United is entirely driven by the period between about 1997 and 2005, an eight-year stretch which saw us exchange league titles and FA Cups for fun, and pitted two of the greatest managers ever against each other on a regular basis.
Meanwhile Spurs, and their circus of managers have been nowhere.
KING OF THE CASTLE
One of the other reasons I dislike Man United quite so much is that very reason – Alex Ferguson.
It’s surely not a view shared by everyone, but the fact that his success relegates Arsene to second in most people’s list of greatest managers irks me beyond belief.
Whatever you think of Wenger now (let’s not get into that debate!) there is no doubt that up until 2005 at least, he was a world class manager, indisputably a master of his craft. King of the Arsenal castle. A man so in demand that he turned down various top European clubs as well as his own national team to remain at the club.
In any other era, he would be lauded as the greatest manager of his time, with the many 1% improvements he made to take “boring boring Arsenal” and turn them into a side renowned for beautiful football and winning.
But Alex Ferguson, with his limitless resources and a stadium already at a commercially competitive level takes all the plaudits. If you accept that Arsene has had his hands tied behind his back since 2005 because of the stadium move, he should be on a par with the United manager.
Yet his self sacrifice has hurt his legacy.
Of course there’s still a few arguments on Fergie’s side – when Arsene won the double in 1998, Ferguson went and won the treble in 1999, and as long as Arsenal remain without a European trophy, there will always be that caveat when assessing Wenger’s success.
But to ignore the huge discrepancy in resources is also an unfair reflection of the Frenchman’s achievements.
Arsène’s achievements were on a net spend of £36m compared to £125m by Fergie from 1997-2005.
You can’t really bring Tottenham into this argument either – Harry Redknapp is their only real manager in recent history with any longevity and while I found his wheeler-dealer attitude annoying, he wasn’t a patch on Arsene.
Part of what makes the Premier League the best league in the world these days is that it is never a one horse race, and rarely even a two horse race. However, that has to a certain extent watered down the rivalry between clubs competing at the top – I doubt Man City and Chelsea fans feel the same level of acrimony towards each other as ourselves and United.
The fact that pretty much every year between 1997 and 2004 the championship was hotly contested, often exclusively between the two of us, just adds to the level of rivalry.
It’s the same reason Barcelona and Real Madrid games are so fiercely fought – when you are fighting with one club for the spoils at the end of the season, those games take on a huge significance.
Whereas when is comes to Tottenham….ha ha ha.
Even if we count League Cups (and somehow I never do), we have 13 trophies to their two in the Wenger years.
The greatest threat they have posed to us is in retaining Champions League football, and in the end they have always been found wanting in that non-trophy too.
ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Ultimately, the rivalry with United is born out of a unique blend of factors.
You will always find fans of the most successful team near to you, as people who sway with the wind convert to whichever team is in its golden period. Those fans are typically more annoying too, airbrushing history to suit their circumstances.
However, the rivalry which still exists to the current day is born of a sustained period where our two clubs were a cut above the rest and competing year in, year out for the biggest prizes in English football.
It is born out of two supremely stubborn managers controlling the entirety of their football clubs, and two groups of players who viewed each other as the only real obstacle between themselves and titles.
And it is born out of a series of great encounters, year on year, with both sides enjoying a measure of success.
The rivalry might have reduced in recent years – the relationship between Fergie and Arsene mellowed as Arsenal had to step down from the top table during the stadium years, and the groups of players who gave us the great flashpoints of the rivalry moved on.
However underneath it all, for the 80s babies who grew up on a diet of Arsenal vs United every year, that rivalry still burns strong.
Indeed, as United have slipped back into the chasing pack over the last two years, so I’ve found the intensity of my animosity towards the club inching back up towards those peak levels.
We may be competing slightly further down the table in league terms now, but Monday’s game is back to the days of old, where a tie between Arsenal and United in the cup is likely to play a major part in deciding the end destination of the trophy.
Whereas Tottenham – well – they are long since out of the competition.
That rivalry is built on whole different basis – one where we, at least, know when the real cup final is.
It’s time to channel the spirit of Vieira and co. – time to take the next step towards bringing the FA Cup back to North London for another year.