You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, ‘sick as a parrot,’ but did you know that it is believed to originate from the time Arsenal took Tottenham’s place in the old First Division?
In the days before lasagna was a thing in north London, Tottenham had a parrot. They’d picked it up in 1908 when they’d toured South America (Argentina and Uruguay).
Conflicting versions of the story abound, with some claiming it was a gift from the ship’s captain and others saying it was used in a ‘prop’ in a fancy dress competition on the boat on the way home as some in the Spurs party dressed as Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday. Whatever the origin, the parrot is said to have lived happily at White Hart Lane until 1919 when Arsenal took Spurs place in the league.
Spurs fans still complain to this day of the ‘scandal’ which, we have to admit, was hilariously corrupt.
Football was about to get restarted again after the Great War and it was decided that the First Division would be expanded from 20 teams to 22. Logic would have dictated that the two teams, Chelsea and Tottenham, who were due to be relegated from the last season played before the War stopped things remain in the league while the two promoted teams, Derby and Preston, completeing the expansion.
Arsenal had finished fifth in the Second Division in 1914/15 and should have had no hope of being promoted.
But Sir Henry Norris didn’t let that get in his way.
Chairman of Arsenal, Tory MP and former Mayor of Fulham, Sir Henry swung into action in a way that would not look out of place in modern politics. He called in favours, used his influence and, allegedly, used some of his vast wealth to help make up people’s minds. This last claim is heavily disputed, however, with it being argued that corruption allegations only began to surface some 11 years after the event
At a League meeting, the decision was put to a vote. Who would get promoted? The President of the Football League, ‘Honest’ John McKenna argued that Arsenal should be given Tottenham’s place on the basis that they had been in the top flight for 15 years more than their London rivals. Barnsley and Wolves, who had both finished above Arsenal in the Second Division didn’t see it that way.
Eventually, in order to decide the last remaining place in the expanded First Division, it was put to a vote. Barnsley received five votes, other clubs shared a handful between them, but the bulk went to Arsenal and Tottenham. Not evenly, however. Spurs picked up eight votes, putting them clear of Bansley, but miles behind Arsenal who received a whopping 18.
And that’s how Arsenal took Tottenham’s place in the First Division where they have remained every since.
So what has it got to do with a Spurs-dwelling parrot? Well, it is said that after 11 peaceful years at the club, it keeled over dead on the day the vote was decided.
It was 10th March, 1919, in case you think we should start a St.Parrots Day just for the craic.
So what of the parrot? Did it really die because of the election?
Don’t be so stupid, it was a parrot.
The parrot allegedly came from Santos in Brazil and further digging into the myth reveals that it died ‘around the time’ that the election took place, so it isn’t even confirmed that the two happened on the same day.
Parrots live a lot longer than you would expect – Amazonian ones can live for over 75 years. There’s no way of knowing how old the parrot was when Spurs got it, and no way of telling what it died of. It quite possibly just got fed up being stuck in north London with a club that preferred a chicken on its badge than a parrot. Who knows.
The story is just one of the many myths that Tottenham fans use to justify their hate of Arsenal.
An hilarious one by their usual standards, but a myth nonetheless.