It’s been 17 years since Tottenham last finished above Arsenal and you’d have to go back to my playing days to find a time when Spurs were hot favourites to defeat their bitter rivals. Jack Wilshere, Robin van Persie, and perhaps Bacary Sagna, are the only Arsenal players who would get into the current Spurs side. It’s not easy for a Tottenham man to talk with such confidence, because we’ve always had a bit of an inferiority complex about our neighbours. For while Spurs might have had a better team than Arsenal at times, they have never been a greater club.
When I arrived at White Hart Lane in 1961, Spurs were the best team in the land. And yet when we visited Highbury, with its marble halls, we were left in no doubt as to which was the classier club in north London. Even the dressing rooms were 10 times better at Highbury than anywhere else and Arsenal’s players were always dressed immaculately in club blazers, before and after a match. We had blazers at Spurs but we were rarely expected to wear them. In fact when one of our players, Alfie Stokes, was caught fare-dodging on the buses, Bill Nicholson specifically asked him to go incognito so as not to alert the press.
Alf, a good player but not necessarily the brightest, took the mothballs out of his blazer and ended up splashed over every paper in the country. In Alf’s defence, fare-dodging was far more prevalent among the professional football community then than it is nowadays! But it was the sort of thing that was always more likely to happen at Spurs than Arsenal. They were the aristocracy and we were the proles – even when we were beating them regularly. So when you went to Highbury and won, it was a special feeling.
I can’t pretend that derby matches mean as much to players as they do to fans. Any Spurs fan would rather beat Arsenal and lose the next three matches, whereas a player would prefer a derby defeat followed by three wins. Either way, the smart money is on Spurs finally to finish above their fierce foes this season.
While Arsenal had a nightmare summer in the transfer market, with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri making them look daft, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was having a blinder by keeping hold of Luka Modric. I don’t know Levy and haven’t always had much time for him but he stuck to his word that he would not sell Modric to Chelsea and the player seems to have got his head straight and knuckled down. But Emmanuel Adebayor will be the player who makes or breaks Tottenham’s bid to finish in the top four this season.
The on-loan striker is clearly a talent but he seems to start off well at every club he goes to, only to fade badly. Does he want to flit in and out of clubs, earning shed-loads in signing-on fees, but ending up being remembered as little more than a gifted mercenary? Or does he want to make Tottenham his home and become a proper legend at the club? The opportunity is there for him, if he has the staying power. Adebayor certainly doesn’t lack the confidence. And for once, when it comes to Spurs playing Arsenal, neither do I.