A Rivalry Like No Other?

Two Spurs fans, Dave Puckridge and Rachel Cohen, provide their perspectives on our rivalry with Arsenal ahead of the North London Derby.

One View: Dave

At the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the long delayed match with Manchester United, the advertising screens frequently called the crowd’s attention to the Women’s North London Derby with the dramatic slogan: A Rivalry Like No Other…

Is it though?

Well maybe if you count the fact it’s being played at Brisbane Road as the stadium is hosting a rugby match that weekend, though maybe that’s me being churlish that the club aren’t prioritising the women’s team (I am definitely being churlish).

But given their very different conceptions and developments, histories and level of investment from the parent club, does the traditional rivalry between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal really apply in the women’s game? And should it given how frequently unhealthy such rivalries often become? Is it even useful beyond marketing?

At the Emirates for the reverse fixture there was a distinct difference between the atmosphere amongst the crowd and on the pitch: even taking into account the more family friendly atmosphere of WSL matches, there was no escaping the very vocal nature of each club’s set of fans absolutely despising each other.

On the pitch however, even with the complete commitment of Spurs players, there was no escaping the gulf between the sides. Even taking long term absentees into account, it was clear that Arsenal benefited from the years and years and years of time and resources the club had invested in the women’s game far in advance of Tottenham’s belated embrace of women’s football. Arsenal swatted us aside 4-0 and made it look routine. 

Because we’re not really their rivals; Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are. But if Spurs keep investing like they have with the vital addition of The Great Bethany England (from other traditional Spurs rivals Chelsea) then we can close that gap. Besides which Arsenal have done us a tremendous favour in loaning us Mana Iwabuchi who has improved us greatly – unthinkable in the men’s game but reinforcing that they don’t consider us a threat. Yet. 

The ‘great be’Great Bethany England’ after scoring against Manchester United.

It’s fascinating that in almost every interview with Spurs players I’ve read or listened to from such excellent podcasts as N17 Women, that our team don’t pick out the traditional rivalries as the games they most anticipate, it’s usually coming up against the best players in the world that motivates them. And that’s a good thing. Hell, that’s a great thing! It frees up Spurs Women to create their own history and their own rivalries. Their own story, not a reflection of some ancient history in which one club moved a bit too close to another club.

I want them to win against Arsenal because I want them to win against everyone (& we really need to points right now). And if we can beat Arsenal at Brisbane Road – even an out of form Arsenal missing the games two most potent strikers and struggling to find the net – it will show our true potential and possibilities.

Stand up if you hate Arsenal? Not for me thanks. Besides how can you really hate a club where the prolific strike partnership have so sweetly redefined Relationship Goals?

Another view: Rachel

Last week a women I host the N17Women podcast with corrected me: ‘You support Spurs, you don’t oppose Arsenal’. I had posited a ‘would you rather’ scenario: Would you sacrifice Top 4 in the Premier League if it meant Arsenal didn’t win the title? She wouldn’t; I would (this year at least).

I grew up in Camden, on the borders of Islington. I had friends who supported Spurs in primary and at the start of secondary school. But by the time I was 16 most of my friends were Arsenal. My sister was Arsenal. In the years since I have had partners who support Arsenal, family members, colleagues, and more friends. At times I feel like the racist excusing his racism: ‘some of my best friends are [insert nationality or in my case Arsenal].’ But unlike the racist, I’m not even pretending that this proximity has brought empathy. It hasn’t.

It’s intensely personal and massively selfish, but my life will be better if Arsenal do worse. The smugness at social events will reduce. I’ll get fewer annoying WhatsApp memes. Have to shrug it off less. They don’t have to be relegated (although never say never), but the worse they do the better. That is not to say that I don’t want Tottenham to win. Of course, I do. Spurs winning the league and winning trophies – that is the dream. But let’s face it. It has been a rarity in my lifetime (in most of our lifetimes). And if it’s not going to happen, I’ll take us doing better than Arsenal. Or, if it comes to it, just Arsenal doing worse.

‘But that’s the men’ you say. The women are ‘less tribal’.

First off, really? Why? Let’s start by ignoring any sexist tropes around feminine niceness which are ridiculous (Suella Braverman anyone?). Instead, let’s recognise that all sport fandom is ultimately both trivial and irrational and that there is joy in this. And that as histories develop, as teams are more widely supported and loyalties emerge or get carried over from the men’s game, intense rivalries make sense of otherwise meaningless games.

So, yes, of course. It started with the men. But we’re not suddenly in another universe. And my Spurs fandom defined the ways that I engaged – or didn’t engage – with the early days of women’s football. It meant I mostly tuned out during the long period of the 90s and early 2000s, when Arsenal women dominated and the one televised game of the year (the FA Cup final) showed players in red and white lifting a trophy. I could admire Arsenal’s investment, be jealous of what the club was doing in the women’s game, but that only went so far. When it came to what was happening on the pitch I was out.

The fact that Spurs are now in the same league, albeit not yet competing for trophies, is massive.

It’s also massive that last season Arsenal ‘dropped points’ against us. That game, a hard-fought 1-1 draw in which we went ahead as Rachel Williams bundled the ball over the line before they equalised in the closing minutes, marked our first points won in any NLD. It was so very very nearly all three.

Yet those two lost points cost Arsenal a title. Okay, there was their defeat to Birmingham City as well, but the draw against us was the first chink in the armour and when the title race goes down to a single point, dropping two matters. How much it hurt was reflected Arsenal Manager, Jonas Eidevall’s mealy-mouthed statements about Spurs later in the season. Did that make me happy? You bet it did.

Rachel Williams scored in Spurs last home game against Arsenal

If we’re going to be optimistic tomorrow’s game comes at a good time. Our heads are higher after our first win in four and a half months. It also comes after Arsenal failed to score in their Champions League first leg (losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich).

But if those two games impact the run-in they also epitimise the persistent gulf between these teams’ ambitions, or at least their ability to realise those ambitions: a relegation battle versus European Quarter Finals. Given that gulf, there are teams against whom Spurs Women have recently had more niggly games (yup, I’m thinking about you Manchester United). Likewise, over the last decade Arsenal’s rivalry with Chelsea has defined the WSL. And sure, I’ve heard plenty of Arsenal fans who say they don’t care about Spurs. They can point to their history in women’s game and that the balance of power is unlikely to change soon.

Yet the games that fill their stadium, just like the games that fill our stadium, remain the North London Derbies (accounting for the top two WSL attendances ever). And sure, it may not remain that way. But if we are pushing Spurs to have a #oneclub perspective, then surely that goes for rivalries as well. And you know what, assuming we stay up and the club keeps investing in the team, there will be a day when we win one of these games. It may not be tomorrow, but it is going to happen. And it is going to be bloody lovely.

Till then, I will be happy if Bethany England takes her chances on Saturday. It will be a bonus if Mana Iwabuchi gets to show Eidevell what he missed out on by refusing to play her.

As for me. I won’t chant about a long-retired ‘Judas’ nor any other men’s players. But, Stand up if you hate Arsenal. Sure. Why not?

And I will relish every point we get and every point they drop and, come the end of the season, will chuckle if the squad Eidevall has built of hardy Northern European and Australian internationals miss out on Champions League football. Because it’s fun to dislike a football team and because, for me, supporting Spurs is about opposing Arsenal.

With the exception of Lotte Wuben-Moy, who is too damn saintly for anyone to dislike or hope bad things for. 

Find Rachel on twitter at @spurswomenblog and David on @DavidPuckridge

Other blogs by them are at: @rachellaracohen and @davidpuckridge

6 Replies to “A Rivalry Like No Other?”

  1. Rallying the spirit is great, but it rarely works …. last season, we were lucky if being honest after leading for so long with the Williams goal.
    I can’t see any other result than a loss, it’s more about by how many ?

    We should just enjoy the game and try nuetralise their game plan and get game time experience until the Redaing and Brighton games come along .. those are the Cup Final games that we must try get points from to stave off any more relegation fears. COYS-W


  2. Well what can I say? … embarrasing at best. So many players are just not either on their game or just not good enough for WSL level.
    We need a total overhaul for sure and I bet both Celin and Beth (our best players today) must be thinking why did I ever come here.
    I expected the loss but just look at the stats
    0 shots to their 16 .. 1 touch in their box to their 31 and possession 31% … what possession? we didnt string many passes together all game to warrant even 31%.


  3. Hi Rachel … David put me on to your 4 lady podcast and I have just listened to the last 2 (incl interview with Jenna) – very interesting.
    Is there no way you can create a comments section in this so that we fans can respond to what you all say – as there were some things I did not agree with
    The Stadium – the pitch is too big and draining on the women and it shows big time over a 90+ min stint. I agree about the cameras and they should be on the opposite side just to show the audience and atmosphere if only to prove the doubters wrong.
    Players – for some reason you rarely talk about certain players who underperform and are uninspiring week in week out and I assume you never ask VJ (or RS when she was in charge) why she keeps playing them when there are so much better on the bench. Just watch Ayanne in a match (she does very little bar stand and watch – rarely defends) and the constant failings of Harrop who gets beaten week in week out – making our total left wing so so weak and we get hit here every game and VJ does nothing to change it just maybe to keep her WSL record going ???
    Our signing policy is awash of players of like for like players who are clearly not good enough for this level of football and last season was somewhat of a fluke imho. At Xmas we were 3rd in the league and yet we still could not score goals (the problem since we were promoted into the WSL) yet RS goes out and gets Summanen for midfield and Schnaderbach from Arsenal who did nothing as she was obviously not fit and was still carrying an injury. Why? when we needed goal scorers … Tang Simon Ayanne Naz Ubogagu couldnt hit a US large Red barn door and always panicked when the white sticks came into view and the service to our only working striker Rachel Williams was non existant for much of the rest of the season – so yes we got 30 points but we were never in contention for top 4 and we have completely folded since then with another bunch of poor summer signings (5 of 7). We managed 5th because of of 1 player – Clemaron
    These are the things that need to be discussed like we do on the men’s forums …. would be nice to know who you should think we should look to get in as a winning mentality manager .. but moreover what players from around Euro – NAmerica we should tout. Our team has about 6-7 good players in our 25 squad and the rest need to be replaced if we really have ambition like Man U yet this never gets talked about in fear I guess of any of our players listening to your podcasts. Look at Chelsea and Arsenal they start signing players well before the season ends or starts and we for some reason always wait for bargain bin scrapings – sorry but that is what it looks like and if we want a future this needs to change – just that i do not have the confidence in Levy even wanting to do this. Sorry for the rant but I just thought it needed to be said


    1. Hi there.
      Glad you found it.
      If you want us to talk about specific things on the podcast the best is to post a comment or question to @N17Women on Twitter.
      We’ve definitely talked quite a lot about Rosella Ayane and and Kerys Harrop – and think that the four of us have different views but have been quite critial. And we have sung the praises of Maeva Clemaron over and again. Some games we won’t re-cover the same issues. But there are episodes, including some of the ones over the winter break where we recapped the first half of the season: https://shows.acast.com/n17women/episodes/auld-lang-new-syne-ings. We’ll definitely do some more of these on the whole season/players after the final game (probably a stand-alone episode). So hopefully we’ll cover some of the stuff you want then. Tho can’t promise you’ll always agree!


      1. Thanks Rachel .. that would be great to be able to post comments on what to maybe discuss even before you 4 meet…. even doing it this way is great.
        For me it is clear we have too many players that are just not good enough for this league and are often or should I say always played out of their natural position and so I question why we even signed them in the first place? – but then Jenna mentioned she does not even know our philosophy of player sourcing and that is a real worry if our ambition WAS to getter better that 30 points and 5th.
        Seems to me we wait for the Aldi/Lidl sales and get whomever has not been offered a contract elsewhere. Signing beth and Celin and even Mana has been a revelation and we need another 12 more of their and of the Clemmy stature. yet we have given contract extentions to players who should have been moved on long ago … why? they will not improve.
        Another is this constant build from the back system – it is a disaster as we just cannot play it as many of the players in defence and midfield just cannot link up and do not have the footballing skills to play this system and it starts with the GK giving the ball 1-2 yards from the goal-line.
        Why not play a system to the strengths of Korpella who can pass or punt upfield so set up from the half way and not from the goal area .. the backpass from Turner was a great example of why we should not play this system. Try something different now and again.
        I have just sen a twitter vid of the team training attacking and shooting at goal … great speed – passing – shot – goal -Woopee !!! but what is missing? DEFENDERS. No point doing this without defenders in the way and boy ours need the practice as they are a long way off last season’s performance. I am so dissapointed in how poor this team has become when MU have a table top side in less that 5 seasons.
        David’s recent posting reflects all that is wrong with our team and I hope someone high up in Spurs reads it and does something about it otherwise another relegation season will be much the same come September.


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