For the past 21 years, St. Totteringham’s Day has been a constant in the lives of both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal supporters. The made-up “holiday,” the date on which Arsenal are mathematically guaranteed to finish higher in the table than their north London neighbors, has been used as a cudgel of banter for as long as I’ve been a Spurs fan.
That will almost certainly change this year. With a win over their rivals this Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur can break that streak and banish St. Totteringham’s Day. More, they can also do it in front of their home fans in the last ever North London Derby at White Hart Lane.
Arsenal fans have had their fun over the years, and with good reason. The rivalry between Tottenham and Arsenal is fierce and deep, and it would be ignorant not to recognize that for the vast majority of the past two decades, Arsenal have been the superior team in North London. Sure, there have been Tottenham wins in the North London Derby over the years, but the table doesn’t lie, and it would be silly not to recognize that fact. Arsenal is a very well-run club.
Which is why this season feels so different, and so significant. Yes, Arsenal are a bit of a hot mess this season, with underachieving players, a pariah of a board, and a long-tenured manager who seems to have reached the end of his leash with supporters.
But Spurs are also good. Very good, in fact. Some might say the best team in England, table position notwithstanding. Coming into Sunday’s game, Spurs have a 14 point lead over their north London rivals, and while it’s not (yet) a mathematical certainty, only the most adamant of Gooner supporters would ever bet on Spurs Spursing it up to the extent that they finish behind Arsenal this year. (And before you jump up and down, gesturing furtively at the Newcastle game last season, understand that the circumstances are completely different between last year and this one.)
So it’s a perfect storm of wonderfulness, something that feels both inevitable and unexpected. It should be celebrated. Reveled, even.
When I was young, I used to play basketball in my driveway with my brother, who is three years older. Basketball is practically a religion in my state -- every driveway has a hoop, and playing ball was what you did when you were boys growing up in Indiana. Neither of us were particularly athletic — I was a nerdy musician type, and my brother, though more attuned to the sporting arts, wasn’t gifted with the kind of ability that would have gotten him even on the JV team of our small Christian private high school. But nevertheless, my big bro, whom I love dearly, loved to use his three year developmental difference and slight athletic edge to regularly assert his dominance in the driveway.
One year, when I was probably 13 or so and after a lot of cajoling, I reluctantly agreed to shoot some hoops with my bro and some of his friends. I went up for a layup, and he blocked it. I tried a jump shot: he blocked it again. I faked, stepped back, and tried a long jumper. Blocked.
Something inside my adolescent brain snapped, and I did something I had never done before: I got mad, really mad, and shoved my brother through a screen door. Glass everywhere. My brother wasn’t hurt, but the door was smashed and he was a little embarrassed. We still laugh about this story nearly 30 years later.
This isn’t a perfect analogy — I mostly just wanted an excuse to tell this story, which I find hilarious, and I know my brother reads this blog. But there is a bit of a sibling dynamic between Arsenal and Tottenham, with Spurs playing the role of the little brother. Only this little brother has suddenly grown a few inches, can execute a perfect crossover dribble, and just surprised his sibling in an epic game of playground HORSE.
On paper, Arsenal are still the big brother, with more resources, a better (for now) stadium, and a history of success. But Spurs have leveled the playing field now, and with the advent of the new stadium and the promise of further resources, things have changed.
That’s why finishing ahead of Arsenal this season is so important to Spurs fans. Not just because of the rivalry, but because of what it represents: a seismic shift in the overall narrative, and one that has come a little ahead of schedule. Of course this doesn’t ensure that Spurs will finish ahead of Arsenal with frequency. It might not even mean anything for next season. But there’s a sense that now, finally, Spurs can do more than just compete. Now they can win. Really win. Not just the occasional derby, but cups. Titles.
I’ve read, both on this site and on social media, that Spurs fans shouldn’t celebrate finishing ahead of Arsenal this season. That somehow, recognizing the historical importance of this achievement is “beneath our dignity” in some way. Instead, the argument goes, we should pretend that this is normal. Arsenal fans, for so long, have defined their own successes relative to the failures of Tottenham Hotspur. So now that the roles are reversed, let’s ignore it completely, because rubbing it in the face of the Gooners would be somehow gauche, and we’re better than them. Let them feel the withering blast of our collective indifference.
I don’t find this argument particularly compelling. In fact, I find it ridiculous. Rivalries are rivalries because of what they represent: the tribalistic essence of sporting competition. There are various reasons behind why they exist and how they came about, but at their core they are about challenging your opponent, and banter, and fun. What’s more fun than finishing above your rival? What’s better than finally, FINALLY being able to stick a finger in their eye? Rivalries matter.
Sure, some Tottenham fans (and most Arsenal fans) might bristle if Spurs supporters were to come up with a holiday of their own, a sort of anti-St. Totteringham’s Day — St. Arsene’s Day? ArsenLOL Day? Woolwich Relocation Day? It might feel like a cheap shot considering the amount of time it took for Spurs to get here. But isn’t that the point? After 21 years of futility, this is a time to celebrate. Even if it’s just for this one season, this is an occasion that Spurs fans have waited for and anticipated for two decades.
I’m going to get yelled at for writing this article before it’s a mathematical certainty, and I accept that. But I don’t believe in fate, or curses, or that a random American blogger can magically erase a football club’s 14-point lead by writing an opinion piece from across the Atlantic. Spurs are going to finish above Arsenal this season. It might or might not happen at the Lane this Sunday. But even if it doesn’t happen Sunday, I feel confident enough sticking my neck out and saying that it’s a done deal.
Mind the gap. There, I said it, and I’m not sorry.
So when the time comes, enjoy it. We’ve earned it. We’ve proven that Tottenham Hotspur can have nice things. Call your Gooner friend and gloat. Wear your colors in the street. North London is ours. We are Tottenham, from the Lane.
Just this once, it’s okay to be happy.