For Tottenham fans, the games they pick out in the fixture list at the start of each season are the Arsenal matches.
The north London sides have been embroiled in a long and bitter rivalry for as long as one can remember. But there is at least the mutual recognition that very rarely does a game go by between the two sides that doesn’t deliver on a pure entertainment level.
As for Chelsea, it varies on who their primary title rivals are season by season. The Blues consistently rank near the top of the Premier League table, and their closest competitors often change year by year.
But when the two teams get together, there’s little more than pure hatred between the two sets of fans. What there is, however, is the palpable want to spoil the other’s party. The sense of one side stopping the other from achieving what they want to. It’s essentially that scene from the Inbetweeners when Jay wags his hand in front of his face when Simon comes out of the toilet, knowing full well the latter’s romantic interest, Carli, is stood just feet away.
“What did you do that for?”
Except there’s no underlying feeling of friendship. The pleasure taken is purely sadistic.
Let’s take ‘The Battle of the Bridge’ from 2016 as our first example. Firstly because it was an amazing game, and secondly because it embodies this point perhaps more than any other game.
Tottenham came into it knowing nothing less than a win would do in their bid to keep pace with Premier League leaders Leicester. They got off to the perfect start as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min scored to give the visitors a two-goal lead, only for Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard to square things up, ending Spurs’ hopes of a first top flight league title since 1961.
Spurs lost their collective rag, about a million players got booked during what seemed like an hour of injury time, Leicester were crowned champions of England thanks to the result, and Cesc Fabregas hasn’t stopped talking about it.
Funny. Not only because Tottenham threw the game away in a very Tottenham way, but because Chelsea are remembered that season as Spurs’ title deniers rather than criminal underachievers. And the very next season, Chelsea would win the Premier League under Antonio Conte and beat Tottenham in the FA Cup semi final, almost like an older brother patting his younger sibling on the head for getting close but not close enough.
But the needle between the two teams didn’t originate during the 2000s. There’s been animosity dating back to the 1967 FA Cup final, which Tottenham won 2-1. Two former Blues stars – Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables – claimed the trophy with Spurs that day.
There was even some relegation-related aggro during the 1974/75 season. You wouldn’t expect to see either team scrapping near the bottom of England’s top fight nowadays, but that was the situation during the aforementioned season – a match between the teams towards the end of the campaign saw fans invade the pitch before the kick-off whistle had even been blown.
Tottenham were in the relegation zone with Chelsea a point ahead, but the north London outfit would win that game and beat the drop, while the Blues failed to win either of their remaining two games and were relegated from the First Division.
That was back in a time when the teams were pretty evenly matched, certainly in regards to their respective trophy hauls.
That was until the 1990s, however. Tottenham stopped being as entertaining as they had typically been throughout their history, finishing in pretty poor positions throughout that decade. It was only when Martin Jol came in that Spurs started to recover some of that flair, but by then Chelsea had turned into the great entertainers, with players like Gianfranco Zola blazing the trail for the 2004/05 and 2005/06 title winners.
And so, in the modern day era Chelsea have become a club obsessed with triumph, winning trophy after trophy with whatever manager could do the job at any specific time, while Tottenham took a more patient approach in the hope it would pay off in the future.
That patience is yet to be rewarded. While Chelsea can finish one season tenth and the next first, Tottenham finished in the top four in four consecutive seasons under Mauricio Pochettino, but not once where they top of the pile.
But perhaps now there is more parity. Chelsea have a bunch of young talents who could blossom into leading Premier League stars, while Tottenham are having to start their whole process again after ditching Pochettino for Jose Mourinho. You could argue one is in a healthier position than the other, but for now if your club’s name isn’t either Liverpool or Manchester City, your team won’t be in the running for a Premier League title challenge anytime soon.
Who doesn’t love the most competitive league in the world, eh?