The Battle of London by Rex Pardoe
reviewed by Brian Dawes
As Bill Shankly might have said had he managed Arsenal or Tottenham 'Some people think the Arsenal-Tottenham game is a matter of life or death, but I can assure you it is far more important than that'. Alas he never did say that, but thousands would have agreed with him had he done so.
This book, which was first published in 1972, is described as 'The full story of the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur from the 1880's to the 1970's'. And it is. The concept was quite possibly prompted initially because at the time it was written Arsenal & Spurs were the only two clubs to have achieved the domestic double in the Twentieth Century. With them doing so at either end of the sixties comparisons were inevitable, still fresh and the story compelling.
This title begins at the beginning for both clubs tracing their early development and despite Rex Pardoe not being a Gooner he is unbiased in his account which covers the tribal rivalry by devoting chapters to suitable eras of the game. I've only found one minor error, which is where he claims it was 1913 when Arsenal switched to red shirts with white sleeves. Other than that I can't fault it. The biggest coverage quite naturally goes to the two Double winning seasons where coincidentally both clubs fared well with injuries and both teams only called upon 16 players each during their respective campaigns.
There have been times when Arsenal dominated and periods when the Totts had their nose ahead. Given that both clubs are being covered and compared there might be a little too much Tottenham for some tastes, but then again its surely always better to know your enemy. Especially so should you wish to ensure good knowledge of all your opponents deficiencies. Either way the text takes you right back to the various eras in a way that perhaps a more recently written title can't quite manage. Certainly those with long memories of these epic battles will have their memories jogged and others younger readers will become altogether better informed.
Only the stats pages have been updated, which is handy because if studied they show that in the 108 seasons of league football played by Arsenal we've been ahead of Tottenham some 78 times. Of the 30 season when Tottenham actually made the same division as us and headed Arsenal almost half of these were in the 1950's and 60's. And only in two seasons during all this time, 1913-14 & 1914-15, have Arsenal been in a lower division. Bringing the statistics up to date also confirms that it's 17 consecutive seasons now since the Club from the wrong end of Seven Sisters has topped us in the league.
All the matches between the clubs, excluding friendlies, are covered with brief reports of matches from 1910 onwards, the year when Spurs finally caught up with us in the First Division. These fleeting glances into the past are quite often capable of bringing back some stirring memories plus one or two heart breaks.
One of the many things I learned about the Totts in the course of reading this volume is that 'a lamp-post in the High Road is the legendary birthplace of Tottenham Hotspur'. In which case I can only hope that if it wasn't destroyed in the riots and that dogs all over North London continue to show their appreciation of this 'legendary birthplace'.
This book has been republished by GCR Books who can be found on their website at www.gcrbooks.co.uk - the ISBN for anyone wishing to order from their favourite local bookstore is 978 0 9559211 9 3 but I somehow doubt you'll find it cheaper online than on the publishers own site