Losing to them always hurts. That will never change. But something felt different for Tim Fray after Saturday's game.
Let me be clear before I start; I hate Arsenal. With a passion. They are the enemy. The horrible bastard creation of businessmen desperate to save an almost bankrupt, failing South London football club. The original Franchise FC – 90 years before MK Dons. Any defeat to them is painful, obviously, but something about the feeling in the aftermath of this one got me thinking. Something felt different.
I grew up supporting Spurs throughout the 90’s. The worst possible time to be a Tottenham fan. We were either involved in a relegation battle or stuck in mid-table mediocrity. The only joy came from the fact we always had that one great player that stood out, somebody to make you get off your seat. A Klinsmann or a Ginola, but that was it. As a team, there was nothing to get excited about.
With this being the case, a North London derby, especially away, was something that I dreaded. A draw was the best that could be hoped for. There was certainly no expectancy of winning. We would field teams with the likes of Chris Armstrong up front against Tony Adams, or have Clive Wilson defending against Dennis Bergkamp. Allan Nielsen would be involved in a midfield battle with Patrick Viera and Emmanuel Petit. It wasn’t a fair contest.
The game would finish and I could be glad that was over with for another year. That was assuming that we would still be in the Premier League to face them again next year.
I grew up supporting Spurs throughout the 90’s. The worst possible time to be a Tottenham fan. We were either involved in a relegation battle or stuck in mid-table mediocrity.
Things didn’t improve into the early noughties. When we travelled to Highbury in November 2003, to face Wenger’s invincibles side, our three substitutions were to bring on Mabizela for Konchesky, Rohan Ricketts for Stephane Dalmat and Bobby Zamora in place of Helder Postiga. Again, not a particularly even contest.
We then entered the Martin Jol era, and began to lay the groundworks for the Tottenham that now exists today. Even so, there was still no expectancy, only hope that we might get a positive result from a trip down the Seven Sisters Road.
The Harry Redknapp years bought a real sense that things could change. There was the incredible comeback to grab a 4-4 draw in October 2008. And then, even better than that, the second half turnaround in November 2010, giving us our first North London derby away victory in 17 years. This was achieved with an exciting, attacking team featuring Gareth Bale, Rafa Van Der Vaart and Luka Modric. Surely things would be different from now on?
No. Consecutive 5-2 defeats followed on our next two visits to the Emirates. It was a false dawn.
Failing to win away at Arsenal is something that I have become accustomed to. It happens almost every year. If we couldn’t manage a draw, defeat was always followed by going through the five stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
The most difficult stage was acceptance. This is because I was accepting that they were a better team than us. For many years, a much better team. Consistently finishing below them in the table come May backed up this point. Even as we got closer and I felt we were the stronger side, the league table still told me differently.
However, since Pochettino has been in charge, slowly things have started to change. He had overseen three 1-1 draws away at the Emirates prior to this weekend. Despite not winning the games we had been the better team, and I had gone away disappointed that we had not won. But, at the same time, I was still pleased that we had not lost. I didn’t want to have to face that horrible emotional rollercoaster that defeat always bought with it.
Going into the game this Saturday something was different. I had a genuinely strange feeling – I was optimistic. I really felt that we were going to win the game. And Arsenal supporters were telling me the same. They were worried. They were not looking forward to facing us. We were going to the Emirates to dominate the game and take home the three points.
My optimism was mis-placed, and my gut feeling was wrong.
But something was different. As the final whistle went, and in the hours following the game, my feelings regarding the result were different to those I had experienced following previous defeats. Yes, the defeat hurts. Losing to them always does. That is something that will always be there though.
The difference this time was that instead of going through the different stages, I found myself at acceptance almost immediately. I didn’t feel the denial and the anger. I didn’t go through the bargaining stage (not even about some of the refereeing decisions!). I didn’t even touch on the depression stage. Just acceptance.
Not just this though, I also found that what I was actually accepting was different too. I accepted that we were beaten by the better team – but only on the day. We lost to a team that wanted it more on the day. Not really a better team in the grander scheme of things.
I have tried to understand why I reached acceptance so quickly. Losing to Arsenal would normally take a few days to get over. The weekend would be written off at least. But I was over this one almost immediately. We’ve got Dortmund to think about on Tuesday. And maybe that is why. We have a Champions League fixture coming up this week. They too will be in Germany, but playing in one of those horrible 6pm Thursday evening kick-offs that it is nearly impossible to get any sort of excitement or enjoyment from.
And that is the difference. We may have lost, and as painful as it is, it is not the end of the world. We can take it on the chin and still look down the table at them. Defeat would have hurt them so much more than it does us. Imagine the poisonous atmosphere that would have engulfed that club had we taken all three points. That, to me, shows how the times have changed.
They used to claim that we were an irrelevance. Not a game to get excited about. They had bigger fish to fry. How the mighty have fallen. Defeat to us this weekend and they may well have wanted to pack up completely and head back to Arsenal.
We may have lost, and as painful as it is, it is not the end of the world. We can take it on the chin and still look down the table at them.
I will always understand the rivalry, the determination and the will to beat them. That will never change. It can’t be any other way if you fully understand why the rivalry even exists in the first place. It will always be there and should never be any other way. But we can suck up this result and carry on.
We know that we are still progressing and are undeniably still a team on the up. We also know that they have stagnated, and one result isn’t going to change that either way.
To use a boxing analogy, this result was the equivalent of Hasim Rahman beating an off-colour Lennox Lewis. They have taken a swing at us and got lucky. In the Premier League, as we know, anybody can beat anybody on their day. And as one of the ‘top six’ they are a heavyweight still. However, unlike in previous years, instead of being pleased that this game is now out of the way, I am already looking forward to the next opportunity to face them, so like Lewis against Rahman, we can set the record straight.
And that is why I have been able to accept the result so easily this time. I know, you know, and if they were to be completely honest, even Arsenal supporters must know that things are changing in North London.
We are two clubs that are heading in different directions. This result does not make any difference to that. If anything it has only gone to prove one thing to me – that even in failure we can still find an echo of glory.