Relations between Spurs and Arsenal were already well strained before the teams met on September 23rd in 1922. That contest would not only intensify the bad feeling between the clubs and their supporters but result in the FA calling a commission to investigate the events, which unbelievably would be more controversial than the game itself. Tottenham had won the FA Cup two years before and been runners up the previous season. They drew bigger crowds and had a reputation for playing exciting football. Arsenal had started the season badly and on that day they delivered what the Sunday Times described as a ‘discreditable exhibition.'
’This is a story that I heard years ago and have tried with some difficultly to uncover what actually happened. In case you are expecting author bias I should state that this article is based on what news reports of the time I can find, although these tend to concentrate on comment rather than detail. The ‘facts’ contained are accepted by Arsenal historians, even though they have tended to try and shift the blame throughout on to Tottenham.
The Arsenal manager, Leslie Knighton, had never won at Tottenham and that season had lost his first three away games as his team struggled. Forty thousand were at White Hart Lane as he sent his team out to stop Tottenham playing (who had seven points from ten) and win at all costs.
The mood was set in the opening minutes of the match when Fanny Walden, one of Tottenham’s stars and a fan favourite was forced to withdraw with a leg injury that meant he would only play one more game in the next two months. This left Tottenham a man short. The visitors adopted a style of play that has been described as agricultural and involved an endless stream of long balls hoofed out of defence. Tottenham’s Alex Lindsay (top) was on the receiving end of a foul and had to leave the pitch for a period to receive treatment. Then Bert Smith was another casualty and also had to withdraw for treatment leaving Spurs with just nine players for a second time.
The home fans made clear what they thought of such tactics. Then just before the break it was Bert Bliss who was injured. He carried on for the rest of the game but was limping throughout and played little part in the proceedings leaving Spurs with just nine fit players. Bliss would only play a few more games that season.
Despite this the teams went in at half time goalless. After the break Tottenham could not hold out and within a few minutes Arsenal took the lead. A few minutes later Jimmy Dimmock was hacked down and the referee spoke to the Offender but took no further action against the Arsenal team. With ten minutes left numbers told and Arsenal increased their lead. Into the final minutes and finally something went Tottenham’s way when they scored what seemed a consolation goal. through Linsay.
Arsenal claimed it was off-side and indeed one report claims the referee looked like he had disallowed it at first. When the goal was awarded the visitors claimed it was only because the home fans had forced the referee to change his mind.
The Arsenal goalkeeper Dunn chased after the referee grabbed hold of him and shook the official and was said to behave “like a man demented.” Again no action was taken but the goal stood. It was at this point that Arsenal’s Graham punched Bert Smith in the face.
The report in the Sunday Evening Telegram reads ‘after the Spurs goal came the most disgraceful scene I have witnessed on any ground at any time. Players pulled the referee, blows with fists were exchanged and the dignity that appertains in the referee was rudely trampled on’.
The other papers expressed similar views and reported that the Tottenham players had remained well restrained throughout the game and despite deliberate provocation offered little retaliation during the game. The press reports state that Tottenham were by far the better team but suffered from bad luck and poor finishing. One has to wonder if the Tottenham players were just happy to survive the game.
The home fans, no one would claim they were angels, were undoubtedly showing their feelings and Arsenal claimed that several coins were thrown at them. At the end of the game the police gathered at the entrance of the dressing rooms to ensure there was no disorder. It should be noted that I can find no reports of any arrests, something that will become relevant later. At that time reverse fixtures were played the following week and normally with the same officials. So on 30th September, the teams would meet again at Highbury. During the week the FA announced they would hold an investigation. They also changed the referee for the game. Such had been the interest in the game it saw 55,000, a new ground record, pack the terraces. Walden and Bliss were absent injured but Tottenham, with eleven players and allowed to play football won the game 2-0, Jimmy Dimmock scoring both our goals in a game that passed off fairly peaceful.
The Arsenal programme contained a report that all the problems the previous week had been caused by the Tottenham fans and that Arsenal were blameless in a blatant attempt to influence the Commission. The Commission sat on October 5th. It is somewhat strange that the referee from the first match was not even called to give evidence, especially when we review their findings which were.
Tottenham’s Bert Smith (who was punched in the face) was found guilty of swearing and banned for a month. Graham (who punched him) was ‘censured’ for retaliating and told he should have brought the bad language to the attention of the referee.
Dunn, the Arsenal goalkeeper who had manhandled the referee was ‘censured’ for his behavior. The FA accepted that the official had given offside for the Spurs goal but then changed his mind because of the reaction of the home fans. Then the FA warned Tottenham about the future behaviour of their fans and any repeat would result in the ground being closed. Arsenal who had kicked our players off the pitch, punched one of our players in the face and manhandled the referee it seems won more than just two points.
t- Keith 16024542
f- peter shearman (old non de plume)
Thanks to – THFC, Sunday Times, Phil Soar, Arsenal History, Times, Bob Goodwin, Tottenham Weekly Herald.
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