Should Spurs and Arsenal share a stadium?

Tottenham and Arsenal have already shared a stadium: Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. Shared it for the best part of seven years, between 1939 when the Second World War broke out, and 1946 when the Gunners at last returned to Highbury.

Arsenal fans rip boards off at White Hart Lane during their League Cup match against Tottenham.   -  REUTERS

West Ham will play at the remodelled Olympic Stadium from the next season.   -  Getty Images

Someone called Lord Harris, a rich carpet manufacturer who happens to be a director of Arsenal (no, I’d never heard of him either) recently declared that there was no way that Tottenham Hotspur, if temporarily displaced from White Hart Lane, should in the interim share the Emirates Stadium with Arsenal. Nor indeed does there at the moment seem the remotest possibility that they will.

But why not? After all, you might see it as a simple matter of reciprocation. For though Lord Harris may not know it, and indeed the fact seems widely to be forgotten, Spurs and Arsenal have already shared a stadium: Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. Shared it for the best part of seven years, between 1939 when the Second World War broke out, and 1946 when the Gunners at last returned to Highbury.

Arsenal in September 1939 had scarcely time to begin their First Division League programme when their stadium was used by the Government for an ARP, Air Raid Precaution centre. That led to the agreement with Spurs that they should play their home fixtures in the transitional wartime competitions at White Hart Lane. And that was where, as a ten-year-old Arsenal fan, taken to matches by my father, I first saw them play, beginning late in season 1941/42 when they beat Brighton in a wartime League match 6-2.

Perhaps it was just as well that the Gunners quit Highbury, for it was destined to be bombed. At the so called clock end of the ground, a Royal Air Force crew manned a barrage balloon, a huge silver coloured inflated affair which was meant to obstruct enemy bombers. At Highbury, alas, it and its crew were themselves the victim. A Nazi bomb landed on the emplacement, killing two of the luckless crew attending the balloon. At the other end of what was the playing pitch, incendiary bombs set fire to the still standing goalposts. Though every one sheet pink coloured match programme issued at White Hart Lane carried a warning of enemy bombing, none blessedly took place. One remembers with some amusement and nostalgia the way alterations to the teams were shown; and in those days with so many footballers serving in the Forces of course there were many.

A little old man was employed solely and somewhat painfully to spell out the names of the newly chosen players with a series of letters, one at a time, painted on black metal squares. One afternoon, such a player was the “guest” — of which there were so many — Liverpool’s South African right winger Berry Nieuwenhuys. To this day I remember the poor little man struggling with his metal plates to put up the name.

Tottenham’s problem is that they desperately need to rebuild. Their present 35,000 plus capacity isn’t remotely big enough to guarantee them the income they require. By contrast Arsenal, moving from Highbury, whose capacity had been reduced to 38,000 (pre war it was 72,000), now can house 60,272 at the Emirates. The Lord Justice Taylor report, which followed the appalling Hillsborough disaster with its 96 dead, had put an end to standing accommodation with a consequent shrinking of capacity across the board.

Initially Tottenham hoped to take over the Olympic Stadium, far away from White Hart Lane, after the Olympic Games staged there were over. It seemed a seriously mistaken idea for its location in the East End of London as Stratford was far away from Tottenham. West Ham United whose Upton Park stadium was far closer to Stratford challenged their bid and after some displeasing allegations of underhand methods allegedly practised by Spurs, who wanted to knock down the whole edifice and build again, West Ham had their way. They will move into a much reduced Olympic Stadium — incurring colossal expense, of which they pay relatively little — next season.

Spurs were thus reduced to building a much larger stadium adjacent to their present site. Having managed to buy out most of the various businesses which stood in their way, they were stymied for many months by one small operation which obstinately refused to sell; till eventually and somewhat inexplicably it burnt down.

Rebuilding White Hart Lane, however, quite apart from the colossal expense was going to take a couple of years, and where would Tottenham play in the meantime? The Olympic Stadium was out, Wembley appeared to be the best bet. Arsenal after all had played European Cup matches there a few seasons ago. It looked as if the Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy was about to conclude a highly favourable deal with Wembley’s owners the Football Association, when in jumped Chelsea, whose Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has concluded a three-year deal for his team to use Wembley while their Stamford Bridge stadium, now capable of holding only 41,000 fans — exactly half the size of their pre war record crowd — is being hugely enlarged and rebuilt.

The historic enmity between Spurs and Arsenal was only too sharply illustrated very recently indeed when the Gunners beat Spurs at White Hart Lane in a League Cup tie, Arsenal fans behind one goal tearing down placards attached to the side of that stand. Bitter hostility was entrenched as far back as 1913 when Woolwich Arsenal, as they were called, crossed the river Thames from Plumsted to settle in a new stadium at Highbury just a few miles away from White Hart Lane.

Fuel was added to the flames six years later when, football returning to its normal pattern after the Great War, Arsenal dramatically and controversially, having finished a mere fifth in the last pre war Second Division, were promoted to the First. While Spurs who’d ended in the bottom pair of the last pre-war First Division, were now relegated to the Second, though Chelsea, who had finished in the bottom two, were allowed to stay up: the First Division having been increased by two clubs.

Tottenham in these days have encountered yet another obstruction to rebuilding White Hart Lane. To make room for a wider pavement it was intended to demolish three locally listed-preserved Victorian and Edwardian buildings which stand on the site. Historic England, formerly known as English Heritage, have strongly objected. Saying: “We believe Spurs’ latest proposal will cause substantial harm to the historic character of the surrounding area.” Now there is even talk of Spurs being forced to play far outside London at the bleakly anonymous Milton Keynes. A dismal prospect for their supporters!