Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea: The Rivalry Explained
Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)

It's often billed as one of the biggest games of the season and one that countless fans mark in their diaries when the fixture list is released each year.

It's a fixture filled with passion, anger and a desire to win, no matter the cost.

It's a fixture of fierce rivalry, where shots sting the goalkeepers' gloves that little bit more, where tackles come flying in that little bit harder.

It's a fixture, to put it simply, that nobody wants to lose.

It's Tottenham Hotspur vs Chelsea, a London derby which evokes the most extreme emotions from fans and players alike - but where did it all begin?

VAVEL takes a trip back in time to find out...

The Origins

Of course, teams playing in the same city are never going to be on the best terms with one another meaning a natural competitiveness between the two teams was apparent from their very foundation.

But that could be applied to plenty of teams in the capital - after all, neither Chelsea nor Spurs are particularly fond of Fulham, but there is a large gulf between such 'derbies' and the one being talked about here.

Prior to the mid-1960s, the two teams were generally apathetic towards one another, as far as city rivals can be; Spurs were the more successful club of the two, having won the First Division twice and the FA Cup on four occasions.

That's in contrast to the West London side who had won just two major trophies in their history by 1965 - the First Division in 1954/55 and the League Cup during the 1964/65 campaign.

By the 19th May 1967, the two teams had faced each other 61 times, with the Lilywhites coming out on top 30 times and the Blues only being victors after 21 matches.

Such results were soon to become totally irrelevant however, as the two sides faced each other in the 1967 FA Cup Final - the first between two London sides and therefore nicknamed the 'Cockney Cup Final'.

It was hotly-contested and contained many individual backstories within the team sheets, including the likes of Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables, two former Blues, playing for the North London side.

In the end, Spurs lifted the trophy, following a 2-1 win, and relations from that point onwards were frosty to say the least.

The Relegation Battle

The aforementioned cup final led to the two teams, and more importantly their fanbases, having a general disliking of the other whenever they played, but to call it a rivalry yet would be misconstruing and frankly avoiding the more significant event in this historical account.

Just eight years after their final face-off, both clubs found themselves struggling at the bottom of the first division with just three games remaining in the season.

A game at White Hart Lane was therefore set to be pivotal in the relegation fight, with the home side in the drop zone and the visitors just a point above it.

Goals from Alfie Conn and Steve Perryman ultimately led to Spurs winning the game 2-0 and they went on to survive in the top flight by the skin of their teeth.

Chelsea, on the other hand, did not.

Not only did the relegation exacerbate tensions between the sides, but, perhaps more importantly, multiple instances of fan-initiated violence ended up in brutal fights, giving Chelsea their unwanted hooligan reputation for the following years.

While the Blues then languished in the lower divisions during the eighties while their North London counterparts were, while not winning a vast amount of trophies, in a far better position and undoubtedly the bigger club.

The Gradual Switch

As the eighties turned into the nineties however, something started to happen at Stamford Bridge, courtesy of one man in particular - Matthew Harding.

The man who now has a stand named after him at the stadium gave some much-needed investment at the time and, without warning, the form of the two sides virtually turned on its head.

So great was this shift that, from 1990 to 2006, Spurs were unable to defeat Chelsea in the league at any point which only made the rivalry greater.

An upturn in trophies such as the 1997 FA Cup and the 1998 Cup Winners' Cup put the Blues firmly on the path to abundant success, while Tottenham struggled to even break into the top half of the league.

The speed with which their fortunes were reversed is often credited as being another major factor in this now infamous derby - gone were the days of Spurs being the 'team to watch' and the one every player wanted to join.

Now that team was Chelsea.

The Modern Day

All of these factors have therefore combined to create a rivalry which has its roots in both an FA Cup Final and a relegation battle - a sign of the tumultuous times that both clubs went through at points, when emotions were only heightened.

As is now an unwanted statistic for Spurs fans, the club haven't managed to win a single trophy since 2008, which strangely enough was won against the Blues.

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However, it's almost impossible to argue that, over the past 20 years or so, Chelsea have been the more successful side, adding once again to that sense of one-upmanship between the two.

Referring back to the record among them, it is now clear which way the pendulum has swung. Chelsea have recorded 73 victories to Tottenham's 55.

Fundamentally, the rivalry comes down to one thing: Spurs were on top for so many years, and now Chelsea are.

In a way, that's what all rivalries are - but when it's come from the highs of trophies to the lows of relegation and everything in between, it does seem as though it's that little bit more special.

Whether Chelsea go on to dominate for another 20 years or whether Tottenham re-enact the reversal of fortunes as the Blues did in the 1990s is as yet unknown.

All that is certain is that, for as long as football is played, this fixture will be looked forward to every year, whether the two teams are flying high at the top of the league or struggling at the bottom.

And they wouldn't have it any other way.

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