When you think about the top derbies in English football, Chelsea vs Tottenham might not be the first to come to mind. But if you consider the factors that make up a proper derby – proximity, long history, controversies, and most of all a certain equity in results – this London derby has become one of the fiercest in the game.
In fact, while Tottenham fans clearly consider Arsenal their biggest rival, among Chelsea fans, according to a survey done by The Athletic, Tottenham is clearly Enemy #1. And while each club has had a turn over the years being dominant in the rivalry and English football generally, these days they are pretty even.
Overall, as of January 2021, there have been 168 meetings between Chelsea and Spurs, with the Blues winning 72, Spurs 54, and 42 ending in a draw. But even some of those have been highly memorable.
So let’s take a look at why Chelsea-Tottenham is such a heated rivalry, and let’s review some of the highlights and lowlights of their longstanding hate affair.
A Brief History of Chelsea FC
Many non-Brits may not realize this, but the Chelsea we know today is a largely modern phenomenon. Chelsea was founded in 1905, but they basically didn’t win anything until the First Division in 1955. They won the League Cup in 1965 and the FA Cup in 1970, but they nearly lost their stadium in the 1980s and were sold in 1982 for £1(!).
They started making strides in the 1990s as Matthew Harding pumped money into the club; they made the FA Cup final in 1994 and won it in 1997. Then in 2003, Roman Abramovich arrived. The Russian oil billionaire spent $100 million on players and hired José Mourinho — now the Spurs manager, not incidentally. Since 2004, Chelsea has won five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, two Community Shields, one Champions League (and lost another final to Manchester United), and two Europa Leagues.
Related: What are the FA Cup and League Cup?
A Brief History of Tottenham Hotspur
Founded in 1882, Spurs won a couple of FA Cups in 1901 and 1921, then really hit their stride in the 1950s. They won the league in 1951, and their glory days were the early 1960s, when they became the first club to win the League and FA Cups (“doing the double”) in the same year in the 20th century. That was 1960–61. They won the FA Cup again in 1962, then the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) in 1962, becoming the first English club to win a major European trophy.
Spurs, along with Manchester United, were the only club to win trophies in each decade from the 1950s through 2010. But their last trophy was the 2008 League Cup (more on that in a moment), and their last FA Cup was 1991. For many years since then, they have failed to get it done, and they finished behind archrivals Arsenal in the league for decades until 2016–17.
Tottenham-Chelsea Rivalry: Origins in the 1960s
Everyone seems to agree that it really started in the 1960s, with Spurs coming off their great peak of a few years before, Chelsea starting to build a Cup-winning team, and hooliganism beginning to simmer in English football.
Specifically, people point to the 1967 FA Cup Final, the first ever to feature two London teams; it was known as the “Cockney Cup Final” and was also noteworthy for pockets of violence in and around Wembley Stadium. Spurs won it, 2-0, with a team featuring two high-profile players, Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables, who had started as youth with Chelsea. For Spurs fans, this was a reminder they were still the greater team; for Chelsea fans, a sort of inferiority complex seemed to set in. It would only get worse.
Do note how the (British!) announcer uses the word “soccer” in this video!
Chelsea-Tottenham in the 70s: Mutual Decline
By the 1974-75 season, Spurs were truly off their 1960s boil, and Chelsea’s Cup specialists were breaking up without a league title to show for it. Late in the 1975 season, they met at White Hart Lane as relegation rivals. (Related: How does promotion and relegation work in English football?)
Spurs won, Chelsea went down a few weeks later, and they would spend much of the next 10 years in Division Two. Tottenham would have their own relegation, for one season, in 1977.
And while this clip doesn’t show it, the game was noted at the time for widespread post-game fighting that even spilled onto the pitch. Hooliganism was alive and well, and Chelsea, in particular, would struggle with it for decades.
(Nice goal at 6:50 here, by the way, and by a lad with quite a 1970s hairdo.)
The 1990s and 2000s: The Rise of Chelsea
Spurs would again dominate in the 1980s, winning two more FA Cups and making a couple more Cup finals, while Chelsea hit rock bottom on and off the pitch, nearly being relegated from Division Two in 1983. This was also the peak of the hooligan days, when the streets around Stamford Bridge were notorious for violence.
All this confirmed, to Spurs fans, that Chelsea were simply a joke.
But in the 1990s, a man named Matthew Harding joined the Chelsea board and pumped money into the club, resulting in a side that came to not only win trophies but generally dominated their North London Rivals. Spurs would, in fact, not beat Chelsea in the league from 1990 to 2006, and they didn’t win a game at Stamford Bridge from 1991 to 2018!
A particular game of note in this stretch was a 6-1 humbling dished out by Chelsea at White Hart Lane in December 1997:
In the decade of the 90s, Chelsea would win two FA Cups, lose another Final, and win the League Cup, while Spurs would only manage one League Cup. The “jokes” were getting serious.
Then, under Abramovich and his billions, Chelsea went to another level in the 2000s, with three Premier League wins, three FA Cups, two League Cups, five semifinal runs in the Champions League and one Final loss. This is when Spurs fans, among many others, started singing about Chelsea “buying” their success and being run by a “Russian crook.”
Chelsea’s star man Frank Lampard, who would later be their manager, said during this time “It’s always worse to lose to Spurs because they make DVDs of it for 10 years.”
Spurs, meanwhile? They only managed another League Cup win in 2008 — at the expense of Chelsea, they would be happy to say.
Before we get to that game, though, a sad mention must be made of the 2007 game at Chelsea, when hooliganism reared its ugly head. The clubs met in the FA Cup Quarterfinals and Tottenham jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Chelsea came back for a 3-3 draw, and later that evening, outside a traditional Chelsea pub called the White Horse, chaos erupted. Groups of people battled in the streets for an hour, dozens were injured, at least 10 were stabbed, and police reportedly collected “knives, baseball bats, wooden clubs embedded with nails and hockey sticks.”
Chelsea went on to win the replay and the Cup, by the way; a sign of the times.
Other Chelsea-Tottenham Games of Note
Let’s continue our tour through other remarkable games in the Tottenham-Chelsea rivalry.
2008 League Cup Final: Tottenham 2, Chelsea 1
Chelsea were holders, the game was back at the rebuilt Wembley Stadium for the first time, and an Extra Time error by Petr Cech gave Spurs what, as of 2021, is their most recent trophy.
2015 League Cup Final: Chelsea 2, Tottenham 0
This is the game that put Chelsea past Spurs in total trophy count, which is the context for the banter in this article:
Spurs fan: “Let’s not forget that Chelsea are essentially a small outfit from Fulham. They have received a major glory boost in the last two decades that has helped them dramatically grow their fanbase and close the gap on genuine historic clubs like Tottenham Hotspur.”
To the “genuine, historic” dig and Spurs’ new stadium, the Chelsea fan responds, “Anyone can build a new stadium if the money is available, but it is winning trophies that matters.”
2016: Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham in “The Battle of Stamford Bridge”
This is the year that Leicester City magically won the Premier League, chased by Spurs in their most serious title challenge in many years. Chelsea, meanwhile, were a mess. By the time they met at Chelsea in early May, the Blues’ season was done, but Chelsea fans most certainly did not want their great rivals to win a damn thing.
In fact, their star player Eden Hazard said as much before the game, despite having several fellow Belgian National Team members at Tottenham: “I don’t want Spurs to win it and, for what they’ve done through the season, I would love Leicester to win the Premier League.”
A Spurs win would keep their title hopes alive; anything else would hand Leicester the championship on the night.
Spurs led at halftime, 2-0, but even during that half there were fireworks; a Chelsea player poked a Spurs player in the eye, an incident the referee missed but later resulted in a six-game ban. Towards the end of the half a melee erupted along the touchline that actually included Spurs’ head coach.
In the second half, Chelsea got a goal back, and the atmosphere become absolutely sizzling. Chelsea fans were singing Leicester City songs, more fights broke out, and when Hazard leveled it with a cracker of a goal, and then did a sliding celebration in front of the Tottenham fans, it was on.
Spurs players basically went on the hunt for Chelsea players, racking up a Premier League-record nine yellow cards; Chelsea added a couple more. After the game another melee broke out along the touchline, and Chelsea’s manager was knocked down.
As the announcer says in this highlight package — classic British understatement — “There was always a broad suspicion around this game that it was likely to be a tetchy one.”
Hazard’s goal, and most of the fireworks, start around 11 minutes in.
This video focuses on the, shall we say, “incidents” in the game:
In a famous post-match interview, Chelsea legend John Terry, never known as a voice of reason, basically shrugged the whole thing off like, “Eh, it’s a derby, what do you expect?”
This Chelsea fan, down in the corner near the Spurs fans, had a great view of the action. Check out the Spurs fans celebrations of their goals, and then the Chelsea fans singing, “2-nil, and you fucked it up.”
And more than one writer, including one in the Daily Mail, wondered, “Isn’t it time we stop pretending this isn’t what we want to see?”
2017: Tottenham 2-0 Chelsea
Just six months after all that excitement, Chelsea came to White Hart Lane on a 13-game Premier League winning streak, looking to tie what was then the record.
I happened to be at this game, leading a Groundhop Tour, and we had lucked into seats behind a goal near the away fans. It was without question the most intense English game I’ve ever been involved in. People often ask if seeing English soccer is dangerous, and I always tell them it isn’t — unless you’re behind a Spurs goal at the old White Hart Lane where Dele Alli scores against Chelsea. I actually wound up one row lower than where I was sitting!
Here are the official highlights; long live the old White Hart Lane, I say.
I got a few videos of my own that night. Here we are just outside the away fans entrance as Spurs fans welcome their crosstown guests:
That song at the end is “Chelsea rent boys, we’re coming for you.” And what’s a rent boy? Basically a young gay male prostitute. Nice.
Next up is a sample of Spurs fans singing. The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, I must say, is beautiful — but it never sounds like this!
That missing corner in the ground, by the way, was for construction of the new place.
And finally, this video from the night pretty well summarizes what each fanbase thinks of each other. It’s the ugly, but fascinating, and utterly exciting heart of a true English football derby.