Why does everybody hate Tottenham? Understanding London football rivalries

London's football territories as seen by 'The Soccer Tribe'


The short answer is that you can’t . London’s football rivalries are as impenetrable as Jamie Carragher’s accent. They do not obey the strict rules of geography, they shift over time as relegations dent ambition or minor grudges get blown out of shape, and even at the same club, different supporters will have different rivals, some reflecting age, others temperament. 

Take Chelsea. Chelsea are based in south-west London, just a mile away from Fulham – the two clubs share a postcode and after many years apart have now shared a division for the best part of a decade. But while Fulham hate Chelsea, I have never met a Chelsea fan who considers Fulham their rivals. How can they? Fulham are lovely, probably the cutest club in England. Every time I look at Roy Hodgson, I want to tickle him. 

Most Chelsea fans instead plump for Tottenham, who brood far way in north-east London. The reasons for this rivalry are, like William Brown’s feud with Hubert Lane, lost to history but may have something to do with a) Jimmy Greaves; b) the 1967 FA Cup final; c) anti-semitism

It doesn’t end there, though. 

Other Chelsea fans, those with loftier ambitions, choose to hate Arsenal, the biggest and most successful club in London by far. A third batch, the type with scary faces and nicknames like ‘Doom’, go for West Ham, that den of resentment and blown dreams along the District Line, for reasons that have much to do with certain off-pitch incidents that have taken place over the years in pubs and stations all over London. But also because Chelsea and West Ham share certain psychological frailties that bigger clubs like Spurs and Arsenal do not understand. 

Most  London clubs have similarly confused rivalries. Arsenal are the most straightforward – they hate Spurs. And Spurs hate them, although some Spurs fans have a marked dislike for Chelsea, who have all but usurped their place as the second biggest club in London and aren’t shy to remind them of it. 

Rounding off London’s distinctive strain of anti-Spurs feeling, West Ham also hate Tottenham – like Chelsea, they know Arsenal are untouchable at the top of the London pyramid, but feel Spurs are gettable. But West Ham fans also hate Chelsea and Millwall. Now Millwall hate West Ham, but Charlton hate Millwall. Charlton also hate Crystal Palace, who hate Brighton, which really screws things up. Nobody really knows who Leyton Orient hate  – although Wiki says Southend. 

You might think that’s already quite enough hate for one post – in fact, you might even be wondering why we should discuss hate at all – but it gets even more confusing over in West London. Fulham’s Fayed-inspired rise through the divisions has seen them mount a stepladder of hate – first Brentford, then QPR, now Chelsea. QPR have made a similar trip in the opposite direction, but while they refuse to get involved in any sort of rivalry with Brentford, they haven’t got much choice because nobody else will pay them the slightest bit of attention. 

And we haven’t even started on non-league clubs yet. 

It’s a soap opera, isn’t it? 

Why all the hate? Well, most football fans are aware that their chosen club is unlikely to win anything in any given season, so if they ‘unsupport’ (a term conceived by When Saturday Comes many years ago) another club, preferably a local rival, they can take vicarious satisfaction when they lose. It’s a form of hedge betting and means that even though Spurs haven’t won anything substantial for decades and regularly get beaten by Arsenal, they can take tremendous pleasure in each and every defeat experienced by their bigger rivals. 

Personally, I hate hate

And Spurs.


46 responses to “Why does everybody hate Tottenham? Understanding London football rivalries

  1. A tricky conundrum, wonderfully explained. I also prefer the phrase ‘unsupport,’ as opposed to hate.

    It’s not quite as complicated in the East Midlands, but the basic pecking order is:

    Forest hate Derby

    Derby hate Forest

    Leicester hate Forest

    Forest dislike Leicester

    Derby and Leicester dislike each other

    Notts County hate Forest

    Forest LOVE Notts County.

    I’ve seen the super Pies play at Wembley more times than I’ve seen Forest. The poor old Notts’ boys hate it that we don’t actually hate them.

    As for Mansfield Town? I think they hate Hucknall Town.

  2. Ah, the County-Forest relationship seems very like Chelsea-Fulham.

    I guess all regions have complicated rivalry infrastructure when it gets down it. The West Midlands seems quite straightforward but the North-West Corridor is a minefield.

    A friend of mine is a Blackpool fan and says long hours are spent in the pub arguing about who they dislike more, Preston or Burnley.

  3. As a Dulwich Hamlet fan there is no question I will HATE t*****g * mitcham until I die! Or the ‘thugs & muggers’ as we ‘affectionatley’ call them!

    People ask me why we hate each other so much. I can olny reply honestly…I have no idea. It’s just the way I was brought up as a child! 😉

  4. Excellent article. I’ve discussed it with Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham fans, all of whom agree that the analysis is spot on. It’s also interesting to spot the boundaries between territories – a friend tells me that Sydenham is traditionally Palace country, but Forest Hill is Millwall.

    Your East Midlands correspondent has missed the rivalry between Leicester and Coventry (which admittedly is in the West Midlands). I’m told that Coventry hate Leicester, but Leicester reserve their spite for Forest and Derby. I can personally attest that Coventry fans spent an awful lot of time abusing Leicester the last time I was there, in spite of the fact that they weren’t playing them at the time.

    • Hi Baldassaro, thanks for the comment. The boundaries thing is definitely interesting. If you look at the map attached you’ll see that in the middle of the big blue band across South London, there is a claret blob in Croydon. That’s because according to Chris Lightbown, the journalist who inspired the map with a piece he wrote on London football gangs in 1972, there was a hardcore of exiled East Enders and West Ham fans in the middle of Chelsea Croydon. I have no idea if this is still the case.

      On the Midlands – I always thought Coventry had it in for Villa, but it was unrequited. Poor Cov, one of those clubs that just don’t have a natural rival.

  5. Spurs v Chelsea is the main rivalry & has been since the 1960`s. The press have stirred up the Arseanl factor, which does exist, but as a Spurs fan – we hate Chelsea & always will

  6. Zaman Siddiqui

    I think that West Ham United are a team that are very good and never cheat.
    Personally, I think that Tottenham Hotspurs are a team who influence rivalries is because their fans are a disgrace. In an old match against West Ham in 1980, were throwing garbage and bottles to the West Ham squad. West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur are teams who have stadiums approximately 10 miles of distance. They are quite far apart stadiums/teams. As a West Ham supporter, I am not proud of the decisions that Tottenham has made in past decades.

  7. Here in Yorkshire it’s a lot more simple than London or the Midlands! –

    Bradford hate Leeds

    Huddersfield hate Leeds

    Hull hate Leeds

    Doncaster hate Leeds

    Barnsley hate Leeds

    Sheffield United and Wednesday hate each other, but they also hate Leeds

    Leeds hate Man Utd

  8. Ah, Leeds.

    Chelsea hate them too of course, but that’s a whole other story.

  9. Indeed. We have an old rivalry with Chelsea as well as Millwall and Cardiff, but that’s off the pitch stuff. Forst and Derby aren’t particularly fond of us either.

    Just a few comments on your map, which for the most part seems to be covered by the four teams you mentioned.

    – Obviously North London is for the most part Arsenal and Spurs country, but there’s also a small number of Barnet fans up there too.

    – West London seems to be split between Chelsea, Fulham and QPR, with Brentford, like Barnet taking up a small spot.

    – You’re more likely to find Palace, Millwall and Charlton in South London than Chelsea or Arsenal, especially Croydon which seems to be Palace’s heartland.

    – Most people in East London do indeed support West Ham, but there’s small pockets of Orient fans as well.

  10. This is BRILLIANT. When was this scarf map date back to? I can only imagine it would have been at Chelsea’s peak, around 1969-70, cos by the late 70s and 80s there were hardly any Chelsea fans left around the boroughs of Ealing, Hillingdon, Harrow or Hounslow. But I am fascinated by the stray red blobs of Arsenal, especially in Hayes (possibly an Irish thing) and Lewisham (is this some hangover from Woolwich Arsenal?). It’s a bit frustrating that they left out the whole complex Charlton/Millwall/Palace territory.

  11. The scarf map comes from Time Out in 1972 from Chris Lightbown’s seminal piece Football Gangs about the hooligans of the four big London clubs.

    Here’s a more recent and inclusive attempt to do the same thing.


  12. “Most people in East London do indeed support West Ham, but there’s small pockets of Orient fans as well.”

    And even smaller pockets of Dagenham and Redbridge fans.

    Although only really in some bits of Dagenham.
    Not Redbridge.

    They hate Boston. With good reason. And Peterborough (a legacy of their fans destroying part of the then Dagenham Utd ground in a distant FA cup tie in the mid-80s).
    Distant rivalries, perhaps, but still sort of East Anglian.

    Used to hate Barking, but (many relegations and bankrupcies later) now they’re not worth it. Nor are Grays Athletic.

    Don’t hate Orient, or Charlton. Quite glad to be drawn against either of them, in fact as it brings in money from their fans. Whereas normally that only comes from the ground sponsors, the local council, and the team sponsors, the local funeral parlour.

    Long may the Daggers reign.

    • Hornchurch Gooner

      And hornchurch hate dagenham,a little bit,it’s died down now,we also hate romford but not as much as they hate us.
      We used to hate Canvey a lot but not so much anymore and grays are not liked very much….ok,I hate them too.
      For me,I hate Tottenham first,as a Gooner….and because of my allegiance to hornchurch I hate romford nearly as much….I really hate Tottenham fans from romford though.

  13. Carra’s accent isn’t impenetrable! Unlike that of his manager.

    Entertaining article. My neighbour here in SE15, a lifelong CFC fan and all round good man told me there has always been a huge Chelsea fanbase in SE London and they all hate Arsenal. I can understand that. He said it was also something to do with Milwall but never went into specifics.

  14. There are loads of yids in east London,Infact if you pushed me IMO I think spurs have the most fans in London from londoners,

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  16. In the east mids,Leicester hate Forest,Derby and Cov in that order.Unless you live out near Hinkley,then you`ll hate Cov more than the rest.If you live around Coalville you`ll probably hate Derby the most.Everybody quite likes Notts County.

  17. Ah retype that its Chelsea who are the most successful team in London come back to us when you have actually won major honors in Europe you gooner scum!!

  18. John Saunders

    Its a much more complicated picture than most of you think. London is not just divided into North,South,East, and West. The river,too, is no boundary in West London. Thus Fulham and Chelsea draw much of their support from south of the river, and are looked on as South London teams. Geographically, they QPR,Brentford, and AFC Wimbledon form a geographical grouping as do Spurs, Arsenal,Barnet,in North London, West Ham,Orient,Dagenham in the East and Charlton and Millwall in the SE. Palace our ‘out on a limb’, but if anything are rivals for fans with Fulham and Chelsea in areas like Sutton and Mitcham. London geography is ,ai state, quite complicated!

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  20. Brilliant article!

    I saw a comment above saying the Hounslow Borough has few Chelsea fans left? That’s crazy. Obviously the community is overwhelmingly Asian who don’t tend to go to football but other than that.. I live in Feltham and this and the surrounding area is 100% recognised as a ‘Chelsea’ area. There’s lots of QPR too, a fair amount of Fulham and of course Brentford. Other London clubs do have their followings here too, Richmond/Twickenham has a big, big Spurs following.

    Proper football fan territories are gonna be all mixed because these days the football club you support is generally drummed into you before you even understand what geography means. For example if you’re Hounslow-Chelsea and you re-locate to the midlands and have children, are you gonna let your kids grow up to support the local team or are you gonna be watching Chelsea games with them, subliminally making it very likely they’ll grow up to support Chelsea too.

    As for the rivalries. Of course it varies from individuals but I’d say it’s something like this… (only London rivalries included)

    Arsenal HATE
    1: Tottenham
    2: Chelsea
    3: West Ham

    Tottenham HATE
    1: Arsenal
    2: (very close 2nd perhaps other way round for many Spurs) Chelsea
    3: West Ham

    Chelsea HATE
    1: Tottenham
    2: Arsenal
    3: West Ham (Could argue this as 2nd due to off-pitch rivalry)
    4: Millwall (off-pitch reasons)
    5: QPR

    West Ham HATE
    1: Millwall
    2: Tottenham
    3: Chelsea (2 and 3 could be switched but I think due to proximity the Tottenham rivalry is slightly more heated – nowadays at least)
    4: Arsenal

    Millwall HATE
    1: West Ham
    2: Chelsea
    3: Luton (not exactly London I know… near enough)

    1: Chelsea
    2: Fulham
    3: Luton
    4: Brentford

    Fulham HATE
    1: Chelsea
    2: QPR
    3: Brentford

    The other London clubs I wouldn’t like to comment on as I don’t know nearly enough about them, plus I’ve said ‘hate’ far too many times for one post.

    Best regards!

  21. The west midland’s is hugely different from the rest of the football league.
    Coventry City hate Aston Villa with a passion as like no other, also Leicester city, notts forest, derby county, WBA, b,ham city are all also disliked by the sky blues, & the feelings are mutual towards Coventry City. If the truth is known the sky blues are disliked by most of the football league especially Tottenham hotspurs for the winning own goal by Gary mabbut in the 1987 FA cup final at Wembley

  22. Charlotte Hamilton

    AS a QPR fan you’re brought up hating these clubs: Chelsea, Fulham, Leeds and Cardiff. You could argue Brentford but they aren’t really on our radar, just like we aren’t on Chelsea’s radar so Chelsea don’t hate us as per say.
    I’m based in Heston and a lot of Hounslow, Cranford and Hillingdon are QPR and Brentford based actually.
    This whole London Rivalry is really complicated and it’d probably best not to get involved really

  23. Chelsea, being north of the river, is a west London club, despite the postcode. I know, because I live in southwest London. Wimbledon to be exact. Massive Chelsea area too. I work in teddington and can’t say I’ve ever noticed, as someone said above, a big spurs following in Richmond or Twickenham. One thing left out of this is the very modern antipathy between Chelsea and Liverpool, which partly dates back to some sources claiming Chelsea fans had a role in the hysel disaster (ridiculous), and partly to recent games in Europe.

    • I live in Brixton and have since I was 13 and as my Uncle was one of those who got their kicks following Chelsea I was dragged along for the ride. It was once solid Blue but now theres a mix of supporters in Brixton with Chelsea being the most supported Id say with Arsenal and splatterings of Hammers and Eagles.

      • I live in Brixton as and can confirm there are chelsea everywhere. Also a lot of Arsenal with quite a few Crystal Palace..

  24. Elecktrickgreatcoatman

    Enfield Town fans deserve a mention for their ability to continue to hate Barnet, even though Enfield Town have never actually played them, due to not being the same team as the Enfield FC who were the undisputed kings of non league football in the seventies.

  25. Never figured it why football fans in Croydon support Chelsea,yet Crystal.Palace is only a bus ride away!

    • Because a lot of people from Wandsworth, Battersea, Fulham etc moved from those Chelsea supporting areas in the 60s, 70s & 80s to the likes of Croydon and Sutton and the club they supported came with them.

  26. Are Manchester United the most hated?

  27. I grew up in Barnet and now live in Enfield and nearly everyone I have met in my life supports either Arsenal or Spurs (Probably 50/50). I work in Hammersmith and Fulham and it seems it is mostly a three way tie between QPR, Chelsea and Fulham fans. I know a couple of West Ham supporters but have never encountered a fan from another club on that list (but I don’t go south of the river; it is in my experience that most people in S london support Arsenal and/or their local club).

    Most people in Brent support chelsea but Brent has a very large South Asian population who mostly support Liverpool or Man Utd. And the same pattern is seen in East London where there are West Ham fans but most immigrants opp for Liverpool or Utd.

    When I studied in Bournemouth I was surprised by the amount of spurs fans that lived there. Is there areason for this?

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  29. I appreciate this is an old article but can anyone attempt to explain exactly why Arsenal “hate” Tottenham?
    History shows why Tottenham fans would, and should hate Arsenal (the under handed actions of Arsenal through the years is actually quite disgracegul) but I can find no good reason for the reverse. If Arsenal fans hate spurs “because spurs hate us” as I have frequently been told by Arsenal people, well this seems a bit pathetic to me.
    Surely there is a better reason but don’t make it up please.

  30. As someone who lived close to Kenilworth Road the night Millwall supporters attempted to destroy it (1987 ? or thereabouts), could any Millwall supporter tell me why they hate Luton so much ?

  31. Wikipedia is right, Leyton Orient do have a rivalry with Southend, although Southend’s main rivals are Colchester. I don’t think Dagenham and Redbridge have much of a rivalry with anyone locally, maybe that will change if they stay in the league for a while.

  32. It would be interesting to see an international version of this, i think we are all unified in saying we all hate Germany 😉

  33. What makes me laugh the most is Wycombe Wanderers hate for Colchester United. No reason whatsoever. No proximity. No specific rivalry. Don’t get it. What’s it all about? Can someone give me a better explanation than “both teams were vying to get in to the football league at the same time?”

  34. Spudz is a much older rivalry for West Ham than most people realise. When my father was watching West Ham in the ’30’s they were the ‘Arch Enemy’ as he described it.

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  36. As a lifelong Hammer, I can categorically state that I don’t hate Millwall, and I don’t know any other Hammer that hates Millwall. They’re nothing to us, we’ve played them very little down the years, and the only Millwall fan I’ve ever (knowingly) met (and I’m a headbanger & he was a mod!) agreed – he considered Charlton & Palace (and in that order, if I remember aright) to be their main rivals.

    The notion that this hatred hangs on a dock strike in 1926 (as is commonly reported), or another one even further back around the turn of the century, is nonsense. As far as I’m concerned, any hatred between the clubs is A) a result of the thug element rivalry outside of football in the 70’s, and B) blown out of proportion by the press.

    As evidence, I offer my dear old (dead) Dad. He was born in Kennington Lane in 1927, so he grew up supporting Millwall. In 1953, he married Mum, moved to East Ham, and started going to Upton Park. For the rest of life, he was an avid Hammer, attending every game he could (including the various Cup Finals), and still held an affection for Millwall. If there was any deep-seated antipathy between the clubs, in either direction, is that likely to have happened? No. It’s all about the hooligans, and no-one else cares.

    Goatygav is right – Spurs is an older rivalry than people realise and, really, it’s our only rivalry. I don’t know any Hammers who hate Arsenal or Chelsea (except the latter latterly for being the first super-rich club (and lots of fans hate them for that) and the hooligan rivalry again). There’s always a bit of extra spice in derbies because they’re local, but nothing especially beyond that.

    As for Leyton Orient, they hate West Ham! At least, the two or three Orient fans I’ve ever known did. I think it’s down to resentment – they might have the been the big end East End club, but they’re not. And yes, it pre-dates the Olympic Stadium saga…

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  38. I understand that the coppers think the most hate-filled derby in England is Blackburn and Burnley, although why it’s so intense I don’t know. Something to do with two zombie ex-industrial towns being too close to each other, perhaps. Burnley have been called the “Inbred Dingles” for years (“I thought incest had six legs until I visited Burnley”), but some comedian of a Burnley mole at the Blackburn law courts recently scheduled two unrelated cases of bestiality with horses on the same day. As a result, Blackburn Rovers are now known as the “horse-f***ers”.
    You could write a book about the chains of hate linking the towns of England through their football clubs, and why. Notts County hate Mansfield Town who hate Chesterfield who really hate them back (a relic of the miner’s strike). Hull hate York, Darlington hate Hartlepool, Lincoln hate Grimsby, Cambridge hate Peterborough. But who do Carlisle hate? Used to be Workington, back in the days when the latter had a league club, and Workington hated Barrow (ditto). Even small clubs are at it -Margate hate Ramsgate and Earby hate Barnoldswick.

  39. Comfy Slippers

    Now why can’t we all just get along?

  40. I’d always understood that the ones Millwall fans really hate – REALLY get out of bed for – are Tottenham, dating back to before the hooligan Panorama investigation into Millwall’s different tribes, Treatment, the one at the halfway line, Harry the Dog etc and so on, in the 70s. Of course the fixture rarely happens and Tottenham probably don’t care, but the forthcoming FA Cup quarter final should be interesting for police with leave booked.

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