Derby day is wonderful and awful, both at the same time.
Depending on which side of the North London divide you fall, your recent experiences of it will differ. Regardless, though, the intensity remains the same and occasion is just as gripping.
The North London derby isn’t unique, it isn’t incrementally more passionate than any of the other local fixtures in the Premier League, and it doesn’t necessarily ‘mean more’ than its Merseyside, Tyne-Tees or Black Country equivalent. But that’s not the point. As football evolves and shifts its shape into something increasingly unrecognisable, derbies and their history remain unspoiled - and they transcend all our moans about Oligarchs, oil money and, for two Saturdays a year, even ticket prices.
In a way, these games are a refreshing antidote to what top-level football has become about in England. For teams like Arsenal and Tottenham, the fixture list is really just a road map on the way to fourth, fifth or sixth place, and so every win, draw or loss is assessed in terms of what it means in the long-term.
That’s understandable; modern football is about money and European competition, so it’s unrealistic to expect anything else. Still, though, derbies remind us of the value of one-off fixtures and they offer a fleeting return to a time when the game was always just about ‘the race for the title/Champions League’.
For Arsenal and Tottenham, tomorrow represents a stand-alone moment within the season and a ninety minute period during which those wider objectives become secondary.
The game itself is always horrendous. You always feel that same combination of anxiety and nausea and, come the final whistle, you are emotionally exhausted by the occasion. In the immediate aftermath, there’s actually very little difference between winning or losing and the end of the game actually brings with it an overwhelming sense of relief - a relief flecked with joviality or despair, but relief all the same.
‘Bragging rights’ don’t really exist beyond the playground and most of you on the winning side tomorrow won’t spend the rest of the weekend hunting for Tottenham or Arsenal fans to taunt. Within the boundaries of the actual game, the emotions are very sharp and the celebrations are just that little bit more uninhibited, but winning the derby is a feeling more akin to complete satisfaction than it is anything more aggressive. It’s not necessarily that victory allows you to taunt anyone, more that it shuts up your rival for six months - and that’s a very warm, insulating reality.
As the Football Manager platitude goes, the competition is richer for these game. Enjoy your Saturday.