Taxi for Arsenal! Spurs are miles ahead, says London cabbie Hazard
Four miles long and apparently named 180 years ago after a line of striking trees, the Seven Sisters Road in north London is the pulsing artery that connects the heart of Tottenham to the guts of Arsenal. It is the road down which the most optimistic Spurs fans for a generation will travel on Sunday.
This is a derby that could cement Tottenham Hotspur’s position above Arsenal in the Premier League table for the first time in 17 years. It is a road Micky Hazard knows like no other.
Not since 1995, when Blackburn Rovers won the title – and Nottingham Forest came third – have Spurs finished above Arsenal. Not since Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury a year later.
Where to, guv London cabbie Micky Hazard on the Seven Sisters Road
A decade ago Wenger used the term ‘shift of power’ to describe Arsenal’s relationship with Manchester United; now it’s being applied to north London.
Hazard, an FA Cup and UEFA Cup-winner with Tottenham in the early 1980s, was back at White Hart Lane in 1995, the last Lilywhite days for one of those intuitive, craftsmen English midfielders missing now.
He already had experience of finishing above Arsenal, but Hazard’s understanding of the north London rivalry is broader still. If, as the Arsenal saying goes, ‘Arsene knows’, then so does Hazard – for the past 12 years he has been a London cabbie. Hazard has ‘the Knowledge’.
Sitting in a cafe called the Hotspur, he said: ‘Doing the Knowledge taught me not to drive with my eyes closed. London, what an incredible city, a history lesson.
‘The Seven Sisters Road doesn’t fit into that historic London – it has its own reputation and I wouldn’t walk it at night. But every football fan knows it. It has its fame. It mightn’t be in the history books but it’s the link to Tottenham-Arsenal, two of the biggest clubs in the world, so close together.
‘And the Seven Sisters Road has such a lot of links to my life, it’s strange. It was the first road I ever walked on in London. I arrived at King’s Cross from Sunderland in 1974. I was 14. We didn’t leave the station, I got the Tube with my Dad to Seven Sisters. So Seven Sisters Road was my first ever experience of London life. Quite scary. Big place, London.
‘When I was then put up by Spurs, it was in a hotel opposite Finsbury Park on the Seven Sisters Road.
‘From a taxi point of view, when I was doing the Knowledge, one of the first questions I was asked was, “Could you take me from White Hart Lane to Highbury” That took me by surprise. My first fare was from Seven Sisters Road to Muswell Hill.
‘The road hasn’t changed one jot. For Spurs and Arsenal it’s the most important road in north London.’
The Knowledge taught Hazard to recognise landmarks as well as roads. He is less certain than others as to whether a Tottenham victory on Sunday would represent one – an away win would leave Spurs 13 points clear of Arsenal – but Hazard’s doubt stems not from anxiety. Quite the opposite.
End of the road Arsenal haven't won a trophy for seven years
‘The tragedy for me is that this should be a game that, if we win, we should be sitting at the top of the table,’ Hazard said. ‘Looking just at the recent past – the Man City game and the Jermain Defoe chance, the Liverpool game and the Gareth Bale chance – we could be close to top.
‘Sunday is massive, one of the biggest Arsenal-Spurs games of recent times, but because we can still win the league title. As a club, we have to believe we can still do that. It’s much more than just a Spurs- Arsenal game.’
The atmosphere at this end of the road is so buoyant, Hazard, who has also been youth coach at Crystal Palace, can add: ‘I think there has been a change in the balance of power in north London, without a doubt.
‘Arsenal are in a period of rebuilding. They have lost very good players in Fabregas and Nasri – though they didn’t win anything for Arsenal.
‘When I look at the two teams and two squads I find it hard to believe that, without massive investment, Arsenal can surpass what Spurs have. Building the Emirates has had an impact on them.
Spurs through and through: Hazard in the Hotspur cafe with our man Michael Walker
‘To me the two teams look miles apart. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a shock result – an Arsenal win. But put the two squads together to create one team: how many Arsenal players would get in Two, three Van Persie and maybe Jack Wilshere We have four centre backs who would get in the Arsenal team – Ledley, Dawson, Kaboul, Gallas.
‘The last time I had this feeling was probably in my first Tottenham spell, when we won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup and should have won the league. That was 30 years ago. I feel we are about to enter a period of Spurs domination. A lot depends on Wenger and money, but his squad doesn’t look very good.
‘In 1994-95 I didn’t feel this. Even with Klinsmann, Sheringham, Barmby, Dumitrescu, Sol Campbell and the rest I didn’t feel this then. I have this total belief. Some fans yesterday were talking to me about doing the Double. 1994-95 was a one-off. Now there’s a gulf.’
Not even the Harry Redknapp-England question suppresses Hazard’s extraordinary optimism. This is in part because of the stability Tottenham fans see at board level but also because Hazard thinks Redknapp will stay.
‘I don’t think Harry will go. I think he’ll manage England in the Euros and then return to Spurs. Harry has been a manager all his life but it’s like he’s come to his spiritual home at White Hart Lane. He’s worshipped here. It’s a job he’s started and I’m certain he wants to see it through.
Enemy territory: Hazard outside the Emirates with former Arsenal player Perry Groves
‘Harry is crucial to the foundations, so it is fragile to an extent. If Harry leaves, which players follow I imagine [chairman] Daniel Levy is doing everything to persuade Harry to stay.’
Having driven south past the post-riots ‘I Love Tottenham’ banners and parked his cab outside the Emirates stadium, Hazard bumps into Perry Groves. Over their shoulders, in the Arsenal shop window, the word ‘Clearance’ is attached to pictures of three players.
This is how it is at the red end of the Seven Sisters Road. Adam Gold wrote the Arsenal Miscellany – a mini-encyclopedia – and said of the idea of Sunday as a landmark: ‘Most Arsenal fans wouldn’t want to admit that. We’d like to think it’s the season when the team under Wenger have been weakest and that it’s Tottenham’s best for 20 years. One annoying thing is that Tottenham have signed players such as Van der Vaart who look like Arsenal players. Even Bale. Many things have come right under Harry Redknapp. The good news is that he might go to England.
‘At the same time Wenger is going to face his biggest decision: to either rethink how the team play or perhaps to move upstairs. I don’t want him to go, but we need some fresh ideas.’
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Gold’s opposite, Adam Powley of the Tottenham Miscellany, shares the general view: ‘Sunday does feel like a landmark match as it feels like there is a change in the balance of power. Spurs fans are naturally pessimistic but there is a sense Arsenal are in decline, Spurs are improving.’
In 2004 Arsenal won their third – and last – league championship under Wenger. Spurs finished 14th, David Pleat was caretaking and two-goal Helder Postiga was up front. Jacques Santini – one of eight permanent Spurs managers Wenger has met – was about to walk the Seven Sisters Road. Then there was the ‘lasagne incident’ of 2006. ‘What could go wrong for Spurs, did go wrong,’ Gold said.
‘He’s been soul-destroying for us, a fantastic manager,’ was how Hazard described Wenger. But that was Hazard’s only concession.
‘For too long it has felt we weren’t Arsenal’s equal on the pitch. We’d go there and deep in your subconscious you’d think, “No points for us today”. So it’s fantastic we’re able to say we’re going to Arsenal to win. It’s exciting. I don’t feel tense.’
With that a man with four sisters of his own departed, beaming. Spurs think they are on a road, not just to three points but north London supremacy.