Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United Rivalry & History

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham UnitedBoth Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United would consider other clubs as their principle rival. Tottenham have neighbours Arsenal in North London and West Ham have Millwall just South of the river. However, that hasn't stopped these two London teams from having a particular dislike for each other.

As well as sharing the same city, this rivalry has been stoked by some high profile transfer between the two clubs including Michael Carrick, Scott Parker and perhaps most famously Jermaine Defoe on deadline day in 2004.

These players all moved to West Ham to Spurs and the one-sided nature of this won't be forgotten by the West Ham fans for some time. As a result, there's no shortage of hostility in this London derby.

Map of West Ham & Tottenham Stadiums

Map of West Ham & Tottenham Stadiums

About the Tottenham & West Ham Rivalry

Some rivalries between football clubs are extreme examples of the topic, with each side hating the other with a passion. The likes of the Old Firm clash between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow is a good example of that kind of mutual dislike. Other rivalries mean far more to one side than the other, even if both sets of supporters are keen to come out on top whenever the teams face each other. That is the case with West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur, with the Hammers being far more passionate in their dislike of their fellow Londoners than the other way around. Whilst the rivalry between London clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham or Millwall and West Ham is equal, there’s not the same level of enmity when it comes to Spurs and the Hammers.

They will always want to get the best over each other, of course, given that they’re based in the same city. Yet the sprawling nature of the nation’s capital means that they just don’t have the same level of bitterness as clubs that are based next door to each other, such as Dundee and Dundee United, whose grounds are just one hundred yards away from each other. It’s somewhat natural, therefore, that one of the clubs will view the other as more of a rival, given that there’s a reason for their mutual dislike in terms of geography but they won’t always share the same levels of success. What’s the story behind the rivalry of West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur? How did it all begin and what are the major talking points from over the years?

Where the Two Sides Came From

Give that the two clubs are part of the same city, even if it is more of a sprawling metropolis than anything else, it’s a good idea to have a look at where they both come from if you’re wanting to get an idea of why it is that there’s a sense of dislike between the teams and their supporters.

West Ham United

It is generally accepted that West Ham can date their origins back to the 1895 formation of Thames Ironworks F.C., the team of workers from Teams Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company. In their first year they won the West Ham Charity Cup, which was competed by local sides in the West Ham area of East London, then turned professional three years later. It was disbanded in June of 1900 but was relaunched virtually straight away as West Ham United. The new club joined the Western League, becoming overall champions of it when they won the Western League Division 1B and beat the Western League Division 1A champions Fulham in 1907. It wasn’t until 1919 that they gained entry to the Football League when they joined the Second Division.

Without four years they’d not only gained promotion to the First Division but also made to the final of the FA Cup. It was the first to be played at Wembley Stadium and is famous for the number of people who turned up; it’s believed that around two hundred thousand supporters arrived to watch Bolton win the game 2-0. What followed were decades of mixed success, including relegation out of the top-flight in 1932 and an FA Cup semi-final the following year. They didn’t return to the First Division until 1958 but that was a precursor the success that would follow. Ron Greenwood became manager in 1961 and within three years they’d lifted the FA Cup for the first time before following it up with victory in the European Cup Winners Cup.

Despite boasting key players from England’s World Cup winning squad in 1966, including Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore, West Ham struggled to capitalise on their initial success. They didn’t win another major trophy until they picked up the FA Cup for the second time in 1975, losing out on the European Cup Winners Cup the following year when they lost to Belgian side RSC Anderlecht. Indeed, three years after their second FA Cup win they were relegated out of the First Division once more. Though they weren’t in the First Division any longer, they still managed to win the FA Cup for a third time in 1980 and no side since has managed to win the trophy whilst not playing in the top-flight. The team yo-yoed between the top two division of English football in the decades that followed and enjoyed limited success, though they did reach the FA Cup final in 2006 before losing to Liverpool.

Tottenham Hotspur

Hotspur Football Club was formed in 1882 by a group of schoolboys who were members of Hotspur Cricket Club but wanted a sport to play during the winter. They renamed themselves as Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in 1884, mainly in order to avoid being confused with London Hotspur who they had received some of the mail of over the years. Though it was just a friendly enterprise to begin with, playing matches against local school teams, things gradually began to get more serious and the club turned professional in 1895. They joined Division One of the Southern League the following year and continued to enjoy some success, most notably when they beat Sheffield United in 1901 and became the first and only non-league side to win the FA Cup. Seven years later and they joined the Football League in the Second Division, gaining promotion to the top-flight at their first attempt.

In the 1920s the club enjoyed its next taste of success, finishing second behind Liverpool in the First Division in 1922, a year after they’ve picked up their second FA Cup trophy thanks to a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. For a time, Spurs bounced between the top two division of the Football League until Bill Nicholson took over as manager in 1958. Nicholson would go on to guide the club to a League and FA Cup Double in 1961, the FA Cup the following year and the Cup Winners’ Cup the year after that. The success couldn’t last, with Nicholson resigning after the club started the 1974-1975 campaign badly. Two years later and they were relegated down to the Second Division, but they soon bounced back and won back-to-back FA Cups in 1982 and 1983 as well as the UEFA Cup in 1984.

Spurs would win the FA Cup again in 1991 under the leadership of Terry Venables and with the skills of Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne in the side, becoming the first club in the country to win the competition eight times. Spurs were also one of the five clubs that pushed for the creation of the Premier League as a replacement for the First Division. Though they finished mid-table for most of the early years of the competition, they did enjoy some success in the cups and won the League Cup twice in 1999 and 2008. They also established themselves as a mainstay in the top-flight, eventually going on to challenge the previously established ‘top four’ during the 2010s. An entirely different level of success and stability to the experience of West Ham supporters, which goes some way to explaining why the rivalry is seen by many as being a one-way affair.

Different Levels of Focus

One of the main reasons why the rivalry between the two clubs isn’t exactly even is the fact that they have had different levels of focus for most of their existence. The highest that West Ham have ever managed to finish in the top-fight is third, whilst Spurs have won it twice. Interestingly, their wins came exactly a decade apart, with the first First Division title heading their way in 1951 and their second in 1961. Tottenham have won the FA Cup eight times and the League Cup on four occasions, whilst West Ham have three FA Cups to their name and have never lifted the League Cup. In more recent times, Spurs have been challenging to win the Premier League and West Ham have just been hoping to remain in it.

It’s for that reason that Tottenham fans refer to their matches against the Hammers as being ‘West Ham’s cup final’, with victory being their only hope of any sort of success during the season. West Ham supporters, meanwhile, would undoubtedly claim that Millwall is the club they love to hate the most. Whilst that’s true, there’s no denying that they want to win against Spurs almost as much as the Lions. The hatred that supporters of the Irons feel towards the White Hart Lane club will almost certainly be fuelled by the fact that Spurs fans consider them as little more than an afterthought in terms of the club’s main rivals. The Hammers feel as though they’re not only playing for three points but also the right to be taken seriously in terms of the London rivalry.


One of the standout moments when it comes to Tottenham’s rivalry with West Ham occurred in May 2006 and actually had more to do with the North London club’s rivalry with Arsenal than it did the Hammers. Arsenal and Spurs have long hated each other for reasons explored in more detail elsewhere on this site, so when the two clubs were going for the final Champions League spot back in 2006 there was a lot riding on the rest of their final matches. Arsenal were playing Wigan, whilst Tottenham were off to Upton Park to face West Ham knowing that they’d make the qualifying round of Europe’s elite competition as long as they matched the Gunners’ result.

It should have been something of a formality for Spurs, given that they were more than ten points clear of their fellow Londoners who were decidedly mid-table. The problems began the night before the game, with Tottenham’s players sitting down for a meal together in the Canary Wharf hotel that they were staying in. Something about the lasagne and spaghetti bolognese that they ate seemingly wasn’t right, however, and it caused an outbreak of nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. It should have been a relatively straight forward game, given that major players in Robbie Keane and Michael Carrick had recovered from injuries to be fit to play, but instead more than half of the first eleven were up all night being sick.

Tottenham appealed to the Football Association to allow them to play the game at a later date but were informed that if they failed to fulfil the fixture then they’d be docked points. The aforementioned Carrick and Keane were both affected, as were other major players like Michael Dawson, Edgar Davids and Aaron Lennon. Players were being sick in the dressing room before kick-off, with West Ham seizing their opportunity once the match kicked off and taking the lead after ten minutes. Jermaine Jenas equalised, but as the match went on the visiting team were obviously struggling and Yossi Benayoun put the Hammers in front with ten minutes to go of the game. Arsenal, meanwhile, beat Wigan 4-2 and finished fourth, thereby qualifying for the Champions League at the expense of Spurs.

The incident was nothing to do with West Ham, of course, and the Health Protection Agency did an investigation that cleared the hotel that the Spurs players were staying in of any wrong doing. It was actually discovered that a form of gastroenteritis known as norovirus was the reason for the spread of the illness. The West Ham fans still haven’t allowed Spurs to forget about the event, however, and you can often see streams of toilet roll being thrown onto the pitch by the supporters when the two sides face each other. For Spurs the pain was enduing, failing to qualify for the Champions League for another four years and not finishing ahead of Arsenal until eleven years later. The double-whammy of losing to West Ham and missing out on qualification for Europe’s top competition to their North London rivals Arsenal was a hell the supporters quickly wanted to forget.

The Olympic Stadium Bids

When London won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games, one of the first questions became about what would happen with the main stadium once the Olympics was over and done with. The obvious answer was that it would become a football stadium for one of the city’s main football clubs, even though the idea faced some opposition initially. As early as 2010 West Ham United began working on a bid alongside Newham Council to host football and athletics there. Tottenham, meanwhile, announced plans to knock down the stadium and build a football arena in its place whilst also refurbishing the Crystal Palace Sports Centre in order to host athletics.

In November of 2010 it emerged that West Ham and Spurs were the only serious contenders to take over the space, with an announcement made the following February that West Ham would be awarded the lease by the Olympic Park Legacy Company. Spurs, of course, weren’t happy and launched a judicial review which is rejected by the High Court. They eventually decided that they would instead build their own stadium on the site of White Hart Lane, which would end up costing them hundreds of millions of pounds. West Ham, meanwhile, would pay £15 million towards the cost of converting it into a football ground, which would cost in excess of £160 million. Spurs, somewhat understandably, were aggrieved by this and the stadium remains a bone of contention to this day.