As it is coming up to 125 years since Spurs gained a place in the Football League, here are the circumstances that brought about a step up to the Southern League.
Approaching the summer of 1908 Tottenham were confident in gaining enough support to win a place in the Football League that they resigned from the Southern League, which they thought had stagnated, failing to provide enough competition for the Spurs side. Grimsby, Chesterfield and Lincoln had finished in the bottom three of the Second Division and it was felt that having won the FA Cup as a on-league team in 1901 that this would persuade clubs to vote for Spurs to replace one of the clubs.
However, the voting at the Annual Meeting of the Football League to determine who amongst the relegated sides and those making application to join the League would play in the Second Division in the 1908-1909 season went as follows …
Grimsby Town were re-elected with 32 votes.
Chesterfield were re-elected with 23 votes.
Bradford Park Avenue were elected to the Second Division with 20 votes.
Lincoln City failed to be re-elected with 18 votes.
Tottenham Hotspur failed to win election with 14 votes.
Burton United also failed, winning a single vote.
Rotherham County and Queens Park Rangers withdrew their applications.
As was often to be the case, clubs voted for those clubs who ere in the league, but it was a surprise that Lincoln were ousted.
This left Tottenham in a difficult position, as they were without a league to play in, having left the Southern League and not being voted into the Football League. Despite the fact that the organisers of the Southern League took Tottenham’s resignation hard, they informed Spurs that they would be welcomed back into the competition. However, Spurs felt that the treatment that they had been handed in previous years, with the Southern League failing to embrace change, that they said that they would not be returning. This left them in limbo, having seen the 1907-1908 Southern League Champions QPR fail to gain support to gain a League place and return to the Southern League, with the organisers making them play all their matches in mid-week.
For Spurs a series of friendlies against the top teams looked the most likely outlook for the new season, but they would be lacking competitive football.
Unfortunately for Stoke, their relegation from the First Division in 1907 after spending sixteen years there since the formation of the League, hit the Potters hard. With Second Division sides failing to entice fans to Victoria Road, the club’s debts racked up, leading them to let the Football League know that they would be withdrawing just three days after the first vote.
The League was in turmoil, as they quickly had to find a club to replace Stoke and Spurs threw their hat into the ring, but Lincoln City were keen to retain their place in the Second Division, having lost it in the first vote. Having been an original member of the Second Division, the Imps were looked upon favourably by the League Management Committee, but the fact that Spurs had strong resources and were among the most popular clubs in the country, so there was a dichotomy for the Committee in filling the gap left by Stoke. Rumours were spread to discredit Spurs, intimating that financial inducements were offered to Stoke to resign from the League.
A Special Meeting of the League Management Committee was called to resolve the matter of who would be chosen to take part in the Second Division. Things were complicated even further when Stoke decided to put in an application for re-election to add another club vying for votes. Those clubs seeking election were Stoke, Lincoln City, Tottenham Hotspur, Rotherham County, Southport Central and the ballot ended with the following result …
Lincoln City – 20 votes
Tottenham Hotspur – 20 votes
Stoke : – votes not recorded.
Rotherham County : – votes not recorded
Southport Central : – votes not recorded.
With the votes tied between Spurs and Lincoln, would they choose the club who had a history in the Second Division dating back to 1892 or the more popular side from London. The forty teams involved in League football at that time only four were from the South, so in an attempt to even up the balance the decision was taken by a further ballot that saw Tottenham win by one vote.
While the murmurings about the result of the election carried on, they didn’t last long, as Spurs more than held their own in their first League season of 1908-1909, finishing behind Bolton Wanderers in second place in the division to gain promotion to the top flight.