On Saturday we celebrated St Totteringham’s Day.
I know, I know, this was supposed to be the season when the pribbling, flap-mouthed fustilarians* from N17 would overcome the Forces of Light and begin a reign of darkness and terror.
Just like last year.
And the year before. And before that. And so on.
In fact the very first St Totteringham’s Day was celebrated exactly a century ago in the 1910/11 season. It was the Lily Livereds’ second season in the top flight and they were quick to establish what would become a long pattern of inferiority, finishing in 15th position (five places below a decidedly average Woolwich Arsenal).
In the century that has passed since, we have celebrated this happy occasion no fewer than 47 times. The figure would be much higher but for the fact that our faltering neighbours have had a habit of dropping out of the top flight from time to time. Well, that and the interventions of The Kaiser and Mr Hitler: in both World Wars regular league football was suspended.
Of course there have been some years when, despite the possibility of there being a St Totteringham’s Day, it never happened.
In those years the sun seldom shone, people talked of a foul miasma in the air, dogs whelped in the streets, livestock were struck barren and crops were visited by pestilential blight.
Thankfully we have not had to suffer such ill times for 16 full and happy years. Indeed many of the current Arsenal squad are too young to have any memory of those dark days.
Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the origins of this important festival.
St Totteringham himself was a strange figure, dating from the Middle Ages.
I have borrowed the following short biography from Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
Totteringham was born in a swampy, unhealthy hamlet some six miles north of Charing Cross in the year 1401AD. He always believed it was auspicious to have entered this world in a year that ended with a 1. A bent and weasly man of ill favoured visage, he nevertheless gained a small group of followers by foretelling a glorious future that would soon be visited upon him and those who believed in him. “Next year,” he would chant as he walked in robes of all white, “Next year. Yea, our time will come. One day! One day! One day!” His piety was such that people, even in his lifetime, came to refer to him as “Saint” Totteringham.
However, after more than three decades of such prophesy his followers did cease to believe him and, in their great disappointment, exacted a terrible revenge. He was beaten severely then strapped to the foremost part of a bombard [a medieval cannon], which was then fired. Most of his human remains were never found, having been shot straight out of his robe. The robe itself was bloodily stained in the body (where the cannonball had impacted) but the white sleeves remained miraculously unmarked. His erstwhile followers adopted this red-body-white-sleeves as their preferred form of apparel thenceforth as a refutation of all that “Saint” Totteringham had stood for. A clerical inquiry subsequently disclosed that Totteringham, far from being a pious man, had in fact been a swindler, a fraud and a tax evader. He also had a twitch. Consequently, despite having been ‘cannoned’ he was never cannonised, though the saintly prefix remains to this day as an ironic title and a reminder to others not to follow false prophets.
So there you have it.
We Gunners may all have our differences, we may disagree about what’s best for our wonderful club. But we can all join together to wish each other a Very Happy St Totteringham’s Day.
* pribbling: ignorant and weak
fustilarian: a low fellow, a stinkard, a scoundrel
Definitions from the Dictionary of Elizabethan Insults