Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur: Creative Director TJ Sawyerr Gets Stuck Into The North London Derby

As lifelong Gunners, TJ Sawyerr and Danika Magdalena provide an intimate look at one of the most emotionally-charged fixtures in world football.

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Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur. The North London Derby. Not only one of the biggest games in the world of football but one of the most emotionally-charged sporting events of the calendar year.

There’s something different in the air on match days like this – so it was only fitting to capture the energy, emotion and electricity of the event by the people that know the contest better than anyone else. 
 
Islington-born photographer Danika Magdelena and creative director TJ Sawyerr are not only two of the most exciting talents in the UK creative scene, but two of the most excited people in North London on game day. Both lifelong Gunners (die-hard Arsenal supporters) headed down to one of the biggest games of the Premier League season from Finsbury Park station on a bright, October morning that was buzzing with intensity. 
 
Launching two of London’s best young creatives into one of the most frenetic fixtures of 2022, Danika captured the game with her incredible, intimate photography, while TJ provided a corresponding, captivating personal ode to The Gunners, after they secured a 3-1 victory against their fierce rivals.

Take in Danika’s photography and TJ’s personal essay on supporting The Gunners and the intensity of “derby day” below.

Even if you’re a casual fan of English football, you may recognize that being a fan of Arsenal FC is probably as close to the epitome — the dictionary definition — of an emotional rollercoaster as one could get. From glorious Invincibility, to flirting with mid-table mediocrity, all within my two decades of life, following and loving this club has shown itself to be a true challenge from day dot to twenty years old. But the Gunners faithful have never wavered with our support.

For those who may not be familiar with sports fandom, deciding upon the club to which you will pledge your allegiance is like choosing the partner with whom you will spend the rest of your life. You build an undying bond with that club and the personnel within it; a sort of gravitational pull that, while occasionally compromised by bad results or poor performance, is rarely ever truly broken.

In my case, the forging of such a connection with Arsenal wasn’t as much a choice, as it was an irrefutable obligation. Not only was I literally “born a red,” — with the port wine stain that covers my left cheek acting as enough of a green flag for my dad to declare me a Gooner before I could even say the words “Arsène Wenger” — but, coming from an African family background, Arsenal had always been heavily favored in the household as one of the first successful clubs with Black players on the team. From a young age, my father and grandfather would show me legendary tapes of David “Rocky” Rocastle and Ian Wright’s finest goals, as well as, most notably, Michael Thomas’ legendary winner at Anfield in 89’ that stole the league title from Liverpool’s grasp on the final day of the season.

It was this knowledge of the club’s history, as well as the more recent memory of the notorious “Invincibles” team with icons like Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Sylvain Wiltord, Patrick Vieira and Ashley Cole, that created my strong personal and cultural connection to the club in my early years. Despite those glory years of the early 2000s having waned away by the time I was fully immersed in the world of football, my devotion to the Red of North London had been sealed.

Now, as many will know, a commitment of devotion to the red of North London naturally comes with a dedication of hatred towards the lily-white of North London, Tottenham Hotspur. That is the first commandment when it comes to supporting Arsenal.

The heated history between Arsenal and Spurs extends back to 1913, when Arsenal moved to Highbury, placing themselves only 4 miles from Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. Naturally, a local rivalry began to brew, one that, in the following century, would grow to be recognized as one of the fiercest sporting rivalries on the planet.

So, when the one time a year does come around that when Arsenal hosts the Spurs at Emirates Stadium, it is always a “must-see” spectacle, let alone when the winner of the fixture is taking the top spot in the league table. Simply walking through Islington, hours before the game, was overwhelming. The town was shut down – streets filled with fans knocking back 9 am hair-of-the-dog pints, the unmistakable smell of flares filling the air, the cacophony of back-and-forth chants, the odd physical altercation for good measure – the making of a legendary derby day.

Fast forward to just before kick-off, and I genuinely felt like 10-year-old TJ again. My first time back at the Emirates since COVID-19 and its pitch side at the North London Derby: 60,000 incandescent individuals in the city contained by four stands after weeks of anticipation; my favorite players within arm’s reach; world-class talent all over the pitch locking horns; a true showdown for the ages. Despite the early kick-off, the level of ecstasy was unruly; unreal. There’s no doubt that the atmosphere was actually synergetic, transmitting electricity directly into the twenty-two players on ‘The Carpet’.

On the day, The Emirates was a fortress, and you came to understand the meaning of the twelfth man truly. There wasn’t a person in the building who wasn’t on the edge of their seat, not a soul with their mouth sealed. Even the sun decided to make an impromptu appearance for the afternoon. And the rest was history. The stars aligned. A derby day dub was secured.

Spilling out into the streets after the game only cemented my affinity with The Arsenal even further. Street corners were lined with smiling faces. “We are top of the league” rang out into the North London sky en masse. Fans spilled into yard food spots for curry goat and sticky-floored boozers for a debrief pint. Young fans filled with hope wore shirts of their new heroes, while seasoned veterans beamed wide with pride while they got in some much-needed nutrition in the form of battered sausage and chips. A 3-1 win in the biggest game of the calendar year – and a true reminder of why I love this club. My Club.

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