Progression often comes at a cost.
Few Spurs fans will doubt that, in order to provide us with the best chance of competing with the elite of European football in the coming years, we have to upsize. A capacity of circa 36,000 (prior to demolition of the North East corner) put us at a significant disadvantage against our rivals. Arsenal, for example, currently generate match day revenues approximately double our own. Our limited capacity handicaps us.
Part of our evolution as a “global brand” and European giant demands that we build a new temple – one that accommodates more fans and enables us to generate income that will help us to expand our transfer budget, increase our wage bill and, in turn, allow us to attract a higher calibre of player, which we hope will bring long term success in a sustainable way.
Of course we must recognise that there is likely to be short term frustration as the purse strings are tightened to finance the new stadium.
But far more pertinent to me is the sacrifice we are making in demolishing what we have known as “home” for the last 118 years, since the end of the 19th Century. It is more than bricks, mortar and corrugated Rainham steel. It is part of the fabric of the club. The memories that we have forged together are steeped in the history of White Hart Lane. Our idols that have adorned the pitch over the years – my dad watched in awe as he saw Blanchflower, Mackay and Greaves; my brother ten years my senior marvelled at Ardiles, Hoddle and Archibald; I grew up idolising the likes of Sheringham, Klinsmann and Ginola; and my nephews now worship the likes of Bale, Alli and Kane.
All these players know what is is like to play in the cauldron of atmosphere that is White Hart Lane at its most vociferous. Our ex-players return to recount their fondest memories of the Lane with Coytey at half time. We reminisce. We lived and breathed those memories with them. Good and bad. And those memories will always remain. But they will become hazier, less vivid with the passing years when White Hart Lane (as we know it now) is consigned to history along with Maine Road, Roker Park, Highbury (*spits*) et al.
My first trip to White Hart Lane was on Boxing Day 1991 – at the age of 8 – when my dad took me to watch our home league game against Nottingham Forest, having beaten them in the FA Cup final earlier that year. As was always the case with my dad, we had to leave a few minutes before the final whistle to beat the traffic. We left at 1-1 and when we got back to the car we found out on the radio that Stuart Pearce had scored an injury time winner for Forest.
I think the first time I truly fell in love with White Hart Lane was early that season when I sampled for the first time an evening game. I remember walking out through the gangway and into the arena, hearing the roar of the crowd under the dark night sky and seeing the bright green turf glistening under the floodlights – it felt like a religious epiphany. A seed was permanently planted that night – I was past the point of no return.
The game itself was a fairly unremarkable one against Aston Villa, in which the late Ugo Ehiogu (ironically) scored the only goal of a 1-0 reverse. As was often the case in my time growing up watching Spurs, the outcome was not what we wanted but my bond with the club had strengthened.
And over the years it is not necessarily the happy memories that have stuck. But now is not the time to dwell on painful experiences. We should celebrate the good days – games when you leave the stadium feeling 10 feet tall. The 2-0s against Manchester City and Chelsea this season for example. New Year’s Day 1996 when we spanked Manchester United 4-1. Finally beating Chelsea in 2006 through Aaron Lennon’s winner, with a John Terry red card the cherry on top. The 9-1 against Wigan in December 2009 with 5 goals from JD. Young Boys. Inter Milan with Bale destroying Maicon. The NLD wins – all of them! None more memorable than the very last one. So many more that I can’t name each and every one.
For generations my family have been coming to White Hart Lane, forming bonds with not just the club but also with each other and the rest of the Tottenham family. The embraces I have shared with complete strangers sitting in my immediate vicinity during moments of unbridled joy and the comfort we provide each other during moments of gut wrenching despair, just knowing that we all feel the same. We’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst, but more importantly we are a collective – we are the White Hart Lane faithful.
For one last time on Sunday we will hear our chants reverberating around the old ground. The Paxton, the Shelf and the Park Lane will sing in unison for the last time. It’s that familiar noise that tells me that I’m home. With my people. Where I belong.
This season has proved a fitting finale – in the league our home record reads P18 W16 D2 L0. Better still, we’re currently on an incredible 16 game winning streak at the Lane in all competitions. The old girl may be taking her last breathes but she is being laid to rest in a blaze of glory. One last hurrah to ensure we finish the league season unbeaten at home.
“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
White Hart Lane is where I fell in love with Tottenham Hotspur. It is where I fell in love with football. Thanks for the memories old girl – we will never forget you.