An Ode To White Hart Lane

An Ode To White Hart Lane

I've been coming to White Hart Lane as far back as I can remember. For embarrassing proof, take a look at this video:

Now, before its demise at the end of the 2016/17 season, I decided to visit White Hart Lane and chat to fans about what it means to them.

White Hart Lane is being engulfed. The corner where the north and east stands once met is now bisected by a concrete wall. Even before the old stadium is gone, the new one is intruding on holy ground. It should feel wrong, but the truth is, very few fans seem nostalgic. It only seems to bother those sat near the gap, who have to put up with a harsher wind chill than usual. Aside from being slightly colder, the air around White Hart Lane is one of (anxious) excitement.

The hole in the stadium in the northeast corner. Photo: Paul Hudson

The walk up to White Hart Lane is, as always, spattered with an assortment of characters. A guy named Jason runs a sporting memorabilia store so we went up for a chat. Asked for his best White Hart Lane memory, he heartily scoffs in my face for suggesting he pick just one. Then he asks us to move along so he can sell more scarves.

Further down, we meet someone selling programmes for the first time. He's positive about the club providing jobs for locals. Is he hoping for a Spurs win today? "Uhh, nah I support Chelsea." I suggest he probably shouldn't give that information out freely.

On the approach to the stadium is a set of hoardings peppered with facts and anecdotes from White Hart Lane's past. One that stands out is the Lane's record attendance: 75,038. That seems crazy nowadays, the new stadium will only hold 61,000 — a provocative 568 more than the nearby Emirates. Anyway, the club is being nostalgic, even if the fans aren't.

White Hart Lane has been home to Spurs since 1899. I ask a few fans whose memories reach back a little further than mine about their favourite moment at the ground. Phillip's is "Jimmy Greaves scoring a hat-trick on his debut against Blackpool." Michael's: his first ever trip to the ground, taken by his dad to a 2-1 victory over Derby in 1970.

For me, I've still never seen anything better than Gareth Bale destroying Inter Milan in the Champions League. On a cold night in November he sprinted down the left wing at supernatural pace, flummoxing a man who was then considered THE best left-back in the world. I've heard raucous chants in the years since then, but never an atmosphere on that scale. I still have a nagging belief that the whole of London could hear the Lane that night.

I chatted to Londonist's own Geoff Marshall, also a fan. He remembers a time when the stadium's entry process was a little less formal. So much so that he managed to go to the wrong gate, finding himself in the away end among a horde of Liverpool fans. "I did my coat up very tightly, so no one could see what was underneath," he remembers.

That won't happen today. Security measures have tightened in recent years, and fans are greeted with a pat-down since the 2015 terror attack outside the Stade de France. This is just one of the ways in which the modern football stadium has changed; another is that there are far more tourists coming to games than, say, a decade ago.

And then there's that name change. The new stadium is, as yet, unnamed, but the smart money is on some corporation paying substantially for those rights. Apparently the opportunity was offered to Uber, but they turned Spurs down. Probably for the best; it's hard to imagine many black cab drivers willingly driving tourists to something named after their nemesis.

Money is an important topic for the next guy I chat to. He's a charity collector outside the stadium who knows the area well. He's not really a fan anymore: "The game became all about money, which ruined it for me," he says. He points out the slightly muted atmosphere around us. The odd chant pops up here and there, but to him the quiet crowd is "something you'd expect to see after a game, if they'd lost." It's not the fans' fault, he says, the money creates expectation and pressure. But it takes some of the magic out of it.

He counters this by praising what Tottenham have done for the local area, especially since the 2011 riots. It's true, nearly every home match the big screens play a different video about some initiative Spurs have invested in to help Tottenham. I felt the club's connections to N17 seemed a little disingenuous after their desperation to move east to the Olympic Stadium. But it's hard to argue with all the facilities the club has provided for the area.

Speaking of the Olympic Stadium led me to a question I ask so many fans: are they nervous about leaving and suffering a West Ham effect? The answer is twofold: everyone is dreading a year in Wembley — especially after this season's abysmal Champions League run — but can't wait for the promised land to finally be complete. A couple of people already view next season as one that will just have to be sacrificed for the greater good.

And what of White Hart Lane's demolition? "I won't miss White Hart Lane, the facilities are appalling and the seats uncomfortable," one fan tells us. There are a few more sentimental characters about, a father telling his young son to take it all in, as this could be their last ever time at the Lane. But for many, the fact that the new stadium is being built effectively on top of the old one, means there's a sense of continuity which clubs who've undergone larger moves — such as blood enemies West Ham and Arsenal — didn't have.

Photo: Paul Wright

A guy I met who was a bit younger than me, James, is especially vocal about his excitement. He denounces the London Stadium ("It's not a football ground") but says that the new Spurs stadium could be "the best in England". He's a season ticket holder along with his dad, who — much like mine did — regales him with tales from the 'glory glory' era. "I've never seen any magic at the Lane," says James, "the closest I've come is the Carling Cup back in 2008, but I want more." He believes the new stadium will bring that.

I'm talking among a sea of fans taking photos of the new stadium and we're actually standing where the pitch will soon be. The stands are just jaunty slabs of concrete for now, but don't expect Spurs' home to remain a brutalist statement for long. The plans look sleek, curvy and postmodern. I might be alone here but I'll miss the Lane's load-bearing pillars — they gave the place character. However, that statement might be easier to make as someone who has never had to sit behind them.

The penalty

The fans today have a better time talking about the new stadium and taking pictures outside than the match itself. It's abysmal. Tottenham beat Middlesborough by being the less bad of two useless teams. A sole Harry Kane penalty divides the two teams. Still, a win is a win. Fans leave reasonably happy, although by no means convinced.

At the end of the day a team with aspirations as high as Spurs', will always be judged by results. The new stadium might have a microbrewery, but if the team ends up sliding down the table to pay for it, it won't impress anyone. It will be judged by what happens on the pitch, just as White Hart Lane has always been.

Last Updated 11 May 2017