Yesterday was the final time we got to watch Tottenham Hotspur play at what can now be called the old White Hart Lane.
It ended perfectly, which is not something that can often be said about a Spurs experience during my lifetime, with a win over Manchester United. The three points meant Spurs will now finish second – not the ideal spot but an improvement on last season.
So, on the field, it was job done. Again, during my time as a fan, that’s not always been the way. But this side seems to be different…worthy of the new home that’s rising right next door to the current ground.
I’ve been a fan of Tottenham since the early ’80s. My first memory is of the Ricky Villa winner in the 1981 FA Cup Final against Manchester City.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t watch that final live so it must have been a replay on the news or Big League Soccer. At the same time the All Whites started their fantastical journey to the 1982 World Cup in Spain. So I was hooked. A football fan for life.
But by the time the ’82 final rolled around I was a goner. Tottenham was my team and Glenn Hoddle was who I was trying to emulate, horribly, on the Matamata Domain, which doubled (and still does) as Matamata Primary School’s playing field.
Hoddle scored twice – once in the final and once in the replay – to win it.
Apart from the cup final each year we got little live football on TV. I loved the old Le Coq Sportif kit, though by the time the mid-80s rolled around it was all about that Hummel gear. My first (of many) Spurs shirts was the home version as used for the first time in the 1987 FA Cup final (don’t mention the bloody result).
I’ve still got that shirt somewhere. Doesn’t fit, though.
The years rolled by. I followed my team via Big League Soccer, Soccer Express, the radio, Shoot magazine, then eventually more professionally as Sky arrived and I was able to watch games live.
The 1991 Cup final was memorable, but I never though that would be the last time I’d see Spurs win that trophy. I think we’d won it the most times after that game…
I guess the main thing that sticks in my memory is the players. Hoddle and Waddle. Ardiles. Lineker, Gascoigne, Mabbutt. Sheringham, Anderton, Klinnsmann, Gazza, Ginola… Samways, Dozzell, Rebrov (yes, I have a shirt with Rebrov on the back)?!
Campbell. Yes, Campbell. Jean and I named our first cat Sol, not long before the footballer moved from white to red. A tough life lesson, but well heeded.
And many others in a long line up to the current group of players.
Given how far I am away from North London, about as far as you can get I reckon, I don’t have the sort of connection with White Hart Lane that more local fans would have. I wasn’t able to go to games every second week, so it wasn’t really my home away from home as it was for so many. But it was the home of my team and the players I grew up watching.
So it was great, and a little choking I happily admit, to watch the finale at the Lane and see all those old players hobbling out to the middle of the pitch after the win over United. A string of names spanning my lifetime.
As for my memories of the Lane, well I’ve been there six times – five games and finally, in 2015, a stadium tour. My first couple of games came in April and May 2000, during my first trip to the UK. I bought tickets before we left NZ for the game against Wimbledon, which ended 2-0 to the good guys.
I don’t have any specific memories of the match action – can’t remember the goals – which is a bit crazy really. We sat in the East Stand, a couple of rows back from the field. The atmosphere was intoxicating. I remember the ball fizzing around quickly and the football being very different to how it looked on the telly.
By then the Lane had been developed to it’s current look and feel, so to see all the old images over the last week or so has been special. I don’t have much memory of what the ground looked like before that first game because we didn’t have the internet in the 80s & 90s and I saw so few games on TV that it barely registered. My focus was on the players.
I love a bit of history, though, so I’m feeling inspired to search out some more. I’ve always lived in the, often miserable, present with Spurs. It’ll be great to go back a bit.
My second game at the Lane was the final game of that 1999/2000 season for the visit of Sunderland. We were in the lower right end of the South Stand, which was a bit more raucous than a month earlier. Great day, great weather, great result – 3-1. And it ended a typically mediocre Spurs season. It was one of Ledley King’s early first team matches, so that was something that stood out. I do remember him and thinking he looked okay.
My next visit to the Lane was a few years later, November 2007, for a UEFA Cup game against Aalborg. A night game at the Lane. Finally.
Sat in the North Stand with a (non-Spurs supporting) mate we saw the visitors score twice right in front of us during the first half to lead at the break before we turned it around to win 3-2. I remember Berbatov’s goal and also the sense of relief when Bent grabbed the third. So, three wins from three and the concept of me as a good luck charm was starting to gain some legs.
I took my eldest son, Nathan, to the UK in September/October 2014 and we made it to the Lane twice in three days. First up was another night game, which ended 1-1 with Besiktas (goal from Kane), followed by a Premier League victory over Southampton (1-0, goal from Eriksen).
For the Southampton game we sat in the corner of the East Stand that was demolished prior to the start of the 2016/17 season. Somewhat poignant.
So now we look forward. I’m planning another pilgrimage later this year, this time with Theo (my middle child who turns eight in September). We’ll be watching Spurs at Wembley, but he already knows I’ll take him back when the new ground’s open.
In the meantime, what a stadium, what a team. Come on you Spurs!