I grew up on the Beautiful Game. I’m of the generation whose pre-Premier League childhood memories associate the game with dodgy perms and mullets (hello Chris Waddle…), the final years of standing on the terraces as the norm in the top flight, and the weekly Saturday afternoon ritual of listening to the wonderful James Alexander Gordon read the classified football results on the radio. It wasn’t a girl’s world back then, but I was still utterly entranced by it all.
And the team I was entranced with more than any other was Tottenham Hotspur. Despite living to the west of the city, I immediately adored north London’s finest from a very young age. Why? Well, take a look at this – one of my earliest football memories:
Some goal, huh? When I was a little girl, Spurs played football like that – and it was amazing. After winning that FA Cup final, they repeated the feat the following year and then went on to win the UEFA cup in 1984. The team was magnificent, and the likes of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa instantly became (and still are) my heroes.
As I grew older, I read up on the history of Spurs. I learned how the Club was founded in 1882, and how we became the first and (to date only) non-league side to win the FA Cup in 1901. I read about Arthur Rowe’s First Division winning ‘push and run’ Spurs team of the early 1950s, and about the legendary Bill Nicholson and his equally legendary 1960-61 Double winning side. I obsessed over whether we could ever do that again. I had this vision in my head of White Hart Lane as a distant, thrilling place to be; the centre of the footballing universe. The centre of my footballing universe.
In March 1994, I finally got the opportunity to find out whether I was right about all that. Twenty three years on, much of that day is a blur, but I will never, ever forget the first time I stepped into White Hart Lane as long as I live. I could feel more than a century of football history, more than a century of fierce emotions all but hitting me in the face as I walked out into the stadium itself.
And the pitch! Oh, the pitch! It was so green! Dazzlingly, eye-poppingly green. That pitch had seen so much over the decades, from players and fans alike. Narrow and closely abutting the stands, the design of the Lane meant us fans were virtually on top of the players (something many opposition teams commented on). That pitch contained memories beyond measure, and even more memories to come:
That pitch is the living connection to it all: where the league titles of 1951 and 1961 were finally won, both against Sheffield Wednesday; the left wing where Gareth Bale tortured Inter Milan’s Maicon in November 2010; the goalmouth where Tony Parks saved a penalty from Anderlecht’s Arnor Gudjohnsen to win the Uefa Cup final in 1984. The penalty boxes where Steve Perryman scored twice against AC Milan in the semi-final of the 1972 Uefa Cup; the little patch where Terry Dyson played a one-two with Danny Blanchflower before lashing in his third goal against Arsenal in August 1961.
The match I saw that day in 1994 was nowhere near as exciting as those moments (a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United, and I just had to look up the goalscorers because I couldn’t remember – tut tut), but it was Spurs! And I was at White Hart Lane at last! I floated home later that Saturday afternoon on cloud nine – and I’ve never been the same since, if I’m entirely honest. If I hadn’t already been, I was now well and truly under the Spurs spell. And yes, I still am. I may not have been to a match at the Lane in years, but that excitement of having simply been there will never fade.
In a lot of ways, I’m an old school sentimentalist when it comes to football, so, ahead of today’s final game at the Lane against Manchester United, I felt I had to go and visit this venerable old football ground one last time to take some photographs (see above) and say goodbye – and say a silent thank you to this amazing place for all the pleasure it has given me over my lifetime.
Even so, I was surprised by how emotional this little pilgrimage made me feel. It’s not like other teams haven’t moved to new stadia in recent years (fans of Arsenal, Manchester City and West Ham probably know exactly how I’m feeling), but I get the sense that this is a very personal end of an era. I’ll miss the Lane – and I am sure I am not the only fan who thinks it takes a little bit of their heart with it as it goes. But, as the present meets the past this weekend, it’s time for things to change.
The memories will always live on, and I’ll look forward to seeing our wonderful current side playing at the new stadium in a few years. As a historian, I believe in the importance of remembering the past to inform the present, and I hope Spurs continue to live by the words of our greatest player, Double winning captain and club legend Danny Blanchflower:
The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom
Spurs may be many things, but we are never boring – and never will be…
Farewell White Hart Lane.
And here’s to new beginnings.
COME ON YOU SPURS!