Javad Movahedi, host of the Tottenham Hotspur Family Podcast, tells the story of mingling with his heroes at Hotspur Way.
It’s the day after the night before and you can’t believe what you have just witnessed: Spurs winning in style at Man City. Something special has happened that could perhaps only be eclipsed by us winning that elusive league title.
Surely nothing can be better than this feeling?
Well in fact something can.
The phone rings just as I’m about to leave for work. I answer the phone thinking it is probably a cold caller and in fact hear the improbable voice on the other side saying I’ve won a competition to watch the players train and meet them!
I’m delirious, somewhere on cloud nine and shaking with excitement.
A month after that phone call myself and my friend and guest Emma entered Hotspur Way. Once all the other competition winners arrived we began the tour of Hotspur Way. What’s striking about Hotspur Way is the degree to which every room, pitch, or facility you see has been designed with one thing in mind: the players. No stone is left unturned and the players are given everything they need to be successful.
You may recall incidents of footballers in the past, Rio Ferdinand being a prime example, forgetting their passport and missing important European ties. At Hotspur Way there is little chance of that happening when the club takes care of every detail to the nth degree.
For example, even seemingly little details like what the players are doing and where they should be being catered for in the way of a digital display in reception telling them exactly where to go and at what time. Passports, bills, buying furniture, all taken care of by the club. The idea is that no excuse can be used by a player to get in the way of the task at hand: contributing to the success of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
What’s striking about Hotspur Way is the degree to which every room, pitch, or facility you see has been designed with one thing in mind: the players
Furthermore, there are certain rules which whilst sounding quite regimented, make sense. For example, players are not allowed on their own in the gym without supervision. Why you may wonder?
Players might put a bet on which one can run faster on the treadmill and then end up pushing themselves too far and picking up a needless hamstring injury, for example. It looks and feels like a well-run and well-oiled machine, very Germanic in that sense.
The other thing to note is the level of pastoral care. Hotspur Way isn’t just a training centre. It is an academy, a place of learning and development from the youth teams all the way through to the first team. The youth players play on different pitches to the first team — their pitches located further away from the main building. The idea is that the young players have something to aim for. They are kept away from the 1st team and to get to the top they’ll have to continue to work hard to get to play on the same pitch.
The same goes for the canteen, 1st team players and youth team players are segregated. There is a sense of deference which exists here, a divide but there for a reason.
Young players are looked after, trained not just to develop into good professional footballers but taught life skills, too, and provided with a schooling. Those young Spurs players who are still at school are sent on “day release” – taken out of school for a few days, training at Hotspur Way but also provided schooling, homework and so forth.
The sad reality is, not every academy player cuts it. A few will graduate to the first team, some will end up plying their trade elsewhere in the lower leagues, some might find their careers cut short by injury. To that end it is important they are educated and provided with valuable life skills.
If White Hart Lane is the show room where the players entertain our crowd, then Hotspur Way is very much the factory floor where 97 per cent of the players’ time is spent there. Hence the reason why the club invests so much in making sure they are well looked after in every respect.
Young players are looked after, trained not just to develop into good professional footballers but taught life skills, too, and provided with a schooling
From the gym, to the different pitches, the type of grass used, to the pool which has a lift to lower badly injured players into the water for aerobic running sessions, the club has invested heavily in the very best facilities. We often as fans bemoan our lack of activity in the transfer market but, it is worth bearing in mind the level of money Levy has ploughed into Hotspur Way.
As we make our way to the training pitch on the very cold March morning we walk by the gym where all the first team players are busily working out prior to the training starting. Jan Vertonghen is sat on his own in a different part of the gym, getting some treatment and staring out of the window. The temptation to do a Dele Alli wave at him was too good to resist, he responds back in the way Jan does best looking at me with a cool, ice cold wave.
The players then one by one come out of the gym, walk past us and say hello and enter the training pitch. Jan and Clinton Njie train separately as they are recovering from serious injuries and have their own rehabilitation program.
As Jan straddles towards us I’m suddenly face to face with Super Jan. We ask him when he’ll be returning, he tells us he will be back in contention for the Liverpool game on 2nd April.
Through my work in media and the broadcast industry I get opportunities to meet famous people from footballers to politicians to TV personalities. This however is different. These are my heroes that I’m seeing.
The excitement of seeing this is tempered with an element of anxiety. Will I freeze when I want to say something? What will my heroes be like in person? Will it be a let-down?
Fortunately, I didn’t freeze and the players were all perfect gents and very polite. The image they portray is exactly what was on show on that cold Tuesday morning.
The reality is they are not detached from reality. They are young men, human beings like you and I
It was a surreal experience as they walked by signing autographs, some more friendly and chatty than others. Dele Alli was as he comes across on social media, a cheeky chappie, I managed to do an Alli wave and he reciprocated.
I asked Harry Kane why we never have a man on the post when we defend corners. He responded by saying:
“Good question. I don’t know, one the gaffer can answer”.
When Mason was asked the same question, his response was more defensive:
“How many goals have we conceded from corners this season” as he gave me a perplexed look.
Whilst we have been solid defensively this season we did concede goals from corners recently against West Ham and Dortmund away, Mason featuring in both games.
Was Mason right to be defensive?
We often think footballers are superstars, very well paid professionals, living in an ivory tower, mollycoddled, with everything from their bills to holidays booked by the club. The reality is they are not detached from reality. They are young men, human beings like you and I.
The human side does not always come through, on a Saturday at 3pm their focus is on the pitch, yet on that cold March morning what you see is young polite gentlemen who probably don’t want to be signing countless autographs in the cold yet they do. Carroll and Winks even apologised and told us they can barely hold the pen as they sign yet more autographs.
As we posed for a group photo Dier did a cheeky V sign behind Alli. There was one notable absence from the photo and that was Mauricio Pochettino who was absent from the training session. It would have been nice to see him of course. Pochettino is the man of the moment, he oozes class and of course myself and many others would have liked to have met him but it wasn’t meant to be.
It was a surreal experience as they walked by signing autographs, some more friendly and chatty than others.
The day was over before we knew it, the players returned inside and the tour was over, we were still freezing, we hadn’t met Pochettino but it was nonetheless an amazing day meeting the players that do our lilywhite shirt and particular in this amazing season, so proud.
If there was something which I learned from the experience it was this. We think of the players existing only at WHL but that’s a tiny portion of what they do for us. They do so much more outside of a match day, training on a cold day at Hotspur Way, preparing themselves for the next match, meeting and greeting fans like us.