From a school friends party in an executive box to listening to the great Bill Nicholson in his office, 'Henry Hotspur' has had a fairly unique relationship with the club.
Topophilia relates to the study of place. It’s understandable, given our impending stadium change that this publication – amongst many others – has been receiving topophilic pieces sharing reminiscences and memories of White Hart Lane through the ages. I’ve been wanting to add to these for some time and as the timing is now propitious I thought I’d share what I think of as fairly unique memories of WHL and the sense of place it holds with me.
I chose Spurs against fairly steep odds as a seven-year-old watching the 1981 FA Cup final. I think I liked the kit. The odds were slim because I had no connection to Tottenham Hotspur, the area or the club at all. From where I lived in deepest south London the journey to Tottenham was and has remained a long and arduous one. My Dad didn’t and couldn’t take me to football yet. He was a player himself, for non-league Sutton United – and he had been a professional at Millwall. My nearest club was Crystal Palace. My aunts and uncles supported Chelsea. My Dad, who had been born near Arsenal’s ground – Highbury not Woolwich – professed a fondness for West Ham. Confusing.
From 1981 onward though my heart was Spurs and my idol was Hoddle. Love at first sight. My first game came in 1982 and this is where my relationship with the Lane began – in unusual circumstances which continued to grow ever more bizarre. A kid at school invited a handful of us to his birthday party at WHL to see Spurs take on Man City on 20th February 1982. His old man must have had some business connections with Spurs fans as we were sat in the West Stand Executive boxes! I spent a few years in my teens wishing that my first Lilywhite experience had been on my Dad’s shoulders on the Shelf or some such authentic fan story, earthier, more earnest. But alas, it wasn’t to be – I can hear you all now sobbing with pity for me. The details: we won 2-0 Hoddle scored both, one from the spot. The very next year we were back! Swansea (won 2-1). Same kid, birthday party again. Although this was to be my last experience of the refined yet dull and discombobulating executive boxes it was only the just beginning of years of privilege and an access to Tottenham Hotspur that was the envy of lots of fellow schoolboys.
From 1981 onward though my heart was Spurs and my idol was Hoddle.
In 1984 my Dad’s semi-pro career was winding down and he was looking to see where the coaching badges he had held could take him. I vividly recall the day I came home from school to hear that my Dad had got a part-time job at Spurs coaching the Under 15’s. My Mum’s first words to me were something along the lines of, “promise not to get too excited”. Yeah, right. Regular seats with the schoolboys in the West Lower a number of memorable games followed: West Ham 2-2 on Boxing Day; Fulham in the cup; a 2-1 win over Villa and my first North London derby – a 4-2 loss..
Soon the old man was offered a full-time post and worked under Shreeves, Pleat, El Tel and Ossie. School holidays meant going to work with Dad and mostly to Cheshunt, then later Mill Hill, where my brother and I watched our heroes train and even rubbed shoulders with them: Hoddle, Clemence, Waddle, Mabbutt, Gascoigne, Lineker et al. After training we often ended up at White Hart Lane when there was a bit of office work to do. On a couple of memorable occasions I found myself sitting in Bill Nicholson’s office listening to the great man wax lyrical about his days as a player, the double winning side and what Tottenham Hotspur still meant to him all those decades down the line.
At some stage in my early teens I was picked up by a Spurs scout playing schoolboy representative football and duly began playing for the club I loved. Training was on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at the ground where we used the ball court, behind the Chanticleer Restaurant, in the north-west corner of the car park. I played and trained with the likes of Nethercott, Campbell, Barmby and a young Jamie Redknapp. Double winning full-back Ron Henry took all of our sessions. My Dad, wary of any accusations of nepotism, treated me as just one of any number of hopeful young lads. These fears receded as my limitations became obvious. My tumble down the football pyramid was alarmingly rapid as league clubs turned into non-league, eventually becoming pub teams. Perhaps I’d found my true level! My Dad eventually left the club too under Ossie and I could put an end to my schizophrenic double life as a Spurs fan at WHL.
You see match days at the Lane always meant the rather staid conditions of the West Stand and its attendant bars and lounges. Without wishing to seem ungrateful, the Shelf and its songs; fanzines instead of programmes; and the full of experience of being a Yid was what I was after. Whenever I could I found this at away games but home matchdays had always been different. With all professional ties with the club now ended I chose to sit with my mate Steve, first in the East Lower, then the Paxton as season ticket holders.
I found myself sitting in Bill Nicholsons’s office listening to the great man wax lyrical about his days as a player.
Over the years as travel, work, then a family took over those season tickets have become memberships for me and my sons. This season I will have been to as many Spurs games at Wembley as I have at White Hart Lane. The 4-0 win against Stoke will have been my last in the old ground. I took my time that day, walked around the ground before the game and lingered in it after. Removing the rose sheened specs on the way back south on the tube, I mused on how it wasn’t all positive. I think the post-Taylor report hasty East Stand refurb was detrimental to the club and in no way a fitting tribute to what had stood before it. I always cringed when looking up to see the ‘Jumbotrons’ dominating the ground at either end. Equally some of the football played during the dark days of the Graham/Gross era was of such utter turgidity and filth it shamed the ghosts of Tottenham’s past.
However, in terms of topophilia it’s always been my place of worship and the experiences almost all positive and happy. I’ll remember fondly training in the ball court; Bill Nick; the ground full and in throaty voice; songs from the Shelf; and one or two glory glory nights. Whatever takes its place and whatever the money will call it White Hart Lane will endure…