‘There are places I’ll remember, all my life though some have changed.’
Indeed, I can heartily recommend my older brother’s opus on his recollections of the Lane down the years. He has seen more glory days there than I.
But I just wanted to share a few of my glistening memories of the hallowed ground before it evolves into its new modern behemoth state.
I was lucky, being the son of a sports journalist, to sometimes enjoy matches from right near the dugout as a child in the press box. Back then it seemed comfortably spacious. A recent visit dispelled that myth quite depressingly.
One of my earliest memories from a game was a moment I dearly cherish – and it wasn’t even to do with the action of the match.
As a boy I adored Gazza. Not just for his obvious talent but the character that came with it. His enthusiasm was incredibly infectious as I’m sure all would agree, and the mischievous side of his personality was extremely endearing to a slightly mischievous young boy.
So, I prepared to head to the Lane in fervent anticipation of seeing my hero – unfortunately my brothers had to relay the news that Gazza had recently broken his leg (1991) and so would not be playing.
However, at the game, where I was seated next to the dugout (those were the days), the man on the other side of the glass panel next to me was Gazza himself, and he played up no end, making me laugh with his funny faces and also trying to get me to part with some of my crisps.
The moment in itself was enough to make my day. And looking back it highlights how my time going to the Lane was made by specific players, not necessarily moments or teams.
Understandable, given my Spurs supporting career has taken in the mid-table mediocrity of the 90s, the best of the rest era of the 00s, and now the Champions League part-timers. Of course, every so often punctuated with a scintillating cup run.
‘The game is about glory’ said Spurs’ double winning legend Danny Blanchflower and the team does have this weird ethos about playing with a certain panache.
That made sense watching Jurgen Klinsmann thump one into the back of the net. Or seeing David Ginola bamboozle more than one defender on one of his trademark mazy runs. Or even Steven Carr rampaging forward in the hope he would repeat his wonder-strike against Manchester United (one more like that please, WHL, today against the reds.)
There was the time that Edgar Davids immediately endeared himself to the crowd in his first match against Arsenal by making his first act the upending of Ray Parlour.
Those North London derbies were frequently tense and sometimes scary affairs, and back when I was younger recall my brother hurriedly pushing me through the crowd away from the smashed bottles and projectiles as we departed the Park Lane end, past either set of fans squaring up in rows in front of each other.
Lately these kind of scenes have been sanitised by an increased police presence and a general relaxation among fans for that kind of culture. It still unfortunately occurs, and will do at any stadium.
Fan trouble was never a big part of the WHL experience however, as events on the pitch would frequently be exciting enough for one day.
Rafael van der Vaart crafting another technically beautiful goal, Luka Modric pulling the strings, Gareth Bale doing, well, what Gareth Bale does best – these moments and more are all up there as part of the legend of Spurs glory, even if they did not result in a trophy (well, actually, Bale did win player of the year while at Spurs).
But more recently it’s quite fitting that Spurs’ new direction has led to a greater emphasis on the homegrown talent. Of course there has always been a healthy production of talent to come through at Spurs, mainly in defence. Ledley King still remains one of the finest English defenders of the past twenty years (he’s only got one knee).
But now the talent is all over the pitch. And as football clubs increasingly become a global product or brand, the local connection is more important than ever.
So to have in a brand new shiny stadium, the same Harry Kane who loves a derby goal, almost single-handedly destroyed Chelsea on New Year’s Day 2015 (a particular favourite WHL game) and grew up round the corner is a welcome reminder that although places may change, landscapes evolve and facades become more modern, the spirit remains the same.
‘That time when…’
Thoughts of all those legends who had graced the White Hart Lane turf ran through my head as I myself took to the field in 2012 in a team of journalists cobbled together to play a side of competition winners.
Kitted out in a Spurs away kit, we walked out from the tunnel to the sound of ‘Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur’ blasting out the stadium speakers – my heart was thumping, my hairs were standing to attention and I think I had the biggest grin on my face that would make the Cheshire cat look miserable.
But, playing up front, I did manage to get myself into a scoring position midway through the second half.
The ball was loose in front of me, the goalkeeper was rushing out, defenders were closing in on me from the side and I stretched just enough to get my right toe to the middle of the ball first.
The next thing I knew, I saw the net bulge and I immediately jumped up in the air screaming “YES!” and set off for the corner flag in celebration. It is a surreal moment wildly celebrating a goal in an empty 38,000 seater stadium. But I didn’t care. I finally had my own moment in the stadium.
It was in fact an equalising goal, but in typical Spursy fashion it turned out to be no more than a consolation in a 3-2 defeat. Still, I forever have that goal and I know it won’t mean much to anyone else and my brother is sick of hearing about it – but it’s a moment every young boy dreams of, and no matter how old we get we never fully let go of those wild fantasies enjoyed as a football loving child.
I may not have witnessed an era of Spurs dominance in my WHL career, but I think Bill Nicholson said it best: “We of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory”.
Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur.