Thursday, May 11, 2017

"...and the Tottenham Hotspur will be there..."


"There used to be a football club over there."
So (supposedly) muttered a resigned Keith Burkinshaw, walking away towards Tottenham High Road in 1984, presumably looking forward to lighting up a consolatory pipe back home.
And leaving behind him a Uefa Cup trophy newly, thrillingly won under the White Hart Lane lights - but a board too cravenly preoccupied by that new entity, THFC plc.
This Sunday night all the switches will be flicked off at that grand old stadium for the final time, ahead of demolition beginning on Monday morning, leaving behind ... well, what?
Well, still a grand old team to play for and a grand old team to see - albeit one that will, after a year’s unwanted exile in Wembley anyway, be a little further along that High Road.
For all the sweetbitterness of the Burkinshaw goodbye, there is certainly a football club still here in N17.
Why, one flourishing in recent seasons in stark contrast to those drear years of the Nineties and early-Noughties.
It seems to have been a long time coming, this new next-door behemoth of an arena - too long, some may feel, if certainly a necessary and enticing next step.
And yet, and yet - a so-long to the old White Hart Lane we know can’t help but feel like it's come sorrowfully suddenly upon us.
So this final farewell to Tottenham’s official home ground for 42,621 days and 1,993 games this coming Sunday provides a sadly celebratory time to reflect on what’s gone and what’s going.
Cliché as it may be, "second home" feels the perfect wording for what it will have been to Tottenham fans of and throughout all ages.
Somewhere to go to for release from everyday stresses and strains, for a surge of excitement and achievement - or else, of course, simply all the more (alternative) stresses and strains.
A place of such familiarity, and yet one where the only predictable thing is that something different will happen - sometimes exhilirating, sometimes disappointing, yet invariably something to chew (or drink) upon afterwards.
Until the next time.
Surely few better tributes exist than the exemplary words-and-pictures tour de force The Lane by Martin Cloake and Adam Powley, alongside designer Doug Cheeseman and with invaluable archive photo contributors including the legendary John White’s son Rob.
Nor the elegiac video posted this week by MPH1982, one which appears to have cast more tear-inducing dust into the air than any annual "Flying Ants Day" might imminently manage.
But perhaps the finest memorial - this Sunday’s send-off aside, hoping and trusting it proves appropriate - will be our own memories.
And oh-so-many of them, both collective and collectively individual.
Pray (self-)indulgence, perhaps, for a few scattered here...




No self-respecting football Press box occupant can do without a tactical breakdown of the two lots of eleven out there on the field.
And yet - long before, say, heatmaps illuminated their way into existence let alone the mainstream, nor worries whether a false nine, trequartista or even, yes, "the high press" were en voguely in place - the back-page of the mid-Eighties Spurs programme provided a thrill here.
A green pitch. The two (presumed) line-ups. And each number, 1-11 of course, arranged not in strict order but splayed across the page in formation - an essential, if rudimentary, introduction to playing shapes.
Even if, mind, an extra lift then came from alert attention to the Tannoy announcements, to scribble out with a Biro the players who must have felt dismayed to find themselves not starting after all.
All the while, awaiting kick-off, also awaiting each minute of a goal or substution, keen to annotate each with either a tick, a * or a #.
Such were the simpler pleasures in simpler times, anyway, for this little bobble-hatted, scarf-shrouded kid who somehow found himself in one of the White Hart Lane Press section’s most-prized positions.
That is, second - sometimes even front - row, at the centre of the West Stand, with the home side’s dug-out less distance than a backpass away to the left.
That was the privileged position I occupied for my first ever game, and many thereafter, thanks to a journalist father covering a match somewhere each Saturday - and who would try to arrange with the obliging John Fennelly for a young guest or few whenever it happened to be Tottenham.
Wreathed in club-brand scarves and bobble hats, laden down with packed lunches, I and later my younger brothers would goggle at the grand surroundings and such closeness to the action.

Even more stirring would be any (near-)interactions with the players whether it be Chris Waddle trading family-unfriendly barbs with the bench over his alleged laziness, or Gazza reaching over to demand some crisps to guzzle down as well.
Then, whatever the outcome, we would wait for the Press conference duties and report-filing to be finished by loitering in the West Stand corridors for autographs - although that patch later got pushed back to the car park instead, where even the away side would be prized as they clambered on to their coach.
Or, in one instance that sticks, Vinny Samways apologetically waved us away by nodding to the crate of beers in both arms as he made his way to his car but didn't come back.
At least we got back inside for a Junior Spurs Christmas party on year, all in thrall around the two players who turned up, Tony Parks and Danny Thomas - along with, I think, Tot'n'Ham, the twin chicken mascots who preceded cheery-then-evil-now-cheery-again Chirpy.
Out by the pitch remained the place to be, mind.
Those shimmering floodlights casting down a dusty brilliance across a pitch which seemed the greenest of fields, only for legendary veterans to later ruefully bemoan the mudbaths they trudged compared to pristine modern-day carpets.

Those artful right-angles of the other stands facing us back, whether that forbidding Shelf in front - and ferocious Cage inhabitants or the only-a-little-less blood-and-thunder Park Lane to the right.
The first game I ever attended, on April 20, 1985 after two-and-a-half years of pleas since receiving a first Spurs shirt for a birthday, a Paul "Maxi" Miller no5 on the back - finished Tottenham Hotspur 2 Ipswich Town ... 3.
That was despite a late brace by substitute David Leworthy, a successor to Garry Brooke as a perennial Tottenham no12.
It does feel a little unnerving, however, to realise my first game came after we had won three trophies in four years - since when, we’ve won ... three trophies.
Oh, how I wish mine eyes had seen the glory of more cups at White Hart Lane.
(Then again, glory should come again next season. Why, we waited seven years after 1984 for a trophy, then eight, then nine - next, ten...?)

*

Of course the ultimate hero was and still is Glenn Hoddle and in a natty knitted jumper I got to present him with one of his many Man Of The Match awards during the 1986-1987 season.

That came after phoning the 0898 Spursline once (honest), lingering through the ITK transfer speculation and workaday training-field talk to reach a quiz question to which the answer was obviously Ricky Villa.
I don’t remember the question, nor did I by the time I posted off an SAE with the right answer which somehow got pulled out and secured a VIP behind-the-scenes day out at the Lane for Tottenham Hotspur 2 Southampton 0.
Checking the dates now, it seems that was that year's Valentine's Day - although at that age, of course, the only conceivable love was for Tottenham.
Anyway, it was my mum accompanying me that day through the dressing-rooms, into the dug-out, even tripping on to the fringes of the pitch.
Then followed a lunch addressed by guest speaker Warren Mitchell - although she was taken a bit aback by the saltiness not of the food but the fictional West Ham/real-life Spurs fan’s language.
Many many years later I got to return to the field of play, alongside brother Christy, not for mere moments but 90 minutes of a match between a different competition’s prize-winners and a hack team of, well, us hacks.

The day after the misery of a 5-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea at Wembley, we were royally treated to the (away) dressing-room, a "Glory Glory Hallelujah" chorus down the tunnel on to the pitch, a stringent warm-up session led by Spurs physios and, of course ... another 3-2 defeat.
Christy did at least score a consolation goal, one for which he seldom fails to find a conversational hook.

My water-carrying role in midfield - think Edgar Davids, less in his Spurs let alone Barca days, but maybe more when winding down at Barnet - impelled me to put the ball into the Park Lane goal at half-time.
Just so I could say I did and then ever since gaze satisfied down at it from my South Upper season-ticket seat.
Even smugger must be the opponent, however, who defied the one order from the organisers and celebrated his winning goal with a Klinsmann-isch dive towards that Park Lane/Shelf side corner flag.
Leaving a streaky smear of dug-up mud he and I might swear can still be glimpsed ever since.



*

Actually my first White Hart Lane game could be said to be a nine-goal thriller against Bristol Rovers, although I was only a newborn at the time.

Stumbling across an old box of memories a few years ago, I found a typewritten diary kept by my mum in my early months.
The yellowing pages included one entry wryly reminding herself how her son just wouldn’t stop bawling one night while her husband was at work - right up until she turned on the TV to find that evening’s Match Of The Day.
Hey presto, suddenly silence reigned.
Even more amusing, she felt, was that the action showed my dad’s team Bristol Rovers losing 9-0.

Of course, later readers - well, me anyway - knew exactly which team was doing the trouncing and the internet age helpfully allows enjoyment of it anew.
The skipper Stevie Perryman drives the ball forward from defence with fierce purpose yet serene assurance.
Deep in midfield, appearing on the right wing or even occasionally arriving in the six-yard box himself, glides Glenn Hoddle - arcing passes as languorous as they are audacious as they are precise.
And, reaping the rewards up-front, those two deadly strikers blending emphatic finishing with nifty improvisation - well, no, not Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks to come, but Colin Lee and Ian Moores for now.
A friend says that was the first game he ever attended. What cruel beauty. He must have imagined it would always be that way.
As, perhaps, did poor four-goal Lee and hat-trick-hitting Moores. Neither of whom are expected to be invited on Sunday, alas.
YouTube is a gift here, of course, an aid to confected "memory".
As is eBay, which let another brother Lyndon present as a Christmas gift the other year the programme from that day.
No tactical lay-out on the back, but trusty Football League and Football Combination tables inside, apologies for a recent record 4-1 defeat at Charlton and warnings of extra segregation ahead at the Park Lane turnstile entrances.
#AgainstModernFootball, eh...





 
*

(That same brother, in early Press box days, incidentally once caused fleeting concern here - ooh, about 15 minutes into the second half - when realising he hadn’t returned to his seat beside me.
Eventually he re-emerged, admitting he’d locked himself into one of the West Stand toilet cubicles then been unable to undo it - ultimately shinnying up the wall and daringly leaping down to freedom.
Hopefully, when the demolition balls come thundering in come Monday, no one else has been left in a similar predicament.)

*

Older me would come to know better than to leave your seat at half-time, knowing just how interminable those queues for refreshing or relieving yourself can be.
The gents’ befogged with less-than-gents very unsubtly lighting up.
 
The bar queues hopping on the spot heading nowhere until finally finding a server shruggingly admitting the beers or crisps have run out or it’s too close to the second half kicking off again.
Then again, adult experience at Spurs has too often conjured not the childlike hope of old but the careworn wariness of what might be about to transpire especially during those sour Sugar years.
How #Spursy for Spurs, under alleged BSkyB kingmaker Alan, to choose the decade football exploded to slip from being "Big Five" mainstays - even pioneers - to also-rans.
Sugar, oh-so-showy yet the master of the middling rather than striking signing, may have saved the club collapsing under the excesses of Scholar and, yes, Venables - but also oversaw Spurs at their most drab and frustrating.
Why, even in an era that saw such dazzling (non-Dozzell-ing) talents as Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham and David Ginola wearing that shirt, with a cockerel on it...
And for all the praise for White Hart Lane as was and as is, on the best of days and especially nights, let’s not forget how caustic or caustically silent it could be - especially then, exacerbated by disruptive overhauls of the (raucous) South or East or (calmer) North or West stands.
Boos still seemed rare - the worst to this memory heading towards hapless Ramon Vega as he tried to over-actively gee up team and crowd just after we’d gone 3-0 down before half-time on a shocking Saturday against Sheffield Wednesday.
More recurrent were those choruses, both angry and sad, of "You’re not fit to wear the shirt" and "We want our Tottenham back". Happy days, eh.
Or, as one of our oft-shifting kit manufacturers put it all too inadvertently bluntly: PONY.
Even amid it all, though, this club can inspire - that stadium, too. That crowd especially.
Say, Stephen Carr briefly becoming the side’s most exciting player - despite being the right-back - with wonderstrikes against Sunderland, Ipswich and, most eye-catchingly, Manchester United.
Before that, Ginola’s sashays across the field - not only that strip of land along the left-wing he will always describe, on half-time guest returns, as "my garden".
The FA Cup tie against Leeds may be the highlight, the game he should have had the most spectacular of hat-tricks but had to settle for only one of the great (non-Hoddle) volleys seen at the old place.
And then the 5-1 trouncing of Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea, kicked off by hapless John Terry half-asleep and Steffen Iversen sweeping in, before Sheringham unfortunately kicked Boudewijn Zenden, Tim Sherwood swept in a second, and oh Teddy Teddy powered in "a picture, an absolute picture".
Five-one, even Rebrov scored - and even our frequent tormentor Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sent off, for an offence team-mate Mario Melchiot committed before disloyally skulking away from the scene.
Ex-Blue Gus Poyet won cheers from us and opprobrium from fans who formerly adored him with what still seems like a hop-skip-and-a-jump when comfortably substituted.
And Tottenham’s were the only supporters still sticking around to ironically cheer Mickael Forssell’s late "consolation".


Then again, the less said about Poyet and Sheringham in the Cardiff final to follow, the better - and that goes for the entire Cardiff final and experience to boot.
A subsequent 5-1 League Cup semi-final London derby at least went one better with asuitable sequel - that 2008 thrashing, under Juande "a manager who only wins"(?) Ramos.
It felt like we’d have the emphatic beating of Arsenal within not only minutes, with that sauntering Jermaine Jenas opener, but seconds, with that crunching Teemu Tainio challenge almost right on the whistle.
Barely any time passed before Arsenal were bringing on rested talisman Cesc Fabregas, with the sacrificed Denilson appearing unsure which leg to pretend he was limping off upon.
Even then, taking an incisive 4-0 lead couldn’t prevent the loudest collective intake of breath when Emmanuel Adebayor (of course) pulled it back to 4-1 with a mere 20 minutes to go.
If anyone could, Tottenham could...
After all, there were people taking photographs of the scoreboard when unexpectedly 3-0 up against Manchester United at half-time - only for Andy Cole’s goal within a minute of the restart to kickstart an inexorable turnaround.
Why, this idiot here may even have later smirked to neighbours, when again three ahead at the interval, this time against ten men: "Well, we were 3-0 up against another Manchester team before at this point - but, hey, City are no United..." Oh.
Ah, but still - no such collapse in 2007-2008 and Spurs were on their way to Wembley for that rare thing there (for now), a glory-glorious win there.
The will of the crowd can surge up and not drag down, even occasionally against Sir Alex Ferguson - the man who almost became Spurs manager way back in ‘86 before a last-minute change of heart by the then-Aberdeen boss. So near and yet so far...
United had already clinched the title but the final game of the 2000-2001 season was memorable.

Not only for our comeback 3-1 win, nor the clown-ish bandage around Simon Davies’ injured head, but the incessant mantra of "Glenn Hoddle’s blue and white army" that could claim both assists for a brace by - of all people the little-seen Willem Korsten.
Only the player Darren Anderton could have been.
Not forgetting, of course while loath to mention the man - hothouse return receptions for Sol Campbell: the "minute of hate", the "Judas" placards (including one upside-down) and the many more minutes of seething contempt.
His first game back felt about as toxic as the Lane - any ground - could get, only intensified by high-fives he ostentatiously shared with his new back four.
But, if anything, more effective was the near-identifical treatment he received on subsequent visits - to his obvious, indignant bemusement and distraction.
(Still, we owe some gratitude - his many gaffes aside - towards Heurelho Gomes, for somehow palming away what would have been Campbell equaliser in the 2010 Danny Rose derby, the ground rocking just days after our despondent slip-up at Wembley against Portsmouth.)


*

Other recollections - that Rose screamer aside - that rattle around the head right now: memorable moving occasions, such as Martin Chivers accompanying Bill Nicholson on to the field ahead of the 2002 tribute night friendly against DC United, before Gazza and Teddy larked about on the pitch and Ginola still looked worthy of a first-team place.
Or the hushed and haunted Bolton game the day of Bill Nick’s death, an underwhelming home defeat and Jacques Santini’s jarring nonchalance being irritating yet cast into irrelevance by the occasion and what the man meant.
Or, again against Bolton, the evening 36,000 of us thought we had just seen a man die in front of us on the pitch - the heart compressions abruptly applied to an inert Fabrice Muamba making for a jolting moment.
Bless the heroics of those medics to the rescue - the behind-the-scenes teams, and the specialists who happened to be Spurs spectators that night but rushed into life-saving duty right on time, just in time.
All those, indeed, to make the stadium and the club operate, without the glory of scoring or saving or coaching a goal.

Or more joyous occasions?
Okay, then: the "Taxi for Maicon" night vs Inter, of course. Poor Maicon - it’s not as if the man had carved out a reputation as one of the game’s snarling or snidey villains to be taken down a peg or two, but Gareth Bale was just that good that evening. So many, relentlessly many times.

Having been in Milan for that 3-4 defeat that somehow felt almost like a draw of course it could have been, had he put a fourth last-gasp chance away - there was eager apprehension whether he could live up to the hype on home turf.
No worries - five minutes in, and a bit of ball-juggling on the touchline then a quickfire swivel and sprint down the line, and you knew it was going to be all right on one of those nights.
Even when Crouchy speared a sitter wide across goal.
Even when Samuel Eto’o wriggled a goal back to 2-1 out of nothing.
Somehow, no Adebayor-equivalent worries this time, and the brutal simplicity of Bale booting the ball past Maicon and setting off in a footrace settled the deal.
Pavlyuchenko the scorer, but only one name roaring out: BALE BALE BALE.
He'd come some way from his early "glory": being granted, along with compatriot and fellow little-used reserve Chris Gunter, the honour of carrying around the pitch 2008’s newly-won League Cup because the bigger boys had a game to play.
As it turned out, he became the talisman - a match-definer even without having to do much except, well, the important bit.
His late, often-identikit goals in the 2012-2013 season called to mind the handcuffs-escaping scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?:
"You mean you could do that at any time?"
- "No! Not at any time - only when it was funny..."


*



 

*

Other moments that reel before a kaleidoscopic mind's eye:
Paul Stewart making his debut as a sub just as we clawed back to 2-2 at home to Manchester United and won a last-minute penalty, only for him to grab the ball off regular taker Terry Fenwick and ... hammer it, cannonballing back off the bar.
Gudni Bergsson, another sub, squaring up to Stuart Pearce over a disputed throw-in and sending so-called "Psycho" away with his tail between his legs ("best place for it" etc).
Not only leaping cheers but a standing ovation of applause for Robbie Keane’s instinctively-improvised, long-range loft of a shot securing a last-ditch 4-4 draw with Chelsea.

Steffen Iversen somehow shovelling the ball over the line against Manchester United in 1999, truly a goal-of-the-season contender minutes before Paul Scholes obligingly nodded the ball into his own net to give us an unexpected lead. Dimitar Berbatov oh-so-Berba-ly tucking in a close-range volley from a corner, for his third of four, in a 6-4 harem-scam burning of Reading.
Slapstick knockabout and suitable sentimentalism throughout Ledley King’s testimonial, a cleansing postscript to - and tonic to follow - the sour AVB/Sherwood 2013-2014 endurance test.

Way back when, another testimonial and the most special of guests Diego Maradona in a Spurs shirt for Ossie Ardiles’ tribute night, his outrageous showboating bringing similar from Hoddle and Waddle and later prompting Diego to seek out Glenn even in the tense tunnel build-up to a bitterly-contentious World Cup quarter-final.
That front-row seat by the bench was of extra value, then as for yet another testimonial, Peter Shilton’s for some reason held at the Lane in 1990, when Kevin Keegan was overheard promising his fellow substitutes he would go on and score a diving header. Which he almost-instantly did.
Rafael van der Vaart and his Arsenal-shushing, his Arsenal-nutmegging over and again, his granny-hugging vs Villa, his joyous slam of the ball into the net from two inches out vs Everton, just being vdV vs so many.
Oh, and doing as I always do, and shifting a nifty side-eye towards the linesman on scoring his opener vs Inter, just checking for no flag.
And, of course, almost last and certainly not least: last month’s ideal final North London derby at this Lane, a 2-0 cruise gleefully unusual in just how little of a worry it all was.
"Highlights" above and below - although with an eerie while exultant feeling afterwards. No one wanting to leave, only to keep on singing.
And, in a saintly way, a gratifyingly-nameless day as well.
Ah, just like every heart-pumping, neighbour-backslapping, hoarsely-hollering outbreak of delight every time a Spurs hit hits the back of the (opposition) net.
The "Yidio, Yidio" chorus.
The arms punching the air as if aiming to knock out a cloud.
The feeling that - whatever the score ‘til then - it might just all turn out all right after all.
Whatever fears there were beforehand, and will be again, you know there’s nowhere else to wish to be.
Hoping for the best. While steeling for the worst.
Yet still hoping for the best.


*

Of course every fan of every other club can claim to feel the same, just adjusted.
White Hart Lane, though, a little like Goodison Park, still feels among the last of something special.

The timbers and arches, Archibald Leitch’s revolutionary grandeur, may be long gone the modern-day stands on all sides resembling more the layers and flaps of computer-and-printer desktop stacks. (Amstrad or otherwise.)
Yet enough of that old enclosing remains, for now - the cosy yet imposing kind of arena that showy new-builds can’t quite replicate.Can’t quite or not even in the slightest.
Greece’s German coach Otto Rehhagel let the local side down a little when, returning to his native land for the 2005 Confederations Cup - the dress rehearsal for Germany’s World Cup the following year sniffed that all-new-and-improved stadia these days all seem to roll off the same software.
Hopefully the new White Hart Lane we see soaring ever upwards and chomping into the old is being made not only in awareness but application of lessons learnt from unatmospheric elsewhere.
The Emirates, of course, but also the new Wembley and the Olympic Stadium we thankfully avoided, even at such a dodgily cushy deal.
The 17,000-seat single-tier - 5,000 more than the rightly-hyped Borussia Dortmund equivalent at the so-called ‘Bundesliga’s Opera House’ - seems an encouraging start.
A new (re)start. An essential new (re)start.
But thankfully only a goal-kick away from our old home, with plenty of the history and familiar geography - no matter how novel the new seats and surroundings and sheer feel will inevitably, well, feel.
There will be similar routes, and perhaps a few of the same old pubs sticking around - even with a football-less year to survive, looking forward to the influx of 24,000 potential extra punters ahead.
Still, this ever-changing stadium - a "Trigger’s Broom" of an ongoing architectural project - closes its doors this weekend having remained a home not only for 30,000-plus people at a time, but millions more across 118 years.
Strangers across generations, with all the inevitable diversity in opinions, environs, spending, expectations, anything - even the kits we see or the rules "our" players play by.
And yet an over-riding connection nevertheless remains, in that club we unavoidably care for and the place we come to most do so.
This season of course has brought disappointment of sorts, but mostly entertainment and pride (and obviously little bottling).

But aiming high - aiming higher than could have been imagined in so many other recent seasons with a dynamic young side, signed up to a warm and wise young-ish manager, feels right.
At last, and at the very least what Bill Nick and co would not only want but expect.
Perhaps appropriately we finish up against Manchester United - England’s first European Cup-winners coming to visit a club who five years earlier became England’s first European trophy-winners.
As the ever-quotable Danny Blanchflower remarked, back in 1960 even before Spurs had secured the most enduring of Doubles: "Manchester United and Spurs do have the same style, the same beliefs. Basically we believe in attack - we go out to win the game, we don’t go out not to lose it."
(A reminder, perhaps, for Jose Mourinho as he presumably prepares to come and park the United bus that arrived so rudely late under Louis Van Gaal last season…)


*

To quote another, Tottenham Hotspur FC plc’s chairman Paul Bobroff declared in 1983, not long before Burkinshaw’s sardonic goodbye: "We have no desire just to be a football club. That is not the basis for success."

Eat your hearts out, self-sanctifying Barcelona but perhaps the best interpretation of those words is not the one Bobroff intended.
Of course there remain plenty of quibbles about Tottenham Hotspur ‘s behaviour as a business, the recent handling of season tickets and their costs for next year at Wembley only the latest bone of contention.
We are not only supporters nowadays but customers. To some, anyway.
But supporters, above all.
And a football club, above all. A kind of community. Here anyway.

"Oh, we only know
That there’s gonna be a show

And the Tottenham Hotspur (has been and) will be ... there."

Here’s cheers to a basis for success here, there and everywhere.



(South Upper one last time, instead of way down front in the West, but - for daft old time's sake - this spectator may just have a pen ready again for this Sunday's programme...)

COYS.











 

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