The Lane, The Finale
My late father got me hooked on Tottenham with stories of evening European games in the early 60’s. He wasn’t a big football fan, but went to midweek games with a car full of workmates from Stevenage. His stories of the atmosphere and the noise under the lights, programmes pored over the day after as I read of Mackay and White, Jones and Blanchflower, made me want to go to the Lane so badly.
It was a few years before my parents would allow me to do that, so I got my fix watching Stevenage Town. Johnny Brookes was their midfield maestro, doing for them what he had done for Tottenham years before.
I finally got to the Lane in April 1969. Sat in the Paxton, saw Jimmy Greaves score the winner putting the ball through Peter Grotier’s legs.
My abiding memories of White Hart Lane are of things which don’t get captured by a camera. So much is available online nowadays, so the memory of past games always stays fresh. Like being locked out on the night Arsenal won the league in 1971, despite arriving at 4 for a 7:30 KO, standing by the Corner Pin listening to the crowd inside to gauge how the game was going. No radio/internet/mobiles in those days; Seeing a mate getting down on one knee on the shelf to propose to his girlfriend, me and others shouting out “don’t do it”; Percy Dalton Peanuts; Being chased out of the Park Lane by Millwall; Fabrice Muamba walking on the pitch again. Don’t know how I managed to drive home the night he collapsed, could hardly see the road ahead through floods of tears.
So, to the final Sunday. I don’t think that there’s a more poignant way to celebrate watching your 650th Tottenham game than for it to be the last game at the stadium. Feelings of sadness, although it doesn’t look anything like the Lane I first walked into in 1969. Feeling nervous, we needed one point from 3 games to secure second place. We have become used to failure as fans, so the upwards improvement since Mauricio took over has taken some getting used to. We all remember being 3–0 up at half time against Manchester clubs. And excitement, it’s the beginning of a new chapter.
Usually I drive to Tottenham, but today is different. There’s people to share stories with in the pub, and beers to be drunk. My journey just happens to be the same as in 1969, train to Finsbury Park, tube to Seven Sisters and train to White Hart Lane.
On the train from Seven Sisters, I started chatting to Dave. He’s a Chelsea Pensioner, and has been going to the Lane since 1957. He saw John White’s first game, and unfortunately had to miss the second half of the double season as he was called up in December 1960. We exchange numbers and promise to arrange a get together with Rob, John’s son, to share memories.
My pre-match routines have changed over the years. 1969 involved pie & mash in Jack’s Café and (if I wasn’t refused due to my age) a couple of light & bitters in the Corner Pin. It now involves The Antwerp Arms where I’m a shareholder.
I arrive at the pub at 12:00, our table is already filling up. I’ve got to limit myself to one pint, I don’t think they’ve ever seen me drinking water there.
But I’ve been asked to do a piece to camera for the Premier League Review Show. By coincidence, I’m filmed on the same corner I stood back in 1971, close to the lamppost under which the three schoolboys stood back in 1882 discussing what to do now the cricket season had finished.
Wearing the lucky scarf, kindly given to me by Simon, chairs of Dallas Spurs, it had a run of 26 games unbeaten ended in the FA Cup Semi. Back in the Annie I meet up with Sam who has flown in from Dallas just for the game. There’s proof of the world wide appeal of my club.
I left the pub earlier than normal as I wanted to savour every last moment of the build-up to the kick off. I’ll walk to the New Lane following the same route to the High Road. But I took the time to video the walk into the ground as it will never be the same again. I’ve always used the same turnstile, number 4. I’ll miss that sound.
I’ve been sitting with same people since 2004. Not sure I’ll renew in same seat, as I’m retired now and I promised my long suffering wife Jill (who is a Tottenham girl and “gets it”) that I would downsize my seat to reduce expenditure. That’s not going to happen, might have to sell a kidney.
They have seen me in tears before, and today is no exception. I’ve come prepared with four packets of tissues, two of which are needed. Tears at the start of the game, tears singing the songs, tears of joy at winning and coming second for the first time in the 48 years, tears when the final whistle goes.
I was told about Theo’s involvement in the finale weeks ago in confidence, and have been on at him since to close with “Can’t Smile Without You”. Cue floods of tears when it is the last song played over the tannoy at the Lane.
I didn’t stay for long after that, as I wanted to share my thoughts with friends. Post-match drinks in the Irish Club, hearing tales of being on the pitch and souvenirs of the day proudly displayed. Onto the Annie, more drinks and songs with Jess, Tom and Christian.
Can football get any better than this? Two meaningless games comprehensively won away whilst WHL gets knocked down, a memorable week. Shared memories with so many friends made through our love for Tottenham.
Who knows what the future will bring? Let’s just enjoy the ride.
Onwards and upwards…