Farewell White Hart Lane

Predictably, it was ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ that broke me. There’d been a few deep, steadying breaths as the teams walked out. The lip had wobbled in the last few minutes with ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’ echoing round the four old stands, and again when Ledley King walked out to a roaring reception. 

But it was when the first few hundreds filed out, and patches of blue seats became visible again, that it hit. And then that familiar whistling started to play over the loudspeakers. And as the first words of that old song chorused around White Hart Lane and I saw tears appear in the eyes of those I’d shared so many memories with here, I lost control.

The beauty of the new home waiting for us beyond the horizon is that the pre-match routines won’t be too different. We’ll still get to make the same journey and go to the same pubs, talk to the same people. That will remain. Yesterday was all about what happened afterwards. 

It became a day of reflection. Each moment, I took just a bit longer to take it all in, to make sure I treasured every little bit of this place before it was too late. You don’t always get to say goodbye to the ones you love. We were lucky to have that opportunity. 

So before entering, I took a lingering glance at those brown bricks of the East Stand and the rusting letters of the South. My friends and I took a walk through the corner now engulfed by the colosseum that is rapidly rising out of the ground. It is difficult not to become awestruck in the shadow of the behemoth that will soon take its place as our new home. Then it was time.

One final time through the turnstiles of the Park Lane. One final walk up the stairs. One final time through the gangway and then one final walk up and out into the stadium itself. That first glimpse that you get of the sparkling green grass was as beautiful yesterday as it was twelve years ago on my first visit. I’m sure those who have been going for fifty, sixty or seventy years all had the exact same feeling. That was the moment I had goosebumps for the first time yesterday. It was far from the last.

We made our way to our seats earlier than usual to spend as much time with her as possible. The warm-ups took place below us but in honesty, I paid little attention. Instead, I took in each little distinctive feature one last time. The West Stand and its corporate boxes; the away end far to our left; the Paxton opposite and The Shelf spread out before us to our right. What a wonderful, heaving mass of limbs it must have been when it really was The Shelf in all its terraced glory. 

Finally, kick-off loomed. The atmosphere bubbled like I’d never felt before. This was different to the raucous intensity of White Hart Lane before a game like that which came two weeks before. This was unique, a truly once-in-a-lifetime occasion and it really did feel like everyone knew how privileged they were to share this day. 

The usual music boomed and the flags began to wave. Come on you Spurs. Come on you Spurs. Come on you Spurs. And the Spurs, the very last Spurs to grace this turf, came marching in. We’d been promised something special and the white and navy waves of 30,000 delivered. A sight and a sound to be cherished. Those flags were perfect – one final unique entrance for the eleven men that wear our lilywhite and our cockerel. 

The atmosphere was like no other the hallowed ground has seen before. We are Tottenham, we are Tottenham! Super Tottenham, from the Lane. It was never going to go down quietly. The thing I love most is being a Yid. The bellows grew louder. On this day, the protagonists were those in the stands, not the pitch. Oooooh when the Spuuuuuuuuurs…

When it seemed the noise could get no louder, Victor Wanyama rose and pummelled his header past David De Gea, sending White Hart Lane into raptures. It seemed Manchester United were in danger of being drowned by a tide of emotion. To their credit, and with some help from the woodwork, they just about managed to stave off the onslaught.

Still though, it was the hordes surrounding the pitch that seized the attention. When it seemed like everyone may have just blown themselves out, something special happened once more. In a final love letter to the proud history of our club, the fans paid tribute to some of their most adored. One Aaron Lennon, there’s only one Aaron Lennon. It was another moment where I had to bite my lip, as thousands gave their rousing support for a beloved former player, currently in the midst of his own personal struggles. 

Songs for Archibald, Gascoigne, van der Vaart, Defoe, Sheringham, Freund and Hoddle all followed. It was one of my personal favourite moments, among many, from the day. Some of the younger generation weren’t familiar with all the songs – I’d luckily had plenty of education from my dad on taking care of Archibald. But this was one of those improvised fan moments that make visiting White Hart Lane so special. We knew we’d see a parade of legends later, but here was our own personal show of gratitude to those that had enthralled us down the years.

Half-time provided a few more memorable nuggets to take home from Tottenham old and new. Chas and Dave followed Harry Winks and the successful ladies team to speak to Paul Coyte. Of course, the two biggest contributors to the White Hart Lane soundtrack were welcomed with a rendition of their own beloved hits. 

Onto the second half. The last 45 minutes. Ever. I still don’t think that had sunk in as the whistle blew. And to kick the atmosphere back into gear, we were treated with the goal we’d all wanted. Harry Kane finishing with typical cunning and then drinking in the adoration one final time. The last king of White Hart Lane. 

The songbook was rattled through once more. And then, typically, we shot ourselves in the foot. United had hardly offered any threat, and so, comfortable with our position, thousands began to let the away fans know just what they thought about the opposition. “It’s too early to start doing this”, I told my friends. They gave knowing looks back. Within seconds, our worries were confirmed, as Wayne Rooney made his little bit of history.

For the first time, the day had become about football. Suddenly, after feeling so at ease, the fear of not seeing out our grand cathedral with victory started to weigh more heavily. The visitors pressed more vigorously, but we created chances too. The longer it stayed 2-1, the more settled everyone seemed to become once more. Last fifteen minutes, last ten, then the last five.

The clock relentlessly ticked towards ninety. And the anxiety spread. Not for the result anymore, but for the goodbye. This was it. We knew it was coming, but nothing can prepare you for what it is going to be like when the moment finally arrives. The flags flew once more and the final song to see out football at the Lane came to a crescendo towards full-time.

Glory, glory hallelujah. 

Glory, glory hallelujah. 

Glory, glory hallelujah. 

And the Spurs go marching on.

Time was called. The noise surged.

And then the green grass below became speckled with colour. Mostly white, of course. How I wished I could have been one of those to spend that moment on the turf. From my vantage point in the Park Lane though, I could see the whole scene unfold. Thousands piled on, the fans’ last hurrah. We weren’t ready to say goodbye just yet. 

It was another unique moment that I’ll never forget. Another moment that added to the occasion. And although the club did their best to clear the pitch for the official ceremony, they should look back and be grateful for an impromptu celebration governed by those that matter most.

The setting up of that ceremony provided another touching instance. For the first time, the ground was not filled with the constant reverberation of chanting. There was a small window for quiet, private reflection. With the stewards’ attentions elsewhere, a few took the opportunity to take a seat on the steps, light a cigarette and survey the surroundings before the bulldozers rolled in. 

Again, I took in each stand and each corner. That West Stand, that’s where I was when super Pav hammered in a free-kick against Rubin Kazan. The Paxton, that’s where I was when Harry Kane made himself a legend in my first North London Derby and again a year later with one of the great derby goals. Below me, in the Park Lane, that’s where I learned what it meant to sing and support Tottenham for the whole 90 minutes. And that East Stand, The Shelf, that’s where my mum and dad took me the very first time when I was seven years-old. 

After the sombre reflection, the parade of great names from the past brought the warmth and the smile back. The blustering rain could hardly dampen that. They came one by one, those who I’d heard so many stories of – Jennings, Gilzean, Jones. Those who I’d seen so many clips of and who share in our passion each week on social media – Hazard, Ardiles, Roberts. And those that created my own personal memories – Berbatov, Keane, Crouch. An astounding reception for one of the ‘kings’ of White Hart Lane – Glenn Hoddle – who conducted the disciples singing his name.

And then the one King that had ruled my White Hart Lane. Ledley. Probably the loudest roar of all and then of course his song. His one knee. I was right there on the edge at that point, lip trembling uncontrollably. The noise that met his announcement – the man that to me represented everything right with football and everything glorious about Tottenham Hotspur.

Finally, the knights given the honour to be the last ever to guard our fortress, doing it with such distinction too, made their way back out. Unbeaten all season in this place – what a special way for those players to help us say goodbye. Among them, the two men that come closest for me to representing Ledley’s ideals. Kane, truly one of our own. And Mauricio Pochettino. When his face came up on the newly-installed, extra-large screen, and he proudly nodded his head as he looked around his adopted home, I felt my heart swell yet again. Surely, Bill Nic would be proud of this particular successor.

The official farewell culminated with the talents of Wynne Evans, leading us in a final rendition of ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’. This stadium, our theatre, became a cacophony of noise one last time as the rain stopped and the lilywhite ticker tape took its place. 

A rainbow. Seriously. As the final note bellowed out, a rainbow in the sky settled above the golden cockerel. How absolutely, bafflingly fitting. A picturesque, surreal, storybook ending. The perfect farewell.

Finally, as White Hart Lane began to empty for the very last time, that familiar whistle began. And the tears flowed.

You came along, just like a song

And brightened my day. 

Who would have believed that you were part of a dream,

Now it all seems light years away.

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