From his first to last visit, Jack Oliver Smith pens his farewell letter to the lane.
March 17th, 2007. The last chills of winter were accompanied by the first flickers of springtime sunshine. I’d read about the place many times, and seen it on the TV, too. In person, it looked more resplendent than I ever could have possibly imagined. I walked up the steps towards West Upper as fast as my pubescent legs could carry me. A short canter through the gangway led me to the few steps into the stand itself, and there it was. The green and lush hallowed turf; the ever-growing atmosphere and the golden cockerel watching down on us all. White Hart Lane, quite literally in all its glory.
The opposition that day was Watford, who were looking doomed to relegation, and Spurs could afford to field a slightly weakened side. Berbatov and Keane were rested, along with Lennon. The starting XI that day was:
Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, Rocha, Young-Pyo Lee; Ghaly, Jenas, Huddlestone, Malbranque; Mido, Defoe
OK, not the greatest side in our history, but it contributed to a second consecutive fifth-place finish that season under the leadership of one Martin Jol, a man to whom I’ve always felt thankful as he was the first Spurs manager in my time of being a fan that gave me an opportunity to see them playing good football, beating top teams, mixing it in Europe and helping us shake-off that maligned ‘midtable mediocrity’ tag. He also knew the ethos of the club, and what is special about us, and that grand old ground we once played in.
The game itself I only remember patches of. We took the lead five minutes before half-time, Jenas heading home from Chimbonda’s deep right-wing cross. I had a knack of seeing Jenas score and play relatively well, except Boxing Day 2008, when those I sat around suggested we swap him for Jimmy Bullard.
The second half brought a moment that not many first-timers to White Hart Lane could brag about. Something that everyone who was there that day will remember forever, for the moment never comes around too often. A goal through an unlikely source…
Paul Robinson scored, too, which was fairly impressive. I must admit I did not watch the goal in its entirety, having looked away after he took the free-kick, then looked up in time to see the ball still in the air, and sailing over Ben Foster’s noggin. A hearty rendition of “England’s Number One” reverberated through the Lane for a good few minutes after that, followed by “You’re going down with West Ham” to Watford, with “He’s Got No Hair” to Mr Jol for good measure. The sun continued to shine on through the match, and that golden cockerel crowed on. The final score: Spurs 3-1 Watford.
You never forget your first, you see.
My last visit I will remember, too. It was the penultimate day of stadium tours just a couple of weeks ago. I queued for an hour, and could have queued for longer I’d had to. Walking through the tunnel, looking at the hall-of-fame, having a peek at the dressing rooms, and following in the footsteps of Greaves, Chivers, Hoddle, Mabbutt, Gascoigne, Klinsmann, Ginola, Defoe, Kane and Bobby Zamora by walking through the tunnel and seeing that cockerel looking down on us once again causes goosebumps. I sat on Pochettino’s chair, breathed in the embers of success that the Lane has witnessed over the last 118 years, and felt my knees go all trembly as I felt awash with the echoes of glory.
I may have only been to a handful of games in-between these visits, but every visit holds a special memory. Sat within what is, with my lilywhite-tinted specs on, the home of football, is to me, a humbling experience. It’s a place that has probably shaped me as a person more than I probably realise. Being a Tottenham fan has probably made me more cynical, more pessimistic and at times, more miserable, but it’s taught me about loyalty and an all-consuming passion that encompasses a certain sort of love that only someone who knows football will understand.
I close with this poem, in ode to our home of almost 12 decades. Farewell, White Hart Lane. I’ll miss you terribly.
Up the Spurs.
I take the car when it rains but I take
The trains when the sun shines. Every journey
Is always too long, every journey home
Is never long enough. Sitting alone,
I feel trapped, strapped down onto a gurney
That keeps me from running into your wake,
And your atmosphere’s ethereal tone.
Even if a mere ninety minutes are
All I spend, the heart always grows fonder.
Dare to curse your name leaves pangs of regret
As one eternally feels in your debt,
For joyous memories that I ponder
On often involve, beneath twinkling stars,
Glory nights spent as if we had just met.
When you said I couldn’t smile without you,
You were right, you know. Sad and glad along
With you, under sheets of rain or sunshine.
You aged remarkably well, like fine wine
Cliches, but just like a decades-old-song,
Time ravaged me. Something that is brand new
Will come, but dear Lady Lane, you are mine.