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20 May 2017

Spurs’ last game at White Hart Lane … the crowd never stopped singing

By Hunter Davies

I was fortunate to be there, at the very last game at White Hart Lane after 118 years, and to have fab seats, kindly given by one of the staff. It was also lucky for Spurs. Their emotional finale could have happened at any time in the past couple of decades, if they’d built their new ground earlier.

This season, by chance, has turned out to be their best, most exhilarating, most optimistic in decades. It could easily have been one of those seasons when the players got booed off the pitch at half-time, thousands left before the end, and we all trailed miserably home thinking, oh bugger, not another middling year, with a middling team, and the Arse miles above, as usual.

“We nearly won the League,” the fans yelled, which in other circumstances might have been a negative reaction – but here it was a cry for joy. Unbeaten at home all season. The best crop of young players since, well, the last best crop of young players.

My son and I were seated right behind the 30 or so Spurs ex-stars, all gleaming bright and well shaved, not a beard among them, in their Pierre Cardin suits – Hoddle, Waddle, Ossie, Villa, Ledley King, Pat Jennings and a host of others, presumably kitted out by the club for this special occasion.

Only Ginola wasn’t wearing a white shirt and tie – trust him, flash bastard – but he did make me laugh. Afterwards, when they all trooped on to the pitch, he emerged taking a selfie.

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I peered into the back of Darren Anderton’s lush hair and he has not aged. So slim, so fit-looking. As was Teddy Sheringham. Only poor old Joe Kinnear looked overweight. Graham Roberts did look burly, but he always was.

During the whole game, and the touching half-hour ceremony, the crowd never stopped singing and waving their flags. Yes, Spurs went mad, hope Daniel Levy doesn’t regret it. They gave each of us a free T-shirt and a flag.

Yet there was something a bit creepy about these old retired footballers being worshipped and adored by the fans; grown men looking at them with awe.

You forget that for almost 140 years, players who have played for any top team, or any professional club, remain famous in their own local world for ever. That has been the case since 1885, when professionalism came in – nothing to do with the modern cult of celebrity.

After one particular bout of insane cheering as a close-up appeared on the screen of some of the old stars sitting in front of me, my son cynically observed, “A shame they never won anything in their day.” All true, for almost all of them, but that wasn’t the point. They played for Spurs – my heroes.

My ears went after about half an hour. The noise and singing were unrelenting. As for the flag-waving, I did that for half an hour, then had to sit down.

Many of the ex-players and their wives were taking photos on their mobiles. It must have been strange for them, thinking back to their day on that pitch, in this ground, when they were real heroes. The ones from the Seventies and Eighties, who never made much money, must mostly be hanging round the house in their slippers. This was a moment for them to remember their great days and good times at White Hart Lane.

I thought back to first coming to the ground in 1960. I did sometimes take my wife. She would walk away when the signs said “Ground Full”. Don’t be daft, pet, follow me. I would walk round the whole ground until eventually we found a turnstile still letting people in. It was a metaphor for our different personalities.

In the Seventies, doing a book about Spurs, I remember walking round inside the stadium with the manager Bill Nicholson, who joined the club in 1936. He pointed out the girders under the West Stand, which he’d helped to paint.

And Gazza telling me the most appalling stories about his pranks: putting shit sandwiches in his freezer for guests, firing an air rifle at Five Bellies’ big bare arse on the training ground. I don’t think we’ll see those incidents again.

PS This is a column of record – I forgot to say that Spurs beat Man United 2-1

 

This article appears in the 17 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies