Sunday’s loss to Manchester United marked the 28th occasion that Spurs have played a competitive fixture at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium without a full crowd and in the pandemic, equalling the amount of games held there at 100% capacity.
When Tottenham left White Hart Lane in 2017, they could not have possibly foreseen what the first two years at their new home would have looked like. And as that anniversary of the long-awaited opening rolled around at the start of April, fans have been longing for that time back when their connection with the club was greater.
Results and performances haven’t helped, but the starvation of a proper matchday experience definitely hasn’t either.
Spurs have consistently averaged around two points-per-home-game since leaving White Hart Lane, wherever ‘home’ may be. In the 28 games with fans at the new gaff, there had been scarce few occasions where Tottenham have looked like the genuine proprietors of a billion-pound stadium. In fact, their crowning moment since returning to N17 came less than a week after inauguration day.
A 1-0 quarter-final win over Champions League favourites and eventual Premier League title winners Manchester City has yet to be topped, the only highlight from Spurs’ run to the final to have come at their spiritual home.
Part of Daniel Levy’s vision was to make a day at football feel more of an occasion outside of the match itself. It’s why so much time and money was invested in the other facilities at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, featuring the longest bar in Europe and hundreds of food and drink choices.
Spurs fans danced on the concourses long into the night. The chant that gave 90min’s Spurs podcast its name was initiated by thousands of supporters lining the wide corridors and gangways of the south stand.
These are the memories I choose to treasure of that stadium, jubilating with my dad beneath the bowl beyond last orders. But since then, Spurs have been walloped 7-2, humiliated by rivals, and fans have been shut out. It’s no wonder the feeling isn’t universal.
Every stadium and every fanbase share many of the same issues. The rose tinted glasses of nostalgia make the original White Hart Lane seem like a place that was always loud and worthy of being the 12th man, that the love of the design and aesthetics of the old stadium isn’t at all like Trigger’s broom in Only Fools and Horses.
“This old broom’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”
My first game at White Hart Lane was on 8 April 2006 – a 2-1 win against Man City (what a coincidence, eh?). I was so excited – footballing Christmas was delivered. Sure, the stadium was a little rusty and very ’20th century’, but I was so infatuated with everything about the matchday experience.
The journey round from west London on public transport made me love trains, the smell of burgers and onions eventually forced me into trying one when I was a notoriously fussy eater. I went back to school the next week and recited ‘Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur’ to my friends because I thought it was a banging tune, I imitated Pete Abbott reading out the lineups and scorers whenever I was on the playground.
Sure, these are the testimonies and adorations of an eight-year-old loser, but the feeling of going to a game can’t be replicated, and current day Spurs have been a misery to watch from home – at least if fans were present they would be able to boo the team and express their emotions, or Eric Dier could climb into the stands after them (Tottenham should package this as a 4D horror experience for adrenaline junkies, by the way).
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium wasn’t much of a popular place for Spurs fans to go when the pandemic hit (you know, in an intangible way, thousands of people obviously still bought tickets), and their dwindling fortunes mean it’s still rather undesirable to think about watching them now. By the time full crowds can be welcomed back, Harry Kane might have left the club. Then again, Jose Mourinho might have too.
But for all of the faults and all of the criticisms that can be laid at Levy’s door, he ultimately has delivered a world-class stadium that retains the feel and traditions of the one that stood before it, maximising modern technologies and architecture, buying every necessary property to ensure the club wouldn’t have to permanently up sticks – trying to find space to build a giant stadium in one of the biggest cities in the world is hard.
Results and performances will always be the ultimate barometer of fan happiness and success. Whenever Spurs pick up steam in a post-pandemic world, fans will warm to the new stadium. It will feel like home.