Birthday Blues

Originally featured in MEHSTG Vol. 2 Issue 10 - November 1999

“It’s your Dad’s birthday soon” my Mum said, “If I get tickets for Spurs, do you want to go with him?” To a lifelong Spurs fan this should have been a fairly straightforward question, but to one who had gone to virtually every game from the 1977 Second Division season until the Cup Final in ’87 there was some apprehension about returning to the scene of so many memories both good and bad.

I must put on record that I only stopped going when I decided that my chances of playing Saturday league football was limited to only a few years and it was always in the knowledge that one day I would return to my first love of following the Lillywhites. My Dad on the other hand had seen it all.  From the late 50’s through the 60’s and on until the appointment of Terry Neill, an act of desecration which still beggars belief today and which must have signalled the end to more than a few fanatical attendances when it was cast upon the undeserving Tottenham fans.

Anyway the 3rd of October arrived and with it my sense of unease.  After 12 years I couldn’t really turn up in my Le coq Spurs shirt and by now, having a young family meant that my lucky ritual of walking around the house in only my Spurs socks also had to go by the board.

The train from Edmonton Green still started the pulse racing and the carriage was filled with that air of expectation and hope that precedes every game.  On arriving at White Hart Lane I noticed the first difference which was the automatic train doors which thankfully had replaced those old manual doors which you could never open from the inside and had to wind the window down just as the train slowed down.  Somehow I missed that chorus of slamming doors which signalled the arrival of a big crowd.  Not seeing the four floodlight towers in the distance was a stark reminder that the ground redevelopment was complete.

Our tickets were for the Upper South Stand (the Park Lane End as I still know it) and walking past the main gate I started noticing some of the old faces which I recalled from games home and away, at home and abroad but still I felt like a stranger.  Fortunately, my copies of MEHSTG had prepared me for the queues for tickets, the Spurs Shop and the general disrespect given to the Spurs fans at home games, but nothing could have prepared us for the shock of my old man, at the age of 67 and after 45 years of watching, being stopped and searched by the Police for the first time in his life!  Still, he was walking in a public place in possession of a pretty offensive flat cap!

As soon as we passed through the turnstiles I realised how long I had been away.  The new stairs, bars and souvenir stalls were all alien to me.  I wasn’t returning home, I was visiting a new ground and one that could have been any where in the country.

Our seats had an excellent view, right behind the goal but somehow I just didn’t know where I was.  Readers will know what I mean if they have been to Centre Court at Wimbledon; it’s nothing like on the telly.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against development at all, but having been confined to watching the boys on TV where most of the action is set against the background of the ‘old’ West Stand, I wasn’t ready for such a dramatic change.  I’m very glad that I still have my photo-montage of the ‘old’ ground made up of 50 individual shots taken from the Shelf back in 1984 (yes I know cameras aren’t allowed in the ground).  No doubt once we’ve had some glory in the new stadium it will develop a character of it’s own but I have to say, that at the moment it’s very clean, very bright but lacking in character forged out of years of excitement, tension, and emotion.  Sorry, but give me the old terraces and stands anyday, even if they were painted white and sky-blue.  Why was that? 

The pre-match warm up is now a major event.  I remember when at 2:40 some of the players would wander out, kick a few balls between each other and then disappear back into the warmth of the changing rooms.  If it was too cold Steve Archibald wouldn’t bother coming out and Ian Moores amongst others often wouldn’t come out for fear of the barracking that he would get.  So, how is it that with all this extra warming up, we still get far more injuries that we used to?

The Jumbotron screen is a great innovation but I found that when the ball was at the far end I was unsure whether to watch the screen or the game.  So quite often I ended up staring somewhere in between, half way up the Paxton Road terrace.  I know why they don’t show replays of contentious issues, but at the time of writing I don’t know why Heskey’s goal was disallowed or whether the penalty was justified (I thought not at the time). Given the risk of provocation by showing replays I thought it was interesting that before the game we were all shown the Wembley goal and Sol lifting the cup, obviously a different rule applied there. Even my Dad enjoyed the continued baiting of Savage, but I would have liked to have seen the recording of him being substituted at Wembley with his brain hanging off the end of his nose.

As for the game, I’ll leave it to others to confirm whether we played well or not, but I enjoyed the game if not the result.   I thought both teams ran out of ideas in the second half and Leicester had whatever luck was going. 

Chris Armstrong is lacking confidence and older fans might agree that in this sort of form he’s very similar to Mark Falco in the early 80’s.  ‘Bilko’ was crucified by the fans early on when he was always falling over or facing the wrong way or balancing on the wrong leg or on the wrong stride.  But it did come right in the end and he was certainly instrumental in the UEFA Cup win in 1984. Whether things come right for Chris, or whether he is given enough chances, only time will tell.

Seeing both of Steffen’s goals right below me was great.  They were both the sort of goals that you know are going in a second or so before the ball crosses the line.  As a consequence I was already standing up shouting before the final touch was made.  Being out of practice this meant  I lost my voice, but that was always the mark of a good game anyway.

So, will it be another 12 years before I return?  I don’t think so, but if anyone from the club actually reads this, my message is simple.  The stories about the inept ticket office in the media and on the fans grapevine are a real turn-off for lapsed supporters.  It shouldn’t be like this at Tottenham, but then again maybe that is the one consistent factor since my previous trips to the Lane when we were regularly being shafted by Spurs Travel following the team round Europe.      

Pat Stonrode

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