After seeking a ticket throughout the week, I finally reached my "fuck it" mindset. I was in London until Sunday, and damn if I was not going to go to White Hart Lane for the first time while there. It was Saturday morning, and I finally decided that no matter what, I was going that day. I went on the Tottenham Ticket Exchange and saw a lower level corner ticket for £36. Perfect, I thought. And so went the greatest £36 I ever spent.
The ride was simple yet complicated. I decided on a cold day that I would adorn myself with jeans, a navy and lily-white striped polo, jacket, and Tottenham scarf, a more subdued outfit than I am used to for American sporting events. I boarded the tube at 1:30 in Golders Green, taking the Northern Line to Euston before switching to the Victoria Line to Seven Sisters Station. An easy ride, made extra cozy as I boarded a crowded bus from Seven Sisters on my way to the stadium.
The most surprising thing about White Hart Lane is that you don't see the stadium until you are a block away. It is really built into the neighborhood, just another building on the Tottenham High Road. I truly understood what it meant to have a stadium as a part of a community. Spurs is Tottenham, and Tottenham is Spurs. Before grabbing my ticket or hitting the pub, I decided to walk completely around the stadium. From the residential roads of the N17 to the pubs and stores devoted to the Tottenham faithful, I felt the environment of the Tottenham community that goes along with this football club.
I then walked to the Northern Stand where I was able to acquire my recently bought ticket. As a veteran from American sport I'm used to the tradition of "tailgating" and "pregaming" before sporting events. But the Lane would be an aberration. With two hours to kill, I decided to hit the pubs. Hard.
I first arrive at the Bell & Hare, perhaps the closest pub to White Hart Lane. Only minutes from the southwest corner of the stadium, the Bell & Hare is everything I hate about English pubs. Overcrowded, overpriced, and full of assholes. I stumble my way around, looking for a place to set up shop with my plastic pint of Carling. I finally settle upon a picnic table outside, where I can check a text message. No sooner does an asshole Spurs supporter accidentally kick the table, spilling my drink on the right sleeve of my jacket. After staring blankly at the Cockney idiot, expecting an apology, I realize none is coming. And so I take that incident as my cue to leave.
Without a clue of what to do, I decide to forsake the High Road for the opportunity to walk past the South Stand, where I will be sitting. I finally stumble upon the warm embrace of The Olive Branch Pub, where the kind crowd makes me feel at home. I discuss possible line-ups, Louis Saha, and the dastardly Arsenal who have equalized with the pub regulars. The pints of Carlsberg and Strongbow flow, in this truly old-fashioned English public house.
"A Yank on your first match!" the 30-something gentleman says. "Have a shot with us! You are in for a brilliant time!"
And so I do stay, empathizing with these patrons of North London after they deal with the hardship of both a Henry winner for Arsenal and first half capitulation of the English Rugby team in the Six Nations against Italy.
"No worries though mate!" a second new friend says to me. "We're going to cut down these Geordies, send them back to Newcastle lamenting the day they ever set foot in the Lane!"
It's 5 p.m. GMT, so I figure I should head to the Lane to arrive to the Lane to find my seats in section 32, in the lower level of the southeast corner of the stadium. I personally prefer to sit on the endline, able to see the full movement of the attack, so I love the location of my seats. Patted down entering the stadium, I am time traveling back to 1961 in my mind, embracing the sparse design and construction of this concrete fortress. This is where Greaves, Blanchflower, Hoddle, Waddle and Gazza once played.
The inside concession stands are full, as one can't bring alcohol to the seats. But they have a meat pie and Carlsberg deal for £6.50. So I say hell, and indulge myself in an Indian-flavoured pie and Carlsberg. The pie is delicious and the beer necessary, so I settle into my seat with an excited heart and full stomach.
The chants ring from the rafters of the stadium. "We are Tottenham, We are Tottenham, Super Tottenham From the Lane." Every Spurs supporter knows what happened from the first touch of the ball. A goal for Benoit in the 4th minute, Saha in the 6th and 20th minute, and Kranjcar in the 34th minute. Each goal is an eruption throughout the stadium, as we explode and jump together as Spurs destruct this 5th place side.
Nothing excites me more than my first ever singing of "When the Spurs Go Marching In." For a near eight years I've been singing this alone, whispering it in unison with those supporters I hear on the television. But today I am a part of it, as the Spurs faithful rise to a fever pitch. I chant "Yiddo-Yiddo-Yiddo" to Louis Saha, understanding that the chant means he is being embraced as part of the Tottenham faithful--just as this American Yid in Section 32 is as well.
But perhaps the most meaningful chant comes in a fairly innocuous one. It begins "North London is Ours, North London is Ours, Fuck Off back to Woolwich, North London is ours." I fully believe it. This disparate group of fans have taken over North London. Spurs need to stay in the N17, and suddenly the push for the Northumberland Development Project becomes that much more real to me.
At halftime, waiting in the line for the loo I talk to an older Spurs supporter, who claims that Tottenham can get seven goals today. I respond that all I want is one more goal. I get my wish in the 64th minute, as Emmanuel Adebayor tallies the goal to match his four assists already on the game.
The game continues, as we all chant support for Tottenham and Harry Redknapp, whilst suggesting that Alan Pardew may be the man for England. Much better than seeing our beloved Harry depart. As the final whistle blows, I realize I have seen something special. I soak in the moment, surveying around White Hart Lane as the supporters move towards the exits.
In only thirty minutes I would be transported back to the trivialities of a 21 year-old male, trying to meet up with indecisive women and plan myself the greatest night possible in my last London evening. But in reality, it was all irrelevant. I had just experienced what I had dreamed of since I was in middle school, to see Tottenham Hotspur play fantastic football at the immortal White Hart Lane.
Soon would be the interminable walk back to Seven Sisters, as I chased a night of fun on my way to Marble Arch Station. But deep in my mind, I knew nothing would match the glory I had just seen among 36,000 of my new closest friends.
For that one special night on the Tottenham High Road, it did not matter what what Arsenal did. North London belonged to Tottenham Hotspur. North London was ours. And for the first time, North London was mine.