White Hart Lane will host its final Tottenham Hotspur match this Sunday against Manchester United. The 118-year old stadium will then be demolished to make way for Spurs’ new stadium, which should be completed in time for the beginning of the 2018-19 season.
Change is difficult, especially when it’s an historic stadium that is full of memories and stories. Here at Cartilage Free Captain, we thought it important to chronicle the stories and experiences from this community. So we want to hear from you.
This post is the beginning of what we hope will be a series of stories and memories from your visits to White Hart Lane. Community members are encouraged to write up and submit your favorite memories about White Hart Lane. Maybe it was your first match that you went to with your dad when you were nine. Maybe you were there for THAT goal at THAT match. Maybe something happened outside the stadium or on the train home that you’ll never forget. Or maybe you just want to write up what this dodgy old stadium means to you, even if you’ve never been there, now that it’s time to say goodbye.
Over the coming days you’ll hear from some Carty-Free writers. But we also want to hear from this community. Feel free to write up your stories, memories, and experiences and either post them as a FanPost on the site, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. They don’t have to be long. The good ones will be promoted to the front page and posted on Twitter and Facebook.
I’ll begin by posting the story of my special tour of White Hart Lane, hours before the 4-0 win over Bournemouth this past Easter.
We were supposed to meet IncredelebleTekkers outside of the West Entrance of White Hart Lane at 9:30 a.m. He was late.
It wasn’t exactly cold outside the stadium, but I was glad I had brought my jacket, as the sun wasn’t really shining on the Tottenham High Road, and there was enough of a breeze that the three of us tried to find a bit of a wind break while we chit-chatted about our trip thus far. Earl of Shoop and I met Ted Flambe (handles will be used here out of sensitivity to using real names) at the StubHub collection center over three hours before kick-off, as we were advised to get there as early as possible to avoid having to wait in line.
From there, it was just a matter of waiting on Tekkers, whom none of us had met, getting through security, and meeting Elaine Banks at the Spurs front office for our VIP tour.
It was Ted who got the whole thing started. He was the one who had set up the IndieGoGo campaign that raised money from the Cartilage Free Captain community to actually get me over here. I tried to convince him not to do it. He didn’t listen. The details aren’t important, except to say that this was the guy who had managed to get me to the point where I was shivering outside of a north London football stadium, jet-lagged but happy, on Easter Saturday.
Tekkers had set up the tour of the stadium. He had a connection with the marketing department at Spurs through a friend of his, and he had, unbeknownst to me, contacted the club with the story of how I had gotten to London in the first place. They loved it, and graciously offered the four of us — myself, Shoop, Ted, and Teks, what they called a “VIP tour” of the stadium before the match.
Shoop and I had caught the overground train from Paddington Station, and it wasn’t at all crowded, since we were heading up ludicrously early. We had made the trip the previous day to get our shopping done at the Spurs Megastore, wisely thinking that the store would be a madhouse if we tried to do it on match day. On our way out of the station, we met a lovely couple from Sacramento who like us were also making their first — and only — trip to the Lane. There were a lot of Americans outside the stadium that day. The Bournemouth match felt like one of the last opportunities to make it to a home match before the end of the season, which probably explained why tickets for such a relatively meaningless game were so expensive on StubHub.
We weren’t sure why Tekkers was late, but Ted had gotten a text from him earlier and said that there had been some drama the previous night. Something about the police, being arrested, a huge misunderstanding, and six Lithuanians. This sounded like a guy we wanted — no needed — to meet, but since none of us knew what he looked like, we weren’t sure how long to stick around.
After ten minutes, we agreed that it was time to go. Hopefully Tekkers would find us before the tour started.
We made our way through security and walked to the main administrative entrance to White Hart Lane. It was there that we met Elaine Banks, Executive Assistant to the club, and our host for the tour. She couldn’t have been more gracious, and was there with a huge smile, handshakes all around, and copies of the match-day program. Thankfully, Tekkers was there too, having arrived before we did and just heading straight through security to the main entrance.
“Let’s get going,” Elaine said, and as we moved to a side entrance she said “Oh look, here’s Mark Falco.” I shook the hand of middle-aged man in a blue Tottenham suit who gave me a quick “Cheers, mate,” before heading up the stairs. Such was my astonishment at actually being inside White Hart Lane that it took my brain until a full fifteen seconds after he had left before it registered that I just shook hands with Mark Falco.
We were walking towards a staircase, when another dapper man in a Spurs suit came out and beamed at seeing Elaine. “All right, love?” he said and kissed her on the cheek. “Oh, Micky, I have someone you need to meet,” Elaine said. “Dustin, you know Micky Hazard?”
Yes, yes I certainly did know who Mickey Hazard was. We shook hands.
Elaine gave a very quick summary of who I was and why I was here. He grinned at me and said “Oh, is this your first ever trip to the Lane, then? Well,” he said, laughing, and chucking me on the shoulder, “If we lose this match, you know what that means, don’t you? I’m gonna come after ya!”
We laughed out loud together. It’s not every day you get threatened by a man who has played 102 games for Tottenham Hotspur. He was joking. Probably.
White Hart Lane is old. I don’t think I had really had it impressed upon me what it would be like to walk around behind the scenes at a 118 year old stadium. The hallways were short and narrow. Everything felt… small. Still, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the fact that we were here in this place.
Elaine showed us the Tottenham Wall of Fame, with photos of every major Tottenham star who had played for the club over the course of its long history, and took us into the player tunnel. There was a large cockerel sign on one end, and you could see the blue seats of of the Shelf side at the other. The door to the away changing room was pointed out, and the door to the wing where the manager had his studio.
Elaine then ushered us through a side door, where the four of us just stopped to stare. We were in the Tottenham changing room, which was already set up for today’s match.
Elaine said it was, of course, fine to take photos, but not to post any of them on social media until after the match, to eliminate the possibility of Bournemouth getting a sneak peek at any possible lineup. The changing room was smaller than I expected, but all the shirts and boots were there and in the right places, and a sizable spread of healthy snacks and drinks were arrayed on the table behind us. We dallied for quite a few minutes, taking our time, not really wanting to leave, gigantic grins on our faces while Elaine graciously answered our questions.
The tunnel out to the White Hart Lane pitch is shorter than I expected, but the view when you emerge is spectacular. It’s one thing to watch a match on TV, or even to view it from the stands. It’s quite another to be pitch-side, to walk out by the dugouts and see this incredible panorama of immaculate green grass stretched out in front of you. It’s breathtaking. I heard murmurs of awe from Ted, Teks, and Shoop behind me as we walked out into the stadium proper.
I’m not sure I ever really noticed how close to each other the two opposing clubs sit. The players’ and coaches’ padded seats are directly on either side of the tunnel, with the press corps occupying the rows just behind. Elaine directed me to Pochettino’s chair, which I sat in gleefully.
That’s when Ledley walked out. “You should’ve seen the look on your face, mate,” said Teks to me afterwards. I can only imagine, for meeting the Cartilage Free Captain himself was something that I never in my wildest dreams expected to happen.
Ledley is a complete gentleman: warm, affable, and easy-going. He walked out, kissed Elaine on the cheek, and shook my hand as Elaine made introductions and gave the cliff notes version of who I was and why I was here getting the match-day private tour.
“Ledley, Dustin here runs the largest Spurs blog in America. I think you know the name, right? Cartilage Free Captain?” Ledley turned to me then and side-eyed me for what was probably only a second, but felt like an interminably long moment.
“Yes, I know it,” he dead-panned, and then smirked. “That’s very clever.”
Cartilage Free Captain was named for Ledley with the greatest of affection, but Spurs fans have known for a while that he’s always been a bit sensitive about his injury. We know his “Ledley, Ledley” chant has never sat well with him, not only because he’s a gentleman and didn’t want to be associated with a chant that bad-mouthed another professional footballer (even John Terry), but also because “he’s only got one knee” is a continual reminder that as fantastic as it was, his career was never as good as it could’ve been.
The blog was named out of love, but I can only imagine what was going through his head at that moment. These Yanks named their blog after my near-career ending injury.
I wanted the earth to swallow me in that moment. All I could do was look sheepish and stammer something like “Uh, I didn’t name it.” Sorry, Kevin.
There were selfies. Photos were taken. There was chit-chat, and questions, and the kind of small-talk that a club ambassador of Ledley’s stature is used to making. Soon, Ledley made his farewells, and we were quickly ushered back out to the front entrance to the stadium.
“Before you go,” Elaine said, “have a look at page 75 of the program. There’s something special in there for you.” And there I was, in the “Your Shout” section, a paragraph about me and the blog among the pictures of five year olds wearing Spurs shirts. My wife later mentioned she thought among the children was probably the most appropriate place for me.
The match itself was a blur. We were in the Park Lane, southeast corner, fifteenth row, among the most vocal of the fanbase. Never has a game of football passed by so quickly. I got to see four goals, including the first run-of-play goal from Vincent Janssen. I got to jump up and down and hug strangers. I got to see Jack Wilshere substituted for injury. Before I knew it Shoop and I were back out on the High Road, making the long walk back to Seven Sisters and to the first (of several) pubs with members of the Commentariat, whom we met up with afterwards.
I’ll never have the historical connection to White Hart Lane that native north Londoners do, but my experience on that Saturday in April made it clear to me how much the Lane means to the Spurs fans who attend there. That is a place of memories. The halls are filled with the ghosts of former players. The pitch echoes with glory. There are stories upon stories within those walls. Like with any old stadium, you can tear it down and build something new, but you can never really replace it.
The club is preparing to say goodbye to White Hart Lane on Sunday against Manchester United. I can now say that I was there. I was part of that place. I shared in that match day experience. I can never thank everyone who helped get me there enough, but especially Ted, and Teks, who made that day happen, and to Elaine Banks, who was gracious enough to give two dumbstruck American soccer bloggers the experience of our lives.
My story probably isn’t all that unique. But it is endearingly special to me, and one that I will never, ever forget. My one and only trip to White Hart Lane, weeks before its demolition, connected me indelibly to this club, to the people who run it, and to the players that take the pitch. Come on you Spurs.