In the moment, you could tell exactly what it meant to Son Heung-Min.
With the first Premier League match at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium locked in a scoreless draw midway through the second half, the South Korean forward dribbled into the center of the box and etched himself into Tottenham lore, firing a partially deflected shot with his left foot past Crystal Palace keeper Vincente Guaita, directly in front of the mammoth 17k seater south stand. The whole stadium erupted into pandemonium.
Sonny always plays football with an infectious delight, and when he scores he exudes joy to the point where as a fan you can’t help but be swept away by his celebrations. But this... this was different. You could see something in his eyes as he ran to the corner flag and celebrated with his teammates and the Tottenham faithful. It was his 42nd goal in a Tottenham shirt, but the look on his face... he knew. This was more than just a goal — this was history.
GOALLLL Tottenham! Son scores the first goal in their new stadium! pic.twitter.com/0wAXs0yn0K— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 3, 2019
With that goal, Sonny has become more than a Tottenham player — he’s now a pub trivia question (along with the U18’s J’Neill Bennett), a symbol, and on the fast track towards becoming a genuine Tottenham Hotspur legend. That strike in the 55th minute was the culmination of a stadium saga that started as far back as the Tottenham riots of 2011. Son’s goal kicked off a new era at Tottenham Hotspur, one that hopefully includes silverware, league titles, and increasing honors in north London. Those in attendance may not remember every detail of that match in thirty years’ time, but they will always remember Son’s goal, and the way he celebrated afterwards.
Sonny probably wasn’t the one who was supposed to have this honor. If you asked Tottenham fans who they thought would score the first goal at the new ground, the most popular answer would’ve been Harry Kane. Of course it’d be Harry! He’s the team’s leading scorer with 17 league goals, the talisman, the one club man. There was a sense that this was supposed to be his moment of glory, and throughout the match you got the sense of just how hard he was working to make that happen.
Kane had seven shots against Palace to Son’s four, and as the match wore on you could almost sense the frustration in Kane’s bearing as he tried so hard to get that elusive goal in Spurs’ new home. I would never ever call Kane a glory hunter, but it was obvious watching him play on Wednesday that he keenly felt the burden of expectation in that match. Most anticipated that he would score that first goal, and he very clearly wanted to be the one.
But if Kane wasn’t the one to open the scoring, you could not have picked a better person to do so than Son Heung-Min. The South Korean international has become a beloved figure among Spurs fans, not only due to his goal scoring prowess the past few seasons but also because of who he is as a person. That infectious joyfulness, the ready smile, his obvious love of the club and its fans — all of those things combined into a single, perfect moment as Spurs were welcomed home.
After the match, Sonny expressed how proud he was to be part of Tottenham’s history on Spurs’ website.
“It feels amazing. I’m very proud to play in this shirt. I still remember when I scored my first Premier League goal at White Hart Lane, it was against Crystal Palace and now I score not such a beautiful goal but I think the most important goal for me.
“I feel proud of my team-mates, staff, fans and I just want to say thank-you for the amazing support and giving me the opportunity to play in this unbelievable stadium. It makes me happy. I’m the happiest guy in the world.”
Any Tottenham player — Dele, Christian Eriksen, Moussa Sissoko, Danny Rose — could’ve scored that first goal and the crowd would’ve exploded in celebration. If it had been Kane, it would’ve felt more than appropriate. Expected. Even spectacular. But for Sonny to do it? Well, it just feels right, doesn’t it? England isn’t Son’s country of origin, but after the season he’s had and that goal in particular, it’s very hard to say that Tottenham isn’t 100% his home.