Adventures in Football #85: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
August 6, 2023
TOTTENHAM vs. SHAKTAR DONETSK (Friendly)
I was originally attempting to do Leicester City today, but the footballing gods did not look fondly upon my venture. The game, against local rivals Coventry, was sold out. So, instead, it’s off to London and ticking off the largest stadium in the country I’ve not done before. Doing Spurs in pre-season is cheating, a bit, but they are a pain in the arse to get into thanks to a complicated membership system so I take what I can get. The Tottenham stadium, which I really want to call “White Hart Lane”, was only opened in 2019.
Spurs were formed in 1882 and moved to White Hart Lane way back in 1899. In order to pay tribute to this historic ground, the new ground was built on top of the remains of the old White Hart Lane. So, why don’t we just call it White Hart Lane until the inevitable happens and they sell the naming rights to Starbucks or Jet2? The old White Hart Lane was an Archibald Leitch ground and, honestly, I don’t think it was his best work. Especially for a game that was televised. It always felt like TV couldn’t get a good camera angle at White Hart Lane.
The new ground has a capacity of 62,850 and takes up twice the space that the old ground did. It’s bloody huge. The ground has been designed like a concert hall, so that the noise generated on game day stays inside the stadium. I like that, although it’s a big bowl stadium, the stands are deliberately different. I’m a bit annoyed I’ve got tickets in the enormous South Stand because I would have liked to see it from another perspective.
Spurs, as a club, have been a disappointment to their fans in recent years. It feels like they come close, hire a new exciting manager, and never kick on. The most recent being Antonio Conte. Now, they’ve got Ange Postecoglou. Apart from the League Cup (1999, 2008), Spurs haven’t won anything since 1991. That famous FA Cup win where Gazza ruined his knee. They’ve not won the league since the glory days of Bill Nicholson. Their two league title wins came in 1951 and 1961. For a club of their size, that’s not a lot of league titles and trophies in general. No wonder Harry Kane wants to go to Bayern, who win three trophies every season.
Game day and we drive down to London. Driving to London isn’t the horror that some people think it is. Especially if you’re not going into central London with the congestion charge. Heading to Tottenham involved M42, M40 and then a jaunt through A roads as the M25 was a bit busy. We did run into some traffic around Wembley, as you might expect as the Charity Shield was on the same day, but otherwise it was fine. I’m not sure I want to share my parking tips here because it’s the kind of thing that should be reserved for mates but I’m going to anyway. If you’re reading this, we’re probably friends. I parked at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, a building 1.2 miles from the ground. It’s something like £8 for 6 hours.
If you do the journey with a group, and you like a beer or two. There are several pubs on route to the ground. I went into the High Cross, which had a great little menu and smashing beer. Another favourite with the punters seemed to be the Bluecoats, which has a bar that serves people in plastic glasses right onto the pavement, so you can get a beer and then carry on walking towards the stadium.
The stadium is a great big bowl looking thing, it almost looks like an airport or a modern train station. It doesn’t look like much on the approach, which is the first black mark against it. There’s also a lack of Spurs-related stuff happening around the ground. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the recent trip to Germany but if this was a major German club, there would be all manner of art and bars and stuff.
I did manage to spot this street art tribute to Ledley King, one of football’s more recent examples of a “one club man”. Ledley played for Spurs between 1999-2012. He was a cultured defender, who probably should have played more for England, but he had stiff competition for places and had bad luck with injuries.
A little further along, we have the No. 8, the most Spurs looking pub I could see. You can’t see them, but there were Spurs items around the bar area. Next door there is the Beavertown Corner Pin. Spurs and Beavertown seem to be pals as you can get a Neck Oil in the ground, which is a decent pint for a football club. Fair play.
This is the outside of the ground. I like the use of glass but again, it gives me big train station vibes. When we went to Arsenal, I found their queuing system to be a major detriment. It was shocking. Whereas, the outside “Arsenalisation” of the ground worked in their favour. While Spurs queuing system isn’t as bad, it’s also lacking that “Tottenhamisation” around the ground. I only saw one corner, because of that Wembley traffic I didn’t get the chance to stroll around.
There was one steward at the bottom here telling people to go to other gates because this one was packed and there was a five minute delay before they could even let people up the steps. The ‘go to the first one’ mentality of Spurs fans continued inside. We moved down to the next entrance but this is just the queue to get to the bag search area, where they do an initial check to make sure you have a ticket and you’re in the right area. Double ticket checks.
Once you’re past the first round of checks, you get into the fanzone area. This does involve going through a metal detector. The airport/train station vibes continue. The fanzone is nicely done. There’s a big screen out here (showing Leicester vs. Coventry). There is beer and merch available, and food, and crucially there are actual toilets. It feels like an exclusive little footballing club area. If we’d had time, I would have been quite happy to stand around watching football in here for half an hour.
This shot is from inside the ground, where you can see the metal detectors. Anyway, past the fanzone you queue to get into the turnstiles. The first queue is enormous. There are three behind it, which go to the same place, which are not. We went along to gate 19 and hardly waited at all. Quite why all those jabronies feel the need to queue up at the front is anyone’s guess. The ticket reader is both a smart phone reader (which can detect your ticket) or a standard QR code reader, where you scan your ticket. The concourse is enormous and on three levels. There are bars, food places and toilets everywhere. It’s one of the better equipped concourses I’ve ever seen but then, it’s brand new, it should be.
Up to our seats then and we ended up in the nosebleeds but that had a very cool bonus of having us in a weird section that only had two seats in it. So, we had our own row. I like wonky bits in grounds. Doing it on purpose definitely appeals to me. An issue here though, is the sheer size of the stadium and the lack of club identity. Apart from the big cock over the South Stand, where is the Tottenham-ness of the ground? It all feels neutral, which is possibly by design so the ground can host various events and be re-branded for each with a minimum of fuss. I get that multi-purpose stadia are the future but that’s just depressing. Slap fucking Spurs stuff all over the building. Have some pride.
We have a very steep climb up to the seats, which is funny because some poor bastard steward is up and down this all game. We haven’t kicked off and he’s pouring sweat. People nipping to the toilet and coming back looking exhausted was commonplace. The most bizarre thing I saw today though was 2 (two) kids wearing Barcelona shirts. Why would you wear another team’s shirt to your club? I wouldn’t dream of slapping on my Everton shirt with “Richarlison” on the back, even if he does play for Spurs now. And I have no respect for Tottenham. I imagine this kid had some respect at least.
We’re so high up that you can see out of the stadium over the top. If you parked close enough to the ground (I do NOT recommend this) you could keep an eye on your motor.
Also, I have enough time to snap a selfie. Just to prove I am actually at these games and not making shit up as I go along. The crowd do a bit of singing and I take exception to “Tottenham are the greatest the world has ever seen”. I know all clubs do it but come on. By every metric, Spurs aren’t even the greatest team in North London let alone the world. The teams come out to “Duel of the Fates”, the Star Wars battle music from “The Phantom Menace”. Interesting choice considering how widely disliked the film is. I bet Daniel Levy loves it. Jar Jar Binks tattoo on his arse, probably.
This is a charity game to help war-torn Ukraine and we get the Ukrainian national anthem. It’s impeccably observed and the lady banging it out looked pretty emotional about the whole thing.
We also observe a minute’s silence for the Ukraine’s war dead. This, along with Chelsea hosting the “Game for Ukraine” over the weekend, show that football, despite being a money-drenched shit show, can be useful in raising awareness for charity organisations. There will always be people around football who read the Daily Mail and believe that “charity begins at home”. These people will never learn because they’re ignorant and they don’t want to.
I’m happy to see so much support for good causes among football fans generally because football fans represent everything about our society from top to bottom in a way that other sports and interests simply cannot capture. It’s a chance for all those ideas to come together.
On with the game then. This could be Harry Kane’s last ever match in a Tottenham shirt. The crowd loudly support everything he does and chant “Harry Kane, he’s one of our own” when his name is announced. The Shakhtar keeper has played for them for 16 years and is retiring so they sub him off on 16’. The rest of the team giving him a guard of honour as he makes his way off the field and into retirement. Hey, he kept a clean sheet!
Stylistically, Ange’s Spurs try and walk it in. They play short passes constantly and work it from the back. The trouble with this is they’ve got Son one side and Kulusevski the other, making smart runs and not getting the ball. James Maddison is making his debut and he jinks into the box before being felled. Kane, reliable as ever, tucks the resultant penalty away. 1-0 Spurs. 38’. Maddison is a bright spot for the team and they do look effective going forwards but only when Hojbjerg can feed one of them quickly.
Just before half-time Shakhtar catch Spurs cold at the back and a cross from the left wing is headed in by Kevin Kelsy. Emerson Royal somewhat at fault for letting the ball come in but Tottenham’s defence, in general, didn’t look great. Considering the gulf in talent between them and their Ukrainian visitors, it should have been over by the turn but instead it was 1-1. Although Kulusevski blocks a keeper’s clearance right at the end of the half and it almost rolls into an empty net.
At half time Maria goes to explore the view.
With Spurs attacking the South Stand in the second half, they switch it up a bit. Kulusevski gets the ball quicker and causes more problems. Maddison seems to be more involved too. Maddison crosses for Kane to head Spurs 2-1 ahead on 50’. Five minutes later Kane completes his hat-trick, sliding the ball past the keeper in a calm finish.
It’s a good open game in the second half, which benefits the more skilful players, especially Kulusevski, who is wonderful to watch. The game gets an unnecessary distraction when some old geezer, top off, hat on, waving a walking stick, decides to become a cheerleader. His attempts to start a Mexican wave are pretty annoying. I know it’s a pre-season friendly but I fucking hate Mexican waves. Fans who make the match day experience all about them are annoying. I draw the line at mass organisation, chanting and drumming and stuff. I appreciate the effort but one guy, just being annoying? I don’t like it. The locals seemed to like him so this is just part of the Tottenham experience.
The Tottenham pressure continues and Kane is in the right place after the keeper makes a save and taps it in for 4-1 on 79’. Tottenham were barely tested in this game and it will only serve as a warm up but they did score the goals they needed. If this is Harry Kane’s last Spurs game, he finishes with four goals.
The attendance is announced as 56,331, which is a decent number considering White Hart Lane didn’t hold that many people in it’s final days. Around 8k short of a full house. Despite the numbers, it was strangely quiet though. Compared to Arsenal’s pre-season game with Sevilla a year earlier. The odd kid yelling “come on you Spurs” aside, and Harry Kane chants, it was a very quiet crowd. Things don’t improve with drizzle kicking in on 83’. The 56,331 beginning to file out and Spurs add in a fifth from sub Dane Scarlett. It’s a well taken goal on the turn. 5-1 Spurs 90+3’.
A forlorn, lonely figure comes out and walks around the field applauding the crowd after the game. It’s Harry Kane. If Spurs wanted an idea of what’s happening with their talismanic striker, this is it.
FINAL SCORE: TOTTENHAM 5 SHAKHTAR DONETSK 1
As we struggle through the crowds to the exit, it’s time to rate this experience. Let’s do that, shall we?
Not much doing. I do love the acoustics of the ground, but the fans didn’t seem interested. Watching an exciting game in this stadium would be awesome. This wasn’t it. *½
This being pre-season the tickets were suitably cheap. I got them for £25 each, no membership or anything. To get into the ground and experience a match at this huge stadium that’s a win. ***½
It was a good match, once Shakhtar stopped defending in numbers. I understand their urge to keep the scoreline down but seeing Dejan Kulusevski in free-flowing attack mode, running at defenders was a joy to behold. ***½
EASE OF ACCESS:
I’ll take this over Arsenal any day of the week. The Arsenal queueing system and difficulty getting into and out of the ground was abysmal. This was merely bad. The queueing was rough, in spite of the large number of entrances and a lot of it was down to poor signage and dumb people. **
I find myself conflicted about Tottenham. The stadium is state-of-the-art and a magnificent structure, but it shows little to no interest in being a Spurs stadium. It’s just a big stadium. It’s not breath-taking like Wembley either. It’s just big. I like the acoustics, but the fan experience was a sanitised one. Only interrupted by that one geezer with the walking stick and I didn’t like that either! I was actually shocked at how quiet the crowd was compared to other London clubs. The only one worse was West Ham, which feels like a tourist trap. Maybe it’s the wrong game to formulate a take on Spurs as a culture but hey, this was the first time I was able to get tickets! **
To give a comparison Arsenal had 17, Man Utd 14, Man City 15.5, Villa 18, West Ham 14, Wembley 19, even Anfield 15.5. I tend to score big grounds highly but this just didn’t have ‘it’. Maybe, like with Arsenal, Tottenham can grow into this ground and do more to make it feel like their ground. At the moment it feels like a bigger version of MK Dons with a cock on the top.