Tottenham Hotspur 1 Internazionale 1 (Inter won 4-3 on pens) (4th August 2019)
Another new ground, or is it? Just how far does a clubs need to move for the stadium to count as a move rather than a rebuild? I’ve been to grounds, RW Essen for example, where the building of the new stadium required knocking part of the old ground down, and I’ve regarded that as a move rather than a rebuild. I don’t, however, regard either the new Wembley or rebuilt Dean Court as new grounds, despite their total rebuild.
Maybe my rule, which I’ve more or less made up as a write this, is if the two pitches don’t overlap, it’s a new ground. And by that ruling, “New” White Hart Lane, or Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, does indeed count as a new ground, even if only just.
I was actually quite familiar with the old ground, albeit a long time ago. I grew up a Spurs fan. My first ever football match was Spurs v Aston Villa in 1984, and for a couple of years after leaving school in 1986, I would regularly make the trip to White Hart Lane on alternate weekends, due to their home fixtures handily seldom clashing with Reading’s (who I’d start following a few months earlier).
The White Hart Lane of that era was very different to the one that got demolished two years ago. Aside from a new main stand, built a few years earlier, the ground looked the same as it had done for a good 50 years, with terracing on three sides. Outside of heated London derbies, it probably wasn’t the most intimidating venue going, but it had a sense of grandeur to it that few other grounds could match.
Shortly after I became disillusioned with the top division and the three hour trek to home games, The Shelf got replaced with executive boxes, and the place was never the same after that. It would take another 20 years or so to get to a state where it looked smart again, but it wasn’t the same ground I knew.
The same could be said of the new place, but times 100, and this time for the better. Quite simply, it’s the best ground in the country. Nothing comes close. There will be better grounds for atmosphere, and some will have a more evocative traditional feel, but for aesthetics, how it looks inside and out, not to mention the views from the seats, and the overall quality everywhere in the stadium, it doesn’t have a challenger.
In fairness, I didn’t see the away end. It’s concourse might be a dingy bunker like at The Emirates, but I suspect not. I was in the other end, where glass walls allow a fine view south across to central London in the distance, and the concourses made you think you were in a luxury part of the main stand not the big “fans” end. When I used to stand at the Paxton Road end, the terraces didn’t even have a roof.
The game itself was of little consequence. Like myself, I think a huge number were taking advantage of the £25 ticket offer to see the stadium for the first time, and the prospect of an entertaining game was something of a bonus.
That’s just as well as it was about as “pre-season” as it gets. It started OK, with Lucas Moura bursting into the box on the right, and firing a shot past the Inter keeper after two minutes, but it was definitely half-paced after that. It didn’t help that referee Andre Marriner was almost absurdly lenient with Inter’s repeated cynical fouls to stop Spurs breaking. It look a long time for the first yellow card to come out, when it could probably have been the fifth or sixth of the afternoon.
To make matter worse, Inter then hit Spurs on the break. Stefano Sensi was put away, and he clinically passed the ball past the keeper to level the scores. A few dozen Inter fans in the far corner made their presence known.
The second half went down a gear, and neither side really deserved a second, which resulted in one of the least tense penalty shoot-outs there’s ever been. When João Mário sent the Spurs keeper the wrong way to clinch the shoot-out win, the Inter players celebrated with the kind of joy reserved for finding out you’ve just won £1.38 on Euromillions.
So, on the pitch, perhaps not the afternoon the 59,000 there were hoping for, but for most just being “home” again was probably what mattered most. And what a home it is.