In June of last year, many Swansea City fans waited eagerly for the 10am press release from the Premier League documenting the fixture lists of all 20 Premier League clubs. Swansea fans excitedly planned their incoming year in football wondering when they would be visiting the coliseums of British football such as Old Trafford, Emirates Stadium and Anfield. The fixture list was unveiled and we were greeted with the news that our first journey of the season would be to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium – a tough introduction to the Premier League. Having digested our fixture list, I strangely found myself most anticipating the end of March trip to White Hart Lane -why this was I do not know. It may have come down to having already visited some of the more revered stadiums such as Anfield and Old Trafford or maybe just the fact that I do love visiting the ‘big smoke’, especially to watch football.
As 2012 descended upon us, the fixture at White Hart Lane was moved from the 31st March to the 1st April and was made a 16:00 kick off on a Super Sunday afternoon to accommodate the Sky Sports’ cameras – perfectly, this weekend would also coincide with the beginning of my Easter Holidays.
We arrived at Manchester Piccadilly station ready for the 8.20am Virgin train to London and after an initial scare where the self service ticket machine refused to give us our tickets, we were on our way down to London. I am still amazed at how quickly Branson’s Virgin trains can get you from the north of the country to the south – less than 2 and half hours later after leaving Manchester we arrived at London Euston station. We were greeted at the station with some frustrating news: the Victoria line that was supposed to carry us up to the Tottenham area was closed for engineering work, making our trip to ‘The Lane’ that little bit more awkward.
Our first destination was Waterloo station, just south of the Thames to meet my Gillingham supporting friend, who had kindly offered us a place to crash for the night so we could enjoy some post match drinks in London (which we did at Clapham Common). With our stuff dropped off, we began to develop a plan of how best to get to Tottenham through London’s labyrinth of underground trains. From asking some very friendly Spurs fans and through the medium of Twitter we worked out that the Jack Army was largely located at Liverpool Street station, where there was a direct train to White Hart Lane.
After quite a lot of train hopping through the underground, we made it to Liverpool Street station, where there was a large Swansea presence. The first port of call was the The Railway Tavern, which was unsurprisingly just outside the station; the pub had a nice mix of Spurs and Swansea fans and there was generally a very calm and relaxed atmosphere in the air, apart from the torrent of abuse that was directed towards Andy Carroll, who’s blatant dive was emblazoned across the pub’s TV screens in Sky’s early kick off between Newcastleand Liverpool.
After a couple of pints, we headed around the corner to Hamilton Hall, a Wetherspoons adjacent to the train station. Similarly, there was another calm atmosphere and there was an elements of a Swansea/Spurs love-in as both sets of fans complimented each other on how well each other’s respective team played football. This love-in had begun just over 3 months earlier in the Swansea v Tottenham fixture at the Liberty Stadium on New Year’s Eve; Spurs took the lead that day through Rafael van der van Vaart just before half time, but Swansea would go onto dominate the game in their possessive manner and eventually equalise through Scotty Sinclair. Many of the Spurs fans I spoke to told me that the most impressive team they have encountered so far this season was Swansea and that the Liberty was the loudest and most atmospheric ground they had visited in a long time. The managers followed suit, as they both praised each other for the excellent jobs they were both doing for their respective clubs and how brilliant each other’s players were.
With all the talk of how both Tottenham and Swansea are just generally brilliant, we headed for the train that would carry us to White Hart Lane. The journey would take around 10 minutes and we were told that we would arrive about 5 minutes away from the ground itself. Tottenham stole the headlines last summer, as the area was highlighted as the catalyst for the awful scenes of rioting that swept across the country. I had very little idea what to expect on disembarking from the train, although I had been advised that it was not a good idea to go roaming the area around the streets near White Hart Lane, especially in away colours. This seemed like sound advice, as on walking out of White Hart Lane station, we were met by a run down area with several tower blocks looming overhead; first impressions were not very good to say the least. Suddenly, from amongst the tower blocks, White Hart Lane appeared. The ground is quite strange, as on first look it does look a little rundown and very grey, but only on getting closer to the ground do you realise that this is very much an old ground that has been slowly modernised in recent years.
The stadium is over 100 years old having been built at the close of the 19th century in 1899. The ground began life as a disused nursery as is explained on the club’s official site:
“The Club first came to this our present site in 1899 when it was a disused nursery owned by the brewers Charrington. The local land was well known for its superb growing conditions and a landlord of the White Hart public house in the 1890s, George Beckwith, had set up a nursery on the site behind his pub at 750 High Road. The land was rented from the brewery and a pitch prepared by groundsman John Over.”
Some people have also suggested that the landlord of the White Hart Inn, John Over, wanted a football ground and club on his doorstep as the previous establishment which he had owned was situated very close to Millwall FC.
Just opposite the club’s store on High Street Tottenham, is the location where the club was actually born. In 1882 , cricketers from the club decided to form a football club; many believe that they arrived at the name ‘Hotspur’ in tribute to the 1st Earl of Northumberland, Sir Henry Percy, who’s family resided and owned large tracts of land in the area in the 14th century. Sir Henry was nicknamed ‘Harry Hotspur’ because of his impulsive nature and his daring attitude. In 1404 it is said that ‘Harry’ formed an alliance with Welsh patriot Owain Glyndwr to rebel against Henry IV. They never did join forces as Hotspur was killed in the Battle of Shrewsbury. The founders of the club felt that this passionate and fiery character, who they may have become aware of from Shakespeare’s history play Henry IV Part I, would be a good character to represent their football club. The club were originally Hotspur FC, but the prefix Tottenham was added to avoid confusion with another London based club, London Hotspur; and that’s why they are still known as Tottenham Hotspur to this day.
Having not eaten much all afternoon, our first port of call was the parade of food outlets camped outside of White Hart Lane ranging from standard burger vans to hog roast stalls. I decided to play it simple and go for a standard cheese burger – (well, standard apart from the price tag) and whilst walking away I felt something crack against my shoulder; I discovered that a Chinese girl had been paying more attention to her phone than where she was walking and had gone head first into my shoulder which resulted in broken sunglasses for her. After apologising to her and her confused boyfriend (although it was her fault), as she held her head and moaned in pain, we headed around to the South Stand where the Swansea fans would be housed for the game.
Tottenham operate the ticket scanning system that is employed at most clubs these days and there was certainly no chance of losing my ticket because of the sheer size of the thing. The concourse within White Hart Lane was also huge; there was plenty of space for the large away support that had travelled to London and there was a variety of food/drink outlets and a Ladbrokes betting desk; although the toilets were a little on the small side. Another issue arose when a steward appeared behind the bar telling the people serving not to sell anymore alcohol –this 15 minutes before kick off. It appeared that the club had largely underestimated the Welsh’s love of drinking as the bar appeared to be running out of the bottles of Carlsberg that they were selling behind the bar or maybe this was a planned move to hinder any boisterous behaviour amongst the away fans.
We headed up to our seats in the lower tier about 10 minutes before kick off.White Hart Lane is a far more impressive spectacle from inside the ground than outside of it and I felt it looked much larger inside than it does on TV. The 2,500-plus Swans fans were located in the west corner of the South Stand, taking up both the lower and upper tier. The modernisation that the ground has gone through in the past 20 years was far clearer inside the ground, especially with the 2 jumbotron TV screens built into the ground’s roof (I love a ground that has TV screens and since Swansea’s ascent to the Premier League, visits to grounds with TV screens has become a much more common occurrence). One of the strangest features of the ground was the UFO-like object that ominously overhung the Swansea fans. Following some questioning I found out that this was nothing extra-terrestrial but a Police Control Box, where the police loomed overhead examining the crowd below for any trouble. There was also clearly going to be a lot of ’banter’ between the home and away fans due to the extremely close proximity between each other.
The game kicked off and Spurs came out looking dangerous. After a tough start to the game, the Swans began to calm and started playing their passing football. Although the Swans were calm on the ball, Spurs looked the more dangerous, especially through Wales’ golden boy Gareth Bale who was stretching Angel Rangel at every opportunity. One of Bale’s surging runs would eventually lead to Spurs’ opening goal in the 19th minute. The equally lethal Luka Modric played an incisive through ball through the Swansea defence for Bale to meet; his cross could only be blocked by Ashley Williams to the edge of the box, and unfortunately for the Swans, Rafael van der Vaart was waiting to pounce; he unleashed a powerful side-footed shot which curled past his hapless international team mate, goalkeeper Michel Vorm, to put Spurs 1-0 up.
Following the goal Spurs had a couple of chances to go further ahead, but Swansea were beginning to gain more confidence and just as they have done all season, refused to alter their style of play. Swansea came close to scoring through Ashley Williams, but his powerful downward header from close range bounced over the bar. Spurs had a couple of chances including a header from Younes Kaboul header that was brilliantly saved by Michel Vorm, but Swansea hung on and made it to half time only a goal down. It had been an excellent and entertaining first half.
At half-time the Swans’ fans frustration escalated further when they were greeted with the news that there was no beer being served behind the bar. The staff at Spurs had infuriated the Jack Army throughout the first half with their persistent “jobsworth-ness”. It is almost customary to stand up in away end and many stewards up and down the country leave away fans to stand up, but here the Tottenham stewards decided to enrage many Swansea fans by persistently demanding they sat down. I was sat in the middle of my row of seats, but I noticed that the stewards were telling people at the end of each row to sit down – they were greeted by laughter. I also scanned the home fans located fairly close to our left hand side to notice that although the majority were standing up, the stewards appeared to be imperturbed by their standing. There seemed to be an especially large problem in the upper tier with Swansea fans and stewards getting into long, heated debates; chants of “We’ll stand when we want” were blasted from the away end in an act of defiance towards the Tottenham stewards.
The Swansea team decided to follow their fans’ examples as the second half began, as they began to defy their hosts with their “ball-hogging” passing. The Swansea players were getting more and more confident with every passing minute. Shortly after the restart, the highly impressive (as always) Gylfi Sigurdsson unleashed a brilliant 25 yard left footed drive which was destined for the top corner until Brad Friedel got up to tip it onto the post – an incredible save! However, Siggy had made his intentions clear and on the 59th minute, after a block from Assou-Ekotto and being teed up by Wayne Routledge, Sigurdsson smashed a 20 yard volley down into the ground which looped over Brad Friedel and into the net to make the score 1-1 – Sigurdsson’s sixth goal in his past five away games (he is still yet to score at the Liberty Stadium).
Swansea carried on to demonstrate their passing qualities, but the equaliser had clearly kicked Spurs back into life, as they started to push to retain the lead. Michel Vorm made another great save, this time from a van der Vaart header. Spurs eventually reclaimed the lead in the 73rd minute through a towering Adebayor header from a van der Vaart corner and they found themselves out of site in the 79th minute when Adebayor once again scored a header, this time from a pinpoint cross from substitute Aaron Lennon to make it 3-1. Many Swansea fans began mourning the absence of Steven Caulker, who was ineligible as he is on loan from Spurs, as his aerial ability might have helped us deal with Adebayor’s aerial prowess. There was still time for Swansea to almost steal a consolation goal through Sigurdsson, only to be brilliantly denied by a brave block from Kaboul and for Rodgers to introduce former Spurs youngster and big fan of the club, Mark Gower to have a brief run out on his old stomping ground. The final whistle went and despite the loss, the Jack Army applauded the team off the pitch for a valiant effort – Swansea were very good, but unfortunately Spurs were better and deserved to win. The game was a great spectacle because as predicted prematch, both teams “played football the way it should be” and once again, Rodgers and Redknapp traded compliments after the game; there was much speculation in the press leading up to the game that Rodgers could even be replacing ‘Arry next season if he is to take theEngland job.
Man of the Match was a close one for me, as I felt Modric was utterly class throughout, but I think Iwould have to agree with Gary Neville (something I seem to be doing alot these days) and choose Gareth Bale. I actually felt that Angel Rangel did all he could possibly do to tame a player that on his day is unstoppable. Anyone that knows me knows how much I admire Bale (some have even suggested I admire him too much – see the picture below to see the T-Shirt my pals created for me one day) and I feel, when he is on form, that there is not many more exciting players in the world to watch – and he’s Welsh!
Getting away from White Hart Lane was fairly easy, although there was a queue for the station that winded along the street. Fortunately, the queue diminished quickly and we were on the train within 10 minutes of queuing heading back towards Liverpool Street Station. We pit stopped in Liverpool Street again, before making our way towards South London, not to drown sorrows, but to celebrate a fine Swansea performance and season.
Whilst at Liverpool Street we reflected on the fact that White Hart Lane may well have been the loudest away ground we had been to all season, which is shocking considering that the Lane was hardly a wall of noise on this Sunday afternoon; a more apt title for White Hart Lane might have been the ‘loudest of all the libraries we had visited so far this season’ (that includes the supposedly terrifying atmosphere of the Britannia Stadium).
Despite the negativity of my last comments,White Hart Lane is a great away ground and assuming Swansea will be a Premier League team next year, I look forward to returning to the ground next year. I may even bump into the Austrailian, Liverpool-supporting waitress again, who I decided to ask to marry me after she displayed a very well-rounded knowledge of football (she never said no!)
Highlights: It’s in London (I love London away days), lots of food outlets, huge concourse, friendly fans, facilities in the ground, the 2 jumbotron screens on the roof, Gareth Bale played well, Spurs play good football
Low Points: awkward to get to with public transport, area around the ground is a bit ‘dodgy’, fussy stewards, ground looks a bit grey and dull from the outside