LONDON — The looks on the faces of Tottenham’s fans everywhere told the story. They were home.
“This place is f****** amazing!” exclaimed a Spurs fans as he strutted down the gleaming terrace steps leading towards the pitch with a sausage roll hanging out of his mouth. It is. It truly is.
Those moments of awe happened as trains pulled into stations nearby and fans appeared around the corner of narrow north London streets to see the mammoth structure for the first time. This venue is a game changer in world soccer.
The stunning new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium cost close to $1.3 billion to build and after two years away from their spiritual home on White Hart Lane, Spurs’ first team played a proper home game there against Crystal Palace on Wednesday. The delay to open the stadium due to technical issues wasn’t ideal, but every fan said the same thing: it was worth the extra wait.
After a near two-year hiatus with games played at Wembley, fans could now go to their regular bars and eateries on matchdays. Despite the delay to opening the stadium due to technical issues, every single fan said the same thing: it was well worth the wait.
People recognized eachother in the street again — “how are you mate! Haven’t see you in ages” — as rituals before a Spurs game are now back to normal.
Increasing the capacity from 36,000 to 62,000 is a game-changer for Tottenham, and the extra revenue from matchdays should help them to further kick on and challenge England and Europe’s elite. Chairman Daniel Levy, the mastermind behind this stadium, was beaming with pride before the game. His vision is complete and his legacy intact. Spurs can now compete from a position of strength.
Only Manchester United’s Old Trafford has a larger capacity in the Premier League, and this stadium is breathtaking in every aspect. There is still work to do to upgrade the local train station and other parts of the infrastructure, but this stadium is a catalyst to improve all of that and much more.
It is striking just how many special features it has compared to the most recent new stadium built in the Premier League, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium which was constructed back in 2006. Of course, West Ham’s London Stadium home was converted from the 2012 Olympic Stadium to a soccer stadium and the issues with that have been well-documented.
Spurs’ new home is built for the fans, with the fans in mind, and they are still close to the pitch and in steep stands, just like they were at the old White Hart Lane. With the 17,000 capacity South Stand (the largest single stand in British soccer) designed with Borussia Dortmund’s famed ‘Yellow Wall’ in mind, it has x-factor after x-factor.
The noise from the South Stand was incredible throughout.
There is a sense of Americanization in this stadium, with Spurs looking to venues in the U.S. as to the best way to build the 65 food and drink locations and make everything as grand as possible.
With at least two NFL games to played in the new stadium each season for the next 10 years, Spurs have installed a turf field which sits underneath the current grass field. The latter can be rolled out in three sections in under an hour by pressing a button, while there are also NFL locker rooms specifically for NFL teams who head to London.
The whole place is unlike anything the Premier League has ever seen before.
But aside from luxuries like having a removable pitch, the largest club store in European soccer, the first-ever microbrewery inside a stadium in the UK, the glamorous H Club on the top floor and the tunnel club which gives an exclusive view into the tunnel area outside the locker room, there is a sense that this stadium is at the heart of the community.
Before the game the ceremony included a choir from Gladesmore Community School singing a song which called for hope after the Tottenham riots of 2011. As “Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur!” was belted out, there was a communal connection.
Seeing those youngster from a local school alongside Harry Kane and Co. in this gleaming stadium was an overwhelming moment. That is when it hit home what this is all about. It is about much more than a soccer stadium or having a successful team on the pitch.
On non matchdays fans can shop, eat and use the facilities, and in an area which has needed regeneration for many years, this is long overdue.
The local train station is set to be renamed Tottenham Hotspur from White Hart Lane, and Spurs will dominate the area for generations to come.
This stadium will not just shape Spurs’ future. It signals a brighter future for everyone in the surrounding area.
Speaking to fans and local business owners outside the stunning new home, they’re delighted to have the team back where they belong.
Hakeem, who was working behind the counter in a convenience store a few steps away from the new entrance, was delighted to have the team back in Tottenham: “This is a life-changing moment. The whole community has been waiting for the team to come back. More customers. More business. Great to have the stadium back.”
The game itself was a little uneventful, as these occasions with all of the fanfare usually are, but Spurs dominated and eventually broke through in the second half.
Heung-Min Son‘s shot was deflected in and the new South Stand went bonkers. Christian Eriksen tapped home another late on and that was enough to grab Tottenham a 2-0 win and boost their top four chances, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side dominant but obviously still getting settled in at their new digs.
After the game, sat in the gleaming new press area waiting for Pochettino to arrive, my mind cast back to the small, cramped office at the old stadium where his meetings with the media used to take place.
A few hours before the bulldozers rolled in to demolish the old White Hart Lane, Pochettino gave his final press conference following the 2-1 win against Manchester United on May 14, 2017.
I had the pleasure of asking the final question, and asked Pochettino what he would remember most from the glorious old home.
“Now, it will always be the last day,” Pochettino said. “For me it was a very exciting day because I think it was perfect. The preparation of the game, the game we played well and we got the three points and on the end all the ceremony was fantastic to share with all of the legends, the people, the staff and the fans, the family. For me the most special day will always be this last day at White Hart Lane.”
The first day in the new stadium was perfect too, even if the journey to get there had been far from it.
Everyone connected with Tottenham was delighted to be back home at White Hart Lane. Where they belong.
“It is one of the best moments of my life,” Pochettino said afterwards. “It will always be in my memories and my heart.”