“Welcome to White Hart Lane, the world famous home of the Spurs”
Thorsvedt rolls the ball out to Alderweireld (there’s no punting it long round this way) and another move begins. Playing it across the back, looking for the angles, neat little strokes. To King, to Austin, back to Mabbutt who presents it to Rose who looks up.
The boy looks on and looks round. Looking for his dad’s reassuring wink. So many bodies pressing together, focused on the green in front and the sun is shining on a glorious Spring afternoon. The jarring metal of the perimeter fence melts away so that he almost imagines being able to vault the hoardings and play the silky one-twos with his heroes.
Is that really Gascoigne? In the flesh. Stocky chest puffed out and majestically preening, dropping a shoulder and giggling with the pure joy of ghosting past leaden-footed opponents, releasing Bale on the wing, ball several feet beyond his reach, ready for the Welshman to run, run, run as if his lungs were about to rip through his chest.
The boy now wobbles unsurely into teenhood and there’s the one-two-three-four in five minutes with an “Oh Teddy Teddy” thundering in his ears. But he’s distracted. It’s a cold February night, the air pinching as he looks over to the dugout in the distance from the upper tier rafters to the two stalking Argentines (the one methodical in his ethos, the other unrepentant in his devotion to defensive self-destruction). They appear to be sharing a joke, some long-enshrined anecdote, possibly in Spanish, about the time their bearded countryman danced his way to immortality in the home of the old foe. A Man In Raincoat looks on. Picks up a discarded travelcard and walks past a cackling pair of Cockney geezers.
The move eventually breaks down and so does the teenager. Two days later, he experiences grief and loss for the first time. The deathly silence engulfing those around him as the goals are conceded unnecessarily and Walker, Gomes, Robinson yet again forlornly gathers the ball out of the net. Distant jeers from the away end, Scouse, Geordie, Manc and Gooner.
Heads up and forwards. Start again. The crowd rouses and from the Paxton and The Park Lane to The East Stand it begins. Come. On. You. Spurs. Come. On. You. Spurs. West Stand stubbornly remaining muted but Sedgley hears the call and rallies the boys. Freund understands. “Give it to Waddle!” the teenager screams. “Just give it to Waddle!”
Samways however goes sideways but thankfully Carr is there to support. A quick push on to Ginola who cuts this way and that and back again, with just enough time for a hair flick before whipping in a low cross. Rebrov somehow conspires to miss it. Soldado somehow conspires to miss it. Sol Campbell conspires.
Young love blossoms and the Undergraduate goes for a walk round the ground with his girlfriend. A blue and white Romantic of the London Borough of Harringay no less. He seduces her with the aroma of sizzling onions and the bitter tang of stewed tea (two sugars). She hasn’t come prepared. It was meant to be a walk and her skirt is short short. Never mind. He brandishes from his parka two tickets for the United game (her team, fact overlooked) and they sit holding hands someplace where the Shelf used to be. He offers her his coat. Years later, they’ll marry.
The story leaps back and forth. Paxton Road, Upper, grandmother chanting “Yid Army” in fragmented English and did Klinsmann just do that? Really? He did. And he throws himself down onto the hallowed turf in celebration. Lineker, Defoe, Kane and Carrick joining him. Keane does a somersault whilst Berbatov and Modric nod with appreciation; theirs is not a talent for exaggerated melodrama. Did you see it? If only Peter Schmeichel’s huge backside wasn’t restricting the view from the third row behind the goal. If only the immature hilarity of fifty grown boys calling Dennis Wise an onanist wasn’t as comical.
The boy, now a man, fancies himself as a bit of a writer. He’s scoffing nouveau sausage rolls in the executive boxes with the professionals. He inarticulately mumbles something about footballing verbosity and self-deprecates to the point of amateurism but he’s only there for one thing. Spurs versus Real Madrid. He does not go back to the bar for another free continental lager. He does not leave before the final whistle. Ever. Darren Anderton, eighty eight minutes, Darren Caskey, ninety minutes. 3-2 to Spurs and so much for beating the traffic when you can beat what’s in front of you.
He waits until the last soul has left the pitch and the groundsmen begin the process of repair and regeneration for the next time. There will always be a next time…
The next time, this time will not be as it was. He is now a man contentedly moving towards middle age. Salt and pepper flecks in once curly locks and the benefits of experience. He has stories to tell. He has told stories. He has a boy and a girl who by the time they are ready to embark upon their own Spurs story, something and somewhere else will be their home. But regardless, they will be part of a narrative that never truly ends. They will be loyal Spurs supporters who come to every game (or as many games as the cost of living and waiting list dictate in this strange new world we are now embracing).
This is my White Hart Lane story and it is just one of the many thousands that have been nurtured and cherished with every turning of a stile for the last 118 years. Each one personally unique to the Spurs supporter living it. The Chalkeys, the Daryls, the Alans, the Jims, the Bonnies and the Jesses. And however individualised these narratives may be, as you look around and see those faces focused on that pitch, you know you’re part of something much greater than the sum of its parts. I knew that on that first glorious, sunny afternoon in April 1989 and my life would have been poorer without it.
This will always be my Lane, my one and only Lane. And I thank you with every fibre of my being.
The man wipes away a tear as Dele Alli waves on.