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Wednesday 5th February 2020 ko 19.45

FA Cup 4th Round Replay

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 3 (Stephens 12og Lucas 78 Son 87p)

SOUTHAMPTON 2 (Long 34 Ings 72)

Att 56,046 (5,690 away)

Entry £25

Programme £3

I don’t think I could be the kind of hopper that couldn’t get interested in stadiums like this. The title of this blog is rather self-fulfilling I’ve found! Then there’s the question that only a groundhopper could ask, “Is it a new ground?” Well it has been built from scratch…

Call me a cynic if you will but my impression of what the biggest influence on the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium is to be found 4.5 miles to the south. Once Arsenal left Highbury and moved into the Emirates Stadium in 2006 you sensed their North London rivals looked south and compared White Hart Lane, and through clenched teeth did so unfavourably.

I paid my final visit to the old ground in May 2017 and while it was a more-than-adequate stadium, you could see why Spurs wanted a new home. Famously, they didn’t move far, the South Stand of the new ground overlaps the North Stand of the old. And once the decision was made to move I can imagine the Tottenham board thinking about the new stadium’s specifications….

Capacity 61,303 (Emirates 60,702)

Giant Screens 4 (Emirates 2)

Cost £1B (Emirates £290M)

Maybe that last statistic was unintentional! But despite Spurs having to rent Wembley until April 2019, 8 months longer than planned, you’d have to be entirely anti-Tottenham to claim the place wasn’t worth the wait. And yes the more you observe the place the more the superlatives jump out at you.

The stadium bowl’s rake is 35%, the maximum allowable so those 61,000 are as close to the action as is legally possible. Even the golden cockerel is 4 times the size of its predecessor (famously dented by Paul Gascoigne).  Then there’s the extra entrance, changing rooms and retractable pitch to allow the NFL to move a side in here, London Jaguars anyone?

Perhaps the most eye-catching feature is the single tier stand at the southern end. Clearly influenced by the “Yellow Wall” at Borussia Dortmund, at 17,500 seats, its the largest single tier stand in the UK and on it own has a capacity 2,500 larger than Centre Court, Wimbledon. The stadium bowl has been configured to maximise noise generated from within. I’ve little doubt home fans will agree that has been done with the club to the south in mind….

The use of glass, steel and light is tremendous, the stadium comes into view from your walk from White Hart Lane station as a post modernist vision, sprouting out from the suburban sprawl that surrounds it. There is a mixture of the traditional and ultra modern, the tiles of the “White Hart” pub in the concourse to the free wifi and the speed filling pints that fill from the bottom up in the bars.

It mitigates the hassle that is attending any top flight football match these days. Use this game as an example. This was one of only a few Tottenham games where any tickets were remotely available to the general public, and even then only to patrons with a booking history. I made a few phone calls for Robyn and I…

Then you have to deal with the fact that you can’t park anywhere near the place, I took advice, used street parking near Turkey Street Station in Enfield and took the train in to White Hart Lane. Then there’s the bag policy clearly borrowed from Bayern Munich , no bag over A4 sized, with the caveat the Spurs own drawstring bag and any bag from the club shop is exempt from that rule. That gets you through the airport-style security to get through the turnstiles. You certainly don’t attend a game here on impulse.

But to some extent that’s a reflection on the troubled world in which we live in although I do remember being in the away end in 1991 when Oxford United played at White Hart Lane in another FA Cup 4th Round tie. That was during the era of the IRA bombing campaign and the security was based more on keeping rival fans aside than Republican terrorists.  As an aside that game finished 4-2 to Spurs, but who scored for Tottenham that day? Answer after the photos.

I found myself thinking back to that day nearly 20 years ago regularly. I remember a chap having (and subsequently dying) of a heart attack and the authorities trying to manoeuvre a stretcher through the packed concourses. Thank God for progress.

I’m sure some groundhoppers will look at this stadium, named as it is to attract a sponsor and see it as the latest in a long line of high profile stadia to price football’s traditional working-class clientele out of their sport. That is certainly it has done though through availability as much as through price, but I’ll never look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles.

My favourite football ground is still the uber-traditional Glentoran but if you want a modern stadium with the “Wow” factor this certainly fits the bill. If you’re an Arsenal fan reading this thus, I would make the comment that the Emirates Stadium does have one advantage over it’s new rival. The architect for both stadia was Populous but they did give the older stadium a real art deco feel which will probably age better then the glass and steel here.

But the game… can I be honest with you? Robyn and I had been at another FA Cup 4th Round Replay the previous evening. Oxford United had taken Newcastle United to extra-time, we’d got home late and so the last thing we wanted was more extra-time!

I know enough Spurs fans to know they’re mis-firing and I know enough Southampton fans to know they’ve improved massively since the mauling Robyn and I saw them take at home to Leicester City back in October. You saw all of it in this game, Spurs led but failed to capitalise and a poignant moment was the look on Jan Vertonghen’s face when he went off injured. His contract is up and the sense of potential loss was clear. Southampton took a deserved lead and the frustration was clear to many and was personified by the bloke sat to my right.

He’s moved to where we were in the East stand on loan from the south just for this game, and he was like a pressure cooker as the heat was slowly turned up. He fidgeted, he fretted, then when at 2-1 down another pass was misplaced, he exploded.

From a Tottenham perspective the introduction of Dele Alli changed the game. At a stroke the midfield had a focal point and I suspect that Robyn and I may just have been the only two people there who really wanted a winner there and then. Lucas Moura equalised for Tottenham but my neighbour had long since stomped off into the night blaming Jose Mourinho, Daniel Levy, Keith Burkinshaw, Christian Gross… anyone!!

Extra time with the resulting late night was to be avoided so we were uncharitably relieved when Saints keeper Angus Gunn brought down Alli and after the obligatory, interminable VAR check Son tucked away the penalty. Sometimes even the neutral feels tension, it just isn’t the same tension as everyone else! Of course history reads that Spurs went out in the next round, and that one did involve extra time!

At the end of it all leaving seemed to be in part a process of re-entering the normal world, mainly via a well managed queue for the railway station. Over the last few years Robyn and I have been fortunate to have visited some of Europe’s more high profile football stadia and it seems to me that the quality on display is often breaktaking, but so is the level of incovenience involved for those fortunate to get a ticket.

The Tottenham Hotspur is fine example of the most modern of super stadia but please understand its form and purpose. It is so far from what football was about in the past.

Thanks to David Bogie and Jack Warner for their help in getting Robyn and I to this game.

The scorers were Paul Gascoigne (2) Gary Lineker and Garry Mabbutt.