Date:Monday February 8 2010
I lived in London from 1965 to 1969 and on Saturdays when I wasn’t using my thumb to get up to Birmingham to see my parents (and watch the Villa) I would often spend the afternoon at one or other of the London grounds.
More often than that I’d go to the Arsenal and as a result I developed a great affection for the Gunners, current Gallic grumpiness notwithstanding.
However, the first ever stadium I ever visited in London was White Hart Lane. This was at the start of the 1965/1966 season for a game between Spurs and a Leicester side featuring that erstwhile Villan, Derek Dougan.
I think Spurs won and that Jimmy Greaves and Alan Gilzean were playing. Greavesie was of course a legend but Gilzean was, in my opinion, a class act well worth the admission price any time he was on the field.
However, I never warmed to Spurs and I suppose my later fondness for Arsenal would have exacerbated this. I think the idea that Spurs are the Birmingham City of North London compared to Arsenal’s role being that of the Villa is a half-decent comparison (although Spurs of course have enjoyed their glory days).
I was at White Hart Lane on Saturday last, 6th February, for the first time in nearly 39 years. I remember the last time very well, it being a Monday night in May and it was the last game of the 1970/71 season. Arsenal were the visitors and if the won (or got a 0-0 draw) then they’d pip Leeds for the title.
I arrived in good time to find that the police had completely lost control of managing the crowd. It really ought to have been all-ticket, I suppose, but they were taking money at the turnstiles and the street behind the main terracing was a seething mass of humanity, increasingly wedged together. All the police seemed able to do was to ride up and down on their horses, making the jam even worse.
I found myself along with about another forty people in the tiny garden of a terraced house with a bay window. I was having a conversation with a friendly Cockney when all of a sudden he started panicking and shouted out – “I con’t breeve, con’t breeve!” Lashing out he broke the one of the windows of the house and then proceeded to clear away the glass before clambering through where I heard him say to the startled little old lady sitting inside – “Sorry to break yer winder, my love, but I con’t breeve!”
Meanwhile, most of the other people in the little garden were making their way through the window, stopping briefly in each instance to greet the owner of the property before, presumably, making their way through to the back of the house to a place where “breeving” would be less difficult.
The police meanwhile were still giving their impersonation of the Lone Ranger just yards away, blithely ignoring the vandalism in their midst.
I now found myself next to a child of perhaps 10 or 11 who was very upset and crying for his Mum. I told him to climb on my back and I’d see if we could get out of the crowd. I suppose that being tall has its advantages and people parted as best they could to let us through. The little guy told me that his Dad was working at a garage on the Tottenham High Road so I walked him down and made sure he was safe.
By now it was close to kick off time and I assumed that I would not be seeing a game this particular evening so I headed in the direction of the nearest bus stop. Passing another street adjacent to the ground I glanced down and saw that there were hardly any people it and that there was a row of empty turnstiles. This was just two minutes away from where the street scene resembled the railway station in Doctor Zhivago. I walked up, paid my 75p and was taking my seat in the very same South Stand as last Saturday just as the teams ran out.
(For anyone interested, Arsenal won 1-0 and then, the following Saturday, defeated Liverpool 2-1 in the Cup Final to do the “double”.)
Last Saturday, I had to pay a little more than 75p and it had to be paid for three of us as my better half and our London-based son accompanied me to the game. We got there in ample time, bought the burgers and had a little walk around the area. Now Aston is hardly Venice but I thought the Tottenham High Road had gone down considerably in the intervening years. Quite rundown would be an understatement.
It was interesting that when we were going into the ground that my wife was not frisked at all, mine was cursory but Niall’s was not to far short of a full body search. Fairly stereotypical!
This was the first time in quite a while since I’d been to an away game and having read Glensider’s reports, I was looking forward to being part of the raucous gang that he has told us shows up on these occasions.
I wasn’t disappointed although it has to be said that – and I don’t want anyone to get offended! – there are one or two Villans that I mightn’t be inviting to my next Vimto-fest. (They probably wouldn’t want to come anyway!) It may be my age but if I’ve paid quite a bit of dosh for a seat, then apart from being on my feet when the teams come out or when things get extra exciting or when (if!!) Villa score, then I’m quite content to park my bum in the requisite piece of plastic plank. It seemed to be a point of honour with more than a few to defy the polite requests from the stewards to please sit down. Eventually, the rozzers put in a brief appearance and a few had to be asked to leave – which they did quietly enough, to be fair. But it was all very distracting.
The singing and chanting was relentlessly non-stop. Much of it was amusing, a lot of it wasn’t and the language certainly couldn’t be described as family-focused! But in much the same way that the away fans at Villa Park make their presence felt, our lot seemed to me to be much noisier than the home supporters.
I thought that for a goalless draw, the match was quite exciting. I thought at the time that if anyone was likely to win it was Spurs. And yet, and I’m trying not to see these things through claret and blue spectacles, if they had, then it would have not been deserved. Likewise, if we’d won, it would have been a bit of larcency – not that I’d have minded a bit.
I was hoping that John Carew might score. My wife has heard me talk about the big guy and when he was doing his warm-up she had a chuckle at his showboating to our corner of the ground.
All in all, like the “con’t breeve” night all those years ago, the most recent visit to White Hart Lane will be a fond memory.
But I enjoy Villa Park much better!
Date:Monday February 8 2010
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