Are Tottenham selling ‘White Hart Lane’ back to the people who made it?

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Image: SpursWeb

For a little over half a century, when ticker tape and terraces were a common theme at football stadia, Archibald Leitch’s blueprints for an iconic structure on the east side of Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane, his 1899 creation, stood tall. In the late 1980s, it was replaced by a more modest establishment, but one recognisable by the two pillars blighting the sightlines. Leitch’s idiosyncratic design earned the East Stand an apt nickname – ‘The Shelf’.

Adjacent to the South Stand, the Shelf was considered one of the most atmospheric parts of the stadium. Even when seating was installed, the lower tier would still stand, ignoring the club’s meek threats.

The Shelf’s most iconic form (Credit: The Telegraph)

THE NEW SHELF

The East Stand was an invention by Leitch, but the Shelf was an invention by the fans. Now though, the Club is trying to pry the Shelf back from grasp of its supporters.

Spurs recently unveiled plans for a bar in the East Stand of the club’s under-construction 62,000-seater stadium, and christened it ‘The Shelf’. It will be built using bricks plucked from the old East Stand, and the aesthetic will be reminiscent of the Shelf’s architecture.

It may seem like the club are engaging with the fans in recognising the old jargon but the club is merely selling a fan-made concept back to the fans.

Ticket prices in the new East Stand will match those of the West Stand, which was the most corporate section of White Hart Lane, and the atmosphere could suffer if the Shelf’s former regulars are priced out of a return.

It may be unfair to bracket richer match-goers as less likely to contribute to the atmosphere, but there is enough evidence to back this point up, with the Emirates Stadium the best example. By replicating the aspects of the West Stand, the East loses what made it special, and could damage the atmosphere on match-day.

The Shelf Bar (Credit: Tottenham Hotspur)

THE 1882 PROBLEM

This possible loss could be offset by the single-tier stand replacing the Park Lane; 17,500 seats – ready to be converted to safe-standing upon Premier League approval – will make up the new structure, allowing those most loud and proud about Tottenham to sing and dance about them to their hearts content.

If they can afford it.

Slap bang in the centre of this “wall of noise”, designed to replicate Borussia Dortmund’s “Yellow Wall” is where you’ll find the most expensive season ticket in the stadium, priced at a whopping £2,200. The only benefit of pricing your core demographic out of a seat is a financial one, and this is an unnecessary high.

What does £2,200 get you? An experience branded by the club as ‘1882’, named after the year the club was founded. In modern times, it’s come to mean something else for the fans.

In the early 2010s, The Fighting Cock – the Spurs fanzine, website and podcast – started the ‘1882’ movement. It was aimed at bringing all corners of the club together to support the team no matter who was wearing the shirt.

The 1882 movement was tribal, it was enthralling and immersive, but that’s exactly what supporting a football club is about – having fun and showing love.

From next season, Spurs want ‘1882’ to be connoted with a premium match-day experience: A first-class option, promising complimentary refreshments, accessories and exclusive access to in-ground bars, slap bang in the middle of its antithesis.

If there was ever a perfect metaphor for fans’ disillusionment with modern football, Spurs have provided it.

GOT NO HISTORY

The problems don’t start or end with the fiscal elements, however. Since leaving the old White Hart Lane in 2017, the club have actively but quietly tried to distance themselves from the name.

White Hart Lane was intimate despite its flaws, and was atmospheric to the point of un-comfortability for the visitors. If it weren’t for Tottenham being ruddy good at football, there’d be no commercial or premium interest.

A naming rights partner for the new ground has not been announced, so one would think that the club could give it a tentative name of ‘New White Hart Lane’.

Instead, it will be called ‘Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’ if a partner isn’t found in time for kick-off. And Daniel Levy, known for being a shrewd businessman, is willing to part with a reported £11million to rename White Hart Lane Station to Tottenham Hotspur Station.

A point which has perhaps gone under the radar is that amongst the promotional images of the new stadium interiors, many of the fans are carrying shopping bags or other pieces of official merchandise and refreshments.

Credit: Tottenham Hotspur

Football is one of the last major sports with a love for tradition. Part of that tradition comes with your match-day experience – it will probably never be solely at the stadium. Other major sports, such as American football, see matters differently.

Mark Waller, the NFL’s international executive vice president, alluded to how the new stadium would be used in an interview with NBC in February 2017.

“American sports stadiums, particularly football stadiums, are built for a day out. The mentality of the English sporting fan is ‘go, watch, leave’.

“Our experience is very different. It’s ‘come for the day, a day out, and watch a fantastic sporting event.”

The NFL are, of course, planning to play two games a season at Tottenham’s new ground. Their insignia will even be carved into the outer shell of the metal structure.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME?

Wembley’s match-day experience is one of the major reasons why Spurs fans are excited to leave come May. The desolate landscape surrounding the arch isn’t fit for a club fan-base, bereft of character and warmth that charms the everyday fan. Are the club milking the rhetoric that Tottenham are going home for their own good?

The Lane – gone. The Shelf – repurposed. The good feeling about the new ground – fading away. What else could be lost by the time the big bow is cut with a giant novelty pair of scissors along Tottenham High Road?

It doesn’t stop with the new stadium.

The club have major gentrification plans for the area, and Daniel Levy was always keen on emphasising that their intentions are as much about helping Tottenham, Haringey, as about Tottenham Hotspur.

“This is a very poor area of London and we need to see regeneration here and we need to have activity,” Levy said, in the same interview with NBC.

Spurs have promised the regeneration will create more than 3,500 jobs and £166million for the local economy. But if the aim is to get the masses into the stadium for a whole day, how are local businesses benefitting?

At this point, there seems to be an unrealistic expectation from Tottenham that fans will want to spend their entire match-day at the stadium. While Spurs could be future-proofing the ground for potential routines and rituals, it’s worth noting that West Ham have been using a similar initiative since moving into the London Stadium.

So, what happens to these pubs if the club monopolises alcohol in the area on match-day? What happens to other eateries in the area that may rely on match-day income when their customers are offered a more fashionable meal? The true match-day experience comes not just from within the stadium, but it’s surrounding areas too.

You get off the tube at Seven Sisters. You head upstairs to have a look at what time the next train for White Hart Lane arrives. If it’s more than 15 minutes away, you suck it up and walk the length of Tottenham High Road. You text your mates asking which pub they’re in – The Antwerp, The Bricklayers and the Bill Nich are all strong favourites. You stay there for a couple of hours. You amble your way back towards the stadium. You might stop off at Chick King for some glorious fried poultry, and have a chat with the twins that run it. This is what Spurs fans miss, but the club are trying to ensure such routines never happen again.

The last physical remnants of White Hart Lane

FANS OR CUSTOMERS?

Loyalty is not a tangible attribute. It cannot be measured, quantified or put a price on. We can only assess it through action, through description, sometimes through pictures. Even then, there will always be difference of opinion. In football, and certainly modern football, loyalty has become a forgotten trait, gone with high shorts and black boots.

It’s widely accepted, though not always appreciated, that players head down their career paths searching for something other than to be adored by one sole set of fans. That’s fine. Players will come and go but the club will always remain, the fans will always remain. But what if the fans say ‘no more’?

When Spurs left the old White Hart Lane for the last time, fans of other clubs were wondering what the hurrah was about – Tottenham would effectively be returning to White Hart Lane. To many Spurs fans, that is the case. All that will have changed are the main facilities. The community built at that boxy little ground will still be there. Well, maybe it will.

This article first appeared on Sean Walsh’s blog, you can also find Sean on Twitter @SeanDZWalsh 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I still think fans will go to same pubs to meet their mates and if the takeaway is cheaper they’ll go there. I went to the Albert Hall and bar was empty and the surrounding pubs were full.

  2. Well there is no more standing allowed Shelf Side !!! maybe the supporters from 2 years ago have been priced out of the tickets and moved on but the majority of those now occupying the iconic seats no longer want to stand or sing , in fact at the fist home match stewards and police were called upon to settle the supporters down so that they behaved themselves .

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