Memories of White Hart Lane

Bill Nicholson at the gates to White Hart Lane
Bill Nicholson at the gates to              White Hart Lane

It is showing my age by admitting that I first went to White Hart Lane in 1956 when I was 9 years old.

It was not the first football ground I visited. I am embarrassed to admit that it was Highbury. My mates suggested I might like to join them to watch the Arsenal. In reality the Arsenal reserves. We lived in Camden Town so Highbury was a short bus ride up to Finsbury Park and a ten minute walk or so to the ground.

After that visit one mate asked if I’d like to go and watch Spurs the nest week. So we did and here I am 61 years later still supporting Tottenham, having made the right choice.

In those days the crowds were enormous; the ground capacity was almost 70,000 but it rarely reached those heights in those days. The Bowley brothers and me spent the next couple of years watching the reserves. There was no such things as squads so the level of quality was quite high and crowds weren’t too bad. The first first team game I saw was a night time fixture against Burnley – a 2-2 draw on 8 April 1959.

By then we were big boys and in 1960 started going to first team games all the time. We paid half price – 1/3d or 8 pence in new money. The Bowley brothers had moved to Ruislip so it was my mate Ron and me.

Of course 1960 – 1961 season was special – the Double Year – and there was a buzz about the place; attendances grew and it was important to get to the ground early, before kick-off, even before the gates opened and queue up. We usually got a spot right at the touchline on the half way line and tried to amuse ourselves as best we could with duffle bag full of sandwiches and coffee in thermos flask.

Programmes were available outside the ground; they cost 2 pence in old money and were given out as a large sheet of paper that you had to fold in the middle yourself. They weren’t quite A4 size and they were not printed on the best quality paper either.

Team changes were not announced over the loudspeaker system. They were advised by means of large metal plates with numbers and letters of the alphabet which were placed along the touchline in front of the enclosure. It was basic but it worked unless which rarely happened John Hollowbread and Danny Blanchflower were named and they ran out of certain letters.

The same system was used for the half time results. The games were in the programme and the scores were put along the touchline in the same numerical order. This was way before transistor radios so it was the only way of keeping in touch. As these scores came up during the early part of the second half the jeer and cheers of other team fortunes sometimes got mixed up with the action on the pitch which i suppose was quite confusing for the players.

Confusing for the supporters was that pre-match and half time entertainment was provided by the Metropolitan Police Band. They sat towards the corner flag and some of the team changes and half time scores were often totally obscured. One of my girl friends told me that her dad had played trumpet in that band and I was most impressed.

Sometime in the mid sixties the club moved forward and had a DJ at half time. He seemed to like Mrs Mills and Gladys Mills was what we got every week. Her piano playing on vinyl was greeted with a loud cheer and the DJ missed the irony and just kept playing her – ‘and here’s another one of your favourites, Mrs Mills’. More cheers!!

Arsenal had a band as well but they used to march around the pitch at half time. The leader threw his ceremonial stick in the air as he passed the North Bank and everyone cheered. They cheered even louder the day he dropped it. Old habits die hard. We still watched Spurs one week and Arsenal the other. The first season Arsenal won the Double it rained every Saturday and we stood in the Clock End getting soaked. The other Saturday when Spurs were at home the sun always shone. I think God was trying to say something but no one was listening.

The enclosure was a narrow piece of the West Stand which cost an extra shilling (5 pence now I suppose). It was considered a good spot and soon got full. Half way through the season we decided that as we had grown as much as we could to six foot tall we could afford to stand a bit further back behind one of the metal barriers. The next season we took root in the shelf side for its entire future until that too became all seating.

In the old days the ground was virtually all standing. That’s what made for the atmosphere.

As anyone who has ever been to White Hart Lane knows – it is one of the worst grounds in the country to get to. There is White Hart Lane train station as well as Northumberland Avenue; both having trains from Liverpool Street but most of us got there by bus. It was perhaps quicker to get a tube to Seven Sisters and walk and see how far ahead of the bus you could get.

When the Tories won the GLC they were true to their election promises and cut many bus services. One was the 127 route which we could get on at Camden Road train station and stopped almost outside White Hart Lane itself. After that we got any bus to Holloway Road and if lucky could jump on a route 259 as it waited at the lights rather than join the long queues on the other side. Those days you just jumped on. After the match this worked in reverse – but slower.

One of the sights along Tottenham High Road was a butchers shop which always predicted the score in bold whitewash letters. He was always wrong but it raised a smile on the go-stop-go journey.

I’ve been at White Hart Lane and watched games in every weather the gods could throw at us. A blizzard during a game against I think Leicester had supporters moving from one side of the ground to the other by walking underneath the stands which you could do then. In tropical sunshine old ladies and young boys were passed over heads by strong men in the crowd to reach the safety of the touchline and the St Johns Ambulance crews.

One evening in I think 1964 there was a match against Manchester United in the European Cup Winners Cup. A light mist quickly developed into thick fog and even from our midway vantage point we could not see the goals. Those nearest the touchline had to tell Dennis Violet the Manchester United winger who was waiting on the half way line for the ref to blow for kick off that the match had been abandoned and the rest of the his team mates were already back in the dressing room! There followed a most unseemly sight of grown men scrabbling on the terraces for the half of their ticket that meant they could get in to the re-arranged match for free. Never throw anything away. Mine was destined for my scrapbook.

But one memory overshadows them all. In the first European Cup campaign in late 1961 in a tie against either Dukla or Gornik Prague the angels came. Three men jumped out of the enclosure dressed in long white robes with harps and a halo stuck to their head and long beards. They walked along the touchlines urging on the crowd:

Glory. Glory. Hallelujah!!
My eyes have seen the glory of the cups at White Hart Lane

It was life changing or more appropriately a game-changing moment. Everyone took up the chorus, all the supporters around the ground started to sing. It was accepted as Spurs song; never more so than on European nights when the team played in an all white strip. On those nights old White Hart Lane was no place for faint hearts; the song became the twelth man. Newspaper headlines spoke of ‘White Hot Lane’ or ‘White Heat Lane’. It was.

Then during the eighties marriage hit, along with children, mortgages, house moves, job moves and rising admission prices. With a few exceptions we all became armchair supporters. A few years back I was invited as a guest to a corporate box. There was plenty of good food, fine wine and champagne but a total lack of atmosphere.

Then a few months back in the game against Chelsea the old chorus rose up again; sang with the same strength and noise as in the old days. Perhaps the angels are still looking down on White Hart Lane. The stadium will be sorely missed; even the lightly coloured luke-warm liquid they sold as tea and you could empty from your bladder against a brick wall they called the ‘gents’.

I hear that the new stadium is being constructed in such a way that the noise from the fans will not be lost to the ether but ring around the ground like before. I hope so. There is no better atmosphere than in a all standing stadium with creaking roofs and sixty thousand voices singing ‘Glory, glory, Hallelujah’.

As Danny Blanchflower said: ‘The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot; not waiting for them to die of boredom.’

My page on the night Spurs won the League in 1961 and details of the Double side.

You can contact John Barber here: moc.r1505924264ebrab1505924264nhoj@1505924264tcatn1505924264oc1505924264