Awe and angst in north London as Tottenham open for business

Spurs’ new ground is stunning but its success will be judged by what happens on the pitch

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium opened with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium opened with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

 

Welcome back then, Tottenham Hotspur. If the idea was to create something that felt unmistakably like home then the players did their best in the first half against Crystal Palace, producing a performance shot through with anxiety, met by intermittent waves of dread from the home crowd. Hello darkness, my old friend. You can take the twitchy blue-and-white shirts out of White Hart Lane, but you can’t take the Spurs out of Spurs.

The moment of ignition arrived with 54 minutes gone. Tottenham had come out after half-time with a new sense of vigour, pressing high up the pitch in the classic Pochettino-era style. For a while you could feel those new-Spurs muscles straining, the shape of this excellent, slightly stuttering team starting to assert itself.

Christian Eriksen pinched the ball and fed Son Heung-min. Son’s jinked shot found a crucial deflection. As the ball hit the back of the net there was a noise around those vast, steepling stands that was less a cheer, more a kind of shared shout, like the lid being ripped off a giant tube of angst.

First goals in a new stadium are often forgettable things, lost in the drowsy August sun. But this is Spurs, this is April, this is an £1bn business plan tied inextricably to playing in the Champions League. Let’s face it. It was never likely to be easy.

First things first: the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is an astonishing place, a giant, reverberating ball of air in a fine steel and glass case. It is a wonderfully open thing too, reaching up to the moon on all sides, but somehow also airy and uplifting.

From pitch-side the eye is drawn to the single tier stand at the south end, curving up to its central peak miles up in the sky above north London. In the course of this opening game it went from a pyramid of silent angst (one benefit of that noise-funnel design: we can hear the whining and whingeing a lot more clearly) to a bouncing, seething mound of human joy.

The stands were already rocking half an hour before kick-off as the opening ceremony kicked into gear. A time may come when people around here tire of glossy video presentations about stadium funding and urban regeneration. But it’s not here yet.

Fireworks go off at the opening of Tottenham’s new ground. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty
Fireworks go off at the opening of Tottenham’s new ground. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty

As the flags twirled and the lights dipped a local singer from the X Factor called Lanya Matthews sang (brilliantly). Later she was joined by a rotund, excitable tenor in a performance of Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur, arranged by renowned musical director Steve Sidwell, who is an actual renowned musical director.

After which: on with the other show on the pitch, the peg around which this vast financial undertaking will revolve. As Spurs kicked off in a fug of firework smoke, Son could be seen pirouetting his way down the left flank and turning to the crowd to demand a greater surge of noise.

For Spurs this was a moment of extraordinary jeopardy. Football likes nothing better than drawing a fully formed narrative out of a few chance details. But rarely can there have been a single league match with so much portentous, far-reaching light and shade riding on its result.

All week the talk had been about those stunning, essentially-meaningless numbers. The largest bar in Europe. Ten thousand upward-spurting pints every minute! Seven hundred and seventy-three urinals! The largest club shop in the world with 23,000 square feet, the equivalent of 23 Victorian terraced houses.

But there were more urgent numbers here, things like one point from 15 and zero wins in the league since the middle of February. Finishing in the top four and playing in the Champions League are important things. They become painfully stark when this is the business plan, the future vision, vindication for this looming super-project.

Heung-Min Son celebrates scoring the first goal at Tottenham’s new ground. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty
Heung-Min Son celebrates scoring the first goal at Tottenham’s new ground. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty

This is the wider picture here. Tottenham’s new home isn’t so much a football stadium as a statement of economic ambition. The souvenir programme showed the Spurs cockerel brooding over the London night sky like Batman: its eye turned not towards the nail bars and chicken shops down below, but to the bright lights of the city and the Docklands, seats of London’s super-city wealth.

It is a stunning project, one that will enrich Tottenham’s owners and will also drag a broader wealth this way, glossing one of London’s overlooked urban centres. But for all the homeyness and the care in the details, Spurs really do need to keep selling those mind-bendingly pricey boxes, those £15,000 H Club seats. This is what victory means now.

With 10 minutes to go Eriksen, who had a wonderful game, scored to make it 2-0 and settle the nerves. The cheer this time was warmer, shot through not just with relief but with a feeling underneath it all of gears clanking and of an era that is now decisively under way. - Guardian

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