Saturday 16 December 2017

Paul Hayward: Silk and steel combine to delight legends in new-look glory game

Pat Jennings, David Ginola and Glenn Hoddle stand on the pitch during the closing ceremony. Photo: Getty
Pat Jennings, David Ginola and Glenn Hoddle stand on the pitch during the closing ceremony. Photo: Getty

Paul Hayward

This is the way to leave a stage: with a 17th home win in an unbeaten league campaign at a classic English ground, soon to be swallowed by a super stadium.

With this victory over Manchester United in game number 2,533 at White Hart Lane, Mauricio Pochettino's team confirmed what Tottenham are really all about: less girders and concrete than silk and steel.

The whole point in coming to these places is to watch fine footballers. That was always the Spurs religion, and moving to a colossal new arena a few dozen yards away will not change that faith.

This could have been a day of mourning for another title race lost, this time to Chelsea, after last season's stumble in the face of Leicester's unstoppable ascent.

However, there was nothing to grieve for here as Spurs finished second in the top flight for the first time since 1963.

A very good Premier League team was edged out by a better one in this season's title race, and now Spurs are joining the big league of English arenas, after a brief exile at Wembley that is bound to test the progress made over the last two years.

When the closing ceremony was over, Glenn Hoddle pointed his umbrella at a perfect rainbow above the East Stand.

For the first time since 1964-65, Spurs went through a league season undefeated on their own turf.

Yesterday that grass was invaded by delirious supporters who had to be asked countless times by a stressed announcer to clear the pitch for the Farewell Ceremony.

Kenneth Branagh was waiting to recite the history of a ground built on the site of a former market garden rented from the brewers Charrington and occupied by Spurs in January 1899.

Branagh was not here in person, but appeared on giant screens like Hollywood royalty.

The White Hart Lane crowd, so boisterous on the pitch, fell into a cinema-going trance as The Kinks provided the soundtrack and black and white footage of the glory days brought an older London back to life.

On a pitch where Jimmy Greaves scored 14 hat-tricks, Hoddle sprayed artistic passes, Paul Gascoigne reached his zenith and Gareth Bale blasted holes, 48 legends - players and managers - fanned out in the soft spring rain, before the London Community Gospel Choir sang 'Oh When the Spurs Go Marching In'.

With a flimsy, 'Spurs-y' team, it would seem like nostalgia. But Pochettino's side have 80 points with two games left - enough to guarantee the runners- up spot.

This is the side of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier: a fine blend of English and foreign talent.

The beauty of the parade - from Ossie Ardiles to Edgar Davids and Peter Crouch - was that new notables have emerged to renew this story of appealing football.

Out came the original king of White Hart Lane, Alan Gilzean, then David Ginola, who filmed himself on his phone all the way to the centre circle.

The next entrant drew the biggest cheer of all: Hoddle, perhaps the greatest embodiment of Tottenham's ideology.

Cliff Jones stepped out on behalf of the great push and run teams of the early 1960s.

Closer to the present day, Ledley King was wildly popular. Teddy Sheringham, dressed for summer, emerged to similar acclaim, not least from a small pocket of Manchester United fans who stayed behind to watch.


Some could not make it. Gascoigne said in a message to the fans: "The time I had at Spurs was phenomenal. The thing is, sometimes I wish I hated it, because then I wouldn't miss it so much. The worst thing is when I watch them I think about my time there and that's a time I can never get back."

Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the first great Premier League imports, said: "I've never felt the connection so deeply between the fans and the players in a stadium."

And Steve Perryman, who made a record 436 appearances on this soil, spoke of the future: "There will be a bit of despair along the way, but it's a great, great club with so much tradition - yet so much history about to be made."

As the choir struck up, the crowd sang "there's only one Paul Gascoigne". They had also chanted Aaron Lennon's name.

Gazza's reluctance to be here was borne, by all accounts, of a fear of being around so much revelry (and alcohol). There were others here with illnesses and infirmities.

In the great sweep of a football club's history, you see the ravages of life, as you do beyond the escapism of the game.

Then the current team came out in dark blue tracksuits to be handed responsibility for the most exciting but hardest part of all. The future.

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