White Hot Lane - Reliving a fan's experience from the 60s
Most of the fans will approach the ground from either the underground tube station and walk up the high road or from one of the two main railway lines, both laying a few minutes walk away on either side of the ground. Autumn nights in London can become dark and overcast with rainfall caught in the floodlights. On cold nights, you could see the players breath hanging in the air.
Back in the 60’s, the floodlights were on tall towers in each corner of the stadium creating a golden glow in the sky as if drawing the faithful home. Many of these fans will have come directly from work. So you find the diversity of city office workers talking to bus drivers, building site workers next to women looking like they are on the way home from shopping.
These are the same people that attended a league game a few days earlier, but tonight as they converge on the ground you could almost feel the anticipation in the air. Something special is happening. No wonder the press termed the phrase “White Hot Lane” during our first European run in 1961. There is a unique feel different from any other game.
Having grown up in the 50’s, I sat at my uncle's hearing tales of our first three European campaigns before my own adventure began in 1967. Having since experienced these nights myself its no surprise to me that they said that they KNEW they were going to win that first European Cup game at the Lane, (Gornik of Poland). Losing was not an option, even going into the game 2-4 down from the first leg. That night we romped to an 8-1 win.
At this time the ground was largely standing terraces and the crowd rubbed shoulder to shoulder, kids pushed to the front. The family was assembling to watch as Spurs saved some of their best performances for these nights. There wasn’t much TV and we knew little about who we were playing, apart from that day's newspaper. It did not seem to matter, we were ‘The Tottenham‘, that’s what mattered. The visitors were not taking on 11 players they were facing the whole tribe, and about 40,000 of us were there to see our lads triumph.
Just before the teams enter, a blue flag with a cockerel emblem is draped over the top of the players tunnel. The air is tingling and the loudspeakers blast out the tune ‘McNamara’s band‘. A fast jig of a tune you can sing along with. That’s the signal for the fans to turn up the volume. A lot of the support in that period was hand clapping rhythms. “Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap Tottenham”. I still find myself using the same rhythms today when calling the dogs. This starts at the Park Lane end (on TV the goal to the left) and spreads around the ground. Then the teams would emerge, Spurs looking magnificent in all white.
Visiting teams were not used to the crowd being so close - many played with a running track between them and their own fans and reported that the Spurs crowd had intimidated them with their passion and volume. No wonder the club has identified this as an important aspect of any new stadium. The songs ring out often with everyone behind the goal arms stretched holding a blue and white scarf, looking like a wall, daring the visitors to try and score.
The crowd at full volume would pounce on any opposition error. I remember one goalie early in the game came for an easy catch. He dropped it and received a barrage of cat calls. This just made him worse and he fumbled nearly every ball until around half way through the first half, he came out and took across cleanly, for a moment there was silence, and then the packed Paxton Road end behind him, to a man, put their hands above their heads and applauded. This of course totally destroyed his remaining confidence and he went on to have a nightmare of a game. Full backs collecting the ball for a throw-in, not use to the proximity of such a passionate crowd would find schoolboys leaning over the wall inches from their faces screaming ‘Come On You Spurs’ as if their life’s depended upon it.
Our earlier cup runs in European football were a novelty which few clubs experienced. The reason for our not competing in Europe for four years after our first adventures was that at that time only the League and Cup winners took part. The tournaments were straight forward two-legged knockout affairs, no groups dragging on into the winter then. The earliest campaigns had a festival feel about them with many fans dressing up as angels and later as gladiators - The spurious!
Family legend has it that it was during these first campaigns that ‘Glory Glory Hallelujah’ was first sung. Early in the game its sang to raise the team. As the game proceeds with Spurs in control, it becomes slower more like an anthem sang as a tribute to our victorious boys.
My own first European Campaign came in the autumn of 1967. After beating Chelsea in the Cup Final we were back in Europe and in the autumn we first met Hadjuk Split winning away 2-0 and when cruising to a comfortable home win, the team eased up and let them pull back to 4-3 on the night.
Then in December, it was a terrible night. Having lost 1-0 away to Olympique Lyon, they come to the Lane for the second leg. We were without two of our key players – Alan Mullery (sent off in the first game) and Mike England the Center-Half. We were still confident and we won on the night 4-3. Making silly defensive errors we had drawn 4-4 on aggregate. We were knocked out by the newly introduced away goals rule.
This rule was so new the following day I had trouble explaining to West Ham supporters the score wasn’t actually 7-4! Leaving the stadium that night, I remember walking to the Northumberland Park station, me and my mate were not speaking just walking heads down. Then it occurred to me that all around us people were walking in an eerie silence. It was if the whole crowd had been stunned into silence. This only a few days before Christmas. I felt dreadful. I’m delighted to say that losing at home hasn’t occurred too often and the Glory Glory nights have far outweighed the setbacks.
At many of the games I attended, I stood on the Shelf. This was a raised area in the East Stand, where the lower TV gantry is located now. There was a wooden barrier running the length of the pitch and instead of clapping. The people in the front would lean over and slap their hands on the wood to increase the volume. “Tottenham, bang-bang-bang”, I don’t want to think of the minor repairs and cost of paint we inflicted on the club but our enthusiasm was in a good cause.
It feels good to be embarking on another European trail, as Bill Nicholson said, it's where the club belongs. It's what the fans deserve.
So let the magic begin and Come On You Spurs.