Wednesday, November 29, 2023

SPORTS | 04-04-2019 14:06

'One of the best moments in my life,' says Pochettino as Spurs open new stadium

After 689 days away from home, Spurs head home to new 62,000-capacity stadium. And for their Argentine coach Mauricio Pochettino, it was a day he will never forget.

To the accompaniment of a marching band, tenor Wynne Evans serenaded the players and 59,215 fans with "Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur." Fireworks exploded over the stadium, illuminating the north London sky and a 15-foot (4.6 metre) golden cockerel atop the roof.

The club wasn't celebrating a trophy but a homecoming.

And there was still a game to be won after Tottenham Hotspur's much-delayed new stadium finally opened on Wednesday after 689 days, 51 games on the road at Wembley and costs exceeding £1 billion (US$1.3 billion). But the return to White Hart Lane inspired a first Premier League victory in almost two months as Spurs beat Crystal Palace 2-0 to climb back into third place in the standings.

Both goals came in front of the stadium's sweeping 17,500-seater single tier stand, the largest in England, although a sense of unease was starting to creep in before the 55th-minute breakthrough.

Son Heung-min received the ball in the penalty area and sent the ball into the net with a shot that took a deflection off Palace defender Luka Milivojevic, carving the South Korea forward's name into Tottenham history.

"I'm the happiest guy in the world," said Son, who also scored his first Premier League goal against the same opposition nearly four years ago. "We found the goal at an important time."

The stadium crowd could only truly begin to party in the 80th minute once Christian Eriksen pounced on the loose ball after Harry Kane was tripped by Martin Kelly.

"It was a little bit of pressure," manager Mauricio Pochettino said. "But the excitement, the energy made everything possible."

Bigger target

A top-four finish is still very much possible for Spurs as well, even though the prospect of qualifying for the Champions League for a fourth successive season is suddenly far from a sure thing after the two-month collapse in form.

But the bigger target for Pochettino is to win titles, something the Argentine coach has lacked since arriving at Tottenham in 2014. And the new stadium will only increase the pressure on the club to take the next step in terms of competing for trophies.

Not that there is more recent tradition of silverware in an area of London ruled for so long by Arsenal. Tottenham's last English title was won in 1961. Only cups have been collected since, the last time in 2008 with the lesser-regarded League Cup.

"Tottenham is going to be a real contender for big things," Pochettino said. "We are World Cup winners in terms of facilities."

That includes the ability to host American football. The grass field used on Wednesday sits on 99 steel trays which retract below the south stand on 2,090 rails to reveal artificial turf underneath.

Tottenham has a 10-year deal to host two NFL games per season and the competition crest was given equal billing with the Premier League logo on commemorative glass paperweights handed out in parts of the stadium on Wednesday.

But while financing for the project also comes from the United States — through Goldman Sachs — this is a stadium very much rooted in the local community.

Tottenham failed to buy the main 2012 London Olympics stadium in the east of the capital which is now used by West Ham United. Rather than searching for a large plot of land, Tottenham opted to stay on the White Hart Lane site.

There seemed more of an obligation for the club to help to regenerate the Tottenham area after a 2011 outbreak of rioting erupted into violence and soon arson and looting spread across London.

"We did not just want to build a stadium," Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said. "We see it as bringing hope, prosperity and uplift to Tottenham embracing the local community."


Thousands more will be attending matches. White Hart Lane, where games were first played in 1899, had a capacity of 36,310 before demolition started in May 2017 to make way for new arena.

The business has been missed on match days.

"Normally the other days we are very quiet," said Turkish-born shop owner Hakan Erdogan as he sold a fan cigarettes in a store opposite the stadium that he has owned for seven years. "It has affected business. It's been hard. Now I'm happy."

Supporters are delighted to no longer be played across north London at Wembley, English football's national stadium.

"The club has had good players and good managers but we have never had a stadium to go with it," said 72-year-old fan Siva Arul-Pragasam, who has been coming to Tottenham games since 1966. "There are no excuses for the players or manager now."

Pochettino, though, needs the stadium to generate funds to strengthen his squad. With 60 food and drink outlets, there are enough places for fans to tap their contactless payments in this cash-free stadium.

For now, leading a team in world football's newest stadium will probably have to do for Pochettino.

"I am such a lucky man," Pochettino said. "It is one of the best moments in my life. It is always going to be in my memories and in my heart."

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by By ROB HARRIS, AP Global Soccer Writer

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