Over by White Hart Lane’s East Stand, underneath the halfway line, lie the ashes of Bill Nicholson – the late, great Tottenham Hotspur player and manager who, more than anybody, left a lasting impression on the club.
Nicholson’s remains were placed down there, together with those of his wife, Darkie, at a family ceremony and, when the club push ahead with the move to their new 61,000-seat stadium on this site, great care will be taken to reposition those ashes under the playing surface.
The spirit of Nicholson will transfer from old to new and the symbolism will not be lost on anybody who loves Tottenham and was present for the grand finale to this storied venue which, on the field, turned into the most comprehensive of 2-1 victories against Manchester United.
It was a celebration from start to finish, albeit one that veered off script for about 20 minutes after the full-time whistle, when thousands of fans ignored the appeals to stay off the pitch and came yomping on. Maybe they simply could not help themselves.
Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Jan Vertonghen were caught up in the crowds and had to fight their way through them to reach the sanctuary of the tunnel. When uniformed police officers massed in that area, it briefly threatened to turn into a spectacle that nobody wanted.
But it was quickly forgotten when order was restored and the abiding memory of the occasion was of the post-match ceremony, which featured the parade of legends. One by one they walked on, oblivious to the rain, the kings of White Hart Lane and the senses tingled. Cliff Jones, the Welsh wizard, at 82 years young, jogged on and there were tremendous ovations for Ossie Ardiles, Glenn Hoddle and David Ginola – among many others.
Almost providentially, the rain stopped and the most vivid of rainbows arched up over the stadium, as Mauricio Pochettino and his current squad joined the party for a lap of honour. It was impossible to imagine a more perfect scene.
Every supporter could feel the pull of 118 years of history, the churn of their individual memories and Daniel Levy, the chairman, summed it up when he said they “should take a moment to look around and recognise the momentous and poignant occasion of which we are now part”.
There were numerous lump-in-the-throat moments and it all kicked off when the teams walked out prior to kick-off and were greeted by white-and-blue flags waved from virtually every seat. The roar that went up set the tone and it was an afternoon of song from the home fans.
Pochettino had predicted that he would struggle to hold back the tears and there was plenty of love for the manager of whom Nicholson would surely have approved. The crowd serenaded him on more than one occasion with the song about him being magic and the thought occurred that precious few Tottenham managers in recent times have been feted in such a way.
Pochettino’s team have now set a new club points record for a single season – on top of all of their other eye-catching numbers – and it certainly feels as though the future is in safe hands. As has been the case all season at this venue, Tottenham played with a swagger. The club had only said, for certain, on 28 April that they would decommission the Lane at the end of the season and so there has not been the sense of a long kiss goodnight – the like of which, say, West Ham United gave to Upton Park.
That said, the expectation has always been that it would be the final campaign here and, according to Pochettino, the players have been intent on wringing every last drop out of it. This was a 17th consecutive victory for them here in all competitions. The dynamics have also been finessed by the simple fact that Tottenham will not actually leave the footprint of the existing site – apart from when they play next season at Wembley. They are not moving and the new pitch will overlap the old one.
This is a big thing. It has helped to dampen the sadness and fire the excitement about the progress to the new ground. As Pochettino says, the “soul” and the “smell” of White Hart Lane will endure. The on-pitch action felt almost incidental – despite Tottenham’s excellence – as the home fans went through their repertoire of songs, including tributes to many former players, from Teddy Sheringham and Steffen Freund to Ledley King and Aaron Lennon. Chas and Dave were even brought on at half-time but, unfortunately for United, it was not for Jones and Smalling.
Pochettino’s players wore special edition shirts and the special edition crest was seemingly everywhere, including on the giant, big-screen in the corner of the stadium. The one-offs underscored the occasion. There will never be another one.