An outsider at White Hart Lane

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I’ve been on a long hiatus from live football.  A change of city and reshuffling of priorities has meant that season tickets and regular matches are now a thing of the past and, rather than being part of a routine, live games are more of a special occasion.

They’re expensive, too.  Ticket prices themselves obviously aren’t cheap, but now - rather than an Oyster Card top-up and a tube journey - a four-and-a-half hour round-trip and hundreds of extra pounds stands between me and my side.

Contrary to popular belief, football stadiums are not places which necessarily offer a guaranteed sense of belonging. While the much-repeated cliche casts them as a home-away-from home, that’s really only the case when you go every week and when you make the effort to really belong.

But it’s remarkable how quickly you become an outsider if you don’t.

I went to White Hart Lane last night for the first time in a few seasons.  Although ostensibly to accompany a friend who had never been to a live game, it was also a trip of duty; the old stadium won’t be around for much longer and I owe it a few more trips before the wrecking-ball finally swings.

It was wonderful to be back.  There is nothing like watching your team in person and sitting in those high-banked stands, but - while I enjoyed the game and remembered all the reasons why I used to go so often - I felt like a tourist.

Part of that is London.  The capital is so different to provincial England that, even for someone who lived there for almost ten years, it’s an unsettling place to visit.  People bustle about you with unwitting hostility, the air is thick with unhealthy energy, and it’s really everything that my hometown is not.

I remember being irritated by people like me once: the sort who don’t instinctively know how to use the ticket machines in the tube station, who don’t instinctively know their way through the city’s arteries and who are, by implication, not proper Londoners.  You can spot us a mile away: we don’t stride with that capital urgency, we aren’t oblivious to the sights and sounds of the evening streets and we occasionally pause to read the inscriptions on the monuments we pass.

We wear too much clothing because we’re afraid of getting cold, we carry food we’ve brought with us on the train because we don’t trust London prices, and bus routes confuse us.

That was strange: to be one of them.  London is very disloyal.  It doesn’t care how many years of your life you gave to her, she has no memory and makes a point of letting you know just how incidental you really were.

Tottenham are like that, too - although without really meaning to be.

The stadium never changes, the walk from Seven Sisters still takes slightly longer than you think it will, and the same landmarks still line your approach to the ground, but your footsteps betray you with their eagerness - this is a day out for you, not just something you do habitually anymore.

Introducing someone to football for the first time is a wonderful thing.  You watch their eyes dance when they see the pitch for the first time, you nod knowingly when they tell you that the view is better than they thought it would be, and you tread a ninety-minute balance between tour guide and the sweary, angry impulses of once upon a time.

But that old hand act fools nobody, least of all yourself.

It’s an odd sense of detachment and, strangely enough, guilt.  You can clap, shout and chant, but no level of audible dedication can assuage the feeling that, really, you should have been here all this time.

“Sit down, tourist, this isn’t you anymore.”

You remember all the games you’ve watched on television in recent years, picturing how those goals would have looked in real life and knowing how little entitlement you had to celebrate them in your own home, in a pub, or anywhere else that wasn’t here.

You leave early, because you have a train to catch.  How cruel; it’s unavoidable, but you know what it says about you and you know what everybody else is thinking as they watch you leave your seat.  You want to shout your credentials back at them, telling them that you used to sneer at people like you too and that, only a few years ago, you would also leave late enough to be locked outside the tube.

But, just like London, White Hart Lane doesn’t remember.