Pochettino: 'Special fan relationship makes White Hart Lane a fortress '

Dele Alli
Dele Alli

Some fans would have been hoping for the announcement. Others would have been fearing it. Either way it came just before 5pm on Friday: This is indeed the last season at White Hart Lane .

While Tottenham created some uncertainty by delaying the decision about their move to Wembley, extending the deadline until the end of April, it was the news most were expecting.

Nonetheless, the reality has suddenly hit home. Spurs will only be playing two more matches at their 118-year-old stadium, and the final farewell will be in the just two weeks’ time on May 14, when Manchester United come to town.

In the meantime, Sunday’s north London derby against Arsenal has now taken on even greater importance.

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The stakes are already high for both teams in the title race and the top-four fight respectively, but this weekend’s showdown has also become an historic event – the last of its kind at the Lane, with the result therefore mattering that bit more.

It has felt like a factor in a number of Spurs’ home fixtures this season, even if their impending move was not 100 per cent confirmed.

In the London derbies especially, there was always the risk that a defeat would result in eternal bragging rights for the visiting supporters – “we won the last meeting at the Lane”.

So far Spurs’ players have risen to the challenge superbly, to the extent they have avoided a single loss in N17 this campaign.

For Mauricio Pochettino, the fans have played a key role. He has felt the importance of this season around the stadium ever since August, and he believes the desire and passion in the stands has been transmitted onto the pitch, contributing to his side’s remarkable form at the Lane – 15 successive victories in all competitions.

White Hart Lane under the floodlights
White Hart Lane under the floodlights

The challenge will be to bottle that feeling, to replicate that “fantastic union”, as the Argentinian puts it, and take it to Wembley before bringing it back to Tottenham in 2018.

“We feel that every time we play [at White Hart Lane ] it is the last game,” he said. “Our fans are so excited, and our players too. I think that feeling, that energy that our fans translate to the team, is amazing – and it is key, to push you and help you to give your best.

“It’s sure the fans can play their part in the last two games, like they have been playing a part during this season. They have been fantastic and helped the team a lot.

“All that we are achieving there at White Hart Lane is a big percentage [because] of our fans too.

“I think the team plays exciting football. The fans are completely involved with the team, they feel very close to the team – and I think we can build that relationship.

“That’s great for the club, it’s fantastic, that collaboration – to share the feeling, to share the way that we play, when you win, but when you lose the same.

“Always the team feels so proud of the fans, and the fans feel so proud for the team. I think that is a fantastic union that can only benefit the club.”

Spurs’ players and supporters are now within touching distance of an unbeaten campaign on home turf.

What a way that would be to leave the Lane – and how Arsenal’s supporters would love to spoil the party, while also undermining their bitter rivals’ dream that they could win the title in this of all years.

In the wake of Friday’s announcement, Pochettino is aware that the atmosphere is likely to be more intense than ever this Sunday – and he admits his primary challenge might be to stress the need for cool heads and ensure the emotion of the occasion does not overwhelm his players.

“It’s a difficult job now,” he said. “You cannot ignore that it is a derby and all that it means, for us, for the fans.

“We are not only playing a derby, we are playing for another big thing, to be alive and be in the race until the end of the season, trying to win the Premier League.

“It’s a very tough job to try to be focused, to try to win the three points. But at the end it’s the same – to win, to get the three points, you must be better than your opponent.

“It’s true that emotion will be involved, more than maybe in other games. But it’s a good thing that the team has learned a lot, and they know that football is emotion, you play with emotion. I think it’s not new, it will not be new for the team to feel that emotion on Sunday.”

Spurs’ supporters could be forgiven for wishing the club could stay at the Lane a little longer, given their performances there this term.

The Lilywhites have the best home record in the top flight, having won 15 of their 17 league matches and drawn the other two, while scoring 43 goals and only conceding eight.

It is a big advantage to lose, but Pochettino said: “No, no. It is important to sort everything and move as soon as possible to Wembley and then to move again to the new stadium.
“The evolution you cannot stop, and when the decision was now it is so exciting to go to play at Wembley next season, and then to move to the new stadium. But we cannot now regret about White Hart Lane .”

Pochettino is looking forward, as ever. But Spurs’ fans can forgive themselves some moments of sorrow and nostalgia as the long goodbye suddenly gathers pace over the next fortnight.

Two more home wins would certainly ease the pain.

Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs and visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BenPearceSpurs/

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