Tottenham mark homecoming with vital win in bid to give new stadium the Champions League football it deserves

With excellence comes expectation. There was a period during the first half on Wednesday night when the euphoria of this long-awaited homecoming subsided as the urgent need for three points came sharply into focus.

It was a 20-minute spell which encapsulated the challenge Spurs now face. Their stunning new arena is a genuine game-changer in more ways than one. It deserves to occupy a space among the very best in the world.

There are hints of Marseille’s Orange Velodrome in the roof’s curvature and, of course, Borussia Dortmund’s Sudtribune, better known as the ‘Yellow Wall’, with the north London version housing 17,500 fans in a stand which takes 220 steps to climb.

It is also comparable in feel to Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, from the LED lights on 720 glass panels which adorn the outside, to the sharply-descending tiered stands and throne-like press conference room in which the managers are elevated on high. In truth, the whole place puts Tottenham on a pedestal. It is a venue which can create a cacophony of noise and demands the best football.

Yet, this match was so low on quality in the first half, it was more akin to using the Royal Albert Hall to stage a nativity play.

Suddenly, the travelling Crystal Palace supporters could be heard as the decibels dropped in concern at Chelsea leading across town and Spurs facing the prospect of falling out of the Premier League’s top four if their winless run extended to six games. Is This The Emirates? they gleefully sang.

It was a far cry from the pre-kick-off fanfare; a slow and steady climax which began three hours before the game started as supporters revelled in returning to their home turf.

“I’ve missed this walk,” said one fan to another between Seven Sisters station and the stadium. “At least I know where I’m going here,” replied the other. “I never got the hang of Wembley.”

Giant screens projected the message ‘Welcome Home’ as the stadium came into view, dominating the skyline and standing as the epicentre of a regeneration which Spurs hope will ripple out through the surrounding community.

The sense of trying to pick up where they left off — Spurs left White Hart Lane with an unbeaten home League campaign 689 days earlier — was reflected in the return of opera tenor Wynne Evans and the Tottenham Hotspur Marching Band, last seen together on the final day at the old ground.

On that May day in 2017, the players had long since left the pitch when Evans worked the crowd up into a frenzy, but this time the two line-ups were left to try and block out his roaring renditions, supported by former Gladesmore Community School student Lanya Matthews, as flags fluttered, supporters swayed and raw emotion took hold. Fireworks then announced Spurs’s triumphant return to the whole of the capital.

Chairman Daniel Levy rarely gives much away and he watched stoically from the posh seats, some of which were not occupied, perhaps in part explaining why the 59,215 attendance fell short of the 62,062 capacity.

Reaching this point has been a difficult journey for Levy and some have been critical of him along the way, but last night a banner with the words ‘Your Dream, Our Future — Thank You Daniel Levy’ summed up the sentiment among supporters as they took in their new surroundings.

A self-constructed orientation session followed. Within the first five minutes, the call and response chant of We’re The Park Lane Tottenham and We’re The Shelf Side Tottenham’ began, before the Ledley King ditty was dusted off and Stand Up If You Hate Arsenal got the first of what will be many airings.

The lull then followed as the precariousness of Spurs’s season permeated even this most grandiose of occasions.

The new stadium unequivocally deserves Champions League football.

It will get a taste of that next week, when Manchester City visit for their quarter-final, first leg, but Spurs are in a real scrap to retain a top-four place and so the relief when Heung-Min Son became the answer to a future quiz question by scoring the opening goal 55 minutes in was felt all around.

Christian Eriksen settled nerves with the second 10 minutes from time, tapping home after Harry Kane made inroads into the box. The fans engaged in renditions of When The Spurs Go Marching In, while the big screens advertised the availability of £10 commemorative programmes after the final whistle.

Glittering occasion: fireworks herald the grand opening
Glittering occasion: fireworks herald the grand opening

Spurs are home, back in their manor and, having spent years visiting rivals with more lavish grounds, they can proudly consider themselves the envy of many across Europe; announcing the club’s intention to become a major continental force, challenging for the biggest honours.

Regardless of financial constraints that may result from their outlay, that is the next step they must take to maintain the momentum they have managed during Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure.

The Argentine is fully aware of the added pressure and, once again, urged those around him to embrace it.

“If we are not capable of thinking big, we are going to struggle,” he said. “It will be a shame if we don’t think big and start to behave like a big club, because after building the training ground and the stadium, now we need to be realistic contenders for big things.

“First of all, Daniel Levy deserves it. It’s going to be an amazing project, but there is a lot of work to do to be on the level of these types of clubs. [We are] World Cup winners in facilities — I think we have the best in the world — and we need to be on the same level on the pitch.”

When winning Premier League Manager of the Year at February’s London Football Awards, Pochettino joked that he had finally won a trophy. The ‘World Cup winners in facilities’ line will provoke similar jibes until Spurs finally add to their trophy cabinet.

A piece of silverware taking pride of place is the only thing missing from a truly awe-inspiring stadium that heralds the dawn of a new era.