Only now do Tottenham Hotspur have a confirmed date for their last ever game at White Hart Lane, against Manchester United on 14 May. But as Mauricio Pochettino pointed out at the his press conference on Friday afternoon, almost every game there this year has felt like the emotional farewell.
Spurs fans and players alike have been swept along in the emotional momentum this season, with remarkable results. They have won 15 straight there, playing the best football of the whole lifetimes of many Spurs fans.
Even when there was still a possibility that Spurs would stay at White Hart Lane next season, moving to Wembley the following year, that was never reflected in the powerful atmospheres and performances at the Lane.
When Spurs host Arsenal in Sunday’s penultimate game at the ground, it will be one of the most emotionally powerful afternoons in its history. Or at least until United come in two weeks time. But as Pochettino spelled out, somehow every home game in the last few months has felt like that.
“I think I have told you,” Pochettino said on Friday, “we feel every time that we play, it is the last game. 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.”
That has certainly been the case in the last few months. Spurs are hitting a level almost every week at home that few fans have seen before. Pochettino thanked the fans and while that is often a banal platitude for managers, in this case it counts.
The crowd have made a difference for Spurs this year. It was only a few years ago, remember, that Emmanuel Adebayor said he would rather Spurs would play all their games away from home, because the home crowd got on the players’ backs.
But Pochettino expects the fans to play a positive part on Sunday. “Sure, like [the part] they are playing in this season,” he said. “They were fantastic and they helped a lot the team. I think all that we are achieving there at White Hart Lane, is a big percentage [because] of our fans too.”
Even after last Saturday’s painful FA Cup exit, this weekend could be one of the high points in the modern history of Tottenham Hotspur. It will be an emotional day at White Hart Lane whatever happens. But if they win they will confirm finishing ahead of Arsenal for the first time since 1995.
And if Chelsea stumble at Goodison Park before then, Spurs could finish the weekend one or two points off the top with four games left. What could be better than that?
The problem comes with the realisation that this current silver patch could be over before Spurs know it. Their success this season owes to Pochettino, their brilliant young squad and the emotional power of leaving White Hart Lane. In that order.
There is no prospect of Pochettino leaving this summer and the top players, including Harry Kane and Dele Alli, will surely stay having just been tied to new contracts. Pochettino has repeatedly said that players will only be sold if he wants them out, although it remains to be seen which players he might want rid of.
But there is no way that Spurs can recreate their White Hart Lane power in a less familiar Wembley Stadium next season. Just look at West Ham United. They took 34 home points last season. This year they have 22, with Liverpool and Spurs left to come to the London Stadium.
Even if Tottenham do not suffer the same one third drop-off, it is extremely difficult to see them getting in the 80s of Premier League points again next season.
Arsene Wenger is not an entirely neutral observer but he does know something about the feeling of moving stadium. If, as is expected, he is Arsenal manager next season then he will take his seat for the first ever north London derby in the league to be held in the borough of Brent. And he knows that will only work in Arsenal’s favour.
“It will be very difficult, much more than you can imagine,” Wenger said about Spurs’ move.
“First of all, you face financial restrictions, which we did. Overall, it might be less in future because you have more income. Secondly because you don’t feel at home like you were before. And you need to recreate a kind of history to feel comfortable and to feel like you play at home.”
Wenger said that it would take Spurs two seasons of playing at the new White Hart Lane to make it feel like home, which would take them all the way to the 2020-21 season. It is anyone’s guess who will be playing for and managing Spurs by that point. Wenger made the same point – about two years of bedding-in time – at the London Stadium early this season.
All that is a long way away for now. So is next season, and Pochettino said it was “too far” when asked how Spurs would do at Wembley next term. “We are in this season, and I think it will be time to think in next season,” he said.
“But now it is time to focus on the next game. The next game is so important and means a lot and the three points for different reason is a massive game and we will have time to think about the next season but now is time to be focus on today.”