« Me and Frank | Main | That All Important First Game »

The White Hart Lane Years 1983-1999

BY DARREN LEWIS / @dazlewis

My Arsenal supporting career spans 37 years and counting, during which some of the best memories have come from days, or more usually nights on enemy territory in N17. This is despite not seeing us win the league there, too young in 1971 and retired from that particular away trip by 2004.

1983 wasn’t my first visit to the wilds of Tottenham, my Dad had occasionally taken me there when we played away in the 1970s, although this stopped abruptly when I started cheering for the visitors – it didn’t help that the visitors on the day were “Dirty” Leeds. My last visit to Tottenham when we weren’t playing came a few weeks before my first Arsenal game there, when they played Feyenoord in the UEFA Cup. The Feyenoord team included a 36-year-old Johan Cruyff (and an unknown Ruud Gullit) and I crept nervously into the ground alone, certain everyone would know I was Arsenal, to watch my boyhood hero. Feyenoord were well beaten and Cruyff was largely past it, but he made it worthwhile by scoring. 

In November 1983 we were very much the second best team in North London, seems like ancient history now. The previous season we had been mauled 5-0, taking the shine off the Christmas stuffing we had handed out a few years before. But on this night revenge was in the air, we were meeting in the League Cup, and were going down in our thousands, and it felt like we were all walking the whole way from Highbury.

In those days it felt there was a definite ‘frontline’ between the two clubs and Checkpoint Charlie was at Manor House. Once you crossed east of the station you were in Tottenham territory and it induced a unique feeling in the teenage stomach – a heady mix of mainly imagined fear and huge anticipation. The journey up the Seven Sisters Road was fairly uneventful, for 1983 at least, as was the huge crush to get into the ground, not an uncommon experience pre-Hillsboruogh, but we made our way into the Park Lane to witness a famous 2-1 victory, which at the time felt like winning the cup itself. We didn’t win the cup of course, managing to lose to Walsall in the next round! But at least we knew we could win at the Lane when it mattered. 

From that night onwards the long walk into the wilderness became a traditional start to an away-day derby match. The two League Cup semi-final games in 1987 will always be highlights for all Gooners who were there, made special again by the fact they were still the dominant force. 

The Sunday afternoon second leg had the famous half-time announcement of Final ticket arrangements for Tottenham fans spurring the team on to a comeback, and George Graham losing the toss for home advantage in the replay and all of us cheering because we didn’t believe we would beat them at Highbury. For that game we had been given a few hundred tickets above the Shelf, in the third tier seats. It was great fun during the match itself, although no-one seemed to have planned how they were going to get us back round to the main body of Arsenal fans afterwards! 

The replay found us back on the Park Lane terrace, a match that is so well documented elsewhere but will always belong to Rocky, along with the whole end willing the team on with an immense “over and over and over again” that Nick Hornby would reference years later in Fever Pitch. The night ended strangely for us as back at Finsbury Park one of our friends was arrested without (much) reason, unfortunately an occupational hazard of being a mixed race teenager at the time when meeting the police. We went to the station to see if we could help him and were told to go away, which we did, to the late closing Arsenal Tavern where we got totally hammered until 2am. It’s what our mate Paul would have wanted! 

Other matches that stand out for me include the 3-2 win early in the 88-89 season, where we started to believe we could actually mount a challenge for the league, followed by the crashing disappointment a year later when we went there as Champions, only to be beaten and have to suffer “one season wonder” chants from three sides. Little did they know at the time!

My last game in the heart of darkness came in May 1999, a 3-1 victory and a special goal from Kanu that at the time seemed to propel us towards another title. Almost 30 by this time I had grown to hate the evil atmosphere of the place and on seeing the chaos outside, vowed never to return. 

On this night there were only two of us, taking evasive action we walked to White Hart Lane train station, trying to mingle in by looking as miserable as possible. Standing on a packed platform, no other Gooners in sight, we finally saw someone we knew and nodded cautiously. “Alright lads” he said, too loudly for my liking, “Brilliant, wasn’t it?”. Cover blown, we almost set about him ourselves! 

We did make it home safely, just, but I knew that was it for me. I’m happy I have my memories but I have no intention of ever going back there again!

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.