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Of all the locations described on this website, the first one that I ever visited was the stadium in White Hart Lane, Tottenham, where my favorite soccer club plays. Tottenham is a suburb to the north of London, England. The club was founded in 1882. For a short time in its early years, it played its games at Northumberland Park, Tottenham, land once owned by the Dukes of Northumberland.
An ancestor of that family was Sir Henry Percy (1366 -1403). Nicknamed Harry Hotspur, he was a famous English soldier in his day. Like George Washington centuries later, Hotspur rebelled against the King of England. He took on the royalist forces at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. However, he was unable to foreshadow Washington’s Yorktown success in 1781 and poor Harry finished the battle without his head. He became better known half a millennium later, when the club adopted his name and became known all over the world as Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The club also has its own nickname of “Spurs”.
My first visit to the stadium in White Hart Lane was in 1944, during World War Two, to see Spurs play Fulham in a match in the wartime league. Players wore huge boots with bulbous toecaps, far different from the slipper-like footwear of today.
During the 68 years which have followed my first visit, I have watched Spurs play whenever the opportunity has arisen. This has been much easier for me recently, because Spurs’ games are now shown live on television all over the world. Watching in America is an early morning undertaking because of time zone differences. This allows one to enjoy a nice big English breakfast at halftime.
In the late 1940s, the crowds at White Hart Lane were huge. There would be 60,000 or 70,000 spectators inside the stadium, with thousands of disappointed latecomers locked out. The stadium was divided between stands, where everyone was seated, and terraces where everyone was standing. Eventually the nanny state intervened and decreed that all spectators at big matches had to be seated. This has reduced the capacity of the stadium to only about 36,000. Today the stadium is always filled to that capacity. Obtaining tickets is almost as difficult as getting in to see the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany (see my story on this). Plans are well advanced to build a larger stadium on the existing site.
London fog could once cause matches to be abandoned but, by mid-century, clean air legislation had largely put an end to London fog. Certainly, in 68 years, I can never recall a Spurs match being abandoned. That is until last Saturday when Spurs were playing Bolton at White Hart Lane in the quarter final of the FA Cup. I very much wanted to see the game. The FA Cup is the oldest football competition in the world. Spurs won the FA Cup in 1901 and several times since. This year they are the bookies’ favorites to win it again.
On the morning of March 17, 2012, St. Patrick’s day, I had promised to drop off our daughter, Tara, at the airport in Tucson, Arizona. She kindly suggested that we arrive in Tucson early and that, on our way to the airport, we find a sports bar that was showing the game. After climbing over many green-clad customers who were celebrating St. Paddy too early and too well, we finally found a TV set showing the game. It was on the ESPN channel. We watched the first 41 minutes, after which the score was 1-1. Then the game was abandoned! What happened was this. A 23-year old Bolton player, Fabrice Muamba, having just come off the field and standing alone on the sidelines, literally dropped dead. His heart stopped beating and he stopped breathing.
We could not see what was happening on the field. ESPN had very sensibly redirected the cameras away from the motionless body to show crowd reaction. The crowd was in a state of shock, with some in tears. What they could see, but what we could not, were repeated and unsuccessful attempts to restart the heart with the use of defibrillators. The other players were badly affected. Some were praying.
In charge of the game was the top soccer referee in the world, Howard Webb, who had been referee for the World Cup final in South Africa in 2010. Muamba was stretchered off to hospital and the referee abandoned the game. Neither players nor crowd were in a mood to continue. Many people were praying for that young man’s recovery and prayer works – see my earlier article entitled “Paris, France”. Those prayers were answered when the medics succeeded in re-starting his heart after 78 minutes. Although he is at present still in intensive care, he is now sitting up in bed and talking in both English and French. However, I doubt that he still has a career in soccer to look forward to.
As for me, I have something to look forward to. The abandoned match has been re-scheduled for next Tuesday, when I can watch it in the comfort of my own home without being distracted by any noisy leprechauns.