Tottenham Hotspur, the players and their fans are feeling more at home than ever at their enormous stadium in north London
Son Heung-min applauds the fans during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton
The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is starting to feel like home now for not only the Spurs fans but also Antonio Conte’s rapidly improving side.
Saturday’s Premier League season opener against Southampton brought not only a comfortable 4-1 scoreline for the hosts, but it was the 15th victory from Conte’s 20 matches at the huge stadium in all competitions since he arrived last November. On Saturday, 61,732 fans packed in to roar on the team from start to finish – the second highest attendance since the stadium opened and behind only last season’s north London derby – for Spurs’ first 3pm Saturday kick off in 973 days.
Back in May, ahead of that record-setting match against Arsenal with 62,027 supporters in attendance, Conte had made it very clear that the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was a place fit to become a fortress.
“For Tottenham, the fans are vital because you have an amazing stadium so to create an amazing atmosphere in every game is very important,” he said. “The fans, if you feel they back you in a strong way, for sure it’s normal to give much more and also to overcome a real possibility.
“I think our fans have to play an important role in every game, and this stadium has to become a fortress for Tottenham I think, because it’s amazing and has the characteristics to become a fortress for Tottenham.”
I was angry with Sessegnon…then he scored! – Conte
Conte joked he was angry with Sessegnon, moments before he scored in Spurs’ 4-1 win over Southampton.
The problem that Spurs suffered to begin with after the enormous building opened in April 2019 along the Tottenham High Road was that the wow factor also extended to visiting teams. To play inside such a modern, state of the art stadium, one designed to maximise every facet of the experience on and off the pitch, buoyed opposition players and so they raised their game, looking to impress on the pristine surface exactly as they had when Tottenham first moved for a spell at Wembley.
Eventually Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs grew comfortable at the national stadium just as the wow factor wore off for visiting sides and it feels like similar is happening for Conte’s men at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Italian has not changed much behind the scenes when it comes to matchday preparation compared to his predecessors. The players still meet at the club’s Hotspur Way training complex ahead of fixtures, staying at The Lodge – the hotel there – the night before weekend matches.
Final light tactical work and set piece sessions with specialist coach Gianni Vio are undertaken the day before afternoon matches and the morning of the game if it is an evening kick-off.
On match days the players hold a morning meeting with Conte and his coaching staff. Group meetings were few and far between under Nuno Espirito Santo so that is one area the Italian has tweaked back to what it was under Jose Mourinho. Then the squad eats together at The Lodge before leaving in a coach bound for the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The days when the players would all drive separately to White Hart Lane, getting stuck in the post-match traffic, are long gone.
The fans certainly have played their part in the stadium becoming a home and their absence during the pandemic was something that had mixed influences on Mourinho’s time at the helm. The trophy-laden Portuguese loves playing to the crowd and he would have got them whipped up, however the absence of those same fans did also may have helped him approach some games in a more pragmatic tactical fashion which might not have gone down too well with a full house of supporters in attendance.
For Espirito Santo there was always a feeling that he was a stop gap and it was difficult for the fanbase to buy into him and his era, particularly as the football grew worse and worse. Under Conte there is belief again and a genuine excitement, the trains heading to and from White Hart Lane, Northumberland Park, Bruce Grove, Tottenham Hale and Seven Sisters contained more expectant chatter on Saturday than before any season in recent memory and that translates inside the stadium.
Spurs are trying to harness that noise in various ways, still experimenting with what they do inside the ground. They have tried and tested plenty of different pre-match music and montages to help build to the final crescendo of noise before kick-off.
Among other tunes, a remix of The Fugees’ Ready or Not was used to some success in the past, the Duel of the Fates piece of music from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace has long been popular, and Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur has been used before games at times, although more normally used after matches when the team has won.
A vote among the fans last season led to a dabble with Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You towards the end of the campaign. A popular song among the Spurs supporters, the slow, heartfelt song can touch the emotions when sung after matches or on the road at away games, but it’s not hype up music to walk out to or charge up the crowd.
Saturday’s match went in a new direction with another new musical experiment as Spurs sampled Metallica’s Enter Sandman over the speakers ahead of kick-off. It certainly curried favour with some fans of the American heavy metal band although whether it becomes a more permanent fixture remains to be seen.
On the pitch as well, before the game and at half-time, the club have been trying new and old things. Games with the crowd have incorporated before kick-off, along with pitch-side interviews before atmosphere building highlight montages, with actors Sir Kenneth Branagh and the late Roger Lloyd-Pack both lending their voices to those over the years.
At half-time the popular ‘man with the mic’ Paul Coyte is back after the pandemic with his interviews with club legends and parting catchphrase ‘Up the Spurs’ to get the crowd prepared for the second half before the strains of McNamara’s Band, the club’s adopted anthem, announces the players’ return from the tunnel.
On Saturday, the introduction of the club’s six new signings on the pitch also did its bit in helping ramp up the idea that something different is happening this season under Conte.
There have been four hiccups for Conte with defeats at home to Brighton, Southampton, Wolves and Chelsea last season as he started to get to work with his team, while there was one draw in his tenure against Liverpool, a match Spurs will have felt they should have won with the chances they created.
Yet the overriding note of the Conte home era has been victories and while experiments will continue to take place on and off the pitch by the club, there’s a real comfort starting to be felt among the players and the fans, a familiarity with their surroundings and relationships in the stands are starting to be formed with people settlings into their groups.
Having those supporters back in their masses and watching a team being improved by the head coach and in the transfer market is only adding to the buzz. Even Conte himself, a man who does not stay long at clubs, has been speaking like someone who has finally found his home.
It’s been half a decade since that emotion-charged final unbeaten season at White Hart Lane came to a close, but the signs seem to finally be pointing towards Tottenham Hotspur, their players, their fans and Antonio Conte all feeling like they’ve come home.