The date was 5 March 2016. We were top of the league. For 13 minutes.
And for 10 SSSC members, that 13 minutes will be indelibly etched inside their core memory. For them, their bums were definitely off their seats the moment Dele backheeled to keep the ball in play, and then Harry looked up and arrowed his shot into the top right hand corner.
You see, we were inside White Hart Lane. We saw that goal live! And we experienced what a "buzzing" or "rocking" White Hart Lane felt like. For 13 beautiful minutes.
What can top watching the North London Derby live, in a remarkable season where we have a chance to become champions for the first time since 1961? This is a boyhood dream come true!
My Spurs supporting journey began in 1991, when another legend of the lane, the one and only Gazza, cocked his right foot and also slammed a football past the scums. Yes, that 3-1 FA Cup Semi Final.
And being a SSSC member has it's privileges, I have met Mabutt, Ardiles and Hoddle when they were in Singapore. Hosting the u-15's that won the Lion City Cup was another major highlight. Especially when that's how we got acquainted with John McDermott and gleaned many insights into the club and players.
This journey was always geographied in Singapore though, until pre 2013/14 season, just 2 weeks after my wedding, when Spurs toured Hong Kong and played in the Barclays Asia Trophy. I was dying to see Bale play for us live. Alas, that was not to be, and we all know what happened after. I did get to meet and ask Ginola, Freund. Tony Parks and Ledley questions and got pictures and signatures at the meet and greet though.
26 and 27 May 2015 were awesome. Spurs played Malaysia, and we had the "Golden Ticket" so we could watch Spurs train and then had practically the whole squad lining up to sign our jerseys.
And then 11 May 2014 beat that. Some of us watched Spurs dismantle Villa 3-0 at White Hart Lane. Paulinho scored. Remember him?
And then 12 May 2014 beat that. It was Ledley King's testimonial. 37,000 fans singing in unison all game long.
And then 13 May 2014 beat even that. 4 of us SSSC members played at White Hart Lane, Asian Spurs Supporters versus the rest of the world. Jasper Maha even scored and led us in doing a Klinsmann.
5 March 2016 would have beaten even that though. The foreplay was titillating. Outside the stadium, singing, with our SG flag, chatting with fans and being filmed. Zaf. Nick. Matt. Keith. Aza. Yusoff. Glendon. Me. Alas. the orgasm lasted only 13 minutes.
Of course, maybe 5 March 2016 would still be THE Spurs supporting experience come 15 May 2016. I am not optimistic though.
But, I think there's another cherry on top. At least for me.
And that is 7 March 2016. But we didn't have a match on 7 March 2016 you say? You would be right, but we (THFC that is) had training. And SSSC, with the love and coordination of our sponsors AIA, arranged for us to visit the Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre (THTC). And then, right after that, we had an extended stadium tour where we poked our heads (and plonked our asses) is many usually off bounds areas at White Hart Lane itself.
Not being sacrilegious but this must be what a pilgrimage feels like. 7 March 2016.
Security at THTC was even tighter than at most airports. Even before the visit, we were instructed via email - like No cameras, not being allowed access to training ground any minute earlier than 1015am. Wait at security counter.
Forbidden fruit syndrome sending tingles down spine already. And then the bouncer-looking guard at the entrance bellowing "Excuse me Sir, no photos!" made sure that my iPhone 6 stayed in my backpack until I left.
Whilst waiting at the guard post, I got to know SSSC member Michelle better. Her story is pretty interesting as well. Became a Spurs fan when Man U supporting then-bf, now husband, brought her to watch Man U Spurs at a pub in Bali. It was her first time. Watching a football match live on TV that is. And, she chose Spurs. She even forfeited a flight to Rome and had to book another just so she can be part of the THTC visit entourage.
The long march from guard post to THTC main building took 5 minutes, with at least 10 pristine fields flanking the driveway. We later learnt that there are 15 fields in total. Just before the carpark, there was a sign to indicate where visitors and staff should park; and where first team players should go. We would later learn also why this is so.
In direct contrast to the cold air (and guard) outside, the staff at the main building were warm and welcoming. We were ushered to a briefing room and our host (I'm sorry, I am not good with names) began the tour by asking "Who are we?" and showed a video clip answering just that.
Sidenote: I know most people aren't like this, but when I buy into something, I embrace the identity, and try to learn and live up to the values and vision. More so than behaviours and norms (I like to disobey norms). So for Spurs, for most fans, it would just be about the players or the football. Or the jersey. Or the enemies. For me, it would be about the club. Our motto, "audere est facere", our history, our geography, our journey, and how Daniel Levy is trying to live up to "and this game is about glory". And as a Singaporean, it would be what the flag and pledge stands for, like how their constitution binds Americans. So to start the tour by asking "Who are we?" was to me, a great way to start. And more crucially, we now have in one Mauricio Pochettino, the building block to living our values and identity. And most anecdotes we read in the papers, forums and even here, at THTC and WHL, point to the exciting fact that for the first time in years, everybody is excited, from staff to management to coaches to players. Because of what Mauricio has done to and for us since he has come on board, what he is doing, and what he will do. Long may that continue. Plus, in my professional and business capacity, leadership and organizational development, building a winning team being my core responsibilities made me want to study how an Academy operates and what Mauricio is doing in even greater depth.
Then, Head of Operations at THTC briefed us on the philosophy on which THTC is built. The whole design and operations at THTC is guided by these 2 principles.
- "Earn Your Right"
- "No Excuses"
Earn Your Right means you have to prove yourself every step of the way, from 8 to 18, and then some, in order to have a chance to "cross the green wall", a fence separating academy and first team training areas. It was amazing to learn that even boys at the academy are so near yet kept so far away from their heroes in the first team.
No excuses means that no effort has been spared to ensure that things run smoothly and to enable our athletes to perform. From digital signboards with displays of training time and field number everywhere for the academy boys to sports science and facilities for the first team, every athlete at THFC can only look in the mirror if they are looking for something or someone to blame when they don't succeed or perform.
That said, I love how Head of Academy John McDermott take pains to explain and live by the mission of the academy. "To create an elite environment that attracts, retains and develops top quality players providing an ongoing supply of academy graduates to the First Team squad, whilst ensuring those individuals who fall short of this standard have the necessary skills and education to enable them to achieve success either at another football club or in a vocational career."
We were then invited to watch and observe the first team train. As this was a Monday after Saturday's NLD, those who played were in the gym doing recovery work, and the rest were put through an intensive session. Their only "breaks" were when walking from one pitch to another as they did drills after drills.
At White Hart Lane, we were greeted by . This man is a walking talking THFC encyclopaedia. Born, grew up in and supported Spurs as a boy, and has been leading stadium tours forever. Stories abound from the 60's to the current squad. We went into many lounges, the press room, had some impromptu pop quizzes (how many players in the current season will be inducted in the hall of fame board?), and took photos with the 1984 UEFA Cup and the 1991 FA Cup.
All in all, this trip was amazing and a dream come true, again.
A couple of final notes.
Firstly, thanks and appreciation to SSSC's committee and chairman Thomas for coordinating and liaising, to THFC Academy for the match day tickets, and THFC and SSSC Sponsors AIA for the opportunity to visit the Training Centre.
Secondly, this pilgrimage, of which I know many spurs fans will love to embark on someday, will not be as fun nor as memorable if you did not have other yiddos and yiddettes with you. It was even be better if you are going with someone who has been there, to show you the way, how to fully soak up the experience. Even if it may be something not related to Spurs per se, but the other thing that bonds us as Singaporeans, food! Where to eat, how to get to and eat at the Malaysian Hall Canteen etc.
And for that, I am eternally grateful and want to give a shout out to "virgin trip" companions Yusoff, Glendon, compatriates Aza, Nick, Keith, Matt, Michelle and hubby, my fellow "1 Spurs Cap" players Troy and Jasper and also my chaperone first time I was at the Lane, Ervin. And to Zaf, whose generosity and passion made this trip happen in the first place!
Some other interesting tidbits and anecdotes as follows
THTC / Training / John
- upon hearing my remark (after the tour and commenting generally) that Daniel Levy must be delighted with how things are, John had a bemused yet good natured look and quipped "You don't work at Tottenham to get a well done from Daniel". As a fan, I am delighted to have a relentless Chairman.
- we are building a players' accommodation at THTC for first team to check into, day before a home game. "No excuses"
- almost everybody remarked that this is the most disciplined team in their time at THFC, and everyone also knows that it starts with John for the academy, and Mauricio for the first team.
- (when probed further) example 1 - academy. parents are welcome and invited to watch, but if they shout out during a game, first time, they will be asked to leave. second time, they will be asked to bring their kid along.
- example 2 - Mauricio does not have a thick rule book or anything but he enforces or instils discipline and habits by immediately stepping in to have a word when something is contravened or by leading by example, work ethic etc (the shaking of the chairman's hand is one well publicized incident).
- when he first came, Mauricio was a size 34, now he is a 30.
- there is of course a pitch with the exact dimensions as White Hart Lane.
- Jan and Clinton had personal physical training sessions when we were there.
- what we saw in training, we also see in matches. Both good and bad.
- Vorm is a top professional.
- a star prospect at 18 or even 21 does not necessarily mean that they will be performing at 25.
- English also because of practical reasons, noticed that very rarely do teenagers adjust to life outside of their home and are able to perform
- Tom Carroll is the "fastest" player because his mind is the fastest
- players that make it are those who are exceptionally strong mentally
- Jesus and Miguel and Toni have been with Mauricio for a long long time and knows what he wants, and Mauricio will listen to what John has to comment about the academy players. There is trust and respect.
- Mauricio was watching training the whole time even though he was inside the gym, he was watching.
WHL Stadium Tour
- visitor's changing room is bare, compared to well equipped home changing room.
- all the jerseys in EPL era is displayed in the lounge
- traditionally, the England manager sits two rows behind Daniel. But on one occasion, Roy was there and went forward to share a comment and laugh with Daniel when Harry scored, and ever since then, Roy sits behind Daniel
- only 4 managers since Bill Nicholson has won silverware at Spurs - Burkinshaw, Venables, Graham, Ramos. everybody so dearly wants Mauricio to be the next.
- Gazza prankster personality. When Lazio played Spurs at WHL (as part of his move), the great Dino Zoff was manager. Gazza knows Pat Jennings admires Dino Zoff and went to ambush and carried him over shoulder to Dino and remarked "Look Dino, a proper goalkeeper!"
- at a press conference once, Mauricio said "we do want to sell Kane" and caused an uproar. Jesus had to nudge him and told him "don't" not "do". Jesus has a good command of the language and hence why he is always there at press cons.
- the original cockerel is made fully of copper and now stands at the entrance to the WHL main building