Albion fans don’t often feel jealous when they visit other clubs’ grounds, even in the Premier League. But the trip to Spurs may be the exception as Chris Hughton’s men attempt to be the first visitors to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to take a point or even score a goal.
The north London club’s new 62,000-capacity home was finally opened earlier this month, well behind schedule. But has been worth the wait, by all accounts, and one Tottenham fan who was keen to get back home after the exile at Wembley was Paul Hawksbee, co-presenter of Hawksbee and Jacobs on talkSPORT, the programme that keeps sports-loving listeners entertained on midweek afternoons – and football writers sane as they drive from one training ground to another on the nation’s motorways.
“I went to the first Premier League game against Palace and the Champions League game against Manchester City,” he said. “But I was also lucky enough to get a ticket for an event in December when they let 3,000 fans in to look around, and also for the under-18 game against Southampton, which was the first actual match played there.
“It is a fantastic stadium. No detail has been overlooked – truly state-of-the-art. It is quite American in some ways, but I like the fact that we are making the same journey and walking the same streets that we always have.
“It has only moved 70 or 80 yards to the north, and inside it has a feeling of White Hart Lane after a lottery win, when you decide that you don’t want to move but will build an extension, you’ll do the old place up.
“It felt like home very quickly. It has kept some of the atmosphere of the old ground, which I guess they would have intended. Pulling that off is another thing, but it doesn’t feel completely different, it doesn’t feel alien.
“Outside it looks quite Close Encounters, a bit Independence Day, as if a spaceship that has landed in the middle of Tottenham and they don’t know what to do about it. They hope it will make a difference to the development of the local area and were very keen to stay in Haringey, which I’m pleased about.
“It would have been a disaster if they had gone to Stratford. It has been a fairly painful process and they could have had better communication with the fans, but it was a difficult project and it went pretty quickly really.”
The new stadium is the next stage in the process of re-establishing Tottenham among the top British clubs, which included the construction of the new training ground in Enfield and the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino as manager in May 2014.
After winning the league and FA Cup double in 1960, Spurs became fixed in many minds as a ‘good cup side, and cramped old White Hart Lane could not accommodate enough of the club’s traditional fanbase.
The extra capacity and the excitement generated by a new ground – as Albion fans know – can take a club to a new level. Can it do the same for Spurs?
“I think it has the potential to do that,” Paul says. “It depends on when you were born. If you are of a certain vintage you would think they were a big old club in the same way you would think about Wolves. It was a question of past glories.
“Tottenham have won cups and had good spells but there have also been fallow periods. In the late 1980s they were entertaining but after the 1991 FA Cup win they were okay but would finish anywhere between 8th and 14th.
“But they have built a fantastic ground and a fantastic training facility and obviously there’s a theory that If You Build It, People Will Come, fans and top players.
“But with top players come top wages and I think there’s still a bit of catching-up to do there – with the money we pay players and pay for players. With that level of infrastructure comes an expectation that you’ll be competitive in the market.
“Spurs have maybe missed out on some potentially good signings in recent years simply because they wouldn’t pay the wages that others were prepared to, players like Sadio Mane for instance.”
And yet, there they are in third place in the Premier League and looking forward to a Champions League semi-final against Ajax, as manager Mauricio Pochettino works miracles bearing in mind the restrictions of the club’s financial framework.
“He is just a fantastic manager. You saw [in the Champions League quarter-final second leg] at the Etihad what an incredible spirit he has created. They were dead on their feet but just kept going. Pochettino has instilled a real belief in them, considering that they were injury-ravaged as well.
“He has managed to get a tune out of players that I thought were finished, like Victor Wanyama. And he is good at spotting when young players are ready to step up. He did that with Harry Winks and after about a dozen appearances we were saying in the latter stages of games, ‘Get Mousa Dembele off and get Winks on so we can get control of midfield,’ about an 18-year-old kid.
“Pochettino seems to instil confidence in players and is obviously a wonderful man-manager. They are punching so far above their weight and it is largely thanks to him and his coaching staff. He gets the last drop out of these players, physically, everything.”
And all this with no new players? “If you are a player and there are no new signings for two transfer windows, there is a certain amount of security in it because nobody new is going to take your place, but the flip side is that the big players are hoping that other good players are going to come in and complement them, a sign that you are building something.
“When that doesn’t happen, then they will naturally look at the ambition of the club. This year has felt as if they are slightly treading water and it would have been easy for some players to say ‘I’m off’ but they haven’t.
“He is a charismatic bloke. I interviewed him a couple of years ago before a north London derby and I would love to talk to him in his own language. I don’t speak Spanish but I think you could have a very different conversation with him.
“He has improved his English but I know that he has been frustrated in the past at not being able to express himself in the way he would like. But Jesus Perez, his right-hand man, is always there at interviews and press conferences and speaks very good English and they have a good thing going on that gets them through.”
It was VAR that got Tottenham through against City in the Champions League quarter-final in a 4-3 thriller. “I’d love to pretend that I thought it was never in doubt but at half-time I thought it was going to be a 5-2,” Paul said. “I could see us chasing a goal and them hitting us on the break. But they do dig deep.”
That was achieved without Harry Kane, so Albion fans might be clutching at straws if they believe that the England captain’s absence could be decisive. “They have never let it prey on their minds. That period when they did win games without him around Christmas, they didn’t play brilliantly but they got results. They know they can cope without him and that helps mentally.”
But Spurs would rather have him than not. “He has had to adapt his game after becoming a bit of a marked man. He’s picked up by a couple of players and can come in for some rough treatment and he comes deeper and deeper. His role has changed.
“Look at the pass he played for the equaliser against Liverpool, a cross-field ball to Kieran Trippier from a quickly-taken free kick. He is not just an old-school finisher – there is more to him than that.
“But I know someone who played with him at Millwall and somebody who was at Orient with him and they both said yes, he was a good lad but he lacks a bit of pace – not quite Premier League level. You never know how a player will develop.”
Kane, though, is just one of a long line of Tottenham entertainers over the years. “I go back to 1968, when Jimmy Greaves was playing and Cliff Jones was still there. I went to a few games a season after that until 1971, when I started to go regularly. Martin Chivers and Alan Gilzean, a wonderful player, were up front and Alan Mullery in midfield with Steve Perryman.
“They won two League Cups and were regularly in Europe, albeit the Uefa Cup not the European Cup. They were a good side to watch and pretty successful.
For a while in the mid-70s they had some very average players – and Glenn Hoddle! - and went down in 1977, but they came straight back and signed Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa. Garth Crooks, Steve Archibald – there has always been something to sustain you as a fan.”
The man who signed the two Argentinians and built the team that won the 1981 and 82 FA Cup finals and the 1984 Uefa Cup was Keith Burkinshaw, regarded as his mentor by the Tottenham left back of the time – a certain Chris Hughton.
“The three great Spurs managers of my time are Bill Nicholson, Keith Burkinshaw and Pochettino,” Paul says. “We had success with Harry Redknapp and others like Terry Venables, but those three were the guiding lights.
“Nicholson was the foundation of everything that came after, Burkinshaw was the right man at the right time, again a good coach and man-manager. But it has taken until now to have a manager that the fans think of in the same bracket.”
With so many to pick from, who are his favourite Spurs players? “There has always been someone to get you out of your seat, whether that was Glenn Hoddle, Gazza, Jurgen Klinsmann for one season, or Gareth Bale.
“Number one, though, is Glenn. I was speaking to Garth Crooks and he asked me who was better, Gazza in his pomp or Glenn? And I said: ‘It has to be Glenn because he would do things that I couldn’t quite believe with my own eyes.’
“He could have his back to goal on the edge of his own 18-yard box, then turn and hit a ball with backspin onto someone’s foot 30 yards away. And in his last game, at home to Oxford, he ran from well inside his own half, dummied the two central defenders and then sat the goalkeeper down and rolled the ball into the empty net.
“Bale was sensational and you couldn’t wait to go and watch him again, likewise Gazza in the 1991 FA Cup run. But Glenn was the best player I ever saw at Tottenham.“
Wait, what about the left back in the Burkinshaw team?
“We love Chris and so I always look out for Brighton and hope you get through the bad patch. There is a lot of love for him because he spent so long at the club and was a constant in a few different teams as well as a fantastic player. I know Paul Barber as well, so I’d love to see Brighton escape from this predicament that I don’t think many people saw coming.”
But the key question is whether, with his team in the Champions League semi-finals and third place in the Premier League, he is claiming studio bragging rights over Chelsea fan Andy Jacobs?
“Well, it’s still pretty tight isn’t it, the top four? It’s great being on this Champions League run but I hope they don’t take their eye of the ball in the league. The worst thing would be losing in the Champions League and then finding you’re not in it next season because you finished fifth.
“That stadium deserves Champions League football next season. Brighton are fighting for their lives and that is going to be tough game.”