Spurs stadium didn’t cost peanuts and it makes me sick
Tottenham Hotspur moved into a new home that cost £1bn, but it’s a far cry from having a sense of place
Vomit gleamed green in the grey of a gloomy Saturday afternoon. My 13-year-old self didn’t care. Importantly, I was on a date. More importantly, we were watching a game at Nahoon Ballpark.
Whether Michelle Lands, for it was she, was more bored by the baseball in front of us or disgusted by the pile of puke to the side of us on a nearby bleacher was hard to say. Somehow there was no second date. Again, I didn’t care.
Baseball – which makes cricket look like tiddlywinks on a grandiose scale – was, and remains, a singular passion. So I loved Nahoon Ballpark, which was in one of East London’s greener suburbs. I watched, played, coached and umpired so many games there that trying to count them all would make me miss my deadline for this piece.
It was where I knew that I would never know how my bat managed to make solid enough contact with the ball often enough for me to earn respect as a batter, but I knew it did and would again as long as I stopped thinking and swung. It was where I discovered my glovework wasn’t slick enough and my arm wasn’t strong enough to play third base, shortstop or second base reliably, and that I wasn’t quick enough to roam the outfield. But I wasn’t scared to catch even the hardest throws, I scooped one-bounce pick-ups like a pro, and I was taller than most my age and blessed with decent hand-eye instincts. So, to first base with me, then, and remember to hit like hell. Happily, I did.
Nahoon Ballpark was where I ended up playing catcher when our retreaded wicketkeeper didn’t arrive, and where sometimes I even ended up pitching. Which is how I learnt to throw the curve and the knuckler, that the screwball was an impossibility, and that changing the angle of my pitching arm without warning could fool even the best batters in much the same way as the flipper that Clarrie Grimmett invented and Shane Warne made sexy.
Sadly, baseball has long since left the building at Nahoon Ballpark, which became a running club, then a restaurant, which closed in 2016. Now? Even Google doesn’t seem to know.
My field of dreams has gone gently into that good night, its pitcher’s mound an overgrown mystery to all who stumble over it, its horseshoe-shaped fence behind home plate frail with rust, its base paths a fading memory. That’s if any of them still exist.
But Nahoon Ballpark will always be central to my argument for why it matters who plays or watches what where. Without it I wouldn’t be the person I am, complete with mad theories about how baseball has taught cricket all it will ever know.
Place seems less significant to sport in an era in which we consume much more of the stuff from a couch in front of a television – or staring at a laptop, tablet or phone in a café or aboard a bus – than we do as real people playing against or watching other real people play in real time and in a real, fit-for-purpose place.
Neoliberalism says this is as it should be: sport is just another product to be consumed as, when and where its consumers choose. Situationists and psychogeographers would differ. Who? What? Obscure strands of the Marxist tendency who put great value in the here and now of places and how we find them.
Some of what situationists and psychogeographers are about is more easily explained by asking us to compare how we feel when we are at Loftus Versfeld rather than at Newlands, or Orlando Stadium and not Moses Mabhida, or at St George’s Park rather than the Wanderers. It’s the difference between golf at Carnoustie and at just another parkland course in the US. Or a game of darts in some dodgy pub where the carpet is stickier than the chewing gum under the bar stools, and the same game at Alexandra Palace in North London, home of the World Darts Championship.
So situationists and psychogeographers would be disgusted but not shocked to know that Tottenham Hotspur have played their first Premier League game in a new home stadium that cost £1bn – on Wednesday, when they beat Crystal Palace 2-0 in front of 59,215 gobsmacked spectators.
Fireworks crowned all that steel and glass before kickoff, and Garth Crooks, a blaze of black brilliance all those years ago at White Hart Lane, was moved to say afterwards on BBC commentary: “As the fans leave the stadium takes on a different sense of beauty. As the atmosphere started to build before kick off it was very exciting and then there was one moment when 17,000 people to our right started to sing in unison. It was emotional and it was a wonderful occasion and it’s important that Spurs won.”
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino also wandered into a purple patch: “It’s a special moment, a special night. I feel and believe it is the best stadium in the world. Now we are World Cup winners in facilities. Now the stadium is here and we need to be on the same level. We need to start to think about the new chapter, the new era, to ensure Tottenham is a real contender for the big things. With our training ground, this new stadium, you must think big. We have to behave like a big club for sure. We need to be a realistic contender for big things.”Indeed, Mauricio. But was there any vomit? Was anyone on a date? You have a stadium. In time, with love, you may have a place.