Thanks to Heineken, OTP last night had the fortune of going behind the scenes at White Hart Lane amidst one of the biggest nights in Tottenham Hotspur’s history. The opportunity to see a crucial Champions League game unfold at such close quarters left us – we confess – feeling like a kid in a sweet shop.
When you leave a ground having had a split-second staring match with Zlatan Ibrahimovich and shared a lavatory with Garth Crooks, you know you’ve had an out of the ordinary evening!
Making an entrance
OTP arrived at the players’ entrance and was instantly buoyed to see a harem of dolled up young ladies hovering expectantly at the gates – fledgling WAGs on their stomping crowd. It was a real honor to witness first hand a proud English tradition in action.
It was also fun to scan a Premier League players’ car park, serving up a fleet of ludicrously over-sized cars, some flamboyant rims and some tasteful cream leather seats. I closed my eyes and imagined Harry Redknapp swaggering around the car park like the car dealership forecourt owner we all know he was genetically designed to be.
A real highlight of the behind-the-scenes access had to be the ascent to the commentary gangway and the unfeasibly bizarre journey it takes to get there. First-up, you need to squeeze yourself in a creeky four-man lift. Notably the doors opened prematurely to reveal a kitchen preparing big trays of mash – a motivational starchy half-time snack for Redknapp’s men perhaps?
Once on the top floor, we were informed the holy pilgrimage to Clive Tydesley’s microphone wasn’t over yet. I had to negotiate a narrow spiral-staircase of at least 50 steps – how Motty manages it up here without a few Nepalese Sherpas is anyone’s guess. At this point we entered a metallic corridor – a spaghetti junction of pipes and cables similar to a budget version of the Crystal Maze’s Futuristic Zone.
A series of walkways later we had completed Tottenham’s Krypton Factor assault course and reached ITV’s home for the night. And what a view. It was chillingly quiet up there. Perhaps the ghost of Ron Atkinson was looking on enviously.
After a bout of persistent questioning, Gabriele Marcotti later revealed that the ITV commentary team were last night enjoying “Lemon Cake” at half-time. To the envy of fellow-journalists, OTP had obtained the world exclusive that every one wanted: Andy Townsend has a sweet-tooth.
Tunnel vision [Warning: May contain traces of shameless name-dropping]
A tour of the tunnel was on the cards too; a hallowed strip of blue plastic that has led out both star-studded Milan sides this season. OTP’s visit was timed to perfection as the AC Milan players sauntered passed and into their changing room.
I had just been privy to something more like an Armani advert than a routine coach arrival. Some sumptuous style was on show:crisp black shirts, immaculate pin-striped suits and dark red tie teamed-up with a cozy red jumper. I was tempted to ask Kevin Prince Boateng where he got his fabric from but the timing somehow didn’t seem right.
As Flamini, Ibrahimovich, Robiniho, Pato all streamed by – I had three thoughts:
1. This was the biggest amount of money I am ever likely to see in my life.
2. Would it be inappropriate to launch myself at Flamini as recompense for his dastardly challenge on Corluka.
3. Ibra has nothing behind his eyes. A cold, sulking, nonchalant stare had brushed my creaking retinas. It was the look of a man seemingly inconvenienced by a contractual obligation to play football. Just like clocking Garth Crooks in the toilet at half-time – a sentence I’d never thought I’d type – that was a real highlight of a night’s match action that enthralled but rarely inspired.
OTP also had the rare opportunity to watch the teams warm-up from the sidelines. We were close enough to smell Robinho’s pungent cologne and see what an immaculate surface White Hart Lane has. If you dropped your contact lens on this pitch it would probably come back cleaner than before you’d fumbled it.
After joyfully collecting an expression of disregard at our presence from Adrian Chiles, we had to take our seats. Besides there is only so long you can observe Peter Crouch stretching out his groin before it becomes tiresome.
Spurs, of course, went on to manfully secure a place in the last eight of the Champions League – a remarkable feat. Like the journey to the commentary positions – Redknapp and his men have enjoyed a tumultuous, unconventional but dramatically sharp ascent to the top tier of European club football this season.