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White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland
Premier League
Saturday 23rd August 2008, 3pm
Martin Hart
(Sunderland fan)

Saturday August 23rd 2008 is a day that will live with me forever. It was 'the day that was meant to be' for me, from start to finish everything went as planned and it was a privilege to be part of it.

I had waited 7 months to return to White Hart Lane after the heartbreak of missing out when Sunderland visited Spurs back in January - on that occasion, my flight into Heathrow landed 2 hours late which, by the time I made it to the ground meant that I had missed the first half... and to give me a further kick in the balls that day we were already 1-0 down and ended up losing 2-0.

That horrible day only served to fire me up even more for the return trip to White Hart Lane, and as soon as tickets for the game went on general sale I wasn't going to hang around - so much so that I posted a cheque to the Stadium of Light 2 days before the tickets even went on general sale, so my delight was understandable when a few days later my match ticket dropped through the door. I couldn't believe it, a lot of unfinished business was about to be complete.

Getting up at 4am on a freezing cold Saturday morning isn't anyone's cup of tea, and quite frankly had it been any other occasion I wouldn't have done it - but this was my first ever Sunderland away game, I was more than happy to hear my alarm blasting away at 4am and after a quick shower and final packing of the suitcase it was out the door and on the road shortly after 5am. Following the shambles of the flying experience, I decided to take a slightly different mode of transport to get me to London this time - the first train from Dundee, departure time for Edinburgh... 6:16am.

After an uneventful journey to Edinburgh (helped by the fact that I arrived at Waverley 5 minutes earlier than expected), it was a straight walk over to the platform for the 8am departure from Edinburgh - expected time of arrival into Kings Cross, 12:41pm.

By now, the excitement was starting to build inside me, but if I was being honest, knowing Sunderland's away record I was travelling to White Hart Lane more in hope than expectation. Despite Spurs poor start to the season I would have been happy to see us lose 1-0, anything other than a point would have been a major bonus - but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that Sunderland would go to Spurs and come away with all 3 points... but on this day, it was meant to be.

As the train rolled into Kings Cross (passing Arsenal's magnificent Emirates Stadium in the process) bang on time, my first task was to dump my overnight case at the left luggage. This done, I then headed on the Tube from Kings Cross up to Seven Sisters after which came the short train journey from Seven Sisters to White Hart Lane. After all was said and done, I jumped off the train at White Hart Lane station and headed up Tottenham High Street around 1:30pm... then it hit me that I would see a full 90 minute match at White Hart Lane. The horrible experiences of 7 months ago were a mere memory compared to the cloud I was living on standing outside White Hart Lane.

'The Lane' was one of those grounds which I had always wanted to go to. It's one of those grounds which you see on TV and think 'Wow, what an atmosphere.' I had already had a glimpse of what the ground could offer, but with so much passion and excitement already boiling up inside me I knew it meant so much more on this day.

Getting to the ground was simple, I knew the route having done it previously. Before the game I mingled with the fans in the streets surrounding White Hart Lane, and sampled a cheeseburger from one of the many burger vans outside the ground before heading into White Hart Lane around 45 minutes before kick-off. Once inside the ground I mingled with my fellow Sunderland fans (who were in wonderful voice and numbers) and had a well-earned beer - a plastic bottle of Carlsberg at a reasonable price of 2.20, needless to say the price went down well (and just for the record, so did the beer!!)

I didn't really have any impressions of the ground, I knew what it was like - the only thing different about this trip was that I was in the ground before the game started (which was a huge relief.) One good piece of advice for visiting fans is to try and get a ticket for the top tier of the away section if you can. I was very lucky in that this time my ticket was for the top tier (my first visit I was sat downstairs in the away end), it's a big climb to the top tier but you are rewarded with a wonderful view of the game.

The game is one that I will never forget. I have been fortunate enough to be at some of the best games in England, but for the sheer experience this is my favourite by a country mile... and I think it's going to take some beating.

As I alluded to earlier, my opinion of the game was that a point would have been a bonus, so for Sunderland to come out on top 2-1 was quite incredible. It made everything worthwhile - from the 7-hour journey to get to London in the first place and the memory of January when everything went so horrendously wrong for me, I actually shed a little tear at full-time because of what went before the victory... it was one of those days which, as a passionate football fan, you dream about - the day your team win away from home and everything goes perfect... I'm not a religious person, but I truly believe that God was smiling over me on that magical day at White Hart Lane.

The noise level inside the ground was, as always with Spurs, very good. Despite not being a total sell-out (from both teams), the 36,000+ crowd still generated a fair amount of atmosphere. An eventful first-half saw good chances for both teams, but on the balance of power 0-0 was probably a fair scoreline at the break - what followed was the stuff of dreams for every Sunderland fan at White Hart Lane on this day. A spectacular curling shot from Keiran Richardson put the visitors 1-0 to the good, cue pandemonium in the away support. The barricades were up until Spurs hit back 20 minutes later, Jermaine Jenas following up after a brilliant double save from Craig Gordon to draw Spurs level - how ironic that a player who once pulled on the black and white of that team just up the road from Sunderland should score against us, it just had to happen.

Spurs joy though was short-lived, as substitute (and Sunderland debutant), Djibril Cisse returned to the Premiership with a bang - powering in a thumping header with 7 minutes to go. If the opener saw pandemonium amongst the Sunderland fans then it is indescribable the emotions that I was feeling when celebrating the winner - I still can't even remember too much about it. Bottom line, it counted and Sunderland held on for the longest 7 minutes of the season to come away with a fantastic win over a much-improved Tottenham side.

The stewards at Tottenham are, for the most part, tolerable to away fans - but it is still advisable to be well-behaved when visiting White Hart Lane. I didn't sample any of the food inside the ground, although from seeing what other people were buying it looked like a decent selection... good-sized pies, huge Rollover hot dogs and a decent serving of chips with the usual selection of beer, cider and hot drinks. The prices are quite reasonable too making White Hart Lane definitely one of the better grounds I have been to south of the border. The bogs are about standard for football grounds in this country... all in all, Spurs is a magnificent experience (when things go right!) and highly recommendable to anyone who hasn't yet been to White Hart Lane.

After the game it was back to White Hart Lane station and onto Kings Cross station (where I collected my suitcase) then to Earls Court and a night at the local youth hostel. It was extremely refreshing after the game, chatting to several Spurs fans who admitted that we were better than them and deserved to win. I can't say a bad word about Tottenham supporters - they do their best to make White Hart Lane a pleasant place for away fans, and I think it's fair to say they do a good job of it too.

I knew the route to Earls Court Youth Hostel all too easily, it has now become base camp for my visits to the capital and when I got back there it was a case of feet up for the night ahead of the return journey the following morning. Which, I'm glad to report went all to plan and I arrived home on Sunday evening, still on cloud nine from the day before and looking forward to my next visit to London - the NFL game at Wembley in October.

Did I ever mention how lucky I am with the sporting events I have been to? That's a story for another time... 

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