Within a week of Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium opening, they had achieved arguably the biggest result in their recent history. Mauricio Pochettino would go to play a Champions League semi final and final, but the 1-0 quarter final first leg win over Manchester City, followed by the 4-3 second leg defeat, represented a true watershed moment for the North London club.
This was the moment Spurs became the bona fide member of the elite they’d aspired to be for decades and the shimmering, state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, opened at the start of April almost a full season after its planned completion, was the physical manifestation of this remarkable rise.
Indeed, it’s difficult not to look at Spurs’ new stadium as anything other than a big time venue and therefore the home of a big time club. Its opening was meant to herald the dawning of a new age for Tottenham and this looked to have been achieved almost immediately, with Spurs making their first ever Champions League final just one month after the first game at their new home.
Now, however, the new stadium that was supposed to act as a catalyst for bigger and better things is weighing heavily around Tottenham’s neck. Almost every game played there this season has been a struggle for Pochettino and his players with Saturday’s home draw with the Premier League’s bottom team, Watford, arguably the worst result and performance so far.
There was the opening weekend ordeal against Aston Villa which required two late goals from Harry Kane to save Spurs from dropping points. Then there was the shock defeat to Newcastle United and the narrow win over Southampton which saw Pochettino’s team, reduced to 10 men in the first half, stagger over the line. Spurs’ only comfortable home win of the season in the league came in the 4-0 dismissal of Crystal Palace last month.
In the Champions League, Tottenham suffered abject humiliation to Bayern Munich, with the Bavarians smashing seven past the hosts in front of their own supporters. For context, Spurs’ previous Champions League home game before that was a semi final first leg against Ajax. The contrast between the two performances was stark.
Even more stark than that is the change of mood around the club in the months that have passed between those two games. Back in May, there was a euphoria and a crackle around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium that provided a momentum of its own. Now, the moans, groans and general unease from the stands are having an effect on the players on the pitch. Pochettino noted this publicly at the weekend.
“The performance wasn’t great, but when you concede an early goal it is always tough, it is a difficult situation. The atmosphere wasn’t in the way you love to play, it wasn’t the best,” the Argentine admitted after the 1-1 draw with Watford. “It is not easy. When I was a professional footballer in this type of situation it was always difficult.” Even when Dele Alli equalised, giving Spurs the platform for a full comeback, the confusion over the VAR review sucked the energy out of the celebrations.
It’s not unusual for a team to toil at a new stadium, but there was so much meaning attached to the construction of Tottenham’s new ground that it’s only natural that their recent home form has been so closely scrutinised. Spurs certainly don’t miss Wembley, where they were squatters for the best part of two seasons, but the return to North London hasn’t yet seen the return of home comforts.