On Sunday, four weeks after the start of the season (five weeks after the season was initially scheduled to start), Spurs Women played their first game at our new home stadium: Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road.
It felt like we’d been waiting for ages for this, having heard about the move in the early summer. But without a pre-season game or other event to get used to the new ground, some Spurs fans were a little anxious about how it would pan out.
Below is a quick take on the upsides; some things fans may have to get used to; and the not quite sorted bits of life at our new home in Leyton.
- The pitch. The pitch looks like it’s a significant upgrade on The Hive (Barnet’s stadium and our home ground since promotion to the WSL). If that is maintained and there is less mud and fewer divots it should help minimise slipping, reduce player injuries, and allow Spurs to achieve a more controlled and technical playing style. It may also mean we have to hear less moaning from visiting managers (yes, looking at you for this one Jonas). And that’s good for all of us.
- The view. The West stand at Brisbane Road, the area in which fans were seated for Sunday’s game, is steeply ramped. Which means there’s no worry that the tall person wearing the weirdly big hat seated in front of you will obstruct your view. It also means you’re properly on top of and close to the action. Lots of people commented on how good the views were – the sunny Sunday weather helped here too.
- The location of the stands. In contrast to the Hive, the dug-outs at Brisbane Road are on the same side of the pitch as the home fans. That means we get to see players warming up, managers giving players instructions, and managers (yes, we’re looking at you Matt Beard) getting amusingly angry – in his case with his own players. It also means that pre-game players line up facing the fans and that fans are at all times closer to what’s going on on-pitch.
- The flats. Okay, this is kind of by-the-by but how great is it that blocks of flats overlook the stadium at each corner? On Sunday there were people on some of the balconies enjoying perhaps their first taste of live women’s football. Perfect – and a truly unique way to grow the Spurs Women fanbase. It’s a proper urban stadium for a proper urban team.
- The proximity of other season ticket holders. For the first time Spurs season ticket holders are clustered all together and as the season goes on we’re likely to see this having some clear upsides, as our more hardcore fans get to know one another and (hopefully) build a stronger community of Spurs Women’s supporters.
- The local area. As compared to The Hive, Leyton is a mecca for pre- and post-match activities, including better public transport and a local pub that welcomes Spurs Women (and away) fans, shows football and has decent food and a wide selection of beers.
- The win. Goes without saying that the most important thing about a home stadium is that the home team is at an advantage in playing there. Starting with a win is the first step towards building what will hopefully become a fortress for Spurs Women.
The things we’ll get used to.
- The scoreboard. There does not seem to be either a clock or a scoreboard. This is just weird. So, if there are any Leyton Orient fans reading this: Why?
- The vertigo. The West stand is steeply ramped which (as above) is great for the view, but a bit dizzying. Maybe not the stadium to come to wearing heels or after a heavy night.
- The perspective. The advertising hoardings are close to the pitch with little room beyond the backline. That means the goals are quite shallow (no billowing nets) and it’s a little harder to judge the angle when play is in the far corner. That left some fans confused when the only goal of Sunday’s game against Liverpool went in from a tight angle at the far corner (this was partly because the goal itself was ridiculous, providing lots to be confused about, but the close angles on the pitch added to that). In the moment of hesitation before the eruption of full-on-celebrations you could tell fans weren’t quite sure what had happened. But every pitch is a bit different, and the sightlines at Brisbane Road is something we’ll get used to – indeed the more goals Spurs score the better we will get at judging when one has gone in!
- The plushness. Season ticket holders have been given seats in the Legends area of the West Stand. This what in football parlance is known as a ‘premium experience’ area. That means no turnstiles and a very different feel as you enter the ground. Lots of upsides including a bar with windows that overlook the pitch, and cushioned seating. But for those of us used to time spent in cavernous concrete concourses it is a bit different.
The not quite sorted bits.
- The red. There is a lot of red at Brisbane Road, from the signage to the seats. Not an ideal look for Spurs. Obviously, this is an issue with sharing a stadium and not something the club can change permanently but a few massive flags strategically laid across empty red stands would make a big difference and go a long way to making it more of a ‘home’.
- The seat allocation. The move to Brisbane Road has also been a move from unallocated to allocated seating. While allocated seating is normal in the men’s game and exists for some women’s clubs, it’s a change and has brought a few teething problems. These have especially affected Season Ticket holders, who were not given a choice of where to sit, but were randomly allocated a seat, only finding out about where these were located on arrival at the stadium for Sunday’s game. Some of us lucked out with a seat that was in the position we might anyway have selected, but others were sat closer to the pitch or higher up than we wanted – in some cases in seats that felt less good than those people had been able to get when we chose our own own seats at the Hive. Providing options for any fans unhappy with their seats to swap seats with one another or to move their season ticket to another area might be the only answer available for this season. Learning from this year, assigning seats earlier in the summer, and listening to the views of season ticket holders before next year’s allocation is the longer-term fix.
- The ability to sit with friends. If Spurs Women is looking to grow support, it has got to make it easy for existing fans share their passion and bring friends and family to games whenever possible. The introduction of allocated seating and the fencing-off of season ticket holders in a separate section complicates this. The club did respond to early questions from fans and has created a process whereby season ticket holders can fill out a form to request that for one game their seat is moved outside of the season ticket block, allowing them to sit with a non-season ticket holder who’s purchased a ticket. It is, however, quite a complicated process (requiring booking references and everyone’s Customer Reference Numbers) and does not seem like it can be done on the day of the game, should a friend be able to come last minute. It also doesn’t work for groups like Proud Lilywhites who in previous seasons have publicised the area of the ground they’ll be sat in, encouraging others to come find them. There must be a way to make all of this easier, especially at a time in the game’s development when stadium attendances remain well under capacity, and the priority should be encouraging more people to come to games and supporting them to feel welcome.
- The player access. One of the joys, and USPs, of the women’s game is fan access to players, especially post-game. At Brisbane Road on Sunday fans in most sections were able to come to the hoardings to talk to both sets of players. The exception was fans in the season ticket stand, which because it was behind the dugouts and was fenced in, did not have a route to the hoardings. At least, not one that did not require hopping over a fence. Given that season ticket holders are among the more enthusiastic fans of the team, creating a mechanism for player access from this area has to be on the club’s to-do list.
- The away end. Talking about away ends has become a perennial issue in the woman’s game. There is not yet a clear plan for where the away end at Brisbane Road will be. Or at least, if there is one, it hasn’t yet been communicated via the ticketing website. Clearly, away fans don’t have to sit in an away end, but lots of us like to know that we’ll be sat with other people cheering for the same team. On this occasion it seemed like most Liverpool fans had organised themselves and were clustered in Stand B. But making this clearer would help for future games and create a better atmosphere for both Spurs and away fans. Plus, it would help Spurs fans make a case for an away end to other teams when we are the away fans.
- The empty stands. The West Stand was quite full but there were still lots of gaps and the other stands remained empty. The attendance of 2,105 was decent and almost double the average we achieved for games at The Hive last year (1,179). But it is below the numbers other WSL clubs have attracted this season in the aftermath of the Euros glow, and leaves lots of room for improvement. Pre-season the club focused most of its energy on promoting the game against Manchester United, scheduled for the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and it appeared that good numbers had bought tickets for that, before it was cancelled along with all football when the Queen died. But the longer term issue has always been getting fans to come week-in-week-out. Now we’ve got a new stadium, that’s closer to Spurs’ main support-base, and one that provides a great fan experience, we should aim to do better.
No doubt there is much more to say about watching Spurs Women at Brisbane Road: upsides, things we’re getting used to and not yet sorted bits. Reply below with your first impressions of our new home ground. Especially keen to hear your opinions on the food and drink outlets, which I haven’t yet tested out in full.
Or find me in Brisbane Road Legends stand at Spurs Women home games.