A Wall Of Noise And A Craft Brewery: Inside Tottenham’s New £850M Stadium
LONDON — Building a major new sports stadium is never easy. Doing it on the site of the old stadium, while keeping most of that old stadium open, and changing the brief halfway through, is nothing short of impossible.
That was the task facing Tottenham Hotspur as the London football club sought to create a new home on the site of its famous old stadium, White Hart Lane.
The £850M project was delayed, but Spurs are ready to play their first match in the new 62,000-seater ground on Wednesday against Crystal Palace. The new stadium has received rave reviews so far after a series of test events, combining as it does the old and the futuristic, looking to give supporters traditional elements of the match day experience — noise and being close to the pitch — as well as forming part of the new world of leisure experience: the stadium has its own craft brewery and street food-inspired food hall.
The man overseeing the job was Arcadis partner Paul Mitchell, whose design and consultancy firm acted as project manager on the 10-year scheme, and who worked alongside Tottenham Head of Property Paul Phillips. As a Spurs fan it was a plum job, but one that came with some pressure: Most supporters dream of running out and playing for their boyhood club, but he got to build their stadium instead. Best not get it wrong.
Mitchell talked Bisnow through some of the unique elements of the stadium, designed by architect Populous, and the development process, as well as arguing that Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy, often a source of frustration for Tottenham fans because of his refusal to pay big money for players, deserves more credit, especially when it comes to the stadium.
The technical challenges in building the new stadium were manifest. Tottenham were extending their footprint and building a much bigger stadium but essentially staying on the same site. Tottenham did eventually move to Wembley to allow the new ground to be completed, a longer sojourn than expected, but much of the construction occurred while the old White Hart Lane remained open.
“One of the big challenges was trying to build a new stadium around the old one, while carrying on playing,” Mitchell said.
“Then partway through the process we needed to incorporate a moving pitch to allow the NFL games to happen,” he added.
The pitch at the new stadium splits into three parts that retract under the stands and reveal an NFL pitch underneath. The roof is also one of the thinnest in the world for a stadium of its size, Mitchell said.
The technical achievement that the fans will appreciate most is the South Stand behind one goal, which at 17,500 seats will be the largest single-tier stand in the UK, behind only Borussia Dortmund’s 24,000-seater “Yellow Wall” in Germany in Europe. The club forewent the revenue that could have been earned by adding hospitality to this stand to create an unbroken tier to try to create a "wall of noise" to rival that of famous stands like the Kop at Anfield.
“It will make the Kop look like a lower tier,” Mitchell laughed. “The atmosphere even half full at the test event was amazing.”
The stadium’s shape was designed using techniques from concert venues to keep the noise in rather than allowing it to escape, as often happens with modern bowl-shaped stadiums, and Mitchell pointed out that the first row of supporters around the stadium are only 5 metres from the pitch, compared to 13 metres at other new grounds like Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium (which he also project managed). That helps creates the kind of intimacy and intense atmosphere that fans love, and which made the old iteration of British grounds such visceral places to watch football.
“It will be one massive bank of fans unbroken by hospitality,” Mitchell said of the South Stand.
There are some nice nods to the tradition and nostalgia that football fans love. In the concourse behind one stand there is a plaque where the centre circle of the old ground once stood. And the newly minted, 4.5-metre-high cockerel that sits on top of one stand, a replica of that from the old ground, even includes a dent that was present on the old one, caused when former midfielder Paul Gascoigne fired an air rifle at it in the late 1980s.
But the stadium faces the future as well as the past, particularly in the way it incorporates elements from the retail and leisure world. People in football talk about the match day experience, and noise and nostalgia are part of that, but Spurs’ stadium more than any other in the UK positions itself as a leisure experience. It is only 12 years since the new Wembley Stadium opened, but the change in mindset about what can be offered to supporters has been remarkable, and is in keeping with the way that experience is now a key idea in the property world.
Even newer ground like Wembley, or the Emirates, are not places where you would want to hang around much. The food is bad and expensive, the beer weak and even more expensive, and the environment concrete and sterile.
By contrast, Tottenham’s ground has its own microbrewery managed by local craft beer company Beavertown. It features a 65-metre bar in the stand behind one goal, one of the longest in England, which Mitchell points out is made of oak rather than more easily maintained stainless steel. A beer can be poured in five seconds using bottom-up pouring technology.
There is also what Mitchell calls a “Westfield-style food court” serving street food-inspired dishes, rather than the usual terrible burgers or pies. The aim is to have people arrive before the game and leave later, he said. Good for atmosphere, but also a way of increasing non-ticket revenue.
He does scotch one story that made big news and drew mockery from supporters of other clubs — contrary to reports, there were never plans for a cheese room at the stadium. “We said that there was going to be something special about the catering for the stadium, and somehow that got turned into a cheese room,” he said.
As with many grounds, the stadium includes conference facilities, but a double-height ceilinged area allows for the creation of an auditorium that can seat up to 350 people. A hotel is part of the second phase of the wider stadium development.
Mitchell said that as a supporter it had been an incredible project to work on, and argued that the often-maligned Levy deserves more credit from his fellow fans. “As a Spurs fan this has meant a lot to me,” he said.
“It’s been a big challenge and so much of it has been driven by Daniel Levy. He is a perfectionist with a real eye for detail, and as a fan, I never realised his love for the club and how driven he is, and he doesn’t get enough credit from the supporters. He gets a lot of pressure on social media and the like, and I think if they knew how much he cared it would change their opinion.”
And what was it like project managing the development of the stadium of Tottenham’s hated rivals Arsenal?
“Football is a great leveller, and you can talk to anyone about it,” he said with a laugh. “The directors there are all Arsenal fans, and when we were working on that project, Tottenham were not doing brilliantly, so they took the mickey, just like your mates who are Arsenal fans.”
On the pitch Spurs are now more than Arsenal’s equal: above them in the league and in the quarter finals of the Champions League. And in stadium terms, they have a ground the envy of any team in world football.