On the 29th September 1953 Tottenham officially turned on their floodlights for the first time. In a prestige friendly that night we played Racing Club de Paris. In this article we will glance back at that night and a few other little notes about Tottenham 'Under The Lights.'
We had met the French side several times in the past both home and away and twenty eight thousand turned up that evening to witness this new way of playing football, in the evening after a days work. This might seem common place to us now but at the time the fans found this new and exciting.
The gate that night might have been lower than the usual league game attendance but it was clearly voted a success by those present. It was described to me by one present that night as ‘illumining (I think he meant the pun) and you could tell that this would be the future with clubs playing when people could get to the game rather than rushing for afternoon kick offs so as to avoid the darkness.’ This would be the first of a series of floodlit friendlies against attractive opposition. Tottenham had tested their lights with a couple of games between local amateur sides in the days prior to the opening ceremony. Before the kick-off Tottenham had the Band of the Grenadier Guards serenade the crowd and the second half of the match was shown live on TV (1).
I have been told that at this point only five or six of the first division clubs actually had a floodlight system in place. As for the game, Tottenham would win 5-3. Jean Courteaux scored the first goal under the lights for the visitors and they retained the lead to half time. Tottenham pulled level two minutes after the restart through Len Duquemin. Then Les Bennett gave Spurs the lead before George Hutchinson, Ron Burgess and another from Bennett made it 5-1 in the 69th minute. The French side pulled the score back to finish 5-3. The winner that night however was football. For the record our team that evening was Ditchburn, Ramsey, Withers, Wetton, Farley, Burgess, Hutchinson, Bennett, Duquemin, Harmer and Robb.
The manager at Tottenham at the time was Arthur Rowe, here is what he had to say about the idea of floodlight football. “It is without question that first-class football by floodlight is both spectacular and enthralling. With vision fixed to the pitch that alone is illuminated, there can be no distraction at all to disturb or frustrate attention. There is an accentuated feeling of expectation and excitement, and the speed of the players and of the game itself is, or seems to be, increased. The flash of bright-coloured jerseys against the bright green of the grass combine in one “vistavision” panorama, but with the added reality of live people seen in the flesh.”
At the start of that season the FA had admitted that floodlight football had great value but still retained reservations if competitive games could be played under these lights. They wondered if the idea should go beyond exhibition games (where goals were not really important).
The Racing club game certainly wasn’t the first time out players had been involved in a floodlit fixture. That was way back in 1933. The FA staged a trial match at the White City Stadium. Willie Evans, Dave Levene and Jimmy Brain were on duty for a Spurs/Arsenal/West Ham/Chelsea side V the Rest of London. It seems the FA were not too impressed as they did not allow any floodlight games for some years and as we discussed previously (2) even then they did not fully embrace the idea.
A number of clubs however understood the future of the game would involve floodlight tournaments bringing in extra revenue by attracting fans who could not attend afternoon games. The authorities were on the other hand concerned by the possibility of fixture chaos.
The first actual competitive game played under lights in England was a Football Combination match on 1st October 1951 when our reserves played Southampton at their old Dell ground. Tottenham won that night and Tony Marchi was the scorer of that landmark goal in front of an impressive 13,000.
Tottenham’s first floodlights were set up on four posts in each corner. These were then upgraded in 1957 (which required the Cockerel to be moved) (4). The lights were upgraded again in 1961, 1972 and 1989 when the pylons disappeared. The current lights were installed when the club qualified for the Champions League. They were actually too bright and had to be turned down to comply with UEFA regulations.
Tottenham players were also involved when the lights were turned on at Wembley Stadium for the first time for a match in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (3). In 1956 the first FA Cup ties were played using lights and one of the five ties on that first day was the Tottenham game V Boston United.
Over the years Tottenham have visited a number of grounds to play friendly games and ‘officially turn on’ that club’s lights. These have often been teams from lower divisions; one such occasion was to Second Division West Ham the previous April. Later in November 1955 we traveled to Scotland to ‘turn on’ the lights at Patrick Thistle. This was at a time when floodlight friendlies were becoming common place and clubs were seeking to develop the game and maintain the supporter’s interest by taking it to the next level, competition. We will explore that phenomenon and the struggles to bring the idea to life including Tottenham’s involvement in a future Hotspur Towers.
Oh the second floodlight game at White Hart Lane was The RAF v a FA XI.
t- Keith 16024542
f- peter shearman (old non de plume)
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Notes -1 - Some sources claim this was the first time a floodlit match had been shown live whilst others suggest Sheffield United V Millwall the previous March was. Possibly, this is down to regional variations.
2 - The First Europeans
3– Hotspur Towers - Intercities Fairs Cup.
4 – Hotspur Towers 50 – The Cockerel.
Top Pic- From that first game with Racing Club de Paris.
Thanks - , THFC, Caxton’s Encyclopedia of British Football and Association Football, The FA, Patrick Thistle, West Ham, They fly so high.
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