The significance of the north London derby in eyes of Spurs fans should never be underestimated but this week it has been totally overshadowed by a greater drama off the pitch. The future of the club is at stake, placed in jeopardy by the man who is supposed to act as its custodian.
Tottenham Hotspur’s interest in the Olympic Stadium had been largely dismissed as a bargaining chip to force the hand of planners first in Haringey and then, when permission was granted, in the Mayor’s Office. Many years of effort and considerable expense had resulted in a scheme for a sparkling new ground right next door to the Lane. It would never be the same but would run a close second, with emphasis on fan-friendly stands close to the pitch plus an ‘end’. When the hard-fought battle for planning consent was won, there was general satisfaction in the Spurs community.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have paid more attention to the warning signs. Close to the deadline, we declared an interest in the Olympic site in Stratford. ‘Declared an interest’. Doesn’t sound like much, just a sensible fall-back should there be further hitches, but the signs were there. Spurs were in bed with AEG, a powerful entertainment company not used to failure. A Spurs director, Keith Mills, is on the Olympic board, then, quietly a couple of weeks ago, we pinch another senior executive from an Olympic committee.
However, the biggest error was underestimating the business acumen of Daniel Levy. He may have twisted and turned when it came to decisions about football management but in business he’s cool, decisive and ruthless. The anxiety levels rose early this week with an article by Paul Kelso in the Telegraph. Because of a £50m increase in the WHL redevelopment, suddenly Spurs’ interest in Stratford was ‘deadly serious’. Kelso continues:
“Some people have said that the Olympic bid is just a means of getting leverage over Haringey, but the club is committed to running this process in parallel with that development. If they are successful in winning the bid for Stratford they will have to make a decision, but it is deadly serious,” said a source with direct knowledge of the deliberations.”
Kelso revealed that Spurs have hired Goldman Sachs as advisers. Now I am no financial expert as my bank manager will readily testify but even I know these people are going to charge more for opening a letter than I earn in a month. Serious indeed.
The Spurs plan is essentially the purchase of the site. We intend to knock down the stadium and rebuild afresh. Planning and transport issues would be a doddle compared the tortuous negotiations that are still proceeding in north London. The downside is the athletics legacy enshrined in the site, whereas the main rival bid from Newham Council and West Ham keeps the running track. However, our bid is reckoned to be far superior in terms of the financial structure, and we all know money talks.
Interestingly, AEG run the O2 arena, which lay dormant for years until all previous plans were thrown out the window so the company could create a giant and highly profitable entertainment complex from the place that was intended to be the nation’s millennium legacy. Perhaps an appropriate legacy for the times after all, but the point is, they managed it once and can do so again.
Then yesterday came a tweet from David Lammy, the Tottenham MP and a Spurs fan. A few hours after asking twitter for questions to put to levy, he emerged from the meeting with these few words:
“Devastated – Levy is serious about moving, not a bargaining chip at all”
Twitter is much maligned as a communication medium but it encourages a concise approach, witness his next message shortly afterwards:
“Decision based on what is cheaper – putting profit line before history, fans and community. Really devastated.”
That provoked a deluge of information that continues unabated but essentially that’s it, right there. Lammy himself has allegedly gone much further. He suggests that the site makes Spurs a better prospect if owner Joe Lewis wishes to sell it on in the near future, and that Boris Johnson is actively encouraging us. No wonder he’s delaying the N17 decision.
The Stratford option is a betrayal of our heritage and of the passion of the vast majority of Spurs fans. No amount of discussion about the merits of better access will outweigh the feeling of staying close to our roots. It’s 5 miles or so away but it may as well be in another country. That’s not our part of the world. It’s not Tottenham Hotspur.
Levy’s plan to build next the Lane is a triumph. I never thought we could emulate our north London neighbours by building a modern, spacious ground in our area, yet we are so close.
I’m aware there’s a lack of logic in this argument. I and other Spurs fans vehemently campaigning to stay in N17 are being disingenuous because we live miles away, and frankly would not choose to live in the area if we could possibly avoid it. Stratford would be much easier for me.
But logic has nothing to do with being a football fan. That’s the whole point – it’s about profound emotional attachment, belonging, being part of a culture that stretches back over 125 years. Tottenham is not just where we are, it’s who we are.
Like I say, money talks. Levy is accountable to the shareholders, not the fans. However, he would ignore us at his peril. Football is a business but clubs and their fans are more than mere commodities to be bought and sold. We need to make some noise, at games as well as outside. Confront Levy with a reaction that he can’t ignore. Remind him that whatever he likes to believe, he is accountable to us after all.
Reaction and protest is gaining pace. There’s a petition here: http://www.petitiononline.co.uk/petition/say-no-to-stratford-hotspur/434