Being a football fan in the 21st century is an increasingly complex undertaking. The essence of game is mercifully unchanging, that heady brew of sweat and toil, undying passion and exquisite skill which creates this uniquely thrilling and involving spectacle.
Over the last, say, twenty years, most fans have grappled with different tactical formations and the jargon that comes with it. We happily discuss lone strikers with the spare man playing off him or the respective merits of 4-4-2 and 4-5-1. However, if we want to understand fully the modern context, we have to become financial experts too. Money used to mean wages and transfer fees, now it’s income streams, revenue flow, capital expenditure and television rights, all to properly grasp the decisions taken by our clubs
Spurs fans must come to grips with a further dimension to this complicated reality. As the debate about our new stadium intensifies, we have been thrust headlong into the realm of politics because that’s where our fate will be decided, regardless of the wishes of our board.
Yesterday a statement by the leading architect in Spurs’ plans propelled the stadium debate into a major news story. This in itself was somewhat strange because the essential elements that have gathered attention, that Spurs are very keen to move to Stratford and that they intend to demolish the Olympic Stadium, are nothing new. This emerged well before Christmas and were discussed in this very blog.
However, it’s galvanised the whole debate. It’s as if everyone involved has suddenly woken up to what has been going on. Within the Spurs community, it has surprised me how many people have expressed astonishment that the board are deadly serious about the move, preferring to believe until now that it was merely a bargaining ploy to lean on Haringey and TFL. This has been clear for at least two months now, ever since AEG came on board as partners. One reason for the comparative lack of protest about the move, the laudable efforts of the We Are N17 campaign notwithstanding, is now obvious – complacency.
Of greater significance in terms of the final outcome is the reaction amongst people who are not Spurs fans, in particular the realisation that we plan to demolish the stadium. The Daily Mail led on “Spurs Under Fire for ‘Diabolical ‘ Plans…”, while the head of an athletics body Ed Warner was incredulous on the Today Programme this morning that anyone would knock down a stadium that cost 500m of taxpayers money to build and will be the focus of the entire world for two weeks in 2012.
The implications of the board’s plans have hit home. The ambivalence of many Spurs fans has, judging by the boards and social networking sites, hardened to opposition. However, our divisions have the impact of a family spat over who does the washing up compared with the force of the debate in the public arena.
All the attention thus far has focussed on the Spurs board. They undoubtedly prefer Stratford, but the final decision does not rest in their hands. Soon the Olympic Park Legacy Committee meet to agree their preferred bidder, then the final decision will be taken, probably in early March. They will take into account all the non-football interest groups and criteria, and if those of us who want to stay in Tottenham are to have any real impact we would do well to direct our energies in this direction.
As its name implies, the Legacy Committee are charged with evaluating the plans for the Olympic site in terms of what it can do for London and for athletics in the medium and long term. Much of the funding was secured on this basis.
Spurs’ have much the stronger bid in financial terms but it starts to crumble when it comes to the legacy. West Ham’s bid has close links to Newham Council and the community. Also, as Tottenham MP David Lammy has emphasised in a parliamentary debate this week, the legacy is for London as a whole, not just Newham and if Spurs move, N17 loses its biggest employer and area will be blighted.
Further, there’s a requirement that athletics has future. Belatedly Spurs have undertaken to refurbish Crystal Palace but that concession is a sign of weakness in their bid. West Ham want to play in the Olympic Stadium – good luck to them, the track will be retained which does nothing for football spectators – but it remains a worthy home for British Athletics, and a year before the 2012 Games, they become a powerful lobby. Ian Dale, Tory blogger and West Ham fan, says Seb Coe is against the move. I always preferred Steve Ovett but Seb is a powerful man these days with the establishment and a former Tory MP, close to the government.
Let’s stop and consider this for a moment. The public see this currently as a matter between two football clubs, if any of them are actually aware of the issue at all, let alone care. Think of the outcry if it is announced that the Stadium is to be demolished. All the public money that’s gone into it, the attention for Britain’s hopes and dreams, a pile of rubble. Any notion that Spurs are generating cash for the public purse in return will surely cut little ice. A public poll showed 80% were against Spurs plans. There will be an outcry.
Also, imagine this. Picture David Cameron announcing this to a disbelieving electorate. Does he want to be remembered as the PM during Britain’s most glorious sporting heritage of modern times, or the bloke who pushed the button on the wrecking ball? Politics and the Olympics are inextricably linked, whether we like it or not.
I wrote about this last month, twice, and my views haven’t changed. Spurs should make every conceivable effort to remain in Tottenham. I’ve been amazed with the nonchalance that so many fans have accepted the move. Not been actively in favour necessarily, but just acquiesced. Tottenham is our home, our heritage, and to me that’s priceless. If that is an emotional argument, I make no apologies, because football is all about emotion. There’s nothing rational or logical about it. Football is nothing without a soul, and our soul rests in that little part of north London.
The arguments raised yesterday by the architect (interesting how they fronted him up, not anyone from the board or the advisors they have been recruiting from the Olympic bid committee) stressed the financial benefits. Easy access by tube to central London, Canary Wharf is handy for corporate use…I know we have to make money but using these factors as the primary drivers behind the future of an 127 year old football club still sticks in the throat.
However in the end these things are parochial for us Spurs fans to bicker over, The future of the club depends on the political forces at play. The announcement yesterday has forced this issue into the public domain and if it stays there, that’s our best hope for staying in north London.
Maybe we should unite with our Boleyn brethren. Link arms, lace daisies in each other’s hair and call ourselves sisters. Right now, many of us have more in common with them than we do with our own board. Tottenham Hotspur Football Club: the club that knocked down Britain’s Olympic Stadium. Now there’s a legacy to tell our kids about.