A few seasons ago Tottenham Hotspur proudly celebrated 125 years of history. In 8 days time a decision will be taken that could shape its destiny for the next 125. It will be taken behind closed doors, by people eminent no doubt in their field but who are wholly unknown to the the public, who have little interest in football and none whatsoever in the future well-being of our club. The closest we get to a football man is the former managing director of Arsenal. Certainly no one has bothered to ask the fans.
The news that the Spurs board wanted to move to the Olympic site at Stratford seeped out gradually in the weeks before Christmas. There’s never been any formal announcement or acknowledgement. However, the detailed plans that were published as part of the bidding process for the post-2012 use of the Olympic Park indicated that far from this being a back-up should the redevelopment next door to White Hart Lane fall through, in fact the club had invested tens of millions in preparatory work. Moreover in AEG they had forged an unholy alliance with a major player in the leisure industry, for whom failure was not an option.
At the time, this caused a great deal of interest, or so I thought. Daniel Levy shrewdly kept a low profile but suddenly previously reticent board members like Sir Keith Mills were available to the media, talking up the possibilities of the site and as a secondary consideration mentioning that it represented a cost-effective option for Spurs. Other former members of the Olympic bidding process were co-opted to posts at the club.
TOMM signalled the dangers under the emotive headline: ‘Betrayal’. I make no apologies – football exercises my emotions like nothing else on this earth. However, the news did not spread amongst either Spurs fans or the public at large until two weeks ago. Despite regular dire warnings from the West Ham board, especially the media-savvy Karren Brady, it was the unlikely figure of the architect who has led Spurs’ design programme who put the cat amongst the pigeons. The media suddenly awoke to the consequences of the Spurs bid – the Olympic Stadium, the pride of Britain in 2012, was due for demolition. No athletics track either.
The fans picked up the mood too. Jolted forcibly out of their complacency, few were now able to claim that this was the Levy fall-back position. I was surprised and dismayed that so few Spurs supporters were unaware of the news but it has sent shockwaves through our worldwide community. It’s fair to say that by no means all the fans agree with my view that we should not move to Stratford, but complacency is no longer an option. Take a look, if you are brave enough, at the comments section of my previous piece on the stadium. Leaving aside the cyberwarrior bluster it reveals deep divisions not only in the debate around should we stay or should we go but also about the fundamental question of what it means to be a Spurs fan.
The fans are the heart and soul of the club. We were there 125 years ago, we’re here now and we will be here for as long as our team pulls on the white shirt. Players and chairmen come and go, we hand down the white shirt to our children and grandchildren.
Yet when it comes to this most momentous of decisions, we are the very last people to be consulted. We turn up through rain and shine, good times and bad, we pay our money and pay the wages. Right now, we don’t exist.
In stark contrast, the club were falling over themselves to consult during the planning process for the new stadium in N17, otherwise known as the Northumberland Development Project. I quote from the club website, as they worked towards the new stadium:
“ The previous application received strong backing from the local community and fans alike – with over 800 letters of support sent to Haringey Council from individuals, groups and businesses. The changes made directly reflect the Club’s desire to find the very best solution for the Club and the locality – and are the culmination of consultation and discussion with the Government’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), English Heritage and other agencies as part of our desire to appeal to the widest possible audience.”
Fans were encouraged to contact Haringey Council. Local people and businesses were roped in. There was an online consultation exercise. They needed us then. Now, our opinions have no effect on the decision-takers. We have no value for the club, hence the deathly silence.
While I’m at it, here’s another quote, again from the club website:
A Flagship for Regeneration
All successful regeneration projects start with a single high profile ‘anchor’ scheme. The Northumberland Development Project represents an investment of hundreds of millions of pounds into North Tottenham and we believe has the potential to be a flagship for the wider regeneration of the area – attracting additional investment and securing significant benefits for the local community:
An even greater ability for the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation to address key social and community issues.
• World-class design which people will be proud to live near and visit.
• New affordable housing, both for rent and for key workers such as nurses and teachers.
• A significant investment in North Tottenham with a comprehensive scheme, not just a stadium.
Remembering our History
• The Club recognises the importance of remembering our history as a part of the new plans.
• We have the opportunity to re-house and re-locate key items which reflect and celebrate our proud history in Tottenham.
• We shall look to celebrate our past, display our memorabilia in a worthy environment and retain much of that which fans hold dear.
• This will be achieved both in the fabric of the buildings, in the new Club Museum and within the public spaces including the public square and lower courtyard.
• We intend to locate the famous Bill Nicholson Gates between the former White Hart pub and the Red House, which is the location of the current Bill Nicholson Way.
• We plan to put the famous cockerel, currently in our Club reception, on a plinth outside Warmington House as one of the first visible symbols fans will see as they approach from Seven Sisters.
• The old Club Board Room on the first floor of the Red House will be protected and retained and consideration given to bringing it back into use for appropriate Club meetings and Museum activities.
• We are also looking at how we decorate the gates and structures outside the stadium on the High Road and what other public art we commission across the site.
• We have established a Heritage Group which will consult on this work.
What price history and regeneration now? Literally: it has no value therefore our heritage is consigned to the dustbin, vacant rhetoric that has served its purpose and is now discarded.
Levy apparently lacks the courage to appear in public to discuss his plans. It’s ironic that this furore comes at a time when he has largely won over our support by the way he has run the club. For years his image was tarnished by poor judgement regarding the key appointment in any football club, the manager. Hoddle came and went, to be followed by what felt like the longest reign of any caretaker when, under David Pleat, we could so easily have been relegated. Santini failed, then Jol was removed because he was successful but not successful enough. With Ramos we plunged to the foot of the league until Our Harry came down from on high (well, the south coast) to save us all.
However, under Levy we have reaped the rewards of a consistent, prudent approach to money. He has resisted calls to make marquee signings, instead driving a series of hard bargains over salaries and fees. We’ve missed out on a few players in the process but the policy of buying good young players has more than made up for that as they mature. Also, the ludicrous problems experienced by Newcastle, Manchester United, West Ham and Liverpool are evidence enough to demonstrate the anguish caused by a potentially fatal combination of overbearing ego and an eye on the profit margin. Levy created sustainable financial stability and we owe him a lot.
Perhaps his biggest achievement, his personal legacy, was the new stadium. Finding a site near to the Lane was remarkable in overcrowded London. I don’t envy L’Arse their cavernous soulless spaceship but my goodness how I secretly admired the fact that stayed so close to home. Levy, however, trumped them, because we had a proper football ground, with stands close to the pitch and rising steeply plus an ‘end’. Thus the atmosphere of the Lane, its very essence, was preserved for generations to come.
This is why we felt safe with Levy, because this above all else proved he knew what football means. A proper ground, in our home! He consulted the fans, listened and responded. He knew what we wanted and did something about it. Now that bond lies in tatters. There’s no consultation now because he does not want to hear what we have to say. That’s why I feel so badly let down.
Levy would say that he’s being consistent, acting with the same financial prudence that has taken us this far. I certainly do not want to bankrupt the club, but we should do everything that is humanly possible to stay in N17, rather than cut and run to Stratford.
So it’s back to the Olympic Park Legacy Committee. A baroness, a Sir and a Lord, plus members with backgrounds in the local community, athletics, politics and planning. They’re so on the ball, they only realised a couple of days ago that one colleague, Tessa Sanderson, has links with Newham, i.e. a partner with one of the bids. They will make a recommendation next Friday, which then goes to Boris and the government for a final decision. It’s possible that on the 28th they can defer their choice to seek more information, so don’t hold your breath. This is fast becoming a political hot potato so they will proceed with caution.
As it stands, Spurs bid is seen as the stronger financially whilst West Ham scores on the legacy issues. How the balance tips is anyone’s guess. Nothing is emerging from the committee. Athletics is having a big push in favour of keeping the Olympic Stadium and this could be decisive, but it is only one of several factors the OPLC is duty bound to consider. As I said last week, the public will be baffled by any plan that knocks the stadium down and I suspect Cameron does not want to be remembered as the man with the wrecking ball.
Whatever happens, Spurs fans will not have a say, and nor for that matter will the supporters of west Ham. Fans left out once more. Earlier I said in passing that we should be heard because we are the ones who pay the wages, but the fact is, that is no longer true. The majority of a club’s income comes not from gate receipts but from TV and other rights and from the corporate sector. They’ll care when it comes to the noise in the big games, the club and Sky love us then, but right now we’re out in the cold looking in.