Politics. All down to politics, as this blog has been saying for a while. The BBC has ‘learned’ that West Ham will win the Olympic Stadium bidding process. In the language of politics, it’s a leak from a sound source, otherwise the BBC would not have gone so big on it. It will happen. Rejoice, oh rejoice unto the heavens! Yet the abiding feeling this morning is the realisation that far from being over, the real issue for Spurs fans, the plans that will affect our development in the next hundred years, that battle has only just begun.
This decision has nothing to do with football or the clubs. It’s a political settlement based on the promises around the Olympic Stadium that date from the bid itself, the legacy and the perceived public reaction if the nod went to an organisation prepared to knock down Britain’s showpiece. The arguments advocated by Levy or for that matter the odious Sullivan in yesterday’s Standard (“the decision is about a promise made in the Queen’s name”) count for virtually nothing. Coe and the athletics lobby as 2012 approaches, Cameron and Boris with cold shudders down their spines as they imagine themselves pictured with the wrecking ball, the government being seen to renege on Olympic undertakings in the most public of ways – these are the factors.
I’ll tell you why this choice was made – my office. Two blokes in the workplace, me and one other who’s not interested in football in the slightest. The rest are women, only one of whom is keen on sport. Lovely people, and yes of course women like football, but not these. There’s not a lot of footy banter going on.
Except over the stadium move. Everyone knows about it. They have no idea who Daniel Levy is, no club allegaince or the faintest notion of a legacy. But they all know Spurs plan to demolish the stadium and they are livid. Many of them blame me personally, even when I point out my opposition. To them, it’s simple: ‘How dare they knock down our stadium?’ Our stadium. There it is. Not Spurs’ or West Ham’s. Ours.
The fans of both clubs, and Orient’s too for that matter, are so embroiled in claim and counter-claim about territory, heritage, revenue streams and sightlines that we fail to appreciate the big picture so beloved of politicians in local and national government. The public want the Olympic Stadium. They are proud of it and proud Britain is hosting the Games. Woe betide a politician who ignores the public mood, whatever they may consider in private, especially so in these straitened times when election promises are returning to haunt members of the government.
In saying that the arguments advanced by both clubs have been so much pissing in the wind, it has to be acknowledged that West Ham have caught the public mood much better than Levy and his PR department. To me, the notion of the Porn Barons and Karren Brady as champions of the people is incomprehensible and frankly nauseating. However, they have successfully presented themselves as guardians of the Games and upholders of decent, honest values, of keeping promises and keeping faith with ‘the youth of London’, whilst at the same time burying the news that theirs is the option that uses public money. Levy meanwhile has been caught on his heels, belatedly desperate to catch up as West Ham set the agenda and the pace. It helps to have a column in the Sun, mind.
Above all, the public and the media like a simple story, and West Ham have successfully cast Spurs as the baddies. This debate about the future of sport in this country has been dramatised as a battle between good and evil and we have lost. Serious damage has been done to our reputation, unwarranted in my view because this was not what it was about at all, but real in the eyes of the public nonetheless. Levy the Loser is the tag he will find hard to shake off, never mind the public, in the eyes of the media and his fellow Premier League chairman. Remember this is the guy who drives a hard bargain and as the deadlines approach, does not blink. Until now.
My opposition to Stratford has been implacable from the start. I’m pleased with this decision but this is just the beginning, because it throws the long-term problems of THFC into sharp focus. If not Stratford, then where? The club cannot challenge the top teams in the long run in a ground that holds fewer than 37,000 people. Figures published today by Deloittes show that of the top 7 clubs, only one, L’arse, made a profit. Spurs have the dubious honour of making the least loss, about £6.5m compared with Man U at nearly £80m, Chelsea at £70m and Man City £121m. The matchday revenues at Spacecity North London are 5 times greater than ours, their profit £56m last year.
I hope we can return to the NDP: I understand the costs have risen but remain wary of Levy’s sudden change of tack. Let’s leave the specifics for another day. One thing is certain, that Daniel Levy remains the key figure who holds not only the balance sheet but also our hopes and dreams. There’s no one else we can turn to: he’s the man in charge. Yet after this mauling, I wonder if he still has the stomach to fight a series of new, possibly protracted battles. We need him to be at his best but he must be feeling battered, sore and bruised. Despite his decade or so in the hotseat, he’s never given the impression of being a passionate man on a mission. Whatever you think about Stratford, it will be hard for anyone to generate the motivation for the challenges to come. It would not be a surprise if he walked away.
This to my mind is the biggest problem Spurs and Spurs fans have to face in the coming weeks and months. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that Levy should have done so much more to take the fans with him. Most accept his arguments that the club must change in some way. The fans and board united has to be the way forward. I’ve been an opponent, at times showing a degree of bitterness that is not part of my character, but Daniel, here’s my hand. Reach out and take it.