OK, I’ll take that one. The angst and alienation that characterises the prevailing mood amongst Spurs fans has provoked a golden period of powerful, passionate writing about Tottenham Hotspur. Here’s the blogroll of honour: the Lustdoctor and Paul Johnson aka @Sniersmoregut on twitter with a manifesto I wholeheartedly agree with, Dear Mr Levy, Martin Cloake and last but not least Greg on Dispatches. Read them all, you won’t be disappointed.
Greg ends up by posing a deceptively simple question: what kind of club do we want to be? Here’s my contribution. Like the others, let’s move this forward. After all, I haven’t much hair left to tear out.
So this is what I want. This is my way out of the mess.
First thing: football is football. It remains unsurpassed, compelling drama that entices the world. It’s always evolving – the physical fitness of players is the single biggest difference since I began watching the game in the mid sixties. It means it is faster and there is less space for individuals to run with it or pick a pass but I simply refuse to accept that intrinsically it is more lifeless, defensive or dull than it used to be. It’s a little different but football evolves. So leave the game as it is.
There were always good games, bad games and indifferent games. Social media was profoundly affronted when early this season Manchester United and Chelsea contrived to play a dull game. Dull? These superpowers? How dare they? Death of the English game, football not what is was etc etc. Horses**t. It was just a bad game. Ozil – not worth the money. Over-rated. Me, I’d say he’s going through a bad patch, the same as any other player, ever, from Thursday night over 50’s 6 a side to Barca and Madrid. Those blogs that wrote off Gareth Bale after a poor showing in El Clasico earlier this season. His second or third match for Madrid. Talk about giving a bloke a chance. Social media isn’t football. When people say they are fed up with football, don’t get confused with what happens on the pitch. It’s what goes on off it that is the problem.
Next: I want my Tottenham Hotspur to be unique. I want us to remember our heritage. That heritage is a living thing and the current club and supporters are part of that. Spurs stand for certain things: good football, innovation, being in N17. We breathe the same air and walk the same streets as every player, every single supporter since the boys met under the second lamp-post along the High Road from the present ground in autumn 1882 to form a football club.
That’s important. This isn’t some poncy heritage site National Trust pickle the ground in aspic rose-tinted visit the tea-shop on the way out nostalgia. It’s real, it’s us, it’s who we are. It makes us strong, different from all the rest. It gives us something to tell our children and our children’s children. Neglect that at our peril.
This is not an argument for innate superiority. I want City, United, Newcastle and Sunderland, Dulwich Hamlet and Fisher Athletic to be unique too, to maintain their heritage. I want clubs to be different not homogenised.
I want the club to be there long after my ashes have been scattered under the crowd’s feet as they hurry home after the match. That’s important too. I want long-term stability and security to make sure that happens. I want Kirsty and Tom, my daughter and son who sit next to me, to be there when they are my age. My club is not a rich man’s plaything, an afterthought soon tired of. It’s not all about me either. I want the club to carry on wehn I’m gone.
Third pillar: The Champions League is not the Holy Grail. I want Spurs to be contenders, to be punching their weight near the top of the league, I want other sides to worry when our name looms on the fixture list. However, I don’t want to spend money we don’t have on the possibly futile pursuit of temporary success. I want Spurs to play good football with good players. If so, success will come. If they don’t make it, it is not the end of the world.
Pausing for breath, let me pull up my soapbox by way of an interlude. Just think about this for a sec. The Premier League is geared towards failure and futility. The goal according to accepted wisdom, is the holy CL. Everybody goes for it, only four get in, reduced to three soon enough if English teams don’t do well. We got in but we didn’t win anything by so doing. Whatever level a team is on, their supporters talk of the next level. The FA Cup what’s the point? Europa League? Give up, not worth anything.
Everything becomes not a victory but a staging post for the mythical next step. There’s nothing achieved, no time to pause and enjoy it, no sense of satisfaction, unless you win the CL three times in a row perhaps. This is not my attitude but one that prevails in much football discourse these days. It’s one reason why some peole don’t seem to enjoy it. Not for me. Stay in the moment. Enjoy a win for what it is, fifth in the league is better than sixth and enjoy it. Shiny shiny trophies, if we ever win any, stop and enjoy it. Fans are always going somewhere else. I prefer to stop and look at the view.
Where was I? To be contenders, we have to have a plan and stick to it. We can’t spunk huge wads of cash, let’s build something over time. I want the respect of fans of other clubs who see us doing this, I want some self-respect when I see us doing it and the problem right now is that I have little respect for what’s going on.
Since Levy took over, he has made a series of attempts not just to build a side but to build continuity, with varying degrees of success. We never really know what goes on behind the scenes but in this perspective, the phases of the club can be measured not through managers but the Directors of Football. Arnesen, Commoli and now Baldini have been charged with, happen to be around when, whatever, we bought players who by and large had their best years ahead of them.
Good plan botched by Levy. Two reasons: one, he refused to commit a few extra resources to seal the deal when one or two players would have helped the squad fulfil potential. Second, Levy can’t judge a manager. Good chief exec focusses on goals for the organisation, picks good people to lead the operation and lets them get on with it. He can’t do either. But it remains the only way forward for Spurs, and if it works it will feel good. We watched Modric, Bale, Berbatov blossom. They were ours.
Now, and this is important: the club has to respect the supporters. Deeds not words. Start by understanding that there is a reciprocity in the relationship between supporters and the club. We will put up with a hell of a lot because we are loyal, not to managers, chairmen or players but to the shirt.
It is and always has been an unbalanced relationship with the club holding all the cards because they know that we the supporters will turn up. We have an emotional bond with the club, the board’s relationship is something different, less permanent, less committed.
This is intrinsic to the culture of British football. Fans have always been badly treated by clubs. However, there are degrees of exploitation and right now supporters are being pushed to the limits. It’s true for Spurs, the example I know most about, but it’s sadly also true for supporters of many other clubs.
The relationship may be unequal but never forget that it takes two, and Tottenham Hotspur PLC need to remember that. The current alienation has been caused not by league position – we are steady in fifth or sixth despite everything – but by the grievances fans have about being marginalised.
We can see there’s no coherent plan for the team to progress. Hopes rise only to be dashed again. And there’s a context. Living standards are falling, ticket prices rise. Inflation is falling, ticket prices rise. Above all, the income from non-ticket sources has gone through the stratosphere, ticket prices rise. You’ve heard it before but it’s worth restating, if only as a stark reminder of how much the balance has shifted in favour of the club, of just how unequal the relationship has become.
Look elsewhere and there are no mitigating factors. The FA and Premier League do nothing except put the interests of the clubs first. Kick-off times, scheduling of matches, managers playing second-string sides for the ‘magic of the Cup’. Pathetic, weak, self-interested, these bodies denigrate the hisotry of the English game and have totally repudiated their precious responsiblity for nurturing its future.
Families priced out. Kids can walk round the ground before the game but only if they pay to sit in a certain part of the ground. Tour the ground and pay. Visit the shop and pay – how much exactly does a blue and white acrylic scarf cost to mass-produce? We give, they take. Everywhere. Without exception. Stubhub. If you know your history – Spurs fans do. We remember the Shelf and what happened.
One feature of the concept of alienation is that the alienated are prevented from having a true understanding of what is going on because of ideological constructions that obscure and deny. I have a sociology degree and I’m not afraid to use it.
What’s happened now is that dissatisfaction has risen because what was once obscure is now transparent. We can see perfectly well what is going on. The club have more money than ever before yet choose the option of fleecing us more than ever before.
I want a club that actively espouses the right values. That is transparent in its dealings with supporters. That respects us and the community of which it forms a part, however reluctantly. That gives importance to the needs of supporters. That recognises our emotional attachment. That realises the team will benefit from wholehearted support. That realises the responsibility they have to this and future generations of Tottenham Hotspur supporters, rather than taking a short-term, profit-driven approach.
To respect us, the club has to listen and to respond. I’d like a supporter-led organisation to take over and take this co-operative to the top of the league. Yeah right. That’s true but it will never happen. Point is, I’m happy to settle for a lot less.
Let the supporters have a say on key issues like pricing, the new ground, ticket reselling. Don’t increase ticket prices this season. How much will the club lose? About half the salary of a squad player or something approaching the equivalent of the chairman’s recent salary increase but it would make a hell of a difference both to our pockets and our feelings. How about safe standing? A dedicated extra area for singing led by 1882. Singing – it’s not asking very much, is it.
The PLC have an insular, trench-warfare approach to fan liaison. Two weeks ago local paper the Haringey Independent sent them some questions about Stubhub. They were critical but legitimate. Last week they published them. The club complained. They haven’t answered the questions yet but have the energy to complain that a newspaper publishes legitimate questions on issues that have been raised many times before, including in the established media as well as on blogs. Legitimate questions that fans want answered yet the club complain about openness. And we haven’t even got to the answers yet! Doesn’t matter what you think about Stubhub. It’s symptomatic of an attitude that excludes us, a denial of the outside world.
These things will make the club stronger. They are to be embraced not feared. A dialogue between club and fans, using fans’ phenomenal expertise, building bridges and perish the thought, encouraging our efforts to get behind the team. Think about it – it’s not a revolution, these are not ridiculous demands. I have not even mentioned ENIC here, not about getting rid of them at all. I’m talking about my generation of fan contributing to the long-term benefit of the club.
Tell us what the long-term plans are for the club. Let us discuss them, contribute, have a dialogue, in public. As radical manifestos go, this is more WI that SWP, yet to the club it’s a threat. That mentality has to go.
I want children to go to the game. I want them to be welcomed. I want them to come back. I want them to be as excited as I was when I was a kid. I want fans to be able to say, I want to go to a game and I can afford it.
So there you are. The right values. Money is vital but it isn’t everything and the thing is, there’s plenty to go round. Anyway, respect costs nothing. At least, that’s what I think. Problem is, right now the club doesn’t agree.