One of the rapidly disappearing joys of Twitter is the way you get to know people that you wouldn’t necessarily bump into otherwise. It’s extremely healthy – mostly.
Keith Punter and I support the same football team but that may be about the only common ground we have. I have no idea what he does for a living, where he lives or how old he is, and we should never, ever get into a conversation about politics.
I don’t even agree with him about football all the time but my relationship with Twitter would be much poorer without him. Keith detests the modern corporatism of the game, the hype, the money, the fact that’s it’s harder to enjoy yourself at football these days, so much so that it’s forced him to stay at home on a Saturday (or Sunday morning, or Thursday, or Friday). But as well as being a good judge of a player, he’s proper Spurs, because he cares about the club, deep down. It makes him angry when things are not done right.
Last week Tottenham Hotspur unveiled revised stadium plans with a capacity increased to 61,000, a possible retractable pitch and a home for NFL in London. Amidst widespread gushing over the architect’s drawings of the shiny smooth sweeping curves of the stands, where the sun always shines and the fans are always smiling, Keith tweeted this:
How much will a season ticket cost? How much for a beer? A pie?
Forgive me if I am underwhelmed by this new announcement. It’s not that I am against the new ground. I will miss White Hart Lane more than I can possibly say and when the end is nigh, I’ll not so much wallow in nostalgia as dive in with a triple somersault, swim backstroke for 50 lengths then do handstands at the deep end.
But times are changing and we need another, bigger ground with the income that comes with it. I wholeheartedly support the building of the new stadium. It’s just that my views have not altered since the very first announcement, which seems a long time ago now, because that contained the key elements.
Levy has pulled of a remarkable achievement to build next to White Hart Lane. The Hotspur have never played a home match more than 600 yards away from WHL. Every single Spurs supporter has walked the same pavements, gulped in huge draughts of the same air to roar on the team, muttered darkly as they dashed in defeat down the High Road. This sense of place is irreplaceable. It makes us who we are. There’s only one Hotspur. Moving to an out-of-town industrial antiseptic, faceless B&Q of a ground would have vastly diminished that uniqueness. Finding that site in north London let alone in the High Road is an absolute coup.
The early design included a kop end and stands steepling high and close to the pitch. That means atmosphere, a renewed connection between team and supporters. You can have all the corporate boxes and hospitality you like, provided that is not at the expense of the ordinary fan. It’s still there, with the mouth-watering possibility a few years down the line of rail seating/standing. With the site and design, Spurs exceeded my expectations. That’s what counts and that’s not changed either.
Which brings me back to Keith’s tweet. None of this matters unless the supporters are looked after properly. Frankly, it’s never been a dream of mine to enter the ground along an elevated skywalk – a queue for the train is a queue wherever it is – but I’m sure I will get used to it, and even snatch a quick flat white on the way. If the seats are too expensive, it will be a kick in the teeth to the loyal regulars and alienate generations of potential fans who want to be regulars but who can’t afford it. The PL and Sky have between them already produced a generation of younger fans who define support as buying the shirt, getting a Sky subscription and taking part in endless arguments on twitter. That comment is about football in general by the way. It applies to Spurs but by no means exclusively. It’s a response to being priced out of regular attendance and it’s a crying shame.
We have to increase our long-term income to compete nationally and in Europe. I get it, I really do. What’s that figure comparing income per home match, The Emirates generates £1m per match more than the Lane? This stadium, the NFL deal plus TV money, could secure our long-term financial health. What I don’t accept is if supporters are exploited in the pursuit of cash. To me, the two are not incompatible. Precisely because of the projected income streams and the capacity, Spurs can afford to keep prices reasonable. That secures support over several generations. Fans will keep coming even if, or when, the TV cash cow runs dry. Kids will support Spurs, not Chelsea, United or Barcelona. And in the long-term, that brings in money.
And while I’m about it, can we nail this thing about ‘never going to be able to fill it’ jibe that’s hurled at every new club development these days. The Lane has an illustrious history but since I began this unfortunate passion in ’67, it’s not been full that often even in the glory days that we recall so fondly, until of course you get to the modern era.
This afternoon I’ve seen a pic posted by a Hammer of the view from the upper tier of the soon-to-be-former Olympic Stadium. I know there will be retractable seating close to the pitch but for the upper tiers, they should include free binoculars with every ticket. Stadia are for supporters. That’s the benchmark, pure and simple. I feel for Hammers (no really) because they like us are used to being tight to the pitch.
Spacious seductive walkways populated by Lowry pigmy figures rushing to the match mean nothing to me. Stadia are for supporters. It’s the only benchmark. Levy got it right almost a decade ago and it’s the only thing that matters to me still. Watch this space.
And Keith, if we ever meet, I owe you a pie mate. Hang the cost, you’re worth it.