It comes to something when your faith is challenged not from within but by the object of your devotion.
On Monday Spurs announced the season ticket prices for the coming season, the first in our new ground. We all expected increases but the scale of these price rises is intolerable. Variously across the ground, hikes amount to 20% and 30% more than the White Hart Lane equivalent. Some of the cheaper seats in the old Park Lane are now £995, that’s about £200 more than they were last year. My seat in the old block 28, Shelfside opposite the dugouts, is gone completely, now some luxury lounge corporate drinks at half time and padded seats for plump arses. The closest alternative costs £1500, a rise of 50% for a worse view. Can’t afford it.
It’s a fallacy to argue the increases are justified because Spurs must fund the ground and a top-class team. A recent Deloitte’s report on football shows that gate receipts amount to around 15% of a Premier League clubs’ revenue, the rest derives from television rights and commercial deals. This will go up substantially with the new ground, but the board won’t change the current salary structure because of this extra income from excessive rises alone. To repeat, it’s Spurs, in London, new ground, an increase I expected. 20, 30 50%, that is unfathomable.
The brochure extolling the virtues of the new Lane feels glossy and smooth. Two days after opening, it reeks of luxury and indulgence. To me, its only value is playing the Spurs equivalent of Where’s Wally? with the artist’s impressions’ pictures. Where’s Daniel? One bloke crops up twice in the same photo – if only we could do the same with Harry Kane on the pitch.
I’ll enjoy the space, although as to whether I will be able to get a cup of tea at half-time, I’m not holding my breath. The brochure is largely irrelevant to my matchday experience and that of many other supporters. I don’t want a micro-brewery or artisan cheese. Especially if beer costs £6 a pint, as the bar price list notes. Going home, I’m not going to say, “well, we were rubbish at the back but at least Spurs have an unrivalled standard of finish using materials such as brushed steel, copper, European oak and Quartz.” A floor to stand on and chat to my friends will do me.
“We’ve got brushed steel, we’ve got brushed steel, you ain’t, you ain’t.”
The brochure is a waste of time and money. They are selling the fans something that doesn’t need a sales pitch. Photocopy a sheet that says, ‘new ground, Spurs will be there.’ Done. Because that’s what matters to every single person who buys a ticket. I wasn’t going to go the game but the goal-line bar has changed my mind. Not how we think. You have to plough through the brochure before getting to the bit the matters, the cost. Marketing, that is.
Whatever you think about Levy, and in Tottenham On My Mind I have been consistent in pointing out the flaws in his strategy and decision-taking as well as praising him when he deserves it, building next to the Lane is nothing short of a coup. I’m deeply proud that our new home is in N17, and I understand that throughout our chairman has sought a fan-friendly design, with stands close to the pitch and good acoustics. That’s not an accident, and fair play to the board for delivering.
Yet the pricing serves to weaken this legacy. Great football grounds are made by the fans, not bricks and mortar. The ground is our place, where we come out to demonstrate our passion for the team and get behind them, where we celebrate, create and commiserate. Fans make football worth watching.
This pricing structure does everything possible to undermine this. Some will be priced out totally. Percentages and comparisons with other clubs mask the cold hard fact that watching football at Spurs is bloody expensive, whichever seats you choose. The government say we are in a time of austerity, where expectations must be scaled back and realistic, where money will be tight. The first thing that goes is usually leisure expenditure.
The South Stand is a return to an ‘end’, the popular side, for singing, for atmosphere, for young people. £1200 in the centre blocks, a fiver shy of a grand further down, with 4 pockets of 1882 Club seats at £2200. I see little encouragement there. Shades of Club Wembley as fans struggle to tear themselves away from the complimentary food to watch a football match.
And then there’s the Shelf. Over the past 50 years I’ve seen around 95% of Spurs’ home league games. Almost all of them have been from the Shelf, standing just to the left of the gangway separating the centre block from the rest, then sitting 10 yards away on the giant white F of the THFC spelled out by the seats. The people who sit around me – sat around me – are pretty much the same. Football is no longer a working-class sport, and the working class itself has changed, but this is as close as you will ever get. We’ve been there since 2000 – we’re newcomers compared with the others. Ordinary folk, diverse, friendly, Spurs in their hearts and souls. 30 years of camaraderie and relationships obliterated, with a final message ringing in our ears – you are not important to us anymore.
This is the real demise of the Shelfside, home of the Tottenham loyal since 1934, whose fearsome roar urged on the navy blue and white and terrified opposition fans, who never came near. Bricks from the old Shelf form a mural on the wall of one of the bars. It is our headstone.
The stadium design pays close attention to our heritage, the club pays lip service to the fans who have created it. Fans who turned up in numbers when things weren’t going as well as they are now. Who took to the streets so we could stay in N17, to walk in the footsteps of every Spurs fan who has ever been to a home game. Levy, we helped you build this. Not rewarded in the prices.
The ground incorporates some good ideas, only fair that I list them. Better access and less segregation for disabled fans – Spurs were previously one of the worst in the PL. A range of discount tickets for children and, new this, for young adults (although these tickets are only in the cheaper areas). A better ticket exchange. Being able to walk round the concourses to meet friends who sit in different parts of the ground. Very good – safe standing areas.
Daniel Levy (salary 2014-15 £2.6m) is a shrewd financier and businessman. As such, he understands the value of investment, in the short, medium and long term, except when it comes to his supporters. Everything is rosy now, but when the burnished novelty of the new stadium dulls, if this fabulous team falters, renewals in a year or two may not be as attractive a prospect. Now, Levy rightly calculates that fans will pay, although the fact that a Wembley season ticket was offered to a 7-month-old baby who had reached the top of the waiting list suggests demand is not completely elastic. The crude supply and demand equation is a short-term approach that does not do nearly enough to safeguard future generations of Spurs supporters.
I’ve stood and sat in the same place for fifty years. In these stands I grew from a boy to a man. Here, I’ve shared joy and despair, laughter and some of the most bitter albeit creative moaning that’s ever been. I’ve been struck dumb in misery and lifted to the sky with elation. Only football can do this.
Football has kept me going through life events that I would not wish to happen to anyone, profound desolation and hopelessness, yet at the Lane there’s always hope. Always, even if sometimes it had faded far across the horizon. Just another run, beat a man, shoot on the turn. Ah, next time maybe. A goal to be craved, even a miss meant there was still hope for next time. I would have gone under if I didn’t know that there was going to be a show and Tottenham Hotspur would be there.
And this is what the Spurs board, and for that matter football boards up and down the country, simply do not grasp. They have no sense of the depth of feeling that an emotional attachment of such complexity and power generates. Football is about us as individuals. It’s fundamental to our identity. I am a father, husband and Spurs fan. I’m also Jewish, qualified, a dedicated social worker, white, a Londoner exiled in Kent, British, overweight, but these are the three that define me most accurately.
Worse than not understanding this, football boards think they understand. This means they don’t put any effort into finding out more. Instead, this loyalty becomes a commodity they can trade in and exploit. Not my business to intrude on the grief of others, but this is the root cause of the troubles at West Ham. Forget the tribalism – this also serves to mask another reality, which is that fans everywhere have much in common and are being treated poorly. The Hammers’ core support is loyal, longstanding and long-suffering. Their board, under the guise of working in their interests, has tried to undermine their heritage with a saccharin stadium designed for anything but football and barely disguised contempt for the well-being and safety of their fans. They believe the fans will fall for the promises they make about the future, in terms of players and the experience of watching the team. Mixing up groups of fans, misleading them about the view from their seat, feeding the line that Stratford means they’ve put one over on us – all this and more in the name of progress.
The ructions over the weekend at the London Stadium have multifaceted origins. At their heart is that supporters and fans hold fundamentally different ideas about how they see a football club and what they want from being a part of it. It’s a battle – the board wants to change a culture that has lasted for a century and more. They want everything to be shiny, pleasant, lucrative, commercial. They want consumers not fans. And when fans don’t want it, they have to make those concerns heard.
At Arsenal, the facilities are great but there’s no atmosphere. Corporates don’t sing, or indeed watch the whole match. Charge the earth for the privilege. It was fine until team didn’t do so well, now some fans are so aggrieved, they would rather stay at home than sit in seats they’ve already paid for.
Leave the sneering to one side. Both these groups of supporters have been through the process of moving. There’s a real danger than Spurs have not learned these lessons. The team is playing marvellous football at the moment, but recent history suggests this is atypical not the norm. The attraction of paying £63 per match to sit behind the goal, the popular end remember, not by any means the most expensive seat, could fade before you can say ‘and no guaranteed cup final ticket.’
Several years ago, the morale of Spurs fans was ebbing away. Ask people what they felt, nobody truly looked forward to the next game unless it was a derby. Season ticket holders questioned whether they would renew, some the first time such a thought had crossed their minds in two or three decades.
It wasn’t so much what happened on the field, although AVB and Sherwood inspired few of us. Supporters felt disengaged, distant and alienated from a club who asked us to spend the earth on tickets with no prospect of significant improvement, who treated us as customer number not individuals, extras for the crowd noise that is so attractive when it comes to selling the foreign TV rights.
I tend towards the view that football supporters are pretty much the same wherever you go. I might even go so far as to say that I have as much in common with a Hammer who fears for the culture of his club than I do with a Spurs fan munching mature gruyere and peering at the players through one-way glass in the Tunnel Club. What happened next at Spurs, however, gave us a refreshingly different experience from other London fans. We brought through a group of young players who were totally committed to the team and to improving themselves. They acknowledged supporters in their celebrations, I mean looking genuinely elated not doing a choreographed mystery in-joke dance when they scored. Kane is one of our own – this chant resonates as the symbol of what he and we have achieved together. Ryan Mason playing out of position and eventually disposed of, gave us everything and played for the shirt. No prima donnas, no excuses. They gave as much for the shirt as we did.
As a result, the distance between fans and club diminish. We felt closer. The atmosphere lifted. We played football the Spurs way. The club responded in some ways. The Lane finale moved each and everyone of us. These prices could destroy that.
Fans go to the game for the football, not the facilities. If we can’t afford it, we can’t go. I’ll be there, somewhere, because it’s that important for me, and for my son and granddaughter who sit next to me. This is what we do, this is who we are. I’m come through a crisis of faith before, when all things considered it would have been easier to not go and avoid the strife of going out, of this being a luxury I could not afford, the credit card bills. I can’t work full-time because of other responsibilities. Money’s tight. But I came through that, and I’m glad I did because I was being true to myself and thereby able to be true to others who need me. It gave me the energy to keep going. Spurs are a big thing for me, too big perhaps but I’m here now, this is how I feel so I roll with it. Love the club for evermore. Not sure it will ever feel quite the same though.