Yesterday was a good day. After 48 hours of concerted fan protest around the country, the only competition left for the rats was who could be first to leave the sinking ship. It was a joy to behold.
Less a campaign – there wasn’t time to organise – more an outcry, supporters rose above the tribalism that the football powers bank on to undermine fan solidarity to discover and express a common interest. You and I have lived through and been part of an historic moment in English football. Nothing like this has ever happened before, where fans united in dissent to alter the direction of the game itself. That’s not an exaggeration while I am still high on exaltation. History is being written as I type. English fans just do not behave like this.
There will be other battles. For now, we’re left to think about the implications of what this means at Tottenham. Spurs’ impudence to attach themselves to Europe’s so-called big 12 was widely derided, but please pay attention at the back, we are 10th and rising in the league table that mattered, the Deloitte’s European club rich list. Levy wasn’t hanging on anyone’s coattails, he was there from the early days. It was City and Chelsea who came on board late (which made it easier for them to jump off) because they have other sources of income. Levy made sure he had a seat at the top table because he didn’t want to get left behind. Play the financials rather than invest in a winning side and earn status on the pitch. It’s what he does.
It was a catastrophic misjudgement. He’s left humiliated, looking like a fool, and the worst kind at that, an arrogant fool, out of touch with football and the supporters. What appears to be an astonishing, baffling miscalculation can be understood by looking at his relationship with fans. I’ve never met him, but I know many people who have, and they say he genuinely cares about the club as owner and as a fan. Yet he like many people running other clubs fails to understand what supporters want and how they wish to be treated.
I know this sounds oddly simplistic but I’ve spoken over the years to supporters’ organisations, club liaison officers and consultants involved in the game , and they all say the same thing. People who run football just don’t get it. Worse still, they think they do. They do surveys. They take feedback. They meet with the Trust. They meet with other chairs. But they don’t understand us. They avoid interaction. They may engage in dialogue, but they don’t respond. Their definition of participation does not include giving fans any power.
Levy’s callous, contemptuous approach towards me and you has been exposed. We are ‘legacy fans’, left behind in favour of the ‘fans of the future’, the wet dream of thrusting marketing professionals who see us as commodities and income sources. AI creates robots with more human emotion than these people see in us, in you and me.
Levy is telling me that a lifetime of support and profound emotional commitment is worthless. Being a Spurs fan is part of who I am. It’s not something I do on a Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours. It never goes away and I don’t want it to. Family, friendships, identity all chucked out of the window so the viewing figures can go up. How many times have I written and talked about my pride in Spurs’ history and heritage? The club cuts that off in a heartbeat. It means everything to me, nothing to them.
I knew this already. We all do. Some have had enough and hung up their scarf and season ticket for the last time. I don’t blame them. But fans come to an accommodation with this cognitive dissonance. It’s a game we all play to a greater or lesser extent. For me, I tell myself that why should I give up a lifetime of support, something that has driven and sustained me for nigh on 60 years, just because of the people who run the club now.
The way I support my team is essentially no different to how it was when I began in the mid-60s, or how generations of fans have walked up and down the High Road for over 130 years. Go to the game and get behind the team. Enjoy the good times, commiserate with mates during the bad times, and see you next week. The game is the same, faster and more athletic, but in essence no different. It’s the hype and blather that has changed, so turn it off and enjoy the match.
Yes, I am a legacy fan, yes I’m proud of it and I’m not going away. An important part of that is understanding where I come from. I hope that if some good emerges from this sorry episode, it’s that fans recognise how much their club means to them. Being a supporter is not about instant gratification, it’s about being part of something much greater. We are connected. This is part of our DNA as English football fans, the connection between club and community, the ties with where our club originated, the ties that bind to other fans.
We are not a separate elite. We are part of the pyramid. I am the bloke in Madrid for the CL final, the bloke in the best stadium in Europe and the bloke having a quiet pint in the bar at Rusthall FC, going away to see Fisher FC. I support a team in the Premier League but I don’t feel any different from a loyal fan of any club in any league, and I express my support in the same way as they do. I feel closer to, say, Bury or AFC Wimbledon fans trying to save their clubs than I do to someone who goes to Spurs as a social event, has a nice meal and doesn’t care about the result. To me, there’s no them and us. That is what has made me so angry about the ESL, that it assumed we would all fall into line with exclusion and elitism.
Levy is fond of describing his role as that of a custodian, respectful of the club’s heritage. I believe he genuinely thinks that. The problem is that he does not grasp what that means or, more importantly, what he can do to nurture that heritage. He builds a stadium on the site of the old White Hart Lane, which is wonderful, and I know he is enormously proud of the ground, but only after fans protested in the surrounding streets about a move to Stratford. He wants to fill the seats but he doesn’t care who comes, as long as somebody does. He says the fans are great, then kicks us in the teeth. He thinks this is what we want. Yesterday, it was reported that he was surprised and concerned at the reaction to the proposed ESL. Like I said, he just doesn’t get it. Or maybe he does, and he just doesn’t care.
And in the immediate future, it’s we who will face the consequences, taunted and tainted by opposition fans as greedy and arrogant, even though we are not our club. Opposition fans urging their team on to take a special scalp, just as many did when football wanted Leicester to win the league in the closing stages of the 2015-16 season, therefore Spurs must be beaten along the way.
Levy also has a long-term plan for the club. He’s not going to spend recklessly on players, so we need to build over time to achieve that. Fine by me, except he has no sense of how to put this into practice either. He can’t pick a manager to lead us in the right direction or support the men he chooses. As CEO of multimillion-pound companies, he would complete due diligence on senior staff before appointing. Nothing that Mourinho came up with was unexpected. Every part of how he manages is known, as is the impact on his clubs. None of it is relevant to Levy’s heritage plan. Yet he was appointed, a huge mistake caused by Levy’s ego and poor football judgement that will cause long-term harm. He created a wedge between fans and the club. Spurs lag way behind, any momentum from previous years lost, with a daunting rebuilding task this summer. Good riddance.
This is the biggest challenge of Levy’s reign, history suggests he won’t be able to rise to it. In any other business, he’d be out the door as fast as you could say gratuitously inflated compensation package. But this is football. Even now, he’s making plans to dig in.
In the meantime, the very best of luck to Ryan Mason, Chris Powell (a long time Spurs fan) and Ledley. I’ll be smiling when they lead the team out at Wembley.
Finally, heartfelt thanks to the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, whose opposition to the ESL was passionate and constructive, implacable and coherent. With no notice whatsoever, they got it together, for Spurs and nationally too.