Even my wife noticed. “See your lot are doing what the manager wanted then.” I watched Thursday’s Europa League victory against Sheriff from the comfort of my sofa but the sound of the crowd came through loud and clear. The noise was generated primarily by supporters sitting behind the Park Lane goal, the traditional Spurs ‘end’, who had bought tickets in a section allocated by the club for the 1882 movement, a loose grouping of mainly younger fans who want to bring back the atmosphere to White Hart Lane.
This time last week I wrote about the unease with which an increasing number of Spurs fans express their support for the club. The loyalty remains but the ground can be deadly quiet at times, there’s anxiety in the air and despite our league position and highly promising squad, there is a puzzling but tangible undercurrent of dissatisfaction about the direction the team is taking under Villas-Boas.
I suggested that while there’s no single reason for this (high prices, changing demographics, Sky TV and unrealistic, barely achievable expectations caused by the dominance of the Premier League and Champions League are all factors), many supporters have developed a growing sense of alienation in terms of their relationship with the club. They feel distant, cut off and undervalued. The feeling is by no means unique to Tottenham, indeed it is a worrying trend that is spreading throughout the Premier League. It’s not something that you can grasp easily or put a name to, but it’s around and therefore all too real.
This feeling hasn’t stopped life-long Spurs fan, season-ticket holder and author Martin Cloake from regularly attending games. He was curious about what he calls the “new ultras”, groups of fans at clubs in Britain, Europe and the States who encouraged fellow supporters to gather and sing. Unlike traditional supporters’ organisations they prefer to remain anonymous and keep officialdom at arms’ length.
These groups manifest their allegiance in different ways. For many european Ultras, violence and protest is never far from their vocal support, others like St Pauli have political elements while others focus on the team. The Spurs response is the 1882 initiative. My son and I were present at a tiny bit of Tottenham history, the first gathering at a Youth Cup match at Charlton. I was probably the oldest one there. It was organised by Spooky from Dear Mr Levy and, well, I wasn’t sure at the time. Find Flav Bateman and co-conspirators at Love The Shirt but at the time, I heard the call because it was just a great idea. Come and sing for the shirt. No other reason, get behind the team and where better than at a youth game where we don’t know the players but they are Tottenham so they are ours.
Martin makes 1882 his starting point for a riveting history of Spurs’ fan culture in the last thirty years. I’ve called 1882 a movement but it’s not really. It has organisers but no leaders. It has no manifesto or political ambition, other than to increase support for the team and enable fans to enjoy themselves in the process. It’s inclusive – you don’t have to be a member of anything, you just turn up. It isn’t po-faced – I didn’t take my shoes off to support the lads and I didn’t sit down if I loved Tottenham because it would play havoc with my knees, but that doesn’t matter. Sing your heart out for your lads.
Love the Shirt is clear about one thing: their starting point is the long and proud heritage of fan culture at Spurs. They see themselves as carrying on that tradition, spontaneous and anarchic in the past, it’s just that now because of the alienation, it needs a bit of work. One particular aspect of fan culture that is unique to Spurs is how this heritage has persisted despite fundamental attacks by the club. Sound of the Crowd takes you through the scurrilous, sordid tale of how Spurs tried to emasculate loyal and loud support.
When I began supporting Spurs in the mid-sixities, the vocal and mostly younger fans gathered behind the Park Lane goal with away fans at the Paxton and other home support in the Shelf. Spurs must be the only ground where home fans share an end with away support. That’s bad enough but imagine turning up one season to find you’ve been turfed out of your end, your place without any warning. Yet this has happened not once but twice at Spurs. First, away fans were moved exclusively into the Park Lane, then in the mid eighties, the ultimate indignity or in my view betrayal when one close season executive boxes replaced the Shelf, the home of the most loyal and most vocal.
In Martin’s hands, this sorry saga becomes the tautest of thrillers, heroic resistance in the face of mendacity, intrigue and conspiracy. It’s essential reading for anyone interested in our history and the relationship between the business of football and supporters. The revurberations of that period rumble on. The atmosphere has never been the same but more than that, it opened wide that distance between club and fans that has never been closed. Football is about a sense of belonging and place: our fans have nowhere to go.
The supporters are happy, there’s an atmosphere at the Lane and the manager has a response to something he identified as a major impediment to the team’s continued success. Spurs reach the League Cup quarter finals and the knock-out stages of the Europa League. You would think there’s a message there somewhere.
So this is what the club do next. The West Ham game is category C and there’s no 1882 block. Big game, intense rivalry, the manager wants the fans to get behind the team, yet no discounts, no singing section, both dropped because THFC can make a sweet profit from a full house derby.
Stoke was due to take place on the Saturday after Christmas, 3 pm kick-off. Yesterday the club announced that it had been moved to Sunday, 4pm. No reason has been given and it’s not on Sky. Many fans make their Christmas arrangements around the fixtures. Even I for once, a bah-humbug bloody Christmas man if ever there was one, have organised things in advance. If I am to attend this match, and for the first time in a long time it has become an ‘if’, 12 people close to me will have to shift their diaries around too.
A twitter pal of mine, big Spurs fan, used to blog, goes mostly to aways as he lives in the West Country, young family so short of cash, planned a real treat for himself to be at this game. Now he can’t make it. He can get a refund on his match ticket but not his advance rail fare. He can’t be the only one. He’s disgusted and so am I.
Clubs should make a profit. These days with vast television and commercial revenue they can do so without it being at the expense of the supporters. If you’re puzzled as to what alienation is, it’s probably the feeling you get when you read the three paragraphs above. Things must change, not for my sake – I’ll be there til I die then scatter my ashes under the feet of the crowd after the match – but for future generations.
It’s not all bad. There is a once in a lifetime opportunity with the new ground to create an end and keep some prices reasonable. 1882 and the Trust are doing some fine work. The club must welcome not reject them. 1882 isn’t a separate movement, it’s us, you and me. It is inspired by our past and we are the future.
The dread anticipation of the Doomsday Scenario was hideous, elongated as it was over several weeks as first the semi-final and then the season’s final day played out. Goals and sendings-off that weren’t, the bitter tease of a former Spurs keeper throwing three goals into his net, yet another rearguard action, all of this involving not just any club, not just one rival but both of our bitterest enemies. Bad enough, or so you would think. Not so: fate was having a ball so why stop there. The way things were panning out, being outplayed and snatching a winner on the break was all too predictable but a late equaliser, missed extra-time penalty and the last-kick shoot out never crossed my mind. Simply could not happen.
The consequences for Tottenham Hotspur didn’t bear thinking about, yet over the weekend I could think of nothing else. However, in the cold light of day, which for Spurs fans admittedly felt arctic, nothing has significantly changed. Planning for next season and the longer-term future is the key issue and always has been. Recent events have had little effect on the context.
What I want for Spurs more than anything else is a plan. I need to know that we have a long-term strategy to keep the club at the very top of the English game. Chucking money on a few marquee signings will keep most fans happy but it has to be part of something wider, stronger, more permanent. Change for change sake is a recipe for disaster. We can’t control the efforts of our rivals but we can be contenders, competing on merit with the very best.
While fans and the media focus inexorably and, frankly, tediously on Redknapp, Daniel Levy remains the pivotal figure at Tottenham Hotspur. The cornerstone of our present development is financial prudence. It’s been that way for many years and because of the impending costs of the new stadium that would not alter even if we were in the Champions League. Granted a season will produce a windfall that could go on players but Levy does not include such revenue in his budget calculations. He won’t overturn his principles and throw money at the problem, or as he sees it throw money down the drain in the pursuit of short-term success without any guarantees and which is unsustainable in the long run.
I firmly believe this team is hesitating on the threshold of glory. Whether it takes a step into the unknown depends on keeping our best players and adding top quality new recruits, two strikers and a mobile centre half being the priorities. Levy is not going to radically change our salary structure, therefore regardless of where we play our european football next season we will be pursuing players on the up rather than established stars. It’s no bad thing – give me players with the right ability and mental attitude, men who want to better themselves and who focus on the game not celebrity status and I’ll show you a club with a future.
I’m not sure that we have scouts any more. They probably have a business-speak title like ‘Talent Development Analyst” or some such bollo, heading a department composed of statisticians pouring over facts and figures rather than standing on exposed touchlines searching for the next big thing. Whoever they are, they hold the club’s future in their hands: we rely on them totally.
They have to be psychologists too – motivation and a determination to be the best convert ability into class. We’ve done well in that respect lately – Walker, Kaboul, Sandro, all are good footballers united by a desire to play, and a total cost of what, £15m?
It’s the same with transfer fees. Levy the ruthless negotiator looks for value, not just at the bottom line. To him, paying a large sum for a youngish player with a bright future is an investment. Everything’s risky in this game but a fat insurance policy, long-term contract to maximise any future transfer price and payments to former clubs spread over several years all significantly decrease the uncertainty. Over the years he’s learned the price of experience too, about £4m and 70k a week for Parker or Adebayor on loan. Spurs have to pay for that knowledge and that time in the game but Levy won’t go over the odds.
Our salary structure is well set, with a maximum of around £70k a week, although that is extended by various means including lump-sum loyalty bonuses. It should be extended upwards but it won’t approach the double or triple that is commonplace elsewhere. Our stars are therefore vulnerable and being in the CL would help player retention but nothing can outweigh the pull of big bucks if a man is that way inclined. Again, no CL is not a major determinant of our future.
Our chairman is in the box seat when it comes to our manager too. Levy’s last gamble with the precious jewel that is our club was dismissing the popular and comparatively successful Martin Jol in favour of Juande Ramos. When Redknapp arrived amidst relegation panic, all thoughts of any strategic approach had gone, or so it seemed. In fact, contrary to my initial expectations, Levy has reined in Harry’s worst excesses in the transfer market. Also, whilst Redknapp is one of the world’s best paid bosses, there’s value to be found. He’s not only saved us (you probably know how many points we had when he arrived…) but he’s taken us to the CL quarter-final and our highest sequence of finishes for donkeys’ years. Also, Levy has refused so far to extend his 4 year contact beyond the end of this coming season. He doesn’t want to get caught with huge severance payments should manager and staff be sacked. Doing everything he can to keep the odds stacked in our favour.
So Levy finds himself in the place that all CEOs or businesspeople want to be – he has options. I completely agree with Spurs author, fan and all round seer Martin Cloake who wrote last week:
“I’d stick with Redknapp – if I could sit down with him and be sure he was fully focussed on Spurs. There’s one more year on his contract, and unless he wants his legacy to be ‘Almost there’ he needs to win a major trophy with Spurs in what could be his last year in the job. So there’s certainly incentive there.”
To me that’s sufficient motive for Redknapp. It’s highly unlikely that he will ever find a better job than Spurs at his age and this informed piece from the Guardian suggested that last season he was keen to ‘retire’ to a cushy job in Dubai. If it’s not, and maybe Levy should make that judgement rather than HR himself, he should go straight away.
That seems about right to me. I have an ambivalent relationship towards Harry Redknapp, which mirrors the behaviour and performance of a man portrayed in the media as a known, consistent quantity but who in reality is riven with contradictions. The so-called great motivator is popular with many players but there have been other occasions where the players have dead eyes and he’s an impotent mess of frustration on the touchline. Bale, Walker, Assou Ekotto, Kaboul and others have flourished under his guidance whereas Pienaar, Pav, Bentley and Bent have shrivelled to almost nothing. For extended periods last season we played breathtaking football that stunned the league, by far the best to watch and the best for thirty or more years for Spurs fans starved of glory. Redknapp deserves full credit – don’t give me this nonsense about no tactics, it was his team, but that same team was virtually unrecogniseable against Villa and Norwich, a hollow shell of what had been.
I don’t warm to him but he’s ours, and I’d give him another year. Arguably Redknapp has helped us over-achieve. He’s managed that on tiny resources compared with his rivals. These figures did the rounds on twitter last week. I haven’t checked them but they have the ring of truth: Spurs have spent £16m since last top 4 finish in 09/10. Arsenal £64.7m, United £80.3m, Chelsea £160.4m, City £212.7m. He was fortunate that Modric, Bale and Assou Ekotto were here when he arrived but he’s helped make them what they are. Also, the harm caused by yet another change of direction with no chosen successor in sight is a major factor. Like I say, I want a plan, I want what’s best for us and I’d back him with a generous budget, but see ‘value’ above. Our immediate prospects hinge on the dynamic between the two of them.
This piece isn’t about tactics but there’s one thing I am compelled to add. Football is extremely complex but whoever makes up the team, whatever the formation, we have to get more men back behind the ball when we lose possession. It is a huge problem and leaves us exposed. No other team in the league is as open as we are. It’s why I like the two defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1. If it means more cautious approach, so be it. A price worth paying.
Mind you, who cares about tactics? It’s all down to fate. Written in the stars. I don’t believe in that twaddle. All we have is us, and we should look after our world and our fellow human beings to the best of our very considerable abilities. After the season’s end we’ve had, it’s enough to make me recant this heresy, fall to my knees and shout a few hosannas. The Pentecostal Church of the Sacred Cockerel. Glory glory hallelujah, sisters and brothers, let’s pray for future success…
Meh, maybe not. My faith in Levy’s plan is not unshakable but it’s the best thing I’ve got so I’ll go with that. It has the long-term interests of the club at heart, and that’s the only thing on my mind.
Easter is a time of custom and ceremony, and Tottenham Hotspur have entered into the spirit of the season with a tradition of their own. Booking office chaos as the tickets for a big match go on sale swiftly followed by season ticket price increases that cannot be masked even by the wave of excitement as Spurs’ season reaches a crescendo. It’s as familiar as Easter eggs, admittedly without the warm feeling that giving and receiving brings, although by the end you will be left sick and bloated.
Another Wembley appearance, more stories of lost days watching the dreaded purple bar edge from left to right or hanging on the phone listening to musak only to be chucked out of the system just as you reach for the ‘buy tickets’ option. Let’s be clear about this: there is no good reason why this should happen. The lines are busy, of course they are. Season ticket holders are guaranteed a ticket but not the view or the price they want. Demand could be met if the club were prepared to invest in a system to handle it. It’s all down to money: they aren’t bothered in the slightest.
I confess that I escaped lightly. I was fortunate enough to be office based that day and able to use a landline phone so after the bar appeared to be etched permanently on my computer screen I dialled the box office more in hope than expectation and got the tickets I wanted in 10 minutes. What infuriates fans is not so much the delay but the total lack of logic and information available. If it took me 10 minutes at about 12.30 on the day of sale and others were cut off after waiting for two or three hours, there’s no proper queuing system. If people are patient enough to wait online, why then are they turfed out at the point of payment? To repeat, this is not technology. Rather, it’s a club that refuses to organise this fairly.
We’re doing well so out come the season ticket prices. Other clubs offer a
discount for early renewals as a reward for loyalty and for the extra interest they can accumulate all the while the cash is in their account. Spurs on the other hand give us access to a TV channel no one wants to watch. It’s the equivalent of Sky triumphantly saying that although prices have gone up £5 a month, Dmax and Sumo TV are free.
I negotiated the ridiculously untidy official site (things I do for you, dear reader) – design concept why click once to find key information when we can take you to seven different windows – to find out the other goodies. As well as yet another pinbadge I don’t want, they’ve included the plastic season ticket card as one of the gratis benefits. I should now apparently be grateful to have the means to enter the ground.
Spurs say they have limited the rise to keep pace with inflation, which works out at an average of £1.50 per game but even accepting these figures there are still winners and losers, again for reasons that are unclear. My seat in the centre shelf has gone up by £25, just under that £1.50 figure, perhaps because this time last year it rose by over 6%, way above other increases. Meanwhile, my salary has gone up 1% in 4 years. Last evening on twitter @cobthfc told me his Shelf side ticket is now £840, a rise of £70. The venerable @lustdoctor is now down a further £100 and 9 years of loyalty points for his Paxton vantage point. Inflation in N17 must be different from the rest of Britain. It hasn’t quite reached that of post WW1 Germany but expect fans with wheelbarrows of cash turning up at the box office.
I’m lucky to have a season ticket and a job but these rises to prices that are already amongst the highest in the world to watch a football match serve only to alienate Tottenham’s core support. It’s naked exploitation, of the fan’s passion, their loyalty to their team and of the club’s current success on the field. Players and manager praise the support, they couldn’t do without us, but there’s no reward, only a further turning of the screw. Here the law of supply and demand rules supreme. Levy will point to the lengthy waiting list, choosing whatever figure between 20,000 and 33,000 that suits at the time. To him, it doesn’t matter who turns up, it’s just bums on seats. If lifelong supporters turn their backs, there will be others to take their place.
However, the ultimate victims of this short-sighted policy could be the team itself, because this is simply storing up trouble. Things are fine and dandy now because we are doing well but as soon as standards fall, as they will as surely as day becomes night, dissatisfaction will grow, and it will be expressed in the only way fans around the country and across the globe know how – abuse.
In a logical world, protest will be expressed by simply not going but despite efforts at several clubs, that’s not the way we do things. We will complain by shouting, screaming and moaning, out loud, at the ground, in front of the players and staff. This does no good whatsoever for the team and its prospects, and if it happens, the board have to take a large share of the responsibility because they have alienated fans and exploited our apparently inexhaustible supply of goodwill towards the team we adore.
There is an unspoken but palpable and profound bond between fan and club, not just at Spurs but at very ground. We’ll support you, we’ll certainly take the bad times, provided you do your best. It’s a implied contract that is as powerful as anything that could be written down yet Spurs like many clubs in contemporary football do not understand that it’s a two-way agreement. Instead, we give, they take.
They can do so because one aspect of the old contract no longer holds good. ‘We pay your bloody wages’ was a familiar terrace cry during the lean spells but the fact is, we don’t any more. ‘We make a small contribution to your vastly inflated salary’ hasn’t much of a ring to it but it’s accurate because most of the cash comes from TV these days. I look forward to the day an impatient player snaps back with, ‘Ah but you haven’t taken Far East merchandising revenue into account.’ The price increases will probably fund a back-up squad player’s salary for 9 or 10 months, not much more.
Tottenham are lucky that most of our support are long-standing loyalists who wear the shirt through thick and thin, and we’ve seen plenty of thin over the years. In contrast, there is a generation of Arsenal and Chelsea fans who have known nothing but unbroken success. I’m not having a go (for once) – it’s a fact. That’s all they know. To us and the rest of football, it can make their recent complaints the subject of ridicule – Chelsea sack world-renowned managers because they only win the league once every two years, Arsenal are currently struggling, apparently, and fans are washing their hands of the club when they were “only” 5th.
However, we may have more in common with our north London rivals than we may wish to acknowledge, because the underlying reason for this discontent is high ticket prices, even greater than ours. The massive expense of football means we want something for our money, and before you say it, make no mistake that will happen at Spurs if prices stay high and we slip down the table, because this is no local problem, it’s a feature of the Premier League era. Manchester United have lost season ticket holders this season. Sunderland, Newcastle, Liverpool, fans all over the country will give voice to their indignation. This is not just about league position, it’s about the increasing distance between fan and club that high ticket prices engender.
Spurs know this. It’s no coincidence that the two photos that accompany the new price structure on the website are a player’s huddle and Rafa in the crowd celebrating a goal. We’re all in this together, but that phrase isn’t going down too well lately. It’s OK, we get it. My fear is that Spurs, like other Premier League clubs, don’t. It’s a two-way stretch and like Easter, giving means something as well as receiving. Tottenham could have given something more than a free plastic ticket wallet to reward our loyalty and they are stirring up problems for the future, because if we don’t get behind the team, the team don’t play. It’s not just about the money, it strikes at the heart of what really matters, on the pitch.
Earlier this week I received formal notification that Tottenham Hotspur PLC is proposing to de-list its shares and become a private company again. As a shareholder, I’ve been kept fully informed even though the postage on the thick wad of legalese cost twice as much as the value of my holding. I have one share, literally a share holder, so that’s very sweet of them, although as a responsible shareholder I feel disappointed and concerned that the board have wasted this expense on schmucks like me for whom it makes no difference. Add up the postage, labour and paper, it’s enough to pay Manu’s wages for at least 12 hours.
Frankly I have no idea what it means for the club’s finances. Daniel Levy says the listing “restricts our ability to secure funding for its future development.” That is, the new ground is easier to fund this way and if that means we are a step closer to the NDP, I’m delighted. Levy is a master of his world, finance, and has always looked after the club in this respect. Even with our low capacity we made an operating profit of £32m, a rise of 42%, boosted by the Champions League pot of gold.
Management Today(what do you mean, you don’t read it daily?) takes a more cynical view, wondering
if the furore over the Olympic Stadium has lead Spurs to prefer life without the added scrutiny of external shareholders. Then there’s Redknapp’s forthcoming court case which is scheduled for January, the same time as the de-listing. Pure coincidence, but the assuredly bad publicity can now have no affect on the share price. It doesn’t mention suspicions that the ‘I’ in ENIC means they have half an eye on a future sale.
What I do know is that this is the end of an era. Nowadays it’s commonplace for football clubs to be listed companies but Spurs were the first and it wasn’t that long ago. In 1983 an ambitious businessman called Irving Scholar was determined to make his mark as our new chairman. Before then, the club had for many years been run as a private company by the Wale family but by applying the same business principles that had made him a wealthy man, Scholar aimed to drag football finances into the twentieth century even though it was almost over. In the process, Spurs would become the richest team in the land.
As well as going public and raising money on the Stock Exchange, Scholar took over two clothing and sportswear companies, including Hummel, fondly remembered for providing Alan Ball’s revolutionary white boots. The ground was empty save for one or two days a month, so use it for alternatives at no extra fixed cost. The space under the Park Lane became a factory. The income was to be ploughed back into the club, a secure stream unaffected by the uncertainties of league position.
Scholar shrewdly assessed the zeitgeist. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs (not easy for me to do but anyway..), we were in the midst of Thatcher’s property-owning democracy where the public could buy pieces of the de-nationalised industries, make some easy money and feel part of things. To borrow from contemporary politics, we were all in this together, except that times were good.
On top of that, Spurs fans were offered the unique chance to be a part of the club. Long excluded, unlike like any other fans we could now have our say and influence the future. It proved popular. I don’t have any statistics to back this up but I reckon the number one Christmas present for Spurs fans that year was a share certificate. There’s no doubt that the share offer caught the prevailing mood.
I was given a hundred shares by my then girlfriend. It was worth about £160 but to me it was a priceless token, sealing my attachment to her and to the club. These were the only shares I have ever owned and I kept an eye on their progress, all the while thinking that like the family heirloom on the Antiques Roadshow, I will be delighted to be told it’s worth a fortune but I would never sell. Many fans of different clubs have their certificate framed on display, proving it means something.
At one point they were valued at over £500 but soon they plummeted, as did the relationship. By the time I was kicked out and the shares sold to get rid of a painful reminder of happier days, they raised less than £100. Spurs’ romance with the new ways faded just as brutally. We sold our finest players Waddle and Gascoigne to stave off financial ruin and the businesses failed. Maxwell was a telephone call away from taking over the club so perhaps we should be grateful for Alan Sugar sorting out the mess Scholar left behind. Actually, perhaps not, but again, that’s a story for another time.
It was then that the true nature of the new era became clear. Thatcher’s meritocracy was nothing of the sort. Power and wealth became concentrated in the hands of the few and the gap between rich and poor widened. As with society, so it was with football. The advent of the Premiership and the Champions League meant that the top clubs and Sky TV held sway. Rocketing admission prices transformed the fan experience with many alienated for good, never to come back, and others priced out of the game they loved. Kick-off times were at the whim of television. PLC not F.C. Far from being part of things, football fans had never been more helpless.
Now we’re all experts on football finance. We have to be because it’s all over the back pages and otherwise we can’t keep up with events at our clubs. Never mind 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, it’s the income to salaries gearing that holds the key to success. False 9 or false accounts? Ask some of the clubs that have gone down the tube. Despite the sterling efforts of fans’ organisations and protest groups, the legacy of football shareholding is that many of us feel more distant from the game, our game, than at any point in living memory.
I’m still in play, mind, thanks to the gift a few years ago from my daughter of a single Spurs share. It came in a fancy tin box (safety deposit, just in case?) with some blurb about the club. Now that’s a juicy business to be in – buy the share for next to nothing, add cheap packaging and charge £19.99. Football fans are nothing if not loyal and gullible.
So what to do about the de-listing? I don’t know where the certificate is but I recently found my last dividend cheque, £0.04, proudly un-cashed. The PLC tell me my share is worth 33p and I have until 11th January to decide. I could sell, and use the results of my foray into the murky world of high finance to buy, say, a 6th of a cup of instant tea or coffee on matchday, or two gulps of water. I expect that I won’t be bothered, however, and will keep it as a souvenir of the days when the club couldn’t be bothered about me either.