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.
Tottenham Hotspur and their kit sponsors Under Armour are currently running a promotion where fans can send in their photos and/or those of family and friends for inclusion on the tunnel wall at White Hart Lane. It’s a great idea – the last thing that the players see as they run out is the joy that they bring to their supporters, a reminder of when it comes to it, when they escape from the protected cosseted world of a modern Premier League professional footballer, they should be doing it for their fans.
Under Armour and Spurs use the language of loyalty to entice supporters. ‘Earn Your Spot’ at the Lane, ‘Love Your Spurs? Then Prove It’. ‘Your Spot In Spurs’ History is Waiting’. They understand the power and emotional pull of being a fan. They know what the club means to us but when it suits them, the relationship is only one way. We keep on giving, whether it be astronomically high ticket prices or creating an atmosphere as on Saturday or at most away games to lift the side from beginning to end. They reciprocate with all the depth of throwaway advertising copy about heroes and history.
When it comes to it, Spurs give us Stubhub. Tottenham On My Mind is part of Stop Stubhub, a campaign to end the club’s ties with the US based ticket reselling agency with the sole rights to sell on tickets for sold-out home matches that have been already been purchased by season ticket holders and members. The campaign by a group of Spurs writers and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust has gathered momentum over the last couple of weeks. The online petition is a simple way individuals can support us. Also, we have had positive feedback from other clubs and the Football Supporters Federation and Sharon Hodgson MP who has longstanding concerns about the operation of ticket resellers regarding concert tickets.
The Chelsea game has brought the issues into sharp focus, so let’s see where we are after a week and bust a few myths that surround Stubhub and the campaign.
First up: when the scheme was announced in the summer, many of us feared that by enabling ticket-holders to set their own price, this would lead to exorbitant profiteering far in excess of the wildest dreams of any street-corner tout. Spurs denied this would happen but the Chelsea game proved them totally wrong. Six days before the game, one pair of tickets was on sale for £1260. The day before, top price was nearly £1000 a pair and not one ticket was available for less than £95. Sellers sought a mark up of 10 and in one case 15 times face value.
We also said this opened the way for tickets to be bought purely for resale and profit. We have no way of knowing this to be true. However, we have heard of one fan who sold his tickets early on at face value plus just a recouping of the Stubhub fee, only to find them back on the site a few days later at a vastly inflated price. Buying to sell. So much for an honest price.
Is this what Spurs really intended? I can conclude one of three things. They could be staggeringly naive about the way fans buy and sell tickets, which from what little I know about the inner sanctum could actually hold water. It could be that they don’t care, which is to my mind negligent and shows their pro-supporter rhetoric to be the hot air it most certainly is. The third option is that they were prepared to tolerate it because they knew this is where Stubhub make their money. If Stubhub see the Spurs contract as attractive for this reason (the higher the selling price, the higher their fee), they are going to bid top dollar for the rights. So in this scenario, Spurs turn a blind eye while Stubhub rub their hands as fans are ripped off.
I don’t know which aspect of this deal infuriates me most: a company that ruthlessly exploits the low supply/high demand equation at Spurs with a popular, well-supported and achieving side that has a small ground, or the club that is apparently prepared to condone this sorry state of affairs.
What we also found out this week is that there are alternatives. Stubhub’s deal with Celtic does not allow reselling or tickets to be listed above face value. Parkhead is much bigger than the Lane, so Stubhub had less bargaining power. Spurs could and should have been stronger. The other alternative remains of course the ticket exchange, either in the same format as existed BS (Before Stubhub) or in a modified format.
The old set-up was open to members only, precisely those people who ‘love their Spurs’ and have paid up front to improve their chances of getting a match ticket. A few people have said, as did a commenter on last week’s Stubhub post, that it’s only a small proportion of tickets, less than 1%. But at least members would have had a chance of getting one of those 226 that were on Stubhub last week, and at face value rather than going to fans who could justify the huge premium. It’s expensive enough and hard enough to get a ticket in the first place. A benefit of membership has been removed but the price hasn’t fallen.
Last one: who could begrudge a fan who makes a few extra quid from selling his ticket? If someone is fool enough to pay, sod ‘em. Probably some stupid football tourist anyway.
There’s nothing about individuals in my writing on this topic or in the campaign statement. Do what you like with your ticket, although in reality you can’t because of the small print in the terms and conditions that means you can’t in theory give it to your daughter, son or mate but you can sell it on at a vast profit provided you go through Stubhub. The campaign is focussed solely on the club for allowing this state of affairs and to work with them to suggest an alternative where fans can sell on unused tickets without taking a loss.
If you are selling to pay for your season ticket, the club need to know about the absurdity of creating prices that force some people into this option. Finally, the sellers on Stubhub weren’t just making a few quid, they joined by unscrupulous resellers buying and selling purely to make a profit.
This week the club announced reduced price tickets for the Europa League and the League Cup, a significant success for the Trust who have lobbied for change on behalf of supporters. It shows that the club may be sensitive to feedback after all. Stop Stubhub has a realistic target of setting up an alternative for two years’ time when the present contract expires. Consistent consultation should become part of the fabric of the club. The new stadium is not so far away. More seats changes the whole balance: they will need to work harder with us fans to fill the ground. Now’s the time to continue the process that the revamped Trust have begun because Spurs will be making plans now. Remind them that they need us.
This morning Tottenham On My Mind is proud to join fellow Spurs writers and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust in publishing a statement condemning the club’s deal with Stubhub as not being in the best interests of supporters. We invite fellow fans to sign the petition opposing the reselling of tickets on the Stubhub site.
Last spring I was one of the first bloggers to criticise the arrangement which has drawn widespread complaints and damages the reputation of the club we all support. With a growing backlash against high prices in the Premier League, it is unacceptable that the club condones the reselling of tickets at an exorbitant premium.
Yesterday morning, there were 226 tickets available for the sold-out game against Chelsea this Saturday. One pair was on sale for £1265. There were 82 tickets each costing over £200, ranging from £200 to over £500, including one junior ticket for nearly £400, about 15 times its face value.
It’s plain wrong. We want Spurs supporters opposed to this state of affairs to sign the petition to demonstrate the strength of feeling about the scheme. We understand the club are tied into a two year contract, which of course we cannot change, so our aim is to establish a dialogue with the club and work together to create a fairer scheme to replace Stubhub when the contract finishes. Therefore there is a realistic, specific purpose and goal to this petition, as part of a campaign that will run throughout the season and beyond. With your help we can make a real difference.
Stop Stubhub – sign the petition here
We are Tottenham Hotspur supporters who believe the club’s deal with StubHub is not in the best interests of fans buying or selling tickets, and has serious implications for football supporters in general.
With a growing backlash against ticket pricing at the top level of the English game, a deal which best serves the interests of those wishing to make a profit from their fellow fans damages the reputation of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (THFC)
The way StubHub works is intrinsically against the best interests of supporters. The absence of restrictions on pricing has led, in some cases, to tickets being listed at up to 1,000% of face value. The average list price for a ticket on StubHub vastly outweighs the ticket’s face value. THFC and StubHub actively encourage supporters to list tickets at high prices, emphasising the seller’s freedom to determine a ticket’s list price is a benefit in publicity for the service.
We would like to have seen an upper pricing limit introduced, in line with MP Sharon Hodgson’s attempt to introduce legislation in Parliament to restrict the resale of tickets to 10% above face value. THFC has an ideal opportunity to set an example by aligning itself with this initiative, therefore gaining respect and goodwill.
We note that secondary ticket agencies have been described as “legalised touts” by Malcolm Clarke, the chair of the Football Supporters Federation. Furthermore, we note that the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust has called for tickets to be sold at face value.
After the Swansea game, the first game for which tickets had changed hands via StubHub, we received reports of supporters having to wait for over an hour at the StubHub pick-up point, with some missing up to 35 minutes of the first half because they were still waiting to be handed their tickets.
We have concerns about the effect this deal has on the value of existing membership schemes because of the number of tickets that will be made available to members. We also have concerns about a number of security issues.
We believe the club’s deal with StubHub should be terminated at the earliest possible opportunity. It should be replaced with a scheme in which the club buys back and sells tickets at face value, possibly through an existing ethical ticket exchange. We would also like to see resale to existing club members prioritised.
We would like to see THFC work with fans’ organisations and other clubs to create an ethical, fair and safe secondary ticketing system, possibly looking to shape legislation to regulate the market.
This deal was agreed without consulting the supporters it directly affects, and has been implemented without their consent. Such actions undermine the efforts of everyone trying to build a constructive dialogue between the club and its fans. We therefore ask that, in future, proper consultation – which means more than informing fans after the event – takes place over any measure that directly affects fans.
Total Tottenham website
The Fighting Cock website
Dear Mr Levy website
Alan Fisher – Tottenham on my Mind
Mel Gomes @ The Substantive website
Chris Miller – WindyCOYS.com
Martin Cloake, author and fan
Supported by the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust
Sign here: www.change.org/stopstubhub
Background: if you’re not familiar with the way this all works, until the end of last season, ticket holders unable to attend a sold-out game could resell them through the club’s ticket exchange. Spurs deducted commission, the rest went to the ticket-holder. There are two key differences between this scheme and Stubhub:
- the tickets were sold on at face value. On Stubhub, sellers can not only charge what they like, the freedom to do so is encouraged as a benefit of the service
- the tickets were available only to Spurs members. On Stubhub, anyone can buy them, including away fans. This also reduces the value of being a member.
This opens up the possibility of away fans in home sections and of tickets being bought purely to sell on at a profit, as we regularly see on reselling sites for sold-out concerts.
The feeling is inescapable: Stubhub see Spurs as easy pickings. In the eyes of the supporters, we have a rich, vibrant heritage, a fine team and loyal fans with a deep attachment to our home ground. All Stubhub see is profit. Small ground, supporters desperate to see their team: high demand and limited supply, it’s ripe for exploitation.
We have links with supporters of other Premier League clubs opposed to similar deals and the Football Supporters Federation
I’ll keep you posted re progress. Follow the campaign on Twitter #StopStubhub
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to your support.
Domination so complete, I have a crick in my neck from facing in the same direction for too long. Then, finally, Lloris’s bank holiday stroll around his green and pleasant area is rudely interrupted. He saves well, low to his right, two hands. Being alert after long periods of inactivity is another of his many attributes. The reading centre forward has a gaping net but heads the rebound wide. Pressure now, unexpected, unknown since the third minute when he put another bouncing rebound into the net. From the second corner, there’s an almighty schmozzle on the goal line. Legs, bodies, arms raised, accusing glances towards referee and linesman, but play on. A little while later, Dempsey’s celebration is indecently joyful as his deflected shot spirals over a stranded keeper. Spurs’ win is safe, 3-1 now and no way back.
Seasons turn on such short passages of play. Off the line at one end, a lucky goal at the other. If Spurs had dropped any points, it would have been a gross injustice in a match we dominated totally, but whoever said anything about football being fair? For Spurs, not pressing home an advantage and conceding late is not something that could happen, it’s something that does happen. From now until the end of the season, every point will be vital. The pursuit of 3rd and 4th will go the wire. Yet over a successful holiday period, 10 points out of 12 will do and in each of our three wins, we played well in the first half but better in the second, scoring eight second half goals and conceding none.
Our new year is a time to look forward. Without getting carried away on the back of three victories against frankly poor opposition – Sunderland were limited up front, Reading limited everywhere, Villa just arouse pathos – the signs are all positive. Bearing in mind the fact this team needed major rebuilding over the summer with the loss of both manager and its creative heart, we are moving ahead far more quickly than could be expected. The players are comfortable with each other and with their style of play that at its best offers an outlet for their attacking instincts and at its worst provides a fall-back position of solidity based on hard work. It’s pass and move in the Spurs tradition, easy on the eye and a possession game that’s entirely modern. The proviso is, we keep the tempo high, it’s what suits us best.
It’s significant that almost all of the players have improved in some way since Andre Villas-Boas took over. Fans never truly know what influence coaches have over their charges. However, something’s working. In no particular order, Sandro is a beast of a defensive midfielder who has responded to being his manager’s first choice by becoming an absolute rock. Lennon is having his best season, excellent yesterday. Defoe is scoring, Caulker has stepped easily into this side – I keep reminding myself he only turned 21 last month – while Bale is reaching stratospheric heights as the most dangerous midfielder in the league.
New comers Vertonghen and Dembele look as if they were born to play at the Lane. Their class was evident to whoever scouted them but the way they combine with their team-mates, that’s Villas-Boas again. The Dembele-Sandro axis could be as good a midfield paring as any in the Premier League. Dawson could have been transferred but wants to play and gives everything he has for the team, as does Gallas although his powers are waning not for want of trying but through the passage of time. Naughton has benefitted from having a few matches in a row, which also means we can rotate at the back. Dempsey has finally found his place after a sticky start, hence his celebration yesterday. All this without Parker and Kaboul, our best centre half.
Of the rest, none has been a disaster. Sigurdsson has taken time to settle, a better game yesterday but best as an impact sub to ensure the tempo stays high towards the end of games. Huddlestone has not picked up the pace that’s required. Walker needs guidance and perhaps some firm words about how to defend, while Adebayor, once the missing link up front, has become the weak link with a series of ineffective performances.
Again, his manager has kept faith in him, seeing the value of giving his choices several games to find their feet rather than chopping and changing every weekend. His patience was rewarded with a classic far post headed goal yesterday. In the first half Manu walked back to the halfway line bewildered after weakly heading wide. This time, he tucked Lennon’s glorious cross into the narrow gap between keeper and post. Strikers thrive on goals and the match was delayed as Manu milked it, eventually emerging from a heap of celebrating team-mates who also realised the value of that goal went way beyond putting Spurs 2-1 up. He looked to the heavens and crossed himself. This has got to be the way forward for religion too. Perhaps after a particularly good service the pope and his cardinals could spontaneously pile on top of each other in front of the altar.
Time rushes by as it does for older people like me but it doesn’t seem that long ago since the season began. Yet the media coverage at the time feels like ancient history. Villas-Boas was incompetent. Couldn’t handle players. Creates an atmosphere. Disharmony among the players was rife according to several tabloid journalists. They could not be more wrong. The players clearly want to play for him, for Spurs.
I’ve deliberately not mentioned Hugo Lloris, destined to be one of the finest Tottenham goalkeepers in modern times. Then, the papers had a hotline to Didier Deschamps and printed how unsettled he was even before he was actually fit to play. Now, his gradual introduction into the side appears a masterstroke of man-management and he’s been able to extend the redoubtable Brad Friedel’s contract. Lloris is sharp and agile on his line and seeks to dominate his area, which in turn means we play a back five, him included.
Yesterday we were unperturbed after that early setback, settled into our rhythm, kept the ball and kept probing. Dembele was back on top form after a few quiet games. The way he drops his shoulder and is gone is a sight of subtle beauty. This big man can disappear, at least as far as his marker is concerned. Sandro’s strength and Reading’s inability to get the ball forward – it seemed like they went for half an hour without holding onto the ball in our half and Lloris did not have a save to make until late in the second half – gave him the freedom to stay forward where he is dangerous.
Without Bale, suspended for the new offence of being too quick and too good, we lacked width. Naughton did well throughout but is very right-footed so we were narrow at times. As the half ended, we gave the Reading keeper shooting practice with a succession of efforts from too far out but come the second we upped the pace and put more balls into the box.
We begin the new year in 3rd place, albeit having played two more games than Chelsea, but the optimism is real. There’s plenty more work to do. Although we have beaten United we have lost to all the teams in top four contention bar West Brom, who I think will not quite keep up. It’s not so long ago when we were conceding stupid late goals and we still can’t defend a lead with total confidence. Nor do we convert our many chances as often as we should. We get more men into the box these days, finally answering my whinging about this problem that has gone on over the life of this blog, but on crosses especially we should pile into the six yard box not hang back.
In the window, Tottenham On My Mind will do everything in its power to retain the status of The Blog That Knows Nothing (TKN) and will stay resolutely ITK free. But we need a striker from somewhere. If Adebayor goes to Africa and Defoe is injured, that’s it! If Moutinho is available, I would buy him even if we pay over the odds. Buy two players and it will make all the difference.
We have to take the long view. An interesting piece in the papers recently suggested that Levy did not fully back his new manager in the market in the summer, preferring to wait and see how he does. Whilst I’m not entirely sure that is a ringing vote of confidence exactly, Villas-Boas has shown more than enough potential to be worthy of greater investment. He deserves the backing of his chairman. Looking ahead, this summer we will be again be vulnerable to bids for Bale, Sandro and others if we are not in the Champions League or have not won anything. The squad is young and like its manager still developing. The potential is rich and we must do all we can to see it fulfilled.
Happy New Year to everyone who takes the time and trouble to read this old-fashioned one-man no ads labour of love blog, especially those of you who add to the rich debate in the excellent comments section. You are a select bunch but I’m genuinely touched by the number of regular readers from all over the world who come back every week. I’m deeply grateful.