No match report from the 3-0 cup win against Coventry. I missed this game and can’t concoct a report from 29 seconds of ITV highlights. Instead, the second in a series of articles about what it means to be a Spurs fan. Martin Cloake is a journalist and prolific author of books about Tottenham Hotspur.
In an age where football is examined from every conceivable angle and dissected to the point of extinction, the modern game is in danger of becoming flatulent and predictable, in the process alienating many existing and potential supporters. Yet talking Tottenham with Martin Cloake is a search for something deeper that forms the essence of his relationship with the club. In the process, it’s reassuring to know that whatever it was that originally captivated and entranced us is still around.
Already in this short series, one theme stands out above all else. Whichever route we take, when it comes to Spurs, there’s magic in the air. However, for Martin it could have been so very different. He was brought up in Haringey so Spurs seem a natural choice. In the absence of any existing family allegiances, what else would you do as a football-mad 6-year-old but ask your mum.
“I asked her who’s the nearest team, she said ‘I think it’s Arsenal’ so I thought I’d be an Arsenal fan.”
Then fate stepped in. Martin continues, “That Saturday, they lost. I thought that was a bit rubbish so then, Queens Park Rangers, that’s quite a good name so I’m a Rangers fan. They lost too, so that’s not good. I knew Tottenham were in the other bit of Haringey ( I lived in the west), thought I’d be a Tottenham fan, they won and that was that.”
Martin chuckles at the inescapable conclusion: “I was a total glory-hunting so and so at 6 years old.”
It sounds as if even then he was a bit of an obsessive, which means in this blog he’s among friends. As he read more and more, he realised he had chosen a special team.
“When I started finding out about Spurs, there was this magic about them. That was before I’d even been to the ground. Pat Jennings was larger than life, a superhero. We had the Mirror every day in our house, I’d read Ken Jones and Frank McGhee. I was 7 in ’72. Nicholson was still there, I didn’t really understand but knew he was something special.”
Even then, Europe had a particular fascination. “I looked up places where we were playing in the atlas. That was special. The Arsenal weren’t doing that! I listened to the ’72 and ’74 finals on the radio.”
For many of us, football provides a rich seam of continuity in our lives. It’s certainly true in my case, where Spurs is the link between the boy and the man. Relationships, jobs, houses and friendships come and go but Spurs is always there. Martin continues to search for more of that magic he discovered as a 6-year-old,and it’s still there in those European nights, which are an integral part of Tottenham’s rich heritage. That search is the heart of the Martin’s latest book, the Glory Glory Nights, co-written with long time collaborator Adam Powley.
“It was part of the reason for doing the book, to rediscover the magic. When I was a kid, there was that bit of magic, where’s Zagreb, where’s Belgrade. It was a pioneering time. That Double team had done something nobody else had done before. They went into Europe. They were the standard bearers for the English game.”
Spurs were full of firsts in Europe, the first to win a European trophy, the first to win two, the first to fly fans to an away tie. However, these days european football is commonplace, with every tie on television and many relegating the Europa League, the latest incarnation of the Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Cup where that Spurs glory lies, to the status of a worthless league for our second string. So has the magic gone?
“It was a different age, that’s true. People going up Everest, into space, running the 4 minute mile. Nicholson, Busby and a few other visionary managers had to fight against the football authorities to be allowed to compete in Europe! Inevitably things can’t stay new forever so some of that has been lost. Familiarity breeds contempt.”
This is no rose-tinted nostalgia trip to bygone, better times. Martin is quick to emphasise that history is still being written. The run to the quarter finals of the Champions League was remarkable because it was so unexpected. He went to all the games that year bar the away leg against Young Boys.
“The Champions League was new for Spurs. The magic was back. We saw some great games of football and surprised our own supporters as well. Yes, the familiarity, the marketing, the over-analysis means the magic has gone from a lot of football but when it comes down to 11 versus 11, those glory glory nights aren’t clichés. When it works, like Bale destroying that team [Inter in the San Siro], that’s what you go for. I’ve never seen Spurs supporters go quite as mental. Nothing surprises you in football these days, but that did.”
The Glory Glory Nights, reviewed here, allows the story of Spurs in Europe to unfold by using those self-same contemporary newspaper reports that fascinated Martin as a boy, plus excellent photos, some of which have not been published before, ably chosen by art director Doug Cheesman to complement and enhance the mood. The sections on the sixties and seventies are eerily atmospheric. The text sets everything in an historical perspective without breaking up the flow and access to interviews from Chivers, Beal and others not only gives the players’ insights but proves that Europe was very special for them too. No other team can tell this story.
Martin’s first game was towards the end of the 1978 season, a 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers at the top of the old Second Division. “54th minute diving header from Don McAllister. 52,500, schoolboys’ enclosure West Stand.” Martin recalls the details with boyish enthusiasm. “Hairs standing up on the back of my neck seeing the camber of the pitch, getting in for 50p. Spurs had gone down and we had to get behind them to get them back up again.”
He continued to go to home games but drifted away in the 80s when he had a Saturday job and discovered girls and music. He picked it up again later in the decade when he started going regularly with a group of mates who went to a lot of away games. Football remains a social activity. and he’s irrevocably committed now.
“I had to admit to myself years ago that I’m a bit stupid when it comes to football.” He mimics an AA meeting. “My name is Martin Cloake and I’m a Spurs fan! It would take a lot for me to give up my season ticket. That’s what I do, I go and watch Spurs, and I spend far too much time, money and effort on all things to do with Spurs. I’ve done the same as every Spurs fan. Another bad season, that’s it, I’m not renewing, but I know I will always go.”
I pause to remind myself this is not me talking but someone else, such is the similarity of our feelings for the club. This craziness, it’s our reality, but at least this is about as far as it goes for Martin because he’s never done anything too ridiculous in the name of Spurs, apart from a day trip to Austria for an early round in Europe. I wondered if he enjoys it more now or in the past.
“Hmm, not sure. It feels like I enjoyed it more then but I still enjoy it now. I miss some of the edge. It was like in those days you went to gigs, it was overcrowded and there was no fire exit but it was part of being a kid. I got streetwise going to football. It shapes who I am. Some of my best friends, I’ve known over 30 years, been to their weddings, know their kids, that friendship began because we supported the same team. Some of the best times of my life have been going to football.”
Those friendships sustained him through dour times under Sugar and particularly under Graham where going to Spurs became a great day out spoilt by the football. “It wasn’t the fact he was an ex-gooner. We were not investing in the team and going nowhere. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, there wasn’t even a tunnel.”
“One thing I don’t like now is all the arranging, planning in advance. It’s annoying that some spontaneity and anarchy is missing, but there are great times when the ground still bounces. There’s a change in the crowd this year. I never want to be an old git moaning about how things were better in the old days, but something’s around. I like what the 1882 lads are doing, good to see a different generation finding out about the same things.”
Time for some choices. Hoddle or Roberts? Martin is reluctant to plump for one or the other. “I love Roberts’ spirit but Hoddle was the best player I ever saw live, a god to me when I was a kid. Roberts, you couldn’t wish for a more committed captain.”
His favourite Roberts’ story takes up the tale after Robbo put Charlie in the stand. “To let them know he was there, he kept sliding and ended up near the Arsenal bench. Peter Storey asked him if he was all right. Roberts said, yes, then Storey belted him in the eye and said, ‘Well, you’re not f**king all right now.”
Gascoigne is the other player that makes Martin wax lyrical. ” I would just watch him, he was so much better than anyone else. With the Hoddle team you had Ardiles too.” Modric and Berbatov are the more recent players singled out for praise.
And the scenario. Under manager Tony Pulis and backed by Russian squillions, our long-ball, muscular game will win the league. Alternatively, we play great football the Spurs way, are contenders for the top 6, maybe more, but there’s no guarantee of winning anything. The club’s fate is in your hands. Martin deliberates carefully.
“Well, there’s something wrong about celebrating a 4th place finish but I guess I would have a duty to the club to get a top four place. We could go for the league playing the Spurs way but part of that is that we will find some of screwing it up. With a gun to my head, it’s Pulis and win the league.” He shudders. “I feel a bit dirty now….”
I can’t leave such a warm and generous interviewee on the horns of that dilemma for a moment longer. Time to move on and end with some great memories:
“Perryman, he was one of us, Labour voter, a suedehead….Chivers was a big hero, a goalscoring giant….i was terrible at getting up in the morning and I remember my mum shouted the news up the stairs, Spurs had bought two Argentinians. I strutted into school, Spurs have got two World Cup winners, what have you got!?…I bunked off school to go to Highbury for the cup semifinal in 81, one of my favourite Spurs games, Archibald and Crooks were brilliant, then I queued up all night for the final replay, the greatest final of the 20th century and saw Ricky score the greatest goal in a cup final in the 20th century, you’ve got me now, that’s where the drug started…”
It’s more important than ever in changing times to hold on to our heritage. The debate over our new ground brought this debate to fever pitch. Martin can see both sides but is clear where he stands.
“Look, I buy into the idea but know Spurs is not of its place any more in the sense that people round there don’t go to games, largely because it’s not a well-off area and they can’t afford it. It’s a little like us imposing our memories, creating our own heritage theme park when we go back there. But I’m glad that if the new stadium ever gets built, it will be close to the same stands where ‘glory glory hallelujah’ first rolled out. It was in that same patch of ground. I don’t know if the club realises the mistake it would have made if they had moved [to Stratford]. The magic and the connection the Spurs crowd has with the game is part of knowing that this is where its gone on for all that time. You are in the same stands watching the same pitch where Blanchflower, Mackay, Jimmy Dimmock played. How far do you want to go back?”
Amen to that.
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.
The disturbances on the night of August 6th following a vigil for local man Mark Duggan, allegedly shot by police three days earlier, became the spark that ignited the most widespread and sustained civil disobedience in Britain since the early 80s. Yet Tottenham remains the area that has suffered the most. As well as the damage to property that resulted in the subsequent demolition of several buildings, up to 200 people were made homeless. Urgent calls for donations of food, clothing and nappies were reminiscent of disaster appeals. A leisure centre provided emergency shelter for families in need.
The burnt-out Carpetright store heavily featured on the news is a few hundred yards from the ground but the club remained unscathed apart from some damage to the ticket office. Tottenham High Road, the main route to the ground by car and public transport, remained closed for several days, causing the postponement of the season’s opening fixture against Everton.
Tottenham is an area of considerable social deprivation. Tottenham Hotspur, regularly in the world’s top 15 in terms of annual income, falls within a ward that is amongst the 5% most deprived in England, while in Tottenham as a whole 80.3% of children live in low-income homes. It is natural therefore that both local residents and politicians should look to the club, the largest local private employer, as a major partner as the rebuilding begins.
Victoria Hart lives on the High Road and spent a long Saturday night comforting a frightened and bewildered 6 year old as the troubles raged outside her window. Not a fan, she is nevertheless convinced that the club has an essential contribution to make in restoring the health and well-being of this fractured community.
“We all feel very damaged by the riots and the destruction around us. We want to retain a pride in Tottenham but it’s difficult when the press perception seems to be of a locality where a riot was ‘just bound’ to happen. I hope the football club, being one of the really identifiable places on the High Road, can help us to rebuild. And I really mean more emotionally than financially.”
Early signs were positive. Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy swiftly promised support now and in the future:
“The Club is committed to supporting its community with help with both the physical clean-up of our area and the longer term rebuilding of community spirit. It is more critical than ever that community, business and political leaders…now work closely together to support the regeneration of this area and we shall certainly look to play our part in that.”
The fans responded too. Many travelled to Tottenham on their spare Saturday to labour alongside local people as the clean-up continued, whilst an internet appeal of behalf of 89 year old barber Aaron Biber raised over £35,000 as word spread amongst the messageboards and twitterati. The refurbished shop was reopened by Peter Crouch, looking decidedly edgy despite the carefully choreographed photo opportunity as Biber approached from behind with clippers in hand.
Otherwise it was left to Benoit Assou Ekotto to respond on behalf of the players. This comes as little surprise to Spurs fans. Derided by Hansen and Dixon from the comfort of the MOTD sofa, the full-back is fast attaining cult status for both his dashing if occasionally risky performances and his grounded attitude. Travelling London by public transport, he’s made a conscious effort to be close to the city and its people, eschewing the trappings of celebrity in order to ‘live a normal life’. Aware of his own impoverished upbringing, he understands that football is part of something much bigger. It is he rather than the British players who talks earnestly to local people a few days after the disturbances.
The club has developed an increasing awareness of the community over the past few years. In 2007 they invested £4.5m in a Foundation that boasts a proud record of achievement: 470 hours of sporting and education sessions for children a week, support for the unemployed, a chance for the homeless and adults with learning disabilities to play football plus the highest rate of charitable giving in the Premier League.
Yet the local impact is questionable. Mark Perryman, author, co-founder of Philosophy Football and West Stand season ticket holder, trenchantly dismisses the club’s performance in the 25 years he’s lived locally:
“The club makes the name of the borough known worldwide but otherwise I don’t see what it gives the area. Away from the ground itself the club’s presence physically is almost non-existent and it’s painfully obvious how disconnected the club is. It’s just not a significant institution in the community in which I live.”
The club’s investment in ‘Football in the Community’ schemes is generous and laudable, but the question is, which community? The popular coaching sessions and soccer schools reach out primarily to the relatively affluent suburban fan bases in Hertfordshire and Essex rather than the N17 estates and thus are designed to win fans rather than directly benefit the local community.
Perryman also casts doubt on their claim as a major employer, pointing out that most of the jobs are on matchdays only and are not filled by local people. Also, some of the highest ticket prices in the country mean locals cannot afford to watch their team.
This problem is not confined to Spurs. Rather, it’s one of the consequences of the modern game as supporter demographics change in response to increased prices and the blurring of social boundaries. Perryman again:
“London clubs aren’t London clubs, they’re Home Counties clubs. Those who can afford season tickets don’t live in inner London. They are not in the community where those kids emerged from. Where I sit, they [fellow supporters] don’t seem to like Tottenham as a place. There may have been a connection a generation or so ago, not now.”
The meaning of all this is not lost on Victoria Hart: “I’d say a lot of people like me who live locally retained a kind of benign neutrality towards the club. It is a part of the local area and the local history and of course, carries the name of the place we call home but especially recently with the attempts to bid for the Olympic Stadium, we didn’t kid ourselves that they’d really rather be further out towards Essex where most of the fan base seem to live.”
This is the paradoxical nature of the Hotspur in Tottenham, an attachment to an area but distant and out of reach at the same time. “I see the fans coming and going past our homes and regard them fondly but I’ve never been to a Spurs match – too expensive!”
Her words hint at the most revealing measure of the club’s relationship to the community of which it has been an integral part for 129 years, the planning for a new ground. Precisely as he talks about increased community engagement, Levy is actively exploring a move away from Tottenham entirely. Economics overrides history or community responsibility when it comes to the option of the Olympic Park site in east London to replace the venerable but creaking White Hart Lane, which will be cheaper to build and generate greater income from non-football activity. Undeterred by opposition from a large and vocal section of the fans and a public aghast that Spurs propose to demolish the Olympic stadium built with taxpayers money and which will be the focus of world attention for two weeks next summer, Levy is keeping the option open for as long as possible. Even the decision to award West Ham the dubious honour did not stop him launching an expensive and ultimately successful judicial review. His sympathetic and compassionate support for the local community suddenly sounds decidedly hollow.
The alternative is a 56,250 capacity ground with an ‘end’ and stands close the pitch right next to White Hart Lane. Properly called the Northumberland Development Project, it includes housing, a hotel, supermarket and renovated listed buildings. Together with improved transport links it should reinvigorate the area as well as the finances of the football club. Supporters’ groups continue the campaign to stay in Tottenham but now the project takes on a significance greater than merely preserving the club’s heritage.
It’s an ill wind and although the area lost out on the latest round of government regeneration money, the recent problems have boosted the case for grants from the Regional Growth Fund, which could cut the costs Spurs will incur in upgrading public transport links and other improvements around the ground, costs they have long claimed should come from the public purse. It would not be factor if they moved to Stratford, of course.
I have asked the club for a comment regarding their response to the community in the wake of the riots but they have not replied. Levy would say that he must do the best for the club. His business acumen has left the club financially secure and has won grudging admiration from most fans, even those who wanted greater investment in the team over the last two years. His deadline-day brinkmanship has become legendary and I respect his refusal to pay over the odds. However, for every great deal – Lennon, Keane and a pound of flesh from a destitute Leeds comes to mind – there have been opportunities missed because of his refusal to compromise. He would do well to ensure that he doesn’t make the same mistake over what is effectively the future of the club.
His decision is further complicated by the increased number of stakeholders who are now part of the equation. As chairman he is duty bound to keep the PLC on a sound financial footing. However, the interests of shareholders seeking a profit may not not be the same as fans wanting success on the pitch. Also, to ascertain the intentions of his employer, ENIC, look no further than the name: it’s an Investment company looking for long term return, which may best be served by making the club ready for a sale.
In addition, there’s now a responsibility to the local community who desperately want the club to stay where it is, a powerful argument that cuts little or no ice on the balance sheet. Indeed, these aims are in direct conflict with those of investors. In my experience of working in the charitable sector, private companies are comfortable with activities like fund-raising and donations but less sure-footed when it comes to the openness and adherence to goals that are not easily measured that true engagement requires. He may have to adjust his approach.
One outcome could please everyone, however: the riots as leverage for assistance to make the NDP a profitable option again. Some characterise Levy as a ruthless negotiator but it is a cold hard fact that the disturbances have suddenly shifted the financial impasse. In late August, London mayor Boris Johnson made available a large sum, at least £8m, to cover these infrastructure costs on condition that Spurs dropped the review. Even MP David Lammy thought agreement had been reached but the following day Spurs tuned up in court and went ahead as if nothing had happened.
The deadline for another offer came and went this week. ENIC say the City Hall deadline is unreasonable, and “the correct level” of public money is “critical … to create a community with hope and prospects … We cannot be expected to do this single-handedly.” Levy clearly believes the offer will not go away just because the deadline has passed. However, there may come a time when local politicians find better ways of spending their £8m windfall.
Another stakeholder has recently entered the fray. Spurs Future is a loose collective of fans who has have submitted detailed proposals to the club regarding a ‘community share’. Basically, this allows for up to £50m of investment from fans and other sources who purchase shares or bonds for the purpose of financing ventures of a community purpose. A return on the investment is possible and it encourages greater participation and involvement. I understand talks have taken place with the club but it’s at an early stage. £50m could come in handy for ENIC but they may baulk at ceding any influence over the running of the club to supporters. There’s also the question of how fans see the idea of giving this prodigious sum to a company owned by Joe Lewis, a man worth £2.8bn and 6th on the world football richlist.
Talking with residents, the club is part of their lives and has the potential to be the focus for their determination to rebuild relationships as well as bricks and mortar. The stadium project, important though it may be, is not in itself enough. “I have no great faith in the idea that stadia can regenerate an area,” says Mark Perryman, concerned about the future of his community and his club. “Spurs has to develop a relationship with those estates where the kids live,” says Mark Perryman. “They must develop dialogue not summer schools.”
I leave the last word with Victoria Hart. “I hope it helps the club and the community work together to make Tottenham a better place. That would help and it would help emotionally as we residents feel a little abandoned at the moment. We always needed the club but we need it a whole lot more now.”