Yesterday’s post on gathering ideas for repairing the damage done to Tottenham Hotspur attracted a lot of support, a lot of sharing on social media, a lot of positive energy. I was not the only one thinking along those lines either. Just one example was an excellent post with some concrete suggestions from Paul Johnson on The Fighting Cock website. Without getting too ahead of ourselves, it’s possible to detect a potential turning point.
I’ve had a lot of very kind and thoughtful offers of help from individuals too, and if I haven’t replied it’s only because of time constraints. But it all proves the point that there are plenty of people out there willing and able to make a contribution. I think it’s important to make a few points now, partly to keep the conversation going, and partly to stop any false avenues opening up. Again, what follows is honestly held personal opinion.
We’re not alone One of the things that has become clear is that football fans of many, many clubs are really getting to grips with ways in which they can play a more constructive part in the game. I wrote about the growing supporter governance movement in my regular New Statesman blog and it’s important for us to know that we are not just grasping at hopelessly romantic ideas, but instead becoming part of a growing, capable and increasingly successful movement whose experiences we can draw on.
In Trust we Trust We need to focus our efforts. I’ve been a member of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust since it was formed and one of my major gripes with Levy and the board is the way they have marginalised it, choosing to use it as a fig leaf for consultation. I know why the Trust has come in for a lot of criticism. At times, it appeared to be settling for the role of elite conversation club rather than the active fans’ union I’ve always wanted to see. And I believe it took the wrong decision at its inception when it opted not to try and build a fans’ shareholding stake. But the bottom line is that the Trust has never been able to draw on significant membership strength to really assert itself. Of course, there is an argument to say it should have tried harder to show people the point of joining, but change happens because individuals decide to come together and act. We create our own possibilities, we fashion our own tools.
There’s always been a current within the Trust membership arguing for a more active role. That has now come to the fore, coinciding with the upsurge in confidence I’ve already mentioned. In the discussions of the past weeks, I’ve seen plenty ask “Isn’t this what the Trust should be doing?” Well, now there’s plenty the Trust is doing, and what’s encouraging is that people are asking how they can help, rather than pointing the finger over what isn’t happening. I’ve always believed a strong Trust, one that taps into the resources of the national fan governance networks, and that is also not afraid to work alongside other fan groups without compromising its own integrity, is vital if we are to have any impact. I still believe that, which is why I’m taking the chance to make more of a contribution, and why I urge everyone reading this to join.
Be realistic We need to think about what is achievable, to pick our battles. I linked to the Spirit of Shankley’s aims in yesterday’s post for a reason – it sets out a serious of steps through which an ultimate aim can be achieved. It gives maximum opportunity to gather people around achievable objectives one at a time. And it means that each time an objective is achieved, the next one becomes that much more achievable. Realism isn’t about selling ourselves short – it is about creating the possible and inspiring change. The board under Levy has not got everything wrong by a long chalk. It’s just got enough wrong to mean we need to act.
So we may not be able to scrap the StubHub deal, but we sure as hell can ensure that it is not renewed. And that no other such deals are ever signed. We may not be able to buy the club, but we can push for a more formal say in how it is run, and we can influence the terms of any future debate over ownership. Achievable aims lead to successes, which fuel more ambitious aims, which are made more achievable by the confidence the successes inspire. If we pick our battles well, and recognise that they sometimes take time to win, we can achieve sustainable change.
What’s the point? This is just a football club. It’s not really important, and anyway, all fans are really interested in is results on the pitch. I’ll admit I’ve often wondered why I put so much time and energy into what’s supposed to be a leisure pursuit. At least when I was more involved in the labour and trade union movement the bigger picture was easier to see. But, actually, football does register in that bigger picture. It means a lot to people, it helps define identity and belonging, it can bond people and be a force for good. It is worth saving from short-term corporate personality-free zones. What the discussion of recent weeks shows is that very many fans are actually interested in more than what happens on the pitch.
In all the blogs I’ve referenced over the past two days, and in so many conversations, what’s clear is that fans are most concerned by the disconnect they feel from the club, by the contempt they feel the club’s board holds us in. With just a little effort at improved communication, so much could be improved. And that’s proper communication, not attempting to divide fans by telling one group something on the basis that they don’t tell anyone else. And not informing everyone why a decision has been made rather than engaging in a proper dialogue about whether it should be.
All of that is easier than winning the league when we are up against the unlimited billions of oil rich dictatorships or the appropriators of entire nations’ natural resources. But just think for a moment. Maybe mending the broken relationship between club and fans is the way we can hope to compete, if only occasionally. We can never match the money of City or Chelsea, but we can try to attract people to a special club, where there is a feeling of camaraderie, a shared determination to play a certain way, to treat our people a certain way. We can create a resilience and a spirit that money cannot buy. Take two very different examples: Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga, and Dulwich Hamlet in the English Isthmian Premier Division. Both clubs have achieved success against the odds in recent years partly through building a club spirit that has translated into achievement on the pitch. And into the ability to deal with setbacks better than the modern Spurs are proving to do. It’s possible to over-romanticise the stories of these clubs’ successes, but it is equally possible to miss the lesson that can be learned.
We don’t expect to win all the time. But we do expect to compete all the time, and to win some of the time. So when everyone is chasing the money, what is that little bit extra that can get you ahead?
Next steps I’m currently investigating an appropriate online platform for crowdsourcing ideas. That can tie in with a register of fan expertise. We can build up a picture of what change looks like, and how it could be achieved. And that can complement the work currently being by Spurs fans and fan organisations on a number of fronts. For now, let’s keep the conversation going.