When I posted At Spurs, The Future Is Round, I expected the response to be split between those who agreed, and those who would say it was just more doom and gloom overreaction. I’ve been surprised. The overwhelming majority of responses suggest a very large proportion of Spurs fans have lost faith in where the club is being taken by the current board.
There are some who still counter with the argument that it’s all an overreaction, that we are better off than we were 15 years ago, that we don’t know when we’re on to a good thing. And it is possible, in places, to detect overreaction and unreasonable demands. But much more comment has been along the lines of some very well-thought out posts by some of the most widely-read Spurs bloggers. I’d point towards three in particular; the measured work of the always perceptive Alan Fisher on Tottenham On My Mind; the blog by Mark Butcher on The Fighting Cock website, and a couple of very honest pieces by Greg Theoharis on Dispatches from a Football Sofa. And something Greg said prompted me to write this.
He said: “As supporters of this club. Let’s connect. Do something. What kind of club do we want to be?” I think that’s a question all Spurs fans can usefully apply ourselves to. I know that, already, some readers will be raising their eyebrows. Here we go again, another call to arms, more naive expectation that us mere mugs can change anything. But bear with me. I’m talking about something potentially more solid than dusting off the Sack the Board banners.
I’d hesitate even to join in with the growing chorus of “ENIC out”. ENIC own the club, the current board are overwhelmingly the majority shareholders, they will go nowhere unless they get the price they want. Then there’s the “be careful what you wish for” conundrum. There are plenty of owners worse than ENIC. There are owners who could plunge us into debt, owners who could change the name of the club or colour of the kit, owners who could move the club elsewhere (don’t mention Stratford), owners whose source of income would challenge the connection of most decent individuals to the club. I have a recurring nightmare that an investment fund representing the vicious Burmese dictatorship takes control.
But what if we didn’t have to simply wait for something to happen, to leave the destiny of our great club in the hands of whatever temporary investor decides to play with it for a while? What if we start to put forward an idea of the kind of club we want? What if we crowdsource a vision of a possible future?
There’s much we can’t influence, and in my opinion nor should we. So I’d avoid arguments about the value of defensive midfielders or the merits of our strikers. The day a team gets picked by mass acclaim is the day to start looking for another sport. But there’s so much we can influence. There’s the obvious stuff, such as ticketing policy and pricing and facilities. But, over a longer period, we could possibly reintroduce the spirit that the bloggers I name checked above, and so many more fans I’ve spoken to over the past months, recognise has gone.
That means improving the communication between the club and the fans. It means looking to reintroduce the character of the club that so impressed Steve Perryman when he first arrived, the character the great Bill Nicholson referred to when he said: “We always encourage loyalty and long service at Spurs. We’re like one big, happy family.”
Of course, times have changed. It may no longer be possible for the manager or the chief executive to know the name of every employee as Bill did – largely because the manager is rarely around long enough these days and the chief executive seems allergic to the great unwashed. But might it not be possible to get back that sense of being a club, a common enterprise? The sacking of AVB was such a blow because, really, it signalled the end of any commitment, long-termism, or continuity. It was the moment the club acknowledged it was merely a place where players and managers passed through en route to somewhere else, a player trading exchange where the best the paying public could expect were some decent exhibits once in a while. There is no common cause, merely a federation of factions seeking to pass the buck under the control of a small group who sold themselves the club on the cheap. How many of us really think our best players will stick around that long? Or, these days, would blame them if they don’t? It’s a sorry state of affairs.
We can moan, we can rail, or we can try to do something about it. It won’t be easy, or straightforward, and it won’t be quick. But fans can make a difference. At Liverpool, the views of fans about the sort of club they wanted did play a part in the removal of the Hicks/Gilett regime and I take inspiration from that, because it proves that ordinary fans can make a difference even where big money is concerned.
I know that my views about the sort of club I want won’t be everyone’s. I’d be perfectly happy with adopting the gradated set of aims in the Spirit of Shankley constitution, for example. Others will disagree. But until we throw all our ideas in the pot, we won’t know what we have in common.
I’ve long thought that the skills of this club’s supporters, and our willingness to apply them to making our club better, have been grievously underused. There is a wealth of expertise in communication, marketing, finance, education, law, engineering… the list goes on. All this can be used to help create the kind of sporting club, the kind of collective institution, that can inspire loyalty, that can fire ambition, that might just perhaps have a chance of building something sustainable in this modern, cut-throat, high-finance world of big football business.
What if we put our heads together and started to put down on paper or screen some solid ideas? Not just criticisms or howls of rage, but some concrete proposals? And what if we started to put them into practice? What if we started to put those building blocks of a sustainable future future together on one website or in one plan and started to see what we could build? It’s possible that could not only interest a potential new investor, but that it would prevent us passing from the ownership of one distant rich man to another.
If you think it’s a crazy idea, you’ll probably have stopped reading ages ago. But I’d certainly rather try to create something than continue to feel my support slowly slip into indifference as my disgust at continuing to buy into the increasingly contemptuous and shambolic state of my club grows.
We could still fail, but we fail together, and together we are best able to pick ourselves up, regroup, and challenge again. That doesn’t come through simply being a brand that hollows out its own traditions and values the immediate against the long-term. It comes from starting at recognising what a club is, what it means to people, and building a sustainable future upon that solid foundation. It means recreating something the people connected to it really care about.