I’ll confess my initial reaction to the ‘Spurs to Stratford’ rumours was to see it as a negotiating position. I knew Spurs were having problems with Haringey Council and, as someone who grew up in Haringey and started my working life as an employee I’m very familiar with Haringey’s ability to make a royal mess of almost everything it touches. The Tottenham On My Mind blog has, in a well-argued piece, been critical of the “ambivalence” of many fans who took the same position. I’ll hold my hands up and it say it looks like – and only looks like – my initial reaction was wrong and that Spurs do intend to move to Stratford. But I still think many of the issues are much more complex than inevitably tends to be the case when a public debate such as this one is sparked.
So what follows are some thoughts and questions on the while issue. And I’ll start from where I start. I want Spurs to stay in Tottenham. That’s where the club was formed, that’s where it’s always been, and that’s where its unique and extraordinary history has been forged. The new stadium envisioned in the Northumberland Development Project looks mighty fine and it has the huge advantage of being as close to the current site as it’s possible to get. I know most of us who go to Spurs no longer live in the area. And I think there’s a lot of balony talked about ‘community’. I’m not sure how many of the local residents like their area being invaded every other weekend and midweek night.
But English football is a complex beast, that’s why it is such a big deal. A sense of place is key to that. We are Tottenham, from the Lane is a popular song with the fans. And I’ve heard many a fan say, “The area’s a shithole. But it’s our shithole.” We have roots in N17 and that is just one of things that gives us the high ground over that other lot who relocated from Woolwich. I don’t like the sound of Stratford Wanderers at all. It matters to me that I watch the team from the same ground I began watching the team from in 1978, the same ground on which we won the UEFA Cup in 1984, the same ground on which we established the tradition of the glory glory European nights. You can’t put a monetary value on that which is why the multimillionaire owners of football clubs don’t get it. Although of course, they are happy to take the monetary value we put on it in the shape of ticket prices and merchandise, the demand for which is all fuelled in part by that very tradition they see as having less value than we place on it.
We need some facts
As I pointed out in the Daily Finance story, the club maintains it is keeping its options open. But the appointment of Mike Lee, the regular drip of stories about the ‘cost’ of redeveloping White Hart Lane and yesterday’s statement by the architect the club has employed that Stratford was the preferred option indicate otherwise. It looks very much like the club is waiting for opinion to soften or until such time as it can say it was forced to move to Stratford. because it’s clear that at the moment the majority feeling is against the move.
There’s one key thing that needs clearing up. Exactly what, and how much, are the ‘extra’ costs of redeveloping our current home? The message coming from the club is that various public bodies are asking for too much in the form of funding improvements to the area. They are, in fact, tagging on to the club’s plans in order to get funding from the club for an area that has been left to rot for the best part of 30 years. In a club statement on 19 November, much was made of the fact that Wembley and the Emirates secured public funding, while Spurs are being asked to fund the public.
What does extra mean?
I’m not unsympathetic to that argument. Having known the area for so long it is, at best, amusing to see so many people suddenly so passionate about regenerating it after so many years when it did not register. Unless there was a riot. But there is now a recession on, in contrast to the periods which saw Wembley and the Emirates built. And it seems to be very difficult to get a straight answer about those extra costs. It’s been put to me that it’s not just the section 106 stuff, but the cost of building a major modern stadium in the tight physical confines of Tottenham as opposed to Stratford.
There’s no reason to disbelieve that. But those costs are the same as they would always have been. They are what they are. They have not suddenly become ‘extra’. They may be more expensive than the subsequent option that has emerged. That option may be cheaper. But the argument about ‘extra’ costs does not currently stand up. Of course, not meeting extra costs plays better with the fans than opting for cheaper. So, not for the first time it must be said, what may be an attempt to spin by Spurs has prompted suspicion rather than gathered support.
The transport myths
One ‘issue’ with Tottenham’s current ground is transport links. It’s taken as given that they are ‘poor’ and that substantial improvement is needed. This in turn feeds into the argument about Stratford having better links due to the Olympic infrastructure works. But take a breath here. There are five mainline rail stations and one tube station within walking distance of White Hart Lane. Driving is a problem, but driving anywhere in London is a problem. Congestion at White Hart Lane rail station and Seven Sisters tube can be bad, but not as bad as the congestion outside the Emirates stadium which sees Holloway Road tube closed and Highbury and Islington overwhelmed on match days.
The problem with getting to White Hart Lane is that the, and this is obviously a personal opinion but one based on bitter experience, greedy and incompetent people who allegedly ‘run’ the transport system in this country are in charge of it. That’s why trains are regularly cancelled for engineering work on days when 36,000 are expected to use them to get to Spurs, why short trains are scheduled and why timetables are so bad. To get to Stratford, punters on public transport will have to use services provided by the same greedy incompetents – who will doubtless be on their best behaviour for the Olympics but return to providing the kind of transport ‘service’ that has made this country a laughing stock afterwards. While maintaining profits, of course.
Even driving may not provide the answer, for to get to and from Stratford’s swanky new roads people will at some stage have to use the less than swanky old ones such as the A10, North Circular, M25, A13 etc. So I need some convincing about this transport thing. One thing a European tour does show us fans is how a transport system can work when a country has the sense to realise it is a key service rather than another commodity.
Beware legacy arguments
Having whipped up a storm of condemnation for the plans to demolish the Olympic Stadium should Spurs be awarded it, the club is addressing the criticism that this betrays the legacy promised by the London organisers. So much is being made of plans to refurbish the crumbling Crystal Palace Stadium – ironically very close to the site of Tottenham Hotspur’s historic 1901 FA Cup win when the club became the only non-league side to win the trophy. (In my mind’s eye I can see the club’s PR guru scribbling that one down). That’s going to be funded from profits made by the new stadium. Really?
The first, and obvious, question is how long will it take for the new Spurs football stadium to generate enough money to refurbish Crystal Palace? Then there’s how long will it take to build? How long a gap does this leave between an existing athletics facility at the Olympic Stadium being torn down and the new one going up? And how much of a priority will funding and building that facility be for a club (hopefully) still competing at the top of English and European football, with all the financial resources that involves? You don’t have to be a professional cynic to have more than a few doubts.
David Lammy isn’t helping
One of the problems with the opposition to the Stratford proposals is the high profile of David Lammy. He never seemed particularly interested in Spurs before, but now he’s the champion of the ordinary fan. And his interventions come across as grandstanding. There’s also the fact that he is attempting to pin much of the ‘blame’ for Tottenham’s interest in Stratford on Boris Johnson. I’m no more a fan of Johnson than I am of Lammy, but the fact that Lammy is managing the Mayoral campaign of Johnson’s rival Ken Livingstone does make you think. There are many people people playing a game within a game here.
While it’s not clear whether Spurs ever asked for the public assistance Lammy says they should have, it’s also not at all clear that Lammy has done much constructively to address the real concerns Spurs have about their relationship with Haringey. I was initially critical of what seemed to be Spurs’ insistance that a lot of public funds be used to support their private company. But the pendulum seems to have swung now. I’d have more time for Lammy if he told us clearly what constructive proposals he’s put forward to broker a deal that would keep Tottenham in Tottenham.
Stop using stupid arguments
Some of the arguments the club and people seeking to its case have used are simply daft and a little insulting. I’ll say again that I think there’s a lot of tosh talked about ‘community’ by the anti-Stratford campaigners, but Spurs have matched them. The club said that Stratford “is only five miles east”. Anyone who knows anything about London knows that even a mile makes a huge difference in this big and complex city in which the concepts of manor and loyalty are deeply entrenched.
And yesterday architect David Keirle, who it looks like may have been put up as a lightening conductor in this whole debate, said that no one wanted to move from Maine Road to the City of Manchester stadium when he was involved with that, but now no one would move back. David, if you take a look at a map you’ll see both stadiums are in Manchester. Which may explain things. There’s more than a hint of ‘we’ll do it and the mugs will come’ about some of the views put forward – although to be honest us fans don’t help ourselves with our often illogical loyalty.
The daft arguments aren’t confined to one side, though. There’s a lot of jumping up and down about how knocking the stadium down would be a waste of taxpayers money. But even if West Ham get the stadium, much of it will be torn down and public money will be used to help the club convert it for its purposes. It’s that fact which may well swing the decision for Spurs in these austere – at least for those of us who don’t work in the banks – financial times.
Whose idea of value?
I set out the position my heart takes at the start of this piece. But I recognise – God I’m getting old – that the head must play its part too. If it is true that it would damage the club financially to stay in Tottenham, and that case is far from proven, then I’d regretfully accept the necessity to move. I’d probably go to Stratford to watch the team, but I don’t think it would be the same. But when we talk about value and investment and return, what is meant? What makes financial sense for, let’s say, an investment company looking to sell to a major player in the entertainments market, may not make the same sense in the longer term for a football team.
Tottenham’s owners are an investment company and investment companies seek a return on their investment. Spurs existed a long time before ENIC came, and will – let’s hope – exist for a long time after they go. The interests of the owners and the club are not always the same, although Tottenham’s board members get very annoyed if you point that fact out. It’s that potential difference of interest that sits at the heart of this, and which explains why the debate is getting bitter. Because it’s possible that ENIC and Joe Lewis could make a nice return on their investment while leaving behind a franchise with an increasingly tenous link to its history and which is just one arm of a global entertainment business.
To me, all the indications are that Spurs will go to Stratford if they possibly can. I am far from convinced that is the right decision, or that the decision has been made in the interests of the club rather than the club’s owners. I’ve already seen the heart of the home support ripped out in the 1980s when executive boxes replaced one of the finest popular terraces in the country. I’ve watched the club drift under the awful leadership of Alan Sugar. And now I should be enjoying some of the finest football I’ve ever seen my club play. But, and there’s always a but with Tottenham, there is a shadow hanging over us, the shadow of Franchise Hotspur in Stratford, the global entertainment channel. I’m prepared, still, to be convinced. But right now, I’m not.
And so if you hear a chant along the lines of ‘We’re not awfully keen on going to Stratford so you can stick it in the bin’ during the live TV coverage of Sunday’s game against Manchester United (it’ll be either side of the booing of the referee’s decision turning the match to United’s advantage), I’ll be one of the singers.