My open letter to Daniel Levy has not received a reply. I’m not entirely surprised. Levy is a busy man – certainly lately, having given almost as many interviews in the last fortnight as he has in the 10 years he’s been chairman – and I am merely a paying customer. This, coupled with the institutionalised prickliness the club has for anything that falls short of gushing praise for anything it does, almost certainly means I’m never likely to get an answer either. But that may cause more damage to the club than to me in the long run.
That’s because answering the questions I posed may go a long way towards improving the club’s chances of getting what it wants. According to reliable website Football Economy, figures inside the club are downbeat about the chances of landing the Olympic Stadium site. This, too, can come as little surprise to anyone who has observed the club’s bungled PR offensive. It may be that the interviews Levy gave yesterday were recognition of this, as his emphasis was in pointing out that much of what has been said by West Ham and the athletics lobby doesn’t stack up. But Spurs have still got themselves in a position where the public back a scheme that uses much more taxpayers’ money and which could still see the public funding a deal which eventually sees West Ham’s owners pocket a tidy sum if they sell off the site.
More questions than answers
The trouble with many of Levy’s statements is that they raise more questions than they answer. And an apparent lack of consistency in what he says makes building a compelling case difficult. This, combined with a dismissal of critics and opponents as “a small minority” has not helped the club build any bridges. I’ll emphasise a point I made before again. While my heart would dearly like the club to stay at its current site in the new stadium the club’s official website still presents as a viable option, I am prepared to be persuaded that moving is the only option. My guess, and I won’t claim like the Spurs board or some of the more vocal opposition to know what every Spurs fan is thinking, is that a significant proportion of fans feel the same. Which is why making a compelling case is important. The lack of support for Spurs plans from within the Spurs camp surely makes it more difficult to win support outside.
Levy’s statements yesterday are a case in point. He is reported in The Guardian as saying: “If I had a choice of course you’d love to redevelop and have great public transport at Tottenham. But there is a better alternative at the moment and we’re going to fight very hard to try to get it.” That’s a very interesting statement. Levy previously said the NDP, the current stadium redevelopment project, had become “unviable”. That raised questions about when and how it became unviable and why the project was still presented as viable on the club’s website. I asked those questions in my open letter and, as far as I know, they have not been answered. Now we are told that the club wants Stratford not because it is viable and the NDP isn’t, but because it is a “better alternative”. They are Levy’s words.
Of course it is entirely legitimate to opt for a better alternative if one comes up. It would be negligent not to. But if you want support for a better alternative you have to clearly demonstrate why it is better. That’s especially true in the case of moving a football ground to a different location, because of the emotional and historical arguments Levy is so dismissive of but which are key to concepts of identity and marketing in the modern game. So a new question arises – what is better about the Stratford site? A number of theories have been advanced, but no compelling, irrefutable case made.
When final is not final
One of the theories that has been advanced is that Haringey council has not been helpful enough. Yet that’s not what Daniel Levy said in the video below, issued when the club announced the NDP. You can see for yourself. What he says is this. “We’ve had tremendous support from Haringey.” That sounds as if they’ve been pretty helpful.
In that same interview he also says this. “We’re pleased we’ve made the final decision to stay here”. That’s pretty unequivocal. But, as we are learning, unequivocal statements are not always as unequivocal as they seem. In my open letter I refer to an interview Levy gave to Radio Five in which he said, in response to the question “So you have no interest in selling Spurs…Under any circumstances at all?” he replied “Correct. We have no intention of selling the club.”
But in yesterday’s Guardian he said: “No one gives guarantees on the future. We’re a public company with 30,000 shareholders. I can never give an undertaking that [majority owner] Joe Lewis, myself or Harry Redknapp will be here in two years or 10 years.” Why, then, did he give such an undertaking two weeks ago? In the many comments that followed my blog post, there was some criticism of my attempt to get him to clarify this point in my open letter, but I did so precisely because of the point Levy himself has just made. It is impossible to make predictions in business. That’s why it was so strange that Levy did. Before he didn’t.
Sources indicate that Levy’s view of any questioning of the Stratford bid is that it threatens the very future of the club. It may well be that this is the case. Which makes it even more vital that the club, led by its chairman, clears up the confusion by answering the many unanswered questions. That means making consistent arguments in a clear and transparent manner. The club repeatedly falls back on the ‘commercial confidentiality’ defence when asked to do this, and the inconsistency in public statements is attributed to ‘tactical acumen’ by those who argue Levy is doing a good job. But if this is a tactical approach it doesn’t seem to be working.
Spurs fans are divided, whatever Levy chooses to believe, public opinion is overwhelmingly against Spurs and the political and sporting establishment which in the end will have the greatest influence on a decision is not backing the club. In football, the best bosses are the ones who know when to change the tactics that are not working. For Levy to do that, it requires him and the board to acknowledge something that has so far seemed to prove extremely difficult for them to do – acknowledge that there are people outside their own ranks who might actually know what they are doing and take their views on board. There are still questions that need to be answered.