It’s time for Daniel Levy and the board of Tottenham Hotspur to come clean about the Stratford move. Because what’s souring this whole affair is what is perceived as disingenuousness at best, downright dishonesty at worst from the Spurs board.
The club’s official position is set out in its statement of 19 November 2010. It says Spurs are keeping all options open. Daniel Levy himself is quoted in that statement as saying the club will continue to “explore all options.” But last week the architect employed by the club, David Keirle, said moving to Stratford was the club’s “preferred option”. he even said that, and these are his words, “We had extended dialogue with the London Development Agency at an earlier stage about the Stratford Olympic Park site and made it clear that would be a preferred option if we could come to some arrangement about how we could move there.”
Facing both ways
Clearly, both statements cannot be correct at the same time. I put this question to the club, and they said they would “prefer not to comment” on what the architect they continued to employ was saying in public. I called David Keirle at KSS to find out whether he thought he was right, or the club was. He was out. And he apparently hasn’t been back to pick up the message to call me.
Since then a steady drip of articles has indicated that the Stratford move is very much top of Tottenham’s agenda. Today a number of the sports journalists seem to have weighed in with the view that a move to Stratford would be best for the club. That’s noticeable because the sports pack usually steers clear of ‘politics’. Or maybe that’s just when the fans have something to say.
State the case
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the club wants to go to Stratford. The board’s PR guru Mike Lee is discussing the move as if it’s very much on the agenda, David Keirle looks to have been used as a lightening conductor, the press is awash with stories… but the club says simply that it sticks by its 19 November statement. There cannot be a single person with any interest in this affair who is not convinced that Spurs do not want, as option number one, to move to Stratford.
So why doesn’t the club say so? Allowing people close to the club to say something while holding up an official stance which neither confirms nor denies is fooling no one. And it looks dishonest and cowardly. For if there is a compelling case for Stratford, the club should put it forward. The fact that it is not doing so prompts a few, not unreasonable, thoughts;
• The club knows the fans will not approve, and so is attempting to stymie any opposition until a fait accompli can be delivered.
• The club knows the fans will not approve because the deal may well be in the current owners’ best interests, but not necessarily in the club’s.
It’s all very well complaining about ‘paranoid conspiracy theorists’ and ‘conjecture’. The club needs to recognise that its own actions are fuelling these theories and this conjecture. While the club does not make a clear statement – and whatever it may claim, it has not made a statement that clarifies – such theory and conjecture will fill the vacuum.
There are plenty of people, such as me, who would reluctantly conclude that if the case for Stratford was that without the move the club could not progress, we’d have to support it. But the way the club is making its case, or more accurately not making its case, does little to convince us and is doing much to fuel opposition. The club can claim to be as outraged as it likes at the very suggestion that is is saying one thing and doing another. But this board’s got form.
Many still remember the disgraceful manner in which Martin Jol was dismissed. The board said it was backing him, while, it became clear, at the same time courting Juande Ramos to take over. To put it more plainly, one of the directors was caught having dinner with Ramos. Jol was finally sacked, after having been undermined as manager, after a defeat against Getafe in the UEFA Cup. The news was everywhere before the game, and the uncertainty cannot be divorced from the fact that that evening Spurs lost the proud record of only ever losing one home European tie.
Jol’s treatment left a very bad taste. There were a large number of fans who had questioned whether he’d taken us as far as he could, but this was shabby treatment for a man who had helped the club to its highest league finishes for years. If Levy and co had been upfront, or at least tried less spin, about their intentions they would have taken many with them. But instead they alienated supporters – not the definition of good PR. And look how Ramos’s appointment turned out.
This last point raises a worry. While Levy and board seem affronted at the very suggestion that they are not a) extremely clever and b) always right (don’t worry, I’m expecting phone calls) there’s a chance that what they are doing – or seem very much indeed to be doing without actually confirming or denying that they are doing it – may end up very badly. Having alienated most of the UK athletics community, many international sports adminstartors and a good number of taxpayers they could lose the Stratford option. And having alienated Haringey so publicly there’s a good chance the current White Hart Lane redevelopment plans may not go ahead. Leaving Spurs falling further behind their rivals who can generate greater income from their grounds.
But even a Spurs marooned in a 36,000 seat stadium looks attractive next to the prospect being raised by some fans opposing the move, but largely by publicity hungry local MP David Lammy. He’s conceded defeat already and is making much of his move to stop the club using the Tottenham name if it moves. He worked in intellectual property rights you know, so he’s good at this stuff. That’s raised the prospect of an FC Hotspur of Tottenham – although having observed Lammy’s tactical acumen during this affair I wouldn’t rule out AFC Tottenham.
Now much of the sound and fury behind this comes down to a gut dislike of the corporate road down which football is moving. The Stratford move seems to epitomise commerce over tradition, history, pride and sense of place. All those things will be dismissed as childish irrelevance by the people who want to appear so grown-up and business-like they long ago lost touch with concepts such as soul and passion, but they are things which are important to people and which have made the game what it is.
It’s why there’s a great story in the clip at the head of this piece, showing a protest which Sky chose to cut away from while discussing the merits of the board’s – unconfirmed – intention to move. The woman holding the banner is, I’m told, Tottenham born and bred and was babysat by the great Bill Nicholson’s wife. It’s an emotive story, about passion and place and history. Those things can’t be given a monetary value so they are deemed inconsequential, but they matter.
Against this backdrop of suspicion and growing disgust with the suffocating commercialism of the game, the move to set up a grass roots alternative – much as AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester have done – may seem attractive. Particularly if you are a member of a so-called people’s party which has long since lost touch with the people.
But the position at Spurs is not the same as it was in these cases. The idea of an FC Hotspur holds no more meaning for me than a Stratford Hotspur franchise does. Neither are the club I have supported for years, and if the only choice is one of the other then maybe I just need to get a life and devote my time to something more important. I’m starting to confront the depressing possibility that I will have no club to support.
But maybe the Stratford move is what Spurs need. Maybe it’s not just about ENIC cashing its chips and the directors making even more money. Maybe it will be good for the club I have supported all these years. And if it is, the club’s board needs to be upfront. It needs to explain and evangelise, to confront the critics and prove that what it is doing is in the best interests of the club and not just the owners. (This would need, of course, the owners to recognise that the two things are not necessarily the same).
It’s time for some straight talking from Daniel Levy and co. The briefing and the nudging must stop, the obfuscation must end. Set out the facts, and if they are compelling, people will go with them. If they are not, there will be more, and more bitter, scenes at White Hart Lane before this all ends.