Hart and soul
Spurs’ late bid for the Olympic Stadium was a flawed one but it forced Mat Snow to assess what he really feels about the club he supports
When the Spurs board first f loated the notion that, rather than expand and upgrade White Hart Lane, the club would move to the Olympic Stadium seven miles away in Stratford, I didn’t take it seriously. Nor did many other Spurs fans I know. We all figured that the board were proposing this Plan B to bluff the local council and other official bodies which were, so we heard, attaching ever more strings and dangling hefty price tags from the necessary permissions to redevelop as the board wanted. But very quickly Plan B turned into a real bid and, right then and there, every single Spurs fan was put on the spot.
Right then and there, our spiritual identity as a club and as fans was at stake. But is spiritual identity non-negotiable? This wasn’t moving from Wimbledon to Milton Keynes, where effectively a club’s owners hoped to trade a fanbase of long standing for the prospect of a larger brand new one. This was about shifting seven miles away to a site which would prove closer in doorto-turnstile matchday travel time for most fans than the schlep to White Hart Lane.
My spiritual identity as a Spurs fan is rooted in our North London rivalry with Arsenal far more than in our address ilustration
This, by the way, is not a statistically demonstrable fact; it is an educated guess based upon knowing the journeys of Spurs fans in the Two Brewers pub just off the Tottenham High Road who converge on matchdays from all points of the compass. Not one of whom, incidentally, lives in Tottenham. Go back 50 years and lots of Totten-
ham fans lived in Tottenham. Not any more. A few years ago, researchers at University College London declared Tottenham the most ethnically diverse area in Britain – and possibly all of western Europe – with 113 ethnic groups speaking 193 different languages. These are first generation immigrants who have filled the housing vacated by a population that has largely decamped to the satellite towns of Hertfordshire and Essex.
Many of those refugees to Stevenage and Chingford are Spurs fans who sentimentalise their football club’s Tottenham location as a big part of their spiritual identity as Spurs fans while showing no inclination to retain their ow n r e s i d e n tial roots anywhere near White Hart Lane. Then there are the Tottenham fans who have never lived in Tottenham but are rooted in the north London catchment area. Me, for example, born in Finchley, raised in Barnet and schooled in classrooms largely split between fans of Tottenham and Arsenal. Back in 1966, aged eight, I didn’t choose to support Arsenal – a middling side with no stars. I chose the Spurs of Jimmy Greaves who that season were en route to FA Cup final victory over Chelsea and a race to the Championship where we finished just four points behind winners Manchester United.
16 WSC Yes, I was a glory hunter, one who liked to lord it over Arsenal fans. This is the root of my spiritual identity as a Spurs fan and why I dismissed the mooted Stratford move – until I did the sums. Arsenal out-earn Tottenham on matchdays by a factor of two to one, and will continue to do so as long as Spurs remain in the 36,000-capacity White Hart Lane. Raising that capacity to 58,000, as pictured in the Spurs board ’s Plan A White Hart Lane redevelopment, was a project with spiralling costs before work even started. And have you ever heard of a construction project that came in on budget?
With that balance sheet comparison in mind, Spurs’ victorious comeback at the Emirates in November is not the shape of things to come but a one-off thanks to Arsène Wenger’s dodgy taste in central defenders and a Spurs side boasting, by some unrepeatable freak, three world-class players. Over time, though, how can Arsenal not seriously outspend and so outperform Spurs season after season, forever? To me, with my spiritual identity as a Spurs fan rooted in our north London rivalry with Arsenal far more than in our address on the page of the A-Z called Tottenham, that was the question.
Where most local rivalries are about no more than locality, Spurs’ disdain of Arsenal carries the extra charge of morality. Arsenal hate Spurs for the usual reason: because they’re there. Spurs hate Arsenal precisely because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. For us, Arsenal are the carpet-bagging club who, a century ago, moved in on our manor, tried to siphon off our fans and stole our top-f light status. Then, in more recent times, they hijacked our keeper Pat Jennings, lured away our captain Sol Campbell and, perhaps most gallingly of a l l , pirated our swashbuckling style.
But it all started when they moved over the Thames from Woolwich to north London, thus encroaching on our traditional turf. Much as we were proposing to do to West Ham and Leyton Orient by moving to Stratford. That’s a century of moral high ground surrendered in a season.
So when the powers-that-be awarded the Olympic Stadium to West Ham, part of me heaved a sigh of relief that we can continue to look down on Arsenal as opportunistic squatters posing as pillars of the establishment. But since that same decision may doom Tottenham (as we remain entitled to call ourselves) to look up to Arsenal in every other area of comparison for decades to come, I also heaved a sigh of despair.
How much easier it would be for us football fans to lose our sense of spiritual identity. Or better still, never to have had to lug one round in the first place. But then we wouldn’t be football fans. We would be mere football consumers. And where’s the fun in that?
While the battle for an Olympic legacy was a fierce one, there don’t seem to have been any real winners. Ian King explains
The decision to grant the post-2012 use of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford to West Ham United gave us, presumably unintentionally, the opportunity to pause for a moment and consider the priorities of English sport at the start of the new century. Over the last few weeks of the bidding process, we saw an unseemly attempt at a land grab between two large sporting institutions, both of whom seemed to cherish one thing above all else, a site in east London with outstanding transport links that was available on the cheap. Money, as ever, trumped all other concerns.
The Olympic legacy, a central reason for the games being awarded to London in the first place, was put firmly on the back burner and the future of the football club nearest to Stratford, Leyton Orient, feels a little less certain today after the parachuting in of one of the game’s behemoths, but too few people seemed to care very much about that. In thrall to the twin false gods of Mammon and the Premier League, the timbre of the debate on the subject had a thoroughly modern feel to it, yet both the Spurs and West Ham bids had the feel of being thoroughly imperfect for completely different reasons.
As the battle for the stadium intensified and became increasingly bitter, one aspect of the debate not picked up on by the media was the lack of consultation of supporters – it often felt as if this new ground was something that neither West Ham or Spurs fans wanted. As Spurs crashed out of the FA Cup at Fulham at the end of January, a familiar song was picked up by the ESPN microphones. To the tune of Tom Hark, the amended words of “Say no to Stratford, north London is ours” were clearly audible. This wasn’t a motley crew of keyboard warriors, either. This was the hardcore of the Spurs away support – those that are able to get a ticket for an away match in the FA Cup.
At West Ham, meanwhile, the delight of Karren Brady, David Gold andDavid Sullivan was predictable enough, but the reaction of the club’s supporters seemed scarcely more positive than at Tottenham. There are those that don’t wish to leave the Boleyn Ground and feel that the club could, had it wished to, have developed their current home. Others, meanwhile, feel that a 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium will be too big for West Ham or have concerns over the effect that a running track may have on their matchday experience. The idea of watching Championship football from behind a running track may be a long way from being what many West Ham fans would want from moving to a new stadium.
West Ham’s attempts to boost their attendance may also prove to be a significant problem for the smallest players in this story. Leyton Orient are geographically the closest club to the Olympic Stadium and that their views have been so comprehensively ignored is a symptom of a f lawed process. It seems impossible to believe that the sudden appearance of a Premier League football club at a site a mile from their ground
Watching Championship football from behind a running track may not be what many West Ham fans want will not negatively impact upon them. And it is to the shame of the Premier League that they have overlooked their own existing rules, stating that clubs wishing to move stadiums do not “adversely affect [other] clubs (or Football League clubs) having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location”. This should preclude West Ham moving into the direct territory of another club. Leyton Orient, it seems, weren’t fashionable enough for anybody in control of these matters to care very much about.
So, in the unique way that only people that manage these matters seem able to muster, the 2012 Olympic Games have been soured for many already. Perhaps the legacy of London 2012 being a big football club stomping into another, smaller club’s immediate vicinity, possibly forcing them to move out of London altogether (or being shunted into a rebuilt Olympic hockey ground by Barry Hearn) is a completely appropriate as a ref lection of what passes for the values of modern sport. As a commenter on the Guardian’s Sport Blog noted when the announcement was made: “Surely it isn’t part of the Olympic dream to service the business strategies of opportunistic capitalists?” He had a point.