Supporters of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club are well-versed in the history of where their club comes from. The stories of grammar boys meeting under gaslight on a street corner are well woven into the fabric that makes up the history of the club, but the question that their supporters are now asking is not where they have come from, but where they will go going to in the near future. For a long time, it felt as if their move in the Olympic Stadium, five miles from White Hart Lane to Stratford, was either an attempt to lever concessions from the bodies involved in their already-public redevelopment plans to rebuild their existing ground or as a back-up plan for if they ran into difficulties over what was presumed to be their Plan A. Over the last few weeks, though, it has started to become increasingly clear that the owners of the club are serious about this move, and it is threatening to divide the club’s support in a season that, on the pitch at least, could yet end up being their most successful in decades.
From the perspective of the club itself, a move to the Olympic Stadium makes pure, economic sense. The redevelopment of the White Hart Lane site will be expensive, in no small measure on account of the work required to be done the area immediately around the proposed new site. They argue that the total cost of the redevelopment of the site (which would see the Olympic Stadium torn down and replaced with a new ground for the club, with Spurs also paying for the redevelopment of the Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium to provide a sheath of ensuring an Olympic legacy after the 2012 games) would be around £200m less than the work required at White Hart Lane (although some argue that this is a fallacy, and that when the costs of the Crystal Palace redevelopment and a future lease on the Olympic Stadium would render any cost savings less lucrative than the nascent PR campaign is whispering about) and that such a move would only see the club displaced by five miles from its current home. The club is understood to believe that, with a higher proportion of the club’s support now living in the Home Counties than before, the better transport links (White Hart Lane is notoriously difficult to reach) will influence them to fall in behind their plan.
The Olympic Stadium, however, is not all about Spurs. The club have made powerful friends in AEG, the entertainment giants who believe that they can make it profitable for the club, but the Olympic Stadium is in Stratford, and Stratford is in the London Borough Newham, and the local council supports the rival bid of West Ham United. West Ham intend to leave the athletics track in place and, on account of this, they also have the support of the influential UK Athletics, the predictably-named governing body for athletics in Britain. West Ham United’s Boleyn Ground (which is actually in East Ham rather than West Ham) is closer to the Olympic Stadium site and, in the overall scheme of the city, is quite clearly in East London in the same way that Stratford is but White Hart Lane quite clearly and evidently isn’t.
Quite apart from this, very few people seem to be discussing what the effect might be upon Leyton Orient, the nearest Football League club to Stratford, if a Premier League club is parachuted in on their doorstep. It could, in the medium to long-term, be ruinous for a club that has, in being sandwiched between Spurs and West Ham in the crowded football landscape of London, struggled for attendances for years, even with them being at a distance of something approaching arm’s length. Orient’s owner, Barry Hearn, has been making noises about moving the club to Essex for some considerable time, and this could be an ideal opportunity to see this idea through to fruition. Of course, if Leyton Orient were to move, it could have an effect on the poor non-league club in whichever town or district he decides to pitch up. It seems likely that whatever domino effect will end up rippling through football’s food chain, affecting more and more vulnerable clubs as it goes. Much of this, however, seems to be disregarded in the bum rush for a cheap-ish new ground for a relative giant of the Premier League in London.
Moreover, should the decision over the outcome of the Olympic Stadium be anything to do with football in the first place? One of the key ingredients of London’s successful bid for the 2012 games was the importance of legacy to the bid. The original plan was for part of the legacy was to be for the Olympic Stadium to be scaled back after the games, leaving a 25,000-seater permanent home for British athletics. There is something faintly unseemly about the way that this legacy is being cast aside in the rush for a new Premier League ground. Spurs’ Crystal Palace plan feels like a sop to tick a box in order to get what they want, while even with West Ham’s plan to keep the athletics track seems unlikely to end in anything other than London’s Olympic legacy very much playing second fiddle to Premier League football. Financial considerations to one side, doesn’t British athletics deserve the home that it was promised when the Olyimpics were brought to London?
Of all of the plans on the table, the Spurs one looks like being the most divisive. Five miles may not sound like a great distance to many people, but in tribal London these considerations matter and many Spurs supporters are bitterly against the proposed move. There has been much talk amongst those against the move of, “Spurs conceding North London to Arsenal” and, considering the manner in which Arsenal ended up in North London in the first place, such a volte face might well be too much for many Spurs supporters to bear. The local MP, David Lammy, certainly think so, and has stated that:
Tottenham Hotspur was set up by a bunch of young people at All Hallows church in Tottenham 120 years ago. In the event that the current owners of Spurs take the club to Stratford, a new club will emerge. This is no different from the situation that emerged with MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon. Locally I will work with any new team, with the local authority, to ensure we retain the name Tottenham. They will have to take on a different name if they are to leave. I will protect the interests of Tottenham people in ensuring we don’t have a club on the other side of London called Tottenham Hotspur that does not reflect at all the interests of the local community as it stands today.
This may be overstating the matter somewhat at present, but perhaps the question that faces Spurs supporters will turn out to be what price they are prepared put on the very identity of their club and the community that they are part of. Tottenham is one of North London’s less well-to-do areas, and the departure of the football club would rip the soul from the area that they have called home for one hundred and twenty-eight years. Many feel that Tottenham Hotspur in Stratford wouldn’t be Tottenham Hotspur any more, and the growing disquiet (which has even led to talk of a breakaway club should the Stratford move come to fruition) has found a voice through the supporters’ group We Are N17, which states that:
We would prefer to remain at White Hart Lane in Tottenham, as it stands today, rather than move to Stratford and chasing the revenue from a larger stadium. Such a move would, for us, destroy Tottenham and all it has stood for the day we leave our home.
West Ham’s bid for the Olympic Stadium remains the favourite to win the race, but the question for Tottenham supporters that are wavering at present may well turn out to be one of whether they have the stomach for a fight against the owners of the club. Spurs’ architectural advisor, David Keirle, recently stated that, “I was heavily involved in the Man City project. Nobody wanted to leave Maine Road. A few years down the line, nobody would ever go back”, but moving within a city like Manchester isn’t the same as moving across London. There is an element truth to the old adage about London being a collection of villages rather than a city, and this is especially true in its outermost districts. Opinion seems to be very much split amongst supporters of the club at present, but perhaps the true split will only be seen should Spurs get the nod above West Ham United. Daniel Levy has worked wonders in turning the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club around after a mostly dismal 1990s. He may find, however, that, his biggest challenge will be to keep their fanbase unified should his plan together.
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