Supporters of both Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United could have been forgiven for choking a little if they happened to see this article on the BBC’s website today. On the front page of the site was a story that would certainly leave both sets of supporters with a feeling that their hearts were beating in their throats – that Spurs were looking at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford as a possible alternative to redeveloping White Hart Lane. Not only are some Spurs supporters unhappy about such a story entering into the public domain, but West Ham United supporters would also have cause to be angry if there was much behind the story, because they have coveted the Olympic Stadium ever since it became apparent that it would probably be available to a football club after the 2012 Olympic Games have finished.
Since making their plans for the redeveloped site, Spurs have reportedly encountered considerable difficulties with such organisations as Transport for London – their particular corner of North London is particularly badly served for public transport – and Haringey Council. It’s not unthinkable that building a 56,000 stadium on Tottenham High Road could conceivably be considered to be more trouble for the club than it is worth. Could it be that Spurs are starting to look slightly further afield than their traditional home? The club has been linked (although largely through something approaching Chinese whispers) with the Olympic Stadium for a couple of years, but how would such a move go down with supporters?
West Ham United supporters could, of course, be forgiven for thinking, “Hang on. Don’t we have first shout on the Olympic Stadium?”, and they would perhaps have a point. The common consensus at West Ham is that the Boleyn Ground is too small for their needs in the long run, and moving the short distance to Stratford has become popular with supporters as well as something of a rallying cry for their new owners, David Sullivan and David Gold. The good news for West Ham supporters is that they don’t really need to worry too much, because there are plenty of sound reasons why Spurs wouldn’t and couldn’t leapfrog West Ham in the pecking order for the Olympic Stadium, not least of which is the fact that the deadline for expressions of interest in the new stadium passed on the 17th of May without, as far as anyone is aware, Spurs having expressed any interest in it.
Indeed, the most interesting aspect of the article that appears on the BBC’s website is what it doesn’t say rather than what it does say. The only official comment from Tottenham Hotspur FC or its owners (which is the only comment on the subject specifically referred to in the article) comes from an anonymous spokesperson for the club:
Tottenham Hotspur has not, to date, submitted a bid for the Olympic Stadium and, all things proceeding well with our current plans to build a new stadium within Tottenham, we see no need to.
West Ham United, therefore, remain the favourites to get the Olympic Stadium and by a long way. It seems likely that Spurs may be using the extremely remote possibility of heading to Stratford as leverage in the discussions that they are having ahead of final planning permission being granted for the new White Hart Lane. Haringey is one of the less well-to-do parts of North London, and the damage to local businesses by the club pulling out of the area would be not inconsiderable. However, it has already been established that, based on the current designs they wouldn’t even need to leave the site on a temporary basis while the new ground is being built and, in addition to this, work is due to begin shortly on their new training complex at Bull’s Cross in nearby Enfield.
Also, for all the talk about traffic and police concerns about the new stadium (and anybody that has ever been to White Hart Lane will understand how 20,000 extra supporters every other weekend could cause them to furrow their brows somewhat), closer investigation of the issues raised by such bodies seem to point more towards a desire to work with the club towards ensuring that the new ground meets the requirements of planning law whilst keeping it in the location that the club has identified. Indeed, this letter from Chris Ramsey, the Acting Haringey Borough Commander for the Metropolitan Police, concludes that:
We are pleased to have been consulted on the stadium proposals from an early stage and reiterate that further consultation should take place throughout the life of the project. This will be essential to deliver a safe and secure sporting venue together with new homes, retail and public spaces.
In the current financial climate, any new project of this scale is going to come under very close scrutiny from all angles. The estimated cost of the rebuilding of White Hart Lane is believed to be in the region of £400m-£450m, so Tottenham Hotspur can scant afford to get it wrong. It is also critical that the building of the new ground is beneficial to the area that gave birth to the club and, as such, it is only right and proper that every single detail should be given proper consideration at the planning stage. It may take the club a year or two longer than they had originally hoped to get there, but it remains difficult to believe that it won’t happen, with appropriate amendments, in the fullness of time. West Ham supporters, meanwhile, can continue to hope that the Olympic Stadium will one day be theirs.