If there’s one game of football I wish I could have attended above all others in my lifetime, it was Tottenham vs Manchester United on May 14th2017.
The last ever match at White Hart Lane. Home of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club since 1899 and witness to some of the greatest ever achievements in lilywhite.
Memories were born there, dreams ended there and hope sprung from there. Home of greats, has-beens, also-rans and legends.
Children and adults’ eyes alike lit up as they emerged out of a dingy concourse into a sea of blue seats with yellow and white smattering, whether it was their first game or 500th. Once you hear the familiar chorus of ‘Come On You Spurs’, you’re home.
The game against Manchester United seemed the closest it can get to a cup final in a regular league fixture – flags were waving, the football and atmosphere were electric and Spurs won to end the season unbeaten at home in its final send-off.
I was at my sister’s engagement party that day, receiving score updates and videos from inside the ground on my phone. I love my sister but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish she’d organised the party for Saturday instead.
The best bit about that day, for me, was that White Hart Lane was already missing a corner. A chunk of the past was already gone, with a glimpse of the future peeking through the scaffolding and tarpaulin. It was an exciting and welcome antidote to the pain of saying goodbye to the old girl one last time.
Fast forward a year.
Tottenham, fresh off what they believed to be their final visit to Wembley (bar all the finals we’ll make after spending Levy’s promised £150m on Gareth Bale) having spent the season there, eagerly anticipate the start of the new season.
Mauricio Pochettino bellows his rallying cry.
“After four years we need to assess that period and try to be contenders and win big, big trophies,” he says confidently.
“I have crazy ideas. You need to be brave. In this situation you need to be brave and take risks. It is the moment the club need to take risks.
And boy have Tottenham Hotspur Football Club™ taken risks.
It takes a brave football club to raise season ticket prices by 40% but still fail to make a single signing in a transfer window. Tottenham stand alone in that aspect within the Premier League era and have to search back through almost 50 years of club history to find the last May-August period without any incomings.
The squad that we kept are rewarded with a garish white-shirt-fading-into-blue-shorts gradient home kit, presumably designed to symbolise Tottenham’s transition into the new stadium.
But maybe those perfectly straight and simple transition lines should have been a random mess of blue squiggles, to truly capture how Tottenham Hotspur Football Club™ are going about the move.
The As Yet Unnamed stadium, planned for an exuberant opening a few weeks after the start of the season has been, as many people foretold, delayed. A lot.
What was originally just ‘a few games away then home by September’ is now ‘Will fans even get to see a game at the new stadium in 2018?’.
The story, leaked by the press, was explained poorly in a rushed statement by Daniel Levy. Apologising to the NFL but merely ‘understanding the disappointment’ of the fans funding the thing shows just how long the length of the arm holding Tottenham Hotspur Football Club™ fans away truly is.
No refunds, no real apology, no clarification. Just an understanding of disappointment. And still no closer to finishing the stadium.
Spurs are now in limbo, playing some games at Wembley and having to restructure other fixtures. It’s messed up the schedule of Brent and Haringey councils who have to organise around us and runs the risk of breaking Premier League rules, potentially resulting in fines and points deductions.
But there is, and must remain, a clear distinction between Tottenham Hotspur Football Club™ and Tottenham Hotspur. Weirdly, despite the mess taking place in the boardroom, Pochettino and his men went up to Newcastle and won their opening game of the season.
Tottenham Hotspur Football Club™, run by Joe Lewis’ ENIC and chaired by Daniel Levy, is a business. It serves to generate profit for the owners through TV rights, player transfers and milking the fans (read: customers) for all they’re worth. The most expensive matchday and season tickets in the league year in, year out.
They do good for the club – they’ve grown us from meagre mid-table finishes to consistently sitting at the top table of world football, built a world class training and youth facility and, of course, laid the foundations for the White Hart Lane of the future. But, for them, the love is not of the success, rather the profit success brings.
Success, however, is a strange word at Tottenham Hotspur. Having spent so long in the wilderness of 16th-9thplace, fans realise that top four football and the occasional cup final represents a type of success. What fans don’t want to see is regression.
As with the Saha/Nelsen debacle of 2012, a lack of signings is interpreted as failure to back a manager just a few millions pounds away from trophies. But Pochettino, ever the graceful and considered manager, is happy to work with what he’s given.
If real, tangible success comes this season in the form of a trophy or title, it will be because of him. Not because of spendthrift Daniel Levy, not because we have a room that sells cheese or our own branded craft beer, but because we have a world class manager and team, proud to pull on the shirt and give fans the passion, love and more often than not, result they expect every week.
Certain squad players have taken to interviews and social media to dispel any worries fans may have that the stadium situation is impacting the playing staff negatively. Naturally only time will tell but, with three points on the board against one of our bogey teams, maybe it’s true.
What’s vital is that we as fans don’t blur the lines between the two. Vent your frustration at Levy, Lewis, ENIC, MACE, NFL, cheese, craft beer, sky bars and fully-integrated Wi-Fi throughout all you want, but leave the players and manager out of it.
The badge, shirt and ground will exist long after ENIC are gone and the final fire alarm safety test has been carried out on the new stadium. What’s important is that the people wearing the kit, and not a suit, are still supported through thick and thin. They are our only chance of salvaging this situation.
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