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 floated 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 door-to-turnstile matchday travel time for most fans than the schlep to White Hart Lane.
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 Tottenham 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 own residential 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.
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-flight status. Then, in more recent times, they hijacked our keeper Pat Jennings, lured away our captain Sol Campbell and, perhaps most gallingly of all, 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?
From WSC 290 April 2011