For a club that dreams as big as Tottenham Hotspur, whose long-lived fantasy of Champions League football has finally become a reality, there’s no doubt a new stadium is required to remain competitive with the Premier League’s highest rollers. Tottenham has long exhibited fiscal prudence with its wage bill – no Manchester City-style spending sprees leaving mega-millions in debt at Spurs, thank you very much.
Tottenham’s annual outlay on salary is said to be some 50 million pounds, about half that of local rivals Arsenal and less than a third of Chelsea’s. That’s thanks in large part to the limitations of a home ground where capacity is just over 36,000, far below the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal. Almost as many supporters, 32,000 by one count, are on a waiting list for season tickets.
That’s why I didn’t consider Tottenham’s biggest victory last week to be their Champions League home debut, an entertaining, penalty-strewn 4-1 victory over Steve McClaren’s old outfit, reigning Dutch champions FC Twente (a mosht shatishfying night for Shpursh, the former gaffer might have said, was the sly joke in The Telegraph). It wasn’t even the brilliant display that night (red card notwithstanding) of deadline day signing Rafael Van Der Vaart, surely the steal of the transfer window, or his equally efficient display in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat of Aston Villa.
For me, the biggest decision of the week for Spurs was Haringey Council’s approval of a 56,000-seat stadium redevelopment plan, complete with new homes, hotel and supermarket, just north of White Hart Lane, the team’s home since 1899. Say what you will about its similarity to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, just down the road. That home, still in the same borough as Highbury and little more than a stone’s throw from the old site, seems to be working out just fine.
London Mayor Boris Johnson still needs to sign off on the new venue, to be built on a four-phase plan that would require no ground-share during construction and give Spurs fans a home where they are closer to the pitch than any other new venue in the country.
But even before Boris had a chance to pour a cup of tea and begin poring over Tottenham’s proposal, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was muddying the waters, making a joint bid with sports & venue giant AEG to move out of the borough and down the road to Stratford, into the Olympic Stadium that will be left vacant after the 2012 Summer Games.
It might be financially prudent, saving Spurs the hefty cost of putting up an entirely new home in a time of financial insecurity that has made debt more of a dirty word than ever (Hello, Messrs. Hicks and Gillet in Liverpool! Hiya, Glazer guys of Manchster!) But the timing could hardly be worse, could it? Haringey now feels hoodwinked, as do West Ham, who had made their bid to move into the Olympic venue just one day previously. Is a ground share with the Hammers an option? No one knows for sure.
And who really wants to watch football at a converted, downsized stadium that will have a running track separating the pitch from the stands? Community use, concerts and other events (rugby and Twenty20 cricket, for example) would make keeping the pitch in pristine shape a major headache. No one wants to end up drowning in debt, and it may be prudent to keep one’s options open, not knowing how the mayor’s office will rule. But I have a feeling this will all end badly, putting Tottenham’s much-needed move into a new home that could raise the cash for continued Champions League appearances under serious threat.