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Sunk in Stratford, Spurs stadium search heads back to drawing board

I respect tradition as much as the next bloke. But I’m also a pragmatist, which is why I would have been perfectly happy to say yes to Stratford if Tottenham, and not West Ham, had won the right to take over the Olympic Stadium.

It might be West Ham territory, but the Stratford site would have been a great opportunity to build in an area free from residential neighbourhoods, next to the best transit links in East London. Sure, there are two train stations within a few blocks of White Hart Lane. But they’re both tiny, and there’s no tube or DLR for miles. And everything in Tottenham is hemmed in by rows of tiny houses, not wide open plazas and park space.

Given the increased financial pressures clubs will face when UEFA’s Fair Play rules take effect next season, Spurs clearly need a home that will maximize revenues, whether it’s on the supposedly hallowed ground of the High Road in Haringey, the Olympic Park of London’s East End or up north in Enfield.

But all that’s happened on the stadium front for Spurs over the past three months is the team has gone out of its way to trash its own Northumberland Park proposal, even as that plan was winning approval from the Mayor’s office. Then they went out of their way in a different direction, alienating tradition-minded supporters in the process, by trashing the requirements of the post-Olympic plan, choosing brutal honesty instead of the Hammers’ blue-sky thinking. Hey, mind if we knock down your brand new stadium and build a football pitch with no running track around it? You do? Really? Damn. Well, back to the drawing board.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not so cruel and corporate that I wouldn’t prefer a plan that keeps the club in N17, even at a higher cost. But impeding progress for the sake of staying in the borough is folly. Besides, while the address might be the same, there’s not much else about the current White Hart Lane that my grandfather would recognize from the ground where he had a season ticket in the 1950’s. Change is inevitable, whether it’s the addition of luxury boxes and giant video screens, or a new location altogether.

Karren Brady, the Wicked Witch of West Ham, said giving the Olympic Stadium to Spurs would have been “a corporate crime.” Seems a bit strong to me,  and Tottenham are so unimpressed with her scaremongering, and the Olympic decision that they’re considering appeals and legal guarantees to ensure she keeps her word, retractable seats or not, about retaining the track. Brady had better hope the view, from whatever distance, is worth paying for. Otherwise there’s not much chance 60,000 people will pay to watch West Ham eke out a meagre existence at the bottom end of the Premier League…or worse.

Of course, that’s spilt milk now, and Spurs have to move forward. But where? Having rubbished it for weeks, chairman Daniel Levy insists the Northumberland Park plan, even though it’s been approved by the city, is dead in the water, too expensive and too tied up in red tape that’s limiting the scope of surrounding housing developments meant to recoup some cash.

Levy might not have put all his eggs in one basket with his Olympic plan, but the ones he left behind in Tottenham are cracked and broken. And unless he can come up with a working plan for a new home sometime soon, his team is in danger of ending up in the same state.

Ian Harrison

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Oh, give me a home!

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.

Ian Harrison

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